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Where's nature's breast with anguish riven,
Upheaved in mad appeal to heaven,
Rock-rent and scarred, her wounds were healed,
And by internal fires annealed.
The marks of that convulsion strange,
Are ragged peak and mountain range.


And where the Alleghanies rise,
In arrogant grandeur to the skies,
In their embrace a city lay,
Cradled and wrapped in calm alway.
Rocked by confidence, kissed by peace,
Waxing strong with the years' increase,
Unforeboding, unvexed by fears,
Ran the round of her thrifty years.
Above the town, in the lap of the hills,
Fed by a thousand sliding rills,
A lake of daily gathering strength,
A baby Titan, lay at length;
By mountain arms encircled round,
His brows with granite grimly bound.
In breadth of area, depth of tide,
No such place in the country wide;
No such reservoir brims and fills,
As Conemaugh lake among the hills.
A mile in width by three miles long,
In depth a hundred good feet strong,
A monster dam restrained it there,
Upreared a hundred feet in air;
While dark and stern as old Cheops,
Eternal towered the mountain tops.
They spoke no word, they gave no signs;
Their faces wore a look benign,
But in its ponderous granite sheath
They silent held their blade of death.


Below, serene, the valley slept;
No tremor through her dreaming crept;
No shepherd ever in all his fold
More tranquil lamb could guard and hold,
Than Conemaugh vale which in their guild
Those Appalachian monarchs held.
So there, encircled safe about,
Smiling, dell-dimpled in and out,
The lovely vale of beauty lay,
Till broke the dawn of a darker day;
When reeling clouds were drunk with rain,
And staggering scowled above the plain;
While over the lake a cloud-wrack hung
Muttering threats with a sullen tongue.


Johnstown streets with rain were dull;
The Conemaugh river was running full.
It rushed with a furious footstep by,
Where furnaces glowed with a Cyclops' eye,
From the iron works of Cambria town;
Whose mighty hammers, up and down,
Swung with stern relentless weight,
As rises and falls the hand of fate.


Darker and darker lowered the sky;
Swifter rushed the Conemaugh by.
Still the unheeding town moved on
Its even pace till day was done.


O weary weaver, leave your loom;
A shuttle flieth whose name is Doom!
O fond, fond father, closer pressed,
Strain your little one to your breast!
Worn mother, spare your child that blow,
It will profit him nothing now.
Sooth his sobbing all away,
And forgive him while you may;
All reproaches will be done,
When shall rise tomorrow's sun.
Husbands, working with heart and will,
Haste from bench and forge and wheel;
Never yet had you such need,
Wife and babes to reach with speed.


Close the ledger, accounts are done,
Loss and gain are the same as one.
O lover, turn to your love again!
Parting now is needless pain.
In your strong arms' sheltering,
Let her lips in kisses cling;
They will soon be blanched with woe--
Better death should find you so.
While you vow in tender wise,
Looking in her lifted eyes,
Only death shall part your twain,
He is charging down the plain!


--Still unheeding went the town
Till the crash of doom came down.


Up at the South Fork by the dam,
Where rainbows dipped their oriflamme,
When mists were wedded to the sun,
And their own bridal veil had spun,
Conemaugh lake rose full and fast;
The waste gates roared like a furnace blast.


"Down with the levers! Down! Hard down!"
Shouted the keeper with a frown.
The giant gates to the full flung wide,
Through them roared the swirling tide.


Scanning again the face of the lake,
The keeper felt his strong heart quake.
With foaming tongues, in fierce unrest,
The waters were lapping the very crest
Of the straining dam; through the farther end
Broke ominous tricklings. "Heaven now send
His helpt to the town! They may call me 'croak,'
But there's that ahead that will prove no joke!"
Quoth he, as forth in the rain he strode,
And eagerly scanned the downward road.
Silent in saddle, a stern-browed man
Sat a big bay horse; his eyes o'er-ran
That massive front with an anxious look;
Alarm from the other he flame-like took.
"Quick--to the town!" The gateman cried,
"Tell them to fly to the mountain side!
The dam is straining, she soon must go,
Quick! With the word to the town below.
Say she is strained to her utmost power--
Say she cannot hold out an hour!"


Instantly, as that cry was heard,
Wheeled the horseman without a word.
Cruelly deep in the maddened flank
Of his fleet-foot bay his spurs he sank;
Those hoofs beneath the unwonted goad,
Struck wild sparks from the flinty road.
Again the gray old keeper turned
To where the waste gates boiled and churned.
Heaver down the mountain sides,
And ever blacker, the storm-wrack slides;
Pausing a moment, as if in awe
At the darkening face of Conemaugh.


