BANNISTER, who lived for gain,
Counting love and mateship weak,
Bannister of Coolah Creek
Once, and once alone, 'tis said,
Bent his knees and bowed his head,
Praying God to send him rain.
Sheep and cattle were to him
Pounds and pence in wool and hide —
That, and nothing more beside;
Gain, and gain alone, he sought —
Bought and sold, and sold and bought —
Bannister, the shrewd and grim!
Drought might slay his neighbour's sheep,
Leave his friends with stricken lands,
Starving stock and empty hands,
Driving them to ruin's brink;
Not by so much as a wink
Did it cause him loss of sleep.
Loving neither man nor maid,
Man and maid no pity showed
When the Drought, red-handed, strode
Through the land, and spared him not;
Then it was, by all forgot,
Bannister knelt down and prayed.
Hands entreatingly out-thrown,
Head and shoulders bowed with care,
Bannister sent up his prayer;
Did that prayer include a friend?
Nay; but selfish to the end
For himself he prayed alone.
Scarce a stone's-throw from his door
Coolah Creek, dry-bedded, lay
Day and night, and night and day
Staring skyward, stark and dumb;
In its single river-gum
Sang the shepherd-bird no more.
Praying long and low, there ran
Through his mind a vision sweet —
Waters singing at his feet;
And his words a torrent poured:
'Open Thou Thy floodgates, Lord,
Lest I be a ruined man!'
Then he rose and sought his bed,
Sighing as he sank to sleep,
While, without, his famished sheep
In the darkness moaned their woe,
And his cattle, lowing low,
Sagged with droop of eye and head.
Dreams were his with splendour lit,
Happy dreams of days to be:
While his prayer limped leadenly
Through cold spaces, drear and lone,
Till, at last, it reached God's throne,
And God, bending, answered it.
Hot and still the darkness was,
Hushed and hot the midnight air.
Drought and death were everywhere,
Thirst and hunger, pain and grief:
Stirless hung the wilted leaf,
Motionless the brittle grass.
Mercy, pity seemed aloof,
God remote and cold to man,
When a whispering began —
And the sleeper woke to hear,
Low at first, then loud and clear,
Raindrops drumming on his roof.
Little things began to stir,
Little voices filled the night —
Whispers, murmurings of delight,
Till the torrent drowned them all
In the thunder of its fall . . .
God had answered Bannister!
Thinking thus his troubles o'er,
Pleased with God, he slept again;
Bannister, unloved of men,
Loved of God most surely seemed.
Coolah Creek, awakened, streamed
Scarce a stone's-throw from his door.
Dreaming dreams of gain anew,
Bannister reposed at ease,
Hearing but sweet melodies,
Free of loss and free of pain.
Gorged and swollen by the rain,
Coolah Creek a giant grew.
Foam upon its torrent swept,
Leaf and limb went down its flood;
Like a beast athirst for blood
Through the dark it ramped and raged;
Like a lion long encaged,
Free at last, it roared and leapt;
Then it burst its banks, and broke
Bar and barrier in its path
Shouting, foaming in its wrath . . .
Dreaming dreams of golden gain,
Hides and tallow, wool and grain.
Bannister too late awoke.
Never more to speak and stir,
Never more to strive and hoard —
Self, and self alone, his lord —
Veins no more with life aglow,
Body washing to and fro —
God had answered Bannister!