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perhaps, the smoke mercifully stifle before the cruel flames could get at her? Oh, what a relief it would be if only she could be sure of that!
The thought was followed instantly by another, and more noble one; and she felt ashamed to have been on the verge of letting a cowardly fear of pain overcome her. Should she meet death like a heathen, who had no hope beyond the grave, and no faith in God? Did she not know that He was caring for and watching over her always?-that nothing could befall her without His permission ?-that whatever was His will must be not only good, but absolutely best, and as such to be accepted and acquiesced in?
Then there came home to her with consoling force words out of one of the lessons which she had listened to in church two days before on All Saints' Day: "The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and there shall no torment touch them."
Though she had no righteousness of her own, yet she trusted surely to the all sufficient merits of the crucified Saviour who had granted her union with Him. She realised now, in the hour of need, that His love would never fail, and that it was no broken reed to pierce the hand which leant upon it. she turned to Him in earnest prayer, and gained strength to face with calm and undismayed courage whatever might be in
Meanwhile the knowledge of the fire was spreading. The first to discover it was one of the maids, who immediately gave a noisy alarm to her fellow-servant, and Mr. and Mrs. Morgan. The startled sleepers snatched up and donned hastily such garments as came first to band, and hurried down stairs in various states of déshabille-Mrs. Morgan being especially conspicuous in a costume of flannel dressing-gown crowned by a fashionable new bonnet which had arrived the day before from the milliner's and happened to have been deposited on a table near the bed, where it was handy to catch up in a moment of confusion like the present.
As they reached the front hall they were joined by Reginald, who had evidently not yet been to bed, and was fully attired in his smoking costume as he had been when Mr. Morgan had left him. He professed to have fallen asleep in the smokingroom, to have slept till a moment ago, and to be now in the act of coming to see what was the cause of the commotion that had awoke him. Thus all the small household were soon assembled and in safety except Gladys; and a maid was at once despatched post haste to call her, and warn her of the danger, if she had not already discovered it for herself. Speedily, however, did the messenger return with a horrorstruck countenance and the inquiry, please what was she to
do? For the lower part of the tower was on fire, and she didn't know how ever to get up to Miss Ivor's room.
Off dashed Mr. Morgan at once, hoping that the maid had exaggerated, and that it might still be possible to ascend the stairs to Gladys' assistance. He charged the smoke and flames gallantly, and did all that man could do to get past them. But they were too strong for him, and he was driven back scorched and blackened, and compelled to relinquish the attempt.
Then he thought of the long ladder. Reginald was the only man besides himself within reach. The thing was so heavy and cumbrous that two men alone would necessarily take long in fetching it to the house, and raising it to the required window. And unless the means of rescue arrived speedily it would be too late, for the fire was gaining ground rapidly. Still, poor as the chance offered by the ladder was, it was nevertheless the only one. So, shouting to Reginald to come and help him and not to lose an instant, he set off at best pace along the path leading to the place where the ladder was kept which, as already stated, was at some little distance from the house.
Of course it was impossible for Reginald to refuse to go too; but he had no intention of hurrying more than need be, and did not reach his destination by any means as quickly as Mr. Morgan, whom he found, when he arrived, chafing and stamping with impatience at the delay. Reginald began to apologise. and say that he had been detained by a couple of falls—which, as the night was dark and the way rough, was a sufficiently plausible excuse. But his excuses were cut short abruptly. "Never mind all that! For God's sake look sharp and unhook the other end of the ladder!" cried his host, who had already got hold of one end and was standing waiting to lift it off the supporting hook the instant Reginald should be ready to do the same at the other end. Mr. Morgan had expected that his companion would find this second hook directly, and be ready to start; but here he was mistaken, for somehow or other that hook could not be discovered without a surprising amount of fumbling, and he was nearly besides himself with impatience before at last the ladder was unhitched from its wall. Even then fate was still unfavourable to their progress; for they had no sooner set out than the guest was so unfortunate as to stumble and be obliged to let go of his burden in order to save himself from falling down altogether. And then there was still further loss of time whilst he was recovering his equilibrium, picking up the ladder from the ground, and again getting under way.
The kindly-hearted Mr. Morgan was driven almost wild by these repeated delays. It maddened him to think of the poor helpless girl who was in peril of being burnt alive, and to
know that every moment diminished what small chance of saving her yet remained. All his previous veneration and esteem for Reginald disappeared and was transformed into utter disgust that a strong, able-bodied young fellow should be so incompetent. How could one respect or admire a man who couldn't do a man's part when it was so sorely needed? And between his teeth Mr. Morgan muttered hearty curses against his guest for a good-for-nothing duffer of a cockney, who was absolutely useless in a pinch.
Just as they started afresh Mr. Morgan, who was in front, heard footsteps approaching rapidly; and directly afterwards he, to his inexpressible delight, discerned the figures of three men advancing towards him through the darkness.
"Hallo there! give a hand with this ladder, whoever you are!" he cried.
"That's what we are come for!" was the panting reply; we heard at the house what was wanted."
In another moment the ladder had been seized by vigorous arms and was being borne along at a run by the new comers and Mr. Morgan-its progress being no longer now dependent upon the half-hearted assistance of Reginald.
