The Death of Ben Hall
by William Henry Ogilvie (1869-1963)
Ben Hall was out on Lachlans side
With a thousand pounds on his head;
A score of troopers were scattered wide
And a hundred more were ready to ride
Wherever a rumour led.
They had followed his track from the Weddin Heights
And north by the Weelong yards;
Through dazzling days and moonlit nights
They had sought him over their rifle-sights,
With their hands on their trigger guards.
The outlaw stole like a hunted fox
Through the scrub and stunted heath,
And peered like a hawk from his eyrie rocks
Through the waving boughs of the sapling box
On the troopers riding beneath.
His clothes were rent by the clutching thorn
And his blistered feet were bare;
Ragged and torn, with his beard unshorn,
He hid like a beast forlorn,
With a padded path to his lair.
But every night when the white stars rose
He crossed by the Gunning Plain
To a stockman’s hut where the Gunning flows,
And struck on the door three swift light blows,
And a hand unhooked the chain –
And the outlaw followed the lone path back
With food for another day;
And the kindly darkness covered his track
And the shadows swallowed him deep and black
Where the starlight melted away.
But his friend had read of the big reward,
And his soul was stirred with greed;
He fastened his door and window board,
He saddled his horse and crossed the ford,
And spurred to the town at speed.
You may ride at a man’s or maid’s behest
When honour or true love call
And steel your heart to the worst or the best,
But the ride that is ta’en on a traitor’s quest
Is the bitterest ride of all.
A hot wind blew from the Lachlan bank
And a curse on its shoulder came;
The pine-trees frowned at him, rank on rank,
The sun on a gathering storm-cloud sank
And flushed his cheek with shame.
He reigned at the Court; and the tale began
That the rifles alone should end;
Sergeant and trooper laid their plan
To draw the net on a hunted man
At the treacherous word of a friend.
False was the hand that raised the chain
And false was the whispered word:
‘The troopers have turned to the south again,
You may dare to camp on the Gunning Plain.’
And the weary outlaw heard.
He walked from the hut but a quarter mile
Where a clump of saplings stood
In a sea of grass like a lonely isle;
And the moon came up in a little while
Like silver steeped in blood.
Ben Hall lay down on the dew-wet ground
By the side of his tiny fire;
And a night breeze woke, and he heard no sound
As the troopers drew their cordon round –
And the traitor earned his hire.
And nothing they saw in the dim grey light,
But the little glow in the trees;
And they crouched in the tall cold grass all night,
Each one ready to shoot at sight,
With his rifle cocked on his knees.
When the shadows broke and the dawn’s white sword
Swung over the mountain wall,
And a little wind blew over the ford,
A sargeant sprang to his feet and roared:
‘In the name of the Queen, Ben Hall!’
Haggard, the outlaw leapt from his bed
With his lean arms held on high,
‘Fire!’ And the word was scarcely said
When the mountains rang to rain of lead –
And the dawn went drifting by.
They kept their word and they paid his pay
Where a clean man’s hand would shrink;
And that was the traitor’s master day
As he stood by the bar on his homeward way
And called on the crowd to drink.
He banned no creed and he barred no class,
And he called to his friends by name;
But the worst would shake his head and pass
And none would drink from the bloodstained glass
And the goblet red with shame.
And I know when I hear the last grim call
And my mortal hour is spent,
When the light is hid and the curtains fall
I would rather sleep with the dead Ben Hall
Than go where that traitor went.