Phantom streams were in the distance - mocking lights of lake and pool -
Ghosts of trees of soft green lustre - groves of shadows deep and cool!
Yea, some devil ran before them changing skies of brass to blue,
Setting bloom where curse is planted, where a grass-blade never grew.
Six there were, and high above them glared a wild and wizened sun,
Ninety leagues from where the waters of the singing valleys run.
There before them, there behind them, was the great, stark, stubborn plain,
Where the dry winds hiss for ever, and the blind earth moans for rain!
Ringed about by tracks of furnace, ninety leagues from stream and tree,
Six there were, with wasted faces, working northwards to the sea!
Ah, the bitter, hopeless desert! Here these broken human wrecks
Trod the wilds where sand of fire is with the spiteful spinifex,
Toiled through spheres that no bird knows of, where with fiery emphasis
Hell hath stamped its awful mint-mark deep on every thing that is!
Toiled and thirsted, strove and suffered! ~This~ was where December's breath
As a wind of smiting flame is on weird, haggard wastes of death!
This was where a withered moan is, and the gleam of weak, wan star,
And a thunder full of menace sends its mighty voices far!
This was where black execrations, from some dark tribunal hurled,
Set the brand of curse on all things in the morning of the world!
One man yielded - then another - then a lad of nineteen years
Reeled and fell, with English rivers singing softly in his ears,
English grasses started round him - then the grace of Sussex lea
Came and touched him with the beauty of a green land by the sea!
Old-world faces thronged about him - old-world voices spoke to him;
But his speech was like a whisper, and his eyes were very dim.
In a dream of golden evening, beaming on a quiet strand,
Lay the stranger till a bright One came and took him by the hand.
England vanished; died the voices; but he heard a holier tone,
And an angel that we know not led him to the lands unknown!
Six there were, but three were taken! Three were left to struggle still;
But against the red horizon flamed a horn of brindled hill!
But beyond the northern skyline, past a wall of steep austere,
Lay the land of light and coolness in an April-coloured year!
"Courage, brothers!" cried the leader. "On the slope of yonder peak
There are tracts of herb and shadow, and the channels of the creek!"
So they made one last great effort - haled their beasts through brake and briar,
Set their feet on spurs of furnace, grappled spikes and crags of fire,
Fought the stubborn mountain forces, smote down naked, natural powers,
Till they gazed from thrones of Morning on a sphere of streams and flowers.
Out behind them was the desert, glaring like a sea of brass!
Here before them were the valleys, fair with moonlight-coloured grass!
At their backs were haggard waste-lands, bickering in a wicked blaze!
In their faces beamed the waters, marching down melodious ways!
Touching was the cool, soft lustre over laps of lawn and lea;
And majestic was the great road Morning made across the sea.
On the sacred day of Christmas, after seven months of grief,
Rested three of six who started, on a bank of moss and leaf -
Rested by a running river, in a hushed, a holy week;
And they named the stream that saved them - named it fitly - "Christmas Creek".