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´╗┐Title: Life in the Red Brigade - London Fire Brigade
Author: Ballantyne, R. M. (Robert Michael), 1825-1894
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Life in the Red Brigade - London Fire Brigade" ***

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LIFE IN THE RED BRIGADE, BY R.M. BALLANTYNE.



CHAPTER ONE.

Wet, worn and weary--with water squeaking in his boots, and a mixture of
charcoal and water streaking his face to such an extent that, as a
comrade asserted, his own mother would not have known him--a stout young
man walked smartly one morning through the streets of London towards his
own home.

He was tall and good-looking, as well as stout, and, although wet and
weary, had a spring in his step which proved beyond all question that he
was not worn-out.  As the comrade above referred to would have said,
"there was plenty of go in him still."  His blue and belted coat,
sailor's cap, and small hatchet, with the brass helmet swinging by its
chin strap on his left arm, betokened him a member of "The Red
Brigade,"--a London fireman--one of those dare-anything characters who
appear to hold their lives remarkably cheap, for they carry these lives
in their hands, as the saying goes, night and day; who seem to be able
to live in smoke as if it were their native element; who face the flames
as if their bodies were made of cast iron; and whose apparent delight in
fire is such that one is led to suspect they must be all more or less
distantly connected with the family of Salamander.

The young man's expression of countenance, as far as it could be
discerned through the charcoal and water, was hearty, and his name--
Dashwood--was in keeping with his profession.  The comrade, whose
opinion we have already quoted, was wont to say that he ought to change
it to Dashwater, that being his chief occupation in life.  We need
scarcely say that this comrade was rather fond of his joke.

Arrived at a small street, not far from the Regent Circus, young
Dashwood entered a fire-station there, and found the comrade above
referred to in the act of disposing himself on a narrow tressel-bed, on
which there was no bedding save one blanket.  The comrade happened to be
on duty that night.  It was his duty to repose on the tressel-bedstead,
booted and belted, ready at a moment's notice to respond to "calls."
Another fireman lay sleeping at his side, on another tressel-bed,
similarly clothed, for there were always two men on duty all night at
that station.  The guard-room, or, as it was styled, the "lobby," in
which they lay, was a very small room, with a bright fire in the grate,
for it was winter; a plain wooden desk near the window; a plain deal
table near the door, on which stood four telegraphic instruments; and
having the walls ornamented with a row of Wellington boots on one side,
and a row of bright brass helmets on the other, each helmet having a
small hatchet suspended by a belt below it.

The comrade, who looked very sleepy, glanced at a small clock, whose
tick was the only sound that fell upon the ear, and whose hands
indicated the hour of half-past two.

On hearing the door open, the comrade, whose name was Bob Clazie, raised
himself on one elbow.

"Ah, Joe,--that you?" he said, with a somewhat violent yawn.

"All that's left of me, anyhow," replied Joe Dashwood, as he hung up his
helmet and axe on his own particular peg.  "Bin much doin', Bob?"

"Not much," growled Bob; "but they don't give a poor fellow much chance
of a sleep with them telegraphs.  Roused me four times already within
the last hour--stops for chimbleys."

"Ha! very inconsiderate of 'em," said Dashwood, turning towards the
door.  "It's time I had a snooze now, so I'll bid 'ee good night, Bob."

Just as he spoke, one of the sharp little telegraphic bells rang
viciously.  He waited to ascertain the result while Clazie rose--quickly
but not hurriedly--and went to read the instrument with sleepy eyes.

"Another stop for a chimbley," he muttered, with a remonstrative growl.
By this he meant that the head office in Watling Street had telegraphed
that a chimney had gone on fire in some part of London; that it was
being looked after, and that he and his comrades were to _stop_ where
they were and pay no attention to it, even although some one should rush
into the office like a maniac shouting that there was a fire in that
particular place.  This use of the telegraph in thus _stopping_ the men
of the Brigade from going out in force to trifling fires, is of the
greatest service, because it not only prevents them from being harassed,
the engines from being horsed, and steam got up needlessly, but it
prevents rascals from running from station to station, and getting
several shillings, instead of the one shilling which is due to the first
intimator of any fire.

Having acknowledged the message, Bob Clazie lay down once more, gave
another expostulatory grunt, and drew his blanket over him; while Joe
Dashwood went home.

Joe's home consisted of a small apartment round the corner of the
street, within a few seconds' run of the station.  Off the small
apartment there was a large closet.  The small apartment was Dashwood's
drawing-room, dining-room, and kitchen; the large closet was his
bed-room.

Dashwood had a wife, "as tight a little craft, with as pretty a
figurehead," he was wont to say, "as you could find in a day's walk
through London."  That was saying a good deal, but there was some truth
in it.  When Joe entered, intending to go to bed for the night, he found
that Mary had just got up for the day.  It was "washing-day," or
something of that sort, with Mary, which accounted for her getting up at
about three in the morning.

"Hallo, lass, up already!" exclaimed the strapping fireman as he entered
the room, which was a perfect marvel of tidiness, despite washing-day.

"Yes, Joe, there's plenty to do, an' little May don't give me much time
to do it," replied Mary, glancing at a crib where little May, their
first-born, lay coiled up in sheets like a rosebud in snow.

Joe, having rubbed the water and charcoal from his face with a huge
jack-towel, went to the wash-tub, and imprinted a hearty kiss on Mary's
rosy lips, which she considerately held up for the purpose of being
saluted.  He was about to do the same to the rosebud, when Mary stopped
him with an energetic "Don't!"

"W'y not, Molly?" asked the obedient man.

"'Cause you'll wake her up."

Thus put down, Joe seated himself humbly on a sea-chest, and began to
pull off his wet boots.

"It's bin a bad fire, I think," said Mary, glancing at her husband.

"Rather.  A beer-shop in Whitechapel.  House of five rooms burnt out,
and the roof off."

"You look tired, Joe," said Mary.

"I _am_ a bit tired, but an hour's rest will put me all to rights.
That's the third fire I've bin called to to-night; not that I think much
about that, but the last one has bin a stiff one, an' I got a fall or
two that nigh shook the wind out o' me."

"Have something to eat, Joe," said Mary, in a sympathetic tone.

"No thankee, lass; I need sleep more than meat just now."

"A glass of beer, then," urged Mary, sweeping the soap suds off her
pretty arms and hands, and taking up a towel.

The fireman shook his head, as he divested himself of his coat and
neckcloth.

"Do, Joe," entreated Mary; "I'm sure it will do you good, and no one
could say that you broke through your principles, considerin' the
condition you're in."

Foolish Mary! she was young and inexperienced, and knew not the danger
of tempting her husband to drink.  She only knew that hundreds of
first-rate, sober, good, trustworthy men took a glass of beer now and
then without any evil result following, and did not think that her Joe
ran the slightest risk in doing the same.  But Joe knew his danger.  His
father had died a drunkard.  He had listened to earnest men while they
told of the bitter curse that drinking had been to thousands, that to
some extent the tendency to drink was hereditary, and that, however safe
some natures might be while moderately indulging, there were other
natures to which moderate drinking was equivalent to getting on those
rails which, running down a slight incline at first--almost a level--
gradually pass over a steep descent, where brakes become powerless, and
end at last in total destruction.

"I don't require beer, Molly," said Dashwood with a smile, as he retired
into the large closet; "at my time o' life a man must be a miserable,
half-alive sort o' critter, if he can't git along without Dutch courage.
The sight o' your face and May's there, is better than a stiff glass o'
grog to me any day.  It makes me feel stronger than the stoutest man in
the brigade.  Good night, lass, or good mornin'.  I must make the most
o' my time.  There's no sayin' how soon the next call may come.  Seems
to me as if people was settin' their houses alight on purpose to worry
us."

The tones in which the last sentences were uttered, and the creaking of
the bedstead indicated that the fireman was composing his massive limbs
to rest, and scarcely had Mrs Dashwood resumed her washing, when his
regular heavy breathing proclaimed him to be already in the land of Nod.

Quietly but steadily did Mrs Dashwood pursue her work.  Neat little
under-garments, and fairy-like little socks, and indescribable little
articles of Lilliputian clothing of various kinds, all telling of the
little rosebud in the crib, passed rapidly through Mary's nimble
fingers, and came out of the tub fair as the driven snow.  Soon the
front of the fire-place became like a ship dressed with flags, with this
difference, that the flags instead of being gay and parti-coloured, were
white and suggestive of infancy and innocence.  The gentle noise of
washing, and the soft breathing of the sleepers, and the tiny ticking of
the clock over the chimney-piece, were the only audible sounds, for
London had reached its deadest hour, four o'clock.  Rioters had
exhausted their spirits, natural and artificial, and early risers had
not begun to move.

Presently to these sounds were added another very distant sound which
induced Mary to stop and listen.  "A late cab," she whispered to
herself.  The rumbling of the late cab became more distinct, and soon
proved it to be a hurried cab.  To Mary's accustomed ear this raised
some disagreeable idea.  She cast a look of anxiety into the closet,
wiped her hands quickly, and taking up a pair of dry boots which had
been standing near the fire, placed them beside her husband's coat.
This was barely accomplished when the hurried cab was heard to pull up
at the neighbouring fire-station.  Only a few seconds elapsed when
racing footsteps were heard outside.  Mary seized her husband's arm--

"Up, Joe, up," she cried and darted across the room, leaped on a chair,
and laid violent hands on the tongue of the door-bell, thereby
preventing a furious double ring from disturbing the rosebud!

At the first word "up," the bed in the closet groaned and creaked as the
fireman bounded from it, and the house shook as he alighted on the
floor.  Next moment he appeared buttoning his braces, and winking like
an owl in sunshine.  One moment sufficed to pull on the right boot,
another moment affixed the left.  Catching up his half-dried coat with
one hand, and flinging on his sailor's cap with the other, he darted
from the house, thrust himself into his coat as he ran along and
appeared at the station just as four of his comrades drew the
fire-engine up to the door, while two others appeared with three horses,
which they harnessed thereto--two abreast, one in front--with marvellous
rapidity.  The whole affair, from the "Up, Joe, up," of Mrs Dashwood,
to the harnessing of the steeds, was accomplished in less than five
minutes.  By that time Joe and several of his mates stood ready belted,
and armed with brass helmets on their heads, which flashed back the rays
of the neighbouring street lamp and the engine lanterns.

