The Babes In The Bush

A poem by Barcroft Henry Boake

Dozens of damp little curls;
One little short upper lip;
Two rows of teeth like diminutive pearls;
Eyes clear and grey as the creek where it swirls
Over the ledges that's Tip!
With a skip!
A perfectly hopeless young nip!

Smudge on the tip of his nose;
Mischievous glance of a Puck;
Heart just as big as the rents in his clothes;
Lungs like a locust and cheeks like a rose;
Total it! there you have Tuck!
And bad luck
To the man who would question his pluck!

School is all over at last,
School with its pothooks and strokes:
Homeward they toddle, but who could go fast?
So many wonderful things to be passed
Froggie, for instance, who croaks
'Neath the oaks
By the creek where the watercress soaks.

Sandpipers dance on the bars;
Swallows, white-throated and fleet,
Dip thirsty beaks in the stream as they pass;
Smooth water-beetles that twinkle like stars
Watch the gay dragon-flies greet.
Hark how sweet
Is the pipe of the tiny pee-weet!

Near, too, the earth is all torn:
Strong, willing workers have thrown
Great heaps of tailings, smooth-polished and worn,
Round the mysterious caverns that yawn
Stacks of the snowy quartz stone,
Piles of the Earth's dry bone.

Grasshoppers chirp on the brace;
Briars drop berries blood-red
Into the mouldering void of the race;
Green mosses flourish on cutting and face;
Children speak softly, with dread,
When they tread
In this desolate place of the dead.

‘Tum on!' said Tip, ‘here's a nest!'
Looking behind as he ran.
‘No,' said his brother, expanding his chest,
‘I like to play at pro'pectin' the best'
Thumping a rusty old pan;
Then began
To wash up a dish like a man.

‘Tum on! here's four little eggs!
Do tum!' he whimpers his lip:
A-tremble his eyes, wet by tears as he begs,
And sharp briars are scratching his legs.
A branch strikes his face like a whip;
Then a slip
And a shaft swallows poor little Tip!

Peering and catching his breath,
Tuck felt his little heart swell:
Nothing at all could he see underneath
P'r'aps poor old Tippy had gone to his death
Would it hurt him if he fell?
Who could tell
The depth of that horrible well?

‘Tippy! oh, Tip! are you dead?' . . .
Never a sound or a sigh!
Tuck held his breath, his heart heavy as lead:
Then: ‘Tuck! where are you? I've hurted my head!'
Came up the quav'ring reply;
And a cry:
‘Oh, Tuck! don't go 'way, or I'll die!

‘Tuck! it's so dark; I'm afraid!' . . .
He drew down his eyebrows and frowned
Up the creek, down the creek, somewhat dismayed.
Miles to go home; but, again, if he stayed,
How would they ever be found Underground
In that cavern that swallowed all sound?

‘Tuck, I'm all covered with blood!
Sobbed the small voice without cess.
‘Why don't you help me up out of the mud?'
Tuck foraged out a long length of pine wood;
Stripped off his little print dress,
And just guess!
Rigged a white flag of distress!

Truly the depth was not great
That, though, the babe did not know;
Lowering himself till the whole of his weight
Hung on the fingers that clutched the blue slate . . .
‘Please God!' . . . he let himself go;
And I trow
That angel hands caught him below.

Never a scratch or a mark!
No, and not even a tear!
Little hands feeling their way through the dark . . .
What if that other should be stiff and stark?
‘Here I am, Tippy! quite near
Oh, dear!'
Then came the answer: ‘I'm here!'

Crouched in the mouth of a drive,
Tippy sobbed out his delight
Not so much hurt, after all quite alive:
Almost convinced that no harm could arrive
Now that Tuck's arms clasped him tight.
Then the light
Died slowly, and lo! it was Night.

Above the flag blows to the air:
Sad parents seek vainly and weep:
There are lights 'mid the thistles, and cries of despair:
A rifle cracks loudly, and bonfires glare . . .
Below where the blind creatures creep,
Hidden deep,
Two pretty babes smile in their sleep.

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