1901 ". . . and will supply details to guard the Blood River Bridge." District Orders-Lines of Communication, South African War. Sudden the desert changes, The raw glare softens and clings, Till the aching Oudtshoorn ranges Stand up like the thrones of Kings --
Ramparts of slaughter and peril -- Blazing, amazing, aglow -- 'Twixt the sky-line's belting beryl And the wine-dark flats below.
Royal the pageant closes, Lit by the last of the sun -- Opal and ash-of-roses, Cinnamon, umber, and dun.
The twilight svallows the thicket, The starlight reveals the ridge. The whistle shrills to the picket -- We are changing guard on the bridge.
(Few, forgotten and lonely, Where the empty metals shine -- No, not combatants-only Details guarding the line.)
We slip through the broken panel Of fence by the ganger's shed; We drop to the waterless channel And the lean track overhead;
We stumble on refuse of rations, The beef and the biscuit-tins; We take our appointed stations, And the endless night begins.
We hear the Hottentot herders As the sheep click past to the fold -- And the click of the restless girders As the steel contracts in the cold --
Voices of jackals calling And, loud in the hush between A morsel of dry earth falling From the flanks of the scarred ravine.
And the solemn firmament marches, And the hosts of heaven rise Framed through the iron arches -- Banded and barred by the ties,
Till we feel the far track humming, And we see her headlight plain, And we gather and wait her coming -- The wonderful north-bound train.
(Few, forgotten and lonely, Where the white car-windows shine -- No, not combatants-only Details guarding the line.)
Quick, ere the gift escape us! Out of the darkness we reach For a handful of week-old papers And a mouthful of human speech.
And the monstrous heaven rejoices, And the earth allows again, Meetings, greetings, and voices Of women talking with men.