There was wonderfully little noise or fuss, although there was so much
display of promptitude and energy; the reason being that all the men
were thoroughly drilled, and each had his particular duty to perform;
there was, therefore, no room for orders, counter-orders, or confusion.

The moment the call was given, Bob Clazie, having received no
telegraphic "stop," had at once run to ring up the men, who, like
Dashwood, had been sleeping close at hand.  He rang up the driver of the
engine first.  At the same moment his comrade on duty had run round to
the stable, where the horses stood ready harnessed, and brought them
out.  Thus the thing was done without a moment's delay.  The driver,
when roused, flung on his coat and helmet, and ran to the engine.  It
was a steam fire-engine; that is, the pumps were worked by steam instead
of by hand.  The firing was ready laid, and the water kept nearly at the
boiling point by means of a jet of gas.  He had scarcely applied a light
to the fire and turned off the gas, when four comrades ran into the
shed, seized the red-painted engine, and dragged her out, as we have
seen.

Much shorter time did it take to do all this than is required to
describe it.

When the driver mounted his box, the others sprang on the engine.
Crack! went the whip, fire flew from the paving-stones, fire poured from
the furnace, the spirited steeds tore round the corner into Regent
Street, and off they went to the fire, in the dark winter morning, like
a monster rocket or a vision of Roman gladiators whirled away by a red
fiery dragon!

Mrs Dashwood heard them go, and turned with a little sigh to her
washing-tub.  She was very proud of Joe, and she had good reason to be,
for he was one of the best men in the Red Brigade, and, what was of more
importance to her, he was one of the best husbands in the world.
Perhaps this was largely owing to the fact that she was one of the best
of wives!  His career as a fireman had been short, but he had already
become known as one of the daring men, to whom their Chief looked when
some desperate service had to be performed.  On several occasions he
had, while in charge of the fire-escape, been the means of saving life.
Upon the whole, therefore, it is not surprising that Mary was proud of
her husband--almost as proud of him as she was of the little rosebud;
but in regard to this she was never quite sure of the exact state of her
mind.

Meditating on Joe, and giving an occasional glance at May, whose sweet
upturned face seemed nothing short of angelic, Mrs Dashwood continued
energetically to scrub the fairy-like habiliments, and make the soapsuds
fly.

Meanwhile, the red engine whirled along its fiery course at full gallop,
like a horrible meteor, clattering loudly in the deserted streets of the
great city.  So it would have sped in its wild career even if it had
been broad day, for the loss of a single moment in reaching a fire is
important; but in this case the men, instead of sitting like
brazen-headed statues, would have stood up and increased the din of
their progress by shouting continuously to clear the crowded
thoroughfares.  As it was, they had it all to themselves.  Sometimes the
corner of a window-blind was hastily lifted, showing that some wakeful
one had curiosity enough to leap out of bed to see them pass.  Here and
there a policeman paused, and followed them with his eye as long as the
tail of sparks from the furnace was visible.  Occasionally a belated
toper stopped in his staggering progress to gaze at them, with an
idiotical assumption of seriousness and demand, "Wash ey maki'n sh' a
'orrible row for?"  Now and then a cat, with exploratory tendencies, put
up its back and greeted them with a glare and a fuff, or a shut-out cur
gave them a yelping salute; but the great mass of the London population
let them go by without notice, as they would have treated any other
passing thunderbolt with which they had nothing to do.

And yet they _had_ something to do with that engine, or, rather, it had
to do with them.  But for it, and the rest of the Red Brigade, London
would have long ago been in ashes.  It is only by unremitting vigilance
and incessant action that the London fires can be kept within bounds.
There are nearly two thousand fires in the year in the metropolis, and
the heroic little army which keeps these in check numbers only three
hundred and seventy-eight men.  That this force is much too small for
the work to be done is proved by the fact, that the same men have
sometimes to turn out three, four or five times in a night, to work of
the most trying and dangerous nature.  There is no occupation in which
the lives of the men employed are so frequently risked, and their
physical endurance so severely tried, as that of a London fireman.  As
there are, on the average, five fires every night all the year round, it
follows that he is liable to be called out several times every night;
and, in point of fact, this actually takes place very often.  Sometimes
he has barely returned from a fire, and put off his drenched garments,
when he receives another "call," and is obliged to put them on again,
and go forth weary--it may be fasting--to engage in another skirmish
with the flames.  In all weathers and at all seasons--hot or cold, wet
or dry--he must turn out at a moment's notice, to find himself, almost
before he is well awake, in the midst of stifling smoke, obliged to face
and to endure the power of roasting flames, to stand under cataracts of
water, beside tottering walls and gables, or to plunge through smoke and
flames, in order to rescue human lives.  Liability to be called
_occasionally_ to the exercise of such courage and endurance is severe
enough; it is what every soldier is liable to in time of war, and the
lifeboat-man in times of storm; but to be liable to such calls several
times every day and night all round the year is hard indeed, and proves
that the Red Brigade, although almost perfect in its organisation and
heroic in its elements, is far too small.  Paris has about seven hundred
fires a year; New York somewhere about three hundred; yet these cities
have a far larger body of firemen than London, which with little short
of two thousand fires a year, does her work of extinction with only
three hundred and seventy-eight men!

She succeeds because every man in the little army is a hero, not one
whit behind the Spartans of old.  The London fireman, Ford, who, in
1871, at one great fire rescued six lives from the flames, and perished
in accomplishing the noble deed, is a sample of the rest.  All the men
of the Brigade are picked men--picked from among the strapping and
youthful tars of the navy, because such men are accustomed to strict
discipline; to being "turned out" at all hours and in all weathers, and
to climb with cool heads in trying circumstances, besides being, as a
class, pre-eminently noted for daring anything and sticking at nothing.
Such men are sure to do their work well, however hard; to do it without
complaining, and to die, if need be, in the doing of it.  But ought they
to be asked to sacrifice so much?  Surely Londoners would do well to
make that complaint, which the men will _never_ make, and insist on the
force being increased, not only for the sake of the men, but also for
the sake of themselves; for, although there _are_ three hundred and
seventy-eight heroes who hold the fiery foe so well in check, there are
limits to heroic powers of action, and it stands to reason that double
the number would do it better.

But we are wandering from our point.  The engine has been tearing all
this time at racing speed along the Bayswater Road.  It turns sharp
round a corner near Notting Hill Gate--so sharp that the feat is
performed on the two off wheels, and draws from Bob Clazie the quiet
remark, "Pretty nigh on our beam-ends that time, Joe."  A light is now
seen glaring in the sky over the house-tops; another moment, and the
engine dashes into Ladbroke Square, where a splendid mansion is in a
blaze, with the flames spouting from the windows of the second floor.

The engine pulls up with a crash; the reeking horses are removed and led
aside.  "Look alive, lads!" is the only word uttered, and the helmeted
heroes, knowing their work well, go into action with that cool
promptitude which is more than half the battle in attacking the most
desperate odds or the fiercest foe.



CHAPTER TWO.

The house on fire was, as we have said, an elegant mansion--one of those
imposing edifices, with fresh paint outside, and splendid furniture
within, which impress the beholder with the idea of a family in
luxurious circumstances.

No one could tell how the fire originated.  In the daily "report" of
fires, made next day by the chief of the Red Brigade, wherein nine fires
were set down as having occurred within the twenty-four hours, the cause
of this fire in Ladbroke Square was reported "unknown."  Of the other
eight, the supposed causes were, in one case, "escape of gas," in
another, "paraffin-lamp upset," in another "intoxication," in another,
"spark from fire," in another, "candle," in another, "children playing
with matches," and so on; but in this mansion none of these causes were
deemed probable.  The master of the house turned off the gas regularly
every night before going to bed, therefore it could not have been caused
by escape of gas.  Paraffin-lamps were not used in the house.  Candles
were; but they were always carefully handled and guarded.  As to
intoxication, the most suspicious of mortals could not have dreamed of
such a cause in so highly respectable a family.  The fires were
invariably put out at night, and guards put on in every room, therefore,
no spark could have been so audacious as to have leaped into being and
on to the floor.  There were, indeed, "matches" in the house, but there
were no children, except one old lady, who, having reached her second
childhood, might perhaps have been regarded as a child.  It is true
there was a certain Betty, a housemaid, whose fingers were reported by
the cook to be "all thumbs," and who had an awkward and incurable
tendency to spill, and break, and drop, and fall over things, on whom
suspicion fastened very keenly at first; but Betty, who was young and
rather pretty, asserted so earnestly that she had been unusually happy
that night in having done nothing whatever of a condemnable nature, and
backed her asseverations with such floods of tears, that she was
exonerated, and, as we have said, the cause was reported "unknown."

It was not, however, so completely unknown as was at first supposed.
There was a certain grave, retiring, modest individual who knew the
gentleman of the house and his doings a little more thoroughly than was
agreeable to the said gentleman, and who had become aware, in some
unaccountable way, which it is impossible to explain, that he, the said
gentleman, had very recently furnished the house in a sumptuous style,
and had insured it much beyond its value.  The said individual's
knowledge ultimately resulted in the said gentleman being convicted and
transported for arson!

But with all this we have nothing to do.  Whatever the uncertainty that
afterwards arose as to the cause of the fire, there could be no
uncertainty as to the fire itself at the time.  It blazed and roared so
furiously, that the inside of the house resembled a white-hot furnace.
Flames spouted from the windows and chimneys, glaring fiercely on the
spectators, who assembled rapidly from all quarters, as if defying them
all, and daring the firemen to do their worst.  Sparks enough to have
shamed all the Roman candles ever made in or out of Rome were vomited
forth continuously, and whirled away with volumes of dense black smoke
into the wintry sky.

"It's well alight," observed a chimney-sweep to a policeman.

