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Chapter 34 Beautiful Joe by Marshall Saunders

I had several times run to a fire with the boys, and knew that there was always great noise and excitement. There was a light in the house, so I knew that somebody was getting up. I don't think indeed I know, for they were good boys that they ever wanted anybody to lose property, but they did enjoy seeing a blaze, and one of their greatest delights, when there hadn't been a fire for some time, was to build a bonfire in the garden.

Jim and I ran around to the front of the house and waited. In a few minutes, some one came rattling at the front door, and I was sure it was Jack. But it was Mr. Morris, and without a word to us, he set off almost running toward the town. We followed after him, and as we hurried along other men ran out from the houses along the streets, and either joined him; or dashed ahead. They seemed to have dressed in a hurry, and were thrusting their arms in their coats, and buttoning themselves up as they went. Some of them had hats and some of them had none, and they all had their faces toward the great red light that got brighter and brighter ahead of us. “Where's the fire?” they shouted to each other. “Don't know afraid it' s the hotel, or the town hall. It's such a blaze. Hope not. How's the water supply now? Bad time for a fire.”

It was the hotel. We saw that as soon as we got on to the main street. There were people all about, and a great noise and confusion, and smoke and blackness; and up above, bright tongues of flame were leaping against the sky. Jim and I kept close to Mr. Morris's heels, as he pushed his way among the crowd. When we got nearer the burning building, we saw men carrying ladders and axes, and others were shouting directions, and rushing out of the hotel, carrying boxes and bundles and furniture in their arms. From the windows above came a steady stream of articles, thrown among the crowd. A mirror struck Mr. Morris on the arm, and a whole package of clothes fell on his head and almost smothered him; but he brushed them aside and scarcely noticed them. There was something the matter with Mr. Morris I knew by the worried sound of his voice when he spoke to any one. I could not see his face, though it was as light as day about us, for we had got jammed in the crowd, and if I had not kept between his feet, I should have been trodden to death. Jim, being larger than I was, had got separated from us.

Presently Mr. Morris raised his voice above the uproar, and called, “Is every one out of the hotel?” A voice shouted back, “I'm going up to see.”

“It's Jim Watson, the fireman,” cried some one near. “He's risking his life to go into that pit of flame. Don't go, Watson.” I don't think that the brave fireman paid any attention to this warning, for an instant later the same voice said “He's planting his ladder against the third story. He's bound to go. He'll not get any farther than the second, anyway.”

“Where are the Montagues?” shouted Mr. Morris. “Has any one seen the Montagues?”

“Mr. Morris! Mr. Morris!” said a frightened voice, and young Charlie Montague pressed through the people to us. “Where's papa?”

“I don't know. Where did you leave him?” said Mr. Morris, taking his hand and drawing him closer to him. “I was sleeping in his room,” said the boy, “and a man knocked at the door and said, 'Hotel on fire. Five minutes to dress and get out,' and papa told me to put on my clothes and go downstairs, and he ran up to mamma.”

“Where was she?” asked Mr. Morris, quickly.

“On the fourth flat. She and her maid Blanche were up there. You know, mamma hasn't been well and couldn't sleep, and our room was so noisy that she moved upstairs where it was quiet.” Mr. Morris gave a kind of groan. “Oh I'm so hot, and there's such a dreadful noise,” said the little boy, bursting into tears, “and I want mamma.” Mr. Morris soothed him as best he could, and drew him a little to the edge of the crowd.

While he was doing this, there was a piercing cry. I could not see the person making it, but I knew it was the Italian's voice. He was screaming, in broken English that the fire was spreading to the stables, and his animals would be burned. Would no one help him to get his animals out? There was a great deal of confused language. Some voices shouted, “Look after the people first. Let the animals go.” And others said, “For shame. Get the horses out.” But no one seemed to do anything, for the Italian went on crying for help. I heard a number of people who were standing near us say that it had just been found out that several persons who had been sleeping in the top of the hotel had not got out. They said that at one of the top windows a poor housemaid was shrieking for help. Here in the street we could see no one at the upper windows, for smoke was pouring from them.

