The Whirligig of Time [poem by T.H. Ord]

[Editor: This poem by T.H. Ord was published in The Bulletin Reciter, 1901.]

The Whirligig of Time.

I crossed the old ford at the end of last May,
The old pub had vanished, not even a shingle
Survived of the roof, which, in years passed away,
Saw friendship and devilry strangely commingle.
The few blackened wall-posts and panels of fencing
That stand by the roadside are all that remain
To tell of old days ; a new era commencing
Has ended a gold-time we ’ll ne’er see again.

Then Kate was the barmaid, as handsome a girl
As any fine lady ; the smile that she gave
Had put heaps of poor fellows’ heads in a whirl,
And some poor unfortunates’ bones in the grave.
She was worshipped, you see, by the coves all about,
Who would fight like the devil her love to secure ;
And Cupid, in those days, to settle a doubt,
Had a way of his own which was certain and sure.

And Kate ! why she ’d drive one insane with her sighs,
With her pearly-white teeth and her lips red as coral —
She looked like a witch, in the depths of whose eyes
The light sparkled best at the sight of a quarrel.
I ’ll always remember that long-ago morning,
When, down from the Bogong, young Archie Mackay
Stood joking with Kate, and, without the last warning,
Flash Jim interfered in his coarse-speaking way.

From Archie’s warm heart to the roots of his hair
The fiery blood rushed, with a leap and a bound ;
Like a flash he stood off, then a blow planted square
Sent Jim with a thud and an oath to the ground.
With some terrible threats the two men closed together,
A clinch and a struggle — Flash Jim did the rest.
And, snatching his knife from its sheathing of leather,
With Archie’s throat gripped, drove it into his breast.

Flash Jim was the “ringer” of Moorabin shed,
And a bit of a bully — they hated him, all ;
The crowd tried to rush him — he cowed them instead
And stood panting at bay, with his back to the wall.
They wavered an instant, “Stand back, or by God,” he
Exclaimed, “who comes near me comes straight to his death !
I ’ll bury the blade of this knife in his body ;
So damn you, stand off ! — let a cove get his breath !”

Then he sped through the doorway and made for the creek,
And the crowd with a shout followed closely behind ;
Lithe-limbed and lean-flanked, Jim could stay for a week,
A good even-timer, he sped like the wind.
They chased him through timber, to where the tall pines
Rose out of the sandhills, set close as a furze ;
Right on to the range, where the setting sun shines
In a glory of crimson o’er ridges and spurs.

They lost him sometimes, till a stir of the branches
Showed where he was threading the bracken and fern,
And they followed like sleuth-hounds the trail on his haunches —
Each man as a bushman had nothing to learn ;
So hard on his track pressed the resolute band,
Impelled by a mixture of justice and passion ;
And the flying man knew that lynch-law, out of hand,
Would follow his capture in summary fashion.

Archie’s mate, who throughout with a dogged persistence
Had followed, stopped short, and without much delay,
As he saw the tall ferns gently moved at a distance
Not greater than ten or twelve paces away —
With the skill of a sharpshooter marking a foe,
His revolver discharged — ere the smoke-cloud departed,
A body rolled down through the brushwood below,
Some twenty odd yards from the spot where it started.

The flash, the report, its wild echoes resounding.
Fast summoned the crowd who, with ringing halloo,
Scrambled down to the creek, where, the victim surrounding,
They found they had captured — a scrub-kangaroo.
Methinks I can call up the asinine change
Of expression which tortured their features that day,
And hear in the silence that fell o’er the range
Jim’s wild peal of laughter die slowly away.

“Where ’s Archie ?” you ask. Well, I guess I am he.
’Neath the folds of my shirt, here, I still bear the scar.
“And Kate?” Married years ago — married to me —
And as handsome as when she served drinks in the bar.
Here ’s the landlord for orders — I ’m dry with this yabber ;
Yours the same ? . . . so is mine . . . Bring your own . . . How he winks !
You were asking just now what became of the stabber,
Flash Jim. Why, that ’s he just gone out for the drinks.

T. H. Ord.

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 34-37

Speak Your Mind