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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesCharley Laurel: A Story Of Adventure By Sea And Land - Chapter 7. The Fire
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Charley Laurel: A Story Of Adventure By Sea And Land - Chapter 7. The Fire Post by :teachmaster Category :Long Stories Author :William H. G. Kingston Date :May 2012 Read :1511

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Charley Laurel: A Story Of Adventure By Sea And Land - Chapter 7. The Fire

Chapter Seven. The Fire

The _Dolphin being greatly in want of water, put into the Falkland Islands to obtain it, as well as beef, which the captain understood could be obtained for the trouble of catching the animals on whose backs it existed.

The shore of the harbour in which we lay was rocky, but beyond it was a wide expanse of partly level, and partly undulating ground, reaching far away in the distance.

Dick told me he would take me on shore to see some of the fun, he being one of the men appointed to shoot the cattle.

Mounted Spaniards, or Indians, with their bolas and lassoes, would have killed them with perfect ease; but, armed as we were, with only heavy muskets which did not always go off, the chances were very great against the desired beef being obtained. Just as we had shoved off, the captain, seeing me in the boat, ordered me back. The men, however, having already begun to give way, pretended not to hear him, and we were soon beyond hailing distance of the ship. In a short time we saw another boat following us. After we had landed, who should step out of her but Miss Kitty and Mr Falconer; he had a gun on his shoulder, but had not intended coming till he found that she wanted to have a walk on shore. Whether or not she had asked leave of Mrs Podgers, I do not know; she did not always consider that necessary when she had a fancy for doing anything.

We pushed on some way inland, and though the herbage was high, it was not thick except in places where there were large tufts of tall tussock-grass, like waving plumes growing out of the earth, while the ground itself was tolerably smooth. We went on till we reached a rocky knoll rising like an island amidst the sea of waving grass that surrounded it. We climbed to the top, that we might discover where the cattle were to be found in greatest numbers. As yet, a few only had been seen, which scampered off before a shot at them could be obtained. Three or four herds were discovered in the distance. The mate, with half the men, agreed to go in one direction and to stalk them down, while Dick and the rest went in another. Miss Kitty said she was tired, and that she would remain on the top of the rock with me till their return. The mate begged to leave with her a flask of water and some biscuits, which he had brought, I suspect, on her account. Not knowing what sort of scenery she might meet with, she had brought her sketch-book, for she was a well-educated girl, and understood music, and a number of other things besides. She laughingly observed that a few strokes would quickly picture the surrounding scenery. She amused herself with copying a huge tuft of the tussock-grass which grew near, and then made me stand and sit, now in one position, now in another, while she took my portrait. Then telling me to play about near her, and to take care not to tumble off the rock, she sat down to meditate. What her thoughts were about I cannot say, but she certainly very often looked in the direction Edward Falconer had gone.

Several shots were heard from time to time. They grew fainter and fainter, as if the cattle had headed off away from the harbour.

The day wore on. The sun was already sinking in the sky.

"I wonder when they will come back?" she said once or twice. "Can you see any one, Charley?"

I looked, but could not distinguish any objects amid the expanse of grass.

A dull booming sound of a ship's gun came from the direction of the harbour, then another and another.

"That is, I suspect, to recall the boats," said Kitty to me. "I could find my way there with you, Charley; but I don't like to leave this spot, lest those who have gone after the cattle on returning might wonder what has become of us."

We waited some time longer--the sun set--the shades of evening drew on. Kitty became very anxious. It was too late now to attempt alone to get back to the boats; and it was evident that we should have to spend the night on the knoll. As there was plenty of tall grass around, I proposed that we should build a hut for ourselves, but, as we had no means of cutting it, we could not carry out my project. Miss Kitty was, as before, casting an anxious gaze around, expecting each moment that some one would appear, when suddenly she exclaimed--

"See, see, Charley! What is that?"

I looked in the direction she pointed, when I saw a dark line of smoke rising out of the plain, curling in wreaths as it ascended towards the sky. It might have been mistaken for mist, had there not appeared below it a thin red line with sharp little forks darting upwards.

"The grass is on fire! Oh, what will become of them?" she exclaimed, seizing my hand, and gazing, with dread and horror in her countenance, at the advancing line of flame and smoke. I did not suppose that we ourselves were in danger; but on looking round I observed the numerous tufts of grass which grew on every side among the rocks.

One part of the mound was composed entirely of bare rock. I pointed it out to my companion. Though we should be almost suffocated with smoke, we might there escape the flames. We hastened to it, and kneeling down, she prayed for protection for me, and for herself, and for Edward--I heard her mention the mate's name--and for the rest.

I was not particularly frightened, because I did not see anything very terrible; only the red line of fire jumping and leaping playfully, and the wreaths of smoke, which looked very graceful as they curled round and round, till at length they formed a dark canopy which spread over the sky.

"They may have been on the other side of the fire," I heard Kitty say; "but then he would have thought of me, and, I fear, have attempted to rush through the flames to my rescue, and Dick will not have forgotten you, Charley. We must pray for them, my boy--we must pray for them."

