Saving a Train

A poor old woman lived on the line of the Ohio Railway,
Where the train passed near by night and day:
She was a widow, with only one daughter,
Who lived with her in a log-hut near a deep gorge of water.

Which was spanned o’er from ridge to ridge,
By a strong metal railway bridge;
And she supported herself by raising and selling poultry,
Likewise eggs and berries, in great variety.

She often had to walk to the nearest town,
Which was many miles, but she seldom did frown;
And there she sold her basket of produce right quickly,
Then returned home with her heart full of glee.

The train passed by her hut daily to the town.
And the conductor noticed her on the line passing down,
He gave her a lift, poor soul, many a time,
When he chanced to see her travelling along the line.

The engineman and brakesman to her were very good,
And resolved to help her all they could;
And thought they were not wronging the railway company
By giving the old woman a lift when she felt weary.

And by thinking so, they were quite right,
For soon an accident occurred in the dead of night,
Which filled the old woman’s heart with fright,
When she heard the melted torrents of snow descending the night.

Then the flood arose, and the railway bridge gave way
With a fearful crash and plash,– 0h, horror and dismay!
And fell into the seething and yawning gulf below,
Which filled the old woman’s heart with woe.

Because in another half-hour the train would be due,
So the poor old woman didn’t know what to do;
And the rain fell in a flood, and the wind was howling,
And the heavens above seemed angry and scowling.

And alas! there was no telegraph along the line,
And what could she do to warn the train in time,
Because a light wouldn’t live a moment in the rain,
But to save the train she resolved to strain every vein.

Not a moment was to be lost, so to work she went,
And cut the cords of her bed in a moment;
Then shouldered the side-pieces and head-pieces in all,
Then shouted to her daughter to follow as loud as she could bawl.

Then they climbed the steep embankment, and there fearlessly stood,
And piled their furniture on the line near the roaring flood,
And fired the dry combustibles, which blazed up bright,
Throwing its red light along the line a weird-like sight.

Then the old woman tore her red gown from her back,
And tying it to the end of a stick she wasn’t slack;
Then ran up the line, waving it in both hands,
While before, with a blazing chair-post, her daughter stands.

Then round a curve the red eye of the engine came at last;
Whilst the poor old woman and her daughter stood aghast,
But, thank God, the engine stopped near the roaring fire,
And the train was saved, as the old woman did desire.

And such an old woman is worth her weight in gold,
For saving the train be it told;
She was a heroine, true and bold,
Which should be written on her tombstone in letters of gold.

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Comments (4) »

  1. Angie
    In the year 2018, on the 2nd day of February at 12:11 pm

    Despite some very dodgy rhymes (“poultry” and “variety” do not really rhyme, Mr McG!), I am very impressed by this poem. McGonagall has managed to create a really palpable sense of imminent disaster, and the happy ending is a real relief to the reader. But what a pity that there is nothing to say that the old lady and her daughter were congratulated by the railway company or the Queen. Presumably this is a true tale, which surely wouldn’t have gone unrewarded.

  2. In the year 2018, on the 4th day of February at 11:58 am

    In response to Ms. Angie, one notes that McGonagall referrs in the first line to the “Ohio Railway”, which suggests quite strongly that the “Old Lady” in question, and said railway and accident, were in America.

    McGonagall did spend some time in the Colonies, and doubtles had met others from the American States as well, so the lack of reference to any thanks are quite understandable. He most likely learned of this incident not from a British newspaper, but more likely second-hand from an American– either a traveler in Britain, or possibly from an inhabitant during his stay in the States. In either case, the mention of the comapany’s thanks might well have been taken for granted, or simply not mentioned by the raconteur the poet heard the tale from. As for Her Majesty, well, one can’t expect Victoria to be aware of every accident on avery railway– especially one on the other side of the Atlantic! Mr. McGonegall credits her with may sterling qualities, to be sure, but I am not aware that psychic powers were ever among them.

  3. Stephen Midgley
    In the year 2018, on the 9th day of February at 9:59 am

    Surely the prospect of the old lady’s actions being recorded on her tombstone in letters of gold would have been ample reward for her bravery?

  4. In the year 2018, on the 4th day of May at 5:33 am

    In reference to Mr. Midgley’s point, and one rather well taken, I might add…

    This is, truly, a matter of perspective. Her name written in gold on her tombstone might well be an excellent reward to her heirs and assigns, and doubtless impressive for as long as it lasted. Alas, even the grave is not safe from the greed of man, and I for one should be surprised if said letters of gold lasted more than a fortnight– perhaps a sixmonth at most, and that with an unusually attentive constabulary. Eventually, inevitable, someone would find a way to abscond with said gelt, and her name would be as others in the graveyard– except the worse off, for holes would remain in the letters where once gold was placed.

    As for the old lady herself, she would not find it any sort of reward at all– inasmuch as she would be, well, dead. Suc things as tombstones are for the living– gold or not. The dead care not for the state– or existence– of any marker.

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