Blood on the Wheel

A bride to be is killed by a locomotive driven by her prospective husband.

"BLESS her dear little heart!" said my mate, and he pointed out to me,
Fifty yards to the right, in the darkness, a light burning steady and clear.
"That's her signal in answer to me, when I whistle, to let me see
She is at her place by the window the time I am passing here."

I turn'd to look at the light, and I saw the tear on his cheek-
He was tender of heart, and I knew that his love was lasting and strong-
But he dash'd it off with his hand, and I did not think fit to speak,
But look'd right ahead through the dark, as we clank'd and thunder'd along.

They had been at the school, the two, and had run, like a single life,
Through the mazes of childhood up to the sweeter and firmer prime,
And often he told me, smiling, how he promised to make her his wife,
In the rambles they had for nuts in the woods in the golden autumn time.

"I must make," he would add, "that promise good in the course of a month or two;
And then, when I have her safe and sound in a nook of the busy town,
No use of us whistling then, Joe, lad, as now we incline to do,
For a wave of her hand, or an answering light, as we thunder up and down."

Well, the marriage was settled at last, and I was to stand by his side,
Take a part in the happy rite, and pull from his hand the glove;
And still as we joked between ourselves, he would say in his manly pride,
That the very ring of the engine-wheels had something in them of love.

At length we had just one run to make before the bridal took place,
And it happen'd to be in the night, yet merry in heart we went on;
But long ere he came to the house, he was turning each moment his face
To catch the light by the window, placed as a beacon for him alone.

"Now then, Joe," he said, with his hand on my arm, "keep a steady look out ahead;
While I whistle for the last time;" and he whistled sharply and clear;
But no light rose up at the sound; and he look'd with something like dread
On the white-wash'd walls of the cot, through the gloom looking dull, and misty, and drear.

But lo! as he turn'd to whistle again, there rose on the night a scream,
And I rush'd to the side in time to catch the flutter of something white;
Then a hitch through the engine ran like a thrill, and in haste he shut off the steam,
While, turning, we look'd at each other, our hearts beating wild with affright.

The station was half a mile ahead, but an age seem'd to pass away
Ere we came to a stand, and my mate, as a drunken man will reel,
Rush'd on to the front with his lamp, but to bend and come back and say,
In a whisper faint with its terror-"Joe, come and look at this blood on the wheel."

Great heaven! a thought went through my heart like the sudden stab of a knife,
While the same dread thought seem'd to settle on him and palsy his heart and mind,
For he went up the line with the haste of one who is rushing to save a life,
And with the dread shadow of what was to be I follow'd closely behind.

What came next is indistinct, like the mist on the mountain side-
Gleam of lights and awe-struck faces, but one thing can never grow dim:
My mate, kneeling down in his grief like a child by the side of his mangled bride,
Kill'd, with the letter still in her hand she had wish'd to send to him.

Some little token was in it, perhaps to tell of her love and her truth,
Some little love-errand to do ere the happy bridal drew nigh;
So in haste she had taken the line, but to find, in the flush of her fair sweet youth,
The terrible death that could only be seen with a horror in heart and eye.

Speak not of human sorrow - it cannot be spoken in words;
Let us veil it as God veil'd His at the sight of His Son on the cross.
For who can reach to the height or the depth of those infinite yearning chords
Whose tones reach the very centre of heaven when swept by the fingers of loss?

She sleeps by the little ivied church in which she had bow'd to pray-
Another grave close by the side of hers, for he died of a broken heart,
Wither'd and shrunk from that awful night like the autumn leaves in decay,
And the two were together that death at first had shaken so roughly apart.

But still, when I drive through the dark, and that night comes back to my mind,
I can hear the shriek take the air, and beneath me fancy I feel
The engine shake and hitch on the rail, while a hollow voice from behind
Cries out, till I leap on the footplate¹, "Joe, come and look at this blood on the wheel!"