The Stockman’s Lament
The campfire’s burning brightly and the coals are glowing red,
The crackling sparks fly upwards as they vanish overhead,
The stockman’s evening meal was over, the damper stowed away,
To stretch our weary limbs, around the fire we lay.
“Put on another log, Jack, a good large one, large, that’s right,
And make us up a billy fire, we’ll have it cold tonight.
Before you light that pipe of yours just in my valise,
You’ll find a glass of good three star, there’s a nip apiece.
“Come, mate, pass up your pannikin, there’s plenty here you see”.
“No thank you, boss, rather not; no brandy sir for me”
“How is it, Ned, you never drink? I’ve seen you tempted oft,
And if you chance to take a drink, it’s always something soft”.
“I once was wild”, the stockman cried, “as any man can be,
And many a hard-earned cheque I knocked down in a spree.
But times have changed, and now, on drink I look with dread and fear,
And were I my story to relate, it will move you all to hear”.
For to tell the story of his life, on him we did prevail,
And gathered closely ‘round 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 droving on those western plains, my brother Ben and I
It is about my brother Ben I wish to speak the most,
A gay and manly lad was he, as the country round could boast;
But for all his many virtues, he one great failing had,
And that was drink, through cursed drink I’ve seen him raving mad.
But soon he had sober grown, a steady chap was he,
Earned his cheque and sent it home, not knocked it down like me.
We were in charge of a mob of cattle, with other stockmen three
And droving through those summer months, right merry time had we.
One night we camped the cattle mob, upon some rising ground
And when they’d steadied for the night, we built the fires around
And then to have a merry time, I for the grog did call,
And soon I was, myself, the merriest of them all.
My brother Ben joined in the fun, and many a song we sung,
We made those flying curlews scream and the woods with echoes rung,
But Ben he would not touch a drop, although we pressed him hard,
To all our soft entreaties, pain not the least regard.
“Come Ben” I said “don’t be so mean, to stand the odd man out.
You know we’ve seen you drink your share, when the liquor’s been about”
“But Ned, I have not touched a drop these three long years” he said.
“And well you know how crazed I go when stuff gets to my head!”
“Nonsense man, the night is young. Only have one glass!”
“One, only one” the chorus rang and around the grog they passed.
He yielded to that fatal glass, which makes me sad to think,
That I the only man in this world, could make my brother drink!
Hour upon hour, glass upon glass, we brothers sat and drank,
Till weary in the night’s caress, in drunken sleep I sank,
How long I slept, I do not know, I woke to sleep no more,
The distant thunder broke my rest, a storm was gathering o’er.
I rose and stirred the dying fire, and tried to rouse the men,
But looking round with beating heart, I missed my brother Ben.
Just then a vivid lightning flash, lit up the gloomy plain,
I saw Ben riding madly by, then all was dark again.
Aloud I cried “Hold hard a while” but his voice came hoarse and hollow,
“Ha ha” he cried, “to death I ride; come on you dare not follow.”
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.
He headed for the timbered land with dark and gloom ahead,
And as I spurred with rapid strides, my maddened stock horse fled;
I tried to grasp Ben’s bridle rein, his horse swerved from the track,
And went plunging, through the midnight, with a madman on his back.
His horse not being used to this, tried hard his head to free,
And rearing back, he struck poor Ben against a leaning tree.
Dismounting I was on the ground and raised his drooping head,
And as I looked into his eyes, I could not think him dead.
But what a sight to me, the coming dawn revealed,
His blue eyes forever closed, his lips with blood were sealed.
Ah! Who will break the news at home and tell his poor aged mother,
The death of her beloved son, my one and only brother?
And to think that I, his murderer, was through ghastly thoughts I shrink;
Killed by the lack of intellect, through the cursed demon drink.
On yonder sloping mountainside a lonely grave you’ll see,
All covered in with grass and moss, beneath a cedar tree.
No marble cross or monument this lonely grave doth mark,
But we rudely carved my brother’s name, deep in the growing bark
And now my boys take warning all, before it is too late,
Think of the stockman’s awful tale and his poor young brother’s fate,
Say with a will, “I will not drink”, or others will you tempt;
Pass it by, as I have always done, with a silent cool contempt.