Complete Poetical Works


(Refugio Mine, Northern Mexico)

Bret Harte

        DRUNK and senseless in his place,
        Prone and sprawling on his face,
More like brute than any man
                   Alive or dead,
        By his great pump out of gear,
        Lay the peon engineer,
        Waking only just to hear,
        Angry tones that called his name,
        Oaths and cries of bitter blame,—
Woke to hear all this, and, waking, turned and fled!

        “To the man who’ll bring to me,”
        Cried Intendant Harry Lee,—
Harry Lee, the English foreman of the mine,—
        “Bring the sot alive or dead,
        I will give to him,” he said,
        “Fifteen hundred pesos down,
        Just to set the rascal’s crown
Underneath this heel of mine:
                   Since but death
        Deserves the man whose deed,
        Be it vice or want of heed,
        Stops the pumps that give us breath,—
        Stops the pumps that suck the death
From the poisoned lower levels of the mine!”

        No one answered; for a cry
        From the shaft rose up on high,
And shuffling, scrambling, tumbling from below,
        Came the miners each, the bolder
        Mounting on the weaker’s shoulder,
        Grappling, clinging to their hold or
                   Letting go,
        As the weaker gasped and fell
        From the ladder to the well,—
        To the poisoned pit of hell
                   Down below!

        “To the man who sets them free,”
        Cried the foreman, Harry Lee,—
Harry Lee, the English foreman of the mine,—
        “Brings them out and sets them free,
        I will give that man,” said he,
        “Twice that sum, who with a rope
        Face to face with Death shall cope.
        Let him come who dares to hope!”
        “Hold your peace!” some one replied,
        Standing by the foreman’s side;
“There has one already gone, whoe’er he be!”

        Then they held their breath with awe,
        Pulling on the rope, and saw
        Fainting figures reappear,
        On the black rope swinging clear,
Fastened by some skillful hand from below;
        Till a score the level gained,
        And but one alone remained,—
        He the hero and the last,
        He whose skillful hand made fast
The long line that brought them back to hope and cheer!

        Haggard, gasping, down dropped he
        At the feet of Harry Lee,—
Harry Lee, the English foreman of the mine.
        “I have come,” he gasped, “to claim
        Both rewards.    Senor, my name
                   Is Ramon!
        I’m the drunken engineer,
        I’m the coward, Senor”—    Here
        He fell over, by that sign,
                   Dead as stone!

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