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THE CHIMNEY CORNER., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 1, Issue 122, 6 July 1880
THE CHIMNEY CORNER.
THE ENGINEER’S STORY. ■ On a sunny October day, according to instructions ' I had received from the officers of the railroad company, I handed the engineer of Engine No. 32 a letter from Ilfs chief, requesting that I accompany him upon the engine, as a- better post for the observations along the rails I had been commanded to make. After reading it, he touched his hat, . nJI c | respectfully bade me welcome, arranging as comfortable a scat fox' me as lie con Id”provide for tb.e long ride which • ' day before us. 1 i was a novel experience for me, and a buddy exciting one, as vve seemed to cleave the air, the train thundering along behind us ; and I could hut look iubnii imdy at the man who stood so until achingly at his post and in whose hands, •r.v in reality all our lives. lie was a tall, handsome fellow, whose lcs.cn "rev eyes never stirred from his p.-at, eii her to right or left, but whose cheery laugh often rang out on the clear morning air as we chatted together. By noon we bad become friends, at which hour we stopped at a small station, where there was a delay of twenty minutes, to take on coal or water. As we slowed up, I noticed standing on the platform, a young woman, holding a neatly-covered basket, and clinging to her skirts a little chid, some three years of age. “Papa ! papa i ” the little one screamed, in delight; and, glancing at my companion’s face I needed not to question if he were the one thus called. Another ' moment, we had stopped, and wife and child were pressed to his breast, while a look of wonderful tenderness crept into *• his eyes. “My wife and child, sir,” he said, * turning to me. “ I have only one day a ■week off with them ; but Mary always meets me here with my dinner and now and then I get an hour or two with her.” “It is a hard life,” I said. “You must miss them sorely.” f“No matter where I am, sir,” he replied, “ they are with me. I hear the little one’s voice above the loudest wind, “ and I see my Mary’s smile in the darkest night, although I stand alone on my engine, with my -life in my hand. It’s a hard life, maybe, sir, but I ought not to complain. It gave me happiness, since it •won me my wife.” When we were on our way again, and I had seen the tears fill the wife’s bright blue eyes as she fondly kissed her husband good-by, while I had slipped into the little one’s chubby hand a golden gift • from the strange gentleman riding with £ papa, I asked my companion what it meant. . “I- don’t know as you’d care to hear, sir, and there’s not many as I’d care to tell. You read so many hook stories of the people who make up your world, that you have not much time to look down to mine. There are people who think such as we have no time to love, but you have - seen Mary and my boy, and—you’ll toll . me if I tire you 1 I was a careless fellow enough six years ago, not neglecting my work when at my post, but fond of a good time with my : companions when off duty, always ready to accept a friendly glass, and sometimes with my head not quite steady when I mounted my engine, though the air always set me right before we had gone far on our way. One evening, at a dance, I met Mary Morton. She was the prettiest girl in the room, sir, and a little bit of a coquet in those days, though no more than was natural, with all the young fellows trying their best to turn her head. I was not long behind the rest. I couldn’t get her out of my 'houghts, but it did not take me a great w I); i o to find out the truth of the mutter. I bad lost my ’ heart. The only question was, would she turn me tuivilt. or give me hors ror that she bad stolen I it was many a week before igot up my courage enough to determine to ask her to be my wife. Every moment off duty, 1 would spend with her, until I grew to fancy she used to watch and wait for my coming. But I was not without my jealous hours, for all that. How did I know how she spent the time, I was so constantly away from her 1 ' At iast heard of another dance, to be given on the night I would be off duty. I could not see Mary until then, but 1 felt sure she would know I would come for her, and would go with no one else. But when the evening arrived, 1 found, when I called for her, that she had already gone. Perhaps, sir, in your rank of life, you know, too, what it is to be jealous, and how many a man destroys his . future happiness by it. My first words to Mary were those of ' reproach, while her smile at my entrance died away, and her face grew white. “ I did not know your were coming, John. How could I?” “You might have waited, then !” I exclaimed. “And stayed at home, perhaps, to have had you laugh at me, with the rest. Be- - sides, lam quite satisfied with my escort, and I believe I am the only person to be consulted in the matter.” , “As you will,” I said, turning on my heel, muttering the word, ‘ Coquet !’ between my teeth, and unheeding the little, pleading glance she sent from time to time across the room to where I stood. She was not without pride, and if she Buffered from my coldness she only smiled the brighter on others, until I grew mad with jealous anger. That night began a series of dissipations, with which 1 ern- ’ ployed every leisure moment. I drank more deeply than I had ever done in my life—not, as before, for so-called good-will and good-fellowship, but to drown me- „■ mory. I did not go near Mary for near a month. To me it seemed a year. Once, after a night’s carousal, I passed her on the street ; but not until long after did I learn of the bitter tears my haggard face and dissipated air had cost her. Finally, my better nature triumphed, and I went to her, repentant, to ask her forgiveness, and perhaps her love. On a long, lonely night ride I made up my mind to do this, though like a thousand mocking devils, memories of the moments I had spent in the last few weeks crowded around me, as though taunting me in contrast to her purity ; but with God’s help, I would make myself worthy, I said aloud, and X thought the hours would never drag along, until I could find myself once more in her presence. She came in to see me, held out her hand with a sweet smile of welcome, as though we had only parted yesterday, and yet—and yet there was a change. Ah, I learned it, all to soon ! In those few moments I told her the story of life for the past few months, of what it had been before I knew her—of what it should be if she would give me the assurance and promise of hex* love. I hen ''l paused. For a moment silence fell between us ; then. she A bright ‘ flush was in her cheeks, her lips trembled, her lashes veiled her eyes, but her lips faltered not. . , . “ John,” she said, “lam only a girl, it btiTO, but the man I marry must be a im.'a Perhaps I might have loved you” —hero a little tremble crept into her tone ‘i 1 have almost ceased to respect you Were you my husband I would fear for you, and fear and love cannot go hand in hand. , , . “ Stop,” I said. Do you want tc drive me back to the life I had hoped to have left behind me \ Oh, -Mary, do nqt so cruel. ' Be my wife, and let me prove the . Stuff that is in me.”
