Chapter 96946978

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Chapter NumberXIX
Chapter TitleA Bash Fire.
Chapter Url
Full Date1900-10-11
Page Number3
Word Count2787
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleSouthern Argus (Port Elliot, SA : 1866 - 1954)
Trove TitleLights and Shadows
article text LIGHTS and SHADOWS. ByKtra Keith, Authoress of'Painsand Penalties,';' DnrrDEDXiVES,' etc. All rights reserved 6y authoress. Continued from our last issue. CHAPTER XIX.— 'A Bosh Fire.' 'Columns of shining smoke uprose, and flashes ? . of flame were Thrust through their folds and -withdrawn Iifce the quivering .hands of a martyr.' Longfellow. ' ' The fire fiend was abroad, triumphantly as serting itself over the entire district in which Norham fruit settlement had its location. Great clouds of black smoke bang dense and heavy, blotting out the sun, and bringing the darkness of night hours before ils time. Every householder was in the qui irivt, many bad already lost their homes, who could tell which one was to be the next ? So far the little town of Norham had es caped, and refugees from less favoured spots were constantly arriving to seek and find shelter as long as the flames should leave it in the power of the owners to place it at the ser vice of their less fortunate brethren. Day after day the fire roared and surged in the great stringy-bark forests, until hills and valleys presented one scene of awful desola tion, where had once been majestic trees, tow ering aloft in all the pride of giant trunk and waving branch, were nothing now but gaunt black, skeletons, stripped alike of life and beauty. None but those who bave personally wit nessed a real Australian bush fire can picture its horrors. The fire spreads by leaps and bounds, the flames literally jamp from branch to branch, from tree top to- tree top; the whole atmosphere is ablaze, the sky com pletely hidden by fire and smoke, the' latter apparently charged with some kind of gas, for as it travels before the wind it breaks out into great sheets of flame, darting hither and thither, igniting by its very touch everything with which it comes in contact ; green trees burn as readily as dry ; it is not even neces sary for the fire to touch them, the very air being so charged that nothing more seems re quired to give them a start If then forest trees, green and strong, so .quickly succumb, what a poor chance for farm holdings and Standing crops, grass. paddocks, gardens, and orchards, with the 6uy ioiuieite«-Ji_.too, often consisting of wattle and dab, with a thatched roof; the fire simply- sweeps along licking them up as it passes, and patches of verdure with promise of food for man and beast be come a blackened desolation. On and on presses the fire fiend, while the air is fall of sparks and burning pieces of timber, with a breath as of a blast from a fiery furnace, the smoke ever thicker and denser, while the labours of patient years of endurance are fast being; reduced to cinders, and nothing is left of pretly homesteads but their remembrance, and a charred heap, ashes for furniture, and twisted iron work for comfort, and nothing but stony despair and a thankfulness for evev life itself in the heart of the owner. Is it any wonder that a feeling of perfect hopelessness settles down upon those who listen to the roar and crackle of the oncoming- fire, hearing the thunder of the falling trees long before they see the dancing walls of flame bearing down upon them. Many have described it as awful as the so-called Day of Judgment, for, with the fire, comes also darkness aod often blindness from the suffocating volumes of pungent smoke. It was by sheer good fortune that our friends of the ftuit settlement escaped with little or no loss ; time and time again during that awful period of suspense their vineyards and orchards were threatened with speedy destruc tion, only to be saved at last by a sudden change in the wind, which sent the flames roaring in a fresh direction. The heat blighted and scorched the fruit upon the trees, but little they heeded this in the thankfulness -for homes and gardens saved, knowing it to be as futile to fight against such a fire with a breeze behind it, as to turn back the tide with a broom, or stop the falling tain with an open umbrella ! But though the settlement escaped, the little township was doomed. With the first news of danger Baiph Emerson and John Gilbert rode off in hot haste eager to lend all the help they could. As as they rode one name was uppermost in the minds of both men ; it had come to this, these men were rivals, at prese/it unconsciously to each other, yet to both the danger and distress was focusseel in tha pef/son of one small woman. When they reached the village they found the fire there before them, and then was proved the courage and grit for which Austin-^ lian settlers are noted ; it was literally- a hand to hand fight with the fire. Rearing; ladders against the sides of the house one dejtatchment mounted the roof, while the remair.i-iler aippea sacks and mops in water from the tsnUSr'hajad-' ing up these implements to tbe. fire-ng^ters. But the fire was not to be balked ?ofits prey, for actually