Duncan Weir

BACK on the wrong line, that was all,
    Back in the morning, dusky and drear,
Simple enough such a thing you may call,
    But it cost us the life of Duncan Weir.

He was our mate for many a day;
    Never a steadier man on the line,
First at his work on the iron way,
    Whether the morning was stormy or fine.

Quiet, yet fond of a laugh and a joke,
    Though at times he took other moods, and then
He would only look up for a five minutes' smoke,
    Then take to the shovel and pick again.

We liked him, for Duncan was kind of heart,
    And a kindly heart has a kindly speech,
But one dreary morning put us apart,
    And our mate was forever out of our reach.

I was standing that morning a pace from the door,
    When up came one of our men and said,
"Ready! for Duncan is on before,"
    So we took to the rail with a hasty tread.

But just as we stood on the top of the bank,
    Three white lights at once through the darkness
            burst;
And with steady, oily, monotonous clank,
    An engine shot past us with tender first.

I half leapt over the bank as the glare
    Of the head-light beckon'd along the track,
Then taking one look—"That is old Tom Blair,
    And he's back on the wrong line," I said to Jack.

"Blair?" echoed Jack, and he turn'd to me,
    "Yes! for the lamps made his number plain,
He has been to the tank for water, you see,
    And come down on the wrong line in front of his
            train.

"We stood till the engine was out of our view,
    Then I felt at my heart the chill touch of a fear;
My mate said nothing, though well I knew,
    Like myself he was thinking of Duncan Weir.

For Duncan, who always had ways of his own,
    From his very first start on the line, took pains
To walk to and back from his work when alone,
    On the four-feet_way¹, with his face to the trains.

We bent with a hasty footstep our way
    Down the line, till, at once with a clutch of the hand,
My mate drew me back to where something lay
    Dim and dark in the four-feet, just where you stand.

My heart beat fast as I leapt the rail;
    One touch was enough, and with wild affright,
I said in a voice that was like to fail,
    "My God, it is Duncan; run back for a light."

When the lamp came up, and its light was shed,
    Like a great round flashing eye on the place,
There was our old mate Duncan,—dead—
    Struck from behind, for he lay on his face.

Well, little was said—just a question or two
    At the driver.   But all taking place in the dark
Gave him room to deny, so it past from view,
    And all that is left is that simple mark.

Just his name on the fence—take a step this way,—
    You can see it from here with the day and date,
When old Tom Blair, while the morning was grey,
    Came back on the wrong line and kill'd our mate.