The policeman made no reply, although it did seem as if it would have
been quite safe, even for a policeman, to admit that the sweep was
thoroughly correct.  It _was_ "well alight," so well, that it seemed
absolutely ridiculous to suppose that the firemen could make any
impression on it at all.

But the firemen did not appear to think the attempt ridiculous.  "Never
give in" was, or might have been, their motto.  It was their maxim to
attack the enemy with promptitude and vigour, no matter what his
strength might be.  When he crept out like a sneaking burglar from under
a hearth-stone, or through an over-heated flue, they would "have at him"
with the hand-pumps and quench him at once.  When he came forth like a
dashing party of skirmishers, to devastate a wood-yard, or light up a
music-hall with unusual brilliancy, they sent an engine or two against
him without delay, and put him down in an hour or two.  When he attacked
"in force," they despatched engine after engine--manuals and steamers--
to the front, until he was quelled, and if the prey already seized could
not be wrenched from his grasp, they, at all events, killed him before
he could destroy more.  When he boldly and openly declared war,
attacking the great combustible warehouses of Tooley Street, threatening
a descent on the shipping, and almost setting the Thames on fire, they
sent out the whole available army from every quarter of the metropolis
with all their engines of war--manuals, steamers, and floating
batteries, or spouteries, and fought him tooth and nail, till he gave
in.  They might be terribly over-matched--as in the case of the great
fire when the gallant Braidwood fell--they might lose men, and might
have to fight day and night for weeks, but they would "never say die,"
until the enemy had died and left them, tired and torn, but still tough
and triumphant victors on the field of battle.

Before the engine from Regent Street came on the ground, two manual
engines from Kensington and Notting Hill had arrived, and opened water
on the foe.  At first their shot fell harmlessly on the roaring furnace;
but by the time the "steamer" had got ready for action, some little
effect was beginning to be produced.  When this great gun, so to speak,
began to play, and sent a thick continuous stream through the windows,
like an inexhaustible water mitrailleuse, clouds of white steam mingled
with the black smoke, and varied the aspect of the fire, but did not
appear to lessen its fury in any degree.  Just then another manual
engine dashed into the square at full gallop, and formed up.  Before it
had well taken a position, another "steamer," with three horses, came
swinging round the corner, and fell into the ranks.  The panting steeds
were unharnessed, the bold charioteers leaped down, the suction-pipe was
dipped into the water-trough, and the hose attached.  As two engines
cannot "drink" at the same plug, a canvas trough with an iron frame is
put over the plug, having a hole in its bottom, which fits tightly round
the plug.  It quietly fills, and thus two or more engines may do their
work convivially--dip in their suction-pipes, and "drink" simultaneously
at the same fountain.

"Down with her!" shouted the man who held the "branch," or nozzle, at
the end of the hose.

A steam whistle gives a shrill, short reply; the engine quivers under
the power of man's greatest servant, and another battery opens on the
foe.

But London firemen are not content to play at long bowls.  While the
artillery goes thus vigorously into action, the helmets of the men are
seen gleaming and glancing everywhere amid the smoke, searching for weak
points, turning the enemy's flanks, and taking him in rear.  Hose are
dragged through neighbouring houses, trailing their black coils like
horrid water snakes, through places were such things were never meant to
be.  If too short, additional lengths are added, again and again, till
the men who hold the branches gain points of vantage on adjoining roofs
or outhouses, until, at last from below, above, in front, and behind,
cataracts of water dash into the glowing furnace.

The fire-escape had been first to reach the ground after the alarm was
given, this being the instrument nearest to the scene of conflagration.
It happened that night to be in charge of David Clazie, a brother of
Comrade Bob.  Being a smart young fellow, David, had--with the
assistance of two early risers who chanced to be at hand, and the
policeman on the beat--run up his escape, and put it in position before
the fire had gained its full force.  The gentleman of the house had
already got out, and fled in his night garments; but the fire had
rendered the staircase impassable, so that the cook, the many-thumbed
Betty, and the old lady, who was the gentleman's mother, were imprisoned
in the upper floor.

David Clazie did not learn this from the gentleman, however.  That
amiable character had received such a fright, that he had taken himself
off, no one--except the individual aforementioned--knew whither.
Fortunately, Betty announced the fact of her existence by rushing to a
window and shrieking.  David ran his escape towards the window, mounted
the ladder, carried the damsel down, bore her, kicking, into a
neighbouring house, and left her in fits.  Meanwhile the cook rushed to
the same window, shrieked, and fell back half-suffocated with the smoke
which just then surrounded her.  A policeman gallantly ran up the
escape, jumped into the room, gathered up the cook with great
difficulty--for she was unusually fat and the smoke very suffocating--
carried her down, bore her to the same house where Betty lay, and left
her there in violent hysterics.

As neither of them could answer questions, it could not be ascertained
whether there were any more people in the burning house.  David
therefore explored it as far as was possible in the circumstances, and
much more than was safe for himself, but found no one.  After nearly
choking himself, therefore, he drew aside the escape to prevent its
being burned.

When the engines came up, however, it was again brought into play, to
enable the firemen to get up with their "branches" to the upper windows.

"Try that window, Dashwood," said the officer of the station to which
Joe belonged, pointing to a window on the second floor.  "There ain't
much smoke coming out."

Before he had done speaking, Joe and a comrade had pushed the escape
towards the window in question.  He ascended and leaped into the room,
but could scarcely see for the smoke.  Knowing that the air in a burning
house is clearer near the floor, he stooped as low as possible, and went
round the room guiding himself by the walls.  Coming to a door he seized
the handle and tried to open it, but found it locked, and the handle so
hot that he was forced to let go abruptly.  He seized a chair, tried to
burst it open with a blow, and shivered the chair to atoms, but did not
force the door.  A powerful effort with his foot also failed.  Rushing
to the window he got out on the escape, and shouted:--

"The axe, lads, look sharp and pass up the hose.  We'll get at it here."

A large heavy axe was handed up by one fireman, while another let down a
rope, to which the end of the hose was attached and hauled up.

Joe seized the axe, returned to the door, and, with one blow, dashed it
open.

Flames leaped upon him, as if they had been eagerly awaiting the
opportunity, licked hungrily round his legs, and kissed his whiskers--of
which, by the way, he was rather proud; and with good reason, for they
were very handsome whiskers.  But Joe cared no more for them at that
moment than he did for his boots.  He was forced to retreat, however, to
the window, where Bob Clazie had already presented his branch and
commenced a telling discharge on the fire.

"That's the way to do it," muttered Bob, as he directed the branch and
turned aside his head to avoid, as much as possible, the full volume of
the smoke.

"Let's get a breath o' fresh air," gasped Joe Dashwood, endeavouring to
squeeze past his comrade through the window.

At that moment a faint cry was heard.  It appeared to come from an inner
room.

"Some one there, Joe," said Bob Clazie in a grave tone, but without
diverting his attention for an instant, from the duty in which he was
engaged.

Joe made no reply, but at once leaped back into the room, and, a second
time, felt his way round the walls.  He came on another door.  One blow
of the ponderous axe dashed it in, and revealed a bed-room not quite so
densely filled with smoke as the outer room.  Observing a bed looming
through the smoke, he ran towards it, and struck his head against one of
the posts so violently that he staggered.  Recovering he made a grasp at
the clothes, and felt that there was a human being wrapped tightly up in
them like a bundle.  A female shriek followed.  Joe Dashwood was not the
man to stand on ceremony in such circumstances.  He seized the bundle,
straightened it out a little, so as to make it more portable, and
throwing it over his shoulder, made a rush towards the window by which
he had entered.  All this the young fireman did with considerable energy
and haste, because the density of the smoke was increasing, and his
retreat might be cut off by the flames at any moment.

"Clear the way there!" he gasped, on reaching the window.

"All right," replied Bob Clazie, who was still presenting his branch
with untiring energy at the flames.

Joe passed out, got on the head of the escape, and, holding the bundle
on his shoulder with one hand, grasped the rounds of the ladder with the
other.  He descended amid the cheers of the vast multitude, which had by
this time assembled to witness the fire.

As Joe hurried towards the open door of the nearest house, Betty, with
the thumbs, rushed frantically out, screaming, "Missis! oh! my! she'll
be burnt alive! gracious! help! fire! back room! first floor! oh, my!"

"Be easy, lass," cried Joe, catching the flying domestic firmly by the
arm, and detaining her despite her struggles.

"Let me go; missis!  I forgot her!"

"Here she is," cried Joe, interrupting, "all safe.  You come and attend
to her."

The reaction on poor Betty's feelings was so great that she went into
fits a second time, and was carried with her mistress into the house,
where the cook still lay in violent hysterics.

Joe laid the bundle gently on the bed, and looked quickly at the
bystanders.  Observing several cool and collected females among them, he
pointed to the bundle, which had begun to exhibit symptoms of life, and
said briefly, "She's all right, look after her," and vanished like a
wreath of that smoke into which in another moment he plunged.

He was not a moment too soon, for he found Bob Clazie, despite his
fortitude and resolution, on the point of abandoning the window, where
the smoke had increased to such a degree as to render suffocation
imminent.

"Can't stand it," gasped Bob, scrambling a few paces down the ladder.

"Give us the branch, Bob, I saw where it was in fetchin' out the old
woman," said Joe in a stifled voice.

He grasped the copper tube from which the water spouted with such force
as to cause it to quiver and recoil like a living thing, so that, being
difficult to hold, it slipped aside and nearly fell.  The misdirected
water-spout went straight at the helmet of a policeman, which it knocked
off with the apparent force of a cannon shot; plunged into the bosom of
a stout collier, whom it washed whiter than he had ever been since the
days of infancy, and scattered the multitude like chaff before the wind.
Seeing this, the foreman ordered "Number 3" engine, (which supplied the
particular branch in question), to cease pumping.

Joe recovered the erratic branch in a moment, and dragged it up the
escape, Bob, who was now in a breatheable atmosphere, helping to pass up
the hose.  The foreman, who seemed to have acquired the power of being
in several places at one and the same moment of time, and whose watchful
eye was apparently everywhere, ordered Bob's brother David and another
man named Ned Crashington, to go up and look after Joe Dashwood.

