A QUICK-WITTED MOUNTAIN GIRL
 ON a hillside overlooking a deep ravine in Colorado stood the
little brown house which Nora O'Neill called her home. There
was very little level ground near it. The front yard sloped
downward, five hundred feet or more, to a broad ledge of
solid rock at the foot of which was a railroad track. On the
farther side of the track the land again dipped steeply down
to the bottom of the ravine, where ran a roaring mountain
stream. At the back of the house the hill rose mountain high
and was covered with a dense growth of stunted trees and
One evening as Nora was helping her mother with the kitchen
work they heard a rumbling, rattling sound on the railroad track
"What is that, mother?" asked Nora, running to the door to listen.
"Oh, it's nothing but the handcar going back to town with the men,"
answered her mother, whose hearing was by no means the
 "Well, I never heard it make that kind of noise," said Nora. "It
sounded more like a coal wagon unloading coal, and not at all
like the handcar. I have a notion to go down and see what it
"Nonsense, Nora," said her mother. "You're only wanting to shirk
your work. Look at the clock. It's just about the time the men
always go back. They'll barely get to the station and lift the
car off the track before the Rio Grande express goes by."
Nora said no more. She finished her work and then went to the
door to listen for the coming express. Soon she heard a faint
whistle echoing down the valley through the dusky twilight.
The train was skirting the farther side of the great bend and, by
way of the winding road, was still several miles distant. Nora
ran down to the side of the track to wait for its coming. She
had done this every evening through the summer and it was a
source of much enjoyment to her. She liked to see the great
coaches glide past, each one brilliant with light and full of
"I wonder where all those people come from and where they are
going," she often said to herself.
 She was scarcely halfway down to the track when she was
surprised to see something like a dark shadow lying across it.
What could it be?
She hastened her footsteps. Soon it was all plain to her. A big
bowlder with several smaller rocks had become
loosened from its place above and had slid down upon the rails.
No doubt it had fallen soon after the handcar had passed down,
and it was this which she and her mother had heard.
What should she do? The express would be there within less
than five minutes. There was no time for thought.
She pushed against the bowlder [boulder] with all her strength.
She might as well have pushed against the mountain itself,
and this she knew in a moment.
Then she turned and ran back toward the house faster than you or
I could run up so steep a hill.
"Quick, mother, quick!" she cried. "The oil can! the oil can!"
As she ran she picked up a stick of dry pine that was lying by the
path. The can of kerosene was in its usual place. She seized it and
 dashed the oil over one end of the stick. She had seen her father
do this once when he was in haste for a light. It was his way of
making a torch.
"Are you crazy, child?" cried her mother.
But Nora did not hear. She quickly lighted the stick in the fire of
the kitchen stove. Then, holding her blazing torch high above her
head, she ran down the hill by another path in the direction of the
The roar of the great express could now be plainly heard. Nora
reached the track not a moment too soon.
"What in the world does that mean?" said the engineer as, peering
through the dusk, he saw a girl with a flaming torch standing on
the road. He did not know that, just around the next short curve,
destruction was lurking. He blew the whistle; the girl did not stir.
He threw on the brakes as hard as they would go. The train
slowed up suddenly, but not too soon.
Nora leaped aside as the pitiless engine rolled past her. It
rolled on around the curve. It came to a standstill just as its
pilot struck the great bowlder.
 "What is the matter?" cried the passengers, rushing out in great
"Matter enough," said the engineer. "Do you see that bowlder
[boulder] on the tracks? If this girl had not signaled us just in
time, the whole train would have gone down into the gully
there. We all owe our lives to her."
The passengers crowded around Nora. The women kissed
her. The men thanked her a dozen times over. She told her
story in answer to their questions. A purse full of silver and
greenbacks was offered to her.
"I didn't do it for pay," she said. "And besides, it wasn't much
to do. It wasn't worth so much money."
"You have saved perhaps a dozen lives," said the conductor,
"and certainly that is a good deal to do. We shall never be
able to pay you all that we owe you."
Help soon arrived. The bowlder was removed and
the track was repaired. Then the train moved away while more
than one of the passengers called down heaven's blessing
upon the child whose golden deed had saved their lives
Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics