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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesBarriers Burned Away - Chapter 42. Baron Ludolph Learns The Truth
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Barriers Burned Away - Chapter 42. Baron Ludolph Learns The Truth Post by :whiteeyes Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Payson Roe Date :May 2012 Read :1193

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Barriers Burned Away - Chapter 42. Baron Ludolph Learns The Truth

CHAPTER XLII. BARON LUDOLPH LEARNS THE TRUTH

With eyes ablaze with excitement, Dennis plunged into the region just before the main line of fire, knowing that there the danger would be greatest. None realized the rapidity of its advance. At the door of a tenement-house he found a pale, thin, half-clad woman tugging at a sewing-machine.

"Madam," cried Dennis, "you have no time to waste over that burden if you wish to escape."

"What is the use of escaping without it?" she answered, sullenly. "It is the only way I have of making a living."

"Give it to me then, and follow as fast as you can." Shouldering what meant to the poor creature shelter, clothing, and bread, he led the way to the southeast, out of the line of fire. It was a long, hard struggle, but they got through safely.

"How can I ever pay you?" cried the grateful woman.

But he did not stay to answer, and now determined to make his way to the west and windward of the fire, as he could then judge better of the chances of its spreading. He thought it safer to go around and back of the flames, as they now seemed much wider, and nearer the south branch of the Chicago River.

He found that he could cross the burned district a little to the southwest, for the small wooden houses were swept so utterly away that there were no heated, blazing ruins to contend with. He also saw that he could do better by making quite a wide circuit, as he thus avoided streets choked by fugitives. Beaching a point near the river on the west side of the fire, he climbed a high pile of lumber, and then discovered to his horror that the fire had caught in several places on the south side, and that the nearest bridges were burning.

To those not familiar with the topography of the city, it should be stated that it is separated by the Chicago River, a slow, narrow stream, into three main divisions, known as the south, the north, and the west side.

By a triumph of engineering, the former mouth of this river at the lake is now its source, the main stream being turned back upon itself, and dividing into two branches at a point a little over half a mile from the lake, one flowing to the southwest into the Illinois, and the other from the northwest into the main stream.

The south division includes all the territory bounded on the east by the lake, on the north by the main river and on the west by the south branch. The north division includes the area bounded on the east by the lake, on the south by the main river, and on the west by the north branch, while the west division embraces all that part of the city west of the two branches. The fire originated in De Koven Street, the southeastern part of the west side, and it was carried steadily to the north and east by an increasing gale. The south side, with all its magnificent buildings, was soon directly in the line of the fire.

When Dennis saw that the flames had crossed the south branch, and were burning furiously beyond, he knew that the best part of the city was threatened with destruction. He hastened to the Washington Street tunnel, where he found a vast throng, carrying all sorts of burdens, rushing either way. He plunged in with the rest, and soon found himself hustled hither and thither by a surging mass of humanity. A little piping voice that seemed under his feet cried: "O mamma! mamma! Where are you? I'm gettin' lost."

"Here I am, my child," answered a voice some steps in advance and Dennis saw a lady carrying another child; but the rushing tide would not let her wait--all, in the place where they were wedged, being carried right along. Stooping down, he put the little girl on his shoulder where she could see her mother, and so they pressed on. Suddenly, in the very midst of the tunnel, the gas ceased, by reason of the destruction of the works, and utter darkness filled the place.

There was a loud cry of consternation, and then a momentary and dreadful silence, which would have been the preface of a fatal panic, had not Dennis cried out, in a ringing voice, "All keep to the right!"

This cry was taken up and repeated on every hand, and side by side, to right and left, the two living streams of humanity, with steady tramp! tramp! rushed past each other.

When they emerged into the glare of the south side Dennis gave the child to its mother and said, "Madam, your only chance is to escape in that direction," pointing northwest.

He then tried to make his way to the hotel where Professor and Mrs. Leonard were staying, but it was in the midst of an unapproachable sea of fire. If they had not escaped some little time before, they had already perished. He then tried to make his way to the windward toward his own room. His two thousand dollars and all his possessions were there, and the instinct of self-preservation caused him to think it was time to look after his own. But progress was now very difficult. The streets were choked by drays, carriages, furniture, trunks, and every degree and condition of humanity. Besides, his steps were often stayed by thrilling scenes and the need of a helping hand. In order to make his way faster he took a street nearer the fire, from which the people had mostly been driven. As he was hurrying along with his hat drawn over his eyes to avoid the sparks that were driven about like fiery hail, he suddenly heard a piercing shriek. Looking up he saw the figure of a woman at the third story window of a fine mansion that was already burning, though not so rapidly as those in the direct line of the fire. He with a number of others stopped at the sound.

"Who will volunteer with me to save that woman?" cried he.

"Wal, stranger, you can reckon on this old stager for one," answered a familiar voice.

Dennis turned and recognized his old friend, the Good Samaritan.

"Why, Cronk," he cried, "don't you know me? Don't you remember the young man you saved from starving by suggesting the snow-shovel business?"

"Hello! my young colt. How are you? give us yer hand. But come, don't let's stop to talk about snow in this hell of a place with that young filly whinnying up there."

"Right!" cried Dennis. "Let us find a ladder and rope; quick--"

At a paint-shop around the corner a ladder was found that reached to the second story, and some one procured a rope.

"A thousand dollars," cried another familiar voice, "to the man who saves that woman!"

Looking round, Dennis saw the burly form of Mr. Brown, the brewer, his features distorted by agony and fear; then glancing up he discovered in the red glare upon her face that the woman was no other than his daughter. She had come to spend the night with a friend, and, being a sound sleeper, had not escaped with the family.

