Songs of the Rail (3)
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NOTTMAN.


THAT was Nottman waving at me,
But the steam fell down, so you could not see;
He is out to-day with the fast express,
And running a mile in the minute, I guess.

Danger? none in the least, for the way
Is good, though the curves are sharp as you say,
But bless you, when trains are a little behind,
They thunder around them—a match for the wind.

Nottman himself is a devil to drive,
But cool and steady, and ever alive
To whatever danger is looming in front,
When a train has run hard to gain time for a shunt.

But he once got a fear, though, that shook him with
            pain,
Like sleepers beneath the weight of a train.
I remember the story well, for, you see,
His stoker, Jack Martin, told it to me.

Nottman had sent down the wife for a change
To the old folks living at Riverly Grange,
A quiet sleepy sort of a town,
Save when the engines went up and down.

For close behind it the railway ran
In a mile of a straight if a single span;
Three bridges were over the straight, and between
Two the distant signal was seen.

She had with her her boy 'a nice little chit
Full of romp and mischief, and childish wit,
And every time that we thunder'd by,
Both were out on the watch for Nottman and I.

"Well, one day," said Jack, "on our journey down,
Coming round on the straight at the back of the town,
I saw right ahead, in front of our track,
In the haze on the rail something dim-like and black.

"I look'd over at Nottman, but ere I could speak,
He shut off the steam, and with one wild shriek,
A whistle took to the air with a bound;
But the object ahead never stirr'd at the sound.

"In a moment he flung himself down on his knee,
Leant over the side of the engine to see,
Took one look, then sprung up, crying, breathless and
            pale,
'Brake, Jack, it is some one asleep on the rail!'

"The rear brakes were whistled on in a trice
While I screw'd on the tender brake firm as a vice,
But still we tore on with this terrible thought
Sending fear to our hearts—'Can we stop her or not?'

"I took one look again, then sung out to my mate,
'We can never draw up, we have seen it too late.'
When, sudden and swift, like the change in a dream,
Nottman drew back the lever and flung on the steam.

"The great wheels stagger'd and span with the strain,
While the spray from the steam fell around us like rain,
But we slacken'd our speed, till we saw with a wild
Throb at the heart, right before us,—a child!

"It was lying asleep on the rail, with no fear
Of the terrible death that was looming so near;
The sweat on us both broke as cold as the dew
Of death as we question'd—'What can we do?'

"It was done—swift as acts that take place in a dream—
Nottman rush'd to the front and knelt down on the
            beam,
Put one foot in the couplings; the other he kept
Right in front of the wheel for the child that still slept.

"'Saved!' I burst forth, my heart leaping with pride,
For one touch of the foot sent the child to the side,
But Nottman look'd up, his lips white as with foam,
'My God, Jack,' he cried, 'It's my own little Tom!'

"He shrunk, would have slipp'd, but one grasp of my
            hand,
Held him firm till the engine was brought to a stand,
Then I heard from behind a shriek take to the air,
And I knew that the voice of a mother was there.

"The boy was all right, had got off with a scratch:
He had crept through the fence in his frolic to watch
For his father; but, wearied with mischief and play,
Had fallen asleep on the rail where he lay.

"For days after that on our journey down,
Ere we came to the straight at the back of the town,
As if the signal were up with its gleam
Of red, Nottman always shut off the steam."

 


_______________________

 
DUNCAN WEIR.


BACK on the wrong line, that was all,
    Back in the morning, dusky and drear,
Simple enough such a thing you may call,
    But it cost us the life of Duncan Weir.

He was our mate for many a day;
    Never a steadier man on the line,
First at his work on the iron way,
    Whether the morning was stormy or fine.

Quiet, yet fond of a laugh and a joke,
    Though at times he took other moods, and then
He would only look up for a five minutes' smoke,
    Then take to the shovel and pick again.

We liked him, for Duncan was kind of heart,
    And a kindly heart has a kindly speech,
But one dreary morning put us apart,
    And our mate was forever out of our reach.

I was standing that morning a pace from the door,
    When up came one of our men and said,
"Ready! for Duncan is on before,"
    So we took to the rail with a hasty tread.

But just as we stood on the top of the bank,
    Three white lights at once through the darkness
            burst;
And with steady, oily, monotonous clank,
    An engine shot past us with tender first.

I half leapt over the bank as the glare
    Of the head-light beckon'd along the track,
Then taking one look—"That is old Tom Blair,
    And he's back on the wrong line," I said to Jack.

"Blair?" echoed Jack, and he turn'd to me,
    "Yes! for the lamps made his number plain,
He has been to the tank for water, you see,
    And come down on the wrong line in front of his
            train.

"We stood till the engine was out of our view,
    Then I felt at my heart the chill touch of a fear;
My mate said nothing, though well I knew,
    Like myself he was thinking of Duncan Weir.

