Another Ride from Ghent to Aix

We sprang for the side-holts — my gripsack and I —

It dangled — I dangled — we both dangled by.

" Good speed! " cried mine host, as we landed at last —

" Speed? " chuckled the watch we went lumbering past;

Behind shut the switch, and out through the rear door

I glared while we waited a half hour more.

I had missed the express that went thundering down

Ten minutes before to my next lecture town,

And my only hope left was to catch this " wild freight, "

Which the landlord remarked was " most luckily late —

But the twenty miles distance was easily done,

If they run half as fast as they usually run! "

Not a word to each other — we struck a snail's pace —

Conductor and brakeman ne'er changing a place —

Save at the next watering-tank, where they all

Got out — strolled about — cut their names on the wall,

Or listlessly loitered on down to the pile

Of sawed wood just beyond us, to doze for a while.

'Twas high noon at starting, but while we drew near

" Arcady, " I said, " We'll not make it, I fear!

I must strike Aix by eight, and it's three o'clock now;

Let me stoke up that engine, and I'll show you how! "

At which the conductor, with patience sublime,

Smiled up from his novel with, " Plenty of time! "

At " Trask, " as we jolted stock-still as a stone,

I heard a cow bawl in a five o'clock tone;

And the steam from the saw-mill looked misty and thin,

And the snarl of the saw had been stifled within:

And a frowzy-haired boy, with a hat full of chips,

Came out and stared up with a smile on his lips.

At " Booneville, " I groaned, " Can't I telegraph on? "

No! Why? " 'Cause the telegraph-man had just gone

To visit his folks in Almo " — and one heard

The sharp snap of my teeth through the throat of a word,

That I dragged for a mile and a half up the track,

And strangled it there, and came skulkingly back.

Again we were off. It was twilight, and more,

As we rolled o'er a bridge where beneath us the roar

Of a river came up with so wooing an air

I mechanic'ly strapped myself fast in my chair

As a brakeman slid open the door for more light,

Saying: " Captain, brace up, for your town is in sight! "

" How they'll greet me! " — and all in a moment — " che-wang! "

And the train stopped again, with a bump and a bang.

What was it? " The section-hands, just in advance. "

And I spit on my hands, and I rolled up my pants,

And I clumb like an imp that the fiends had let loose

Up out of the depths of that deadly caboose.

I ran the train's length — I lept safe to the ground —

And the legend still lives that for five miles around

They heard my voice hailing the hand-car that yanked

Me aboard at my bidding, and gallantly cranked,

As I groveled and clung, with my eyes in eclipse,

And a rim of red foam round my rapturous lips.

Then I cast loose my ulster — each ear-tab let fall —

Kicked off both my shoes — let go arctics and all —

Stood up with the boys — leaned — patted each head

As it bobbed up and down with the speed that we sped;

Clapped my hands — laughed and sang — any noise, bad or good,

Till at length into Aix we rotated and stood.

And all I remember is friends flocking round

As I unsheathed my head from a hole in the ground;

And no voice but was praising that hand-car divine,

As I rubbed down its spokes with that lecture of mine,

Which (the citizens voted by common consent)

Was no more than its due. 'Twas the lecture they meant.

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