The Signal-Man

 

“HAL­LOA! Be­low there!”

When he heard a voice thus call­ing to him, he was stand­ing at the door of his box, with a flag in his hand, furled round its short pole. One would have thought, con­sid­er­ing the nature of the ground, that he could not have doubted from what quarter the voice came; but in­stead of look­ing up to where I stood on the top of the steep cut­ting nearly over his head, he turned him­self about, and looked down the Line. There was something re­mark­able in his man­ner of do­ing so, though I could not have said for my life what. But I know it was re­mark­able enough to at­tract my no­tice, even though his fig­ure was fore­shortened and shad­owed, down in the deep trench, and mine was high above him, so steeped in the glow of an angry sun­set, that I had shaded my eyes with my hand be­fore I saw him at all.
“Hal­loa! Be­low!”
From look­ing down the Line, he turned him­self about again, and, rais­ing his eyes, saw my fig­ure high above him.
“Is there any path by which I can come down and speak to you?”
He looked up at me without reply­ing, and I looked down at him without press­ing him too soon with a re­pe­ti­tion of my idle ques­tion. Just then there came a vague vi­bra­tion in the earth and air, quickly chan­ging in­to a vi­ol­ent pulsa­tion, and an on­com­ing rush that caused me to start back, as though it had force to draw me down. When such va­pour as rose to my height from this rap­id train had passed me, and was skim­ming away over the land­scape, I looked down again, and saw him re­furl­ing the flag he had shown while the train went by.
I re­peated my in­quiry. After a pause, dur­ing which he seemed to re­gard me with fixed at­ten­tion, he mo­tioned with his rolled-up flag to­wards a point on my level, some two or three hun­dred yards dis­tant. I called down to him, “All right!” and made for that point. There, by dint of look­ing closely about me, I found a rough zig­zag des­cend­ing path notched out, which I fol­lowed.
The cut­ting was ex­tremely deep, and un­usu­ally pre­cip­it­ate. It was made through a clammy stone, that be­came oozi­er and wet­ter as I went down. For these reas­ons, I found the way long enough to give me time to re­call a sin­gu­lar air of re­luct­ance or com­pul­sion with which he had poin­ted out the path.
When I came down low enough upon the zig­zag des­cent to see him again, I saw that he was stand­ing between the rails on the way by which the train had lately passed, in an at­ti­tude as if he were wait­ing for me to ap­pear. He had his left hand at his chin, and that left el­bow res­ted on his right hand, crossed over his breast. His at­ti­tude was one of such ex­pect­a­tion and watch­ful­ness that I stopped a mo­ment, won­der­ing at it.
I re­sumed my down­ward way, and step­ping out upon the level of the rail­road, and draw­ing near­er to him, saw that he was a dark, sal­low man, with a dark beard and rather heavy eye­brows. His post was in as sol­it­ary and dis­mal a place as ever I saw. On either side, a drip­ping-wet wall of jagged stone, ex­clud­ing all view but a strip of sky; the per­spect­ive one way only a crooked pro­long­a­tion of this great dun­geon; the short­er per­spect­ive in the oth­er dir­ec­tion ter­min­at­ing in a gloomy red light, and the gloom­i­er en­trance to a black tun­nel, in whose massive ar­chi­tec­ture there was a bar­bar­ous, de­press­ing, and for­bid­ding air. So little sun­light ever found its way to this spot, that it had an earthy, deadly smell; and so much cold wind rushed through it, that it struck chill to me, as if I had left the nat­ur­al world.
Be­fore he stirred, I was near enough to him to have touched him. Not even then re­mov­ing his eyes from mine, he stepped back one step, and lif­ted his hand.
This was a lone­some post to oc­cupy (I said), and it had riv­eted my at­ten­tion when I looked down from up yon­der. A vis­it­or was a rar­ity, I should sup­pose; not an un­wel­come rar­ity, I hoped? In me, he merely saw a man who had been shut up with­in nar­row lim­its all his life, and who, be­ing at last set free, had a newly-awakened in­terest in these great works. To such pur­pose I spoke to him; but I am far from sure of the terms I used; for, be­sides that I am not happy in open­ing any con­ver­sa­tion, there was something in the man that daun­ted me.
