Jim's Whistle

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No, the railway wasn't a fitting place
For a man like him, at least one in his case;
But though deaf and dumb, he was quick of the eye,
And was first to warn when a train came nigh.
Why, instead of keeping our eye on Jim,
We came in our turn to be watch'd by him.

Whether it was express going past,
Special, mineral, goods, slow or fast,
It was all the same. Jim could always catch
Up and down line, as if set to watch.
When we heard his cry, short, sharp, and clear,
"Jim's Whistle," we said, and at once stood clear.

Clever workman he was, and handy, too;
Knew at a glance what he had to do;
He was my mate, and 'twas something to see
The finger talk between him and me,
And to hear him laugh to the rest of our mates
When he tried to tickle me over the plates.

At our dinner hour, when we sat at the side
Of the cutting¹, Jim took a sort of pride
In sitting near me, while his fingers said
All the quaint, strange thoughts that came into his head;
While at each he would laugh, till the rest would say,
"Jim's in one of his talking moods to-day."

But I lost him at last: though my mate for years,
And quick of the eye; I had still my fears,
That Jim would get caught in spite of our pains,
By engine and tender¹ or passing trains.
And it came at last so sudden and quick,
We left in the four-feet¹ shovel and pick.

'Twas in Dixon's cut². Jim had been that day
Full of finger talk in his own swift way,
When, just as we clear'd the down line for a train
That was coming onward with jolt and strain,
Round the curve of the up line, swift as the wind,
Came a passenger train, half-an-hour behind.

A cry from us all and a leap to the side
As the train tore on with its terrible stride;
But where was Jim? We had miss'd his cry-
The whistle that warn'd when a train was nigh.
Alas! in the six-feet¹, stiff of limb,
With the blood on his face and lips lay-Jim.

I ran to his side and lifted his head,
One look was enough-my mate was dead;
I laid him down in the self-same place,
Then turn'd away with the tears on my face.
"Jim's Whistle," said one, that was all our speech,
As we stood in our grief looking each at each.

And now at my daily work, other mate
Than Jim on the other side of the plate,
I sometimes start with the wish to cry,
"Jim's Whistle, lads, let the train go by."
And often my fingers go up, as if Jim
Were with me, and I were talking to him.

 

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