Francis Bret Harte

(25 August 1836 - 6 May 1902 / Albany, New York)

Guild's Signal - Poem by Francis Bret Harte

Two low whistles, quaint and clear:
That was the signal the engineer--
That was the signal that Guild, 'tis said--
Gave to his wife at Providence,
As through the sleeping town, and thence,
Out in the night,
On to the light,
Down past the farms, lying white, he sped!

As a husband's greeting, scant, no doubt,
Yet to the woman looking out,
Watching and waiting, no serenade,
Love-song, or midnight roundelay
Said what that whistle seemed to say:
'To my trust true,
So, love, to you!
Working or waiting, good-night!' it said.

Brisk young bagmen, tourists fine,
Old commuters along the line,
Brakemen and porters glanced ahead,
Smiled as the signal, sharp, intense,
Pierced through the shadows of Providence:
'Nothing amiss--
Nothing!--it is
Only Guild calling his wife,' they said.

Summer and winter the old refrain
Rang o'er the billows of ripening grain,
Pierced through the budding boughs o'erhead,
Flew down the track when the red leaves burned
Like living coals from the engine spurned;
Sang as it flew,
'To our trust true,
First of all, duty. Good-night!' it said.

And then, one night, it was heard no more
From Stonington over Rhode Island shore,
And the folk in Providence smiled and said
As they turned in their beds, 'The engineer
Has once forgotten his midnight cheer.'
ONE only knew,
To his trust true,
Guild lay under his engine, dead.


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Poem Submitted: Tuesday, September 21, 2010



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