Short Stories in Prose and Verse

The Legend of Cooee Gully


Henry Lawson

THE NIGHT came down thro’ Deadman’s Gap,
  Where the ghostly saplings bent
Before a wind that tore the fly
  From many a digger’s tent.

Dark as pitch, and the rain rushed past
  On a wind that howled again;
And we crowded into the only but
  That stood on the hillside then.

The strong pine rafters creaked and strained,
  ’Til we thought that the roof would go;
And we felt the box-bark walls bend in
  And bulge like calico.

A flood had come from the gorges round:
  Thro’ the gully’s bed it poured.
Down many a deep, deserted shaft
  The yellow waters roared.

The scene leapt out when the lightning flashed
  And shone with a ghastly grey;
And the night sprang back to the distant range
  ’Neath a sky as bright as day.

Then the darkness closed like a trap that was sprung,
  And the night grew black as coals,
And we heard the ceaseless thunder
  Of the water down the holes.

And now and then like a cannon’s note
  That sounds in the battle din,
We heard the louder thunder spring
  From a shaft, when the sides fell in.

We had gathered close to the broad but fire
  To yarn of the by-gone years,
When a coo-ee that came from the flooded grounds
  Fell sharp on our startled ears.

We sprang to our feet, for well we knew
  That in speed lay the only hope;
One caught and over his shoulder threw
  A coil of yellow rope.

Then, blinded oft by the lightning’s flash,
  Down the steep hillside we sped,
And at times we slipped on the sodden path
  That ran to the gully’s bed.

And on past many a broken shaft
  All reckless of risk we ran,
For the wind still brought in spiteful gusts
  The cry of the drowning man.

But the cooeying ceased when we reached the place;
  And then, ere a man could think,
We heard the treacherous earth give way
  And fall from a shaft’s black brink.

And deep and wide the rotten side
  Slipped into the hungry hole,
And the phosphorus leapt and vanished
  Like the flight of the stranger’s soul.

And still in the sound of the rushing rain,
  When the night comes dark and drear,
From the pitch-black side of that gully wide
  The coo-ee you’ll hear and hear.

Coo-ee — coo-e-e-e, low and eerily,
  It whispers afar and drear —
And then to the heart like an icy dart
  It strikes thro’ the startled ear!

Dreader than wrung from the human tongue
  It shrieks o’er the sound of the rain,
And back on the hill when the wind is still
  It whispers and dies again.

And on thro’ the night like the voice of a sprite
  That tells of a dire mishap
It echoes around in the gully’s bound
  And out thro’ Deadman’s Gap.

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