The western sun, ere he sought his lair,
Skimm’d the treetops, and glancing thence,
Rested awhile on the curling hair
Of Kitty McCrae, by the boundary fence;
Her eyes looked anxious, her cheeks were pale,
For father was two hours late with the mail.
Never before had he been so late,
And Kitty wondered and wished him back,
Leaning athwart the big swing gate
That opens out on the bridle-track,
A tortuous path that sidled down
From the single street of a mining town.
With her raven curls and her saucy smile,
Brown eyes that glow with a changeful light,
Tenderly trembling all the while
Like a brace of stars on the breast of night,
Where could you find in the light of day
A bonnier lassie than Kitty McCrae?
Born in the saddle, this girl could ride
Like the fearless queen of the silver bow;
And nothing that ever was lapped in hide
Could frighten Kitty McCrae, I trow.
She would wheel a mob in the hour of need
If the Devil himself were in the lead.
But now, in the shadows’ deepening
When the last sun-spark had ceas’d to burn,
Afar she catches the sullen ring
Of horse-hoofs swinging around the turn,
Then painfully down the narrow trail
Comes Alex McCrae with the Greytown mail.
“The fever-and-ague, my girl,” he said,
“’Twas all I got on that northern trip,
When it left me then I was well-nigh dead,
Has got me fast in its iron grip;
And I’d rather rot in the nearest gaol
Than ride to-night with the Greytown mail.
“At Golden Gully they heard to-day
’Twas a common topic about the town
That the Mulligan gang were around this way,
So they wouldn’t despatch the gold-dust down,
And Brown, the manager, said he thought
’Twere wise to wait for a strong escort.
“I rode the leaders, the other nags
I left with the coach at the “Travellers’ Rest”.
Kitty, my lass, you must take the bags
Postboy, I reckon’s about the best;
’Tis dark, I know, but he’ll never fail
To take you down with the Greytown mail.”
It needed no further voice to urge
This dutiful daughter to eager haste;
She donned the habit, of rough blue serge,
That hung in folds from her slender waist,
And Postboy stood by the stockyard rail,
While she mounted behind the Greytown mail.
Dark points, the rest of him iron-grey,
Boasting no strain of expensive blood,
Down steepest hill he could pick his way,
And never was baulked by a winter flood
Strong as a lion, hard as a nail,
Was the horse that carried the Greytown mail;
A nag that really seemed to be
Fit for a hundred miles at a push,
With the old Manaro pedigree,
By “Furious Rising,” out of “The Bush,”
Run in when a colt from a mountain mob
By Brian O’Flynn and Dusty Bob.
And Postboy’s bosom was filled with pride
As he felt the form of his mistress sway,
In its easy grace, to his swinging stride
As he dashed along down the narrow way.
No prettier Mercury, I’ll go bail,
Than Kitty ere carried a Guv’nment mail.
Leaving the edge of O’Connor’s Hill,
They merrily scattered the drops of dew
In the spanning of many a tiny rill,
Whose bubbling waters were hid from view:
In quick-step time to the curlew’s wail
Rode Kitty McCrae, with the Greytown mail.
Sidling the Range, by a narrow path
Where towering mountain ash-trees grow,
And a slip meant more than an icy bath
In the tumbling waters that foamed below;
Through the white fog, filling each silent vale,
Rode Kitty McCrae, with the Greytown mail.
The forest shadows became less dense,
They fairly flew down the river fall,
As out from the shade of an old brush-fence
Stepped three armed men with a sudden call,
Sharp and stern came the well-known hail:
“Stand! for we want the Greytown mail!”
Postboy swerved with a mighty bound,
As an outlaw clung to his bridle rein,
A hoof-stroke flattened him on the ground
With a curse that was half a cry of pain,
While Kitty, trembling and rather pale,
Rode for life and the Greytown mail.
To save the bags was her only thought
As she bent ’fore the whistle of angry lead
That follow’d the flash and the sharp report;
But, “Oh, you cowards!” was all she said.
Fast as fast as the leaden hail
Kitty rode on with the Greytown mail.
Safe? ah, no, for a tiny stream
On Postboy’s coat left its crimson mark.
Still she rode on, but t’was in a dream,
Through lands where shadows fell drear and dark,
Like a wounded sea-bird before the gale
Fled Kitty McCrae with the Greytown mail.
And ever the crimson life-stream drips,
For every hoof-stroke a drop of blood,
From feeble fingers the bridle slips
As down the Warrigal Flat they scud,
And just where the Redbank workings lie,
She reels and falls with a feeble cry.
The old horse slacken’d his racing pace
When he found the saddle his only load,
And nervously sniffed at the still, pure face
That lay upturned in the dusty road;
Like a gathered rose in the heat of day,
She droop’d and faded, Kitty McCrae.
Did Postboy stay by the dead girl’s side?
Not he. Relieved of her feather-weight,
He woke the echoes with measured stride,
Galloping up to the postal gate
Blood, dust, and sweat from head to tail,
A riderless horse with the Greytown mail!
And now a river-oak, drooping, weeps
In ceaseless sorrow above the grave
On the lush-green flat where Kitty sleeps,
Hush’d by the river’s lapping wave
That ever tells to the trees the tale
Of how she rode with the Greytown mail.