He dir­ec­ted a most curi­ous look to­wards the red light near the tun­nel’s mouth, and looked all about it, as if something were miss­ing from it, and then looked at me.
That light was part of his charge? Was it not?
He answered in a low voice,—“Don’t you know it is?”
The mon­strous thought came in­to my mind, as I per­used the fixed eyes and the sat­urnine face, that this was a spir­it, not a man. I have spec­u­lated since, wheth­er there may have been in­fec­tion in his mind.
In my turn, I stepped back. But in mak­ing the ac­tion, I de­tec­ted in his eyes some lat­ent fear of me. This put the mon­strous thought to flight.
“You look at me,” I said, for­cing a smile, “as if you had a dread of me.”
“I was doubt­ful,” he re­turned, “wheth­er I had seen you be­fore.”
“Where?”
He poin­ted to the red light he had looked at.
“There?” I said.
In­tently watch­ful of me, he replied (but without sound), “Yes.”
“My good fel­low, what should I do there? However, be that as it may, I nev­er was there, you may swear.”
“I think I may,” he re­joined. “Yes; I am sure I may.”
His man­ner cleared, like my own. He replied to my re­marks with read­i­ness, and in well-chosen words. Had he much to do there? Yes; that was to say, he had enough re­spons­ib­il­ity to bear; but ex­act­ness and watch­ful­ness were what was re­quired of him, and of ac­tu­al work—manu­al la­bour—he had next to none. To change that sig­nal, to trim those lights, and to turn this iron handle now and then, was all he had to do un­der that head. Re­gard­ing those many long and lonely hours of which I seemed to make so much, he could only say that the routine of his life had shaped it­self in­to that form, and he had grown used to it. He had taught him­self a lan­guage down here,—if only to know it by sight, and to have formed his own crude ideas of its pro­nun­ci­ation, could be called learn­ing it. He had also worked at frac­tions and decim­als, and tried a little al­gebra; but he was, and had been as a boy, a poor hand at fig­ures. Was it ne­ces­sary for him when on duty al­ways to re­main in that chan­nel of damp air, and could he nev­er rise in­to the sun­shine from between those high stone walls? Why, that de­pen­ded upon times and cir­cum­stances. Un­der some con­di­tions there would be less upon the Line than un­der oth­ers, and the same held good as to cer­tain hours of the day and night. In bright weath­er, he did choose oc­ca­sions for get­ting a little above these lower shad­ows; but, be­ing at all times li­able to be called by his elec­tric bell, and at such times listen­ing for it with re­doubled anxi­ety, the re­lief was less than I would sup­pose.
He took me in­to his box, where there was a fire, a desk for an of­fi­cial book in which he had to make cer­tain entries, a tele­graph­ic in­stru­ment with its dial, face, and needles, and the little bell of which he had spoken. On my trust­ing that he would ex­cuse the re­mark that he had been well edu­cated, and (I hoped I might say without of­fence) per­haps edu­cated above that sta­tion, he ob­served that in­stances of slight in­con­gru­ity in such wise would rarely be found want­ing among large bod­ies of men; that he had heard it was so in work­houses, in the po­lice force, even in that last des­per­ate re­source, the army; and that he knew it was so, more or less, in any great rail­way staff. He had been, when young (if I could be­lieve it, sit­ting in that hut,—he scarcely could), a stu­dent of nat­ur­al philo­sophy, and had at­ten­ded lec­tures; but he had run wild, mis­used his op­por­tun­it­ies, gone down, and nev­er ris­en again. He had no com­plaint to of­fer about that. He had made his bed, and he lay upon it. It was far too late to make an­oth­er.