leaping across odc fraii suructure with a corrugated iron roof upon, which it could get no hold, it fasleried' if s relentless grip upon a little cluster ot 'buildings which formed the nucleus of the township, and among the number was the little home of Mabel Forester, in fact -.t was her store which was the first to be attacked, and again the courageous band of fire-fighters rushed to the rescue, renewing the tactics which had been successful in savijjg one house j bat tUey had before them, an Herculean task, the conflict was too one-saded an , affair, but yei they maintained the mnequal fight for hours, even after every chfinofr of success had de parted. Ralph,s clear ringing tones continually, urged tnem on, women working with pluck of men, battling with the fire demon which was destroying homes and. hopes- alike. Bravely,-, despairingly Mabel fought for her little free hold, even at the triune of the total collapse of the small house she 'was upon its roof desper ately attempt ing to beat oat the flames, which extinguished in one spot burnt with re newed vigour somewhere else. Then it was that the ladder by -which she had mounted fell from the side, and Ma&el was alone upon the burning roof, but not for an instant did she hesitate, but leapt boldly to the ground escap ing miraculously Whilst a loud ?? hurrah ' went up faun the spectators. But Ralph's face was-. white and stem as he hastened to her side. ' Why did you do it.?: How dared you mount that ladder ?' he- said almost angrily, 'Neither house no stock was worth the risk!' I felt despe*ate jast at the moment,' she answered, 'remembermy all was at stake.' ' What if it tvere — what good to save that and lose your life ?'' 'But,' she made answer with a hoarse choke in her voice, **how am I to provide for this valuable Hfe if all my. means ate gone ?' ' You shall never want, be sure of that ;you are safe, that is- all that matters nows.' There was more irr the expression of his keen blue eyes than in his words, and Mabel took courage and. -was .comforted for the loss of her home and tilings which by reason of old as sociation she held even dearer. 'If only I could Have saved little Eric's chair, she whispered half to herself, while with wide, dry eyes she watched the tongues of flame leaping and dancing from different parts of the dwelling. ' If it's possibleto reach it it shall he done,' Ralph, assured her with a steadfast look, at the same time going: to the other end of the burn ing building only, however, to meet John Gilbert staggering towards him. with the coveted article in his scorched and blistertd hands. He had ventured rashly into the burning upon- a sudden cry of some bystander, 'that he saw someone moving iuside.' Finding it a false alarm John had taken ad vantage of being there to grab the first un burnt article he came across, -which as fete would have it proved to be the little lad's, invalid chair ; snatching it np he rushed out though the door just as the burning roof fell in with a crash. His clothes were alight, his eyes staged, and face and hands terribly blistered, indeed his whole plight was so piti able—he was quite unable to distinguish Mabel, or lay bis trophy at her fest, and she, who had not wept at the destruction of her home, stood now with the tears raining .down her cheeks. It was not the sight of the little ' household ' god ' that moved her so, but the . self-denying nsk that had been run to redeem it.;, many tears she had shed over die child's empty chair in the long lonely «venings of the winter that was past, but never bad they flowed more . copiously than now when the little relic of the crippled child, scorched and charged, was brought to her by hands equally . scarred and blistered. It was only. lor a ,. moment, however, that she gave~way to senri ment, the next she was the self-contained practical nurss, tending the burnt man - with ...'? skillful fingers, applying cool wet bandages . and ministering to him with, the best means that the time of excitement and destruction admitted. But Mabel's home was not the only one in danger of destruction, and the fierce hand to hand fight soon swept on and past her with exertions as heroic, as futile, for when the sun rose, red as blood, upon the morning of the next day, it discovered nothing but blackened ruins to mark the sight where the pretty vH lage had stood ; twisted sheets of corrugated iron that had once been roofs, here and there an American stove burnt and useless, while now and again there a chimney stood up straight and desolate like a tombstone in a churchyard to forcibly illustrate the homely proverb which declares ' fire to be a good ser vant, but an equally bad master.' CHAPTER XX.