The diggings were just in their glory when Alister Cameron came,
With recommendations, he told me, from friends and a parson “at hame:”
He read me his recommendation---he called them a part of his plant---
The first one was signed by the parson, another by Cameron’s aunt.
The meenister called him “ungodly---a stray frae the fauld o’ the Lord,”
And his aunt set him down as a spendthrift, “a rebel at hame and abroad.”
He got drunk now and then and he gambled (such heroes are often the same);
That’s all they could say in connection with Alister Cameron’s name.
He was straight. And he stuck to his country and spoke with respect of his kirk;
He did his full share of the cooking, and more than his share of the work.
And many a poor devil knew, when his strength and his money were spent,
He’d be sure of a shakedown, and tucker---and a lecture in Cameron’s tent.
He shunned all the girls near the diggings; they said he was proof to the dart---
That nothing but whisky and gambling had ever a place in his heart;
He carried a packet about him, well hid; but I saw it at last,
A ring and a sprig of white heather, a letter or two and a curl,
A bit of a worn chain of silver, and a portrait of Cameron’s girl.
It chanced in the first of the Sixties that Ally and I and Mckean
Were sinking a shaft on Mundoorin, near Fosberry’s puddle-machine.
The bucket we used was a big one, and rather a weight when ‘twas full,
Though Alister wound it up easy, for he had the strength of a bull,
He’d hinted at heart-disease often; but, setting his fancy apart,
I always believed there was nothing the matter with Cameron’s heart.
One day I was working below---I was filling the bucket with clay,
When Alister cried, “Pack it on, mon! we ought to reach bottom today.”
He wound, and the bucket rose steady and swift to the surface until
It reached the first log on the top, where it suddenly stopped and hung still,
I knew what was up in a moment when Cameron shouted to me;
“Climb up, for your
life by the footholes. I’ll stick
tae th’ haun’le---or dee!”
The strength of despair was upon me: I started, and scarcely drew breath,
But climbed to the top for dear life in the fear of a terrible death.
And there, with his waist on the handle, I saw the dead form of my mate,
And over the shaft hung the bucket, suspended by Cameron’s weight/
He’d thought of my danger, not his, when he felt in his bosom the smart,
And stuck to the handle in spite of the Finger of Death on his heart.