The Demon Snow-shoes

A Legend of Kiandra

Original Text: 
Where the Dead Men Lie and Other Poems, ed. A.G. Stephens (Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1897): 29. Internet Archive. Sydney Electronic Text and Image Service (SETIS), digital text sponsored by AustLit: http://setis.library.usyd.edu.au/oztexts
1The snow lies deep on hill and dale,
2In rocky gulch and grassy vale:
3The tiny, trickling, tumbling falls
4Are frozen 'twixt their rocky walls
5That grey and brown look silent down
8Fast frozen in its narrow bed;
9And distant sounds ring out quite near,
10The crystal air is froze so clear;
11While to and fro the people go
12In silent swiftness o'er the snow.
13And, like a mighty gallows-frame,
15Hangs over where, despite the cold,
16Strong miners seek the hidden gold,
17And stiff and blue, half-frozen through,
18The fickle dame of Fortune woo.
19Far out, along a snow-capped range,
20There rose a sound which echoed strange:
21Where snow-emburthen'd branches hang,
22And flashing icicles, there rang
23A gay refrain, as towards the plain
24Sped swiftly downward Carl the Dane.
25His long, lithe snow-shoes sped along
26In easy rhythm to his song;
27Now slowly circling round the hill,
28Now speeding downward with a will;
29The crystals crash and blaze and flash
30As o'er the frozen crust they dash.
31Among the hills the first he shone
32Of all who buckled snow-shoe on;
33For though the mountain lads were fleet,
34But one bold rival dare compete,
35To veer and steer, devoid of fear,
36Beside this strong-limbed mountaineer.
37'Twas Davy Eccleston who dared
38To cast the challenge: If Carl cared
39On shoes to try their mutual pace,
40Then let him enter for the race,
41Which might be run by anyone--
42A would-be champion. Carl said "Done!"
43But not alone in point of speed
44They sought to gain an equal meed;
45For in the narrow lists of love
46Dave Eccleston had cast the glove:
47Though both had prayed, the blushing maid
48As yet no preference betrayed,
49But played them off, as women will,
50One 'gainst the other one, until--
51A day when she was sorely pressed--
52To loving neither youth confessed;
53But did exclaim--the wily dame!--
54"Who wins this race, I'll bear his name!"
55Her words were ringing through Carl's head
56As o'er the frozen crust he sped,
57But suddenly became aware
58That not alone he travelled there:
59He sudden spied, with swinging stride,
60A stranger gliding by his side:
61The breezes o'er each shoulder tossed
62His beard, bediamonded with frost;
63His eyes flashed strangely, bushy-browed;
64His breath hung round him like a shroud;
65He never spoke, nor silence broke,
66But by the Dane sped stroke for stroke.
67"Old man! I do not know your name,
68Nor what you are, nor whence you came--
69But this: if I but had your shoes
70This champion race I ne'er could lose.
71To call them mine, those shoes divine,
72I'll gladly pay should you incline."
73The stranger merely bowed his head--
74"The shoes are yours," he gruffly said.
75"I change with you, though at a loss;
76And in return I ask that cross
77Which, while she sung, your mother hung
78Around your neck when you were young."
79Carl hesitated when he heard
80The price, but not for long demurred,
81And gave the cross. With trembling haste
82The shoes upon his feet were laced--
83So long, yet light and polished bright--
84His heart beat gladly at the sight.
85Now, on the morning of the race,
86Expectancy on every face,
87They come the programme to fulfil
89With silent feet the people meet,
90While youths and maidens laughing greet.
91High-piled the flashing snowdrifts lie,
92And laugh to scorn the sun's dull eye,
93That, glistening feebly, seems to say:
94"When Summer comes you'll melt away!
95You'll change your song when I grow strong:
96I think so, though I may be wrong."
97The pistol flashed, and off they went
98Like lightning on the steep descent.
99Resistlessly down-swooping, swift
100O'er the smooth face of polished drift
101The racers strain with might and main;
102But in the lead flies Carl the Dane.
103Behind him Davy did his best,
104With hopeless eye and lip compressed:
105Beat by a snow-shoe length at most,
106They flash and pass the winning-post.
107The maiden said, "I'll gladly wed
108The youth who in this race has led."
109But where was he? Still speeding fast,
110Over the frozen stream he passed.
111They watched his flying form until
113Nor saw it more: the people swore
114The like they'd never seen before.
115The way he scaled that steep ascent
116Was quite against all precedent;
117While others said he could but choose
118To do it on those demon shoes.
119They talked in vain, for Carl the Dane
120Was never seen in flesh again.
121But now the lonely diggers say
122That sometimes at the close of day,
123They see a misty wraith flash by,
124With the faint echo of a cry.
125It may be true; perhaps they do:
126I doubt it much; but what say you?

Notes

6] Kiandra: an abandoned gold-mining town in the Snowy Mountains of New South Wales. Gold was discovered there in 1859, and mining continued until about 1905. Kiandra is also the birthplace of Australian skiing, introduced by Norwegian miners. The last resident left in 1974, and the site is now managed by the National Parks and Wildlife Service as part of Kosciuszko National Park. Back to Line
7] Eucumbene: an alpine river in the Snowy Mountains of New South Wales, which has its headwaters above Kiandra. Back to Line
14] New Chum claim: one of the principal mines of Kiandra, situated on New Chum Hill. Back to Line
88] Township Hill: a hill in Kiandra on which annual ski races were held. Back to Line
112] Sawyers' Hill: a hill, or low mountain, near Kiandra. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
1891
Publication Notes: 
The Bulletin, October 10, 1891.
RPO poem Editors: 
Cameron La Follette
RPO Edition: 
2011
Rhyme: 
Form: