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| Home | Reading Room The New McGuffey Fourth Reader

The New McGuffey Fourth Reader
by William H. McGuffey, Compiler

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By Susanna Moodie

The day was sultry, and toward noon a strong wind sprang up that

roared in the pine tops like the dashing of distant billows, but

without in the least degree abating the heat. The children were

lying listlessly upon the floor, and the girl and I were

finishing sunbonnets, when Mary suddenly exclaimed, "Bless us,

mistress, what a smoke!"

I ran immediately to the door, but was not able to distinguish

ten yards before me. The swamp immediately below us was on fire,

and the heavy wind was driving a dense black cloud of smoke

directly toward us.

"What can this mean?" I cried. "Who can have set fire to the

fallow?" As I ceased speaking, John Thomas stood pale and

trembling before me. "John, what is the meaning of this fire?"

"Oh, ma'am, I hope you will forgive me; it was I set fire to it,

and I would give all I have in the world if I had not done it."

"What is the danger?"

"Oh, I'm afraid that we shall all be burnt up," said John,

beginning to whimper. "What shall we do?"

"Why, we must get out of it as fast as we can, and leave the

house to its fate."

"We can't get out," said the man, in a low hollow tone, which

seemed the concentration of fear; "I would have got out of it if

I could; but just step to the back door, ma'am, and see."

Behind, before, on every side, we were surrounded by a wall of

fire, burning furiously within a hundred yards of us, and cutting

off all possibility of retreat; for, could we have found an

opening through the burning heaps, we could not have seen our way

through the dense canopy of smoke; and, buried as we were in the

heart of the forest, no one could discover our situation till we

were beyond the reach of help.

I closed the door, and went back to the parlor. Fear was knocking

loudly at my heart, for our utter helplessness destroyed all hope

of our being able to effect our escape. The girl sat upon the

floor by the children, who, unconscious of the peril that hung

over them, had both fallen asleep. She was silently weeping;

while the boy who had caused the mischief was crying aloud.

A strange calm succeeded my first alarm. I sat down upon the step

of the door, and watched the awful scene in silence. The fire was

raging in the cedar swamp immediately below the ridge on which

the house stood, and it presented a spectacle truly appalling.

From out of the dense folds of a canopy of black smoke--the

blackest I ever saw--leaped up red forks of lurid flame as high

as the tree tops, igniting the branches of a group of tall pines

that had been left for saw logs. A deep gloom blotted out the

heavens from our sight. The air was filled with fiery particles,

which floated even to the doorstep-while the crackling and

roaring of the flames might have been heard at a great distance.

To reach the shore of the lake, we must pass through the burning

swamp, and not a bird could pass over it with unscorched wings.

The fierce wind drove the flames at the sides and back of the

house up the clearing; and our passage to the road or to the

forest, on the right and left, was entirely obstructed by a sea

of flames. Our only ark of safety was the house, so long as it

remained untouched by the fire.

I turned to young Thomas, and asked him how long he thought that

would be. "When the fire clears this little ridge in front,

ma'am. The Lord have mercy on us then, or we must all go."

I threw myself down on the floor beside my children, and pressed

them to my heart, while inwardly I thanked God that they were

asleep, unconscious of danger, and unable by their cries to

distract our attention from adopting any plan which might offer

to effect their escape.

The heat soon became suffocating. We were parched with thirst,

and there was not a drop of water in the house, and none to be

procured nearer than the lake. I turned once more to the door,

hoping that a passage might have been burnt through to the water.

I saw nothing but a dense cloud of fire and smoke--could hear

nothing but the crackling and roaring of flames, which were

gaining so fast upon us that I felt their scorching breath in my face.

"Ah," thought I,--and it was a most bitter thought,--"what will

my beloved husband say when he returns and finds that his poor

wife and his dear girls have perished in this miserable manner?

But God can save us yet."

The thought had scarcely found a voice in my heart before the

wind rose to a hurricane, scattering the flames on all sides into

a tempest of burning billows. I buried my head in my apron, for I

thought that all was lost, when a most terrific crash of thunder

burst over our heads, and, like the breaking of a waterspout,

down came the rushing torrent of rain which had been pent up for

so many weeks.

In a few minutes the chipyard was all afloat, and the fire

effectually checked. The storm which, unnoticed by us, had been

gathering all day, and which was the only one of any note we had

that summer, continued to rage all night, and before morning had

quite subdued the cruel enemy whose approach we had viewed with

such dread.

--From "Roughing it in the Bush."



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