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Guild's Signal

[William Guild was engineer of the train which on the 19th of April, 1813, plunged into Meadow Brook, on the line of the Stonington and Providence Railroad. It was his custom, as often as he passed his home, to whistle an "All's well" to his wife. He was found, after the disaster, dead, with his hand on the throttle-valve of his engine.]

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.

Bret Harte

I: National

II: Spanish Idyls and Legends

III: In Dialect

IV: Miscellaneous

V: Parodies

VI: Songs Without Sense

VII: Little Posterity

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