The heat haze veiled the distant hills, the white clouds floated high,
by Alice Guerin Crist
Drifting in slow content across the blue Australian sky;
And down in Clancy’s paddock there were mirth and laughter gay,
Where the She-Oak Jockey Club were met upon St. Patrick’s day.
There were carts and cars and buggies ranged beneath the spreading trees,
Where country folk for miles around were clustered thick as bees,
Watching the prancing horses pass with keen appraising eyes,
All out to win the Squatters’ Cup, the hundred-guinea prize.
Jim Daintry on The Digger rose; hopes for his mount were high,
A gallant roan with swinging pace, game head and fiery eye,
And Jim’s horse was the favourite, the betting there was keen,
But some were backing Rody Burke upon Dark Rosaleen.
A thing of velvet, fire and steel-a little dark brown mare,
With dainty legs and shoulders slant, lean head and high-bred air,
But knowing backers simply scoffed her chances of the race,
“She’ll never see his heels when once The Digger sets the pace.”
‘Twas just before the starting time that Rody reached the course,
And little Nora Shanahan watched for the dark brown horse,
And sighed to mark the rider’s face was white as if with pain,
Could Rody after all her prayers, be ‘going wild’ again?
How could she know that very morn as Rody cross the yard
The old white draught-horse lumbering by, had lashed out good and hard.
The broken ribs, the searing pain that caught his breath away—
Ah! Naught but Irish pluck and grit brought Rody there that day.
As he and Jim rose side by side, each cast a wistful eye
Where little Nora Shanahan looked on aloof and shy;
And each man thrilled at sight of her, the simple girlish grace,
The little kind brown hands of her, the apple-blossom face.
Rivals were they in sport and love, and yet good friends withal,
Whose true Australian mateship held no feeling mean or small,
And Nora, long her maiden heart had done an angels’ work,
With tears and prayers to save the soul of reckless Rody Burke.
Jim Daintry, manly, straight and true, had spreading acres wide,
And any girl in she-Oak might be proud to be his bride,
But who shall read a woman’s heart, or pierce its hidden screen,
Sweet Nora’s hopes were on the track with Rod and Rosaleen.
They’re off! A rush of flying hoofs, a blur of colours bright –
Tim Clancy’s Skylark in the lead, The Digger well in sight,
Dark Rosaleen leads the bunch behind, nor falters in her stride,
While Rody bears with sobbing breath the torture in his side.
And nearer, nearer still she draws, light as the summer wind,
She’s with The Digger neck and neck – the Skylark’s left behind,
Jim Daintry had his whale-bone out, before they reached the creek.
But Rosaleen’s dark shining coat showed neither spot nor streak.
And Rody whispered homely words, his tortured lips between,
“Hang to it now for Nora’s sake – ah! Stick it, Rosaleen!”
And as a swallow skimming low, swift as a streak of flame,
She passed The Digger’s mighty stride, as down the straight they came.
And flew between the winning posts a half a length before,
As “Rosaleen!' 'Dark Rosaleen!” rose in a mighty roar;
For thews and muscle, training e’en, are little more than dust,
When weighed against the spirit’s fire, that wins because it must.
But Rody all unconscious lay, nor heard the cheering cry,
With Jim’s strong arms around him clasped, all thought of self put by,
And Nora, trembling, joined the group that gazed upon the scene,
And raise her quivering girlish lips and kissed Dark Rosaleen.
A night of moonlight, dew-drenched flowers, and bending, whispering trees,
The music from the township ball came faintly on the breeze,
As Rody, bandaged here, gazed at Nora’s eyes of blue,
Telling the old, old story o’er to one who found it new.
And far across the moonlit plain, The Digger’s mighty stride,
Carried the aching heart of one who nursed his grief and pride.
Ah! the dear griefs of headstrong youth – half pleasure and half pain.
The gallant, hot, young broken hearts, so quick to heal again!