Home  »  A Library of American Literature  »  Guild’s Signal

Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

Guild’s Signal

By Bret Harte (1836–1902)

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 hushand’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.