© Ellis Campbell

Winner 2011, ‘Coo-ee March Festival’ — Open Section and Overall, Gilgandra NSW.

Surrounded by gigantic trees—its windows creaking in the breeze –
a sinister environment to haunt us as we’d pass.
A relic from forgotten years, and swamped in mystic atmospheres,
the Oxley House stood lone amidst a paddock’s tawny grass.
Then Simple Saul appeared one day
as we were heading homeward way –
he loitered there in wait for us to come.
A teenager well overweight,
Saul leant upon the garden gate –
he shyly grinned and sucked his grimy thumb.

The simple joy of seeing us lit up his dull grey eyes and thus
he laughed and babbled gleeful words quite hard to understand.
But very soon an angry voice—that really scared my sister Joyce –
called harshly from the window of an upstairs room she manned.
“Inside this minute!  Naughty Saul!”
Alarmed we heard her screeching call.
“You children get on home,” was what she said.
“Be gone with you!  And don’t come back!”
Saul cringed before this fierce attack
and fear-filled eyes rolled back into his head.

Sometimes poor Saul would shyly gawk—yet other times he’d gaily talk
of going on a trip to China, England, France or Spain.
“To Mozambique and Timbuktu?”  We’d laugh because it wasn’t true.
“Yes!  Timbuktu and everywhere!”  He dribbled down his shirt again.
We’d never seen the Haughty Crone—
a name considered all our own –
but conjured up an ogress straight from hell.
A sinister connection loomed –
this castle—we were certain—doomed;
a scourge of something ominous befell.

Quite soon poor Saul just disappeared and we assumed—though it seemed weird
he had indeed gone on a trip—though surely not alone?
We had no way of knowing for the curtains and the upstairs door
remained forever closed to hide the fabled Haughty Crone.
A mother or a sister to
poor Saul—of course we never knew,
but evilness possessed this witch’s soul.
We were convinced this voice unseen
relayed some voodoo, strange and mean –
avoiding Oxley House at night our goal.

The windows leered a gleam of woe—we thought the House deserted though –
and felt the everlasting eeriness that lingered there.
With but a glance we scurried past, for something that we feared quite vast
embraced the haunting castle like a mantle of despair.
Now sixty years have passed since then
and Oxley House—–restored again –
no longer plagues us with its atmosphere.
Fred Johnstone and his friendly wife
now love the castle like their life –
they’ve owned the place since early spring last year.

“You’ve been around for years,” said Fred.  “You understand the watershed,
and any likely spots to dig a well the olden style?
My dams are getting very low—this drought has got me worried so
I hope your time and knowledge can be mine for just a while?”
My mind went back across the years –
to visions still beset by fears –
and Oxley House with all its spooky ways.
I knew a well existed there,
around behind the place somewhere,
we’d seen its idle windlass in those days.

“A well once stood inside this ground,” I said to Fred, “let’s look around
a bit for signs beyond the house—it’s surely somewhere here.
I can’t remember now just where— it had a timber top built square –
and windlass stood above with all the gear.”
Fred stood around and scratched his head.
“It couldn’t disappear,” he said.
“Could grass or silt have covered it some way?
You thought it somewhere close to here?
It’s strange that it could disappear –
they surely wouldn’t fill it in, would they?”

I stubbornly refused to quit.  “I’m sure that I remember it.
Somewhere I reckon underneath that heap of rubbish there.
That’s covering the spot I’m sure—why would they hide it so secure
beneath a pile of useless trash?  A very strange affair.”
“Let’s try it, anyway,” said Fred.
“There’s rakes and picks inside the shed.”
We moved a lot of rusty tins and stuff.
Couch grass entwined and tightly bound
the heaps of bottles strewn around –
the task of moving all was tough enough.

A shout of triumph came from Fred.  “There’s something here, I think,” he said.
“There seems some kind of wooden lid, long buried in the silt.
If we can find some water here it will relieve my greatest fear –
and save me worry and expense—the walls can be re-built.”
A wooden lid that we could see –
but took us quite a while to free –
was still quite sound and heavy to remove.
Below a yawning chasm glared,
its timbered walls—untarnished—stared
above a darkness sunshine can’t improve.

“I’ll get a torch and we’ll explore the surface of the well’s dark floor –
there’s hopefully some water there—I pray it isn’t gone.”
I took the torch when Fred returned—a premonition strangely churned
within my breast.  Down darkened depths the bright beam quaintly shone.
I gasped in horror at the sight –
a grinning skull was gleaming white
and leering grotesque from the depths on show.
I reeled before this sight in shock –
that witch’s screams came back to mock –
for certain this was Simple Saul below.

No doubt the Haughty Crone killed him, a murder back in ages dim.
Too late for lawful justice, for the witch would long be dead.
Police were soon informed, of course—we told them all we knew perforce –
no culprit could be punished or a court case lie ahead.
My wild imagination stirred
to reconstruct a crime now blurred
by sixty years of mystery and time.
The Haughty Crone encouraged Saul
to talk about his trip so all
believed that’s where he’d gone—that masked her crime.

Why had she murdered this young lad?  The evil mind of one quite mad
had hatched a valid reason for this loathsome crime’s content.
Was this huge mansion’s ownership the source that caused her mind to flip –
a paltry reason, surely, for the death of this ament?
The law of averages decree
she’d be the first to die and he
would then inherit Oxley House, of course.
What matter then if this applied?
Was this the reason Saul had died
a gruesome death, beneath some horrid force?

And I became obsessed with Saul’s untimely death behind these walls –
I swore I’d fathom out an answer—whether right or wrong.
In teen-age years perhaps the Crone fell pregnant and felt all alone—
when just a child herself, perhaps, a baby came along?
Insistence of her parents might
demand she give up every right –
pretend it never happened—nothing changed?
Did she become a hermit and –
consumed by hatred—took a stand
of vengeance with a bitter mind deranged?

Would her love child—if Saul were dead—become the next of kin instead?
Inherit Oxley House and thus reduce the guilt she bore?
Did this demented woman try to justify her sin, thereby
she sacrificed her brother as atonement that she saw?
So much the world will never know
of Oxley House’s years of woe,
the secret lies beyond its frowning wall.
Do theories I’ve propounded here
approach the truth, or nowhere near?
None living know the mysteries of Saul.

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