Constable M‘Carty’s Investigations

A poem by Henry Lawson

Most unpleasantly adjacent to the haunts of lower orders
Stood a ‘terrace’ in the city when the current year began,
And a notice indicated there were vacancies for boarders
In the middle house, and lodgings for a single gentleman.
Now, a singular observer could have seen but few attractions
Whether in the house, or ‘missus’, or the notice, or the street,
But at last there came a lodger whose appearances and actions
Puzzled Constable M‘Carty, the policeman on the beat.

He (the single gent) was wasted almost to emaciation,
And his features were the palest that M‘Carty ever saw,
And these indications, pointing to a past of dissipation,
Greatly strengthened the suspicions of the agent of the law.
He (the lodger, hang the pronoun!) seemed to like the stormy weather,
When the elements in battle kept it up a little late;
Yet he’d wander in the moonlight when the stars were close together,
Taking ghostly consolation in a visionary state.

He would walk the streets at midnight, when the storm-king raised his banner,
Walk without his old umbrella,, wave his arms above his head:
Or he’d fold them tight, and mutter, in a wild, disjointed manner,
While the town was wrapped in slumber and he should have been in bed.
Said the constable-on-duty: ‘Shure, Oi wonther phwat his trade is?’
And the constable would watch him from the shadow of a wall,
But he never picked a pocket, and he ne’er accosted ladies,
And the constable was puzzled what to make of him at all.

Now, M‘Carty had arrested more than one notorious dodger,
He had heard of men afflicted with the strangest kind of fads,
But he couldn’t fix the station or the business of the lodger,
Who at times would chum with cadgers, and at other times with cads.
And the constable would often stand and wonder how the gory
Sheol the stranger got his living, for he loafed the time away
And he often sought a hillock when the sun went down in glory,
Just as if he was a mourner at the burial of the day.

Mac. had noticed that the lodger did a mighty lot of smoking,
And could ‘stow away a long ’un,’ never winking, so he could ;
And M‘Carty once, at midnight, came upon the lodger poking
Round about suspicious alleys where the common houses stood.
Yet the constable had seen him in a class above suspicion,
Seen him welcomed with effusion by a dozen ‘toney gents’,
Seen him driving in the buggy of a rising politician
Thro’ the gateway of the member’s toney private residence.

And the constable, off duty, had observed the lodger slipping
Down a lane to where the river opened on the ocean wide,
Where he’d stand for hours gazing at the distant anchor’d shipping,
But he never took his coat off, so it wasn’t suicide.
For the constable had noticed that a man who’s filled with loathing
For his selfish fellow-creatures and the evil things that be,
Will, for some mysterious reason, shed a portion of his clothing,
Ere he takes his first and final plunge into eternity.

And M‘Carty, once at midnight, be it said to his abasement,
Left his beat and climbed a railing of considerable height,
Just to watch the lodger’s shadow on the curtain of his casement
While the little room was lighted in the listening hours of night.
Now, at first the shadow hinted that the substance sat inditing;
Now it indicated toothache, or the headache; and again,
’Twould exaggerate the gestures of a dipsomaniac fighting
Those original conceptions of a whisky-sodden brain.

Then the constable, retreating, scratched his head and muttered ‘Sorra
‘Wan of me can undershtand it. But Oi’ll keep me oi on him,
‘Divil take him and his tantrums; he’s a lunatic, begorra!
‘Or, if he was up to mischief, he’d be sure to douse the glim.’
But M‘Carty wasn’t easy, for he had a vague suspicion
That a ‘skame’ was being plotted; and he thought the matter down
Till his mind was pretty certain that the business was sedition,
And the man, in league with others, sought to overthrow the Crown.

But, in spite of observation, Mac received no information
And was forced to stay inactive, being puzzled for a charge.
That the lodger was a madman seemed the only explanation,
Tho’ the house would scarcely harbour such a lunatic at large.
His appearance failed to warrant apprehension as a vagrant,
Tho’ ’twas getting very shabby, as the constable could see;
But M‘Carty in the meantime hoped to catch him in a flagrant
Breach of peace, or the intention to commit a felony.

(For digression there is leisure, and it is the writer’s pleasure
Just to pause a while and ponder on a painful legal fact,
Being forced to say in sorrow, and a line of doubtful measure,
That there’s nothing so elastic as the cruel Vagrant Act)
Now, M‘Carty knew his duty, and was brave as any lion,
But he dreaded being ‘landed’ in an influential bog,
As the chances were he would be if the man he had his eye on
Was a person of importance who was travelling incog.

Want of sleep and over-worry seemed to tell upon M‘Carty:
He was thirsty more than ever, but his appetite resigned;
He was previously reckoned as a jolly chap and hearty,
But the mystery was lying like a mountain on his mind.
Tho’ he tried his best, he couldn’t get a hold upon the lodger,
For the latter’s antecedents weren’t known to the police,
They considered that the ‘devil’ was a dark and artful dodger
Who was scheming under cover for the downfall of the peace.

’Twas a simple explanation, though M‘Carty didn’t know it,
Which with half his penetration he might easily have seen,
For the object of his dangerous suspicions was a poet,
Who was not so widely famous as he thought he should have been.
And the constable grew thinner, till one morning, ‘little dhramin’
‘Av the sword of revelation that was leapin’ from its sheath,’
He alighted on some verses in the columns of the Frayman,
‘Wid the christian name an’ surname av the lodger onderneath!’

Now, M‘Carty and the poet are as brother is to brother,
Or, at least, as brothers should be; and they very often meet
On the lonely block at midnight, and they wink at one another,
Disappearing down the by-way of a shanty in the street.
And the poet’s name you’re asking!, well, the ground is very tender,
You must wait until the public put the gilt upon the name,
Till a glorious, sorrow-drowning, and, perhaps, a final ‘bender,’
Heralds his triumphant entrance to the thunder-halls of Fame.

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