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.
—Prom “Roughing it in the Bush.”
By Celia Leighton Thaxter
Poor, sweet Piccola! Did you hear
What happened to Piccola, children dear?
‘Tis seldom Fortune such favor grants
As fell to this little maid of France.
‘Twas Christmas time, and her parents poor
Could hardly drive the wolf from the door,
Striving with poverty’s patient pain
Only to live till summer again.
No gift for Piccola! sad were they
When dawned the morning of Christmas day!
Their little darling no joy might stir;
St. Nicholas nothing would bring to her!
But Piccola never doubted at all
That something beautiful must befall
Every child upon Christmas day,
And so she slept till the dawn was gray.
And full of faith, when at last she woke,
She stole to her shoe as the morning broke;
Such sounds of gladness filled all the air,
‘Twas plain St. Nicholas had been there.
In rushed Piccola, sweet, half wild—
Never was seen such a joyful child—
“See what the good saint brought!” she cried,
And mother and father must peep inside.
Now such a story I never heard!
There was a little shivering bird!
A sparrow, that in at the window flew,
Had crept into Piccola’s tiny shoe!
“How good poor Piccola must have been!”
She cried, as happy as any queen,
While the starving sparrow she fed and warmed,
And danced with rapture, she was so charmed.
Children, this story I tell to you,
Of Piccola sweet and her bird, is true.
In the far-off land of France, they say,
Still do they live to this very day.
DEFINITIONS:—Dawned, began to grow light. Befall, happen.
THE MOUNTAIN AND THE SQUIRREL
By Ralph Waldo Emerson
The mountain and the squirrel
Had a quarrel,
And the former called the latter “Little Prig”;
Bun replied: “You are doubtless very big;
But all sorts of things and weather
Must be taken in together
To make up a year
And a sphere.
And I think it no disgrace
To occupy my place.
If I’m not so large as you,
You are not so small as I,
And not half so spry.
I’ll not deny you make
A very pretty squirrel track;
Talents differ; all is well and wisely put;
If I cannot carry forests on my back,
Neither can you crack a nut.”