Rose Hartwick Thorpe

(1850 - 1939)

The Station Agent's Story


Take a seat in the shade here, lady;
It's tiresome, I know, to wait;
But when the train reaches Verona
It's always sure to be late, ―
'Specially when any one's waitin'.
Been gatherin' flowers, I see?
Ah, well! they're better company
Than a rough old fellow like me.

You noticed the graves 'neath the willows,
Down there where the blossoms grew?
Well, yes, there's a story about them,
Almost too strange to be true;
'Tis a stranger, sweeter story
Than was ever written in books;
And God made the endin' so perfect ―
There, now I see by your looks

I will have to tell the story:
Let me see; 'twas eight years ago
One blusterin' night in winter,
When the air was thick with snow;
As the freight came round the curve there
They beheld a man on the track,
Bravin' the storm before him, but
Not heedin' the foe at his back.

And ere a hand could grasp the bell-rope,
Or a finger reach the rod,
One sweep from the cruel snow-plough
Had sent the man's soul to its God!
They laid him out here in the freight-house,
And I stayed with him that night;
He'd one of the pleasantest faces,
So hopeful and young and bright.

There was only a worn-out letter;
I know it by heart ― it said:
'Dear John: Baby May grows finely,
I send you this curl from her head.
We will meet you at Brackenboro'.
The grandfather's sad and lone,
But I read him your kind words, sayin',
When we've a home of our own,'

'He shall sing the songs of old England
Beneath our own willow tree.'
That was all there was of it, lady,
And 't was signed just 'Alice Leigh.'
So we made a grave in the mornin'
And buried the man out there
Alone, unmourned, in a stranger's land,
With only a stranger's prayer.

But when he'd slept in his lonely grave
Out there nigh on to a year,
Ray's freight ran into a washout
By the culvert, away down here;
There were only two passengers that night,
Dead when we found them there, ―
A sweet little Englishwoman,
And a baby with golden hair.

On her breast lay the laughing baby,
With its rosy finger-tips
Still warm, and the fair young mother
With a frozen smile on her lips.
We laid them out here in the freight-house,
I stayed that night with the dead;
I shall never forget the letter
We found in her purse; it said:

'Dear Alice: Praise God I've got here!
I'll soon have a home for you now;
But you must come with the baby
As soon as you can anyhow.
Comfort the grandfather, and tell him
That by and by he shall come,
And sing the songs of old England
'Neath the willows beside our home;'

'For, close by the door of our cottage
I'll set out a willow tree,
For his sake and the sake of old England.
Lovingly yours. John Leigh.'

The tears filled my eyes as I read it;
But I whispered, 'God is just!'
For I knew the true heart yonder ―
Then only a handful of dust ―
Had drawn this sweet little woman
Right here, and God's merciful love
Had taken her from the sorrow
To the glad reunion above!

So, close by the grave of the other
We laid her away to rest, ―
The golden-haired English mother,
With the baby upon her breast.
I planted those trees above them,
For I knew their story, you see;
And I thought their rest would be sweeter
'Neath their own loved willow tree.

Five years rolled along; and, lady,
My story may now seem to you
Like a wonderful piece of fiction;
But I tell you it is true, ―
As true as that God is above us!
One summer day, hot and clear,
As the train rolled into the station
And stopped to change engines here,

Among a company of Mormons
Came a tremblin' white-haired man;
He asked me in waverin' accents,
'Will you tell me, sir, if you can,
Of a place called Brackenboro'?
And how far have I got to go?'
'It's the next station north,' I answered,
'Only thirteen miles below.'

His old face lit up for a moment
With a look of joy complete;
Then he threw up his hands toward Heaven,
And dropped down dead at my feet!
'Old Hugh Leigh is dead!' said a Mormon,
'And sights o' trouble he's be 'n.
Nothin' would do when we started
But that he must come with us then,'

'To find Alice, John, and the baby;
And his heart was well-nigh broke
With waitin' and watchin' in England
For letters they never wrote.'
So we buried him there with the others,
Beneath the willow tree.
'T was God's way of endin' the story ―
More perfect than man's could be.

Submitted: Monday, July 21, 2014
Edited: Monday, July 21, 2014

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Poet's Notes about The Poem

Source:
Ringing Ballads
Copyright 1887
D Lothrop Company,Franklin And Hawley Streets,Boston

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