American Book of Golden Deeds - James Baldwin

The Red Skirt

Eldridge Hinkle and his sister Mary were the children of a farmer in New York state. One day in July they took their baskets and went out to pick blackberries.

"Let's go along the railroad, Ellie," said Mary. "There is a big patch of briers just the other side of the cut."

So they walked along the railroad to the "cut" and then worked their way into and around the thicket of briers. It was a great year for blackberries, and their baskets were soon full of ripe, juicy fruit.

"Come, Mary," said Eldridge, "we have gathered enough. Let's go home."

They came out of the thicket and reached the railroad at some distance above the point where they had left it. They had walked but a few steps along the tracks when Eldridge suddenly stopped.

"Oh, Mary, look at that rail!" he cried.

Mary looked. She saw that there was something wrong with the track. One of the rails seemed to have been lifted out of place and it lacked several inches of meeting the one next beyond it.

"What's the matter with it, Ellie?" asked the little girl.

"Why, don't you see? That rail is out of place. Somebody has pried it loose from the ties and lifted it over to this side. Maybe it was careless workmen; maybe it was robbers."


"If a train should come along, it would run off the track and everybody would be killed."

"Oh, dear," sighed Mary; "and it's nearly time for the up-train from Poughkeepsie now. What can we do?"

"I'm sure I don't know," said Eldridge.

He took hold of the loosened rail to try to lift it back to its place; but it was so heavy he could not move it. He looked first one way then the other; but he could not think what to do.

"There it comes now!" cried Mary, and both of them distinctly heard the "toot—toot,toot" of the train at the crossing half a mile away.

"If I only had a red flag, I could stop it," said Eldridge.

"Here, then," said Mary, quickly. "Take my red skirt," and in the twinkling of an eye she had loosened it from her slender waist, stepped out of it, and handed it to her brother.

The train was coming swiftly toward them. Mary quickly dodged behind some bushes and hid herself. Eldridge stood bravely on the track and waved the red skirt. The train, being a light one, was easily checked. It stopped with a thud just as the engine touched the firm end of the misplaced rail.

"God bless you, my boy!" cried the engineer, leaping from his cab.

But Eldridge was already behind the bushes where Mary had concealed herself.

"Quick, Mary, put on your dress," he whispered. "Don't let them see you that way."

When the conductor came up, the children were nowhere to be found. They had taken a roundabout path through the woods pasture and were hurrying homeward.

I have never heard that the owners of that railroad offered a reward to Eldridge and Mary. But the remembrance of the simple but noble act, whereby lives were saved and much suffering and loss prevented, will cheer them as long as they live and bless them far more than any gift of money.

As I write this, I am reminded of a similar incident which occurred in Georgia only a few days ago. Here is the newspaper account of it:—


BIRMINGHAM, Ala., Feb. 14.—Madison Jones, 12 years old, discovered that a portion of a 600-foot trestle had been burned near Sparks, Ga., on the Southern Railway, twenty miles from Birmingham, to-day. He left his wagon in the road, and, taking off his red sweater, flagged an approaching passenger train from Birmingham. The train came to a halt, and its hundred passengers upon discovering the situation made up a purse for the boy.