The Camp Fire

Year: 1885

[THE following verses have been sent to us by a correspondent in the country, who states that he does not know the author's name—that he received a copy of them from a traveller.  We are not aware whether or not they have ever been published.]

The stockman's evening meal was o'er, the damper stowed away,
And to stretch our weary limbs around the fire we lay.
" Put on another log, my boys!—a good large one; that's right;

Make up a bully fire, for I fear we'll have it cold to-night;

And before you light that pipe of yours just feel in my valise;
You'll find a flask of good three-star—there's just a nip apiece;
Come, mate, pass up your pannikin—there's plenty here you see."
"No, thank you, Boss! I'd rather not; no brandy, sir, for me."

"Ned, how is it you never drink, though l've seen you tempted oft:
And when you chance to take a drink its always something soft?"
"I once was wild," the stockman said, "as any man could be,
And many a hard-earned cheque knocked down just in a drunken spree;

But things have changed, for now I look on drink with dread and fear.
Were I my story to relate it would move you all to hear."
To tell us something of his life we on him did prevail,
And gathered close around the fire to hear the stockman's tale.

The hardy stockman heaved a sigh—his face was sad and wan;
He knocked the ashes from his pipe, and thus his tale began:
" Three years ago, or nearly so (how fast the time rolls by!),
We were travelling 'cross 'the western plains—my brother Ben and I;

My brother Ben!—it is of him I mean to speak the most,
For he was as gay and manly a lad as the country round could boast;
But with all his many virtues he one great failing had,
And that was—drink; for I've seen him raving mad;

But of late years he'd sober grown-a steady chap was he;
He earned his cheque and sent it home—not knocked it down like me.
We had charge of a mob of cattle, with other stockmen three;
And travelling in the summer months right jolly times had we.

One night we camped the cattle upon some rising ground;
We had them steadied for the night, and built the fires around;
Then for to have a merry time of it I for the grog did call,
And soon I was myself the noisiest of them all;

By brother too joined in the fun, and many a song he sang—
We made the screaming curlew fly while thus our voices rang.
But Ben, he would not drink, although we pressed him hard,
But to all our soft entreaties he paid not the least regard.

'Come, Ben.' said I, 'don't be so mean as to stand the odd man out;
I've often seen you drink your whack when the liquor's been about!'
'But, Ned, you know I've tasted none these three long years,' he said;
'And well you know how crazed I go when it gets into my head.'

'Pooh! nonsense, man! the night is cold; you need only take one glass.'
'One—only one!' the chorus chimed, while round the grog they passed.
He yielded to that fatal hour, which makes me sad to think,
As none in this wide world but I could made my brother drink.

Hour after hour, glass after/upon  glass each  drank/we brothers sat and drank,
Till, weary with the night's carouse, In/to a drunken sleep I sank.
How long I slept I cannot tell; but I woke to sleep no more.
The distant thunder broke my rest—the storm was gathering o'er.

I rose and stirred the dying fire, and tried to rouse the men;
But on looking round with beating heart I missed my brother Ben.
I snatched my whip from off the ground—my horse was standing near—
And as I to the saddle sprang my heart stood still with fear; 

Just then the vivid lightning's flash lit up the gloomy plain;
I saw him riding madly there—and all was dark again;
I called for him to stop, but his voice came back hoarse and hollow:
'Ha, ha!' he cried, 'to death I ride; come on; you dare not follow!'

He then made for some timber-land, with the darksome gloom o'erhead.
And, as 1 spurred on, with rapid strides my gallant stockhorse sped.
I tried to grasp Ben's reins, but his horse, swerving from the track,
Went plugging through the midnight gloom with a madman on his back;

His horse not used to this, he tried his head to free,
When, rearing back, his rider threw against a fallen tree.
I dismounted—soon was by his side, and raised his drooping head,
And, as I gazed into his face, I could not think him dead;

But the coming of the dawning day—what a sight to me revealed!
Those bright blue eyes for ever closed—with blood his lips were sealed!
Oh, who will bear this news to my poor aged mother—
The death of her beloved son—my own and only brother ?

Or was I his murderer ! Oh, from the thought I shrink!
Struck down—bereft of intellect—by the accursed drink!
On yonder mountain's sloping side a lonely grave you'll see,
O'erhung with grass and drooping moss beneath a cedar tree;
No marble cross, no monument, this lonely grave does mark.
But we rudely cut his name deep in the growing bark."

                                                                       The Queenslander, 5 December 1885