David Lewis Paget
The Harbinger - Poem by David Lewis Paget
I was smoking out in the cattleyard
When I heard a thunderous sound,
Beating a path from the mountainside
And shaking the very ground,
Then a horse appeared with a flying mane
It must have been eighteen hands,
Black as a barrel of bitumen,
Hooves clattering over the land.
It was almost night, but the stars were bright
As the stallion galloped by,
I saw my neighbour over the way
Let out a jubilant cry:
‘Have you ever seen horseflesh great as that? '
And flung his hat in the air,
‘He's not a local from Oodnaarat,
A horse like that is rare.'
The horse had galloped into the woods
Its hoofbeats faded away,
‘I'd give a fortune to hitch that horse
Up to my bullock dray! '
I said that that was an awful waste,
‘I'd set him up for the track,
He'd mow them down like a gatling gun,
All they would see is his back.'
For days we argued and pondered on
The whereabouts of the horse,
‘He must belong to one of the farms
Way down by the watercourse.'
‘I think he may be a feral, strayed
From the high country, out there,
If he comes again we can run him down,
And check for a brand or scar.'
‘Brand or not, if I run him down
He's mine, ' said Jimmy the Whip,
He'd once been a tough midshipman, serving
Out on a whaling ship,
He'd earned the name for the way he'd whipped
His dogs and his horse in line,
We only chattered over the fence,
He wasn't a friend of mine.
The stallion thundered up from the woods,
Going the other way,
We'd kept a lookout from noon to dusk
For a week and almost a day,
Our horses, already saddled up
We whipped the reins from the bar,
Leapt to saddle and galloped away
On the tail of the horse of tar.
He ran us ragged over the farm
Cut over the bottom field,
He took the fence in a single leap
And showed us a pair of heels,
We both flew over the wire in one
And managed to stay intact,
While he sped over the barley field
To head for the bullock track.
His hooves were throwing up clods of dirt
His tail was raised in the chase,
Our horses battled to breathe the air
It was really a one horse race,
We chased him almost an hour by rocks
And over a dry creek bed,
He turned aside just over a hill
And stopped by an old farm shed.
A girl in a long white dress came out
And patted the horse's flank,
He towered over the girl, and stared
As we rode up, over the bank,
I saw that Jimmy the Whip was mad,
I thought, he won't be denied,
He's going to claim that wonder horse
For leading him such a ride.
He pulled a gun from his saddle pack
And aimed it square at its neck,
I tried to stop him but Jimmy snarled,
‘He's mine, I've come to collect! '
The girl raised one of her hands on high
And muttered, ‘You're out of line!
For Jet's not merely a mountain horse,
He's a harbinger of time! '
Our horses suddenly fell to their knees
And bowed to the noble horse,
While round about us sprang up a breeze
That whirled with a sudden force,
It knocked the gun right out of his grip
And a voice crept up from the sand,
‘All that you know is to pull a gun
At things you don't understand! '
The girl got up on the horse's back
And cantered into the night,
The Moon was gone and the stars went out
And soon they were out of sight.
We didn't speak as we rode back down
But Jimmy the Whip was sore,
He'd lie in wait for that monster horse
With a rifle, close to his door.
I never saw it again myself
But I think that I heard it neigh,
It gave me a chill to think that horse
Was time, and running away;
Then Jimmy fell into a Harvester
That cut off his head and hands,
His time had galloped away with him
On the harbinger of the damned!
10 March 2013
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