When The Bell Blew Up

A poem by Edward Dyson

‘That's the boiler at The Bell, mates! Tumble out, Ned, neck and crop,
Never mind your hat and coat, man, we’ll be wanted on the job.
Barney’s driving, Harvey’s stoking, God help all the hands on top!
Bring along the brandy, some one. Don’t stand like an image, Bob;
Grab those shirts, they’ll all be needed. Rugs and candles, that’s all right.
Bet your lives, boys, we’ll have lots of doctor’s work to do to-night!

‘Didn’t she thunder? Scot! I thought the universe had gone to smash.
Take the track through Peetree’s paddock, make the smartest time you know.
Barney swore her plates were rotten, but poor Bill was always rash.’
‘And his missus, heaven help her!, they were spliced a month ago.’
Down the track we raced together, up the hill, then o’er the claim
Saw the steam-clouds hanging thickly, lustrous with the glow of flame.

Boiler-house in hopeless ruins, engines wrecked and smoke-stack gone;
Bricks and shingles widely scattered, and the shattered boiler bare.
‘Five men missed!’ ‘Buck in, you fellows; get your freest action on;
Keep the fire back from the timbers, God knows who is under there.
Sprag that knocker. How it rattles! Braceman’s nowhere, Coleman’s Joe.
Tell them what has happened, Ryan. They will have to wait below.’

As we fought the fires, the women, pale and tearful gathered round.
‘That you, Peter? Thanks to Heaven!’ ‘There’s my Harry! God is good!’
‘Praise the Lord, they’ve got our lad safe! Joe the braceman has been found!
Down between the tips they found him, pinned there by a log of wood.
‘Battery boys are safe. Mack saw them hiding under Peetree’s ricks.
They just up and cut from under when it started raining bricks.’

Only two now, Bill and Barney. Still we laboured might and main
’Mid the ruins round the boiler where the shattered walls were stacked.
Then his wife discovered Barney, dazed and black, but right as rain;
Said he didn’t know what hit him, ‘thought the crack of doom had cracked;’
He had landed on the sand-heap, thirty yards or so away.
‘God is mighty good to sinners,’ murmured Geordie. ‘Let us pray.’

Fifty voices called on Harvey, and we worked like horses all,
Delving down amongst the timber, burnt and knocked about, but gay.
‘Lend a hand, here, every man; he’s pinned beneath the outer wall!
All together. Now you’ve got him. Gently does it. That’s O.K.
Scalded! Yes, and right arm broken. Pass some brandy, one of you.
Cheer, ye devils! Give it lip, lads. He’s alive and kicking, too!’

‘Give him air, now. Make a track there. Let him see his missus first.’
‘Where’s his wife?’ The women wondered. She had not been seen all night.
Someone whispered she was timid, that she dared not face the worst.
Harvey smiled despite his troubles. ‘Boys, she’s fainted, she’s all right.’
So we bore him gaily home, and as he saw the gateway near
Bill tried hard to lead the chorus when we gave a rousing cheer.

‘Stop, for God’s sake!’ In the garden, where her life blood tinged the vine,
Prone poor Harvey’s wife was lying, in the moon- light, cold and gray.
There the flying bolt had struck her as she ran towards the mine.
We could guess the truth too well, and near a broken firebar lay.
Carrol, kneeling down beside her, gently raised the wounded head,
And we bent to catch his whisper, and he answered sadly, ‘Dead!’

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