All that I have here con­densed he said in a quiet man­ner, with his grave, dark re­gards di­vided between me and the fire. He threw in the word, “Sir,” from time to time, and es­pe­cially when he re­ferred to his youth,—as though to re­quest me to un­der­stand that he claimed to be noth­ing but what I found him. He was sev­er­al times in­ter­rup­ted by the little bell, and had to read off mes­sages, and send replies. Once he had to stand without the door, and dis­play a flag as a train passed, and make some verbal com­mu­nic­a­tion to the driver. In the dis­charge of his du­ties, I ob­served him to be re­mark­ably ex­act and vi­gil­ant, break­ing off his dis­course at a syl­lable, and re­main­ing si­lent un­til what he had to do was done.
In a word, I should have set this man down as one of the safest of men to be em­ployed in that ca­pa­city, but for the cir­cum­stance that while he was speak­ing to me he twice broke off with a fallen col­our, turned his face to­wards the little bell when it did NOT ring, opened the door of the hut (which was kept shut to ex­clude the un­healthy damp), and looked out to­wards the red light near the mouth of the tun­nel. On both of those oc­ca­sions, he came back to the fire with the in­ex­plic­able air upon him which I had re­marked, without be­ing able to define, when we were so far asun­der.
Said I, when I rose to leave him, “You al­most make me think that I have met with a con­ten­ted man.”
(I am afraid I must ac­know­ledge that I said it to lead him on.)
“I be­lieve I used to be so,” he re­joined, in the low voice in which he had first spoken; “but I am troubled, sir, I am troubled.”
He would have re­called the words if he could. He had said them, however, and I took them up quickly.
“With what? What is your trouble?”
“It is very dif­fi­cult to im­part, sir. It is very, very dif­fi­cult to speak of. If ever you make me an­oth­er vis­it, I will try to tell you.”
“But I ex­pressly in­tend to make you an­oth­er vis­it. Say, when shall it be?”
“I go off early in the morn­ing, and I shall be on again at ten to-mor­row night, sir.”
“I will come at el­ev­en.”
He thanked me, and went out at the door with me. “I’ll show my white light, sir,” he said, in his pe­cu­li­ar low voice, “till you have found the way up. When you have found it, don’t call out! And when you are at the top, don’t call out!”
His man­ner seemed to make the place strike colder to me, but I said no more than, “Very well.”
“And when you come down to-mor­row night, don’t call out! Let me ask you a part­ing ques­tion. What made you cry, ‘Hal­loa! Be­low there!’ to-night?”
“Heav­en knows,” said I. “I cried something to that ef­fect—”
“Not to that ef­fect, sir. Those were the very words. I know them well.”
“Ad­mit those were the very words. I said them, no doubt, be­cause I saw you be­low.”
“For no oth­er reas­on?”
“What oth­er reas­on could I pos­sibly have?”
“You had no feel­ing that they were con­veyed to you in any su­per­nat­ur­al way?”
“No.”
He wished me good-night, and held up his light. I walked by the side of the down Line of rails (with a very dis­agree­able sen­sa­tion of a train com­ing be­hind me) un­til I found the path. It was easi­er to mount than to des­cend, and I got back to my inn without any ad­ven­ture.
Punc­tu­al to my ap­point­ment, I placed my foot on the first notch of the zig­zag next night, as the dis­tant clocks were strik­ing el­ev­en. He was wait­ing for me at the bot­tom, with his white light on. “I have not called out,” I said, when we came close to­geth­er; “may I speak now?” “By all means, sir.” “Good-night, then, and here’s my hand.” “Good-night, sir, and here’s mine.” With that we walked side by side to his box, entered it, closed the door, and sat down by the fire.
“I have made up my mind, sir,” he began, bend­ing for­ward as soon as we were seated, and speak­ing in a tone but a little above a whis­per, “that you shall not have to ask me twice what troubles me. I took you for some one else yes­ter­day even­ing. That troubles me.”
“That mis­take?”
“No. That some one else.”
“Who is it?”
“I don’t know.”
“Like me?”
