― 134 ―

Mount Kembla

The judges are sitting in solemn array,
The parties are stern and unbending,
The issues that have to be fought out to-day
Must be fought to the bitterest ending.
The miners are seeking to better their lot,
And to ease the stern fight for existence:
While the masters assert that the coal trade will not
Justify any course but resistance.

"We delve in the earth,” cry the children of toil,
"We labour with vigour unceasing,
While you sit at ease, and grow fat on the spoil,
And your fatness is ever increasing.
While we spend our lives in the effort to live,
On the fruits of our labour you flourish;
So we claim, as a right, that a portion you give,
That our bodies and souls we may nourish.”

  ― 135 ―
The masters declare that the men are well paid,
And to prove it bring yards of statistics;
That a fondness for rest, and a wish to kill trade,
Are the miners' chief characteristics.
"They are slothful,” they say, “and are fond of disputes;
They are thriftless, depraved, and unsteady,
With the bodies of men, but the passions of brutes,
They are getting too well paid already.”

So they wrangle and argue, protest and declare,
The statistics come thicker and faster,
Till it seems that a miner is nought but a bear,
With a ravenous shark for a master.
The chasm between them's so deep and so wide,
'Twould appear there is naught that is human
Could ever induce them to stand side by side,
Or to share one small feeling in common.

But, hark! A sound comes rumbling through the town,
A sound that causes every nerve to thrill;
It shakes the mighty mountain to its crown!
Its deep vibrations roll from hill to hill.
A few brief moments of suspense expire -
Suspense, now shared alike by man and master;

  ― 136 ―
Then the dread words come trembling through the wire,
That tell of deadly terror and disaster.

Below - the sea is rippling in the breeze,
Each wavelet dancing at the zephyr's breath,
Above - a wail is echoing through the trees,
Telling of homes made desolate by death.
Of loved ones stricken low, of broken hearts,
Of weeping children, and of wives forlorn;
Of all the horrors sudden death imparts,
It tells of orphan children yet unborn.

Then speaks a hero, “Miners of the south,
Men lie entombed, and some, perchance, yet live!
Within th' inferno of that tunnel's mouth
Men lack the succour we alone can give.
Let each man speak who has the pluck to dare;
Will any follow me? If so, reply!”
But not a craven heart is beating there,
Masters and men, with one accord, say, “Aye!”

The rescue party formed, they enter then
To seek survivors from the dread disaster.
A trusty band of picked and faithful men,
Under the guidance of an expert master.

  ― 137 ―
Through the black tunnels plunge the plucky band,
By the dull flicker of the safety lamp
They note destruction's work on every hand;
They find, alas! the dreaded afterdamp.

"Back!” cries the leader. “Boys, go back!” he calls,
"Back, for your lives, or it will be too late.”
He struggles manfully, then staggers - falls,
But bids them go, and leave him to his fate.
The afterdamp engulfs them; like a wave
It rushes on them with its fatal breath;
Like drowning men, they seek their lives to save,
Each, for the moment, face to face with death.

As one band, baffled by the poisonous air,
Is led or carried from that awful space,
Another band of heroes gathers there,
Eager and resolute, to take its place.
And who can paint the utter, helpless woe
Of that grief-stricken crowd who hear the tread,
On the rough mountain paths, of those who go
Bearing, with reverence, their comrades, dead?

  ― 138 ―
Among the lifeless burdens there are two
For whom the melancholy crowd divide,
For they are those who to the rescue flew,
And, fighting for their fellow-creatures, died.
Master and man! could sympathetic tie
E'er bind such men in mutual interest?
Thank heaven, yes! At sorrow's helpless cry
They rushed, and died, each on the other's breast.

The morning saw them, full of vital power,
Masters and men, opposed in stern array;
No thought in common, yet the evening hour
Found, in a last embrace, their lifeless clay.
Their latest breath they shared; with struggling feet,
Dying, the same square yard of earth they trod.
Their souls, released, will at the judgment seat,
At the same moment, stand before their God.

And shall they die in vain? Has not their fate
Some heaven-born meaning, as a sign of peace?

  ― 139 ―
That men should foster love, and conquer hate?
That strife and discord may for ever cease?
God send the time, and grant that it be nigh,
When men no more with hatred shall be riven;
When they, like brethren, shall both live and die,
And thus make earth a stepping-stone to heaven.