― 57 ―

The Penitent Swagman

One summer day, my faithful steed and I,
Jogged wearily along a road out west;
And, as the day was hot and we were dry,
I sought refreshment at the “Digger's Rest.”
The house was with its title quite in keeping,
Behind the bar two pigs were soundly sleeping.

I took my lunch, some eggs just newly laid,
Corned beef and damper and a cup of tea,
Then, while my horse was feeding in the shade,
I sat and smoked beneath a myall tree.
When, near at hand I heard a dismal droning,
Like some afflicted mortal, sadly groaning.

Seeking the cause, I spied an aged man,
Whose gaping boots revealed his socks of rag.
He sat beside a battered billy-can,
And leaned upon a weather-beaten swag.

  ― 58 ―
"Tell me,” said I, “what mean these sounds of sadness;
Are you in pain, or are they signs of madness?”

He touched his hat, and 'twixt his toothless jaws
He thrust the remnants of a battered pipe.
After a few preliminary draws,
He gave his hoary head a careful wipe.
Then, when he found his pipe was fairly lighted,
The following tale he dolefully recited.

"'Tis the pangs of remorse,” said he,
"That make me groan so sadly,
The source of my woes is the feeling that flows
From a conscience stricken badly.

"From the time that I learned to walk,
I was always a wicked sinner,
I've robbed my old mother, and cheated my brother,
And stolen a swagman's dinner.

"And when I became a man,
I followed my old career,
I've gone through a digger, I've murdered a nigger,
And I've stuck up an auctioneer.

  ― 59 ―
"And I wasn't so far away
When old Robinson's ricks caught fire.
And while he was tearing, and cursing and swearing,
I snavelled his horse, 'The Squire.’

"In the palmy days of old,
I used to do well at prigging;
And I frequently went through a digger's tent,
(It was easier work than digging).

"Ah! many's the ounce of gold
I have held in this boney fist;
But the finest lot, and the biggest pot,
Was the blooming lot I missed.

"Jim Jaggers was always known
As an unlucky sort of coon,
And I peeped in his tent, as past it I went,
One Saturday afternoon.

"And I saw Jim was fast asleep,
So I let him sleep away,
For I thought that in there, there was nothing to spare;
So I didn't go in that day.

  ― 60 ―
"But next day at the 'Miner's Arms,’
I heard the story told,
That Jimmy was drunk, and hid under his bunk,
Were two hundred ounces of gold.

"So I crept to the old camp fire,
When I found that the yarn was true,
And I cussed at the flames, and I called myself names,
And I kicked myself black and blue.

"No, it isn't the things I've done
That make me groan and sigh,
What troubles me most is the scoop that I lost,
And the chance that I let slip by.

"So I never forgives myself,
And I'm permanently dejected,
And I shivers and starts when my conscience smarts
For the chance that I neglected.