The Dying Stockman

The hospital was basic, but was always clean and neat,
A sickly child or dying man could shelter from the heat
And rest from worldly trouble there, and taste of tender care
Dispensed by one bush nurse cum Matron who presided there.

A bright-eyed toughened bushie, who was handy with a horse,
Fell underneath a bullock dray (while somewhat drunk, of course),
And smashed up all his ribs and tore some vital parts inside.
They didn't tell him that his dog got crumpled too, and died.

Poor Mike was young, but aged by sorrow, creased with work and care,
Besides the sweat and dust, a hint of frost was in his hair.
Still far too young for dying - but to meet with Matron first
Just made his sorrow sadder and prepared him for the worst.

'A woman,' gasped our hero, 'Sweetest thing, my wife - God's gift -'
The Matron stared. 'A thing?' A disapproving sniffle sniffed,
But Mike was too far gone to care: this was his only chance
To bare his breast and loose his sins before Death's final dance.

'See, I was young, an' I was stupid, lookin' for a spree,
Me mates was headin' west, an' somehow that included me.'
'And where was she?' a cold voice clipped. Mike started from his doze,
'Who, Myrtle? An' the kiddies? At her mother's, I suppose.'

'Well, workin' hard, and' drinkin' hard an',' Michael grinned, 'that biz,
Though I was gonna write - fair dinkum - you know how it is.'
'I don't. I keep my promises.' She yanked the bedclothes tight.
He winced, but took his punishment. A Matron's always right.

'I got around to thinkin', an' I thought I'd stay a while,
An' leave off headin' home until I'd earnt a tidy pile.
Real hard on me, not goin' home. I carried on -' 'You do.'
'I worked long hours, forgettin'.' 'I suppose the babes did too?'

'The sweat an' blood an' bulldust!' (Here a short explosion rose),
'I suffered out there lonely, more than anybody knows.'
'You should've thought before you left those kids,' the nurse spat back,
'It seems to me you found some consolations on the track.'

'Right bad of me, but Matron, there's no need to rub it in,
I'm dyin', an' it's killin' me confessin' all this sin.
I'm sorry! Can't you see how I regret it through an' through?'
She eyed him coldly. 'Good. I'll fetch a pen and ink for you.'

'But I ain't finished, Matron, 'cos there's more I oughter tell
Before the Reaper reaps me, an' I might end up in hell.'
'Like Myrtle and your kids have done?' He went on with his tale,
'I wanted to return, you see, but somehow got in gaol.'

Nurse shoved the bedpan hard in place. 'I done it for a mate!
It weren't my fault!' he protested, 'An' it's a manly trait
To take the rap for mates, like - Christ!' Young Mike could barely speak:
His secular confessor yanked a needle from his cheek.

'Go on,' she said. 'I haven't got no more to say,' Mike moaned,
'But Lawson an' the Banjo, they would back me up,' he groaned.
His gentle nurse appeared to scent some rather nasty smell,
'I wouldn't back your chances in this race for God or hell.'

'If I could have my time again,' poor Michael wept, 'you'd see,
If I could have my time again, how different I would be.
For I've repented, true as true, I'm really sorry now.'
The doorbell rang and Matron left. Mike mopped his fevered brow.

She came back in quite quickly: Michael feigned a near-dead nap.
His nurse was undeceived and gave his arm a hearty slap,
And poked his ribs, 'Well, Michael lad, it seems your luck is in!
You'll live to ask dear Myrtle to forgive you all your sin.'

The doctor, in a hurry and befuddled with the grog,
Had got Mike's diagnosis mixed with that of Michael's dog.
'You came in both together, it was easy to confuse:
No broken ribs, no ripped insides, you've just a nasty bruise.'

It's not that Michael didn't care: he loved that dog a lot,
But life is sweet and precious when a day is all you've got.
To get a lifetime back again, all suddenly like that,
Went straight to Michael's head, and he forgot his dog was flat.

His mates lounged round outside the gate, beyond old Matron's grasp,
They slapped Mike's back in high relief and gave his hand a clasp,
And headed off for Snakey's pub to cool their throats a touch:
The next train or next week's back west, it didn't matter much.

A long and fiendish shadow, arms akimbo, loomed ahead:
'I'm goin' home to Myrtle an' the kids,' Mike quickly said,
'Me mates have come to see me off, I'm on the next train - east.'
'You'll do a proper burial for that poor dog, at least.'

Perhaps he'd meant to fool her, or perhaps he didn't dare,
She handed him a shovel with a grim and wordless stare.
Mike dug a hole in record time right by the clinic gate,
And to her solemn prayers interred his 2-D canine mate.

'All right, I'll catch me train now.' Mike's haunted eyes slid round,
His mournful mates stood hats in hand, their eyes cast to the ground.
So Matron marched him up the street to meet that eastbound train,
And Myrtle and the kids were stunned to see Mike home again.