The Twelve thirty Express


Imagine a countryside
Peaceful and calm,
Some fields and some trees,
A stream and a farm.
A day of close stillness,
No wind to be felt,
With blue hazy mountains
That away yonder melt.
Imagine two hedges,
A stright stretch of line,
A little old station,
And then the ravine.
A swift-flowing torrent
All creamy with foam,
And spanning its waters
The bridge called the Comb.
The trains are not frequent,
There’s three at the most;
There’s one in the morning
That goes to the coast.
In mid-afternoon
Another will pass,
Then none till gone midnight,
The Express — alas!
My story begins
With the second train gone,
And the next one not due
Till a half-hour to one.
The old station master
So feeble and bowed
Yet active as ever
With long life endowed,
Is locking the station,
Two trains they have passed,
There’s only one more,
At twelve-thirty, the last!
And so he’s off home
For a snooze and some tea,
A read of the paper,
Then supper maybe,
And then to return
For a moment or two
When the midnight express
The twelve-thirty is due.
And so down the roadway,
His feet echoing fall;
The birds they are still
And there’s peace over all.
Imagine that countryside –
Daylight has fled!
The wind and the rain
Are awakening the dead:
The tempest is roaring,
The rain is a whip,
The trees are in torment,
Their branches a-strip.
And there with his lantern,
Battling for life,
The old station-master
Is gripped in the strife.
But aged and feeble
He reaches the door,
His key finds the lock,
He steps in on the floor.
His hurricane lantern
A glow throws around,
The rain on the roof
Makes a thundering sound.
Not long is he there;
No time now to wait.
He fights down the line
To open the gate.
Returns with his lamp,
From his window to peer,
And sees that the signals
Are standing at “Clear”.
Not long he’s to wait,
For a murmuring roar
Comes in the distance
And grows more and more.
And high o’er the tempest
Its whistle is shrill,
As it passes the signals
Away on the hill;
Now growing in volume
With terrible sound,
And now its vibrations
Are shaking the ground,
Till it grows to a crash
And a shattering boom
As the train hurtles by
Into darkness and gloom,
As the trav’llers are carried
To horror and doom.
And the old station-master
Preparing for home,
Murmurs softly, “Pray heaven
It passes the Comb!”
But the bridge it is weakened
With tempest and rain,
Its timbers unable
To carry the train.
Unconscious of danger
The engine flies on,
A streak in the night
And then it is gone.
The wheels strike the bridge
And the bridge gives a groan,
Its back it is broken –
The engine wheels race,
The twelve-thirty express
Is hurtling through space.
The sides of the ravine
Re-echo the thunder
As iron and steel meet
The boulders down under.
There’s thudding and crashing,
And splintering of glass,
And shrieking and wailing;
A horrible mass
Is writhing and twisting;
And yells to the skies
Proclaim to high heaven
Untold agonies.
But the torrent foams on
With its mixture of blood,
And timbers and bodies
And faces and mud.
And sons are from fathers
Divided by death,
And mothers and daughters
Have yielded their breath:
And dozens of humans,
Unready for rest,
Are waiting to enter
The realms of the blest;
And souls are sent winging
Their way into space,
And night settles down
On that terrible place.
And the whimpering dies,
And the silence of death
Descends in the night
On the last flickering breath.
And the storm that was raging,
Its thirst satisfied,
Grew feeble and helpless
And lay down and died.