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By Elizabeth Stuart Phelps et al.
“Donny! Donny! Why, my sonny boy!”
The crowd parts for a thin, white—faced man,–the passenger who had been heard to say upon the way, “My little son is coming to meet me. I hope these shocks do not extend to the Summerville station.”
There is one other little wild call, “Papae! Papae!”–a tremendous effort to be manly, and not cry before strangers–and the boy melts into his father’s arms, and wonders whose tears they are which rain upon his cuddling face.
But who saved the train? Where is he? How did he do it? Who took that noble risk? Where is the hero? Here?
“You, my lad?”
Then Donny raised his awestruck face from his father’s quick—beating heart, and standing among the strangers and the neighbors, told the story,–all that he knew; all that he could tell.
“I only remembered the torpedoes, sir. The old man did the rest.”
“What old man? Where is he?”
“Why, the old colored man! Haven’t you seen him? The old colored man who ran ahead and put them on the track. He saved the train.”
The engineer took his lantern and silently went back and swung the spot of fire in the black, cold air. It had not rained, as we have said, for many weeks, but his feet splashed into deep pools and running rivulets, and sank into crevices and gashes in the trembling earth.
A few of the passengers followed the engineer. The locality where the train stood was examined thoroughly. Again, the same result,–no human creature, dead or living, was to be seen. The pauper dog sat just where they had left him. The engineer went up and patted him. At the touch he fell over–dead of fright.
They returned to report what they had found. As they did so, they called and shouted into the darkness, seeking for the brave life that had saved their own. Only the roar of the earthquake answered them.
“But he must be there!” cried the lad, “of course he’s there. He’s a very shabby old Negro. He is all patches and his knees and hair stick out. His hat looked like a coon—skin hat. His hair is gray hair. He carries a little bundle on his shoulder. He’s a very strong old Negro. He smashed the station in like–like blocks. He was a slave, and he was so strong he cost two thousand dollars. He’s going to see his daughter in Branchville. She’s dying. He’s so poor he had to walk from Charleston all the way. He saved the train. You just look and you’ll find him.”
A mighty shock drowned the boy’s words at this moment, and seemed to jeer at them. The people huddled together, and looked into each others’ appalled faces, and no man said a word. Instinctively they ranged themselves into a mass, as if united humanity could defy aroused and raging Nature,–then broke, and ran for their homes, and wives and babes, and whatever fate had left to them.
BUT where is the hero? Who saved the train? Summerville, to this day, goes seeking him, and her search is a vain thing. Will he not break his long, mysterious silence? Will he not come forth to take the blessing of the grateful people? An obscure old Negro, poor, hungry, and homeless, will he not accept the proffered reward? Where is the hero?
Like Moses of old, hath God buried him? The earth knows, which yawned beside the track–and closed again–when the crushing wheels struck the life from the unknown savior of the excursion train. The earth knows; but she keeps her secret. Her awful lips are dumb.
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