Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, BILL'S LENGTH, by ALEXANDER ANDERSON



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BILL'S LENGTH, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: On to bill's length,' said my mate to me
Last Line: "we must signal to bill as we journey down."
Alternate Author Name(s): Surfaceman
Subject(s): Accidents; Brothers; Death; Railroads; Half-brothers; Dead, The; Railways; Trains


"ON to Bill's length," said my mate to me.
Bill was his brother, had charge of the plates
From Horsely's cutting to Whitefield gates,
And the two were as loving as brothers could be.

"On to Bill's length," said my mate again.
"I wonder if he has flung into line
That place by the bridge where we gave him the sign,
The run before last, to go up with his men.

"But here is the bridge." It had suddenly grown
Out of the mist. As we shot below
The arch, we hitch'd, and my mate cried, "Joe,
We must signal to Bill as we journey down."

Up rose the mist, and at last we could see
The signals at Colpey Junction clear.
"Take off the brake; we have nothing to fear,
And put out the headlight," said Dick to me.

I went, but my face, as I hurried back,
Made him come to my side with a look of alarm.
"For God's sake," I cried, taking hold of his arm.
"Draw within the distant signals and slack."

Off went the steam, and I hung by the brake;
Two minutes, and we had our train at a stand.
I sprang down the steps, waving Dick with my hand
To keep back for a moment, just for my sake.

I rush'd to the front of the engine, and there,
With a feeling of sickening horror and dread,
Drew out from where it lay fix'd a head,
With the features half-cover'd with blood and hair.

I turn'd, and Dick (I can see him still)
Gave a look of horror and mute appeal,
Then moan'd as he stagger'd against the wheel,
"My God! that's the head of my brother Bill."

Just as he said: Bill had been on the rail,
Ready to make out the day's repair,
And the mist coming down, we had unaware
Run him down, for we always drove fast with the mail.

Dick left the line, and it never was known
Where he went; but often I think of that day,
And still by the bridge I can hear him say,
"We must signal to Bill as we journey down."





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