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At last, as the second stanza was ending, the signal came. Instantly the upper doors were opened as wide as their narrowness would allow, and the moving out began. At the same moment the gallery-window was removed, showing two planks laid across to a window of an opposite house, and two men standing ready to assist across this risky-looking bridge.
In perfect order, and with not a moment's needless delay, and yet, oh, how slow it all seemed! the stream of people went on and out, on and out. As the anthem ended and silence fell, Edward's intent and informed ear caught sounds from without, of which he knew the meaning only too well! and, fearful lest others might hear and understand, too, he struck up a popular temperance melody, and again the singing was taken up and continued vigorously as the people moved on and on. The gallery was balf empty, and a space was already cleared round the entrance-door ; but, oh, if they only could go faster!
For without looking up he was conscious that the dim gas did not prevent a fiery glow being visible through the skylights; the gallery window fortunately was overshadowed and had no sky view. Some one sorely would look up! Should he be able to keep order then ?
And at last one did look up; another, another; then all! and a thrill of horror passed through the crowd. The singing suddenly stopped, and in its place rose a cry, yet low and suppressed. Two or three shrieked and tried to force their way forward, but on the crowd generally no blind, selfish panic seized, and those few who were yielding to such impulse, were held back by whoever was nearest to them.
“My townspeople, you are bebaving nobly; I am proud to be one of you,” Edward said. “There might have been danger, there would have been, had you given way to foolish, cowardly alarm. Safety is assured by your calmness. Ladies and children most especially, I thank you.” At that moment a pane of glass from one of the skylights nearest to the door, broken either by the heat or by something falling upon it, fell through with a crash. A sound of fear rose again.
“Poor glass ! Not of your manufacture, Mr. Chairman,” Edward said, turning with a smile and a bow towards the table ; and by the infection of cheerfulness, quietness was restored.
The possibility of explosion, the danger of the roof being ignited by burning matter cast upon it had been present to Weatherill's mind when he urged all possible speed on those directing the dismissal ; now such peril was. forced yet more vividly on his thoughts, and the progress made seemed terribly slow. As the gallery was now emptied of its original occupants, a
stream of people were being assisted up the platform, across, over the gallery front, and so through the window; but with these three outlets, such were the difficulties beyond, that the hall was still filled nearly half way down its entire length.
Another crash and fall of glass, and a wreath of smoke carling down; and through the opening a clearer view of palpitating sky and roll of fiery vapour. Then a splash of water on the roof.
“ Make them go on faster, in front,” called a man's voice from the rear.
" Oh ! let us go on. We shall be burned ; we sball." son't be kept back," cried several voices; and a straggle forward was commencing which the calmer-minded were only partially able to resist.
“Keep your places you at the back," Edward said, in a tone of command. “Listen! I will stand ten yards further back than where you now are ; and stand there antil every soul of you is in safety; ” and he lightly let himself down from the platform, walked slowly along the centre of the room on into the cleared space, and on, until within a few yards of the door. Then he mounted a form, and, folding his arms, stood in an attitude of quiet waiting.
As he did so he was conscious of a strong heat and sense of suffocation ; from without sounds of ominons import came distinctly on his ear, and through the breaking skylights poured hot dust and smoke, and now and then a splash of water. But his great dread was over. Order and confidence were restored. As he stood and stood, ever the space widened between himself and the departing crowd; yet, oh, how slowly ! for not slowly increased the painfulness and the peril of the post he kept. But no one looking back saw the least sign that it was so. No hand was raised to shield his. head from the intensifying heat, no slightest movement of fear or of impatience.
A lond report, a flash of stronger light, then a hideous clattering and rolling of debris on the roof and through the windows. A brick harled down obliquely fell within three feet of where Edward stood; it broke, and a fragment, by rebound, struck his hand, yet he did not move or look ap.
“Weatherill, come on." “Come at once,” called to him two gentlemen, the last left standing on the platform, beside the chairman, who, pale and trembling, yet would not forsake his place.
“No, not until the last row moves," he replied, not changing his attitude, and any remonstrance, it was felt, would be in vain. Bat when up the long perspective of vacated seats, he could see that this last row were moving, he stepped down, walked deliberately ap the room, and mounted the platform.
• Sir,” he said to the chairman, “oar duty is done. Now we can go. May I assist you ? ” and he guided him down the steps and to the door. At the door he looked back, and saw a tongue of flame run along the centre rafter of the roof, just above where he had stood.
“ Thank God! they are all saved,” he said fervently—"and myself, too! I have a wife, Mr. Hunt, and children. Excuse me, I feel dizzy," and other help was given to Mr. Hunt, and a ready arm held oat on which Edward leaned heavily, as they passed through the committee-room into a little yard, and by a window into the kitchen of a house, and up the kitchen stairs, and through a long narrow passage.
“No wonder it took so long; the other ways were no easier,” said his sapporter, but only one low word of answer came,
and only by a slight inclination of the head did he acknowledge the congratulations and cheers with which he was greeted on emerging through the doorway into Narrow Street. A few yards more, and saddenly he let go bis friend's arm, and walked on firmly.
“Oh, Edward ! Edward ! My husband !” cried Clarissa, rushing into his arms, and clinging to him.
“My dear!” was all he replied; but there was an emphasis of intense love and joy in the simple words.
