[Editor: This poem by John Carew was published in The Bulletin Reciter, 1901.]
The wind-strewn wheat lay far and wide upon the paddocks bare,
The place all told the signs of drought — for we had had our share :
“Next week the interest will be due on our selected land” —
Dad smoked and smoked, his care-lined face upon his heavy hand.
“There ’s only three more years to run; it must be paid — but how ?
There’s but one beast upon the farm I care a rap for now ;
There ’s but one beast will raise the wind, so, as I must, I ’ll sell:
The Sydney buyer’s sure to bid for the old mare, Christmas Belle.”
“Eleven years since she was foaled, down in the paddock there ;
Pretty as paint she always was, easy to keep and care.
Your mother rode her many a time the year before she died,
And little Tim, that went Beyond, could sit on her astride.
We never did great shakes with her, although she once raced well,
She had a temper of her own — had game old Christmas Belle !”
Then Dick (we reckoned Dick was hard!) beckoned us two away —
“We ’ll sell our own d—n mokes,” said he, “and let the old mare stay !”
* * * * * *
With spotless shirts and shining spurs we stood prepared to go,
’Twas ten miles to the Lachlan Bridge, and we must canter slow.
The missus (she is none too bad) came out among us men ;
She gave one look at old Dad’s face and went straight in again.
Young Mollie kissed old Belle’s white nose, the kids were everywhere ;
And Phil, the jockey of us all, reckoned to ride the mare.
But Dad’s mouth took an ugly twist, of old we knew it well ;
“You ’re smart,” said he, “ but none but me shall part with Christmas Belle.”
The blacks, with long-tailed, knock-kneed brutes, came trailing up the road,
And Chinamen and half-caste boys on wall-eyed mongrels strode.
Three hundred horses walked and pranced and crowded round the course,
And wild Bess Flanagan was there to sell her coal-black horse.
We scrambled for our tickets then, and pushed up near the gate :
For four strong men on four good hacks, the weaker ones must wait.
They gave us decent standing-room and civil tongues as well —
She’d give a good substantial kick, would that same Christmas Belle !
We saw the buyer was no fool — he wore no vest or coat ;
But it did n’t affect his dealing, for he had n’t learnt by rote.
We had no luck with our three nags — my horse, though strong, was small ;
And Dick’s — a splendid galloper — too leggy and too tall;
While Phil’s, the best of all the three, performed and played-up high,
So now we had no choice at all but let the old man try.
He straightened up his rounded back, he tightened up the girth,
And then he let the old girl rip for all that she was worth.
She sped like some slow-moving bird upon the dusty grass,
And groups of men stopped in their talk to watch the old man pass ;
The buyer’s eyes took sudden light, the sound of hoofs grew low,
And madcap Bess, she held her breath to see the brown mare go.
“Grand pace,” the buyer said ; “what price?” “Sixteen,” the boss replied —
He wanted just the interest due — no blood-money beside.
“Now, take the saddle off — just there.” Dad did as he was told ;
The buyer nodded. Dad stood back, and Christmas Belle was sold !
Dad bargained with the auctioneer to send the interest down,
He bought a flask of old Three Star and then made straight from town.
We stayed behind in Willoughby and helped to raise the fun,
We chaffed the girls, and shouted drinks as we had always done.
At dusk we rode like funeral mutes along the mountain track,
We would have given all we had to fetch the brown mare back.
The wind blew cold across the range, the grey mists heavy fell,
The night we sent to face the war the old mare Christmas Belle.
A.G. Stephens (editor). The Bulletin Reciter: A Collection of Verses for Recitation from “The Bulletin” [1880-1901], The Bulletin Newspaper Company, Sydney, 1902 [first published 1901], pages 116-120
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