"DEAR RICHARD, come at once;" so ran her letter;
The letter of a married female friend:
"She likes you both, and really knows no better
Than I myself do, how her choice will end.
Be sure of this, the first who pops will get her.
He's here for Chris" Whatever else was penned
Dick never knew: nor knows he to this day
How he got drest, and mounted and away!
Like arrow from the bow, like lightning-streak,
Including thunder following fierce and quick,
By ridge and flat, through scrub and foaming creek
Dick galloped like a very lunatic;
Whipped, jerked, and spurred, but never word did speak,
Although his thoughts rushed furious and thick,
Headed by one he strove in vain to wipe out,
The fear that this same "he" might put his pipe out.
And faster yet, and ever faster grew
The maddening music of the pace, until
The station-roofs gleamed suddenly in view,
Quivering in noon-heat on the vine-clad hill:
When all at once his bridle-rein he drew,
But not from craven fear or flagging will,
Though, truth to tell, his heart a moment sank
To see the river nearly "bank and bank."
For Bowstring was the choice of all his stud,
And he at least had no fair bride to win;
And wherefore should he risk him in the flood?
A question Bowstring also asked within:
For though he was a squatter's horse by blood,
And held the grazing interest more than kin,
He eyed the huge logs wheeling, bobbing, bowling,
As if his soul objected to "log-rolling."
And by that curious telegraphic force,
Outspeaking half-a-dozen formal speeches,
That works its quick inexplicable course
Through saddle-cloth, pigskin, and buckskin breeches,
Until the dumb opinion of a horse
Its sympathetic rider's spirit reaches
Dick, feeling under him the strong flanks quiver,
Knew that his thorough-bred would funk the river.
A moment more, Dick from his seat had leapt,
Ungirthed, uncurbed, unreined his trembling steed;
Who straightway vanished from his sight, nor kept
The high tradition of a loyal breed,
But quickened by no stimulus except
His own unbridled (and unsaddled) greed,
Before a man had time to reckon two,
Was gorging in fresh fields and pastures new.
Then Dick threw off his boots, undid his belt,
Doffed here we shirk particulars. In brief,
When nought remained but his primeval pelt,
He tied his garments in his handkerchief;
Then feeling as "the grand old gardener" felt.
(After the apple), crouching like a thief,
Down to the stream did this lorn lover slink,
And threw his bundle to the further brink.
Nor longer paused, but plunged him in the tide,
A hero and Leander both in one;
Struck the entangling boughs from either side,
And held his head up bravely to the sun;
Dodged the huge logs, the torrent's strength defied;
To cut it short, did all that could be done;
Touched land, and uttering a fervent "Thank . . ."
Just then his bundle floated by, and sank.
Take Yarra-bend, take Bedlam, Colney Hatch,
And Woogaroo, and mix them weight for weight,
And stir them well about you could not match
Dick's madness with the whole conglomerate.
If the Recording Angel did but catch
One half his ravings against Heaven and Fate,
And rising creeks and slippery banks, some day
Poor Dick will have a heavy bill to pay.
Was ever lover in so lorn a case?
Was ever lover in so wild a mood?
He nearly pulled the beard from off his face;
He would have rent his garments, if he could.
How could he woo a dame his suit to grace,
Who had no suit, save that wherein he stood?
Oh what were youth, wealth, station in society,
Without the textile adjuncts of propriety!
When oaths and half-an-hour were spent in vain,
It dawned on Dick that he might slyly crawl
From tree to tree across the wooded plain,
And gain "the hut," that stood a mile from all
The other buildings whence some labouring swain,
Unscared by nudity, might come at call,
And lend, for thanks, or promissory payment,
Whatever he could spare of decent raiment.
From one variety of Eucalypt
Unto another, blue gum, spotted gum,
Black-butt, etcetera, Dick crawled or skipped,
Bitten and blistered like the newest chum;
Till, marking where the open level dipped,
Distracted with mosquito-martyrdom,
He rushed, and plunged and not a bit too soon
Into the coolness of a quiet lagoon.
No, not a bit too soon; for something white,
Topped by a parasol of lustrous pink,
At this same perilous moment hove in sight,
And glided gently to the water-brink;
The while in thickest sedge the rueful wight
Hid his diminished head, and scarce dared wink,
No more a gallant daringly erotic,
But consciously absurd, and idiotic.
'Twas she; his ove; and never had he thought
Her face so beautiful, her form so stately;
Ophelia-like she moved, absorbed, distraught;
'Twas plain to Dick she had been weeping lately;
And now and then a weary sigh he caught,
And once a whisper that disturbed him greatly,
Which said, unless his ears played him a trick,
"What in the world can have come over Dick?"
And presently, through his aquatic screen,
His hated rival he beheld advance,
With airy grace and captivating mien,
And all the victor in his countenance:
And too, too late he learned what might have been,
When at her watch he saw the lady glance,
And heard her say, "Here's Fred. The die is cast!
I gave poor Dick till two; 'tis now half-past."
And then Dick closed his eyes, his ears he stopped;
Yet somehow saw and heard no whit the less,
Saw that the lover on his knees had dropped,
And heard him all his tale of love confess;
And when the question had been duly popped,
He heard the kiss that sealed the answering "Yes!"
'Twas rough on Dick: ah me! 'twas mighty rough:
But he remained true blue (though all in buff),
And never winced, nor uttered word or groan,
But gazed upon the treasure he had lost,
In agony of soul, yet still as stone,
The saddest man since first true love was crossed:
And when at length the mated birds had flown,
He waited yet another hour, then tossed
His modesty unto the winds, and ran
Right for the hut, and found thank Heaven! a man.
* * * * *
On that same evening, in his rival's coat,
Waistcoat and things, Dick sat among the rest;
And though he could have cut their owner's throat,
He kept his feelings underneath his vest,
And proved by some mendacious anecdote
That he was there by chance a passing guest.
One boon at least stern Fate could not refuse:
He stood that evening in his rival's shoes.
James Brunton Stephens
"DEAR RICHARD, come at once;" so ran her letter;
© James Brunton Stephens