16. The Fire
Later on in the evening a traveler's horse was brought in by the second hostler, and while
he was cleaning him a young man with a pipe in his mouth lounged into the stable to
"I say, Towler," said the hostler, "just run up the ladder into the loft and put some hay
down into this horse's rack, will you? only lay down your pipe."
"All right," said the other, and went up through the trapdoor; and I heard him step across
the floor overhead and put down the hay. James came in to look at us the last thing, and
then the door was locked.
I cannot say how long I had slept, nor what time in the night it was, but I woke up very
uncomfortable, though I hardly knew why. I got up; the air seemed all thick and choking.
I heard Ginger coughing and one of the other horses seemed very restless; it was quite
dark, and I could see nothing, but the stable seemed full of smoke, and I hardly knew how
The trapdoor had been left open, and I thought that was the place it came through. I
listened, and heard a soft rushing sort of noise and a low crackling and snapping. I did not
know what it was, but there was something in the sound so strange that it made me
tremble all over. The other horses were all awake; some were pulling at their halters,
At last I heard steps outside, and the hostler who had put up the traveler's horse burst into
the stable with a lantern, and began to untie the horses, and try to lead them out; but he
seemed in such a hurry and so frightened himself that he frightened me still more. The
first horse would not go with him; he tried the second and third, and they too would not
stir. He came to me next and tried to drag me out of the stall by force; of course that was
no use. He tried us all by turns and then left the stable.
No doubt we were very foolish, but danger seemed to be all round, and there was nobody
we knew to trust in, and all was strange and uncertain. The fresh air that had come in
through the open door made it easier to breathe, but the rushing sound overhead grew
louder, and as I looked upward through the bars of my empty rack I saw a red light
flickering on the wall. Then I heard a cry of "Fire!" outside, and the old hostler quietly
and quickly came in; he got one horse out, and went to another, but the flames were
playing round the trapdoor, and the roaring overhead was dreadful.
The next thing I heard was James' voice, quiet and cheery, as it always was.
"Come, my beauties, it is time for us to be off, so wake up and come along." I stood
nearest the door, so he came to me first, patting me as he came in.
"Come, Beauty, on with your bridle, my boy, we'll soon be out of this smother." It was on
in no time; then he took the scarf off his neck, and tied it lightly over my eyes, and
patting and coaxing he led me out of the stable. Safe in the yard, he slipped the scarf off
my eyes, and shouted, "Here somebody! take this horse while I go back for the other."