It was the opinion of this last individual that the strangers had chosen a very inopportune moment for arriving, and that it would have suited him much better if they had stayed away a bit longer. Who were they? he wondered; and what were they after, going about like this in the middle of the night?
Just as he was thinking this, the man who was following next to Mr. Morgan happened to strike his foot against a stone which made him stumble. Recovering himself promptly, he cautioned the bearer behind him of the obstacle by calling out: "Mind how you go, Garnier! there's a stone here."
Mr. Morgan in front heard the name; without relaxing his speed for a moment he shouted back: "Is that you, Major Garnier? I didn't know you from Adam in the dark."
"No wonder," returned the other. "Yes, it's me-delighted to have turned up just when I could be useful."
This discovery of the identity of one of the strangers made Reginald thoughtful. He had never seen Major Garnier, but knew him by name as the chief of police at Cwm Eithin. Of course such an official was liable to have business which would take him out at all hours of the day and night; and if he was passing by and saw the light of a house on fire it was but natural that he, and any companions he might have, would hurry up to render aid. So that there was not necessarily anything to alarm Reginald in their arrival. But he had enough on his conscience to make him distrustful of anything in the smallest degree suspicious, and especially shy of police authorities; so he felt no ambition to make himself at all conspicuous just at
present, and resolved rather to imitate the behaviour of Brer Fox in Uncle Remus' delightful Tar-baby story, i.e., to lay low and watch. And in pursuance of this determination he did not show himself to the ladder-bearers, but kept modestly in the background, listening to all that was said, and hoping thus that he would presently learn something as to the original object of the nocturnal expedition which had caused these new comers to appear at Llysderw at this critical moment. One of them he recognised by the voice to be Enville; and this also puzzled him considerably. For as the captain had nothing to do with the police, what could have brought him thus far from his quarters at dead of night in conjunction with Major Garnier?
After what seemed an age to all except Reginald the house was reached at last, and the welcome sight of Gladys waving her hand from the window to her would-be deliverers showed that they were not yet too late, and that she had not yet been touched by the flames which raged fiercely in the lower rooms of the tower. Strong arms stand the ladder upright, and strive to direct the upper end to her window. A cloud of smoke that blows suddenly across prevents the rescuers from seeing what they are about, and when it clears off again they perceive that they have not done what they meant, and that the ladder rests against the wall where she cannot possibly get at it. Instantly the attempt is repeated. This time it is successful, and the top of the ladder leans upon the very sill of the window of her prison. A moment more and she has emerged, and is standing upon the highest rung, watched with breathless anxiety by the spectators below, of whom two are engaged in holding the ladder steady.
It is no inviting descent that lies before her; for showers of burning sparks are being whirled in all directions, and also hot, blinding, choking smoke, which the varying wind sometimes blows across in such dense masses as temporarily to obscure every single thing from her sight. And there is one especially bad bit to be crossed, just opposite a window where the conflagration is at its fiercest, and whence tongues of fire as well as smoke shoot across the ladder when the wind veers that way.
More than half the journey is accomplished in safety, but the worst place is yet to come. A sudden gust brings an impenetrable veil of smoke between her and the ground, and she is lost to view by those beneath, who can see only the wicked flames that accompany the smoke and leap round the spot over which she is bound to pass.
Next moment the wind shifts to another quarter, and the way is again unobstructed. They see that she is hurrying to get to the perilous passage and traverse it whilst it is still clear. She has gained it; her feet, knees, waist, shoulders passed by successively, and now her head has just reached it. Ah! the
wind changes again, and there is a long, venomous, red tongue shooting straight into her face as if to embrace her. She starts away from it instinctively, lets go her hold of the ladder, misses her footing and falls. Someone below springs forward to catch her in his arms and protect her from rough contact with the hard ground. He is himself overthrown by her falling weight, but succeeds, nevertheless, in saving her from being hurt. And when she arises uninjured, she discovers, with surprise unutterable, that the person by whom her fall has been broken is none other than her former fiancé, Percy Enville.
As soon as the ladder had been borne to the spot where it was wanted, and before Gladys had yet commenced the descent, Major Garnier was drawn a little aside by the third person who had arrived with him and Captain Enville, and who now said in low and cautious tones: "Seems odd we haven't seen nothing of our man yet, sir, don't it? Looks rather as if that Leah Williams had made a mistake, and Marshall ain't here after all. Shall I go and hunt about to see if I can find him now ?"
"Wait till the young lady is safe and we are sure that our help isn't needed here any more for her," replied the major, "and then I'll come with you to make the arrest. No doubt he's somewhere close about. Captain Enville said the woman was quite positive as to his being here."
After this brief dialogue the speakers rejoined their companions without suspecting that they had had for audience the very man whom they were in search of, and who was concealed in a dark corner close by, listening to what was said with sentiments of mingled terror and rage.
So it was he who was the object of this untimely visit, and Leah was still alive and had put them on his track, curse her! He wished he had his fingers on her throat! Since she had blabbed it was all up with him, and he must fly instantly. In what direction should he go?
This was a most important question; and both fear and wrath were forced aside for the time being by the necessity of finding a prompt answer to it. There was a small sea-port at no great distance off. Should he make for that in hopes of getting on board a vessel, lying perdu till it sailed to some other port, and then landing unperceived? Or should he try to escape by rail; in which case he would have to go about sixteen miles to reach