Meanwhile Joe shouted, "Down with Number 3;" by which he meant, "up with
as much water as possible from Number 3, and as fast as you can!" and
sprang into the room from which he had just rescued the old woman.  In
passing out with her he had observed a glimmer of flame through the door
which he had first broken open, and which, he reflected while descending
the escape, was just out of range of Bob Clazie's branch.  It was the
thought of this that had induced him to hurry back so promptly; in time,
as we have seen, to relieve his comrade.  He now pointed the branch at
the precise spot, and hit that part of the fire right in its heart.  The
result was that clouds of steam mingled with the smoke.  But Joe was
human after all.  The atmosphere, or, rather, the want of atmosphere,
was too much for him.  He was on the point of dropping the branch, and
rushing to the window for his life, when Ned Crashington, feeling his
way into the room, tumbled over him.

Speech was not required in the circumstances.  Ned knew exactly what to
do, and Joe knew that he had been sent to relieve him.  He therefore
delivered the branch to Ned, and at once sprang out on the escape, where
he encountered David Clazie.

"Go in, Davy, he can't stand it long," gasped Joe.

"No fears of 'im," replied Davy, with a smile, as he prepared to enter
the window; "Ned can stand hanythink a'most.  But, I say, send up some
more 'ands.  It takes two on us to 'old _that_ 'ere branch, you know."

The brass helmets of more hands coming up the escape were observed as he
spoke, for the foreman saw that this was a point of danger, and, like a
wise general, had his reserves up in time.

David Clazie found Ned standing manfully to the branch.  Ned was noted
in the Red Brigade as a man who could "stand a'most anything," and who
appeared to cherish a martyr-like desire to die by roasting or
suffocation.  This was the more surprising that he was not a boastful or
excitable fellow, but a silent, melancholy, and stern man, who, except
when in action, usually seemed to wish to avoid observation.  Most of
his comrades were puzzled by this compound of character, but some of
them hinted that Crashington's wife could have thrown some light on the
subject.  Be this as it may, whenever the chief or the foreman of the
Brigade wanted a man for any desperate work, they invariably turned to
Ned Crashington.  Not that Ned was one whit more courageous or willing
to risk his life than any of the other men, _all_ of whom, it must be
remembered, were picked for courage and capacity for their special work;
but he combined the greatest amount of coolness with the utmost possible
recklessness, besides being unusually powerful, so that he could be
depended on for wise as well as desperate action.  Joe Dashwood was
thought to be almost equal to Ned--indeed, in personal activity he was
superior; but there was nothing desperate in Joe's character.  He was
ever ready to dare anything with a sort of jovial alacrity, but he did
not appear, like Ned, to court martyrdom.

While Ned and David subdued the flames above, Joe descended the escape,
and being by that time almost exhausted, sat down to rest with several
comrades who had endured the first shock of battle, while fresh men were
sent to continue the fight.

"Have a glass, Joe?" said one of the firemen, coming round with a bottle
of brandy.

"No, thank 'ee," said Joe, "I don't require it."

"Hand it here," said a man who stood leaning against the rails beside
him, "my constitution is good, like the British one, but it's none the
worse for a drop o' brandy after such tough work."

There was probably truth in what the man said.  Desperate work sometimes
necessitates a stimulant; nevertheless, there were men in the Red
Brigade who did their desperate work on nothing stronger than water, and
Joe was one of these.

In three hours the fire was subdued, and before noon of that day it was
extinguished.  The "report" of it, as published by the chief of the
Fire-Brigade next morning, recorded that a house in Ladbroke Square,
occupied by Mr Blank, a gentleman whose business was "private"--in
other words, unknown--had been set on fire by some "unknown cause," that
the whole tenement had been "burnt out" and "the roof off," and that the
contents of the building were "insured in the Phoenix."

Some of the firemen were sent home about daybreak, when the flames first
began to be mastered.

Joe was among these.  He found Mary ready with a cup of hot coffee, and
the rosebud, who had just awakened, ready with a kiss.  Joe accepted the
second, swallowed the first, stretched his huge frame with a sigh of
weariness, remarked to Mary that he would turn in, and in five minutes
thereafter was snoring profoundly.



CHAPTER THREE.

One pleasant afternoon in spring David Clazie and Ned Crashington sat
smoking together in front of the fire in the lobby of the station,
chatting of hair-breadth escapes by flood and fire.

"It's cold enough yet to make a fire a very pleasant comrade--w'en 'e's
inside the bars," observed David.

"H'm," replied Crashington.

As this was not a satisfactory reply, David said so, and remarked,
further, that Ned seemed to be in the blues.

"Wotever can be the matter wi' you, Ned," said David, looking at his
companion with a perplexed air; "you're a young, smart, 'ealthy fellar,
in a business quite to your mind, an' with a good-lookin' young wife at
'ome, not to mention a babby.  W'y wot more would you 'ave, Ned?  You
didn't ought for to look blue."

"Pr'aps not," replied Ned, re-lighting his pipe, and puffing between
sentences, "but a man may be in a business quite to his mind and have a
good-looking wife, and a babby, and health to boot, without bein'
exactly safe from an attack of the blues now and then, d'ye see?  `It
ain't all gold that glitters.'  You've heard o' that proverb, no doubt?"

"Well, yes," replied Clazie.

"Ah.  Then there's another sayin' which mayhap you've heard of too:
`every man's got a skeleton in the cupboard.'"

"I've heard o' that likewise," said Clazie, "but it ain't true;
leastways, _I_ have got no skeleton in none o' my cupboards, an', wot's
more, if I 'ad, I'd pitch him overboard."

"But what if he was too strong for you?" suggested Ned.

"Why, then--I don't know," said Clazie, shaking his head.

Before this knotty point could be settled in a satisfactory manner, the
comrades were interrupted by the entrance of a man.  He was a thick-set,
ill-favoured fellow, with garments of a disreputable appearance, and had
a slouch that induced honest men to avoid his company.  Nevertheless,
Ned Crashington gave him a hearty "good afternoon," and shook hands.

"My brother-in-law, Clazie," said Ned, turning and introducing him, "Mr
Sparks."

Clazie was about to say he "was 'appy to," etcetera, but thought better
of it, and merely nodded as he turned to the grate and shook the ashes
out of his pipe.

"You'll come and have a cup of tea, Phil?  Maggie and I usually have it
about this time."

Phil Sparks said he had no objection to tea, and left the station with
Ned, leaving David Clazie shaking his head with a look of profound
wisdom.

"You're a bad lot, you are," growled David, after the man was gone, "a
werry bad lot, indeed!"

Having expressed his opinion to the clock, for there was no one else
present, David thrust both hands into his pockets, and went out to take
an observation of the weather.

Meanwhile Ned Crashington led his brother-in-law to his residence,
which, like the abodes of the other firemen, was close at hand.
Entering it he found his "skeleton" waiting for him in the shape of his
wife.  She was anything but a skeleton in aspect, being a stout,
handsome woman, with a fine figure, an aquiline nose, and glittering
black eyes.

"Oh, you've come at last," she said in a sharp, querulous tone, almost
before her husband had entered the room.  "Full ten minutes late, and I
expected you sooner than usual to-night."

"I didn't know you expected me sooner, Maggie.  Here's Phil come to have
tea with us."

"Oh, Phil, how are you?" said Mrs Crashington, greeting her brother
with a smile, and shaking him heartily by the hand.

"Ah, if you'd only receive _me_ with a smile like that, _how_ different
it might be," thought Ned; but he _said_ nothing.

"Now, then, stoopid," cried Mrs Crashington, turning quickly round on
her husband, as if to counteract the little touch of amiability into
which she had been betrayed, "how long are you going to stand there in
people's way staring at the fire?  What are you thinking of?"

"I was thinking of you, Maggie."

"H'm! thinking no good of me, I dare say," replied Maggie, sharply.

"Did your conscience tell you that?" asked Ned, with a heightened
colour.

Maggie made no reply.  One secret of her bad temper was that she had all
her life been allowed to vent it, and now that she was married she felt
the necessity of restraining it very irksome.  Whenever she had gone far
enough with Ned, and saw that he was not to be trifled with, she found
that she possessed not only power to control her temper, but the sense,
now and then, to do so!  On the present occasion she at once busied
herself in preparing tea, while Ned sat down opposite his
brother-in-law, and, taking Fred, his only child, a handsome boy of
about five years of age, on his knee, began to run his fingers through
his jet black curly hair.

"Did you get your tasks well to-day, Fred?" asked Ned.

"No, father."

"No?" repeated Ned in surprise; "why not?"

"Because I was playin' with May Dashwood, father."

"Was that a good reason for neglecting your dooty?" demanded Ned,
shaking his head reproachfully, yet smiling in spite of himself.

"Iss, father," replied the boy boldly.

"You're wrong, Fred.  No doubt you might have had a worse reason, but
_play_ is not a good reason for neglect of dooty.  Only think--what
would be said to me if I was called to a fire, and didn't go because I
wanted to play with May Dashwood?"

"But I was sent for," pleaded Fred.  "Mrs Dashwood had a big--oh,
_such_ a big washin', an' sent to say if I might be let go; an' mother
said I might, so I went."

"Ah, that alters the case, Fred," replied his father, patting the boy's
head.  "To help a woman in difficulties justifies a'most anything.
Don't it, Phil?"

Thus appealed to, Phil said that he didn't know, and, what was more, he
didn't care.

"Now don't sit talkin' nonsense, but sit in to tea," said Mrs
Crashington.

The stout fireman's natural amiability had been returning like a flood
while he conversed with Fred, but this sharp summons rather checked its
flow; and when he was told in an exasperating tone to hand the toast,
and not look like a stuck pig, it was fairly stopped, and his spirit
sank to zero.

"Have you got anything to do yet?" he asked of Phil Sparks, by way of
cheering up a little.

"No, nothin'," replied Sparks; "leastways nothin' worth mentionin'."

"I _knew_ his last application would fail," observed Maggie, in a
quietly contemptuous tone.

His last application had been made through Ned's influence and advice,
and that is how she came to _know_ it would fail.