“I don’t know. I nev­er saw the face. The left arm is across the face, and the right arm is waved,—vi­ol­ently waved. This way.”
I fol­lowed his ac­tion with my eyes, and it was the ac­tion of an arm ges­tic­u­lat­ing, with the ut­most pas­sion and vehe­mence, “For God’s sake, clear the way!”
“One moon­light night,” said the man, “I was sit­ting here, when I heard a voice cry, ‘Hal­loa! Be­low there!’ I star­ted up, looked from that door, and saw this Some one else stand­ing by the red light near the tun­nel, wav­ing as I just now showed you. The voice seemed hoarse with shout­ing, and it cried, ‘Look out! Look out!’ And then again, ‘Hal­loa! Be­low there! Look out!’ I caught up my lamp, turned it on red, and ran to­wards the fig­ure, call­ing, ‘What’s wrong? What has happened? Where?’ It stood just out­side the black­ness of the tun­nel. I ad­vanced so close upon it that I wondered at its keep­ing the sleeve across its eyes. I ran right up at it, and had my hand stretched out to pull the sleeve away, when it was gone.”
“In­to the tun­nel?” said I.
“No. I ran on in­to the tun­nel, five hun­dred yards. I stopped, and held my lamp above my head, and saw the fig­ures of the meas­ured dis­tance, and saw the wet stains steal­ing down the walls and trick­ling through the arch. I ran out again faster than I had run in (for I had a mor­tal ab­hor­rence of the place upon me), and I looked all round the red light with my own red light, and I went up the iron lad­der to the gal­lery atop of it, and I came down again, and ran back here. I tele­graphed both ways, ‘An alarm has been giv­en. Is any­thing wrong?’ The an­swer came back, both ways, ‘All well.’ ”
Res­ist­ing the slow touch of a frozen fin­ger tra­cing out my spine, I showed him how that this fig­ure must be a de­cep­tion of his sense of sight; and how that fig­ures, ori­gin­at­ing in dis­ease of the del­ic­ate nerves that min­is­ter to the func­tions of the eye, were known to have of­ten troubled pa­tients, some of whom had be­come con­scious of the nature of their af­flic­tion, and had even proved it by ex­per­i­ments upon them­selves. “As to an ima­gin­ary cry,” said I, “do but listen for a mo­ment to the wind in this un­nat­ur­al val­ley while we speak so low, and to the wild harp it makes of the tele­graph wires.”
That was all very well, he re­turned, after we had sat listen­ing for a while, and he ought to know something of the wind and the wires,—he who so of­ten passed long winter nights there, alone and watch­ing. But he would beg to re­mark that he had not fin­ished.
I asked his par­don, and he slowly ad­ded these words, touch­ing my arm,—
“With­in six hours after the Ap­pear­ance, the mem­or­able ac­ci­dent on this Line happened, and with­in ten hours the dead and wounded were brought along through the tun­nel over the spot where the fig­ure had stood.”
A dis­agree­able shud­der crept over me, but I did my best against it. It was not to be denied, I re­joined, that this was a re­mark­able co­in­cid­en­ce, cal­cu­lated deeply to im­press his mind. But it was un­ques­tion­able that re­mark­able co­in­cid­en­ces did con­tinu­ally oc­cur, and they must be taken in­to ac­count in deal­ing with such a sub­ject. Though to be sure I must ad­mit, I ad­ded (for I thought I saw that he was go­ing to bring the ob­jec­tion to bear upon me), men of com­mon sense did not al­low much for co­in­cid­en­ces in mak­ing the or­din­ary cal­cu­la­tions of life.
He again begged to re­mark that he had not fin­ished.
I again begged his par­don for be­ing be­trayed in­to in­ter­rup­tions.
“This,” he said, again lay­ing his hand upon my arm, and glan­cing over his shoulder with hol­low eyes, “was just a year ago. Six or sev­en months passed, and I had re­covered from the sur­prise and shock, when one morn­ing, as the day was break­ing, I, stand­ing at the door, looked to­wards the red light, and saw the spectre again.” He stopped, with a fixed look at me.
