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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesA Day Of Fate - Book 1 - Chapter 12. One Of Nature's Tragedies
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A Day Of Fate - Book 1 - Chapter 12. One Of Nature's Tragedies Post by :whiteeyes Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Payson Roe Date :May 2012 Read :3557

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A Day Of Fate - Book 1 - Chapter 12. One Of Nature's Tragedies

BOOK I CHAPTER XII. ONE OF NATURE'S TRAGEDIES

I had been so interested in Mrs. Yocomb's words, their effect on the little group around her, and the whole sacred mystery of the scene, that I had ceased to watch the smoking mountain, with its increasingly lurid apex. In the meantime the fire had fully reached the summit, on which stood a large dry tree, and it had become a skeleton of flame. Through this lurid fire and smoke the full moon was rising, its silver disk discolored and partially obscured.

This scene alone, as we gathered on the piazza and lawn below it, might well have filled us with awe and wonder; but a more impressive combination was forming. Advancing from the southwest, up the star-lit sky, which the moon was brightening momentarily, was a cloud whose blackness and heaviness the vivid lightning made only the more apparent.

"I am an old man," said Mr. Yocomb, "but I never saw anything so grand as this before."

"Mother, mother," said little Zillah, "I'm afraid. Please take me upstairs and put me to bed." And the mother, to whom the scene in the heavens was a glorious manifestation of the God she loved rather than feared, denied herself of what was almost like a vision, for the sake of the child.

"It's awful," said Adah; "I won't look at it any longer. I don't see why we can't have nice quiet showers that one can go to sleep in;" and she disappeared within the house. Reuben sat down on the piazza, in his quiet, undemonstrative way. Miss Warren came down and stood close to Mr. Yocomb's side, as if she half unconsciously sought the good man's protection.

Incessant lightnings played from some portion of the cloud, zigzagging in fiery links and forkings, while, at brief intervals, there would be an exceptionally vivid flash, followed more and more closely by heavier and still heavier explosions. But not a leaf stirred around us: the chirp of a cricket was sharply distinct in the stillness. The stars shone serenely over our heads, and the moon, rising to the left out of the line of the smoke and fire, was assuming her silvery brightness, and at the same time rendering the burning mountain more lurid from contrast.

"Herbert, Herbert, now I know how brave you were," I heard Miss Warren exclaim, in a low, awed tone.

I saw by the frequent flashes that she was very pale, and that she was trembling.

"You mean your brother," I said gently.

With her eyes fixed on the threatening and advancing cloud as if fascinated by it, she continued in the same tone, that was full of indescribable dread: "Yes, yes, I never realized it so fully before, and yet I have lain awake whole nights, going, by an awful necessity, over every scene of that terrible day. He stood in his place in the line of battle on an open plain, and he watched battery after battery come down from the heights above and open fire. He stood there till he was slain, looking steadily at death. This cloud that is coming makes me understand the more awful storm of war that he faced. Oh, I wish this hadn't happened," and there was almost agony in her tone. "I'm not brave as he was, and every nearer peal of thunder shakes my very soul."

Mr. Yocomb put his hand tenderly on her shoulder as he said:

"My dear, foolish little child--as if thy Father in heaven would hurt thee!"

"Miss Warren," I said earnestly, "I have too little of Mr. and Mrs. Yocomb's faith; but it seems impossible that anything coming from heaven could harm you."

She drew closer to Mr. Yocomb's side, but still looked at the cloud with the same wide-eyed dread, as if spellbound by it.

"To me," she resumed in her former tone, that only became more hurried and full of fear as the tempest approached, "these awful storms are no part of heaven. They are wholly of earth, and seem the counterparts of those wild outbreaks of human passion from which I and so many poor women in the past have suffered;" and a low sob shook her frame. "I wish I had more of good Mr. Yocomb's spirit; for this appalling cloud seems to me the very incarnation of evil. Why _does God permit such things?"

With a front as calm and serene as that of any ancient prophet could have been, Mr. Yocomb began repeating the sublime words, "The voice of Thy thunder was in the heavens; the lightnings lightened the world."

"Oh, no, no!" cried the trembling girl, "the God I worship is not in the storm nor in the fire, but in the still small voice of love. You may think me very weak to be so moved, but truly I cannot help it. My whole nature shrinks from this." I took her hand as I said warmly, "I do understand you, Miss Warren. Unconsciously you have fully explained your mood and feeling. It's in truth your nature, your sensitive, delicate organism, that shrinks from this wild tumult that is coming. In the higher moral tests of courage, when the strongest man might falter and fail, you would be quietly steadfast."

