The Story of a Fire

Thirteen years have passed since, but it is all to me as if it had happened yesterday, -- the clanging of the fire-bells, the hoarse shouts of the firemen, the wild rush and terror of the streets; then the great hush that fell upon the crowd; the sea of upturned faces with the fire glow upon it; and there, against the background of black smoke that poured from roof and attic, the boy clinging to the narrow ledge so far up that it seemed humanly impossible that help could ever come.

But even then it was coming. Up from the street, while the crew of the truck-company were labouring with the heavy extension ladder that at its longest stretch was many feet too short, crept four men upon long slender poles with cross- bars, iron-hooked at the end. Standing in one window, they reached up and thrust the hook through the next one above, then mounted a storey higher. Again the crash of glass, and again the dizzy ascent. Straight up the wall they crept, looking like human flies on the ceiling, and clinging as close, never resting, reaching one recess only to set out for the next; nearer and nearer in the race for life, until but a single span separated the foremost from the boy. And now the iron hook fell at his feet, and the fireman stood upon the step with :the rescued lad in his arms, just as the pentup flame burst lurid from the attic window, reaching with impotent fury for its prey. The next moment the) were safe upon the great ladder waiting to receive them below.

Then such a shout went up ! Men fell on each other's necks, and cried and laughed at once. trangers slapped one another on the back with glistening faces, shook hands, and behaved generally like men gone suddenly mad. Women wept in the street. The driver of a car stalled in the crowd, who had stood through it all speechless, clutching the reins, whipped his horses into a gallop and drove away, yelling like a Comanche, to relieve his feelings. The boy and his rescuer were carried across the street without anyone knowing how. Policemen forgot their dignity and shouted with the rest. Fire, peril, terror, and loss were alike forgotten in the one touch of nature that makes the whole world kin.

Fireman John Binns was made captain of his crew, and the Bennett medal was pinned on his coat on the next parade day.