Now this was what Macpherson told While waiting in the stand; A reckless rider, over-bold, The only man with hands to hold The rushing Rio Grande. He said, â€œThis day I bid good-bye To bit and bridle rein, To ditches deep and fences high, For I have dreamed a dream, and I Shall never ride again.
â€œI dreamt last night I rode this race That I today must ride, And cantering down to take my place I saw full many an old friendâ€™s face Come stealing to my side.
â€œDead men on horses long since dead, They clustered on the track; The champions of the days long fled, They moved around with noiseless treadâ€” Bay, chestnut, brown, and black.
â€œAnd one man on a big grey steed Rode up and waved his hand; Said he, â€˜We help a friend in need, And we have come to give a lead To you and Rio Grande.
â€œâ€˜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 lip And rouse him up again.
â€œâ€˜But when you reach the big stone wall Put down your bridle-hand And let him sail-he cannot fall, But donâ€™t you interfere at all; You trust old Rio Grande.â€™
â€œWe started, and in front we showed, The big horse running free: Right fearlessly and game he strode, And by my side those dead men rode Whom no one else could see.
â€œAs silently as flies a bird, They rode on either hand; At every fence I plainly heard The phantom leader give the word, â€˜Make room for Rio Grande!â€™
â€œI spurred him on to get the lead, n I chanced full many a fall; But swifter still each phantom steed Kept with me, and at racing speed We reached the big stone wall.
â€œAnd there the phantoms on each side Drew in and blocked his leap; â€˜Make room! make room!â€™ I loudly cried, But right in front they seemed to rideâ€” I cursed them in my sleep.
â€œHe never flinched, he faced it game, He struck it with his chest, And every stone burst out in flameâ€” And Rio Grande and I became Phantoms among the rest.
â€œAnd then I woke, and for a space All nerveless did I seem; For I have ridden many a race But never one at such a pace As in that fearful dream.
â€œAnd I am sure as man can be That out upon the track Those phantoms that men cannot see Are waiting now to ride with me; And I shall not come back.
â€œFor I must ride the dead menâ€™s race, And follow their command; â€™Twere worse than death, the foul disgrace If I should fear to take my place Today on Rio Grande.â€
He mounted, and a jest he threw, With never sign of gloom; But all who heard the story knew That Jack Macpherson, brave and true, Was going to his doom.
They started, and the big black steed Came flashing past the stand; All single-handed in the lead He strode along at racing speed, The mighty Rio Grande.
But on his ribs the whalebone stungâ€” A madness, sure, it seemedâ€” And soon it rose on every tongue That Jack Macpherson rode among The creatures he had dreamed.
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 flight And cleared them in his stride.
But when they reached the big stone wall, Down went the bridle-hand, And loud we heard Macpherson call â€œMake room, or half the field will fall! Make room for Rio Grande!â€
â€œHeâ€™s down! heâ€™s down!â€ And horse and man Lay quiet side by side! No need the pallid face to scan, We knew with Rio Grande he ran The race the dead men ride.