Ned felt a rising of indignation within him which he found it difficult
to choke down, because it was solely for his wife's sake that he had
made any effort at all to give a helping hand to surly Phil Sparks, for
whom he entertained no personal regard.  But Ned managed to keep his
mouth shut.  Although a passionate man, he was not ill-tempered, and
often suffered a great deal for the sake of peace.

"London," growled Sparks, in a tone of sulky remonstrance, "ain't a
place for a man to git on in.  If you've the luck to have friends who
can help you, an' are willin', why it's well enough; but if you haven't
got friends, its o' no manner o' use to try anything, except
pocket-pickin' or house-breakin'."

"Come, Phil," said Ned, laughing, as he helped himself to a huge round
of buttered toast, "I 'ope you han't made up your mind to go in for
either of them professions, for they don't pay.  They entail hard work,
small profits, an' great risk--not to mention the dishonesty of 'em.
But I don't agree with you about London neither."

"You never agree with nobody about anythink," observed Mrs Crashington,
in a low tone, as if the remark were made to the teapot; but Ned heard
it, and his temper was sorely tried again, for, while the remark was
utterly false as regarded himself, it was particularly true as regarded
his wife.  However, he let it pass, and continued--

"You see, Phil, London, as you know, is a big place, the population of
it being equal to that of all Scotland--so I'm told, though it ain't
easy to swallow that.  Now it seems to me that where there's so many
people an' so much doin', it ought to be the very place for smart, stout
fellows like you.  If I was you, I'd--"

"Yes, but you _ain't_ him," interrupted Mrs Crashington, testily, "so
it won't do him much good to tell what you would or wouldn't do."

"I've heard of wives, Maggie, who _sometimes_ tried to be agreeable,"
said Ned, gravely.

"If I don't suit you, why did you marry me?" demanded Maggie.

"Ah, why indeed?" said Ned, with a frown.  At this critical point in the
conversation, little Fred, who was afraid that a storm was on the point
of bursting forth, chanced to overturn his tin mug of tea.  His mother
was one of those obtuse women who regard an accident as a sin, to be
visited by summary punishment.  Her usual method of inflicting
punishment was by means of an open-handed slap on the side of the head.
On this occasion she dealt out the measure of justice with such
good-will, that poor little Fred was sent sprawling and howling on the
floor.

This was too much for Ned, who was a tender-hearted man.  The blood
rushed to his face; he sprang up with such violence as to overturn his
chair, seized his cap, and, without uttering a word, dashed out of the
room, and went downstairs three steps at a time.

What Ned meant to do, or where to go, of course no one could tell, for
he had no definite intentions in his own mind, but his energies were
unexpectedly directed for him.  On rushing out at the street door, he
found himself staggering unexpectedly in the arms of Bob Clazie.

"Hullo!  Bob, what's up?"

"Turn out!" said Bob, as he wheeled round, and ran to the next fireman's
door.

Ned understood him.  He ran smartly to the station, and quickly put on
helmet, belt, and axe.  Already the engine was out, and the horses were
being harnessed.  In two minutes the men were assembled and accoutred;
in three they were in their places--the whip cracked, and away they
went.

It was a good blazing, roaring, soul-stirring fire--a dry-salter's
warehouse, with lots of inflammable materials to give it an intense
heart of heat, and fanned by a pretty stiff breeze into ungovernable
fury--yet it was as nothing to the fire that raged in Ned's bosom.  If
he had hated his wife, or been indifferent to her, he would in all
probability, like too many husbands, have sought for congenial society
elsewhere, and would have been harsh to her when obliged to be at home.
But Ned loved his wife, and would have made any sacrifice, if by so
doing, he could have smoothed her into a more congenial spirit.  When,
therefore, he found that his utmost efforts were of no avail, and that
he was perpetually goaded, and twitted, and tweaked for every little
trifle, his spirit was set alight--as he at last remarked in confidence
to David Clazie--and all the fire-engines in Europe, Asia, Africa and
America couldn't put it out.

The dry-salter's premises seemed to have been set on fire for poor Ned's
special benefit that night.  They suited his case exactly.  There was
more than the usual quantity of smoke to suffocate, and fire to roast,
him.  There was considerable danger too, so that the daring men of the
brigade were in request--if we may say that of a brigade in which _all_
the men were daring--and Ned had congenial work given him to do.  The
proverbial meeting of Greek with Greek was mere child's play to this
meeting of fire with fire.  The inflamed Ned and the blazing dry-salter
met in mortal conflict, and the result was tremendous!  It made his
brother firemen stand aghast with awful admiration, to observe the way
in which Ned dashed up tottering staircases, and along smoke-choked
passages, where lambent flames were licking about in search of oxygen to
feed on, and the way in which he hurled down brick walls and hacked
through wood partitions, and tore up fir-planking and seized branch and
hose, and, dragging them into hole-and-corner places, and out upon dizzy
beams, and ridge poles, dashed tons of water in the fire's face, until
it hissed again.  It was a fine example of the homoeopathic principle
that "like cures like;" for the fire in Ned's bosom did wonders that
night in the way of quenching the fire in the dry-salter's warehouse.

When this had gone on for an hour, and the fire was at its height, Ned,
quite exhausted, descended to the street, and, sitting down on the
pavement, leaned against a rail.

"If you goes on like that, Ned," said Bob Clazie, coming up to him,
"you'll bust yourself."

"I wish I could," said Ned.

At that moment, Bob's brother David came towards them with the brandy
bottle.

"Have a glass, Ned, you need it," said David.

Ned, although not a teetotaller, was one of the men who did not require
spirits, and therefore seldom took more than a sip, but he now seized
the glass, and drained it eagerly.

"Another," he cried, holding it up.

David refilled it with a look of some surprise.

Ned drained it a second time.

"Now," said he, springing up, and tightening his belt, "I'm all right,
come along, Bob!"

With that he rushed into the burning house, and in a few seconds was
seen to take the branch from a fireman on one of the upper floors, and
drag it out on a charred beam that overhung the fire.  The spot on which
they stood was brilliantly illuminated, and it was seen that the fireman
remonstrated with Ned, but the latter thrust him away, and stepped out
on the beam.  He stood there black as ebony, with a glowing background
of red walls and fire, and the crowd cheered him for his unwonted
courage; but the cheer was changed abruptly into a cry of alarm as the
beam gave way, and Ned fell head foremost into the burning ruins.

The chief of the brigade--distinguishable everywhere by his tall
figure--observed the accident, and sprang towards the place.

"If he's not killed by the fall, he's safe from the fire, for it is
burnt out there," he remarked to David Clazie, who accompanied him.
Before they reached the place, Joe Dashwood and two other men had rushed
in.  They found Ned lying on his back in a mixture of charcoal and
water, almost buried in a mass of rubbish which the falling beam had
dragged down along with it.  In a few seconds this was removed, and Ned
was carried out and laid on the pavement, with a coat under his head.

"There's no cut anywhere that I can see," said Joe Dashwood examining
him.

"His fall must have been broke by goin' through the lath and plaster o'
the ceilin' below," suggested Bob Clazie.

At that moment, there was a great crash, followed by a loud cry, and a
cheer from the multitude, as the roof fell in, sending up a magnificent
burst of sparks and flame, in the midst of which Ned Crashington was
borne from the field of battle.

While this scene was going on, Mrs Crashington and her brother were
still seated quietly enjoying their tea--at least, enjoying it as much
as such characters can be said to enjoy anything.

When Ned had gone out, as before mentioned, Phil remarked:--

"I wouldn't rouse him like that, Mag, if I was you."

"But he's so aggravatin'," pleaded Mrs Crashington.

"He ain't half so aggravatin' as _you_ are," replied Phil, gruffly.  "I
don't understand your temper at all.  You take all the hard words _I_
give you as meek as a lamb, but if _he_ only offers to open his mouth
you fly at him like a turkey-cock.  However, it's no business o' mine,
and now," he added, rising, "I must be off."

"So, you won't tell me before you go, what sort of employment you've
got?"

"No," replied Phil, shortly.

"Why not, Phil?"

"Because I don't want you to know, and I don't want your husband to
know."

"But I won't tell him, Phil."

"I'll take good care you can't tell him," returned Phil, as he fastened
a worsted comforter round his hairy throat.  "It's enough for you to
know that I ain't starvin' and that the work pays, though it ain't
likely to make my fortin'."

Saying this, Mr Sparks condescended to give his sister a brief nod and
left the house.

He had not been gone much more than a couple of hours, when Mrs
Crashington, having put little Fred to sleep, was roused from a reverie
by the sound of several footsteps outside, followed by a loud ring at
the bell; she opened the door quickly, and her husband was borne in and
laid on his bed.

"Not dead?" exclaimed the woman in a voice of agony.

"No, missus, not dead," said David Clazie, "but hardly better, I fear."

When Maggie looked on the poor bruised form, with garments torn to
shreds, and so covered with charcoal, water, lime, and blood, as to be
almost an indistinguishable mass, she could not have persuaded herself
that he was alive, had not a slight heaving of the broad chest told that
life still remained.

"It's a 'orrible sight, that, missus," said David Clazie, with a look
that seemed strangely stern.

"It is--oh it is--terrible!" said Mrs Crashington, scarce able to
suppress a cry.

"Ah, you'd better take a good look at it," added Clazie, "for it's your
own doing, missus."

Maggie looked at him in surprise, but he merely advised her to lend a
hand to take the clothes off, as the doctor would be round in a minute;
so she silently but actively busied herself in such duties as were
necessary.

Meanwhile Phil Sparks went about the streets of London attending to the
duties of his own particular business.  To judge from appearances, it
seemed to be rather an easy occupation, for it consisted mainly in
walking at a leisurely pace through the streets and thoroughfares, with
his hands in his pockets and a pipe in his mouth.

Meditation also appeared to be an important branch of this business, for
Phil frequently paused in front of a large mansion, or a magnificent
shop, and gazed at it so intently, that one might have almost fancied he
was planning the best method of attempting a burglary, although nothing
was farther from Phil's intentions.  Still, his meditations were
sometimes so prolonged, that more than one policeman advised him, quite
in a friendly way, to "move on."