A flash! The jagged lightning darts
Athwart the cloud-wrack. See! It parts--
Dissolves--the gates of heaven are wide,
And floods enrage the wrathful tide!
A grinding strain, a gritting noise,
The curling waters backward poise--
A leap! The very mountains quail,
And death goes crashing down the vale!


"God pity them all! God pity the town!"
Groaned the keeper, while the tears ran down
Unchecked, on his bronzed and rain-wet face,
As he watched the wave in its awful race.


Stung with anguish, wild with fright,
The big bay horse with fearful might
Was covering miles of townward road,
Neck and neck with the bellowing flood.
"Run! Run for your lives to the hills!"
Shouted the rider. "Fly to the hills!"
As with foaming horse and gleaming eye,
He rode like a maddened Mercury by.
"To the hills! For your very lives!" That shout
Like a blast of judgment thundered out;
As through the streets, that awful day,
Tore the hoofs of the flying bay.


And as the warning wildly rang,
Men and women and children sprang
In startled wonder, from porch and door.
"O-ho! A maniac nothing more,"
They cried, and laughing in careless wise,
They followed the figure with mocking eyes,
As along the highway, and out of sight,
Horse and rider pursued their flight.
And often that ringing cry outshrills,
"To the hills! For your lives! Fly, fly to the hills!"


The town was dazed: nor any knew
Foaming steed or rider, who
With tongue of fire, and eyes of flame,
Vanished as swiftly as he came.


Hark! What means that gathering o'er
Of a mighty wind--that rising roar--
That deep portentous and rumbling sound
Of an earthquake, threatening under ground
With straining ears, and bated breath,
They list that fearful whisper of death.
Mothers with eyes dilated stand,
Instinctive seeking with either hand,
Their frightened children's clinging palms
And so repress their own alarms.
With stern set lips men murmur, "God!"
"The flood! the flood!"


With front upreared, and spray beset
Like a hideous coronet,
Over the shuddering valley's breast
That Python fiend with towering crest,
And power and purpose in dire accord,
Trampled and beat with his vengeful horde.
Adown the vale, from side to side,
Charged and thundered the awful tide.
Black with fury, and swift as flame,
On the murderous monster came,
Roaring, hurling, hissing, crashing,
Grinding, twisting, foaming, lashing,
Mouthing, raging, seething, groaning--
Oh! the shrieking and the moaning,
When upon the astounded town,
Smote the curse of Conemaugh down!
Oh! the wild appeals to Heaven!
--Where is God, when wrath is given
All his fierce and fiendish way?
Oh! the questions that some day
Must be answered these our hearts,
When earth's darkness all departs,
And we lift our eyes to see
Lighted all the mystery!


Fleeing the hungry jaws of death,
With scarlet nostrils and straining breath,
Plunged the gallant and faithful steed,
Bating no moment his desperate speed.
So raced the rider, and rushed the wave,
One mad to destroy--one wild to save.


Vain, vain, the warning was all in vain!
That city laughed on the dooméd plain,
Till the blinding bolt of wrath was hurled,
And smote her, shrieking, out of the world.


The tireless rider turned and saw,
With sickening soul, the scene of awe.
A flashing moment of gaze intense,
Of wild despair--of reeling sense,
Then rather a less fate than a worse,
Made last appeal to his failing horse;
Whose foam-flecked sides and gory flank
On the river's brink upreared and shrank.
"Quick! My good steed, one stretch more!
Leap!" And the race for life was o'er.


O morn, how sad a sight you saw
In the desolate face of Conemaugh.
When broke the dawning gray and pale
No life was left in the drownèd vale.
Only the turbulent river ran,
Unchecked by the will or the works of man.
Stars veiled their tender eyes, and fled
The gaze of the stark and staring dead.
--Only God could dare to know
All that dole and depth of woe.


Ah! sweet Mercy, now draw near,
Certes, your own field is here.
Bring your angels, by what name
Called so'er, it is the same.
Pity weareth any guise,
And her province world-wide lies.
Bring the soothing voice and hand,
Death and life to understand;
Dole of death and life despair,
Dumb, appalling, everywhere.
Gentle women, meek-faced ones,
Minister with kneeling nuns;
Benedictine, Franciscan,
Woe is woe, mankind is man;
Sins confessed, or unconfessed,
God he knoweth all the rest.
Nameless dead and nameless woe,
All hereafter He will know,
In that day when He shall roll
The heavens together like a scroll,
What recks it all, when all is done,
Thousands a day, or one by one?