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THE CHIMNEY CORNER., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 1, Issue 80, 30 March 1880
THE CHIMNEY CORNER.
THE EXPRESS TRAIN. “ The engine gave a long shriek of horror, that made me start as if it were Blakeley’s own voice. “The next instant we rushed out of the station, and dashed through the lowlying farms at a speed -which seemed dangerous to me. “ ‘Putin more coal,’ said Blakeley. “ I shovelled it in. “ ‘ We are going very fast, Blakeley,’ I ventured. “He did not answer. His eye was fixed on the steam gauge ; his lips closely shut. “ ‘ More coal !’ “ 1 threw it in. “The fields and houses began to fly past but half seen. We were nearing Sunbury. Blakeley’s eye went from the gauge to the face of the timepiece and back. He moved like an automaton. There was little more meaning in his face. “‘More!’ without turning his eyes. “ I took up the shovel —hesitated. “ Blakeley ! We’re going very fast. We’re going at the rate of sixty miles an hour. ’ “ ‘ Coal!’ “I was alarmed at the stern, cold rigidity of the man. His pallor was becoming frightful. “I threw in the coal. “ At least we must stop at Sunbury. He had told me that was the next halt. “ The little town approached. As the first house came into view, the engine sent out its shriek of warning ; it grew louder, louder. We dashed up to the station, where a group of passengers waited, and passed it without the halt of an instant. I caught a glimpse of the appalled faces of the waiting crowd. Then we were in the fields again. “The speed now became literally breathless ; the furnace glared red-hot. The heat, the velocity, the terrible nervous strain of the man beside me, seemed to weight the air. I found myself drawing long stertorous breaths, like one drowning. I heaped in the coal at intervals, as he bade me. ” “ I’d have done nothing of the kind !” interrupted ore of the listeners. “ The man was mad.” “ I did it because I was oppressed by an odd sense of duty, which I never had in my ordinary brain-work. I had taken this mechanical task on myself, and felt a pressure upon me to go through with it, at any cost. -“ I know now how it is that dull, ignorant men without a spark of enthusiasm, show much heroism sometimes, as soldiers, engineers, captains of wrecked vessels. “ It is this overpowering sense of routine duty. It is a finer thing than sheer bravery, to my notion. “ However, I began to be of your mind, Wright, that Blackeley. was mad, labouring under some frenzy from drink, though I had never seen him touch liquor. “He did not move hand nor foot, except in the mechanical control of the engine, his eye going from the gauge to the timepiece with a steadiness that was more terrible and threatening than any gleam of insanity would have been. ‘ ‘ Once he glanced back at the long train sweeping after the engine, with a headlong speed that rocked it from side to' side. , “ You would catch glimpses of hundreds of men and women talking, reading, smoking, unconscious that their lives were all iri the hold of one man, whom I now' strongly suspected to be mad. “ I knew by his look that he remembered that their lives were in his hand. He glanced at the clock. “‘Twenty miles,’ he muttered. Throw on the coals, Jones, the fire is going out.’ “ I did it. Yes, I did it. There was something in the face of that man that I could not resist. Then I climbed forward and shook him by the shoulder. - “ ‘ Blakeley,’ I shouted, ‘ You are running this train into the jaws of death. ’ ; “ ‘ I know it,’ quietly. “ ‘ Your wife and child are on it.’ “ ‘ Ha ! ’ “He staggered to his feet. But even then he did not take his eye from the gauge. “ ‘ In a minute “ ‘Make up the fire,’ he said, and pushed in a certain valve. “ •’ I will not.’ “ Make up the fire, Mr. Santley,’ very queitly. “‘ I will not. You may murder yourself and w r ife and boy, but you shall not murder me. ’
“He looked at me. His kindly grey eyes glared like those of a wild beast. But he controlled himself in a moment. “ ‘ I could throw you out of this door, and make short work of it; but look here, do you see the station yonder ? ’ “I saw a thin whip of smoke against the sky about five miles in advance. “ ‘ I was told to reach that station by six o’clock. The express train meeting us is due now. I ought to have laid by for it at Sunbury. I was told to come on. The track is a single one. Unless 1 can make that siding in three minutes, we will meet it yonder in the hollow. ’ “ ‘ Somebody has blundered? ’ “ ‘ Yes I think so.’ “ ‘ And you obeyed ? ’ “He said nothing. I threw on coal. If I had had petroleum I should have thrown it on. But I never was calmer in my life. When death has a man actually by the throat it sobers him. “ Blakeley pushed in the valve still farther. The engine began to give a strange panting sound. Far off to the south I could see the bituminous black smoke of a train. ‘‘ I leaked at Blakeley enquiringly. He nodded. It was the express. “ I stooped to the fire. “ ‘ No more,’ he said. “ I looked across the clear, wintry sky at the grey smoke of the peaceful little village, and beyond, that black line coming closer, closer, across the shy. Then I turned to the watch. “In one minute more! “ Gentlemen, I confess ; I sat down and buried my face in my hands. I don’t think I tried to pray. I had a confused thought of a mass of mangled, dying men and wotnen, mothers and their babies—of little Charley, with his curls and pretty suit , “There was a terifiic shriek from the engine, against which I leaned. Another in my face. A hot tempest swept past me. “ I looked up. We were on the siding, and the express had gone by. The hindmost carriage touched in passing. “ Thank Heaven ! You’ve done it, Blakeley ! Blakeley ! ’ I cried. “But he did not speak. He sat there immovable, and cold as a stone. I went to the carriage and brought Jane and the boy to him, and when he opened his eyes and took the little woman’s hands in his I came away. “An engineer named Fred., who was at the station, ran the train into Harridge. Blakeley was terribly shaken. But we went down and had our little feast after all. Charley, at least, enjoyed it.” “ What was the explanation ? A blunder of the director, or the telegraph operator ? ” “ I don’t know. Blakeley made light of it afterwards and kept the secret. These railway men must have a firm brotherhood amongst them. “All I know is that Blakeley’s salary was raised soon after, and he received that Christmas a very ‘ handsome testimonial for services rendered,’ from the company.”
THE CHIMNEY CORNER., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 1, Issue 80, 30 March 1880
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