Apparently, however, Phil turned over no profit, on this business, and
was about to return home supperless to bed, when he suddenly observed
smoke issuing from an upper window.  Rare and lucky chance!  He was the
first to observe it.  He knew that the first who should convey the alarm
of fire to a fire-station would receive a shilling for his exertions.
He dashed off at once, had the firemen brought to the spot in a few
minutes, so that the fire was easily and quickly overcome.  Thus honest
Phil Sparks earned his supper, and the right to go home and lay his head
on his pillow, with the happy consciousness of having done a good action
to his fellow-men, and performed a duty to the public and himself.



CHAPTER FOUR.

It is probable that there is not in all the wide world a man--no matter
how depraved, or ill-favoured, or unattractive--who cannot find some
sympathetic soul, some one who will be glad to see him and find more or
less pleasure in his society.  Coarse in body and mind though Philip
Sparks was, there dwelt a young woman, in one of the poorest of the poor
streets in the neighbourhood of Thames Street, who loved him, and would
have laid down her life for him.

To do Martha Reading justice, she had fallen in love with Sparks before
intemperance had rendered his countenance repulsive and his conduct
brutal.  When, perceiving the power he had over her, he was mean enough
to borrow and squander the slender gains she made by the laborious work
of dress-making--compared to which coal-heaving must be mere child's
play--she experienced a change in her feelings towards him, which she
could not easily understand or define.  Her thoughts of him were mingled
with intense regrets and anxieties, and she looked forward to his visits
with alarm.  Yet those thoughts were not the result of dying affection;
she felt quite certain of that, having learned from experience that,
"many waters cannot quench love."

One evening, about eight o'clock, Phil Sparks, having prosecuted his
"business" up to that hour without success, tapped at the door of
Martha's garret and entered without waiting for permission; indeed, his
tapping at all was a rather unwonted piece of politeness.

"Come in, Phil," said Martha, rising and shaking hands, after which she
resumed her work.

"You seem busy to-night," remarked Sparks, sitting down on a broken
chair beside the fireless grate, and taking out his bosom companion, a
short black pipe, which he began to fill.

"I am always busy," said Martha, with a sigh.

"An' it don't seem to agree with you, to judge from your looks,"
rejoined the man.

This was true.  The poor girl's pretty face was thin and very pale and
haggard.

"I was up all last night," she said, "and feel tired now, and there's
not much chance of my getting to bed to-night either, because the lady
for whom I am making this must have it by to-morrow afternoon at
latest."

Here Mr Sparks muttered something very like a malediction on ladies in
general, and on ladies who "_must_" have dresses in particular.

"Your fire's dead out, Martha," he added, poking among the ashes in
search of a live ember.

"Yes, Phil, it's out.  I can't afford fire of an evening; besides it
ain't cold just now."

"You can afford matches, I suppose," growled Phil; "ah, here they are.
Useful things matches, not only for lightin' a feller's pipe with, but
also for--well; so she _must_ have it by to-morrow afternoon, must she?"

"Yes, so my employer tells me."

"An' she'll not take no denial, won't she?"

"I believe not," replied Martha, with a faint smile, which, like a gleam
of sunshine on a dark landscape, gave indication of the brightness that
might have been if grey clouds of sorrow had not overspread her sky.

"What's the lady's name, Martha?"

"Middleton."

"And w'ere abouts may she live?"

"In Conway Street, Knightsbridge."

"The number?"

"Number 6, I believe; but why are you so particular in your inquiries
about her?" said Martha, looking up for a moment from her work, while
the faint gleam of sunshine again flitted over her face.

"Why, you see, Martha," replied Phil, gazing through the smoke of his
pipe with a sinister smile, "it makes a feller feel koorious to hear the
partiklers about a lady wot _must_ have things, an' won't take no
denial!  If I was you, now, I'd disappoint her, an' see how she'd take
it."

He wound up his remark, which was made in a bantering tone, with another
malediction, which was earnest enough--savagely so.

"Oh!  Phil," cried the girl, in an earnest tone of entreaty; "don't, oh,
don't swear so.  It is awful to think that God hears you, is near you--
at your very elbow--while you thus insult Him to his face."

The man made no reply, but smoked with increasing intensity, while he
frowned at the empty fire-place.

"Well, Martha," he said, after a prolonged silence, "I've got work at
last."

"Have you?" cried the girl, with a look of interest.

"Yes; it ain't much to boast of, to be sure, but it pays, and, as it
ties me to nothin' an' nobody, it suits my taste well.  I'm wot you may
call a appendage o' the fire-brigade.  I hangs about the streets till I
sees a fire, w'en, off I goes full split to the nearest fire-station,
calls out the engine, and gits the reward for bein' first to give the
alarm."

"Indeed," said Martha, whose face, which had kindled up at first with
pleasure, assumed a somewhat disappointed look; "I--I fear you won't
make much by that, Phil?"

"You don't seem to make much by that," retorted Phil, pointing with the
bowl of his pipe to the dress which lay in her lap and streamed in a
profusion of rich folds down to the floor.

"Not much," assented Martha, with a sigh.  "Well, then," continued Phil,
re-lighting his pipe, and pausing occasionally in his remarks to admire
the bowl, "that bein' so, you and I are much in the same fix, so if we
unites our small incomes, of course that'll make 'em just double the
size."

"Phil," said Martha, in a lower voice, as she let her hands and the work
on which they were engaged fall on her lap, "I think, now, that it will
never be."

"What'll never be?" demanded the man rudely, looking at the girl in
surprise.

"Our marriage."

"What! are you going to jilt me?"

"Heaven forbid," said Martha, earnestly.  "But you and I are not as we
once were, Phil, we differ on many points.  I feel sure that our union
would make us more miserable than we are."

"Come, come," cried the man, half in jest and half in earnest.  "This
kind of thing will never do.  You mustn't joke about that, old girl,
else I'll have you up for breach of promise."

Mr Sparks rose as he spoke, knocked the ashes out of his pipe, put it
in his waistcoat pocket, and prepared to go.

"Martha," he said, "I'm goin' off now to attend to my business, but I
haven't made a rap yet to-day, and its hard working on a empty stomach,
so I just looked in to light my pipe, and enquire if you hadn't got a
shillin' about you, eh!"

The girl looked troubled.

"Oh, very well," cried Sparks, with an offended air, "if you don't
_want_ to accommodate me, never mind, I can get it elsewhere."

"Stop!" cried Martha, taking a leathern purse from her pocket.

"Well, it _would_ have been rather hard," he said, returning and holding
out his hand.

"There, take it," said Martha, "You shouldn't judge too quickly.  You
don't know _why_ I looked put out.  It is my--"

She stopped short, and then said hurriedly, "Don't drink it, Phil."

"No, I won't.  I'm hungry.  I'll eat it.  Thankee."

With a coarse laugh he left the room, and poor Martha sat down again to
her weary toil, which was not in any degree lightened by the fact that
she had just given away her last shilling.

A moment after, the door opened suddenly and Mr Sparks looked in with a
grin, which did not improve the expression of his countenance.

"I say, I wouldn't finish that dress to-night if I was you."

"Why not, Phil?" asked the girl in surprise.

"'Cause the lady won't want it to-morrow arternoon."

"How do you know that?"

"No matter.  It's by means of a kind of second-sight I've got, that I
find out a-many things.  All I can say is that I've got a strong
suspicion--a what d'ye call it--a presentiment that Mrs Middleton, of
Number 6, Conway Street, Knightsbridge, won't want her dress to-morrow,
so I advise you to go to bed to-night."

Without waiting for a reply Mr Sparks shut the door and descended to
the street.  Purchasing and lighting a cheroot at the nearest tobacco
shop with part of Martha's last shilling, he thrust his hands into his
pockets, and sauntering along various small streets and squares, gave
his undivided attention to business.

For a man whose wants were rather extensive and urgent, the "business"
did not seem a very promising one.  He glanced up at the houses as he
sauntered along, appearing almost to expect that some of them would
undergo spontaneous combustion for his special accommodation.
Occasionally he paused and gazed at a particular house with rapt
intensity, as if he hoped the light which flashed from his own eyes
would set it on fire; but the houses being all regular bricks refused to
flare up at such a weak insult.

Finding his way to Trafalgar Square, Mr Sparks threw away the end of
his cheroot, and, mending his pace, walked smartly along Piccadilly
until he gained the neighbourhood of Knightsbridge.  Here he purchased
another cheroot, and while lighting it took occasion to ask if there was
a street thereabouts named Conway Street.

"Yes, sir, there is," said a small and exceedingly pert
crossing-sweeper, who chanced to be standing near the open door of the
shop, and overheard the question.  "I'll show you the way for a copper,
sir, but silver preferred, if you're so disposed."

"Whereabouts is it?" asked Mr Sparks of the shopman, regardless of the
boy.

"Round the corner to your right, and after that second turning to your
left."

"Oh, that's all wrong," cried the boy.  "W'y, 'ow should 'ee know
hanythink about streets?  Never goes nowheres, does nothink but sell
snuff an' pigtail, mornin', noon, and night.  'Ee should have said,
_right_ round the corner to your right, and 'ee should have added `sir,'
for that's right w'en a gen'l'm'n's spoke to, arter w'ich, w'en you've
left this 'ere street, take second turnin' to your left, if you're
left-'anded, an' then you come hall right.  That's 'ow 'ee ought to have
said it, sir."

In the midst of this flow of information, Mr Sparks emerged into the
street.

"I'll show you the way for love, sir, if you ain't got no money," said
the boy in a tone of mock sincerity, stepping up and touching his cap.

"Let 'im alone, Bloater," cried another and smaller boy, "don't you see
ee's one of the swell mob, an' don't want to 'ave too much attention
drawed to him?"

"No 'ee ain't, Little Jim, ee's only a gen'l'm'n in disguise," replied
the Bloater, sidling up to Mr Sparks, and urgently repeating, "show you
the way for a copper, sir, _only_ a copper."

