Complete Poetical Works

The Ghost that Jim Saw

Bret Harte

WHY, as to that, said the engineer,
Ghosts ain’t things we are apt to fear;
Spirits don’t fool with levers much,
And throttle-valves don’t take to such;
        And as for Jim,
        What happened to him
Was one half fact, and t’other half whim!

Running one night on the line, he saw
A house—as plain as the moral law—
Just by the moonlit bank, and thence
Came a drunken man with no more sense
        Than to drop on the rail
        Flat as a flail,
As Jim drove by with the midnight mail.

Down went the patents—steam reversed.
Too late! for there came a “thud.”    Jim cursed
As the fireman, there in the cab with him,
Kinder stared in the face of Jim,
        And says, “What now?”
        Says Jim, “What now!
I’ve just run over a man,—that’s how!”

The fireman stared at Jim.    They ran
Back, but they never found house nor man,—
Nary a shadow within a mile.
Jim turned pale, but he tried to smile,
        Then on he tore
        Ten mile or more,
In quicker time than he’d made afore.

Would you believe it! the very next night
Up rose that house in the moonlight white,
Out comes the chap and drops as before,
Down goes the brake and the rest encore;
        And so, in fact,
        Each night that act
Occurred, till folks swore Jim was cracked.

Humph! let me see; it’s a year now, ’most,
That I met Jim, East, and says, “How’s your ghost?”
“Gone,” says Jim; “and more, it’s plain
That ghost don’t trouble me again.
        I thought I shook
        That ghost when I took
A place on an Eastern line,—but look!

“What should I meet, the first trip out,
But the very house we talked about,
And the selfsame man!    ‘Well,’ says I, ‘I guess
It’s time to stop this ’yer foolishness.’
        So I crammed on steam,
        When there came a scream
From my fireman, that jest broke my dream:

“‘You’ve killed somebody!’    Says I, ‘Not much!
I’ve been thar often, and thar ain’t no such,
And now I’ll prove it!’    Back we ran,
And—darn my skin!—but thar was a man
        On the rail, dead,
        Smashed in the head!—
Now I call that meanness!” That’s all Jim said.

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