SAVED FROM THE BURNING HOUSE.
By this time the flames, which had been confined to half a dozen windows, were breaking out through the roof of the house. Ben Bowman and I followed Hop Tossford to the roof of the veranda, which surrounded the building, though, as we had waited to hear more of the situation, we were considerably behind him. We all attempted the ascent by different posts. That which Ben took slipped out, and tumbled over; and the fire was so hot where I was that I had some difficulty in getting a foothold on the roof.
I had hardly accomplished my purpose when I heard a scream. The next instant I saw Hop leap from the window near the corner with a lady in his arms. She was still screaming; but it appeared that she had been alarmed only at finding herself in the arms of a stranger. She had not been aroused from her sleep till Hop lifted her from the bed.
The deck-hand set her on her feet as soon as he reached the roof of the veranda. She looked about her, and she could not help seeing and hearing the devouring flames. She comprehended the situation, and ceased to scream. By this time a ladder was raised to the roof of the veranda, and as soon as Hop saw the top of it, he assisted the lady to descend, which she accomplished in safety. I saw her in the arms of her father, and both of them were weeping.
As soon as I saw that the young lady was safe, I led the way into the rooms on the side of the house which was not yet on fire, though the flames were now breaking into them, and proceeded to throw out the baggage and other articles we found. Hop took the chamber from which he had just saved the occupant, and removed a trunk and all the drawers of a bureau. These articles were carried down the ladder by the guests and others. We worked until we were driven from the veranda by the flames.
When I reached the ground, I found the lady who had been saved out on the pier with her father, with their trunks which had been removed there by the latter. She had transferred from the drawers of the bureau brought out by Hop, all her clothing. She had quite recovered from her fright. She was not more than sixteen, and with the exception of Edith Shepard, I never saw a prettier girl.
"We are under very great obligations to you, gentlemen," said the father of the fair young lady. "I am sure my daughter would have perished without the assistance of one of your number."
"This is the young man that brought your daughter out of the house," I replied, pointing to Hop.
"I thank you with all my heart and soul for what you have done," said the stranger, taking Hop's hand. "It seems that my daughter was asleep when you entered her chamber, and she would surely have been burned to death without your bold effort."
"And I thank you with all my heart and soul!" exclaimed the young lady, blushing as she took the hand of her gallant deliverer. "I was fast asleep when you lifted me from the bed, and I only screamed because I thought some man was carrying me off. At first, I thought it was a dream."
"I was very clumsy about it; and I beg your pardon for frightening you so. I might have spoken before I took you from the bed. But I have had no experience in such business," pleaded Hop. "I shall know better how to do it next time."
"You did it exceedingly well," said the lady, with emphasis.
"It matters little how it was done, so it was done," said the father.
"That is just what I think, papa. I can't express anything at all that I feel towards this gentleman for the great service he has done me. I wish I could say just what is in my heart!" exclaimed the fair young lady.
"I am very glad you can not," added Hop, who seemed to be embarrassed by the gratitude of the young lady and her father.
"We shall never forget the service of this young gentleman. Everybody else was paralyzed, and unable to do anything," continued the stranger. "I had been to walk; and on my return I saw the smoke long before I reached the house. I did not think of my daughter being in her room at first, but it occurred to me that she has been in the habit of taking a nap after dinner lately. As I did not see her among the other people of the house, I was paralyzed by the thought that she might be asleep."
"I owe my life to your coming; and I never shall forget this service, any more than my father," added the young lady, as she bestowed a grateful look upon Hop.
"We shall see more of you, gentlemen; and I hope I shall be able to prove to you that I properly value the service you have rendered. But, Margie, we are turned out of house and home by the fire."
"But we have saved all our luggage, thanks to these gentlemen! We are not so badly off as some of the people in the house, who must have lost everything."
"There are some others here who will have occasion to be thankful for your arrival; for I don't think anything would have been saved if you had not taken the lead. But, Margie, we haven't even a carriage to convey us to a hotel."
"I think I can manage that for you, sir," I interposed. "We can take you and your trunks into our boat, and convey you to the other side of the town."
