It may have been a fragment of that higher
Truth dreams, at times, disclose;
It may have been to Fond Illusion nigher,
But thus the story goes:
A fierce sun glared upon a gaunt land, stricken
With barrenness and thirst,
Where Nature’s pulse with joy of Spring would quicken
No more; a land accurst.
Gray salt-bush grimmer made the desolation,
Like mocking immortelles
Strewn on the graveyard of a perished nation
Whose name no record tells.
No faintest sign of distant water glimmered
The aching eye to bless;
The far horizon like a sword’s edge shimmered,
Keen, gleaming, pitiless.
And all the long day through the hot air quivered
Beneath a burning sky,
In dazzling dance of heat that flashed and shivered:
It seemed as if hard by
The borders of this region, evil-favoured,
Life ended, Death began:
But no; upon the plain a shadow wavered,
The shadow of a man.
What man was this by Fate or Folly driven
To cross the dreadful plain?
A pilgrim poor? or Ishmael unforgiven?
The man was Andy Blane,
A stark old sinner, and a stout, as ever
Blue swag has carried through
That grim, wild land men name the Never-Never,
Beyond the far Barcoo.
His strength was failing now, but his unfailing
Strong spirit still upbore
And drove him on with courage yet unquailing,
In spite of weakness sore.
When, lo! beside a clump of salt-bush lying,
All suddenly he found
A stranger, who before his eyes seemed dying
Of thirst, without a sound.
Straightway beside that stranger on the sandy
Salt plain, a death-bed sad,
Down kneeling, “Drink this water, mate!” said Andy,
It was the last he had.
Behold a miracle! for when that Other
Had drunk, he rose and cried,
“Let us pass on!” As brother might with brother
So went they, side by side;
Until the fierce sun, like an eyeball bloody
Eclipsed in death, was seen
No more, and in the spacious West, still ruddy,
A star shone out serene.
As one, then, whom some memory beguiling
May gladden, yea, and grieve,
The stranger, pointing up, said, sadly smiling,
“The Star of Christmas Eve!”
Andy replied not. Unto him the sky was
All reeling stars; his breath
Came thick and fast; and life an empty lie was;
True one thing only, Death.
. . . . .
Beneath the moonlight, with the weird, wan glitter
Of salt-bush all around,
He lay; but by his side in that dark, bitter,
Last hour, a friend he found.
“Thank God!” he said. “He’s acted more than square, mate,
By me in this, and I’m
A Rip.. . . . He must have known I was, well, there, mate,
A White Man all the time.
“To-morrow’s Christmas day: God knows where I’ll be
By then, I don’t; but you
Away from this Death’s hole should many a mile be,
At Blake’s, on the Barcoo.
“You take this cheque there, they will cash it, sonny. . . .
It meant my Christmas spree. . . .
And do just what you like best with the money,
In memory of me.”
The stranger, smiling, with a little leaven
Of irony, said, “Yea,
But there it shall not be. With me in Heaven
You’ll spend your Christmas Day.”
Then that gray heathen, that old back-block stager,
And laughed, and laughed again, “Mate, it’s a wager!”
And, grimly laughing, died.
. . . . .
St. Peter stood at the Celestial Portal,
Gazing down gulfs of air,
When Andy Blane, no longer now a mortal,
Appeared before him there.
“What seek’st thou here?” the saint in tone ironic
Said. “Surely the wrong gate
This is for thee.” Andy replied, laconic,
“I want to find my mate.”
The gates flew wide. The glory unbeholden
Of mortal eyes was there.
He gazed, this trembling sinner, at the golden
Thrones, terrible and fair,
And shuddered. Then down through the living splendour
Came One unto the gate
Who said, with outspread hands, in accents tender:
“Andy! I am your mate!”