THE STAGE-DRIVER'S STORY
by Bret Harte
It was the stage-driver's story, as he stood with his back to the wheelers,
Quietly flecking his whip, and turning his quid of tobacco;
While on the dusty road, and blent with the rays of the moonlight,
We saw the long curl of his lash and the juice of tobacco descending.
Danger! Sir, I believe you,--indeed, I may say on that subject,
You your existence might put to the hazard and turn of a wager.
I have seen danger? Oh, no! not me, sir, indeed, I assure you:
'Twas only the man with the dog that is sitting alone in yon wagon.
It was the Geiger Grade, a mile and a half from the summit:
Black as your hat was the night, and never a star in the heavens.
Thundering down the grade, the gravel and stones we sent flying
Over the precipice side,--a thousand feet plumb to the bottom.
Half-way down the grade I felt, sir, a thrilling and creaking,
Then a lurch to one side, as we hung on the bank of the canyon;
Then, looking up the road, I saw, in the distance behind me,
The off hind wheel of the coach just loosed from its axle, and following.
One glance alone I gave, then gathered together my ribbons,
Shouted, and flung them, outspread, on the straining necks of my cattle;
Screamed at the top of my voice, and lashed the air in my frenzy,
While down the Geiger Grade, on three wheels, the vehicle thundered.
Speed was our only chance, when again came the ominous rattle:
Crack, and another wheel slipped away, and was lost in the darkness.
Two only now were left; yet such was our fearful momentum,
Upright, erect, and sustained on two wheels, the vehicle thundered.
As some huge boulder, unloosed from its rocky shelf on the mountain,
Drives before it the hare and the timorous squirrel, far leaping,
So down the Geiger Grade rushed the Pioneer coach, and before it
Leaped the wild horses, and shrieked in advance of the danger impending.
But to be brief in my tale. Again, ere we came to the level,
Slipped from its axle a wheel; so that, to be plain in my statement,
A matter of twelve hundred yards or more, as the distance may be,
We traveled upon one wheel, until we drove up to the station.
Then, sir, we sank in a heap; but, picking myself from the ruins,
I heard a noise up the grade; and looking, I saw in the distance
The three wheels following still, like moons on the horizon whirling,
Till, circling, they gracefully sank on the road at the side of the station.
This is my story, sir; a trifle, indeed, I assure you.
Much more, perchance, might be said; but I hold him, of all men, most lightly
Who swerves from the truth in his tale--No, thank you--Well, since you are pressing,
Perhaps I don't care if I do: you may give me the same, Jim,--no sugar.