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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
America: Vols. XXV–XXIX. 1876–79.

New England: Providence, R. I.

Guild’s Signal

By Bret Harte (1836–1902)

  • William Guild was engineer of the train which on the 19th of April 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, ’t is 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.