For Duncan, who always had ways of his own,
    From his very first start on the line, took pains
To walk to and back from his work when alone,
    On the four-feet way, with his face to the trains.

We bent with a hasty footstep our way
    Down the line, till, at once with a clutch of the hand,
My mate drew me back to where something lay
    Dim and dark in the four-feet, just where you stand.

My heart beat fast as I leapt the rail;
    One touch was enough, and with wild affright,
I said in a voice that was like to fail,
    "My God, it is Duncan; run back for a light."

When the lamp came up, and its light was shed,
    Like a great round flashing eye on the place,
There was our old mate Duncan,—dead—
    Struck from behind, for he lay on his face.

Well, little was said—just a question or two
    At the driver.   But all taking place in the dark
Gave him room to deny, so it past from view,
    And all that is left is that simple mark.

Just his name on the fence—take a step this way,—
    You can see it from here with the day and date,
When old Tom Blair, while the morning was grey,
    Came back on the wrong line and kill'd our mate.

 


_______________________

 
THE BROWN GIANT.


HURRAH for this rough brown giant of ours!
    He stood by the side of God
When the stars were shot from His strong right
            hand
    To the height of their pure abode;
When this grand firm planet we tread upon
    Rose upward formless and dim,
And knelt on its knee with its hands in the air
    As they sang their morning hymn.

Hurrah for this rough brown giant of ours!
    He stood by the side of man
As he rose in the shape of the Master himself,
    With a boundless cunning to plan.
Then God said, looking and smiling at each,
    And laying His hands on the two,
"Go forth; I have only roughen'd the earth,
    I have left the rest for you."

Then the two came forth to this earth of ours,
    The giant still led like a child,
And wherever he bent his back the earth
    Look'd up in his face and smiled.
And goodly harvests of grain grew up,
    And the red swift wine was quaff'd,
Till it warin'd the heart of the giant, who sang
    And held his sides, and laugh'd.

Then cities rose up at his magic touch,
    Till the earth was like to groan,
For the fair green sod was cut through with a load
    Of a million streets of stone.
And a multitudinous tramp of feet
    Went surging up and down;
Ho, ho, and the giant leapt up in his glee,
    For his muscles had shaped the town!

Then he taught the puppets who stood by his knee
    The cunning that slumbers in fire,
Till they bent the iron as willows are bent,
    To each shape of their boundless desire;
But his great heart leapt with a bound to his throat,
    And his grim brows whiten'd with fear,
When they drew from their gleaming scabbards of
            fire
    The mighty sword and spear.

Then his eyes grew sad with a gloom, and he shrank
    Till he scarce could draw his breath,
As he saw, rank'd up in their terrible files,
    Men eager for slaughter and death.
But at last when they met like two whirlwinds in hell,
    And the spouting blood reek'd red,
With his broad rough hand as a blind on his eyes,
    He turn'd in terror, and fled.

Then he sat him down full of black despair,
    And he groan'd as he bent his eyes,
For he saw that his very footsteps were red
    With the hue that darkens and dyes.
He sat like one from whose veins the tide
    Of full strong life had shrunk;
And his long black hair fell down on his face,
    While his head on his bosom sunk.

But he sprung to his feet, and he dash'd his hair
    At one wild sweep from his brow;
"What a coward," he said, "to sink thus in my dread,
    And this planet awaiting me now.
Have I not on my shoulder the finger of God,
    As he laid it on that of the man?
If he strikes into pathways that devils have made
    I, at least, will stand true to the plan."

So with strong full heart he stood in the mart,
    Till up to his very knees
The treasures of earth lay like sunset in heaps,
    He was lord of the lordless seas.
"Hurrah, hurrah!" and his breath came quick,
    While he shouted aloud in his glee,
"The king with a million men at his beck
    Is never a king like me."

But when he struck forth with his strong right hand,
    And the temple rose upward on high,
He bared his forehead, and knelt on his knee,
    For he knew that his Master was nigh.
He seem'd, as the smile of God fell upon him,
    Kneeling and bowing there,
A grand, stern, all miraculous form
    Of Labour and Worship at prayer.

But when he stood by the sculptor, and saw
    An angel step from the stone,
Or the mighty shape of some god that rose
    In its godship calm and alone—
His heart came and went at each deft chisel stroke,
    But his brow wore a doubt as he said,
"Here is toil of a higher kind than my own,
    Where God steps in in my stead."

He stood by the painter, who, busy with dreams,
    And a grand glow lighting his eyes,
Made his canvas a mirror that took in the earth
    As a lake takes the stars and the skies.
Or, soaring upward alone with his soul,
    Away from the shadow and mist,
Brought down with a brow full of heaven's own light,
    The grand pure features of Christ.

