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THE LEVEL CROSSING
by
George R. Sims

The eight o'clock up's just gone, sir— the London express, you mean?
There ain't not another as stops here, not till the nine-fifteen.
Got any luggage a-comin'?— Oh, only been here for the day.
Yes, it's a quietish village; never was over-gay.
We're glad of a stranger sometimes, and a bit of the Lunnon news;
It's lonely up here at the station, and easy to get the blues,
For I'm on till the early morning; and many and many a night
There's never a human being as comes to bless my sight.

For the last of the trains as stops here is the parly at 10 pm,
And then I'm alone with my thoughts like, and I ain't always fond o' them.
Out yonder's a level crossing, and it's part o' my work, you know,
To watch heere at night for the waggons a-travellin' to and fro.
Been any accidents? Bless you! we're a boon to the local Press;
The Company has me stop here just to try for to make 'em less.
Why, only last year a farmer — but haven't you heard the tale
How old Farmer Burton o' Birley was killed by the Limited Mail?

I thought as you must ha' heard it, for it made a regular fuss,
And they held an inquiry on it, and they laid the blame on us.
We ought to ha' seen and ha' warned him, so the chaps on the paper said;
But we none of us knew as he'd got there, not till we see him dead.
They brought it in accidental, the jury as tried the case;
But it was no accident neither, though it's rather a likely place.
Come and sit down in my shanty, you've nearly an hour to wait,
If you care for the rest I can tell you the story of Burton's fate.

Never mind how I know it—there's plenty o' folks beside
As knows about Master Burton, and why he came here and died;
For the women ha' talked it over, and whenever that comes about,
Wherever there's secrets hidden, the women'll hunt 'em out.
They wagged their heads when he married poor penniless Mercy Leigh
Right on the top of her hearin' as her lover was drowned at sea.
Lord, how the women chattered —scandalous things they said!
Hintin' she wanted a husband to hide her sin with the dead!

This Mercy Leigh was the daughter of decentish honest folks,
And Burton had made her an offer, but she treated his words as jokes,
For Mercy was barely twenty, and Burton was sixty-two;
He'd made a bit at the farmin', and was counted as well to do;
He made it a joke himself like, his love for 'the pretty child,'
And if anyone chaffed him about it, that's what he said, and smiled;
But under his broad thick waistcoat, right in his kind old heart,
I know as her nonsense pained him, though he took it in right good part.

It was pretty well known in the village that Mercy had set her cap
At the son of old Barnes, the builder, a dare-devil sailor chap;
And when he was off his cruises, and home for a week or so.
You'd meet him and Mercy together wherever you'd chance to go.
And the last time they parted he told her — that's what the gossips say —
That he reckoned, with luck and weather, he'd be but a month away,
And when he came back he'd wed her — he pledged her his solemn word; —
He'd perished at sea with his vessel—that was the next we heard.

Now, the very next day this Mercy was seen, with a long white face,
A-makin' for Chumleigh Meadows —that was old Burton's place —
And one of his people told me as she stayed there half the day,
And they heard her a-cryin' and sobbin', and moanin' her heart away.
But when they came out the farmer had gotten her hand gripped tight,
And he kissed her, and said, 'God bless you! I'll speak to your folks to-night.'
It was known on the morrow through Birley that Mercy had promised to wed
The farmer of Chumleigh Meadows --but we noticed her eyes were red.

'Twas plain as her heart was buried away in the distant sea,
For I saw her the weddin' mornin', and her looks had a tale for me.
But she went through the service bravely, and the farmer's big brown face
Was bright with his love for Mercy, though he stood in a dead man's place.
I think they was happy at first, too, for he worshipped the ground she trod,
And went here and there like a sheep-dog, obeyin' her every nod.
Yet he'd given his name and honour to a woman who'd told him—well,
What seldom to one who'd wed her a woman has dared to tell.

They were married six months and over, when, all of a sudden, flew
News through the streets of Birley, as nobody thought was true,—
That Barnes had escaped the shipwreck, and was back from a lengthened trip;
He'd been rescued and carried to Melbourne aboard of a sailin' ship.
She heard it first at the station—I shall never forget her cry.
We carried her into this room here—I thought she was like to die;
But she got all right in a minit, and, takin' her husband's arm,
She walked like a tipsy woman back thro' the fields to the farm.

In less than a month from that, sir, old Burton lay here dead;
Here, at this level crossing—'Accident,' so they said.
But I know, for the woman told me who'd seen her before the 'quest,
That for many a night he'd murmur, and talk in his troubled rest;
And he'd wake in the night, and tell her, if it chanced that he should die,
That the hand of God would have freed her for a higher and holier tie.
And the eve as it happened he kissed her, with tears in his eyes, and said,
'Mercy, my darling! remember the reason that we were wed.'

When he left her that night he told her he'd a lawyer to see in town.
He was crossing there for the platform when the engine struck him down.
That's how the jury got it, but I know a thing or two;
And I say that night when he kissed her, he knew what he meant to do;
For his will was made, and it told her to marry the sailor chap
If it pleased the Almighty to take him—accident too, mayhap?
She went away from the village, and the farm and the house were sold,
And she'd married young Barnes ere her mourning was barely a fortnight old.

A cold-blooded thing to do, sir?—Not a bit of it. She was right;
For she knew what was wearing his heart out when he went to his death that night.
He laid down his life that a father, cast up from the jaws of the sea,
Might hallew before God's altar the mother of one to be.
It was just a month to the day, sir, since Burton was found here dead,
That the baby was born to Mercy. —Why, bless us! the lights are red!
I must run to the box and change 'em. What does that signal mean?
Why, that I must be saying good-night, sir, for here is the nine-fifteen.
 
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