“Did Teacher Say That I Could?”


A true story
Keep the commandments! In this there is safety (Children’s Songbook, page 146).

Eighteen-year-old Annie Smith wrapped her scarf tighter around her neck and looked back across the railroad bridge she had just crossed. It was a beautiful winter day in 1892, a perfect day for their school outing. She and her students had already enjoyed dinner at her house and a sleigh ride. Now, as they carefully made their way across the bridge, Annie paused to watch them. These children from her one-room schoolhouse in Porterville, Utah, were a variety of ages and sizes, with some students even older than she was. It warmed her heart to see the bigger ones helping the smaller ones along the tracks.

As Annie watched, she felt a small hand slip into hers. She looked down into the face of her youngest student, little Hughie. His brown eyes were large with excitement.

“Do we really get to go through the tunnel?” His voice was almost a whisper.

Annie nodded. “I have special permission from the railroad. They assured me that no trains were scheduled for today, so it will be perfectly safe.” She looked at the dark opening in the mountainside ahead. “It’s a long, dark tunnel, Hughie. There are no lights inside, but on the other side is a beautiful view of the rockslide and the valley.”

Hughie gave a little sigh and smiled. Annie’s words had put his fears to rest. Now he tugged anxiously on her arm. “Come on, Teacher. Let’s go see the valley.”

Soon they were all inside the tunnel. It took a while for their eyes to adjust to the darkness after the bright daylight. “Take it slowly,” Annie’s voice echoed in the tunnel. “Keep on the tracks and hold hands so that you don’t trip.”

At first the children were laughing and joking, but they soon grew silent as they concentrated on their footing. The only sound was the grating of their footsteps on gravel and their quiet voices as they guided each other over the railroad ties.

Annie knew they were about halfway through the darkness when she saw a small circle of light ahead marking the other end of the tunnel. “We’re almost there,” she told her students. “See the light ahead?”

As they paused to look, they heard a rumbling noise coming closer and closer, and then a sound that made their blood run chill: a train whistle.

“Teacher?” It was Hughie’s voice. “Did you hear? What—”

Annie hushed him quickly. She stood frozen on the tracks, not daring to believe her ears. But then the whistle sounded again, nearer this time. There was a train rounding the point of the mountain and coming across the bridge. It was coming very fast!

Annie prayed silently for help. Please, Heavenly Father, what should I do? Tell me what to do.

“Teacher?” an older child asked. “Shall we run?”

The tracks were starting to vibrate under their feet.

“No!” The words seemed to spring from her lips of their own accord. “Lie down at once as close to the wall as possible. Don’t move or try to get up until I say that you can. Now, go!”

This last word she had to scream because the sound of the approaching train was loud and unmistakable now. She pulled the nearest child with her to the wall of the tunnel and held him tight. As the train roared into the tunnel, many of the children screamed in terror. Sparks flew from the smokestack in a shower of light, and the smoke almost suffocated them. It seemed to last forever. Annie trembled and tightened her grip on the child, afraid she might lose him in the hot, rushing wind that swept through the tunnel with the train.

When the silence finally returned, she helped the child up and hurried toward the light. She went as swiftly as she could, tripping on stones and bumping into her students, who were also in a panic, crawling to get out of the dark.

Once outside the tunnel, the students helped brush the dirt from each other’s clothing and began to breathe more easily. Then one of the older children asked, “Where’s Hughie?”

Taking some older boys with her, Annie returned to the dark tunnel, afraid of what she might find. The boys ran ahead calling Hughie’s name. Then, “He’s here!” a boy called, relief in his voice. “Lying facedown by the wall.”

“It’s OK, Hughie.” Annie heard another boy comforting him. “The train is gone. You can get up now.”

Hughie turned his face toward them and said in a brave but frightened voice, “Did Teacher say that I could?”

Annie hurried over to him and put her arms around him. “Oh, Hughie,” she said, tears in her eyes. “Thank you for being so obedient. You did the right thing, and you are safe. You can get up now. Teacher says so.”

Hughie got to his feet, and Annie took his hand and led him toward the light. As they walked, Annie silently thanked Heavenly Father for watching over this little boy who had such faith in his teacher. She hoped that she would always live worthy of that trust.

Annie also knew that her trust in Heavenly Father had not been in vain. Her prayer had been answered when she knew what they needed to do to be safe. They had been spared because they had immediately obeyed those promptings. There is safety in obedience. That was a lesson that neither Hughie nor his teacher would ever forget.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Brad Teare