He turn'd from the painter and sculptor, who
            wrought
    In the light common men may not see,
And with low voice whisper'd—"The work of the two
    Belongs to a higher than me.
There is something divine which is out of my reach,
    Yet it may be mine, but, till then,
I know I can stand with no fear of a lord
    In the rush of toiling men."

He shaped the bridge till its footstep of stone
    Stept over the wave at one stride;
He fashion'd whatever had shadow of use
    For man to keep by his side.
The great brown giant look'd at his arms
    And his broad brow glisten'd with sweat,
But still, in the depths of his bosom, he felt
    There was something to fashion yet.

He stood lost in thought till the light in his eyes
    By his broad grim brows was o'ercast,
Then he drew himself up to his height, as he cried,
    "I have found my best triumph at last."
Then the smoke of the furnace-fire grew dark,
    And the heavens were deaf with the din
Of hammer and anvil, where glowing and swart
    The giant was toiling within.

At length, when his task was over, he stood
    With his strong arms over his breast,
As if to keep down the wild pride of his heart
    That not for one moment could rest.
"Ho, here I have made you a monster of fire!
    One whose muscles can shrink not nor fail;"
And, with one wild rush, like a stroke from the gods,
    The engine leapt to the rail.

And with three sharp snorts, as a test of his strength,
    He bent himself to each load,
Till his black limbs quiver'd, as quiver the veins
    When the hot blood leaps in a god;
And wherever he stamp'd with his merciless hoof
    The earth, as if terror-struck, said—
"Here is one who will never give heed to the rein
    Till he circles my bounds with his tread."

A flush lay like fire on the giant's cheek,
    And a deep glow lit up his eye,
As at every heave of the monster's lungs
    A column of smoke took the sky.
But when he drew near for a moment to view
    The red flame licking his heart,
And coiling and twisting like snakes when they sting
    The giant leapt back with a start.

Then a gloom lay like mist on his brow, and he said,
    As if doubt had come backward again,—
"I have made them a steed they can harness at will,
    What more can I fashion for men?
They may struggle and conquer, the gods of this
            earth!
    Yet whatever their miracles be,
Let them know that the fingers of God are on them,
    As I feel them, this moment on me."

Then hurrah for this rough brown giant of ours!
    He stood with God in His place
When the stars like a million silver drops
    Were hung in the azure of space.
And hurrah! when he came with a firm free step
    To stand beside man on the soil,
To head like a Titan Napoleon still
    The bloodless battles of toil.

 


_______________________

 
RAILWAY DREAMINGS.


I WORK upon the line to-day,
    The rails on either side of me,
But all my fancies wing their way,
    Like swallows flying out to sea.

And ever as they speed, I dream
    Of all the coming thousand things
That time will herald with a beam
    Of light from off his windless wings:

What changes in the great to Be
    Evolving broad, and far, and grand,
What faiths by which our kind shall see
    That spinning creeds is spinning sand:

What worlds we dare not dream of now,
    When Science with her eagle ken
Holds a white hand above her brow
    To bring them nearer unto men:

When all the canker and the pride
    Shall sink, and all the good in store
Will work and toil with us, and glide
    Like Christ, among the lowly poor:

When war, a red and sulky hell
    Upbursting through the green of earth,
Shall sink for ever, but to dwell
    In chaos where it first had birth:

When all the lower man is sunk,
    To leave him as of old again,
Ere that one taint had made him drunk
    With the wild wine that devils drain:

What songs whose melody shall start
    The higher music pure and free,
In poets hymning strong of heart
    The labour Epics that will be.

Then the great brotherhood of man
    Will sing its universal psalm,
And Peace from paradise again
    Come smiling underneath the palm.

Ay, speed the time when, strong of breath
    And heart that not a fear can quail,
We keep to all the higher faith
    As the wild engine keeps the rail:

When, brain and heart no longer twain,
    We work—God's sky above us blue—
"Stand clear, man, for that Pullman train,
    Not twenty lengths of rail from you!"

I leap aside, the train roars past,
    And all my fancies, worn and sick,
Come slowly back, to die at last
    In the sharp raspings of the pick.

 


_______________________

 
THE GODS AND THE WINDS.


THE still gods, though they move apart
    From interchange of thoughts with men,
Yearn to come down, and, in the mart,
    Rub shoulders with them once again,

And help them in each fearless deed,
    When Science with serenest eyes
Lays a white finger on each need,
    While Thought springs forward to devise.

"We won our godship far too young,"
    They moan with an Immortal's woe;
"Our mighty strength is all unstrung
    In shame when we look down below.

"The vigour of our limb is weak,
    Our pulses move as with a load,
And only place upon our cheek
    That burning spot which shames a god."

The keen winds send their voices up,
    They whistle past each lonely star;
The gods pause ere they lift the cup,
    As held back by some sudden bar.

