Behind Time

A driver is killed and the Fireman takes over to drive the train

"MORE coal, Bill," he said, and he held his watch to the light of the glowing fire;
"We are now an hour and a half behind time, and I know that my four months' wife
Will be waiting for me at the doorway just now, with never a wish to tire;
But she soon will get used to this sort of thing in an engine-driver's life."

He open'd the furnace door as he spoke, while I, turning with shovel in hand,
Knock'd the fuel into the greedy flame, that was tossing and writhing about,
Leaping up from its prison, as if in a wrath it had not the power to command,
Shooting narrow pathways of sudden light through the inky darkness without.

Then I turn'd to my place, and as onward we clank'd I sang to myself a snatch
Of a song, to keep time to the grinding wheel (my voice was as rough as its own);
While Harry cried over, from time to time, as he stole a look at his watch,
"Making up for our little delays now, Bill, we shall soon catch the lights of the town:'

A steady fellow was Harry, my mate, with a temper like that of a child;
Loved by all on the line.— "Keeps time like Harry," the guards used to say. 
What a marriage was that of his when it came, and how we stokers¹ went wild
To deck our engines with ivy and flowers in honour of such a day.

A nice happy maiden he got for a wife, but a little timid, poor thing—
Never could rest when her husband was late, our "pitchins¹" were getting so rife¹[Note 694.1]
And this would make Harry cry over to me, as we thunder'd with rush and swing,
"Always like to run sharp to time for the sake of my little wife."

We were now dashing on at a headlong speed, like the sweep of a winter wind,
When a head-light in front made me step to his side and cry, with my mouth to his ear—
"Joe Smith coming on with the midnight goods—he, too, is an hour behind;
He should have been safe through Hinchley¹ cutting, instead of passing us here."

On came the train; but ere we had reach'd in passing the middle part,
A heavy beam in one of the trucks, that had jolted loose from its place,
Crash'd through the storm-board¹, swift as a bolt, striking Harry full in the heart,
And sent him into the tender with death lying white on his manly face.

With a cry of horror I knelt by his side, and, lifting a little his head,
I saw his lips move as if wishing to speak, but the words were lost in a moan.
"Harry!"   He open'd his eyes for a moment, then lifting his finger, said
"O Bill, my wife—behind time;" and I was left on the engine alone.

My God! what a journey was that through the night, with the pall-like darkness before,
And behind the dead form of my mate muffled up, looking ghastly, rigid, and dumb;
And ever on either side as I turn'd, a face at a half-shut door
Peering into the street, to listen the sound of footsteps that never would come.

How that frail slight wife bore the terrible death of the one she had loved so well
I know not; the horror of that one night with the dead was enough to bear;
And the guardsmen who bore their sad burden home, had not language left them to tell
Of the awful depths to which sorrow will reach when led by a woman's despair.

Ah! years have gone by since then, but still when I hear the guards say, "Behind time,"
Like a flash I go back to that hour in the night, mark'd red in my life's return sheet,
And again in my terror I kneel by Harry, struck down in his manly prime,
While his four months' wife stood waiting to hear the wish'd-for sound of his feet.