She gave my hand a quick, strong pressure, and then withdrew it as she said, "I hope you are right; you interpret me so generously that I hope I may some day prove you right."

"I need no proof. I saw your very self in the garden."

"How strange--how strange it all is!" she resumed, with a manner that betokened a strong nervous excitability. "Can this be the same world-- these the same scenes that were so full of peace and beauty an hour ago? How tremendous is the contrast between the serene, lovely June day and evening just passed and this coming tempest, whose sullen roar I already hear with increasing dread! Mr. Morton, you said in jest that this was a day of fate. Why did you use the expression? It haunts me, oppresses me. Possibly it is. I rarely give way to presentiments, but I dread the coming of this storm inexpressibly. Oh!" and she trembled violently as a heavier peal than we had yet heard filled the wide valley with awful echoes.

"Not even a sparrow shall fall to the ground without your Father. We are safe, my child. God will shield thee more lovingly than I;" and he drew her closer to him.

"I know what you say is true, and yet I cannot control this mortal fear and weakness."

"No, Miss Warren, you cannot," I said; "therefore do not blame yourself. You tremble as these trees and shrubs will be agitated in a few moments, because you cannot help it."

"You are not so moved."

"No, nor will that post be moved," I replied, with a reckless laugh. "I must admit that I am very much excited, however, for the air is full of electricity. I can't help thinking of the little robins in a home open to the sky."

Her only answer was a low sob, but not for a moment did she take her wide, terror-stricken gaze from the cloud whose slow, deliberate advance was more terrible than gusty violence would have been.

The phenomena had now become so awful that we did not speak again for some moments. The great inky mass was extending toward the eastward, and approaching the fire burning on the mountain-top, and the moon rising above and to the left of it; and from beneath its black shadow came a heavy, muffled sound that every moment deepened and intensified.

Suddenly, as if shaken by a giant's hands, the tree-tops above us swayed to and fro; then the shrubbery along the paths seemed full of wild terror and writhed in every direction.

Hitherto the moon had shone on the cloud with as serene a face as that with which Mr. Yocomb had watched its approach, but now a scud of vapor swept like a sudden pallor across her disk, giving one the odd impression that she had just realized her peril, and then an abyss of darkness swallowed her up. For a few moments longer the fire burned on, and then the cloud with its torrents settled down upon it, and the luridly luminous point became opaque.

The night now alternated between utter darkness and a glare in which every leaf and even the color of the tossing roses were distinct.

After the first swirl of wind passed, there fell upon nature round us a silence that was like breathless expectation, or the cowering from a blow that cannot be averted, and through the stillness the sound of the advancing tempest came with awful distinctness, while far back among the mountains the deep reverberations scarcely ceased a moment.

Broken masses of vapor, the wild skirmish line of the storm, passed over our heads, blotting out the stars. The trees and shrubbery were bending helplessly to the gust, and Miss Warren could scarcely stand before its violence. The great elm swayed its drooping branches over the house as if to protect it. The war and whirl of the tempest was all about us, the coming rain reminded one of the resounding footsteps of an innumerable host, and great drops fell here and there like scattering shots.

"Come in, my child," said Mr. Yocomb; "the storm will soon be passed, and thee and the robins shall yet have quiet sleep to-night. I've seen many such wild times among the mountains, and nothing worse than clearer skies and better grain followed. You will hear the robins singing--"

A blinding flash of lightning, followed by such a crash as I hope I may never hear again, prevented further reassuring words, and he had to half support her into the house.

I had never been in a battle, but I know that the excitement which mastered me must have been akin to the grand exaltation of conflict, wherein a man thinks and acts by moments as if they were hours and years. Well he may, when any moment, may end his life. But the thought of death scarcely entered my mind. I had no presentiment of harm to myself, but feared that the dwelling or outbuildings might be struck.

Almost with the swiftness of lightning came the calculation:

"Estimating distance and time, the next discharge of electricity will be directly over the house. If there's cause, which God forbid, may I have the nerve and power to serve those who have been so kind!"

As I thought, I ran to an open space which commanded a view of the farmhouse. Scarcely had I reached it before my eyes were blinded for a second by what seemed a ball of intense burning light shot vertically into the devoted home.

"O God!" I gasped, "it is the day of fate." For a moment I seemed paralyzed, but the igniting roof beside the chimney roused me at once.

"Reuben!" I shouted.

A flash of lightning revealed him still seated quietly on the piazza, as if he had heard nothing. I rushed forward, and shook him by the shoulder.

"Come, be a man; help me. Quick!" and I half dragged him to a neighboring cherry-tree, against which I had noticed that a ladder rested.

By this time he seemed to recover his senses, and in less than a moment we had the ladder against the house. Within another moment he had brought me a pail of water from the kitchen.