"Keep to your halls," the rough winds say,
    "Nor overstep your starry pale,
Ye could not for one moment play
    With the wild engine on the rail;

"Nor even match, though keen and strong,
    And all aglow with swiftest fire,
That silent speed which hurls along
    The far word lightnings of the wire.

"For men have bound the giant brain
    To use, and with swift hands they bring
Wild untaught things they slowly train,
    That after into wonders spring.

"Which, leaping at one bound, the bar
    Of use and wont, enclasp the earth,
That trembles at such sudden war,
    And reels into its second birth.

"Then life in all its new-found glow
    Wakes up, and with a certain hand
Seizes the wand of Prospero,
    That magic may be in the land.

"So men dive, in their wild designs,
    Far down, and, in the earth's deep night,
Battle until, like slaves, the mines
    Pour forth their treasures to the light.

"And great wild engines black with smoke
    Roar on along the rail, or urge
With clank, and pant, and sullen stroke,
    A thousand riches through the surge.

"So keep your halls, nor fret, nor moan
    That ye can never come again,
A second godship is not won
    Among these nineteenth century men."

Thus the bold winds against the sky
    Uplift their voices wild and strong,—
The gods, still moaning, make reply,
    "We won our godship far too young."

 


_______________________

 
STOOD AT CLEAR.


"WHERE is Adams?" that was the cry,
"Let us question him before he die."

Naught around in the night was seen
Save the glimmer of lamps, where the crash had been.

Right across the six-feet way,
One huge hulk, engine and tender lay,

While the wailing hiss of the steam took the air,
By fits, like the low, dull tone of despair.

But still above all, rose that one clear cry
"Speak to Adams before he die."

"Here," I said, "turn your lamps on me,"
And I laid Jim's head upon my knee,

"Jim, old mate," I said in his ear,
They will ask you a question—can you hear?"

Then I saw through the grime that was on his face,
A white hue coming with slow, sure pace;

And upon his brow by the light of the lamp,
Other dew than the night's lay heavy and damp.

"Speak to him-quick!" they bent and said,
"Did the distant signal stand at red?"

Broken and slow came the words with a moan,
"Stood—at—clear," and poor Jim was gone.

I turn'd my head away from the light
To hide the tears that were blinding my sight,

And pray'd from my heart, to God that Jim
Might find heaven's signals clear to him.

 


_______________________

 
OLD WYLIE'S STONE.


You want to see Wylie's stone—look here;
But stop where you are till the line is clear;
Pullman express from the south is due,
And will be here in a moment or two.

Here she is, coming round the curve,
Sudden and swift, and with never a swerve;
And a whirl of smoke that you scarce can see,
The driver waving his hand at me.

You see at the foot of the slope down there
That stone from the grass and moss laid bare,
That was the spot where Wylie lay,
When the engine pitch'd him over that day.

We were working here, for the levels change,
And the metals often get out of range:
The wind was high, and we scarce could hear
The trains till they whistled within our ear.

Well, we just had finish'd with our repairs,
And were sorting the ballast about the chairs,
When the afternoon goods, about half-an-hour late,
Came round upon us as steady as fate.

We stood clear of both lines, and were watching the train
Coming up with a full head of steam on the strain,
When all at once one of our men gave a shout—
There's a shovel against the rail!   Look out!

The shovel was Wylie's, and swift as a wink,
He sprang into the four feet with never a shrink;
Clutch'd it: but ere he could clear the track,
The buffer beam hit him right in the back.

In a moment poor Wylie was over the slope,
And we after him, but with little of hope;
Found him close by the stone, with his grip firm set
On the shovel that cost him his life to get.

We lifted him up, and as light as we could,
Bore him home to his cot you see over the wood;
Stood by his bed, each with pent-up breath,
As we saw the steady advance of death.

But just ere it came he lifted his hand,
Made a motion we could not but understand,
So we drew nearer to him as he lay,
To hear what our mate had got to say.

"Wylie," I said, and he open'd his eyes,
With a look of faint, far-off surprise;
Then, clasping my hand, he strove to speak,
As his ebbing breath wax'd slow and weak.

At length, as I almost bent my head
To his lips, in a strange weird whisper, he said—
"Call the spot where I lay old Wylie's stone!"
That was all he said, and our mate was gone.

So we call it "Wylie's stone" to this day,
To mark to strangers the spot where he lay;
You can see the very wild flowers from here
Growing round it.   We planted them there last year.

 


_______________________

 
THE CUCKOO.


AMID the sound of picks to-day,
    And shovels rasping on the rail,
A sweet voice came from far away,
    From out a gladly greening vale.

My mate look'd up in some surprise;
    I half stopp'd humming idle rhyme:
Then said, the moisture in my eyes,
    "The cuckoo, Jack, for the first time."