—' On the Altar of Friend ship.' ' To say extremity was the trier of spirits - That common chances common men should bear ; That when the sea was calm all boats alike Show'd mastership in floating.' Shakespeare. John . Gilbert was more severely burned than he, in the excitement of the moment, imagined / the injury to his eyes was the worst For weeks he had' to sit blind and helpless with; bandages across them to save the sight. It gave him leisure for meditation and thought,, such as he had not allowed himself for years_ It was during this period of inaction, too, that a project formulated in his brain, rash and' wild it would have appeared to most, and only that from outward energy. His mind was turned to introspection — it is doubtful, if even he would have had courage to unfold it. to Ralph's astonished ears. It was a morth from the time of the fire, already the work of reconstruction had com menced with all who had means.. As lor Mabel she had found a temporary home with, kind-hearted Mrs. Boberts, not yet bad she deieroii«ic4'}s-lo,ber,jruture course, but in* dined towards leaching 'as means of obtaining a livelihood, but, were the truth known, Ralph had other ambitions for her. ; fTnus it was that John Gilbert's scheme conned over, in darkness and solitude came as a more than disagreeable sha:k to him. The evening was close and sultry, it was at the end of a long and trying summer, thunder was in the'air, long needed and looked for showers were close at hand ; the atmosphere: was too warm to be tolerated within . doors. John Gilbert was stretched in a hammock under the y/ide verandah of the Crow's Nest, his eyes still securely bandaged ; : Ralph . sat. on the handle of the wheelbarrow, .from which* he was sorting seed potatoes for early plant ing, a couple of buckets stood . beside him,. somewhat alter the fashion ot the sheep and goats of the Scripture parable, the good.; potatoes were placed in the right one, the bad* were relegated to the left. He was whistling - a merry tune in company with his thoughts.. It was then that John Gilbert spoke as - he swung himself free of the hammock and? leaned his broad shoulders, against the red gum post of the verandah, spoke words which )iit for his Wind condition. h- would hardly have found courage to. speak,, it-was easier so. One often finds confidences coming far more readily with the dark or twilight, it simplifies^ conditions, hard, . bare- facts seem robbed o{ some of their hardness and barrenness wheu-s the light is not there -to reveal all their naked ness. So Jqha spoke as he leaned against the . verandah post feeing down the valley. ' Miss Forester is still with the Roberts' ?'?* ' YeSj she's- still there.' ' r . : . * No tatk_of her leaving jfcere yet awhile, Ii suppose 2'-- ' Not tfaatjl have heard of.' '?Idoa'-twant her to go from there jrtst'. John. looked up quickly, but, of course, - nothing was to be learnt from the bandaged' eyes... The last remark surprised him-and' he made no reply to it. John spoke again— 'We have bsen first-rate friends, .consider ing all things, I take it, E'alph ?' ?'Just so, 'squire.' (Whatever was the -man;auning at?- The sheep and goats began to get mixed). '? You are far more fluent, and a far betters hand at expressing yourself than I— aruch- more of. a lady's man, in fact.' ' Am I ? That's news to me at mg-; rate,*5' said Ralph with a dry - chockfe». « joa- are.r complimentary this evening, gujMor.-!': But John went on not heeding; toe inter ruption of the other — ««? My history has been a peculiar one' fear ing scars on my life, teaching* reserve;-, so* much so that becoming self-centred I findife difficult when I would to do myself jsetire - with others. . I am, in fact, feeling, this defi- - dency very painfully and sadly just now, tfet . is why I am going to ask you to act as &?? second self, I want to make use of your tact, your fluent speech and ready wit; it is a delicate task I am -putting in yoar hands, but during. all :these years of our daily companion ship, I think I have taken your measure pretty | accurately, and guaged your,-disposittoa. correctly,' he stopped abruptly. After -«f- ? short pause he resumed in a fresh strain. ' You remember the day we had the little lad Eric Forester with us here ?!' ' Yes, I remember.' ' Ever since that day I: have watched the young girl, his sister, with growing admirar tion and interest. (Trie good and bad, were changing places now with alarming indiscre tion under Ralohs hands).- ^Ehe watchful,, motherly care for the dying child, the tendet solicitude for his every need,, her selfsacrific ing love under all circumstances together with her heroic efforts to provide him- with-, every. comfort and luxury, and, then, her patient un- ' complaining submission when her faithful love and care were no longer needed ? all these things have touched me deeply. Lat terly, too, all through the long, trviog winter, lonely as she must have been, she has always been at the post of duty, not a breath, - of scandal attaching itself to. her fair name, erer too the first to help in ereiy case of sickness or distress ^ and last of all loofc at the brave fight she made for home and hearth, never leaving the conflict until the fire liter ally thrust her out It was for her, as I thought, Ealph, that I sustained these bums, someone cried to me that she had entered the burning building, but though brave she is not foolhardy. (Then it was- for her sake John had risked his life ;.light was breakinffijuzpon B&lph's mind now, faster than he cared for. His heart seemed to stand still as he listened and his hands no longer divided the sheep, from, the goats). . fa be continued « ear nt*U -v