[Editor: This poem by Henry Lawson was published in Verses Popular and Humorous, 1900.]
A Ballad of Ninety-three
Over there, above the jetty, stands the mansion of the Vardens,
With a tennis ground and terrace, and a flagstaff in the gardens :
They are gentlemen and ladies — they’ve been ‘toffs’ for generations,
But old Varden’s been unlucky — lost a lot in speculations.
Troubles gathered fast upon him when the mining bubble ‘busted,’
Then the bank suspended payment, where his little all he trusted;
And the butcher and the baker sent their bills in when they read it,
Even John, the Chow that served him, has refused to give him ‘cledit.’
And the daughters of the Vardens — they are beautiful as Graces —
But the balcony’s deserted, and they rarely show their faces;
And the swells of their acquaintance never seem to venture near them,
And the bailiff says they seldom have a cup of tea to cheer them.
They were butterflies — I always was a common caterpillar,
But I’m sorry for the ladies over there in ’Tony Villa,
Shut up there in ’Tony Villa with the bailiff and their trouble;
And the dried-up reservoir, where my tears were seems to bubble.
Mrs. Rooney thinks it nothing when she sends a brat to ‘borry’
Just a pinch of tea and sugar till the grocer comes ‘temorry;’
But it’s dif’rent with the Vardens — they would starve to death as soon as
Knuckle down. You know, they weren’t raised exactly like the Rooneys!
There is gossip in the ‘boxes’ and the drawing-rooms and gardens —
‘Have you heard of Varden’s failure? Have you heard about the Vardens?’
And no doubt each toney mother on the Point across the water’s
Mighty glad about the downfall of the rivals of her daughters.
(Tho’ the poets and the writers say that man to man’s inhuman,
I’m inclined to think it’s nothing to what woman is to woman,
More especially, the ladies, save perhaps a fellow’s mother;
And I think that men are better — they are kinder to each other.)
* * * * * *
There’s a youngster by the jetty gathering cinders from the ashes,
He was known as ‘Master Varden’ ere the great financial crashes.
And his manner shows the dif’rence ’twixt the nurs’ry and gutter —
But I’ve seen him at the grocer’s buying half a pound of butter.
And his mother fights her trouble in the house across the water,
She is just as proud as Varden, though she was a ‘cocky’s’ daughter;
And at times I think I see her with the flick’ring firelight o’er her,
Sitting pale and straight and quiet, gazing vacantly before her.
There’s a slight and girlish figure — Varden’s youngest daughter, Nettie —
On the terrace after sunset, when the boat is near the jetty;
She is good and pure and pretty, and her rivals don’t deny it,
Though they say that Nettie Varden takes in sewing on the quiet.
(How her sister graced the ‘circle,’ all unconscious of a lover
In the seedy ‘god’ who watched her from the gallery above her!
Shade of Poverty was on him, and the light of Wealth upon her,
But perhaps he loved her better than the swells attending on her.)
* * * * * *
There’s a white man’s heart in Varden, spite of all the blue blood in him,
There are working men who wouldn’t stand and hear a word agin’ him;
But his name was never printed by the side of his ‘donations,’
Save on hearts that have — in this world — very humble circulations.
He was never stiff or hoggish — he was affable and jolly,
And he’d always say ‘Good morning’ to the deck hand on the ‘Polly;’
He would ‘barrack’ with the newsboys on the Quay across the ferry,
And he’d very often tip ’em coming home a trifle merry.
But his chin is getting higher, and his features daily harden
(He will not ‘give up possession’ — there’s a lot of fight in Varden);
And the way he steps the gangway! oh, you couldn’t but admire it!
Just as proud as ever hero walked the plank aboard a pirate!
He will think about the hardships that his girls were never ‘useter,’
And it must be mighty heavy on the thoroughbred old rooster;
But he’ll never strike his colours, and I tell a lying tale if
Varden’s pride don’t kill him sooner than the bankers or the bailiff.
You remember when we often had to go without our dinners,
In the days when Pride and Hunger fought a finish out within us;
And how Pride would come up groggy — Hunger whooping loud and louder —
And the swells are proud as we are; they are just as proud — and prouder.
Yes, the toffs have grit, in spite of all our sneering and our scorning —
What’s the crowd? What’s that? God help us! — Varden shot himself this morning! . . . .
There’ll be gossip in the ‘circle,’ in the drawing-rooms and gardens;
But I’m sorry for the family; yes I’m sorry for the Vardens.
Henry Lawson. Verses Popular and Humorous, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1900, pages 90-95
borry = borrow
cocky = a cocky, or “cockie”, is a farmer (used to refer to poor bush farmers, from having land so poor that they were jokingly said to only be able to farm cockies, i.e. cockatoos, a type of bird; however, it is was then later used to refer to farmers in general)
temorry = tomorrow
toney = having an aristocratic or “high-toned” manner or style
’twixt = between (can be given either with or without an apostrophe)
white man = a good person, someone who is honourable or generous; in the glossary for The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke, C.J. Dennis gives the following definition, “White (white man). — A true, sterling fellow”
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