"Who wants yer thousand dollars?" replied Bill Cronk's gruff voice. "D'ye s'pose we'd hang out here over the bottomless pit for any such trifle as that? We want to save the gal."

Before Cronk had ended his characteristic speech, Dennis was half-way up the ladder. He entered the second story, only to be driven back by fire and smoke.

"A pole of some kind!" he cried.

The thills of a broken-down buggy supplied this, but the flames had already reached Miss Brown. Being a girl of a good deal of nerve and physical courage, however, she tore off her outer clothing with her own hands. Dennis now passed her the rope on the end of the buggy-thill and told her to fasten it to something in the room that would support her weight, and lower herself to the second story. She fastened it, but did not seem to know how to lower herself. Dennis tried the rope, found it would sustain his weight; then, bringing into use an art learned in his college gymnasium, he over-handed rapidly till he stood at Miss Brown's side. Drawing up the rope he fastened her to it and lowered her to the ladder, where Bill Cronk caught her, and in a moment more she was in her father's arms, who at once shielded her from exposure with his overcoat. Dennis followed the rope down, and had hardly got away before the building fell in.

"Is not this Mr. Fleet?" asked Miss Brown.

"Yes."

"How can we ever repay you?"

"By learning to respect honest men, even though they are not rich, Miss Brown."

"Did you know who it was when you saved me?"

"Yes."

"Mr. Fleet, I sincerely ask your pardon."

But before Dennis could reply they were compelled to fly for their lives.

Mr. Brown shouted as he ran, "Call at the house or place of business of Thomas Brown, and the money will be ready."

But Thomas Brown would have found it hard work to rake a thousand dollars out of the ashes of either place the following day. The riches in which he trusted had taken wings.

Cronk and Dennis kept together for a short distance, and the latter saw that his friend had been drinking. Their steps led them near a large liquor-store which a party of men and boys were sacking. One of these, half intoxicated, handed Bill a bottle of whiskey, but as the drover was lifting it to his lips Dennis struck it to the ground. Cronk was in a rage instantly.

"What the ---- did you do that for?" he growled.

"I would do that and more too to save your life. If you get drunk to-night you are a lost man," answered Dennis, earnestly.

"Who's a-goin' ter get drunk, I'd like ter know? You feel yer oats too much to-night. No man or horse can kick over the traces with me;" and he went off in the unreasoning anger of a half-drunken man. But he carried all his generous impulses with him, for a few minutes after, seeing a man lying in a most dangerous position, he ran up and shook him, crying, "I say, stranger, get up, or yer ribs will soon be roasted."

"Lemme 'lone," was the maudlin answer. "I've had drink 'nuff. 'Tain't mornin' yet."

"Hi, there!" cried a warning voice, and Cronk started back just in time to escape a blazing wall that fell across the street. The stupefied man he had sought to arouse was hopelessly buried. Cronk, having got out of danger, stood and scratched his head, his favorite way of assisting reflection.

"That's just what that young critter Fleet meant. What a cussed ole mule I was to kick up so! Ten chances to one but it will happen to me afore mornin'. Look here, Bill Cronk, you jist p'int out of this fiery furnace. You know yer failin', and there's too long and black a score agin you in t'other world for you to go to-night;" and Bill made a bee line for the west side.

Struggling off to windward through the choked streets for a little distance, Dennis ascended the side stairs of a tall building, in order to get more accurately the bearings of the fire. He now for the first time realized its magnitude, and was appalled. It appeared as if the whole south side must go. At certain points the very heavens seemed on fire. The sparks filled the air like flakes of fiery snow, and great blazing fragments of roofs, and boards from lumber yards, sailed over his head, with the ill-omened glare of meteors. The rush and roar of the wind and flames were like the thunder of Niagara, and to this awful monotone accompaniment was added a Babel of sounds--shrieks, and shouts of human voices, the sharp crash of falling buildings, and ever and anon heavy detonations, as the fire reached explosive material. As he looked down into the white upturned faces in the thronged streets, it seemed to him as if the people might be gathering for the last great day. Above all the uproar, the court-house bell could be heard, with its heavy, solemn clangor, no longer ringing alarm, but the city's knell.

But he saw that if he reached his own little room in time to save anything he must hasten. His course lay near the Art Building, the place so thronged with associations to him. An irresistible impulse drew him to it. It was evident that it must soon go, for an immense building to the southwest, on the same block, was burning, and the walls were already swaying.

Suddenly a man rushed past him, and Mr. Ludolph put his pass key in the side door.

"Mr. Ludolph, it is not safe to enter," said Dennis.

"What are you doing here with your ill-omened face?" retorted his old employer, turning toward him a countenance terrible in its expression. As we have seen, anything that threatened Mr. Ludolph's interests, even that which most men bow before, as sickness and disaster, only awakened his anger; and his face was black with passion and distorted with rage.

The door yielded, and he passed in.

"Come back, quick, Mr. Ludolph, or you are lost!" cried Dennis at the door.

"I will get certain papers, though the heavens fall!" yelled back the infuriated man, with an oath.

Dennis heard an awful rushing sound in the air. He drew his hat over his face as he ran, crouching. Hot bricks rained around him, but fortunately he escaped.

When he turned to look, the Art Building was a crushed and blazing ruin. Sweet girlish faces that had smiled upon him from the walls, beautiful classical faces that had inspired his artist soul, stern Roman faces, that had made the past seem real, the human faces of gods and goddesses that made mythology seem not wholly a myth, and the white marble faces of the statuary, that ever reminded him of Christine, were now all blackened and defaced forever. But not of these he thought, as he shudderingly covered his eyes with his hands to shut out the vision; but of that terrible face that in the darkness had yelled defiance to Heaven.

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