"Thanks; you are very kind. But we are not willing to take up any more of your time," protested the stranger. "Besides, I don't know where to go, unless we take the next train for Jacksonville; for yesterday, and when we arrived a week ago, the hotels and boarding-houses were all full to overflowing. I only got in where I was by the landlord and his daughter giving us their rooms, while they went to a cottage of a friend. Perhaps we had better leave the place at once, for I am sure we can't find lodgings. I looked the place all over for accommodations."
"But we are too late to leave the place to-night, papa," replied Miss Margie, and both she and her father seemed to be very anxious about the situation.
"We shall find some kind of accommodations at the hotels, though it be nothing better than the servants' rooms. They won't let us sleep in the streets," added the father, more cheerfully.
"I think I can take care of you for a few days," I interposed; "at any rate, until you find better quarters."
"Pardon me, sir; but you look like sailors; and you all went up the posts under the veranda as though you were sailors," added the gentleman.
"We are sailors, and we belong to a steam-yacht lying at anchor on the other side of the city," I replied. "We will take you and your daughter around to her, with your baggage; and then you can make such arrangements for the future as you desire."
"We thank you; you are very kind, and we accept your offer," said the gentleman. "The place is so crowded with visitors that it is very difficult to get anything done for you; and we might have to stay here a long time before we could get a carriage to convey us and our luggage to another place. Besides, this fire will turn forty or fifty people out of their house, and there will be an increased demand for rooms."
"I can take care of you for a few days, at any rate," I replied. "Put those trunks into the fore sheets of the boat, Ben."
The trunks and the other baggage were stowed in the forward part of the boat, and I assisted the fair stranger and her father to the cushioned seats in the stern sheets. When we were all in, the boat was pretty well loaded down. Ben shoved her well off into the stream, and I took the tiller-lines, seated between my two passengers.
"Up oars! Let fall! Give way!" I continued, giving the usual orders. Ben and Hop bent to their oars, while all of us took a parting view of the scene of the fire. The house was burned to the ground; and it seemed to me that nearly the whole population of the city was gathered in the vicinity. A fire was not a common thing, and people went to see it as a curiosity.
The month of March is one of the most trying in the whole year in the North, and vast numbers of people had come down to Florida to escape its rigors. All the watering-places in the State were crowded with visitors, and in St. Augustine, the most popular resort, there was not a vacant room to be had. While my new passengers were gazing at the remains of the fire and the crowd that surrounded them, I began to think how I should dispose of my guests on board of the Sylvania. I was not quite willing to intrude upon Owen's party by putting them in the after cabin; but I could easily make two rooms of the captain's large apartment, while Washburn and I found quarters in the forward cabin.
The vigorous strokes of Ben and Hop soon brought us to the steamer. The passengers were still seated under the awning of the quarter-deck; and Owen had finished his cigar and joined Miss Edith, whose shadow he was when his cigar did not need attention. They all rose from their seats when they saw that I had company, for of course their curiosity was excited. We pulled around the stern, and came up to the port gangway, where the steps were rigged out.
Hop Tossford handed Miss Margie up the steps to the deck, while I assisted the gentleman, whose name I did not yet know, though I had read "P. T." on the ends of the trunks. I conducted the new passengers to the captain's room. I wanted Washburn, in order to have him remove his clothes and other articles into the forward cabin. When I looked for him, he was with the party on the quarter-deck. I went to him. In a few words I explained the situation to him. He was very willing to change his quarters, and declared that he would sleep on the fore-yard, if necessary.
"I beg your pardon, Captain Alick, but what had you in the boat?" asked Owen, as Washburn went forward.
"I had a gentleman and his daughter, with their luggage, as we say in England," I replied.
"I beg your pardon again; but who are the gentleman and his daughter?"
"I haven't the least idea. They were in a house over the other side of the city, and some way up, which has just been burned to the ground. Very likely that young lady would have been burned to death if Hop had not brought her out of her room, where she was asleep. Every hotel and boarding-house in the place is full, and they had no place to go: so I brought them on board till they can find a hotel."
"Very good of you; but what were you just saying to Robsy?" demanded Owen.
"I told him to move his traps out of our room; and I shall do the same with mine," I replied.
"You will do nothing of the sort," protested my cousin.
"What's the reason I won't?"
"Because the lady shall have my state room; and her father and I will just take berths in the cabin."
Before I could say anything more, Owen rushed down into the cabin, and I followed him.