The Rescue by Edward Dyson

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There's a sudden, fierce clang of the knocker, then the sound of a voice in the shaft,
Shrieking words that drum hard on the centres, and the braceman goes suddenly daft:
"Set the whistle a-blowin' like blazes! Billy, run, give old Mackie a call --
Run, you fool! Number Two's gone to pieces, and Fred Banker is caught in the fall!
Say, hello! there below -- any hope, boys, any chances of savin' his life?
'Heave away!' sez the knocker. They've started. God be praised, he's no younguns nor wife!"'      

Screams the whistle in fearful entreaty, and the wild echo raves on the spur,
And the night that was still as a sleeper in a soft charm├ęd sleep is astir
With the fluttering of wings in the wattles, and the vague frightened murmur of birds,
With far cooeys that carry the warning, running feet, inarticulate words
From the black belt of bush come the miners, and they gather by Mack on the brace,
Out of breath, barely clad, and half wakened, with a question in every face.

"Who's b'low?" "Where's the fall?" "Didn't I tell you? -- Didn't I say that them sets wasn't sound?"
"Is it Fred? He was reckless, was Baker, now he's seen his last shift underground."
"And his mate? Where is Sandy M'Fadyn?" "Sandy's snorin' at home on his bunk."  
"Not at work! Name o' God! a forebod'n'?" "A forebodin' be hanged! He is drunk!"
'Take it steady there lads!" the boss orders. He is white to the roots of his hair.
"We may get him, alive before daybreak if he's close to the face and has air."  

Down below in the dim drive like demons the facenmen are pegging away.
Long and Coots in the lowermost level heard her thunder, nor lingered to say
What it meant; but they rushed for the ladders, and they went up the shaft with a run,
For they knew the weak spot in the workings, and they guessed there was graft to be done.
Number Two was pitch dark, and they scrambled to the plat and they made for the face,
But the roof had come down fifty yards in, and the reef was all over the place.

Now they give way to men from the surface, and they're hauled up on top for a blow,
When a life and death job is in doing there's room only for workers below.
Bare-armed, and bare-chested, and browny, with a grim, meaning set of the jaw,
The relay hurry in to the rescue, caring not for the danger a straw;
'Tis not toil, but a battle, they're called to, and like heroes the miners respond,
For a dead man lies crushed 'neath the timbers, or a live man is choking beyond.

By the faint, yellow glow of the candles, where the dank drive is hot with their breath,
On the verge of the Land of the Shadow, waging war breast to bosom with Death,
How they struggle, these giants, and slowly, as the trucks rattle into the gloom,
Inch by inch they advanco to the conquest of a prison -- or is it a tomb?
And the workings re-echo a volley as the timbers are driven in place,
But a whisper is borne to the toilers: "Boys, his mother is there on the brace!"    

Like veterans late put into action, fierce with longing to hew and to hack,   
Riordan's shift rushes in to relieve them, and the toil-stricken men stagger back.
"Stow the stuff, mates, wherever there's stowage! Run the man on the brace till he drops!
There's no time even to think on this billet. Bark the heels of the trucker who stops!
Keep the props well in front and he careful. He's in there and alive, never fret."
But the grey dawn is softening the ridges, and the word has not come to us yet.

At the mouth of the shaft men are waiting, all intent, as if held by a charm;
And their thews feel the craving for action, but they look with a sorrowful calm
Where a woman sits crouched by the capstan. In her eyes is not hope nor despair,
But a yearning that glowers like frenzy, and bids those who'd speak pity forbear.
Like a figure in stone she is seated till the labour of rescue be done,
For the father was killed in the Phoenix, and the son -- Lord of pity! the son?  

Still the knocker rings out and the engine shrieks and strains like a creature in pain
As the cage surges up to the surface or drops back to the darkness again.  
Now the morn is aglow on the ranges where the magpies are rivals in song   
And the musk scent steals up from the gully, but the battle is bitten and long.
"Hello! there on top!" they are calling. "They are through! He is seen in the drive!
They have got him -- thank Heaven! they've got him, and oh, blessed be God, he's alive! "  

"Man on! heave away!" "Step aside, lads, let his mother be first when he lands."
She was silent and strong in her anguish; now she babbles and weeps where she stands,
And the stern men, grown gentle, support her at the mouth of the shaft, till at last
With a rush the cage springs to the landing, and her son's arms encircle her fast.
She has cursed the old mine for its murders, for the victims its drives have ensnared,
Now she cries a great blessing upon it for the one precious life it has spared.

First published in The Argus, 10 February 1894;
and later in
The Launceston Examiner, 24 February 1884;
Rhymes from the Mines and Other Lines by Edward Dyson, 1896;
The Coo-ee Reciter: Humorous, Pathetic, Dramatic, Dialect, Recitations and Readings edited by William T. Pyke, 1904;
Old Ballads from the Bush edited by Bill Scott, 1987;
A Collection of Australian Bush Verse, 1989; and
Two Centuries of Australian Poetry edited by Kathrine Bell, 2007.

Author reference sites: Austlit, Australian Dictionary of Biography, Australian Poetry Library

See also.

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on February 10, 2012 6:48 AM.

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