Willis Thornton Displays His Pluck
Train No. 6 on the D. & P.W., two hours late at Limon, was rushing and jolting along over its rickety roadbed. The rain fell in torrents, the heavy peals of thunder seemed about to tear the car to pieces, the black and threatening clouds blotted out the landscape, and the passengers could hear nothing but the roar of the thunder and the rattle of the train. The brakeman, shaking the water from his hat as he passed through the aisle, dropped something about it being a “mighty tough day for railroadin’.”
Suddenly there was a creaking, a cracking, and then a series of awful jolts. Window glass broke and flew in every direction. Like a mighty monster that had suddenly been frightened by an unseen foe, the train lurched forward, tipped a little, and slowly came to an uncertain stop. People were hurled from their seats with a great violence as the emergency brake was set. A baby cried out from a seat near the front of the car, and a woman screamed as a satchel from the luggage rack above her head dropped down upon her. Willis Thornton raised his arms above his head just in time to save a heavy leather suitcase from striking his mother full in the face. Through the broken windows was heard the shrill warning notes of the engine’s trouble whistle, but so intense was the storm that the sound seemed rather a part of the raging gale. The brakeman rushed through the car, and as he passed Willis heard him exclaim half-aloud, “The freight!” Then in a loud, shaky voice, not meant to betray excitement, he shouted, “All out; train off the track!”
He need not have spoken, however, for the people who had not already gotten out were close upon him. First in the rush was the mother of the babe that had screamed when the first jolts came. She was wild-eyed and hysterical. A piece of flying glass had struck her on the face, and the warm, trickling blood had frightened her. She rushed up to the nearest man and shouted, “Is my husband safe?” Just then a sickly, dudish little man, with a lighted cigar in his mouth, rushed toward her.
“Ba Jove, my dear, you are ’urt,” he said as she hurried toward him and fainted in his arms.
The word had been passed around that a heavy freight was expected at any moment. The passenger whistle blew in long, shrill tones, while the brakeman hurried up the hill in the direction of the expected freight to give the danger signal. Hardly had he reached the top when there came the faint sound of a whistle. He heard the three blasts. The train had left Eastonville! Could he save a wreck? Lantern in hand, he hurried down the track as fast as he could with the wind and rain beating him back. Suddenly a black form loomed up in the mist ahead. Full blast she came, the black smoke from her stack running ahead as if to coax her on to greater speed. The brakeman waved his red lantern frantically in the air. There was a screeching sound of brake-shoes on the wheels, a long, shrill whistle, and the train sped past him, a misty dull serpent in the storm. He turned and followed as fast as he could.