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which all eyes, with an irresistible impulse, were directed. A cry of joy broke from the assembled multitude, when they beheld a lofty ladder slowly reared against the tottering wall. But it reached only to the windows of the third floor, and there was the height of another beyond it.
Suspense grew fearful now. Some of the boldest among them, having the hint thus given, began to devise plans of assistance, and a few grew desperate at the idea of leaving a fellow-creature, young and newly married, to perish in a manner so truly terrible. The ladder was lowered, and another of smaller dimensions lashed securely to its top. Again it was reared, and this time with greater caution. But a shout of horror burst from the multitude. The female had disappeared.
She had fallen, in fact, into the flames raging within the building, and where humanity shrinks from following her, in her awful fate. When all further aid was thus rendered unavailing, and nothing remained to be done, the voices of the spectators grew imperious, and many were heard to wonder why the ladder had not been reared before, some even muttering that a stir ought to be made about it, and that it should be by no means hushed up; others there were, who loudly announced their firm desire to have hazarded their lives, as if they were worthless, in the poor lady's behalf-only the pressure of the crowd withheld them. But one voice near the centre of the throng was loud above the rest.
“ I say,” it exclaimed, “ and I'll hold to it, that this young man was the first that offered help.”
“ Who was? who ? ” cried another voice, equally loud, but in accents that made the hearers tremble. “Let me see him-I'm her father-let me see him.”
The multitude gave way, with suspended breath, leaving room for the speaker to pass. Eager faces peered inquisitively into his, as he pushed his way along, but they instantly drew back in fear, so terrible was the agony depicted on his countenance. The crowd was so dense that it was no easy thing, with all good will on their part, to elbow through then,- for the passage that had been mamentarily opened, closed again from the effects of the distant pressure. But the speaker persisted in his efforts, and raised his voice more loudly as the delay increased.
" Why-look you all ?” he cried, “ she was my child-my child-a bride this morning, and now swallowed by the flames. There was not one amongst you, but that youth, would stir a step to save her, though every hair on her head should have brought gold to her preserver.' · Just at this juncture, and as a seasonable interruption to the old man's wailings, the roof of the adjoining building fell in, and at the same time the engines, having at length been fully supplied with water, began to play vigorously. Another incident for a time diverted the attention of the crowd. When the dust and smoke had in some measure cleared off, a little dog was discovered on the window-sill of the third story. The terrified animal howled piteously, for its feet were scorched by the heat of the bricks and the burning wood.
“Ten pounds,” cried a voice from amongst the throng, “ Ten pounds to him who will save that dog."
There was a movement in the crowd. Numbers were eager to obtain the proffered reward. What compassion in the former instance had failed to accomplish, cupidity was now in a fair way to achieve.
“I'll double it rather than lose him,” exclaimed the owner of the animal, “ Twenty pounds—twenty pounds if my dog is saved.”
“D've hear that?” shouted the old man whose daughter had fallen a victim to the flames. “D'ye hear that ?” he cried, furiously," Twenty pounds for a dog! Where's my child ?”
. This is he you wanted,” observed a bystander, pushing forward the youth whose tender of assistance had before attracted attention. The crowd fell back in a circle round the old man and the young stranger. Conferring amongst themselves respecting the age of the latter, the beholders were unanimous in opinion that he was scarcely turned eighteen, which indeed was the fact. The wretched father seized his hand with a frenzied gesture, and exclaimed
“ God bless you, lad—God bless you! I don't distinguish you clearly, for my sight is dim. I can't weep-I wish I could. I'm an old man, as you see. She was my only child, and her husband is dead too-crushed in attempting to save her.”
In the meantime the dog had been rescued by some adventurous individual, though not without contention on the part of others. The owner, whose whole concern seemed engrossed by the animal, edged his way from amongst the multitude, and took up a position by his wretched neighbour, whose child, less fortunate than the
brute, had perished. The youth continued to support the bereaved parent. Consolation was useless, and he did not attempt it.
“ Take him hence,” said one of the bystanders, addressing the young man, and pointing to his wretched companion. “Take him out o' sight of this and out o' hearing of it."
« 'Tis good advice at all events,” replied the youth, and he prevailed upon the old man to suffer himself to be led away.
"Oh, my child-my child—you are taking me from my child !" In accents such as these, he poured forth his anguish as they walked along. Several of the crowd, impelled by curiosity, had detached themselves from the main throng and followed them. To escape these, the youth entered the first inn they reached, and led his companion to a quiet room, from which the multitude of spectators was, of course, excluded. There he seated him, well nigh sinking, in a chair, and bathed his temples and his hands with
Suddenly, after the lapse, perhaps, of half an hour, during which interval the sufferer had betrayed no consciousness of the loss he had sustained, or of the events that had taken place, he sprang from his seat and darted towards the door. It was locked to prevent intrusion, and offered resistance to his efforts to throw it open.
