― 17 ―

Tale of the Old Coast Road

THE big road-cars come flashing through like shuttles, south and north,
By Bishopsbourne to Launceston, by Sassafras to Forth,
And watching, in a waking dream, I hear the murmur grow,
The music of the Coast Road stream of fifty years ago;
The hillsides answer wheel and whip, wild echoes swell and fail,
As heavy o'er the blacksoil dip she comes, the Royal Mail—
I hear a loafing wheeler snort, the toiling leaders strain,
“From Table Cape by Devonport for the town of Deloraine”.

And this the tale they told to me when the children were abed,
And on the broad hearth merrily the little flames ran red,
How in the old south room he lay and drove his coach and four
As once he drove it every day, as he would drive no more.
They tied the reins to his bed-foot, and in a land of dream
He raced his horses neck and neck against a phantom team;
Four blacks behind a leader pale as the white moon at the wane,
A coach without a passenger for the town of Deloraine.
Upon the big white leader's back a muffled horseman rode,
His head was down, his rein was slack, all loosely he bestrode;

  ― 18 ―
No word of answering cheer he spake unto the sick man's hail,
Nor dallied he with whip or brake beside the Royal Mail;
What hot-head dared so rash a test? But woe the day or weal,
The old man's fighting soul confessed a foeman worth his steel,
And fiercely girt him for the fight while in life's silver chain
Death wove his dusky strand that night on the road to Deloraine.

And now he flogs them up the pinch black reared against the stars,
And feels her lifting inch by inch to creaking swingle bars;
And now across the stiff red loam he nurses them by fits,
Or feels them as the whip cuts home hang heavy on the bits.
But still the four black steeds come on behind their leader grey,
They fell behind him at the Don, they chased him thro' Torquay;
And starting from a broken sleep he takes the lead again
And swings them 'cross Rubicon for the town of Deloraine.

The wan moon hid a wistful face behind a granite crest,
Orion, Taurus, Pleiades, sank seaward down the west;
The sick man drowsed and drifted far from earth and human cares,
And paled the startled watchers at a footfall on the stairs;
A young wind whimpered at the pane of griefs that never slept,
And wild and white across the plain the keening plovers swept,

  ― 19 ―
But in his sleep the dreamer smiled, belike he drove again
From Table Cape by Devonport for the town of Deloraine.

Upon the hearth the leaping red had dwindled ashen grey,
The nurse was nodding by the bed, and eastward broke the day.
All sudden stirred he, and his eyes strained backward thro' the gloom,
“They're here; they'll block us on the bridge; make room, I say, make room!
What dam foaled yon white-livered brute that gallops in the lead!
Who rides there! Answer, or I shoot!” His voice shrilled like a reed.
“The bridge! The bridge!” His sobbing breath rose to a shout of pain—
“The bridge is down!—'tis us or Death to-night for Deloraine!”

“Get over! Up! Get up, my lads! So…. h-steady…. pull away;
We've left them at the Rubicon, the rest is only play.”
But still beside him in his dream the big black horses came,
And still he flayed his sweating team, blind, desperate, but game.
“Pull off!” his voice was harsh and high. “Back, madman, back!…. too late!
The wheel's gone; God! the mail!”…. then strong, exultant and elate
His voice rang in defiant cheer high over Death's domain—
“She lifts!…. She's free!…. What ho! the lights!—the lights of Deloraine.”