“Did it cry out?”
“No. It was si­lent.”
“Did it wave its arm?”
“No. It leaned against the shaft of the light, with both hands be­fore the face. Like this.”
Once more I fol­lowed his ac­tion with my eyes. It was an ac­tion of mourn­ing. I have seen such an at­ti­tude in stone fig­ures on tombs.
“Did you go up to it?”
“I came in and sat down, partly to col­lect my thoughts, partly be­cause it had turned me faint. When I went to the door again, day­light was above me, and the ghost was gone.”
“But noth­ing fol­lowed? Noth­ing came of this?”
He touched me on the arm with his fore­fin­ger twice or thrice giv­ing a ghastly nod each time:—
“That very day, as a train came out of the tun­nel, I no­ticed, at a car­riage win­dow on my side, what looked like a con­fu­sion of hands and heads, and something waved. I saw it just in time to sig­nal the driver, Stop! He shut off, and put his brake on, but the train drif­ted past here a hun­dred and fifty yards or more. I ran after it, and, as I went along, heard ter­rible screams and cries. A beau­ti­ful young lady had died in­stant­an­eously in one of the com­part­ments, and was brought in here, and laid down on this floor between us.”
In­vol­un­tar­ily I pushed my chair back, as I looked from the boards at which he poin­ted to him­self.
“True, sir. True. Pre­cisely as it happened, so I tell it you.”
I could think of noth­ing to say, to any pur­pose, and my mouth was very dry. The wind and the wires took up the story with a long lament­ing wail.
He re­sumed. “Now, sir, mark this, and judge how my mind is troubled. The spectre came back a week ago. Ever since, it has been there, now and again, by fits and starts.”
“At the light?”
“At the Danger-light.”
“What does it seem to do?”
He re­peated, if pos­sible with in­creased pas­sion and vehe­mence, that former ges­tic­u­la­tion of, “For God’s sake, clear the way!”
Then he went on. “I have no peace or rest for it. It calls to me, for many minutes to­geth­er, in an ag­on­ised man­ner, ‘Be­low there! Look out! Look out!’ It stands wav­ing to me. It rings my little bell—”
I caught at that. “Did it ring your bell yes­ter­day even­ing when I was here, and you went to the door?”
“Twice.”
“Why, see,” said I, “how your ima­gin­a­tion mis­leads you. My eyes were on the bell, and my ears were open to the bell, and if I am a liv­ing man, it did NOT ring at those times. No, nor at any oth­er time, ex­cept when it was rung in the nat­ur­al course of phys­ic­al things by the sta­tion com­mu­nic­at­ing with you.”
He shook his head. “I have nev­er made a mis­take as to that yet, sir. I have nev­er con­fused the spectre’s ring with the man’s. The ghost’s ring is a strange vi­bra­tion in the bell that it de­rives from noth­ing else, and I have not as­ser­ted that the bell stirs to the eye. I don’t won­der that you failed to hear it. But I heard it.”
“And did the spectre seem to be there, when you looked out?”
“It WAS there.”
“Both times?”
He re­peated firmly: “Both times.”
“Will you come to the door with me, and look for it now?”
He bit his un­der lip as though he were some­what un­will­ing, but arose. I opened the door, and stood on the step, while he stood in the door­way. There was the Danger-light. There was the dis­mal mouth of the tun­nel. There were the high, wet stone walls of the cut­ting. There were the stars above them.
“Do you see it?” I asked him, tak­ing par­tic­u­lar note of his face. His eyes were prom­in­ent and strained, but not very much more so, per­haps, than my own had been when I had dir­ec­ted them earn­es­tly to­wards the same spot.
“No,” he answered. “It is not there.”
“Agreed,” said I.
We went in again, shut the door, and re­sumed our seats. I was think­ing how best to im­prove this ad­vant­age, if it might be called one, when he took up the con­ver­sa­tion in such a mat­ter-of-course way, so as­sum­ing that there could be no ser­i­ous ques­tion of fact between us, that I felt my­self placed in the weak­est of po­s­i­tions.