How sweet he sang!   I could have stood
    For hours, and heard that simple strain;
An early gladness throng'd my blood,
    And brought my boyhood back again.

The primrose took a deeper hue,
    The dewy grass a greener look;
The violet wore a deeper blue,
    A lighter music led the brook.

Each thing to its own depth was stirr'd,
    Leaf, flower, and heaven's moving cloud,
As still he piped, that stranger bird,
    His mellow May-song clear and loud.

Would I could see him as he sings,
    When, as if thought and act were one,
He came; the grey on neck and wings
    Turn'd white against the happy sun.

I knew his well-known sober flight,
    That boyhood made so dear to me;
And, blessings on him! he stopp'd in sight,
    And sang where I could hear and see.

Two simple notes were all he sang,
    And yet my manhood fled away;
Dear God!   The earth is always young,
    And I am young with it to-day.

A wondrous realm of early joy
    Grew all around as I became
Among my mates a bearded boy,
    That could have wept but for the shame.

For all my purer life, now dead,
    Rose up, fair-fashion'd, at the call
Of that grey bird, whose voice had shed
    The charm of boyhood over all.

O early hopes and sweet spring tears!
    That heart has never known its prime
That stands without a tear and hears
    The cuckoo's voice for the first time.

 


_______________________

 
THE DEAD LARK.


ON the slope, half-hid in grass, and right beneath the sounding wire,
Lay the Lark, the sweetest singer in the Heavenly Father's choir,
Dead, no more to thrill the heavens with his music long and loud,
Coming from the sunny silence, moving on the fleecy cloud.
Tenderly the thing I lifted, smooth'd the ruffle on his breast,
That had still'd the beat of life, and sent his singing soul to rest.
O what melodies unutter'd, lyrics of the happiest praise,
Lay within my hands, forever useless to the summer days.
Then I thought a want would wander, like a strangely jarring tone
Through the singing choir, and only to be mark'd of God alone.
For we muffle up our vision, seeing not for earthly stain
All that He in wisdom fashions for His glory and our gain.
And as still I stood and held him, in the sunshine overhead
Sang and shook his merry fellows, heedless of their brother dead;
Then my heart was stirr'd within me as I heard them at their song,
For I deem'd their touch of music did this little fellow wrong,
And my tears came slowly upward, as a low sweet undertone
Whisper'd to me, "Thus forever sing the thoughtless of thy own.
Far into the realms of Fancy soar they in their sounding flight,
Heeding not below some brother with a wing of feebler might.
Yet the same sweet aspirations throb through all the songs he sings,
And the same deep impulse yearning for the better human things.
But his voice, like sounds in twilight, echoes but to die away,
While the deep heart throbbing in him fain would burst into the day.
But his higher fellows hear not, listen not its earnest tone,
That comes out in simple sound between the pauses of their own,
So he pines away in silence, keeping back the tide of song,
Till the rush and fret within him works at last its end in wrong;
And he, seeing beyond the promise of a better kindred band,
Dies, his bosom full of lyrics, like the lark's within my hand."
Waking up, the day's set labour still'd the fancies in my breast,
So I laid the fallen minstrel into his unnoticed rest,
Left him and the music with him lying in his grassy bed
To the carol of his fellows and the sunshine overhead.

 


_______________________

 
JIM DALLEY.


"So you knew Dalley that used to drive
That spanking old engine—fifty-five;"
Knew him? why, Dalley was my mate,
He died beside me upon the plate.

Let me see, it is over two years ago
Since Thorley's cutting was block'd with snow,
What a night was that, and how heavy our shift
To get in with our train through the storm and drift.

But Jim and I did it; we always had luck
To get through, though the rest of our fellows stuck,
Came in with their train about half-a-day late
To learn of the sudden death of my mate.

Brave rough Jim!   I can see him to-day
As if he never had pass'd away;
Hear the very sound of his voice as he said,
"Are the junction signals set at red?"

We were out that night on the goods that ran through,
Running sharp, for our speed was what steam could do,
But from time to time, as we look'd behind,
Like a great white sheet came the snow on the wind.

We had just two shunts; the last for the mail—
She was late, for already upon the rail
The snow lay thick, but she thunder'd past
Like a great, red, smoky ghost in the blast.

"Now," said Jim, "we have nothing to fear
If we catch the rest of the signals clear."
So he flung on the steam, and with one loud roar,
We went plunging into the storm once more.

The snow fell on either side, and the wire
Moan'd, as if harping on some desire,
While above, as the furnace threw up its light,
Was a whirling cover of black and white.

The signals glimmer'd a faint green spark,
Far up as if somewhere within the dark,
The engine wheels had a ghostly sound,
As they struck and scatter'd the snow around.

The trains on the up line seem'd to glow
With a misty halo of drift and snow,
While a wave from their drivers as they flew
Was like a wave from a ghost to our view.

