Since Then

by Henry Lawson

I met Jack Ellis in town to-day --
Jack Ellis -- my old mate, Jack --
Ten years ago, from the Castlereagh,
We carried our swags together away
To the Never-Again, Out Back.
But times have altered since those old days,
And the times have changed the men.
Ah, well! there's little to blame or praise --
Jack Ellis and I have tramped long ways
On different tracks since then.
His hat was battered, his coat was green,
The toes of his boots were through,
But the pride was his! It was I felt mean --
I wished that my collar was not so clean,
Nor the clothes I wore so new.
He saw me first, and he knew 'twas I --
The holiday swell he met.
Why have we no faith in each other? Ah, why? --
He made as though he would pass me by,
For he thought that I might forget.
He ought to have known me better than that,
By the tracks we tramped far out --
The sweltering scrub and the blazing flat,
When the heat came down through each old felt hat
In the hell-born western drought.
The cheques we made and the shanty sprees,
The camps in the great blind scrub,
The long wet tramps when the plains were seas,
And the oracles worked in days like these
For rum and tobacco and grub.
Could I forget how we struck `the same
Old tale' in the nearer West,
When the first great test of our friendship came --
But -- well, there's little to praise or blame
If our mateship stood the test.
`Heads!' he laughed (but his face was stern) --
`Tails!' and a friendly oath;
We loved her fair, we had much to learn --
And each was stabbed to the heart in turn
By the girl who -- loved us both.
Or the last day lost on the lignum plain,
When I staggered, half-blind, half-dead,
With a burning throat and a tortured brain;
And the tank when we came to the track again
Was seventeen miles ahead.
Then life seemed finished -- then death began
As down in the dust I sank,
But he stuck to his mate as a bushman can,
Till I heard him saying, `Bear up, old man!'
In the shade by the mulga tank.
. . . . .
He took my hand in a distant way
(I thought how we parted last),
And we seemed like men who have nought to say
And who meet -- `Good-day', and who part -- `Good-day',
Who never have shared the past.
I asked him in for a drink with me --
Jack Ellis -- my old mate, Jack --
But his manner no longer was careless and free,
He followed, but not with the grin that he
Wore always in days Out Back.
I tried to live in the past once more --
Or the present and past combine,
But the days between I could not ignore --
I couldn't help notice the clothes he wore,
And he couldn't but notice mine.
He placed his glass on the polished bar,
And he wouldn't fill up again;
For he is prouder than most men are --
Jack Ellis and I have tramped too far
On different tracks since then.
He said that he had a mate to meet,
And `I'll see you again,' said he,
Then he hurried away through the crowded street
And the rattle of buses and scrape of feet
Seemed suddenly loud to me.
And I almost wished that the time were come
When less will be left to Fate --
When boys will start on the track from home
With equal chances, and no old chum
Have more or less than his mate.

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