Skeeta - An Old Servant’s Tale

A poem by Barcroft Henry Boake

Our Skeeta was married, our Skeeta! the tomboy and pet of the place,
No more as a maiden we’d greet her, no more would her pert little face
Light up the chill gloom of the parlour; no more would her deft little hands
Serve drinks to the travel-stained caller on his way to more southerly lands;
No more would she chaff the rough drovers and send them away with a smile,
No more would she madden her lovers, demurely, with womanish guile
The “prince” from the great Never-Never, with light touch of lips and of hand
Had come, and enslaved her for ever a potentate bearded and tanned
From the land where the white mirage dances its dance of death over the plains,
With the glow of the sun in his glances, the lust of the West in his veins;

His talk of long drought-stricken stretches when the tongue rattled dry on the lips;
Of his fights with the niggers, poor wretches, as he sped on his perilous trips.
A supple-thewed, desert-bred rover, with naught to commend him but this,
That he was her idol, her lover, who’d fettered her heart with a kiss.

They were wed, and he took her to Warren, where she with his love was content;
But town-life to him was too foreign, so back to the droving he went:
A man away down on the border of “Vic.” bought some cattle from “Cobb,”
And gave Harry Parker the order to go to “the Gulf” for the mob:
And he went, for he held her love cheaper than his wish to re-live the old life,
Or his reason might have been deeper I called it deserting his wife.

Then one morning his horses were mustered, the start on the journey was made
A clatter, an oath through the dust heard, was the last of the long cavalcade.
As we stood by the stockyard assembled, poor child, how she strove to be brave!
But yet I could see how she trembled at the careless farewell that he gave.
We brought her back home on the morrow, but none of us ever may learn
Of the fight that she fought to keep sorrow at bay till her husband’s return.
He had gone, but the way of his going, ’twas that which she dwelt on with pain
Careless kiss, though there sure was no knowing, when or where he might kiss her again.
He had ridden away and had left her a woman, in all but in years,
Of her girlhood’s gay hopes had bereft her, and left in their place nought but tears.

Yet still, as the months passed, a treasure was brought her by Love, ere he fled,
And garments of infantile measure she fashioned with needle and thread;
She fashioned with linen and laces and ribbons a nest for her bird,
While colour returned to her face as the bud of maternity stirred.
It blossomed and died; we arrayed it in all its soft splendour of white,
And sorrowing took it and laid it in the earth whence it sprung, out of sight.
She wept not at all, only whitened, as Death, in his pitiless quest,
Leant over her pillow and tightened the throat of the child at her breast.

She wept not, her soul was too tired, for waiting is harrowing work,
And then I bethought me and wired away to the agents in Bourke;
’Twas little enough I could glean there; ’Twas little enough that they knew
They answered he hadn’t been seen there, but might in a week, perchance two.
She wept not at all, only whitened with staring too long at the night:
There was only one time when she brightened, that time when red dust hove in sight,
And settled and hung on the backs of the cattle, and altered their spots,
While the horses swept up, with their packs of blue blankets and jingling pots.
She always was set upon meeting those boisterous cattle-men, lest
Her husband had sent her a greeting by one of them, in from the West.
Not one of them ever owned to him, or seemed to remember the name
(The truth was they all of them knew him, but wouldn’t tell her of his shame)
But never, though long time she waited, did her faith in the faithless grow weak,
And each time the outer door grated, an eager flush sprang to her cheek

’Twasn’t he, and it died with a flicker, and then what I had long dreaded came:
I was serving two drovers with liquor when one of them mentioned his name.
“Oh, yes!” said the other one, winking, “on the Paroo I saw him, he’d been
In Eulo a fortnight then, drinking, and driving about with “The Queen”
While the bullocks were going to glory, and his billet was not worth a G--- d---- ;”
I told him to cut short the story, as I pulled-to the door with a slam
Too late! for the words were loud-spoken, and Skeeta was out in the hall,
Then I knew that a girl’s heart was broken, as I heard a low cry and a fall.

And then came a day when the doctor went home, for the truth was avowed;
And I knew that my hands, which had rocked her in childhood, would fashion her shroud,
I knew we should tenderly carry and lay her where many more lie,
Ah, why will the girls love and marry, when men are not worthy, ah, why?
She lay there a-dying, our Skeeta; not e’en did she stir at my kiss,
In the next world perchance we may greet her, but never, ah, never, in this.
Like the last breath of air in a gully, that sighs as the sun slowly dips,
To the knell of a heart beating dully, her soul struggled out on her lips.
But she lifted great eyelids and pallid, while once more beneath them there glowed
The fire of Love, as she rallied at sound of hoofs out on the road;
They rang sharp and clear on the metal, they ceased at the gate in the lane,
A pause, and we heard the beats settle in long, swinging cadence again;
With a rattle, a rush, and a clatter the rider came down by the store,
And neared us, but what did it matter? he never pulled rein at the door,
But over the brow of the hill he sped on with a low muffled roll,
’Twas only young Smith on his filly; he passed, and so too did her soul.

Weeks after, I went down one morning to trim the white rose that had grown
And clasped, with its tender adorning, the plain little cross of white stone.
In the lane dusty drovers were wheeling dull cattle, with turbulent sound,
But I paused as I saw a man kneeling, with his forehead pressed low on the mound;
Already he’d heard me approaching, and slowly I saw him up-rise
And move away, sullenly slouching his “cabbage-tree” over his eyes,
I never said anything to him, as he mounted his horse at the gate,
He didn’t know me, but I knew him, the husband who came back too late.

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