[Editor: This poem by John Farrell was published in The Bulletin Reciter, 1901.]
The Last Bullet.
Since the first human eyes saw the first timid stars break through heaven, and shine,
Surely never a man has bowed under the cross of a curse such as mine;
They of all the dead millions of millions whose dust whirls and flees in the wind,
Who were born sorry heirs of the hate of a Fate that is bitter and blind —
All whose lives pain has smitten with fire since God first set the sun to its course —
What have they known of woe like to mine ? what of grief? of despair? of remorse?
Oh, to cancel one hour of my past ! Oh, to shut out all thought — to forget!
Then go forth as a leper, to die in hot wastes ! Listen ! . . . Over us yet,
Her and me, in the heart of the North, hung the glamour of love at its height,
Joy of things unperceived by the others, holy hours of unwaning delight —
Joy of selfless devotion to each in each heart — joy of guiding the feet
Of our babe, our one daughter, our May, by three summers of childhood made sweet.
I had dared overmuch in the battle for wealth ; I had ventured alone
Upon verdurous tracts that lay fronting the edge of a desert unknown,
Fifty miles further out than the furthest I had chanced on a green width of plain,
In a time when the earth was made glad with a grey wealth of bountiful rain.
Fifty miles from Maconochie’s Gap. They had warned me. Some three years gone by,
In a night when the flames of his home reddened far up the heights of the sky,
With a hard, ragged spear through his heart, and a tomahawk-blade in his head,
Lay the master, in death, and his wife — ah, far better had she, too, lain dead!
Dark the tale is to tell, yet it was but a cool resentment of wrong,
A fierce impulse of those who were weak for revenge upon those who were strong;
Cattle speared at the first — blacks shot down, and the blood of their babes, even, shed —
Blood that stains the same hue as our own ! It is written red blood will have red.
But an organised anger of whites swept the bush with a fury unchained,
Till the feet of the trees had their dead, and the black, murdered corpses remained
Till the black, glutted crows scarce could rise from the feast at the sound of a foot,
And the far-away camps through the nights lay unlighted, and ghastly, and mute.
And the terror ran out through the tribes, and since that dismal crime had been done,
Not a dusk, stealthy savage had crossed the wide bounds of Maconochie’s run,
But the white skies, in set malediction, stared at palpitant wastes that implored
For the wine of dry clouds that rose, mocking them. “Vengeance is Mine!” saith the Lord.
They had warned me. “Out yonder,” they said, “there’s abundance of water and grass ;
You ’ve Brown’s Ranges on one side, they draw down and drain all the rain-clouds that pass;
(We are outside the rainy belt here) but — remember the words we have said —
If you will go, take plenty of arms, and be sure to take powder and lead!”
And I went, with my trustworthy helpers, and lived through a desolate year
Of suspicions and vigils, and hunger for her of all dear ones most dear ;
But a year crowned with utmost successes, and crowned above all things in this
That it brought her at last to my side, with the gift of a new face to kiss.
And a blessedness came with her feet, and our life was an infinite peace,
And the prospering years shed upon us a fair meed of worldly increase ;
But a thousand times better to me than large prospect of silver and gold
Was the sumptuous love of a wife, mine for ever to have and to hold.
O, the sting of remembering then ! O, could madness dishevel my mind
Till I babbled of wry, tangled things, looking neither before nor behind!
But that memory never will sleep, and I crouch, as the first of our race,
Not my peer in his guilt, crouched and hid from the sight of God’s terrible face !
We had hardly been vexed by the blacks in our work, though, all through the first year
And the second, we stood upon guard with the disciplined earnest of fear,
But the summers and winters went by, and the wild hordes gave never a proof
Of their hate, and our vigilance slept and security came to our roof.
So, unwarned, fell the night of my doom. There was smoke in the West through the day,
And an hour after noontide the men had been mustered and sent to waylay
In its course the quick wave that might ruin, for the high grass was yellow and sere
With the withering breath of the dense, sullen heat of the last of the year.
Some had rifles to shoot kangaroo; some had not; and my darlings and I
Sat alone in the dusk near our door, with our eyes on a fringe in the sky,
Where the light of the late-sunken sun was replaced by a wide livid glow
Which pulsed high or grew pale as the fire underneath it waxed fierce or waned low.
We had spoken together, glad-voiced, of the time when our exile would be
At an end, and our feet once again in the quiet lands over the sea,
Till the large lovely eyes of the child felt their lids grow despotic. She drew
To her mother, and slept in her arms, and the new-risen moon kissed the two !
I was looking beyond them to where the broad columns of tree-shadows slept,
Stretching west twice the length of the trees, when a horror of something that crept,
Something blacker than shade through the shade, smote my heart with a hammer of ice ;
And with eyeballs dilated and strained, and hands clenched with the clench of a vice,
I leaped up. But a clear, sudden whirr cleaved the night, and with scarcely a moan
From her lips, the white soul of our child went among the white souls at the Throne!
“To the house!” With the dead and the living, half dead, clasped before me, I sprang
Through the strong door, and bolted and barred it, before on the stillness out rang
One wild, volumed malignance of yells ! To have light might be death. In the dark
On the floor the poor mother groped madly about the dead child for a spark
Of the hope of pulsation of life, till the blood that was mine and her own,
From the boomerang-gash warmed her hands, and she knew that we two were alone !
Yell on yell of the monsters without! crash of shutters behind! — but I knew
How the wall that divided was built ; that, at least, they could never get through —
Crash of manifold blows on the door; but I knew, too, how that had been made,
And I crawled to the corner and found my revolvers, and hoarsely I said:
“Kiss me now, ere the worst, O Bereft! — O most stricken and dearest of wives —
They will find out this window! — I hold in my hands but a dozen of lives ;
In the storehouse the arms are — God help us! Fold your hands in the dark, dear, and pray!”
But she sobbed from the floor, “God forgets us, and I have forgotten the way !”
Crash of spear through the window ! — and answering flash, with the message of lead
From my hand ! — and dull answer to that of a lean demon form falling dead !
Crash on crash of a dozen of spears ! — till they lay in a sheaf on the floor —
Red rejoinder of fire as the moonlight revealed them — “But one bullet more!”
I had hissed to myself. But she heard me, and seizing my arm, held it fast,
And a hard, altered voice that I knew not at once, cried, “Hold! — I claim the last,
Dearest love, by your hand the divorce ! One last kiss, till the Infinite Life —
Once again, on my lips! Hold it close, and . . . . remember Maconochie’s wife !”
By the white sickly gleam of the match she had bared that true bosom, all red
With the blood of her slain one. I looked in her eyes. “God forgive me!” I said . . .
. . . . . And the sound of a crime unexampled was echoed outside by a sound —
Not as awful to me that dread Trump, when the time of my sentence comes round —
Rifle-shots close at hand! — devil-cries ;— counter cheers of the voices I knew !
They were back ! I was saved ! . . . Lost ! lost ! lost ! Can the blood of the Saviour they slew
Upon Calvary’s hill wash off hers from my hands! For I trusted not God
To the full in the hour of my need, and my lips will not cleave to the rod
Of His wrath, and I fall in the sand, with the weight of the cross that I bear . . .
Who has ever gone out with a burden of crime, of remorse, of despair
Like to this? Let me stumble to death, or through life — it is equally well,
Doubly-damned, what can death be to me but translation from Hell unto Hell?
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 221-229
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