“By this time you will fully un­der­stand, sir,” he said, “that what troubles me so dread­fully is the ques­tion, What does the spectre mean?”
I was not sure, I told him, that I did fully un­der­stand.
“What is its warn­ing against?” he said, ru­min­at­ing, with his eyes on the fire, and only by times turn­ing them on me. “What is the danger? Where is the danger? There is danger over­hanging some­where on the Line. Some dread­ful calam­ity will hap­pen. It is not to be doubted this third time, after what has gone be­fore. But surely this is a cruel haunt­ing of me. What can I do?”
He pulled out his handker­chief, and wiped the drops from his heated fore­head.
“If I tele­graph Danger, on either side of me, or on both, I can give no reas­on for it,” he went on, wip­ing the palms of his hands. “I should get in­to trouble, and do no good. They would think I was mad. This is the way it would work,—Mes­sage: ‘Danger! Take care!’ An­swer: ‘What Danger? Where?’ Mes­sage: ‘Don’t know. But, for God’s sake, take care!’ They would dis­place me. What else could they do?”
His pain of mind was most pi­ti­able to see. It was the men­tal tor­ture of a con­sci­en­tious man, op­pressed bey­ond en­dur­ance by an un­in­tel­li­gible re­spons­ib­il­ity in­volving life.
“When it first stood un­der the Danger-light,” he went on, put­ting his dark hair back from his head, and draw­ing his hands out­ward across and across his temples in an ex­tremity of fe­ver­ish dis­tress, “why not tell me where that ac­ci­dent was to hap­pen,—if it must hap­pen? Why not tell me how it could be aver­ted,—if it could have been aver­ted? When on its second com­ing it hid its face, why not tell me, in­stead, ‘She is go­ing to die. Let them keep her at home’? If it came, on those two oc­ca­sions, only to show me that its warn­ings were true, and so to pre­pare me for the third, why not warn me plainly now? And I, Lord help me! A mere poor sig­nal-man on this sol­it­ary sta­tion! Why not go to some­body with cred­it to be be­lieved, and power to act?”
When I saw him in this state, I saw that for the poor man’s sake, as well as for the pub­lic safety, what I had to do for the time was to com­pose his mind. There­fore, set­ting aside all ques­tion of real­ity or un­real­ity between us, I rep­res­en­ted to him that who­ever thor­oughly dis­charged his duty must do well, and that at least it was his com­fort that he un­der­stood his duty, though he did not un­der­stand these con­found­ing Ap­pear­ances. In this ef­fort I suc­ceeded far bet­ter than in the at­tempt to reas­on him out of his con­vic­tion. He be­came calm; the oc­cu­pa­tions in­cid­ent­al to his post as the night ad­vanced began to make lar­ger de­mands on his at­ten­tion: and I left him at two in the morn­ing. I had offered to stay through the night, but he would not hear of it.
That I more than once looked back at the red light as I as­cen­ded the path­way, that I did not like the red light, and that I should have slept but poorly if my bed had been un­der it, I see no reas­on to con­ceal. Nor did I like the two se­quences of the ac­ci­dent and the dead girl. I see no reas­on to con­ceal that either.
But what ran most in my thoughts was the con­sid­er­a­tion how ought I to act, hav­ing be­come the re­cip­i­ent of this dis­clos­ure? I had proved the man to be in­tel­li­gent, vi­gil­ant, painstak­ing, and ex­act; but how long might he re­main so, in his state of mind? Though in a sub­or­din­ate po­s­i­tion, still he held a most im­port­ant trust, and would I (for in­stance) like to stake my own life on the chances of his con­tinu­ing to ex­ecute it with pre­ci­sion?