Mr Sparks, being, as we have said, an irascible man, and particularly
out of humour that evening, did not vouchsafe a reply, but, turning
suddenly round, gave the Bloater a savage kick that turned him head over
heels into the road.

The Bloater, whose proper name was Robert Herring, from which were
derived the aliases, Raw Herring and the Bloater, immediately recovered
himself and rushed at Mr Sparks with his broom.  He was a strong,
resolute, passionate boy, yet withal good-humoured and placable.  In the
first burst of indignation he certainly meant to commit a violent
assault, but he suddenly changed his mind.  Perhaps the look and
attitude of his antagonist had something to do with the change; perhaps
the squeaky voice of Little Jim, shouting "hooray, Bloater, go in an'
win," may have aroused his sense of the ludicrous, which was very
strong, and helped to check him.  At all events, instead of bringing his
broom down on the head of Mr Sparks, Bloater performed an impromptu
war-dance round him and flourished his weapon with a rapidity that was
only surpassed by the rapid flow of his language.

"Now then, Gunpowder, come on; wot do you mean by it--eh?  You
low-minded son of a pepper-castor!  Who let you out o' the cruet-stand?
Wot d'ee mean by raisin' yer dirty foot ag'in a _honest_ man, w'ch _you_
ain't, an' never was, an' never will be, an' never _could_ be, seein'
that both your respected parients was 'anged afore you was born.  Come
on, I say.  You ain't a coward, air you?  If so, I'll 'and you over to
Little Jim 'ere, an' stand by to see fair play!"

During this outburst, Mr Sparks had quietly faced the excited boy,
watching his opportunity to make a dash at him, but the appearance of a
policeman put a sudden termination to the riot by inducing the Bloater
and Little Jim to shoulder their brooms and fly.  Mr Sparks, smiling
grimly, (he never smiled otherwise), thrust his hands into his pockets,
resumed his cheroot, and held on the even tenor of his way.

But he had not yet done with the Bloater.  That volatile and revengeful
youth, having run on in advance, ensconced himself behind a projection
at the corner of the street close to which Sparks had to pass, and from
that point of vantage suddenly shot into his ear a yell so excruciating
that it caused the man to start and stagger off the pavement; before he
could recover himself, his tormentor had doubled round the corner and
vanished.

Growling savagely, he continued his walk.  One of the turns to the left,
which he had to make, led him through a dark and narrow street.  Here,
keeping carefully in the middle of the road for security, he looked
sharply on either side, having his hands out of his pockets now, and
clenched, for he fully expected another yell.  He was wrong, however, in
his expectations.  The Bloater happened to know of a long ladder, whose
nightly place of repose was on the ground in a certain dark passage,
with its end pointing across that street.  Taking up a position beside
this ladder, with Little Jim--who followed him, almost bursting with
delight--he bided his time and kept as quiet as a mouse.  Just in the
nick of time the ladder was run out, and Mr Sparks tripping over it,
fell violently to the ground.  He sprang up and gave chase, of course,
but he might as well have followed a will-o'-the-wisp.  The young
scamps, doubling like hares, took refuge in a dark recess under a stair
with which they were well acquainted, and from that position they
watched their enemy.  They heard him go growling past; knew, a moment or
two later, from the disappointed tone of the growl, that he had found
the opening at the other end of the passage; heard him return, growling,
and saw him for a moment in the dim light of the entrance as he left the
place.  Then, swiftly issuing from their retreat, they followed.

"I say, Bloater," whispered Little Jim, "ee's got such an ugly mug that
I do b'lieve ee's up to some game or other."

"P'raps 'ee is," returned the Bloater, meditatively; "we'll let 'im
alone an' foller 'im up."

The prolonged season of peace that followed, induced Mr Sparks to
believe that his tormentors had left him, he therefore dismissed them
from his mind, and gave himself entirely to business.  Arrived at Conway
street, he found that it was one of those semi-genteel streets in the
immediate neighbourhood of Kensington Gardens, wherein dwell thriving
tradespeople who know themselves to be rising in the world, and
unfortunate members of the "upper ten," who know that they have come
down in the world, but have not ceased the struggle to keep up
appearances.  It was a quiet, unfrequented street, in which the hum of
the surrounding city sounded like the roar of a distant cataract.  Here
Mr Sparks checked his pace--stopped--and looked about him with evident
caution.

"Ho, ho!" whispered Little Jim.

"We've tracked 'im down," replied the Bloater with a chuckle.

Mr Sparks soon found Number 6.  On the door a brass plate revealed
"Mrs Middleton."

"Ha! she _must_ have it, must she, an' _won't_ take no denial," muttered
the man between his teeth.

Mr Sparks observed that one of the lower windows was open, which was
not to be wondered at, for the weather was rather warm at the time.  He
also observed that the curtains of the window were made of white
flowered muslin, and that they swayed gently in the wind, not far from a
couple of candles which stood on a small table.  There was no one in the
room at the time.

"Strange," muttered Mr Sparks, with a grim smile, "that people _will_
leave lights so near muslin curtains!"

Most ordinary people would have thought the candles in question at a
sufficiently safe distance from the curtains, but Mr Sparks apparently
thought otherwise.  He entertained peculiar views about the danger of
fire.

From the position which the two boys occupied they could not see the man
while he was thus engaged in examining and commenting on Number 6,
Conway Street, but they saw him quite well when he crossed the street,
(which had only one side to it, a wall occupying the other), and they
saw him still better in the course of a few seconds when a bright light
suddenly streamed towards him, and illumined his villainous countenance,
and they heard as well as saw him, the next instant, when he shouted
"_fire--fire_!" and rushed frantically away.

"Hallo!" exclaimed the Bloater, and dashed off at full speed.  Little
Jim echoed the sentiment and followed.

Robert, alias Raw Herring, was a sharp-witted lad.  He understood the
case, (partly at least), in a moment, and proceeded to appropriate
action.  Being intimately acquainted with that part of London, he took a
short cut, overshot Mr Sparks, and was first to give the alarm at the
fire-station.  When, therefore, Mr Sparks ran in, panting and shouting
"fire!" great was his surprise to find the men already roused, and the
horses being attached to the engine.

"Where away?" inquired one of the firemen, supposing that Sparks,
perhaps, brought information of another fire.

"Number 6, Conway Street," he gasped.

"All right, we've got the noos already.  The boys brought it."

The Bloater, with a mouth extending from ear to ear and all his teeth
displayed, uttered the single word "sold!" as Mr Sparks turned his eyes
on him.  One glance was enough.  The man became very pale, and suddenly
left the station amid a shout of laughter from the firemen, as they
leaped on the engine and drove away, followed by the two boys whose
spirits were already excited to the highest pitch of ecstasy by a fire.

It was early morning before the fire was subdued, and Number 6 left the
blackened skeleton of a house.  Long before that, the Bloater and Little
Jim had sought repose in the cart-shed of a neighbouring stable.  Long
before that Mr Philip Sparks had retired to rest, growling anathemas on
the heads of boys in general, and crossing-sweepers in particular; and
not _very_ long before that poor Martha Reading had put in the last
stitch of her work, and fallen into a profound sleep in her chair.

Mr Sparks turned out to be a true prophet.  Mrs Middleton did _not_
insist on having her dress home that afternoon, and when Martha, true to
her promise, conveyed it to Number 6, Conway Street, she found no one
there to receive it except a few drenched men of the Red Brigade, and
the police.



CHAPTER FIVE.

Mr Philip Sparks, though not naturally fond of society, was,
nevertheless, obliged to mingle occasionally with that unpleasant body,
for the purpose of recruiting his finances.  He would rather have
remained at home and enjoyed his pipe and beer in solitude, but that was
not possible in the circumstances.  Owing, no doubt, to the selfishness
of the age in which he lived, people would _not_ go and pour money into
his pockets, entreat him to accept of the same, and then retire without
giving him any farther trouble.  On the contrary, even when he went out
and took a great deal of trouble to obtain money--much more trouble than
he would have had to take, had he been an honest working man--people
refused to give it to him, but freely gave him a good deal of gratuitous
advice instead, and sometimes threatened the donation of other favours
which, in many instances, are said to be more numerous than ha'pence.

Things in general being in this untoward condition, Mr Sparks went out
one morning and entered into society.  Society did not regard him with a
favourable eye, but Sparks was not thin-skinned; he persevered, being
determined, come what might, to seek his fortune.  Poor fellow, like
many a man in this world who deems himself a most unlucky fellow, he had
yet to learn the lesson that fortunes must be _wrought_ for, not
_sought_ for, if they are to be found.

Finding society gruffer than usual that morning, and not happening to
meet with his or anybody else's fortune in any of the streets, through
which he passed, he resolved to visit Martha Reading's abode; did so,
and found her "not at home."  With despairing disgust he then went to
visit his sister.

Mrs Crashington was obviously at home, for she opened the door to him,
and held up her finger.

"Hallo, Mag!" exclaimed Sparks, a little surprised.

"Hush!" said Mrs Crashington, admitting him, "speak low."

Thus admonished, Mr Sparks asked in a hoarse whisper, "what was up?"

"Ned's had a bad fall, Phil," whispered Mrs Crashington, in a tremulous
tone that was so unlike her usual voice as to make Sparks look at her in
surprise not unmingled with anxiety.

"You don't mean to say, Mag, that he's a-goin' to--to--knock under?"

"I hope not, Phil, but--the doctor--"

Here the poor woman broke down altogether, and sobbed quietly as she led
her brother through the house, and into the little bed-room where the
injured fireman lay.

Ned's bruised, burned, and lacerated frame was concealed under a
patchwork coverlet.  Only his face was visible, but that, although the
least injured part of his body, was so deadly pale that even Mr Sparks
was solemnised by the supposition that he was in the presence of Death.

"Oh, Ned, Ned!" exclaimed Maggie, unable to repress her grief, "can
you--can you ever forgive me?"

She laid her hand on the fireman's broad breast, and passionately kissed
his brow.

He opened his eyes, and whispered with difficulty, "Forgive you, Maggie?
God for ever bless you."  He could say no more, owing to excessive
weakness.

