The Ballad of Stuttering Jim [poem by Samuel Cliall White]

[Editor: This poem by Samuel Cliall White was published in The Bulletin Reciter, 1901.]

The Ballad of Stuttering Jim

(Illustrating the survival of the fittest).

This is the yarn of Stuttering Jim, the girl, and the other man.
The strangest yarn that ever was told since ever the world began ;
The yarn that was told by Stuttering Jim when the hour of the dawn was nigh,
And the fire grew dim, and the pipes went out, and the whisky-bottle was dry.

There are tales that are told in the darkness, and tales that are told in the light,
And some are fit for the morning star, and some for the secret night ;
But the tale that he told is the tale to tell when the campfire ’s wan and grey,
And the Dawn breaks into the house of Night with the blood-red hammers of Day.

Now, Jim was a man of thirty-two, though he looked a good three-score,
For his back was bent, and his eyes were red, and the hue of his hair was hoar :
There was me, and Pell, and Carroty Joe, and Barney and Bandy Gray,
But never a word came out of the crowd as he gave himself away.

And Jim he talked as he mostly did when the whisky slipped his tongue,
Of the time when his back was straight and strong, and his looks, like his years, were young ;
And he whined of a day when his tongue could wag as fast as a man would think,
When his eyes were bright, and all was well, before he took to the drink.

And he talked of a girl that lived hard by to a place that he had of his own.
With a face like the flower that glows in the bush when the winter is one-half flown :
She could ride all day, and dance all night, and be up with the morning dew.
And milk the cows on her father’s farm, as a well-bred girl should do.

And though she loved dancing and dainty things, as a healthy maiden must,
There was never a man of the sons of men could have brought her head to the dust ;
But she and Jim got talking of love, which is dangerous talk for a man,
And the end of it was they plighted their troth — and then the trouble began.

For there came a chap to her father’s farm, a bit of a ne’er-do-well.
Who had gone the pace for all it was worth till they shipped him away to hell ;
And he got struck on this girl of Jim’s till his blood was all of a flame.
And he pushed old Jim for the foremost place like a man that was used to the game.

And Jim got riled, and chopped about, for he saw how the current blew,
And now he was mad, and now he was gay, and he kept the girl in a stew ;
But the girl stuck fast to her plighted troth, and treated it all as a jest —
She clung as the steel wedge clings to the wood, but she liked the other chap best.

And Jim he told how the girl’s old man, and her mother, and all the three
Went up one day to the Forty-mile Bush on a sort of a picnic spree ;
And Jim and the girl got wandering off, as a man and a maid will do,
And the place was supple-jack up to the eyes, and as flat as a cake all through.

And there ’s some that go and twist and turn and come out safe and sound,
And there ’s some that go, and never come back, for they leave their bones on the ground ;
And there’s dandy bushes this side of hell for a man that is sick of the play,
But the dandiest bush in all that land is the bush they found that day.

Yet the old man up and off to the farm, for he said that he trusted Jim
To bring his girl by another road home, for nothing would happen to him ;
But the English chap hung a bit behind, and he crammed his pockets with food.
And the very first chance the beggar saw he was off and away for the wood.

Then Jim he told how he and the girl had tangled the bush about.
And how, by dark, the other man came to show them a pathway out ;
But what should a Londoner know of the bush more than they who are native born ?
He led them the way that leads to death, betwixt the night and the morn.

For the bush was as thick as a paddock of maize and sharp as a tiger’s claw,
With the supple-jack vines, and the saws and spines of toi and tartara-moa ;
But still he thought they’d a kind of show if only the food would last.
And he parted some bread ’twixt Jim and the girl, but he shut his own mouth for a fast.

And another day went, and another day came, and a day and a night thereto,
And they came to a bit of a rise at last where a peep of the sky got through,
And they lighted a fire of leaves and logs, and settled them down to wait
Till the rescue came. And the days and nights went past till they numbered eight.

Their food was done on the sixth day out, though they rationed it down to a crumb,
And their water was most of it slime from the swamp, and the flesh of the taraire plum ;
And the suns that rose and the suns that set looked down in their giddy whirl
On the English beggar that kept his fast for the love of a starving girl.

And he and the girl were weak as rats, and twisted with deadly pain,
And pale as the tea-tree flower that blows at the end of the winter rain ;
But Jim hung out from day to day, with a face of steady cheer,
Till the Englishman woke from a bit of a doze, and he reckoned the thing looked queer.

So he followed Jim down to the edge of the swamp, though the beggar could barely stand,
And he spied him there, like a rat in a hole, with a crust of bread in his hand ;
For Jim had found the stuff in the pouch ere the sixth dawn grew to day,
And he thought of his love, and he thought of his faith, but life seemed better than they.

For life is life, and death is death, and each man “goes alone,”
And death is a frozen No Man’s Land, and life is a torrid zone ;
And the way of the world is a curious way, and curious creatures thrive,
And the false man lives and the true man dies, and only the fit survive.

Then the English chap stepped out of his lair, and they stood by the swamp alone,
And he saw Jim bury the crust in the fern, as a dog will bury a bone ;
And he cried : “I have given my life for yours, if ever this world goes round,
But I ’ll win her love for a dying man in lieu of a living hound.

“I have tortured my flesh for twelve long days to give her the joy of life,
But now she is mine for the rest of time, and the devil may find you a wife.
I have gambled and sworn and lied and mocked, and humbled myself to none,
But I ’m more of a man with all my sins than you with your single one.

“I have drunken and danced and had my fling, and laughed at the ‘Promise of May,’
But not for all that God can give would I stand in your shoes to-day.”
And he up and off where the young girl sat, with her eyes fixed hard on the sod,
And he said : “It is better to know to-day than to learn to-morrow from God.

“You ’ve set your heart on the form of a man, but he ’d never the soul of a hound,
And it ’s better to die with the truth all told than go with a lie to the ground.”
And he told the tale with a fainting voice, and a face like a winding-sheet,
And bade her God-speed, and clutched his throat, and dropped down dead at her feet.

Then Jim he told how he slunk from the swamp, for he dreaded to die alone,
And he saw the girl where she sat by her dead, with her face set still as a stone ;
And the girl looked up from the eyes of the corpse with their blank and ghastly stare,
And she looked at the live and she looked at the dead, and the dead face seemed more fair.

And she smiled and sighed, and put out her arms, and gathered the corpse to her breast,
And she said : “You have had my plighted troth, but I loved the dead man best.
And I fear he played us false with the food, or how should it come to pass
That a strong man, full of the lust of life, should die in the arms of a lass ?

“You ’ll come safe out of the gates of death while the fiend has work to do,
And you ’ll find a mate in the warm, full world, but I ’m not the girl for you.
The love you gave was a dainty thing, as the hue of a sunset sky,
But the love of the dead was the love of a man, for it taught him the way to die.”

And the day went down and the day came up, and a long cold night thereto,
And then the rescue broke through the woods, as rescues mostly do
For twelve long days they had followed the trail where hardly a bird could dive,
And they carried two corpses out of the bush, but Jim they carried alive.

There are tales that are told in the darkness, and tales that are told in the light,
And some are fit for the Morning star, and some for the secret Night ;
But the tale Jim told is the tale to tell when the camp fire ’s wan and grey,
And the Dawn breaks into the house of Night with the blood-red hammers of Day.

Samuel Cliall White.

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 93-101

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