by Henry Lawson
The theme is ancient as the hills,
With all their prehistoric glory;
But yet of Corney and his friend,
We’ve often longed to tell the story;
And should we jar the reader’s ear,
Or fail to please his eye observant,
We only trust that he’ll forgive
The bush muse and—your humble servant.
Old Corney built in Deadman’s Gap
A hut, where mountain shades grow denser,
And there he lived for many years,
A timber-getter and a fencer.
And no one knew if he’d a soul
Above long sprees, or split-rail fences,
Unless, indeed, it was his friend,
Who always kept his confidences.
There was a saw-pit in the range;
’Twas owned by three, and they were brothers,
And visitors to Corney’s hut—
’Twas seldom visited by others.
They came because, as they averred,
“Old Corney licked—a gent infernal.”
“His yarns,” if I might trust their word,
“Would made the fortune of a journal.”
In short, the splitter was a “cure”,
Who brightened up their lives’ dull courses;
And so on Sunday afternoons,
At Corney’s hut they’d hang their horses.
They’d have a game of cards and smoke,
And sometimes sing, which was a rum thing—
Unless, in spite of legal folk,
The splitter kept a “drop of something”.
If, as ’twas said, he was “a swell”
Before he sought these sombre ranges,
’Twixt mother’s arms and coffin gear
He must have seen a world of changes.
But from his lips would never fall
A hint of home, or friends, or brothers;
And if he told his tale at all,
He must have told it as another’s.
Though he was good at telling yarns,
At listening he excelled not less so,
And greatly helped the bushman’s tales
With “yes”, “exactly so”, or “jes’ so”.
In short, the hut became a club
Like our Assembly Legislative,
Combining smokeroom, hall, and “pub”,
Political and recreative.
Old Corney lived and Corney died,
As we will, too, on some to-morrow,
But not as Corney died, we hope,
Of heart disease, and rum, and sorrow.
(We hope to lead a married life,
At times the cup of comfort quaffing;
And when we leave this world of strife
We trust that we may die of laughing.)
One New Year’s Eve they found him dead—
For rum had made his life unstable—
They found him stretched upon his bed,
And also found, upon the table,
The coloured portrait of a girl—
Blue eyes of course. The hair was golden,
A faded letter and a curl,
And—well, we said the theme was olden.
The splitter had for days been dead
And cold before the sawyers found him,
And none had witnessed how he died
Except the friend who whimpered round him;
A noble friend, and of a kind
Who stay when other friends forsake us;
And he at last was left behind
To greet the rough bush undertakers.
This was a season when the bush
Was somewhat ruled by time and distance,
And bushmen came and tried the world,
And “gave it best” without assistance.
Then one might die of heart disease,
And still be spared the inquest horrors.
And when the splitter lay at ease,
So, also, did his sins and sorrows.
“Ole Corey’s dead,” the bushmen said;
“He’s gone at last, an’ ne’er a blunder.”
And so they brought a horse and dray,
And tools to “tuck the old cove under.”
The funeral wended through the range,
And slowly round its rugged corners;
The reader will not think it strange
That Corney’s friend was chief of mourners.
He must have thought the bushmen hard,
And of his misery unheeding,
Because they shunned his anxious eyes,
That seemed for explanation pleading.
At intervals his tongue would wipe
The jaws that seemed with anguish quaking;
As some strong hand impatiently
Might chide the tears for prison breaking.
They reached by rugged ways at last,
A desolate bush cemetery,
Where now (our tale is of the past),
A thriving town its dead doth bury.
And where the bones of pioneers
Are found and thrown aside unheeded—
For later sleepers, blessed with tears
Of many friends, the graves are needed.
The funeral reached the bushmen’s graves,
Where these old pioneers were sleeping,
And now while down the granite ridge
The shadow of the peak was creeping,
They dug a grave beneath a gum
And lowered the dead as gently may be
As Corney’s mother long before
Had laid him down to “hush-a-baby”.
A bushman read the words to which
The others reverently listened,
Some bearded lips were seen to twitch,
Some shaded eyes with moisture glistened.
Perhaps this weakness was because
Their work reminded them in sorrow
Of other burials long ago,
When friends “turned in to wait the morrow.”
The boys had brought the splitter’s tools,
And now they split and put together
Four panels such as Corney made,
To stand the stress of western weather.
Perhaps this second weakness rose,
From some good reason undetected;
They may have thought of other graves
Of dearer friends they left neglected.
“Old Corney’s dead, he paid his bills”
(These words upon the tree were graven)
“And oft a swagman down in luck,
At Corey’s mansion found a haven.”
If this an explanation needs,
We greatly fear we can’t afford it;
Unless they thought of other dead,
Whose virtues they had not recorded.
The day had crossed the homeward track,
And as the bushmen turned to tread it,
They thought and spoke of many things,
Remembered now to Corney’s credit;
And strange to say, above their heads
The kookaburra burst with laughter.
(Perhaps he thought of other friends
Whose virtues they remembered—after.)
But now the bushmen hurried on
Lest darkness in the range should find them;
And strange to say they never saw
That Corney’s friend had stayed behind them.
If one had thrown a backward glance
Along the rugged path they wended,
He might have seen a darker form
Upon the damp cold mound extended.
But soon their forms had vanished all,
And night came down the ranges faster,
And no one saw the shadows fall
Upon the dog that mourned his master.