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  ― 25 ―

Shadow-Hunting.

“Two travellers on their way to Kimberley diggings, Western Australia, found beside the track a dead body, that of a gray-headed man, buttoned up tightly in an old long-tailed black coat. A wrinkled tall black hat lay near the remains.”—Daily paper.

“Hillo, Daddy!” the lads sang out—
“Here's luck, Dad!” as the ship hauled out;
Poor old Dad, in his old black coat
Buttoned up tightly from knees to throat.
“Where are you bound for?” “What's your lay?”
“Set up a coffin-shop 'bout half-way?”
“Law now, or physic by ounces sold—
Or a sermon maybe on the thirst for gold?”

“Never you mind, lads,” the old man says,
“The old black coat has seen better days—
Bendigo gullies and Black Hill leads,
Deep Creek boozes, and ‘Shamrock’ feeds;
We followed our shadows to seek them out,
But things have turned right round about.
Vic.'s all dead now, and New South done;
And east from the sea must the new track run.”
“Bully, old Dad!” said the lads with zest,
As the long ship plunged round the Cape due west.

“So long, old Dad!” said the lusty wag,
As he jogged 'way past on his wiry nag.



  ― 26 ―
“You'll never get up, man,” the trooper said,
But he pushed along nodding his old gray head;
And the noise and the chaff and the dust went by
As he said, “Shadow points, and I won't say die;”
So the seventh, eighth, ninth days passed, and still
He toiled through the sand-flats—crept up the hill;
And the tenth day rose, and he somehow found—
As his quaint, dark shadow went round and round—
In his heart new pangs, in his limbs new pain,
And the blood growing hot in his aching brain.

So he stood on the ridge and laughed to see
Fate's finger point so steadily
Right to the world's rim, murky and red,
Longer, more faint, till the day was dead.
Then he shivered and shook, though the old black coat
Was buttoned up tightly from knees to throat.
And he slept by his swag; but he woke, for soon
Right out of the east came the great red moon—
The great round moon, growing white and bright
In a bank of clouds like the grave of night;
And the plain-wind lifted his long gray hair,
As he rose up straight and looked, and there
Was the low quaint shadow—'twas pointing back
Like Death's own finger along the track.
“Ah! Shadow,” he said (for his brain was hot),
“He needs must perish who follows not!
Shadow, I follow, and hey, good moon,
We will come to the gold-hills sure, and soon!”

“Follow!”—he followed on fast and fast,
And the moon rose high as the miles went past,
And his shadow came in, and he paused and now
Cold sweat broke out on his burning brow.
“Shadow, what means it?” The great moon clomb
Right up to the crown of the star-pierced dome.



  ― 27 ―
“Shadow!” he cried, as a lost man cries
To the nurse who leaves him before he dies;
And he dashed out left and he dashed out right,
And he looked up aloft to the great still night.
“None now to lead me and none to save!”
He stood on his shadow, and on his grave

In his old black hat and his old black coat,
Buttoned up tightly from knees to throat.
He was there in the morn when the red sun came,
Over sand-ridge and scrub-patch with steps of flame;
He was there when the red moon rose again,
Yet he cast no shadow along the plain.
Then the dingo came and sniffed and saw,
But howled as he vanished with empty maw,
And the crow flapped up on the long-scent trail,
But turned from the sight like a fluttered quail;
And the lurking myall just looked and went
Like a black snake back to the thick scrub sent;
But two men hurrying out to the front
Stopped with a start in the phantom-hunt.
And “Hillo!” they said, “are you there, old sport?”
When—“God, but it is!” as they pulled up short,
And came down slowly, stood off and said,
“Wrapped up like a mummy, and dead—yes, dead!”

And coffin and shroud was the old black coat
Buttoned up tightly from knees to throat,
Folding and guarding shrunk skin, parched bones,
Covered up lightly with loose grey stones.
Marked with a chopped tree, rude and sad,
“Half way to Kimberley—Poor old Dad!”

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