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M'Gillviray's Dream

Thomas Bracken 1843 (Clones, County Monaghan) – 1898 (Dunedin)

A Forest-Ranger's Story.

JUST nineteen long years, Jack, have passed o'er my shoulders
Since close to this spot we lay waiting the foe;
Ay, here is the mound where brave Percival moulders,
And yonder's the place where poor Norman lies low;
'Twas only a skirmish — just eight of our number
Were stretch'd on the sward when the fighting was done;
We scooped out their beds, and we left them to slumber,
The bold-hearted fellows went down with the sun.
The month was Octoberyoung Summer was peeping
Through evergreen forests where Spring, still supreme,
Spread all the rich tints that she had in her keeping
On tree, shrub, and bush, while each brooklet and stream
With babblings of joy ran along to the river
But, hang it, old man, I am going too far;
I talk as I used to when from Cupid's quiver
Flew darts of affection my bosom to scar.
I'm not much at poetry, Jack, though I've written
Some nonsense in verse when my heart was aglow
With what they call love — have you ever been smitten
By some artful minx who deceived you? What, no?
By Jove, you've been lucky; but, Jack, I'm digressing.
Our quarters were here, under Lusk, and we made
Our camp in the church without asking a blessing;
This place is still known as the Mauku Stockade.
I'd fought with Von Tempsky along the Waikato;
I'd seen the green banks of that fair river dyed
With British blood, red as the plumes of the rata
When Spring scatters scarlet drops thick in her pride.
I cared not for danger, and fighting was pleasure,
The life of a Ranger was one of romance
A dare-devil fool ever ready to measure
A savage's length with my rifle. 'Twas chance
That sent me among them; I lived but for glory;
My comrades were all of good mettle and true,
And one was a hero; I'll tell you his story
God rest poor M'Gillviray — brave-hearted Hugh!
I knew him for years, Jack, and shoulder to shoulder
He stood by me often when swift leaden hail
Whizzed close to our ears. Ah! old man, I was bolder
In those valiant days than I'm now. To my tale: —

The morning was gloomy, and Hugh sat beside me;
We'd chumm'd in together for two years or more;
I found him a brick, and he said when he tried me
In front of the foe, “Dick, you're true to the core!”
Enough — we were friends, and in trouble or danger
We stuck by each other in camp and in fray.
How often we find in the breast of a stranger
The heart of a kind brother throbbing alway
With warmest affection, responsive and tender
Hugh's breast had a tenant like this, and I knew
In him I'd a brother, a friend, a defender,
Prepared for whatever a brave man might do.
The morning was dark, and the outlook was dreary;
I noticed my comrade was sitting alone,
All thoughtful, disconsolate, pallid, and weary,
“Why, where has the gladness of yesterday flown?
Come, tell me, Hugh, why you are gloomy this morning;
What change has come over my light-hearted mate?
You've not” (and I laughed) “had a Banshee's death-warning,
Have Brownies or Goblins been sealing your fate?”
He turned his pale face, while his eyes, full of sorrow,
Met mine, and it seemed like the gaze of the dead;
I spoke once again: “Hugh, we'll meet them to-morrow,
Fierce Rewi is coming this way.” Then he said —

“Why am I sad? Ah, comrade kind,
We cannot tell why shadows fall
Across the soul and o'er the mind;
We cannot tell why dreams recall
Old scenes endeared by mem'ry's spell,
Old haunts where love and sorrow met,
Old spots where airy castles fell,
And Hope's young sun for ever set;
We cannot tell why thought should leap
Across the ocean's wide expanse,
And through the telescope of sleep
Review the dead years at a glance;
We cannot tell—— But why should I
Philosophize? We know we're here,
And for the wherefore and the why,
That problem suits the sage and seer,
But not the soldier. Listen, mate —
I'm not a coward, for I've stood
Full face to face with death, and fate
Has led me safe through scenes of blood;
But now my hour is drawing nigh,
Life's battle now is nearly done,
For me to-morrow's arching sky
Shall canopy no rising sun.”
“Why, comrade, you but jest,” I said;
“You shouldn't joke with me, you know;
To-morrow's sun shall shine o'erhead,
And see us watching for the foe.”

“Nay, comrade, we must part to-day,
A hand has beckon'd through the gloom,
And signalled me away, away
To brighter realms beyond the tomb;
You smile and count me as a slave
Of superstition — be it so;
My vision stretches o'er the grave;
I travel where you cannot go.
Ah! friend, you were not
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Submitted on May 13, 2011

4:23 min read

Thomas Bracken

Thomas Bracken was an Irish-born New Zealand poet, journalist and politician. more…

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