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Rio Grande's Last Race & Other Verses

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Rio Grande's Last Race Now this was what Macpherson toldWhile waiting in the stand;A reckless rider, over-bold,The only man with hands to holdThe rushing Rio Grande.He said, 'This day I bid good-byeTo bit and bridle rein,To ditches deep and fences high,For I have dreamed a dream, and IShall never ride again.'I dreamt last night I rode this raceThat I to-day must ride,And cant'ring down to take my placeI saw full many an old friend's faceCome stealing to my side.'Dead men on horses long since dead,They clustered on the track;The champions of the days long fled,They moved around with noiseless tread —Bay, chestnut, brown, and black.'And one man on a big grey steedRode up and waved his hand;Said he, "We help a friend in need,And we have come to give a leadTo you and Rio Grande.'"For you must give the field the slip,So never draw the rein,But keep him moving with the whip,And if he falter — set your lipAnd rouse him up again.'"But when you reach the big stone wall,Put down your bridle handAnd let him sail — he cannot fall —But don't you interfere at all;You trust old Rio Grande."'We started, and in front we showed,The big horse running free:Right fearlessly and game he strode,And by my side those dead men rodeWhom no one else could see.'As silently as flies a bird,They rode on either hand;At every fence I plainly heardThe phantom leader give the word,"Make room for Rio Grande!"'I spurred him on to get the lead,I chanced full many a fall;But swifter still each phantom steedKept with me, and at racing speedWe reached the big stone wall.'And there the phantoms on each sideDrew in and blocked his leap;"Make room! make room!" I loudly cried,But right in front they seemed to ride —I cursed them in my sleep.'He never flinched, he faced it game,He struck it with his chest,And every stone burst out in flame,And Rio Grande and I becameAs phantoms with the rest.'And then I woke, and for a spaceAll nerveless did I seem;For I have ridden many a race,But never one at such a paceAs in that fearful dream.'And I am sure as man can beThat out upon the track,Those phantoms that men cannot seeAre waiting now to ride with me,And I shall not come back.'For I must ride the dead men's race,And follow their command;'Twere worse than death, the foul disgraceIf I should fear to take my placeTo-day on Rio Grande.'He mounted, and a jest he threw,With never sign of gloom;But all who heard the story knewThat Jack Macpherson, brave and true,Was going to his doom.They started, and the big black steedCame flashing past the stand;All single-handed in the leadHe strode along at racing speed,The mighty Rio Grande.But on his ribs the whalebone stung,A madness it did seem!And soon it rose on every tongueThat Jack Macpherson rode amongThe creatures of his dream.He looked to left and looked to right,As though men rode beside;And Rio Grande, with foam-flecks white,Raced at his jumps in headlong flightAnd cleared them in his stride....