Ned Connor: A Tale of the Bush by Charles Harpur

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'Twas Night -- and where a wat'ry sound
Came moaning up the Flat,
Six rude and bearded Stockmen round
Their blazing hut-fire sat,
And laughed, as on some starting hound
The cracking fuel spat.

And merrier still the log-fire cracks
As night the starker falls:
And not a noisy tongue there lacks
To tell of drunken brawls
But most, of battle with the Blacks
Some bloody tale appals.

Amongst them then Ned Connor spoke,
And up his stature drew:
What is there in an open stroke
To boast? -- you only slew
Them who'd have done, each hell-black one,
The same or worse to you.

But lost amid the Hills one day,
Which then was well-nigh shut,
I met a Black upon my way,
And thus the matter put
Unto him -- See; this knife's for thee --
Come, guide me to my Hut.

His savage eyes grew huge with joy
As on the prize they bent;
And leading, even like a Boy,
He capered as he went:
But think you, Men, to give the toy
Ned Connor ever meant?

An hour had brought us many a mile,
And then, as closed the day,
The Savage, pointing with a smile
To where my Station lay --
There give to me the knife, said he,
And let me go my way.

I never meant to give him such,
As I before have said;
And when he stretched his hand to clutch,
A thought came in my head:
I raised my gun, as though in fun;
I fired -- and he was dead.

The ruffian laughed in ruthless mood
When ended thus his tale!
But all the rest, though Men of Blood,
With horror deemed to quail;
And saw that, boastful though he stood,
Ned Connor too was pale.

Now what to hear had made them fear,
Had also made them dry:
But strange! the water-pail that late
Brimmed in a corner nigh,
Was empty! -- In amazement great,
There's not a drop! they cry.

Their thirst grew bitter -- and they said,
Come this will never do!
It is your turn for water, Ned,
Then why not go? He drew
His breath full hard, tend from his head
There dripped a sudden dew.

But shaming to be taxed with fear,
He seized the pail, and said
What care I? though the night be drear,
Who ever saw the Dead?
And if I fail to fill this pail,
The Devil shall instead!

He sallied forth: a sudden blast
Went sobbing by the door,
Through which they heard his footsteps fast
Recede -- and when no more
They heard them, round the fire aghast
They gathered as before.

And long, impatient all and wild,
They wondered at his stay;
Till one outspake -- A weanling child
Could make not more delay!
If longer slack in coming back
He'll bring with him the day.

But as they thus were wondering -- hark!
They heard a frantic shriek!
Then nearing footsteps through the dark
Came waywardly and weak --
And while the dogs did howl and bark,
They stared, but feared to speak.

Against the door that to had swung
One rushed then, and 'twas split!
And 'mongst them there Ned Connor sprung
And fell into a fit!
And through the night in ghastly plight
He struggled hard in it.

And when his sense returned, again
The Sun was rising bright:
But shuddering as in deadly pain,
He turned him from the light,
And pointing, said -- To bed, to bed!
For Death is in my sight !

They bore him to his bed straightway,
Those horror-stricken men,
And questioned him, as there he lay,
Of what had met his ken:
At length aloud he 'gan to pray,
And thus bespake them then.

I went (you heard), with impious boast,
For water to the Brook;
But when the threshold I had crost
All strength my heart forsook!
Each forward step seemed death, but most
I feared behind to look.

Long murky clouds kept hurrying fast
Across the starless sky;
Strange sounds came drowning in the blast
That piped by fits so high:
A winding gleam -- and lo, the Stream
Was wildly moaning by.

I stood at gaze -- my spirits shrank --
A dull damp sense of awe
'Numbed me, as crawling up the bank
Crude Shapes methought I saw! --
I must not back, I said, alack!
But down at once and draw.

Now stooping o'er the water's edge
Mine eyes thereon I threw,
And lo, distinctly through the sedge
Within the Stream I view --
Not mine own shadow from the ledge!
But Him -- the Black I slew.

With backward bound I started round,
And up the bank did flee;
But ah, as swiftly in my track
Bare footsteps seemed to be;
Step -- step for mine, close at my back
I heard, but naught could see!

It was a horrid thing to hear
Behind me still the sound;
I could not bear to have it there,
And desperate, faced me round;
When through the dark a sudden spark
Shot upward from the ground.

Transfixed as with a stunning stroke,
I could not turn again,
But saw, whence came the spark, a smoke
Arise -- I saw it plain!
And from it spread an odour dead
That bit me to the brain.

At first I saw it bloating out
In size not o'er a span;
Then as it slowly wreathed about,
To heighten it began,
Until it took in bulk and look
The stature of a Man.

No stir was near, I might but hear
The beating of my blood;
And there, within my reach almost,
The grisly Phantom stood!
I stared till fear in Fear was lost,
So awful was my mood.

I spake -- I know not what -- and lo,
The diabolic Birth
'Gan writhing wildly to and fro,
As if in horrid mirth,
And then, against me rushing so,
It dashed me to the earth.

Long stunned -- my brain began to swim
With consciousness anew --
But when, with eyeballs strained and dim,
I looked again, I knew
A Form stood o'er me there -- 'twas Him,
The Savage that I slew!

I shrieked, and bounding to my feet,
I fled; but as before
Bare footsteps tracked me, beat for heat,
Until I gained the door: --
What then befel I cannot tell --
I know of nothing more.

He ceased -- and turning in his bed,
Aloud for mercy cried;
And for three days and nights, 'tis said,
He uttered nought beside;
When wild with woe, he shrieked, and so
The haunted Murderer died.

The fearful Men around him then,
Each one of them did say:
Now well we know 'twas murder so
Even a black to slay!
And where he said he saw the Dead,
They buried him next day.

First published in The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser, 19 August 1846;
and later in
The Bushrangers, a Play in Five Acts, and Other Poems by Charles Harpur, 1853; and
The Poetical Works of Charles Harpur edited by Elizabeth Perkins, 1984.

Author reference sites: Austlit, Australian Dictionary of Biography, Australian Poetry Library

See also.

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on August 19, 2012 9:50 AM.

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