But still we tore on with no wish to fail,
Though the great wheels clank'd and slipp'd on the rail;
But I kept up the steam while Jim look'd out
Into the dark with a fear and a doubt.

By this we had left behind Mossley Bank,
And had reach'd the summit at Riverley Jank,
"Down hill after this," I sung over to Jim;
But he stood in his place, never stirring a limb.

At length on his stepping backward a pace
The light of the tube lamp fell on his face,
It was white as if with unspoken fear,
As he turn'd and said, "Bob, come over here."

"Why, what is the matter?" I said, as I stood
Beside him, but Jim was again in the mood
Of staring ahead; at last he awoke,
And laying his hand on my shoulder spoke.

"All the night, Bob, from the time we lay through
For the mail, this sight has been in my view,
And right ahead in the snow I can see
My wife with her youngest upon her knee.

"I see her sitting as if on the wait
For me, and before her a fireless grate,
She is weeping and wringing her hands as in pain;
My God!   I wish we were home with our train."

I tried to cheer him, and spoke of his fear
As a whim from which he would soon get clear,
But again he was standing upright in his place,
With the same pale, weary look on his face.

I felt myself shudder as if with a chill,
Or a nameless dread of some coming ill,
But I kept myself up to be ready to catch
The signals my mate was not fit to watch.

What a weary drive through the storm that rung
Before and behind us as onward we swung,
But at last in the distance we caught a gleam,
"Home at last," said Jim, and flung off the steam.

We ran through the points and drew up in the lye,
My mate still gazing ahead, while I,
Glad to think he soon would get rid of his fright,
Leapt off to uncouple our train for the night.

"Now then, old fellow, go on," I cried;
Coming back from the tender—no voice replied,
And looking upward I saw that be leant
Forward against the window half bent.

One moment and I was upon the plate
With my hand on the shoulder of my mate,
"Jim?"   No answer, I lifted his head—
Dalley lay over the levers dead.

 


_______________________

 
WHAT THE ENGINE SAYS.


WHAT does the mighty engine say,
                 Rolling along
                 Swift and strong,
Slow or fast as his driver may,
Hour by hour, and day by day,
                 His swarthy side
                 Aglow with pride,
And his muscles of sinewy steel ablaze?
                 This is what the engine says:

First his breath gives a sudden snort,
As if a spasm had cut it short,
                 Then with one wild note
                 To clear his throat,
He fumes and whistles—"Get out of my way,
What are you standing there for—say?
                 Fling shovel and pick
                 Away from you, quick!
Ere my gleaming limbs with out-reaching clutch
Draw you into your death with a single touch.
For what care I for a puppet or two,
A little over five feet like you?

I must rush to the city with one long stride,
Add a wave of men to the streets' wild tide,
                 Bring friends to friends,
                 And gather the ends
Of all the trailing threads of use,
So that no single ply may be loose,
Run in the front of traffic, and shape
        A way for its thousand feet, and fling
        This planet into fashioning,
That others unknown to us may ape.
                 So I say,
                 Stand clear from the way."

        "O, well," I said,
        And I shook my head,
But all the while taking care to clear
The way, for the iron fellow so near.
"You carry things just a little too far,
For great, and swarthy, and strong as you are,
With the strength of a hundred Titans within
Your seething breast with its fiery din,
And your iron plates that serve you for skin,
                With a single twitch
                Of this crow-bar,
I could make you welter within the ditch,
As if Jove himself had open'd war;
                So you see
You must pay a little respect to me.
                I keep the rail
Tight and firm with chair and key,
Fasten the joints as firm as may be
        So that your pathway may not fail.
Why, if I twitch'd a rail from the chairs,
Where would you be?  At your smoky prayers,
                Lying alone,
With only strength to mutter a groan,
And fifty fellows about my size
Scrambling upon you with shouts and cries,
Till they get you bound up in a coil of chains—
Click goes the jack, and rasp the crane,
What a labour to get you up again!

"Why, when your feet are once clear of the rail,
You're as weak as an infant and as frail;
                Now look again,
You are panting and snorting as if in disdain,
For the fever of fire leaps like mad in your breast,
                Toiling and seething,
                And fuming and breathing,
Yet always bent upon spoiling your rest.
But look at your driver—one touch of his hand
Makes you stop or go on as he likes to command.
                Talk of your strength!
Why, not to go to the utmost length,
I could almost blush if I had to speak"——

        Here he gives a sudden shriek,
                And a wild long bound
                That shakes the ground,
Then clearing his dusky throat to speak,
                He pauses as if to gather strength,
                Then hoarsely thunders out at length:

"So you want me to bow to you,
And to give you praise for the little you do.
                Why, if I,
                As I thunder by
Thought that you had such a whim in your head,
I would hurl right and left the rails that I tread
In utter contempt of your paltry pride,
That is making you think"——

                        "Stop a moment," I cried,
"You are taking me up just a little too quick,"
And here I flung down at my feet the pick,
"You are the thought and the force of my kind,
                The monster of fire,
                Whose boundless desire
Clutches at all—nay, the very mind
                Of this iron age
                Is heard in your rage.
But here I stand as a help to you,
Proud of the task which I have to do,
Yet a touch of pride made me let you see,
That great as you are you depend on me.
Come, own at once you were hasty and strong,
And I'll sing your terrible strength in a song."