On came the wave of flame; the whole island from one end to the other seemed on fire. Our communication with the harbour was well-nigh cut off. Though the men in charge of the boats might have seen it approaching, they could not have come to our assistance.

Happily, Kitty's dress was of a thick material, and so was mine, for the weather had been for some time cold, and Dick had made me a winter suit. Kitty saw clearly that the flames would surround the rock, and creep up its sides; and the open space on which we had taken refuge was fearfully small. I fancied that I could hear the roaring and hissing of the flames, they were already so near, when a shout reached our ears.

"They are coming! they are coming!" cried Kitty; "but oh, I fear the fire will overtake them before they can gain the rock. I see them! I see them! It is dreadfully close!" She gasped for breath. Then she rose to her feet, and waved her white handkerchief, hoping that it might be distinguished through the gloom, for she in vain tried to cry out in answer to the shout we had heard. The glare of the approaching fire fell on her figure. At that moment a man dashed up the rock--it was Edward Falconer. He could only utter, "You are safe, dearest!" and sank on the ground. Kitty stooped down and tried to raise him, pouring some water from the flask into his mouth. He speedily revived. Three other men followed him--the first was Dick; he seized me in his arms, and gave me a hug and put me down on the rock, and then he and the rest dashed back towards the flames, and began with their guns to beat and trample down the surrounding grass. The mate joined them, but the flames quickly reached the spot, and in a few minutes we were surrounded by a sea of fire. Dick sheltered me in his arms, and Edward Falconer supported Kitty in the very centre of the rock, turning their backs to the scorching flames from which they attempted to shield us. The smoke curled round our heads, and we had great difficulty in breathing. I could not help crying out from the pain of suffocation, which made Dick almost distracted. He first lifted me up above his head, that I might get more air; and when he could support me no longer, he threw a handkerchief over my face, and held me in his arms as a mother would her child.

How long we stood thus I do not know; it seemed a very long time. At length the fire had burned up all the grass around us, and the smoke grew less. Still it was impossible to reach the harbour, and might be so for many hours to come.

The whole party sat down on the rock, Miss Kitty inviting me to come to her, while Edward Falconer sat by her side.

"As you like, Miss," said Dick; "but I would not give him up to any one else."

"I hope the rest got off safe, as they were not far from the shore," observed one of the men. "But I say, Dick, I wonder what has become of the beasts you and Mr Falconer killed?"

"They must be well roasted, at all events," answered Dick. "The sun won't have been long up either before every bone will be picked clean by the galinasos and other birds."

"It's mighty possible, I'm afraid, that two or three of our fellows have been caught. It will be a cruel job if they are, for though a sailor lays it to his account to get drowned now and then, he doesn't expect to be frizzled into the bargain," observed Pat O'Riley.

They went on joking for some time, notwithstanding the fearful scene they had gone through, and although even at that moment some of their shipmates might be lying scorched to death on the plain below them. I, however, was soon asleep, with my head on Kitty's lap, and therefore cannot say what she and Edward Falconer talked about. All I know is, that before I closed my eyes I saw him endeavouring to shield her from the wind, which blew sharply over the knoll.

At daylight we set out, Edward and Dick insisting on carrying Kitty in a chair formed with their hands, while Pat O'Riley carried me on his shoulders.

"Well, Miss Kitty, we had given you up for lost," exclaimed Mrs Podgers, who met us at the gangway.

It struck me, young as I was, that her address did not show much maternal affection.

"Had not Mr Falconer and some of the crew come to our rescue, the boy and I would have been probably burnt to death, but they bravely risked their lives to save ours," answered Kitty, firmly.

A boat was sent back to look for the remainder of the men; some at length arrived, but three could not be found, though search was made for them in every direction. Some thought that they had run away, others that they had been destroyed by the flames. A portion of one ox only was brought on board, but the captain would not wait to obtain more, and having filled up the water-casks, the _Dolphin again sailed to go round Cape Horn.

We had got very nearly up to the southern end of America, when we met a gale blowing directly against us, which sent us back far away to the eastward and southward. The wind, however, again coming fair, we ran before it under all sail to make up for lost time.

Finding Dick's berth empty one evening after it was dark, and not feeling inclined to sleep, I crept up on deck to be with him, as I had been accustomed to do in more genial latitudes. I found him on the look-out on the forecastle.

"What do you want to see?" I asked, observing that he was peering into the darkness ahead.

"Anything that happens to be in our way, Charley," he answered. "An island, ship, or an iceberg; it would not be pleasant to run our jib-boom against either of the three."

"What is that, then?" I asked, my sharp eyes observing what I took to be a high white wall rising out of the sea.

"Down with the helm!" shouted Dick at the top of his voice. "An iceberg ahead!"

"Brace up the yards!" cried the officer of the watch from aft.

The mast-heads seemed almost to touch the lofty sides of a huge white mountain as we glided by it.

"In another half-minute we should have been on the berg, if it hadn't been for you, Charley," said Dick, when we had rounded the mountain, and were leaving it on our quarter. "I'll back your sharp eyes, after this, against all on board."

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