A square post, warped and darkened by weather and time, stands amongst the bushes, beside a great white road, which drops from view behind a broad, sweep pf western horizon. A big iguana blinks his eyes in the noonday glare, as he basks on the grey wood in the sunlight, a foot or two above his home in the rubbish at the post’s base. Around are stones of a one-time chimney, and, maybe, amid the grass, a few odds and ends of old iron, and a piece or two of broken china and glass, and there float upon the breeze thoughts of other days, when the old post stood not alone, desolate, but with its fellows upheld roof and rafters. It was considered a fine house in its day, and caused a glow of pride in the happy bride, who, in the rise of summer, was led as mistress beneath its new-shingled roof.
Regularly little ones came with the years, with infancy’s offering of laughter and tears, and many a time the frigid stars gleamed ‘twixt the narrow window bars, on the heads of the chubby sleepers, and their contented parents. Gaily bloomed the flowers there, the old hollyhocks rearing their heads higher than the wall-plate, while, as sentries at the door and gate, stood rosebushes, their crimson and cream blossoms pressing per fumed caresses upon the sturdy post. Many a time it reverberated with laughter, child sh and adult, and trembled to the rush of feet, which hurried to meet a loved and loving father returning from his work at night fall. It had been a witness of sorrow, too; had seen lights burn all night; had heard fervent bedside prayers ascend; seen anxious eyes watch over suffering.
While the little ones slept, it had observed their parents sit late over the fire, with worry finding expression on their brows, for the great droughts were withering the crops and leaving the bones of the stock to bleach around the fast-emptying water-holes, and once a burden, cold and stiff, followed by those who wept, had passed down to the flat where a grave had been dug. But these sorrows and troubles served only to make the old home dearer and knit more firmly the hearts of master and mistress.
Year by year the surviving, children throve and grew and arrived at maturity, three winsome maids and three stalwart sons, all comely of face and straight of limb. Then came days when, within stone throw of the post, impatient horses fidgetted while their masters used the razor and donned fine apparel preparatory to riding to other houses at even-fall, while sons from other roofs drew rein at that of the old post. Even now a few old folks when chancing to pass that way at dusk, in memory’s ear, still plainly hear scraps of song as they pass along down the silent road where once lights glowed and the air was rife with sound of life and the atmosphere of home.
For them the spot is haunted with echo of fun long flown, and the musical tone of lark-like sopranos and rich basses mingled in songs of love. Ah! the vows that were whimpered, the loves that were told beside the broad post now so lonely and old! The roses that were plucked from its support, the kisses stolen in its shade—kisses which burned and thrilled! The new witcheries of life, dis covered there. and the sweet exciting, dawdling leave-takings which are part of the enchantment of youth! What eager expectancy has gleamed from eyes in its shelter as they scanned the darkening road in quest of horsemen whom business ostensibly, inclination really, frequently impelled that way.
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There were gatherings at Christmas-tide the heart of the old house expanded to house the infants of its infants, and halls echoed once more to the patter of little feet and lisping tongues, which stumbled over the sweet new words — grand-ma, grand-pa, aunt and uncle. The toys that littered the floors, the long string stockings which bulged at the bedposts on Christmas mornings, the poultry which hung by dozens awaiting the cooking, the great kegs of sweet, wholesome beer hidden in the old stone, the imposing iced cakes to be found in the cup boards! The rush of loving, whole-hearted preparation which had preceded this, the hustle, the feasting, the fun, which followed! The laughter and jokes which filled the low-walled rooms till they reeked with memories dear to many hearts!
But there came a day when the last child left the old roof amid its flowers and trees, with its fast-aging master and mistress alone in the familiar house-place, many mementoes on the walls and much experience stored in their hearts. Then swiftly came the hour when the old house knew its master no more, and his widow, of the white, white hair and wrinkled face, was left forlorn a little while, when her eyes, dimmed with long years of looking on life, closed, and the pall of desolation fell on the old spot. Not one of the sons and daughters it had sheltered required it more. They had homes in the city, or far away, and this, the discarded cradle of their youth, was too low in the walls and ill-built in the rooms and rambling and decrepit in the wings, while its roof let in the rain and its small windows shut out the light.
An adjoining landholder bought the land on which it stood, but having no use for the house, the talons of decay fastened upon the ridge-pole and gnawed relentlessly downward to the hearth-place. Sundowners camped in its rooms and bulls twisted the limbs of its orchard with their horns and pastured on its sweet old-fashioned flowers. Thus year by year it vanished till all that is left as monument to the sorrows and struggles and pleasures and dreams enacted there, is a single post, old and bleak and grey, standing amid a forest of new timber.
Thus to the mysterious, awe-inspiring silence go down the generations of man, and thus are effaced the marks of their labour here.
Over the bush-land broods the winter, uncouth and rigorous, but for ever and ever awakes the spring, and as the passing of one day westwards out of our lives, so pass a million generations out of the endless, over-fertile womb of Time.
Miles Franklin, “The Old Post” (1904, short story), The Australasian, 26 Mar 1904: 51.