Here he thought for a moment, and then
With a snort and a whistle, his mighty limb
                Clutch'd at the rail
                That was like to fail,
Then as if thought had come back to him
He cried, "The world and toiling men
Great and small are bound in one chain,
Each must help each or they work in vain;
So here with a whistle I own I was wrong,
And start when you like to sing your song."

        That was what the engine said,
                With a whoop and a hail
                As he kept the rail,
        Butting space backward with his head.

 


_______________________

 
THE WIRES.


I LAY beneath the long slim wires,
And heard them murmur like desires,
Till, drowsy with the heat, my thoughts
        Set out, like errant knights to find
A land of dreams, and sunny spots
        That have no visit of the wind,
And as they went, with restless choice,
Lo! the wires above took voice.


First Wire.


        I bear through the air
        Like the breath of despair
Desolation and famine and dread,
    For two nations uprising led onward by hate,
        Clutch at each other mid heaps of the dead,
While the black lips of cannon belch forth with a yell,
        And a hissing that withers and darkens like fate,
                            The vomit of hell.


Second Wire.


        Soft and low
        Let my message be spoken,
        To a mother that hears
        With a grief that hath no tears,
How her only son is stricken down
In the wild heart of the reckless town,
        Where life is as full as a river's flow,
                Then come away,
                For who would delay,
        When a wailing heart is broken?


Third Wire.


I flash to a people over the sea
A mighty truth that will make them free,
For kindred spirits transmit to each
The God-given truths they have sworn to preach.
                Death to all tyranny and wrong,
                Which poets wither with their song,
        Let men be free in the glorious light
                Of a brotherhood that sees and smites
The Hydra broods that fain would clutch
        The throat of devil-defying Right;
Cut them down, they are nought but blights,
        God himself is aweary of such.


Fourth Wire.


My message is from one who fled
Long years ago.   They thought him dead,
So in their hearts they dug a grave,
        And laid in thought therein their boy,
He is coming home to clasp their hands:
        I almost feel from here their joy.


Fifth Wire.


A sudden and great commercial crash
Like a current of doom is in my flash,
And thousands will put their hands to-day
On a bubble that winds will blow away.


Sixth Wire.


A sound of bells is in my tone,
    Of marriage bells so glad and gay,
It comes straight from the heart of one
    A thousand weary miles away.
O sweet to see in a foreign land
An English bride by the altar stand,
Her eyelids wet with tears that seem
Like dews that herald some sweet dream,
As, blushing, she falters forth the "yes,"
That opens a world of happiness;
But hush, this is all I have got to say—
"Harry and I were married to-day."


Seventh Wire.


I rush in the very front of time
With a finger pointing at sudden crime,
The fool! when the deed was done and he stood
Looking down at his hands, that were red with blood,
Never thought for a single moment on me,
But my mark was on him as he turn'd to flee.


Eighth Wire.


I fling on men a sudden gloom and pain,
    In quiet hamlet and in toiling town,
    Their greatest and their noblest man is down;
Death conquers; but his triumph is in vain.
    For as I flash the news, as one draws breath
    But swifter, so the dead man's Christ-like aim
    Will flash like fire into their hearts, and claim
A newer meaning from this touch of death.

The voices ceased, and half dreaming still
    In the drowsy shade of the slope, I thought
"Eight wires have murmur'd their good and ill—
    There are nine, but the ninth has spoken not;
What can the burden be of its rhyme
   When it speaks?" and I had not long to wait.


Ninth Wire.


Limited mail is sharp at her time,
    But the Pullman is twenty minutes late.

 


_______________________

 
BOB CRUIKSHANKS.


THIS is what Bob Cruikshanks said,
With a doubtful shake of the head,
    And an oily hand that began to feel
Round the fringes of his beard so red,
    As he leant against the driving-wheel.

"In the roar of the engine upon the rail,
            Which I dimly feel
            Underneath my heel,
Lurks the music of that which I always fail
To put into fitting words, though I hear
The great song humming within my ear.

"It begins when I start, and it follows on,
            It mingles and finds
            A home in the winds,
Who catch and toy with its rough, wild tone.
It never ceases, for when we come
To a stand it sinks to a softer hum.

"And often when roaring and rushing along
            I can fancy I see
            That wild melody
Resting on every spot like a throng
Of tiny spirits that sing and shake
With joy at the things that men will make.

