Henry Lawson

Brighten’s Sister-In-Law

or The Carrier’s Story

At a point where the old road crosses The river, and turns to the right, I’d camped with the team; and the hosses Was all fixed up for the night. I’d been to the town to carry A load to the Cudgegong; And I’d taken the youngster, Harry, On a trip as I’d promis’d him long. I had seven more, and another That died at the age of three; But they all took arter the mother, And Harry took arter me. And from the tiniest laddie ’Twas always his fondest dream To go on the roads with his daddy, And help him to drive the team. He was bright at the school and clever, The best of the youngsters there; And the teacher said there was never A lad that promised so fair. And I half forgot life’s battle, An’ its long, hard-beaten road, In the sound of the youngster’s prattle From his perch on top o’ the load. An’ when he was tired o’ ridin’ I’d lift him down for a walk, And he’d say, at my silence chidin’, Now, daddy tell me some talk. And oft by the camp-fire sittin’, When the bush was round us wild, I’d yarn by the hour, forgittin’ That Harry was only a child. But to-day he’d been strange and quiet, An’ lay on the chaff-bags still; An’ though he’d bravely deny it, I know’d as the boy was ill. He said he was only dosey, In his queer old-fashioned way; And I fixed him up warm an’ cosey In the hammock under the dray. I fried him some eggs and some bakin’ Which I couldn’t git him to touch; And it set my heart a-achin For he’d always eaten so much. I wandered about half silly, And thought that my heart would stop; And the tea got cold in the billy, For I couldn’t ’a’ tasted a drop. I’d seen the same sickness of’en; An’ my spirits began to droop, For as soon as he started coughin’ I know’d as he’d got the croup. ’Twas fifteen mile to the river; An’ Gulgong was twenty-five; An’ I thought ’twas a chance if ever I got him back home alive. The thought of the loss was horrid If the young ’un was taken away; And I went and leaned my forehead Against the tire o’ the dray. And sudden I started cryin’, And sobbed like a woman too; For I felt that the boy was dyin’, And I didn’t know what to do. All helpless I was, and lonely; But I thought ’twas a coward’s cry To call on the Saviour only When trouble or death was nigh. But after a while I lifted My eyes to the steely blue Of the sky where somethin’ drifted Like a great white cockatoo. An’ nearer it came, and nearer, Right down to the branch of the tree; And it seemed when its shape grew clearer, Like the form of a woman to me. For a moment it seemed to tarry, An’ p’int away up the road, An’ then seemed pintin’ at Harry, A-coughin’ beneath the load. I don’t want ter arger; there’s chances The vision was only the sky, Or the smoke outlin’d on the branches, Or a lonely cloud on high. But I says ’twas a message from glory; I sees as yer goin’ to chaff; Just wait till I done my story, An’ laugh if yer want to laugh. Away went the vision flyin’; Up into the blue it went; And I stood for a minute tryin’ To think what its comin’ meant. When it flashed on my brain like lightnin’; An’ arter I thought it strange I’d almost forgotten old Brighten Who lived on the top of the range. He lived on a small selection, Or used ter live there I know’d; An’ it lay in a west direction, ’Bout five miles back from the road. I harnessed the horses quicker Than ever I’d taken ’em out; An’ they must ’a’ thought me in liquor, For the way as I shov’d ’em about. I’d allers bin fond o’ sneerin’ An’ laughin’ at women’s ways; I could see in their lives, I’m fearin’, But little as called for praise; But now when I thought he’d smother With croup in the lonely wild, Good God, how I longed for a mother To save the life of my child! I seed in a vision each minit The youngster nursed back into life; An’ the hand of a woman was in it; An’ the woman was Brighten’s wife. There’s times when not knowin’ a bliss is, As Harry’s school-teacher ’ud say: And I didn’t know Brighten’s missis Had gone to the town that day. In a moment I’d lifted Harry To the bags on top of the load; And I flogged the weary horses Along on the dusty road. But ev’rything seem’d to hinder My hopes when I reached the hut; For there wasn’t a light in the winder; And both o’ the doors was shut. That moment my heart got hurted; An’ I felt it for many a day; For I thought that the place was deserted, An’ Brighten had gone away. But I called; and the door was opened, An’ I saw that the hut was alight; It hadn’t shone in the winders; For the moon was shinin’ bright. An’ there in the door, with a candle, I saw old Brighten stand, With his fingers grasping the handle Of a pistol he held in his hand. If any one moves, he shouted, I’ll fire if I’ve got to hang! For the moment he never doubted ’Twas a visit from Gard’ner’s gang. I didn’t move in a hurry; For a man in a fright shoots quick. But I told him he needn’t flurry, ’Twas only a youngster sick. Stan’ back, said old Brighten, snatchin’ An’ shuttin’ the door in his fright; It’s typhoid, maybe, he’s catchin’: An’ I can’t have him here to-night. But a woman’s voice shouted, What is it? I’d never seen her before; She was only there on a visit; ’Twas Brighten’s sister-in-law. An’ nothin’ seemed able to frighten This woman so pale an’ thin; She pushed from the door old Brighten, An’ carried the youngster in. She’d bin hospital nurse in the city, I heard, and had got the sack For havin’ a little pity, An’ exposin’ a doctor quack; Some trumped-up stories agin her All over the town was belled; An’ in spite of the fightin’ in her They got her at last expelled. An’, talkin’ o’ fight, I’m fearin‘ There’s sudden fightin’ in store For the first as speaks in my hearin’ ’Gin Brighten’s sister-in-law; For, in spite of old Brighten’s cussin’, She got the youngster to bed; And arter a week’s good nussin’ She won him back from the dead. And then I began to hanker For a speech to tell her the joy I felt in my heart, and to thank her For givin’ me back my boy. The mornin’ I left old Brighten’s, While puttin’ the horses to, I puzzled my brains to make up A speech as I thought would do. She lifted the youngster and kissed him, And helped him into the dray; An’ I thought of how I’d ’a’ missed him, If he’d only been taken away. An’, Mum, I sez; I oughter An’ to finish the speech I tries; But all on a sudden the water Kem bubblin’ up to my eyes. An’ down’ard, like water-courses, The tears began to tear; An’ I had to swear at the horses To hide my weakness from her. But the tears was only human An’ they seem’d to ha’ done some good; For she pressed my hand like a woman, An’ said that she understood.

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