“No John,” she answered, softly; but the blue eyes she now raised to .me wove swimming in tears. “If you have seen the wrong, surely yon will not return to it. Rather, if you indeed love me. prove yourself a man. It dues not take a battle-field to make a hero.” “ Provo yourself a man,” These wore the words that haunted me in the weeks that followed, saving me from the ruin I would else have drifted into, but torturing me with their hopelessness. What hope had I in my daily routine of duty of changing Mary’s mind 1 Yet, spite of her words, something in her eye had told me that she loved me, and that something gave me strength to live, and to withstand the daily temptations of my life. So six months passed, when one morning I mounted my engine to take the express train to 0 . We were going along at the rate of thirty miles an hour, when, suddenly right ahead of us, it seemed, a tiny speck of red fluttered on the track. 1 strained my eyes—l blew ray whistle. What could it bo 1 Merciful heavens ! Another instant it was made clear to me. It was a little golden-haired child, playing in the very face of the huge monster of death my hand was guiding to its destruction. I whistled “ Down brakes,” but, as I did so, knew it was of no avail. Before the order could be obeyed, it would be rendered useless. Then something within me said : “ Your life is worthless. Give it for that innocent life if it must be, but save it at the peril of your own. Had you been a better man, you might have had a little child like that praying for you at home.” It takes a long time, sir, to tell all this, hut in reality not one second had passed. At such times men think quickly. One bitter sigh rose to my breast. I would never have a chance of proving to Mary my manhood by some great deed in the future, or long years in penance. But it did not make my duty any less clear. Bill, the fireman, was behind me. “ Take the engine !” I screamed to him, “Good-by, Mary,” I whispered low to myself. The next minute, hardly conscious of what I was doing, I was down upon the cow-catcher of the train, clinging by one hand, the other outstretched to grasp the child, now paralysed with terror. Then we were upon it. It was killed, crushed, mangled. No ! I looked down. It was ’ safe, held within one strong arm, its iv.d dress fluttering in the wind, its golden head closely pressed against my shoulder. How was it done ! I cannot tell you, sir, God, they say, does not let the sparrow fall. Then the train checked its speed, stopped ; the passengers came crowding ; about us, men took me by the hand, women cried over me, and I—stood dazed, bewildered, in their midst, the child tight held within my arms. It was such a 1 simple thing ; yet, sir, they gave me, this, [ (throwing back his coat and showing a gold medal.) ' I wear it in thanksgiving for the little 1 life I saved. They raised for me a purse 1 of gold to a large amount, but the gift which ! seemed to cleanse my heart was the poor 1 mother’s grateful tears. The papers rang, next day, with the ! story. You see, sir, it seamed more to r them, looking at it, than to mo who had no time to stop and think ; but somer thing more was in store for me. I was \ off dutjr, the next night, alone in my - lonely, desolate room, thinking it all • over, when some one whispered my name. : In another moment some one was sobbing in my arms, some one had r come to me of her own sweet will—some ! one, who, from that moment, has 1 been the sunshine of my home and heart. '• That is all, sir. It is a simple story. I ■ trust I have not tired you. But I, as I grasped the noble fellow’s - hand, whose speech had so unconsciously ; betrayed the grand true heart within, ' could only echo his Mary’s words ; r “ It does not take a battle-field to make a ! hero.”
THE CHIMNEY CORNER., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 1, Issue 122, 6 July 1880
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