The air was very hot and heavy and I didn't wonder that Charlie Montague felt ill. He would have fallen on the ground if Mr. Morris hadn't taken him in his arms, and carried him out of the crowd. He put him down on the brick sidewalk, and unfastened his little shirt, and left me to watch him, while he held his hands under a leak in a hose that was fastened to a hydrant near us. He got enough water to dash on Charlie's face and breast, and then seeing that the boy was reviving, he sat down on the curbstone and took him on his knee. Charlie lay in his arms and moaned. He was a delicate boy, and he could not stand rough usage as the Morris boys could.

Mr. Morris was terribly uneasy. His face was deathly white, and he shuddered whenever there was a cry from the burning building. “Poor souls God help them. Oh, this is awful,” he said; and then he turned his eyes from the great sheets of flame and strained the little boy to his breast. At last there were wild shrieks that I knew came from no human throats. The fire must have reached the horses. Mr. Morris sprang up, then sank back again. He wanted to go, yet he could be of no use. There were hundreds of men standing about, but the fire had spread so rapidly, and they had so little water to put on it that there was very little they could do. I wondered whether I could do anything for the poor animals. I was not afraid of fire, as most dogs, for one of the tricks that the Morris boys had taught me was to put out a fire with my paws. They would throw a piece of lighted paper on the floor, and I would crush it with my forepaws; and if the blaze was too large for that, I would drag a bit of old carpet over it and jump on it. I left Mr. Morris, and ran around the corner of the street to the back of the hotel. It was not burned as much here as in the front, and in the houses all around, people were out on their roofs with wet blankets, and some were standing at the window watching the fire, or packing up their belongings ready to move if it should spread to them. There was a narrow lane running up a short distance toward the hotel, and I started to go up this, when in front of me I heard such a wailing, piercing noise, that it made me shudder and stand still. The Italian's animals were going to be burned up and they were calling to their master to come and get them out. Their voices sounded like the voices of children in mortal pain. I could not stand it. I was seized with such an awful horror of the fire that I turned and ran, feeling so thankful that I was not in it. As I got into the street I stumbled over something. It was a large bird a parrot, and at first I thought it was Bella. Then I remembered hearing Jack say that the Italian had a parrot. It was not dead, but seemed stupid with the smoke. I seized it in my mouth, and ran and laid it at Mr. Morris's feet. He wrapped it in his handkerchief, and laid it beside him.

I sat, and trembled, and did not leave him again. I shall never forget that dreadful night. It seemed as if we were there for hours, but in reality it was only a short time. The hotel soon got to be all red flames, and there was very little smoke. The inside of the budding had burned away, and nothing more could be gotten out. The firemen and all the people drew back, and there was no noise. Everybody stood gazing silently at the flames. A man stepped quietly up to Mr. Morris, and looking at him, I saw that it was Mr. Montague. He was usually a well-dressed man, with a kind face, and a head of thick, grayish brown hair. Now his face was black and grimy, his hair was burnt from the front of his head, and his clothes were half torn from his back. Mr. Morris sprang up when he saw him, and said “Where is your wife?”

The gentleman did not say a word, but pointed to the burning building. “Impossible!” cried Mr. Morris. “Is there no mistake? Your beautiful young wife, Montague. Can it be so?” Mr. Morris was trembling from head to foot.

“It is true,” said Mr. Montague, quietly. “Give me the boy.” Charlie had fainted again and his father took him in his arms, and turned away.

“Montague!” cried Mr. Morris, “my heart is sore for you. Can I do nothing?”

“No, thank you,” said the gentleman, without turning around; but there was more anguish in his voice than in Mr. Morris's, and though I am only a dog, I knew that his heart was breaking.

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