David Lewis Paget
The Duchess of Kilbride
They’d said that he was an engineer
In the grand old age of steam,
I wouldn’t know, I was far too young
I was still in school, at Cheam,
I only knew him as Grandpa, that’s
The only name that I knew,
As he sat with a bottle of whiskey
In his rocking chair, at Kew.
I couldn’t imagine him shovelling coal
In through the furnace door,
As the night express went rocketing down
The grade from Elfin Moor,
I knew that he worked with his brother,
Some old guy called Uncle Jack,
A crusty, hellfire driver
On the steep Newhampton track.
Their loco had been a 4-6-0
And they polished it with pride,
Whenever they took it back to the shed,
‘The Duchess of Kilbride’,
Jack had been made a driver as
The elder of the two,
But Grandpa hadn’t been happy
To be assigned his number two.
They often bickered and quarrelled
On the footplate, on the run,
When picking up speed on the downward stretch
On the way to Essington,
On such a night in a winter fog
They missed a signal Halt,
When they and the ‘Cameron Hall’ had met,
They said it was Grandpa’s fault.
But he had leapt from the footplate just
Before the trains had wrecked,
Just as a curse from Uncle Jack
Was hurled at Grandpa’s neck,
Jack was dead in the instant that
His curse had filled the air,
While coals from the fire and tender box
Had buried him deep in there.
And as I grew I remember how
My Grandpa used to rock,
Muttering on his rocking chair
About how the brakes had locked,
‘If only you had listened to me, ’
I heard my Grandpa say,
‘As God is my only witness, you
Would still be here today! ’
He would sit and stare in the darkness
At the track that ran outside,
Carrying modern diesel trains
To the beach and the countryside,
And sometimes he would hear the sound
Of a distant clickety-clack,
And cry, ‘The Duchess of Kilbride’
Is bringing my brother back.
He’d never reveal what Jack had said
In that final, screaming curse,
But it preyed upon his mind, and I
Could see he was getting worse,
He would lie abed with his nightmares
And would cry, ‘We’ve missed the Halt!
If only you had listened to me…’
And then, ‘It’s not my fault! ’
One night I heard the clickety-clack
Myself, as I lay in bed,
That eerie echoing rhythm, was
Repeating in my head,
Then suddenly it was on us, blazing
Lights as it went by,
I saw the glow from the footplate of
‘The Duchess of Kilbride’.
It hurtled through my bedroom wall
In a ghostly, misty light,
With the brothers on the footplate as
They’d been, that fateful night,
I only caught a moment’s glimpse
Of the face of my Uncle Jack,
Screaming some dark obscenity
As my Grandpa turned his back.
The coaches were full of passengers,
I lay and I held my breath,
These were the final moments of
A train on a date with death,
Once it had gone, I made my way
To where Grandpa lay in pain,
But just one look at his terrified face
Said Grandpa went with the train!
7 May 2013
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