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One Brave Boy Out of A Thousand - Harper's

 

Robert Bain recently prevented a serious accident in Public School No. 23, at Marion, near Jersey City. There were sounds of panic from the room beneath his class-room, and no one can tell how many children might have been injured but for his cool head and quick thinking. He did what any bright American boy should have done, but what scarcely one boy in a thousand would have done.

The two lower floors of the Marion Public School are occupied by the classes of the Primary Department, and the top floor is occupied by the Grammar Department. The building is heated by steam. One of the radiator valves was broken off the other day. While waiting for a chance to repair the break, the janitor carefully turned off the steam at this radiator, and fitted a tight wooden plug in place of the broken valve. Some very foolish person, either for the sake of a joke or from a habit of meddling with things without asking leave, turned on the steam. The radiator was in one of the class-rooms of the upper primary floor—that is, the middle floor of the building.

The wooden plug was shot out of the radiator with a report like a pistol shot at a quarter past ten o'clock in the morning. Every child in the room rushed screaming toward the sliding-door leading to the stairway. So fierce was the impetus of the crowd that the door was twisted off its tracks and turned half-way around. Miss Agnes Carlen, the teacher, was unable to control the children, for they had swept past her before she really understood what had happened. She stood helpless, half fainting, fearing that the heavy sliding-door would fall and crush her pupils. Meantime great clouds of steam came hissing from the radiators.

With a great clattering of many feet the frightened boys and girls swarmed down the stairway, looking for places of safety. Forty of them ran out into the school-yard, but forty more were kept in-doors by Miss Searle, the principal of the Primary Department, and her aids. At the moment of the explosion and panic the boys and girls of the Grammar Department on the top floor were almost panic-stricken. They heard the loud report beneath them, the hissing of steam, the screams, and the swift trampling feet. Every one was scrambling up from his desk, when Robert Bain jumped out into the aisle, and cried:

"Keep your seats! There's no danger if you stay where you are!"

Those words stopped the rush like magic. Seeing Bain's coolness and courage, all the others were ashamed to show themselves cowards. It was not so much the words he uttered as his manner in saying them that swayed the crowd. His tone not only showed that he was not frightened, but the order rang out sharply and confidently, as if the boy knew he would be obeyed. A few moments later Miss Emma Johnson, the teacher in charge of the class, learned all about the accident on the floor below, and told the children of it. There was, of course, no possible danger of panic now.

What would have happened if young Bain had not spoken at the right moment? Very likely the children would have rushed out, like Miss Carlen's pupils, before they could be checked. A steep stairway lay before them, and probably many of them would have been badly hurt, if not killed, in the wild downward flight. An accident somewhat like this, in the Greenwich Avenue Public School in New York many years ago, had the most serious consequences.

Robert Bain is fourth sergeant in one of the two cadet companies of the Marion Public School. He was very happy, but also full of blushes, when Mr. Du Rie, the principal of the school, complimented him before all his friends. If every boy who reads of his brave act will make up his mind to keep cool in any panic near him, he will have paid the best possible compliment to Robert Bain.