Bill Brown's Test

: Good Stories For Great Holidays


All firemen have courage, but it cannot be known until the test how many

have this particular kind,--Bill Brown's kind.

What happened was this: Engine 29, pumping and pounding her prettiest,

stood at the northwest corner of Greenwich and Warren streets, so close

to the blazing drug-house that Driver Marks thought it wasn't safe there

for the three horses, and led them aw
y. That was fortunate, but it left

Brown alone, right against the cheek of the fire, watching his boiler,

stoking in coal, keeping his steam-gauge at 75. As the fire gained,

chunks of red-hot sandstone began to smash down on the engine. Brown ran

his pressure up to 80, and watched the door anxiously where the boys had

gone in.

Then the explosion came, and a blue flame, wide as a house, curled its

tongues halfway across the street, enwrapping engine and man, setting

fire to the elevated railway station overhead, or such wreck of it as

the shock had left.

Bill Brown stood by his engine, with a wall of fire before him and a

sheet of fire above him. He heard quick footsteps on the pavements, and

voices, that grew fainter and fainter, crying, "Run for your lives!"

He heard the hose-wagon horses somewhere back in the smoke go plunging

away, mad with fright and their burns. He was alone with the fire, and

the skin was hanging in shreds on his hands, face, and neck. Only a

fireman knows how one blast of flame can shrivel up a man, and the pain

over the bared surfaces was,--well, there is no pain worse than that of

fire scorching in upon the quick flesh seared by fire.

Here, I think, was a crisis to make a very brave man quail. Bill Brown

knew perfectly well why every one was running; there was going to be

another explosion in a couple of minutes, maybe sooner, out of this hell

in front of him. And the order had come for every man to save himself,

and every man had done it except the lads inside. And the question was,

Should he run or should he stay and die? It was tolerably certain that

he would die if he stayed. On the other hand, the boys of old 29 were

in there. Devanny and McArthur, and Gillon and Merron, his friends, his

chums. He'd seen them drag the hose in through that door,--there it was

now, a long, throbbing snake of it,--and they hadn't come out. Perhaps

they were dead. Yes, but perhaps they weren't. If they were alive, they

needed water now more than they ever needed anything before. And they

couldn't get water if he quit his engine.

Bill Brown pondered this a long time, perhaps four seconds; then he fell

to stoking in coal, and he screwed her up another notch, and he eased

her running parts with the oiler. Explosion or not, pain or not, alone

or not, he was going to stay and make that engine hum. He had done the

greatest thing a man can do,--had offered his life for his friends.

It is pleasant to know that this sacrifice was averted. A quarter of a

minute or so before the second and terrible explosion, Devanny and his

men came staggering from the building. Then it was that Merron fell, and

McArthur checked his fight to save him. Then it was, but not until

then, that Bill Brown left Engine 29 to her fate (she was crushed by the

falling walls), and ran for his life with his comrades. He had waited

for them, he had stood the great test.