"When I lean myself over the side to watch
            The cranks, I know
            That somewhere below
In the network of rods there is one to catch
The music they make, which he sings again
To the monster who lets me hold the rein.

"I hear it wild and weird as we skim
            Along the bridge,
            Or close by the edge
Of some chasm whose jaws open rugged and
                    grim,
As if to swallow the engine, if he
Should prove false to the touch of the rail or me.

"It roars in the tunnel, it gleams in the night,
            And with wild desire
            From the furnace fire
Leaps sudden and swift with the column of light
That shoots to the clouds in its frenzy to win
Fresh food for the flame that is seething within.

"It whirls with the smoke; it takes up to the air
            In the whistle that speaks
            Its stern watchword, and shrieks,
As if half given over at times to despair;
Nay, it even twines itself round the wheel
Till the mighty rim staggers and seems to feel.

"It waves from the mist looming up like a wall
            On each side as we peer
            To catch signals at clear;
It flares from the head-light that swims like a
                    ball
Of wan, dim light, or the eye of a ghost,
With its shadowy form in the darkness lost.

"Is it the wailing spirit of steam
            Still following on,
            With a wild, drear moan,
Its mighty first-born? or a voice from the dream
Of the things that will be when the years
                    display
The wild results which we shape to-day?

"It is something like this which I fancy I hear
        In the roar of the wheel
        Underneath my heel,
As we dash through space in our wild career;
But to put it into words, you see,
Is the thing just now which is puzzling me."

That was what Bob Cruikshanks said,
    With an oily hand that still would feel
Round the fringes of his beard so red,
While the other felt for a pipe which he
Lit, with a shake of his head at me,
    As he leant against the driving-wheel.

 


_______________________

 
THE VIOLET.


ON the down line, and close beside the rail,
        A tender violet grew,
A sister spirit, when the stars grew pale,
        Gave it a drink of dew.

And so its azure deepen'd day by day,
        And sweet it was to see,
As I went up and down the four-feet way,
        The flower peep up at me.

I grew to like it—such a tiny thing,
        So free from human stains,
Bending and swaying to each rush and swing
        Of passing pitiless trains.

And when we came at times to make repair
        Beside the place, I took
A living heed to let it blossom there,
        To cheer me with its look.

For fancy working in its quiet ways,
        Sometimes would change the flower
Into a maiden of these iron days,
        When might was right and power.

And up and down the lints of gleaming rail
        With echoing clank and shock,
Rode the stern engines in their suits of mail,
        Like knights with spears of smoke.

I crown'd her queen of beauty at their call,
        And as I knelt beside
My bud, it look'd up, as if knowing all,
        And shook with modest pride.

Then restless fancy changing, it became
        A martyr firm and high,
Bound to the stake and lick'd with tongues of flame,
        With bigots scowling nigh.

Next, a young poet with his soul aglow
        With passionate dreams of truth,
And thoughts akin to those that angels know,
        Who have eternal youth.

A nature all unfitted for the time,
        Born but to droop and fade,
Like long sweet cadences of fairy rhyme
        Within the summer shade.

All these and more my little flower did seem,
        As to and fro I went,
Not early light or when the sun's soft beam,
        That to the west half spent.

It made itself a presence in my thought,
        Seen of the inner eye,
So pure and sweet, and yet so near the spot
        Where wild trains thunder by.

But one sweet morning, when the young sunshine
        Laid long soft arms of light
Around the earth, I found the flower of mine
        Stricken as with some blight.

For like a fallen spot of heaven grown pale,
        It lent its drooping head
Against the cold touch of the careless rail,
        Wither'd, and shrunk, and dead.

Thus some rare soul, toiling for purer gains,
        Sinks in the night alone,
While the hoarse world, like the iron trains,
        Unheeding, thunders on.

 


_______________________

 
FINIS.


THE swart smoke gem with his heart aglow,
        And all his giant strength and vigour strung,
To help our toiling lower gods below—
        He still remains unsung.

I have but caught, in leaping to the side
        To let him pass in smoke and thunder, dim,
Faint half-heard echoes from that rushing tide,
        Of song which follows him.

But the keen years that for our coming kind,
        Keep greater triumphs than to-day we claim,
Will bring a poet in whose heart the wind
        Of song will leap like flame.

He, born into a richer newer time,
        And with a wealthier past behind, will sing,
Our wild fire-monster blurr'd with smoke and grime,
        Traffic's sole lord and king:

In music worthy of that soul of fire,
        Which in him glows and leaps
Like lightnings, ere they cleave in sullen ire
        Some jagged cloud that sweeps

The hills in muttered fear.   My own dim song
        Will fade and sink, as sinks a fitful wind,
Before the grander music, wild and strong
        Of him who comes behind.

 



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