With eyes that searched in the dark,
Peering along the line,
Stood the grim Scotchman, Hector Clark,
Driver of ‘Forty-nine’,
And the veldt-fire flamed on the hills ahead,
Like a blood-red beacon sign.
There was word of a fight to the north,
And a column hard-pressed,
So they started the Highlanders forth,
Without food, without rest.
But the pipers gaily played,
Chanting their fierce delight,
And the armoured carriages rocked and swayed,
Laden with men of the Scotch Brigade,
Hurrying up to the fight,
And the grim, grey Highland engineer,
Driving them into the night.
Then a signal light glowed red,
And a picket came to the track.
‘Enemy holding the line ahead,
‘Three of our mates we have left for dead,
‘Only we two got back.’
And far to the north through the still night air,
They heard the rifles crack.
And the boom of a gun rang out,
Like the sound of a deep appeal,
And the picket stood in doubt
By the side of the driving-wheel.
But the Engineer looked down,
With his hand on the starting-bar,
‘Ride ye back to the town,
‘Ye know what my orders are,
‘Maybe they're wanting the Scotch Brigade
‘Up on those hills afar.
‘I am no soldier at all,
‘Only an engineer,
‘But I could not bear that the folk should say,
‘Over in Scotland — Glasgow way —
‘That Hector Clark stayed here
‘With the Scotch Brigade till the foe were gone,
‘With ever a rail to run her on.
‘Ready behind! Stand clear!
‘Fireman, get you gone
‘Into the armoured train,
‘I will drive her alone;
‘One more trip — and perhaps the last —
‘With a well-raked fire and an open blast —
‘Hark to the rifles again.’
On through the choking dark,
Never a lamp nor a light,
Never an engine spark,
Showing her hurried flight.
Over the lonely plain
Rushed the great armoured train,
Hurrying up to the fight.
Then with her living freight
On to the foe she came,
And the rifles snapped their hate,
And the darkness spouted flame.
Over the roar of the fray
The hungry bullets whined,
As she dashed through the foe that lay
Loading and firing blind,
Till the glare of the furnace burning clear
Showed them the form of the engineer,
Sharply and well defined.
Through! They were safely through!
Hark to the column's cheer!
Surely the driver knew
He was to halt her here;
But he took no heed of the signals red,
And the fireman found, when he climbed ahead,
There on the floor of his engine — dead,
Lay the Scotch Engineer!