Un­able to over­come a feel­ing that there would be something treach­er­ous in my com­mu­nic­at­ing what he had told me to his su­per­i­ors in the Com­pany, without first be­ing plain with him­self and pro­pos­ing a middle course to him, I ul­ti­mately re­solved to of­fer to ac­com­pany him (oth­er­wise keep­ing his secret for the present) to the wisest med­ic­al prac­ti­tion­er we could hear of in those parts, and to take his opin­ion. A change in his time of duty would come round next night, he had ap­prised me, and he would be off an hour or two after sun­rise, and on again soon after sun­set. I had ap­poin­ted to re­turn ac­cord­ingly.
Next even­ing was a lovely even­ing, and I walked out early to en­joy it. The sun was not yet quite down when I tra­versed the field-path near the top of the deep cut­ting. I would ex­tend my walk for an hour, I said to my­self, half an hour on and half an hour back, and it would then be time to go to my sig­nal-man’s box.
Be­fore pur­su­ing my stroll, I stepped to the brink, and mech­an­ic­ally looked down, from the point from which I had first seen him. I can­not de­scribe the thrill that seized upon me, when, close at the mouth of the tun­nel, I saw the ap­pear­ance of a man, with his left sleeve across his eyes, pas­sion­ately wav­ing his right arm.
The name­less hor­ror that op­pressed me passed in a mo­ment, for in a mo­ment I saw that this ap­pear­ance of a man was a man in­deed, and that there was a little group of oth­er men, stand­ing at a short dis­tance, to whom he seemed to be re­hears­ing the ges­ture he made. The Danger-light was not yet lighted. Against its shaft, a little low hut, en­tirely new to me, had been made of some wooden sup­ports and tar­paul­in. It looked no big­ger than a bed.
With an ir­res­ist­ible sense that something was wrong,—with a flash­ing self-re­proach­ful fear that fatal mis­chief had come of my leav­ing the man there, and caus­ing no one to be sent to over­look or cor­rect what he did,—I des­cen­ded the notched path with all the speed I could make.
“What is the mat­ter?” I asked the men.
“Sig­nal-man killed this morn­ing, sir.”
“Not the man be­long­ing to that box?”
“Yes, sir.”
“Not the man I know?”
“You will re­cog­nise him, sir, if you knew him,” said the man who spoke for the oth­ers, sol­emnly un­cov­er­ing his own head, and rais­ing an end of the tar­paul­in, “for his face is quite com­posed.”
“O, how did this hap­pen, how did this hap­pen?” I asked, turn­ing from one to an­oth­er as the hut closed in again.
“He was cut down by an en­gine, sir. No man in Eng­land knew his work bet­ter. But some­how he was not clear of the out­er rail. It was just at broad day. He had struck the light, and had the lamp in his hand. As the en­gine came out of the tun­nel, his back was to­wards her, and she cut him down. That man drove her, and was show­ing how it happened. Show the gen­tle­man, Tom.”
The man, who wore a rough dark dress, stepped back to his former place at the mouth of the tun­nel.
“Com­ing round the curve in the tun­nel, sir,” he said, “I saw him at the end, like as if I saw him down a per­spect­ive-glass. There was no time to check speed, and I knew him to be very care­ful. As he didn’t seem to take heed of the whistle, I shut it off when we were run­ning down upon him, and called to him as loud as I could call.”
“What did you say?”
“I said, ‘Be­low there! Look out! Look out! For God’s sake, clear the way!’ ”
I star­ted.
“Ah! it was a dread­ful time, sir. I nev­er left off call­ing to him. I put this arm be­fore my eyes not to see, and I waved this arm to the last; but it was no use.”
Without pro­long­ing the nar­rat­ive to dwell on any one of its curi­ous cir­cum­stances more than on any oth­er, I may, in clos­ing it, point out the co­in­cid­en­ce that the warn­ing of the En­gine-Driver in­cluded, not only the words which the un­for­tu­nate Sig­nal-man had re­peated to me as haunt­ing him, but also the words which I my­self—not he—had at­tached, and that only in my own mind, to the ges­tic­u­la­tion he had im­it­ated.
* * *

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