The hot fierce sun above; below, the river
In glittering sparkles flashing back each ray:
Scarcely a breath to make the tree tops quiver,
Or rustle 'midst their leaves in idle play.
Scarcely a sound to tell that life is teeming
In the dense scrub that lines the winding creek
In drowsy stillness sleeps the forest--dreaming ---
Save where a parrot wakes it with a shriek.
A long harsh shriek! like one in anguish dying,
Or eldritch cursing with unholy ban;
As though the frightened bird had seen there lying
The dead horse, on the living breathing man;
And, in that startled glance, instinct had told it
The meaning of the tragedy below,
And ere it flew, in pity to behold it,
It cried aloud, in one long wail of woe.
"Is this a dream? Can I be really here?
The dead horse lying on my shattered bone;
No chance of life! No friend, no comrade near!
Nought left but death --- a lingering death --- alone,
"How many dreadful hours must I await
Death's coming? --- for he is my only friend,
Who in his mercy kindly will abate
My sufferings, and console me at the end.
"Will he come quickly? Shall I see him stand
And gaze at me with eyes of solemn greeting?
Then will he stoop, and with an icy hand
Touch my warm heart, and still its weary beating?
"Or, in the evening's shadow-haunted gloom,
When through the trees I hear the night-wind roam,
But as a darker shadow will he loom,
And gently comfort me, and take me home?
"Ah night! dear night! so cool, and calm, and still;
Could I but drink once more, in peace I'd lie
In your dark arms; let me but have my fill
Of that sweet water! God, then let me die.
"In the deep silence I can hear it splash
Amongst the rocky boulders far below.
Oh! could I only reach the side, and dash
My fevered body in its cooling flow!
"Keep back, you fiend! I see you hiding there
Behind that tree-trunk, mocking me in scorn:
Grinning and mowing, with a wicked stare
That could not come save from a thing hell-born.
"You'll go away when the hot day is done,
And the kind night cools me with dewy rain;
But when the east glows red before the sun
You will return, and torture me again;
"Showing me where the sparkling river falls
Over the rocks --- so close! O Heaven, and then
Delude me with false answers to my calls
For aid and succour from my fellow-men.
"Give me quick death, if you have mercy, Christ,
And are the God of love, and not of fear!
Why torture me? Surely it had sufficed
To take my life --- not leave me lingering here.
"If fiend you are, then work your fiendish will;
Burning me with fierce sun and fiercer thirst:
Crushed, lone, and helpless, I defy you still;
I'll pray no more, but hold you for accursed.
"Ah! do not bind me! Give me water, pray!
And I'll not struggle more, but let the flame
Consume me calmly; only take away
Those haunting eyes --- that head, bowed in shame.
"Call no more ghosts; there are enough here now;
If this is hell I cannot now atone
For past misdeeds. O cool my aching brow!
Keep off, you devils ! Let me die alone.
"How balmy feels the air! and the soft sound
Of chiming bells comes on the evening breeze,
So rich with fragrance, from the flower-decked ground
From hawthorn hedges, and from chestnut trees.
"This well-known lane! The old familiar place
Left years ago, but never quite forgot ---
This hand in mine! Is it my sister's face?
How little changed! To think I know you not!
"True, I am weak and faint; but we will go
To the old churchyard, and when there we'll stray
Amongst the quiet tombs, and you can show
Me those of friends, lost since I went away.
"Strange! it is falling dark; and where I stand
There seems an open grave. Surely I live!
And yet --- I'm blind; and now --- how cold your hand!
This must be death ! Have mercy --- God --- forgive."First published
in The Queenslander
, 1 May 1880;
and later inVoices of the Desert
by Ernest Favenc, 1905.Author reference sites: Austlit
, Australian Dictionary of Biography