Stirring Incidents At A Fire by Edgar Wilson Nye

Story type: Essay

Last night I was awakened by the cry of fire. It was a loud, hoarse cry, such as a large, adult man might emit from his window on the night air. The town was not large, and the fire department, I had been told, was not so effective as it should have been.

For that reason I arose and carefully dressed myself, in order to assist, if possible. I carefully lowered myself from my room, by means of a staircase which I found concealed in a dark and mysterious corner of the passage.

On the streets all was confusion. The hoarse cry of fire had been taken up by others, passed around from one to another, till it had swollen into a dull roar. The cry of fire in a small town is always a grand sight.

All along the street in front of Mr. Pendergast’s roller rink the blanched faces of the people could be seen. Men were hurrying to and fro, knocking the bystanders over in their frantic attempts to get somewhere else. With great foresight, Mr. Pendergast, who had that day finished painting his roller rink a dull-roan color, removed from the building the large card which bore the legend:

FRESH PAINT!

so that those who were so disposed might feel perfectly free to lean up against the rink and watch the progress of the flames.

Anon the bright glare of the devouring element might have been seen bursting through the casement of Mr. Cicero Williams’s residence, facing on the alley west of Mr. Pendergast’s rink. Across the street the spectator whose early education had not been neglected could distinctly read the sign of our esteemed fellow-townsman, Mr. Alonzo Burlingame, which was lit up by the red glare of the flames so that the letters stood out plainly as follows:

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Alonzo Burlingame,

Dealer in Soft and Hard Coal, Ice-Cream, Wood, Lime, Cement, Perfumery,
Nails, Putty, Spectacles, and Horse Radish.
Chocolate Caramels and Tar Roofing.
Gas Fitting and Undertaking in all Its Branches.
Hides, Tallow, and Maple Syrup.
Fine Gold Jewelry, Silverware, and Salt.
Glue, Codfish, and Gent’s Neckwear.
Undertaker and Confectioner.
Diseases of Horses and Children a Specialty.

Jno. White, Ptr.

The flames spread rapidly, until they threatened the Palace rink of our esteemed fellow-townsman, Mr. Pendergast, whose genial and urbane manner has endeared him to all.

With a degree of forethought worthy of a better cause, Mr. Leroy W. Butts suggested the propriety of calling out the hook and ladder company, an organization of which every one seemed to be justly proud. Some delay ensued in trying to find the janitor of Pioneer Hook and Ladder Company No. 1’s building, but at last he was secured, and, after he had gone home for the key, Mr. Butts ran swiftly down the street to awaken the foreman, but, after he had dressed himself and inquired anxiously about the fire, he said that he was not foreman of the company since the 2d of April.

Meantime the firefiend continued to rise up ever and anon on his hind feet and lick up salt-barrel after salt-barrel in close proximity to the Palace rink, owned by our esteemed fellow-citizen, Mr. Pendergast. Twice Mr. Pendergast was seen to shudder, after which he went home and filled out a blank which he forwarded to the insurance company.

Just as the town seemed doomed, the hook and ladder company came rushing down the street with their navy-blue hook and ladder truck. It is indeed a beauty, being one of the Excelsior noiseless hook and ladder factory’s best instruments, with tall red pails and rich blue ladders.

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Some delay ensued, as several of the officers claimed that under a new bylaw passed in January they were permitted to ride on the truck to fires. This having been objected to by a gentleman who had lived in Chicago several years, a copy of the by-laws was sent for and the dispute summarily settled. The company now donned its rubber overcoats with great coolness and proceeded at once to deftly twist the tail of the firefiend.

It was a thrilling sight as James McDonald, a brother of Terrance McDonald, Trombone, Ind., rapidly ascended one of the ladders in the full glare of the devouring element and fell off again.

Then a wild cheer arose to a height of about nine feet, and all again became confused.

It was now past 11 o’clock, and several of the members of the hook and ladder company who had to get up early the next day in order to catch a train excused themselves and went home to seek much-needed rest.

Suddenly it was discovered that the brick livery stable of Mr. Abraham McMichaels, a nephew of our worthy assessor, was getting hot. Leaving the Palace rink to its fate, the hook and ladder company directed its attention to the brick barn, and, after numerous attempts, at last succeeded in getting its large iron prong fastened on the second story window-sill, which was pulled out. The hook was again inserted, but not so effectively, bringing down at this time an armful of hay and part of an old horse blanket. Another courageous jab was made with the iron hook, which succeeded in pulling out about 5 cents worth of brick. This was greeted by a wild burst of applause from the bystanders, during which the hook and ladder company fell over each other and added to the horror of the scene by a mad burst of pale-blue profanity.

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It was not long before the stable was licked up by the firefiend, and the hook and ladder company directed its attention toward the undertaking, embalming, and ice-cream parlors of our highly esteemed fellow-townsman, Mr. A. Burlingame. The company succeeded in pulling two stone window-sills out of this building before it burned. Both times they were encored by the large and aristocratic audience.

Mr. Burlingame at once recognized the efforts of the heroic firemen by tapping a keg of beer, which he distributed among them at 25 cents per glass.

This morning a space forty-seven feet wide, where but yesterday all was joy and prosperity and beauty, is covered over with blackened ruins. Mr. Pendergast is overcome by grief over the loss of his rink, but assures us that if he is successful in getting the full amount of his insurance he will take the money and build two rinks, either one of which will be far more imposing than the one destroyed last evening.

A movement is on foot to give a literary and musical entertainment at Burley’s hall, to raise funds for the purchase of new uniforms for the “fire laddies,” at which Mrs. Butts has consented to sing “When the Robins Nest Again,” and Miss Mertie Stout will recite “‘Ostler Jo,” a selection which never fails to offend the best people everywhere. Twenty-five cents for each offense.

Let there be a full house.

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