"Why do you keep me here?” he cried wildly. " They are murdering my child for the sake of the gold I have given her. Det me go. The sight of her father will daunt them."
The youth endeavoured to lead him back. The landlord's daughter, who had accompanied them into the apartment, clung to his arm.
“Speak to my father to prepare him a bed," she said, her eyes filling with tears. “He must sleep-sleep is the only thing for him.”
"That's her voice," cried the wretched man, looking helplessly at the speaker. “She would speak so always always kind always gentle.”
They led him to a chair. He no longer resisted them. “ Yes," he murmured. “She would speak so always."
And this he continued to repeat in a whisper barely audible, till his assistants thought he had dropped asleep. The girl, drawing near to dispose his head, which had fallen on his breast, more comfortably, gazed steadily in his face. Her features changed suddenly, and she signed to the youth to approach. Immediately afterwards they opened the door, and spread the tidings of the old man's death.
Amidst the confusion that ensued, the room being on the instant well nigh filled with awe-stricken people,—the youth withdrew, and regained the street. He was instantly beset by the crowd, and overwhelmed with queries as to what had taken place. And when the sad event was made known to them, they were not, as those within the room, where the dead man sat in his chair like sleeping life, hushed by awe and terror. Comments were loudly and coarsely made. Rude men broke into noisy speech, and, to the youth's astonishment, declared that the deceased ought to have died years before, and so have spared the world much wrong and misery.
Unprompted by curiosity, a question rose to his lips, but he did not utter it, for he wished to escape all further contact with the rough people that surrounded him. Seeing the fire still raging among the houses on the terrace, he rushed forward, and in a few minutes was mingling in the commotion that prevailed on the spot of the conflagration. But here also for the news had preceded him,-he heard the same comment delivered with much emphasis. If he shifted his position--and that, in the working to and fro of the crowd, was unavoidable—the same words rang in his ears, reaching him from every side. And at last, the youth, without being able to obtain a plausible reason for this opinion, so seemingly universal, caught himself subscribing to the uncharitable sentiment, and echoing the remark of the crowd, that the deceased should have died years before.
The wherefore remained a mystery. When he found himself alone in his chamber he sat down, and strove to rid his recollection of all discordant images connected with the scene he had so recently witnessed, that he might reflect on that alone. The deceased ought to have died years ago! A vindictive feeling, roused by some real or suspected injury, might have given rise to such a comment, if it had been uttered by two or three persons only ; but published thus openly by a multitude—what was he to think of it? What harm had the dead man in his life-time wrought ? What deep wrong had he committed ? He had asked that question of the speakers wbo were loudest in the proclamation of the verdict, but he had obtained no answer-nothing but a repetition of the words. He had sought for any possible solution to the enigma, but could gather none. He remembered that no show of dislike was manifested towards the deceased while he went among the crowd, wailing for his daughter ; but whether that forbearance was due to ignorance of his name and person at that time, or arose from commingled feelings of awe and involuntary respectawe at the terrible fate of the young bride, and respect for the father's agony of soul-agony so great, that it might well stifle all censorious speech, however deserved, he could not determine.
He visited the still smoking ruins at an early hour the next morning. Though all danger was over, two or three of the smaller engines yet kept their station—a corresponding number of firemen lounging guard upon them. A fresh concourse of spectators had assembled, to whom the erection of a barricade of planks around the site of the destroyed property, under the superintendence of the police, was a source of vast interest. The ravages of the fire had been very great. Besides the floor-cloth manufactory, and saltpetre store, five houses on the terrace had been wholly or partially destroyed. Here also, while mingling with the crowd, and surveying the scene of destruction, the cry of the preceding night fell dismally, yet, in spite of himself, convincingly, upon his earsHe ought to have died years before !
He was resolved to fathom the mystery, and for that purpose accosted a man having all the appearance of a gentleman in his bearing, though shabbily dressed-one who had seen better days, as the phrase goes. What did it mean, he asked ? The sudden excitement betrayed by this individual was singular to witness. He did not reply, however, but moved impatiently away.
A romance certainly, but an uneasy one. The youth, forcing through the crowd, made the best of his way to the inn where he had left the dead man on the previous night. The landlord's daughter was in the bar. She no sooner saw him than she uttered an exclamation of joy.
“I was afraid that we should not see you again, sir,” she said ; “ you are so much wanted up stairs.”
• I-wanted? Who wants me?"
" The old gentleman, that we thought was dead last night ; but you took your leave in such a hurry that you did not learn it was but a swoon !”
The youth gave a bound forward. The delight that he experienced—the old man being a stranger to him-was unaccountable. Surprise was quite a secondary feeling.