“They said, Edward,” she sobbed, "that you were saving all the other people, and would be burned yourself !”
" It is not go, you see,” he said cheerfully; " but it would have been worth while."
CHAPTER XII.-A TANGLE. The strain, mental and physical, which Edward Weatherill had undergone on the night when Broad Street Hall was borned down and became a memory of the past, resulted in an illness, brief but severe, and so great was the concern felt by his fellow townspeople, so numerous the inquiries made, that it was found necessary during the first three days to issue and post up bulletins morning and evening, which were read by anxious crowds.
For the belief was aniversal that to his coolness, courage, and self-devotion it was mainly owing that the great fire, so destructive to property, had not been also attended by a fearful sacrifice of life. Such of his friends as regarded him with a blind admiration were exultant in this proof given of their hero's virtue, while others remarked that Weatherill, with all his faults of temper, was
" a fine fellow," not of the common order, and would, should his illness prove fatal, be much missed in Kingsport.
As long as Edward required attention Clarissa kept up; but as soon as he was fairly restored her strength gave way, and her ill
ness, although not so severe, was more lingering than his had been. Throughout the first week succeeding the fire the affair of Irene had scarcely once crossed her mind; but when she was herself ill, in the quiet hours she then spent, the thought of her was frequently present, and the remembrance that the promise made respecting the orphan was still a secret from her husband, weighed on her mind heavily. Yet her bodily weakness increased the difficulty she bad felt in conquering her natural irresolation, and in making a determined effort to rid herself of the burden, till at last she resolved to await the return of the letter she had written. That would explain all fully, and the many things which had happened since her husband's retorn might serve to justify, or at least to excuse, the long silence she had kept!
She was still confined to her room, although slowly improving, when one morning, as she was taking breakfast in bed and Edward was seated beside her, letters were brought in.
* By American mail this,” he said, opening a large envelope containing three or four letters. Clarissa's heart beat quickly, and she watched eagerly as the letters came out and Edward commenced opening them.
" My letter is not among them, is it, Edward ? " she asked.
the communication he was reading. “No, dear,” he said, when he had finished, glancing at the date. “Yours could not have been received antil a day or two later than these were posted. It will come, no doubt, by the next mail. But, Kitty dear, it cannot be of much consequence even if it should have missed."
"I do not like my letters going I do not know where. And and-Edward,” she said timidly, determined that she would speak now.
But he was absorbed in a second letter he had opened, and did not notice this attempt to arrest his attention. In two minutes he rose.
" This communication requires immediate answer; I must go at once. Your letter will come all right by next mail, I daresay."
And by the next American mail came yet another forwarded letter, but not the one for the arrival of which Clarissa waited with a mixture of eager desire and nervous apprehension.
“Well, dear, I am fated not to read the news of home some six weeks after date," Edward remarked that afternoon. “ The New York mail is in; business letters were received at the office, and one returned letter for me, but not the one you wrote.”
"I wish, oh! I do wish it had come. I do so dislike not know. ing what has become of my letters, or who may be reading them," Clarissa said, distressfully.
“What does it matter? Not a soul in New York knows you or cares one iota for your affairs, though certainly the miscarriage may have occurred this side the Atlantic. But do not worry, dear. There could have been nothing of importance in the letter, or, of coarse, you would have told it to me long before now."
" Of course,” she said, hastily; and then she would have given anything if those two words had been unsaid" at least, not exactly, I mean.”
“Oh, I know,” he interrupted, impatiently, “very important to you—Bertie's bruises, Bertie's fortitude, et cetera. Hope it may prove interesting to the American public; Transatlantic fame, early. in life!”
Unpleasant as his words had been, and needless as he deemed bis wife's anxiety, yet Edward took the trouble to write to New York making inquiries, and in reply ascertained that, shortly after the batch of letters which had safely reached his hands had been despatched, two letters had arrived by English mail which had been duly forwarded, and should have been received by this time. It was, therefore, evident that the one letter had gore astray during its re-transmission, and probably after its arrival in England.
Himself attaching no importance to the whereabouts of this letter, and thinking that the information gained would prove the reverse of satisfactory to his wife, Mr. Weatherill saw no advantage in telling her that he had made any inquiries. He doubted not that the matter would soon pass from her mind, and become as indifferent to her as, from the first, it had been to him. So the weeks passed on, Clarissa still parposing to tell all the truth, yet still delaying; and week by week she felt the difficulty of making the communication growing greater, and more unconquerable the dread of meeting her husband's surprised look, and his not unnatural inquiry, Why is it you have not told me of this before ?”
It was on a November day, rainy and gloomy in the extreme, that a new idea came to Mrs. Weatherill. She was standing in the back parlour before the window, not for the pleasantness of the view, but because tending some plants resting there on a wire stand. The rain had at last ceased, yet the clouds were leadeu and hung low, and the garden was depressing to look upon, with the soaked ivy still dropping heavily, the tattered remnants of the once lovely vine-foliage, all be-draggled, the drenched chrysanthemums hanging wearily, and the last leaves from the now bare trees, lying wet on the sodden grass.
It was not of this dreariness she was thinking, though her eyes rested apon it, but of the sunny July days spent on the breezy heights of Clifhampton and in the picturesque streets of Westhaven. The train of mental association which had led her