God's Signalman Poem by Robert James Campbell Stead

God's Signalman

Well, no, I 'm not superstitious, — at least, I don't call it that, —
But when some one spins a creepy yarn I don't deny it flat,
For a man who spends a lifetime with the throttle in his hand
Is bound to have adventures that he cannot understand;
I sometimes think our knowledge here is but a sorry show, —
We're only on the borderland of what there is to know.

I used to think a man could know all things that could be known;
That he should not acknowledge any power above his own;
That, however strange the circumstance, there always is a cause
That is in complete obedience to some of Nature's laws;
But I couldn't shake conviction off, no matter how I tried,
And I've changed my way of thinking since the night that Willie died.

Yes, Willie was my little son — my greatest earthly Joy —
And wife and I just kind o' seemed to dote upon the boy;
When I was out on duty she would hover round the lad,
And treasure up his sayings to repeat them to his dad;
And every night, at lighting time, I knew that, without fail,
His baby lips were praying for the man out on the rail. . . .

Ah, well, for three short years we knew what such a treasure is,
And we grew ever more attached to those sweet ways of his;
When one day, swinging through the gate, I saw with blanching face,
My wife as pale as ashes, and a doctor in the place. . . . .
I tried to go in steady, but my knees were knocking hard,
And the light went out of heaven as I staggered up the yard.

The doctor was a friend of mine, with children of his own,
But he didn't need to tell me, for a blind man would have known
By the laboured, quick-caught breathing, and the little burning brow,
That the Visitor was ready and was waiting for him now.
We sat about his bedside in silent, deep despair,
And the years rolled down upon us as we faced each other there.

'Twas a little before midnight when a ring came at the bell,
And the call-boy said, 'Excuse me, sir, but I was sent to tell
That Ninety-six is waiting, and there's no one else about.
They 're expecting you to take her. If you don't she can't go out.'
I left the answer to my wife. With lips as white as snow,
She whispered, 'Do your duty,' and I said, 'All right, I'll go.'

My fireman knew my trouble, and in rough-and-ready way
He let me know his heart was feeling things he couldn't say;
The night was dark and moonless, but the bright stars overhead
Seemed to whisper to each other, ' His little boy is dead.'
The very locomotive seemed to read my thoughts aright,
And the monster sobbed in sympathy as we bulleted the night.

We 'd been running fast and steady till a little after two;
All the passengers were fast asleep, except, perhaps, a few
Who sat a-swapping stories in the smoker, when a sight
Met my eyes that fairly froze my blood in terror and affright —
For there, before me, standing in the halo of the light
Was a little child outlined against the blackness of the night!

Oh, I could not be mistaken, I would know him anywhere,
With his father's mouth and forehead, and his mother's eyes and hair,
And little arms outstretched to me that seemed to coax and say,
' Come, Daddy, come and kiss me, for I 'm going far away.'
I flung the brake and throttle, and amid the hissing steam
The vision grew, and waned away, and vanished as a dream!

My fireman was beside me: ' Your nerve is going, Jack;
Let's leave the engine here and take a walk along the track.
The exercise will do you good.' I followed as he led,
Until we reached the gorge about a hundred yards ahead:
The night wind cooled my temples as we walked the bridge upon,
Till we sudden stopped with a sudden gasp —

You may call it hallucination, as some of the others do,
But I know that the Master took my boy that night at half-past two;
And the prayers of a hundred passengers had been offered up in vain
Had his spirit, clad in his baby dress, not stood before my train. . . .
I know I cried in my window-seat, and was otherwise ill-behaved,
But the life that I lost was more to me than all the lives he saved.

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