"Ryan's Crossing"

Henry Lawson, 1893

      It's cosy in the private bar, the frosted lamps aglow,
      I thought you would be gone, Jack Dean.
      You remember how you met me up the country, years ago,
      Up at Ryan's, by the Crossing? Why, you never let us know
      How you were getting on, Jack Dean.

      Did you camp at Ryan's Crossing, coming down the other week?
      There was water there, and grass, Jack Dean;
      Well, I thought 'twas very likely that another track you'd seek,
      For below the piney ridges on the banks of Cattle Creek
      There's a grave you couldn't pass, Jack Dean.

      There's a dismal little clearing in the dark scrub to the west —
      I suppose you know the place, Jack Dean?
      Where a country girl was buried with her baby at her breast —
      Buried like a mangy mongrel! But you know the story best.
      (You are thinner in the face, Jack Dean.)

      'Tis a track that's barred against you, who were never very brave,
      But, when last I came that way, Jack Dean,
      It was raining hard at Ryan's, and the she-oaks seemed to rave
      Down beyond the sodden siding — it was raining on her grave,
      And I saw the spot next day, Jack Dean.

      O'er the grave for many summers ran a dusty cattle track,
      For the mound was trodden flat, Jack Dean;
      Now a hollow in the surface marks the resting place, "Flash Jack",
      And the hole is full of water, stained by dead leaves reddish black,
      Would you like a drink of that, Jack Dean?

      How I worshipped her and loved her, when you drifted in the way,
      With your polished city style, Jack Dean.
      She was highly educated for a bush girl of the day,
      And you know I dropped my "h's", and my grammar was astray,
      Yet she loved me, for a while, Jack Dean.

      She was murdered by your meanness (not the sin, if it be such)
      And another woman's tongue, Jack Dean;
      Ah, to think that I was timid, with the fruit within my clutch
      (I would never have imagined that a man could feel so much)
      We are fools when we are young, Jack Dean.

      You were sensual by nature, young and thoughtless, we'll agree,
      But my blood was just as warm, Jack Dean;
      Your experience with women gave advantage over me,
      And the new ideas of "honour" brought from cities by the sea,
      And you carried her by storm, Jack Dean.

      Had our fathers brought the spirit of a less enlightened race
      When they came from other lands, Jack Dean,
      We'd have stood among the saplings up at Ryan's, face to face,
      With a faint hope in our bosoms that our souls might compass grace —
      And revolvers in our hands, Jack Dean.

      It was better — I had reason to be glad of your retreat —
      There was hell between "us twain", Jack Dean,
      When she perished, and my anger blazed with mad, revengeful heat,
      And I might have seen you lying pale and bloody at my feet,
      With a bullet in your brain, Jack Dean.

      'Twas thought that either he who made his fellow's life a hell,
      Or the deadly wronged should die, Jack Dean;
      It was pistols in the morning, and it mattered not who fell,
      So that one died; and 'twas fancied that they managed very well
      In the merry days gone by, Jack Dean.

      But what matter now the sinning and the pain of long ago,
      I have learnt the world since then, Jack Dean,
      And might be the greater villain if I had but half the show.
      Nothing matters much nor mattered! Have a drink before you go;
      We are worse, but wiser men, Jack Dean.

      The Truth