Barcroft
Henry
Boake

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Skeeta
An Old Servant's Tale

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.