"Have two more pails ready," I cried, mounting the low, sloping roof.

The water I carried, and rain, which now began to fall in torrents, extinguished the external fire, but I justly feared that the woodwork had been ignited within. Hastening back at perilous speed, I said to Reuben, who stood ready: "Take one of the pails and lead the way to the attic and the rooms upstairs."

The house was strangely and awfully quiet as we rushed in.

I paused a second at the parlor door. Miss Warren lay motionless upon the floor, and Mr. Yocomb sat quietly in his great armchair.

A sickening fear almost overwhelmed me, but I exclaimed loudly, "Mr. Yocomb, rouse yourself; I smell fire; the house is burning!"

He did not move nor answer, and I followed Reuben, who was half-way up the stairs. It took but a few seconds to reach the large, old- fashioned garret, which already was filling with smoke.

"Lead the way to the chimney," I shouted to Reuben in my terrible excitement. "Do not waste a drop of water. Let me put it on when I find just where the fire is."

Through the smoke I now saw a lurid point. A stride brought me thither, and I threw part of the water in my pail up against it. The hissing and sputtering proved that we had hit on the right spot, while the torrents falling on the roof so dampened the shingles that further ignition from without was impossible.

"We must go down a moment to breathe," I gasped, for the smoke was choking us.

As we reached the story in which were the sleeping apartments, I cried:

"Great God! Why don't some of the family move or speak?"

Hitherto Reuben had realized only the peril of his home; but now he rushed into his mother's room, calling her in a tone that I shall never forget.

A second later he uttered my name in a strange, awed tone, and I entered hesitatingly. Little Zillah apparently lay sleeping in her crib, and Mrs. Yocomb was kneeling by her bedside.

"Mother!" said Reuben, in a loud whisper.

She did not answer.

He knelt beside her, put his arm around her, and said, close to her ear, "Mother! why don't you speak to me?" She made no response, and I saw that she leaned so heavily forward on the bed as to indicate utter unconsciousness.

The boy sprang up, and gazed at me with wild questioning in his eyes.

"Reuben!" I said quickly, "she's only stunned by the lightning. Will you prove yourself a man, and help me in what must be done? Life may depend upon it."

"Yes," eagerly.

"Then help me lift your mother on the bed; strong and gentle, now-- that's it."

I put my hand over her heart.

"She is not dead," I exclaimed joyously; "only stunned. Let us go to the attic again, for we must keep shelter this wild night."

We found that the smoke had perceptibly lessened; I dashed the other pail of water on the spot that had been burning, then found that I could place my hand on it. We had been just in time, for there was light woodwork near that communicated with the floor, and the attic was full of dry lumber, and herbs hanging here and there, that would have burned like tinder. Had these been burning we could not have entered the garret, and as it was we breathed with great difficulty. The roof still resounded to the fall of such torrents that I felt that the dwelling was safe, unless it had become ignited in the lower stories, and it was obviously our next duty to see whether this was the case.

"Reuben," I said, "fill the pails once more, while I look through the house and see if there's fire anywhere else. It's clear that all who were in the house were stunned--even you were, slightly, on the piazza--so don't give way to fright on their account. If you do as I bid, you may do much to save their lives; but we must first make sure the house is safe. If it isn't, we must carry them all out at once."

He comprehended me, and went for the water instantly.

I again looked into Mrs. Yocomb's room. It was impregnated with a strong sulphurous odor, and I now saw that there was a discolored line down the wall adjoining the chimney, and that little Zillah's crib stood nearer the scorching line of fire than Mrs. Yocomb had been. But the child looked quiet and peaceful, and I hastened away.

My own room was dark and safe. I opened the door of Miss Warren's room, and a flash of lightning, followed by complete darkness, showed that nothing was amiss.

I then opened another door, and first thought the apartment on fire, it was so bright; but instantly saw that two lamps were burning, and that Adah lay dressed upon the bed, with her face turned toward them. By this common device she had sought to deaden the vivid lightning. Her face was white as the pillow on which it rested; her eyes were closed, and from her appearance she might have been sleeping or dead. Even though almost overwhelmed with dread, I could not help noting her wonderful beauty. In my abnormal and excited condition of mind, however, it seemed a natural and essential part of the strange, unexpected experiences of the day.

I was now convinced that there was no fire in the second story, and the thought of Miss Warren drew me instantly away. I already had a strange sense of self-reproach that I had not gone to her at once, feeling as if I had discarded the first and most sacred claim. I met Reuben on the stairway, and told him that the second story was safe, and asked him to look through the first story and cellar, and then to go for a physician as fast as the fleetest horse could carry him.

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