I found the cold grey ashes of a fire
Which these two lit, whom Vengeance followed fast,
Although the dragging lawyer-vines were cast
To stay the following footsteps - Hate's desire,
Breaking all barriers that the scrubs et up,
Thirsty to fill with blood its brazen cup.
I found the ashes that such memories keep.
Tall ironbarks were round them, scored of trunk;
And here and there a wan bush flower, drunk
With sun and dew, and falling into sleep,
Yet murmuring nothing of the vows it heard,
Though its pale heart was redder by a word.
And overhead a bronze-wing in the boughs
Rippled swift pinions, and a pink galah
Strutted in seeding grass, yet kept afar
From that grey ring that wed to Life's carouse
Pursuing Death. The blue smoke o'er the trees
Betrays no more the rendezvous of these.
With stirless leaves the ironbarks look down,
Yet they must know that never human tongue
Can tell of how those lovers kissed and clung,
And how grey eyes struck flame from eyes of brown.
And least they did not live to see Love pass
Into a sear of ashes on the grass.
Beneath her hair they told me, when she lay
Ready for burial, in the small bush inn,
There was one bullet mark to pay her sin.
Her small white hands were folded. Did she pray?
After her death? (In life not much, I vow!)
Pray to the God who would not hear her now!
But he died harder! When I saw her there
I understood how he would fight for life.
Although he had no weapon but a knife
With which to parry bullets. She was fair,
And Death was not an easy thing to choose
When there was life -- and life with her -- to lose!
But they were very quiet when they slept
On those tough trestles. So we laid them down
Under the weeping myalls. Then to town
One for the sergeant went. But I -- I kept
Pact with the promptings of a strange desire
And rode to find their little burned-out fire.
There was a wattle blooming at the edge
Of that thick timber, and it spilled its gold
Before my horse's hoofs as though it told
Of golden reeds that rustle through Life's sedge,
Making papyrus over which to write
Record of hours that were all too bright
For mortals living. Death had given them these
Ere for himself the price he claimed, I know
There was some special glory in the glow
Of that small camp-fire shining through the trees
And that, ere each crisp twig on it they set.
Often across its warmth their hands had met.
I left my horse, and idly, in the cold
Of that dull pyre, with gum-switch stirred.
It was no sob of shattered hopes I heard
(Dead leaf and chip that once were fairy gold!),
No hieroglyph of graves in cinders spelled --
One quick, sweet laugh was all the ashes held!
First published in The Bulletin, 17 May 1917