"Come, missus, you mustn't disturb him," said David Clazie, emerging
from behind the curtains at the foot of the bed.  "The doctor's orders
was strict--to keep 'im quiet.  You'd better go into the other room, an'
your brother likewise.  Pr'aps you might send 'im to tell Joe Dashwood
to be ready."

David Clazie, who was more a man of action than of words, quietly, but
firmly, ejected the brother and sister from the little room while he was
speaking, and, having shut the door, sat down at his post again as a
guard over his sick comrade.

"Seems to me it's all up with 'im," observed Sparks, as he stood gazing
uneasily into the fire.

As Mrs Crashington replied only by sobbing, he continued, after a few
minutes--

"Does the doctor say it's all up, Mag?"

"No, oh no," replied the poor woman, "he don't quite say so; but I can't
git no comfort from that.  Ned has lost _such_ a quantity of blood, it
seems impossible for him to git round.  They're goin' to try a operation
on 'im to-day, but I can't understand it, an' don't believe in it.  They
talk of puttin' noo blood into 'im!  An' that reminds me that the doctor
is to be here at twelve.  Do run round, Phil, to the Dashwoods, and tell
Joe to be here in good time."

"What's Joe wanted for?"

"Never mind, but go and tell him that.  I can't talk just now," she
said, pushing her brother out of the room.

Tapping at Joe Dashwood's door, Phil received from a strong, deep voice
permission to "come in."  He entered, and found a very different state
of things from that which he had just left.  A bright room, and bright,
happy faces.  The windows were bright, which made the light appear
brighter than usual; the grate was bright; the furniture was bright; the
face of the clock, whose interior seemed about to explode on every
occasion of striking the hour, was bright--almost to smiling; and the
pot-lids, dish-covers, etcetera, were bright--so bright as to be
absolutely brilliant.  Joe Dashwood and his little wife were conversing
near the window, but, although their faces were unquestionably bright by
reason of contentment, coupled with a free use of soap and the
jack-towel, there was, nevertheless, a shade of sadness in their looks
and tones.  Nothing of the sort, however, appeared on the countenances
of the Rosebud and young Fred Crashington.  These gushing little
offshoots of the Red Brigade were too young to realise the danger of
Ned's condition, but they were quite old enough to create an imaginary
fire in the cupboard, which they were wildly endeavouring to extinguish
with a poker for a "branch" and a bucket for a fire-engine, when Mr
Sparks entered.

"Oh! kik, Feddy, kik; put it out kik, or it'll bu'n down all 'e house,"
cried little May, eagerly, as she tossed back a cataract of golden curls
from her flushed countenance, and worked away at the handle of the
bucket with all her might.

"All right!" shouted Fred, who had been sent to play with the Rosebud
that he might be out of the way.  "Down with Number 1; that's your sort;
keep 'er goin'; hooray!"

He brought the poker down with an awful whack on the cupboard at this
point, causing the crockery to rattle again.

"Hallo! youngster, mind what you're about," cried Joe, "else there will
be more damage caused by the engine than the fire--not an uncommon
thing, either, in our practice!"

It was at this point that he replied to Mr Sparks's knock.

"Come in, Mr Sparks, you've heard of your poor brother-in-law's
accident, I suppose?"

"Yes, I've just comed from his house with a message.  You're wanted to
be there in good time."

"All right, I'll be up to time," said Joe, putting on his coat and cap,
and smiling to his wife, as he added, "It's a queer sort o' thing to do.
We'll be blood-relations, Ned and I, after this.  Look after these
youngsters, Molly, else they'll knock your crockery to bits.  Good-day.
Mr Sparks."

"Good-day," replied Sparks, as Joe went out.  Then, turning to Mrs
Dashwood, "What sort of operation is it they're goin' to perform on
Ned?"

"Did you not hear?  It's a very curious one.  Ned has lost so much blood
from a deep cut in his leg that the doctors say he can't recover, no
matter how strong his constitution is, unless he gits some blood put
into him, so they're goin' to put some o' my Joe's blood into him."

"What!" exclaimed Sparks, "take blood out o' your husband and put it hot
and livin' into Ned?  No, no, I've got a pretty big swallow, but I can't
git _that_ down."

"If you can't swallow it you'll have to bolt it, then, for it's a fact,"
returned Mary, with a laugh.

"But how do they mean to go about it?" asked Sparks, with an unbelieving
expression of countenance.

"Well, I ain't quite sure about that," replied Mary; "they say that the
doctor cuts a hole in a vein of the arms of both men, and puts a pipe,
or something of that sort, into the two veins, and so lets the blood run
from the one man into the other.  I don't half believe it myself, to say
truth; but it's quite true that they're goin' to try it on Ned.  The
doctor says it has bin tried before with great success, and that the
main thing is to get a stout, healthy young man to take the blood from.
They thought, at first, to get a healthy youth from the country, but my
Joe begged so hard to let him supply his friend and comrade, with what
they wanted, that they agreed, and now he's off to have it done.  Ain't
it funny?"

"Funny!" exclaimed Sparks, "well, it is, just.  But I'm not such a fool
as to believe that they can pump the blood out o' one man into another
in that fashion."

"I hope they can for poor Ned's sake," said Mary, in a sad tone, as she
stirred a large pot which stood simmering on the fire.

There was a short silence after that, for Mary was thinking of the
strange operation that was probably going on at that moment, and Phil
Sparks was debating with himself as to the propriety of attempting to
induce Mrs Dashwood to lend him a shilling or two.  He could not easily
make up his mind, however; not because he was ashamed to ask it, but,
because he was afraid of receiving a rebuke from the pretty little
woman.  He knew that she and Martha Reading were intimate friends, and
he had a suspicion that Mrs Dashwood was aware of Martha's fondness for
him, and that she bore him no good will in consequence.  Besides,
although one of the sweetest tempered women in London, Mary was one
whose indignation could be roused, and whose clear blue eye had
something overawing in it, especially to scoundrels.  He therefore sat
there more than an hour, conversing on various subjects, while Mary
busied herself in household matters; which she occasionally left off in
order to assist in extinguishing the fire in the cupboard!

At last Sparks resolved to make the attempt, and thought he would begin
by trying to propitiate Mary by commenting on her child.

"That's a pretty little girl of yours, missis," he remarked in a casual
way.

"That she is," cried Mary, catching up the child and kissing her rosy
face all over; "and she's better than pretty--she's good, good as gold."

"Oh 'top, ma.  Let May down, kik!  Fire not out yit!"

"That's right, never give in, May.  Wot a jolly fireman you'd make!"
cried Fred, still directing all his energies to the cupboard.

"That's a queer sort o' helmet the boy's got on," said Sparks, alluding
to a huge leathern headpiece, of a curious old-fashioned form, which was
rolling about on the boy's head, being much too large for him.

"It was bought for him by my Joe, in an old curiosity shop," said Mary.

"Ha!" replied Sparks.  "Well, Missis Dashwood, I'll have to be goin',
though I haven't got no business to attend to--still, a man must keep
movin' about, you know, specially w'en he's had no breakfast, an' han't
got nothin' to buy one."

"That's a sad condition," said Mary, pursing her lips, for she knew the
man.

"It is, missis.  You couldn't lend me half-a-crown, could you?"

"No, I couldn't," replied the little woman with decision, while her
cheeks reddened; "moreover, I wouldn't if I could.  You ought to be
ashamed of yourself, Mr Sparks; it's a disgrace for a man of your
strength and years to be goin' about borrowing as you're in the habit of
doin'; and you have got the impudence, too, to be running after poor
Martha Reading, but you shall never get her if I can prevent it."

Mr Sparks was much nettled by the first part of Mrs Dashwood's speech.
The last part put him in a towering passion.  He started up, but had
the wisdom to restrain himself to some extent.

"Perhaps," he said, between his teeth, "you _can't_ prevent it, missis."

"Perhaps not, but I shall try."

At that moment, Master Fred Crashington chanced to stumble in his
energetic attempts to extinguish the fire in the cupboard, which the
Rosebud assured him, in excited tones, was "not out yit; gittin' wus an'
wus!"  In falling, the old-fashioned helmet flew off, and the comb of it
hit Mr Sparks a severe blow on the shin-bone.  In the heat of the
moment he dealt Fred a violent slap on the cheek, which sent him
tumbling and howling on the floor.  At that moment the door opened and
Joe Dashwood entered.

He had heard the noise before entering, and now stood with a stern frown
on his face as he gazed at his wife and her visitor.

"Did _you_ do that?" he demanded of Sparks, pointing to the little boy.

"He did, Joe," said Mary; "but--"

Joe waited for no more.  He seized Mr Sparks by the nape of the neck
with a grip that almost choked him--strong though he was--and thrust him
out of the room, down the stairs, and out into the street, where he gave
him a final kick, and shut the door.

"Oh, dear Joe!" exclaimed Mary, on his return, "you shouldn't have been
so violent to 'im."

"W'y not, Molly?  Surely you would not have me stand by and look on,
while he insulted you and knocked down the boy?"

"No, but it would have been a better rebuke if you had ordered him off
quietly.  No good ever comes of violence, Joe, and he's such a spiteful,
vindictive man that he will never forgive you--perhaps he'll do you a
mischief if he ever gets the chance."

"I hope he will never get the chance," replied Joe.  "I hope not, but I
fear him," said Mary.  "But tell me, Joe, how has the operation
succeeded?"

"First-rate, Molly.  Ned and I are blood-relations now!  I don't know
how much they took out o' me, but it don't signify, for I am none the
worse, an' poor Ned seems much the better."

Here Joe entered into a minute detail of all that had been done--how a
puncture had been made in one of the veins of his arm, and another in
one of the veins of Ned's arm; and how the end of a small tube with a
bulb in the middle of it had been inserted into _his_ puncture, and the
other end into _Ned's_ puncture, and the blood pumped, as it were, from
the full-blooded man into the injured man until it was supposed that he
had had enough of it; and how Ned had already shown signs of revival
while he, (Joe), didn't feel the loss at all, as was made abundantly
evident by the energetic manner in which he had kicked Mr Sparks out of
his house after the operation was over.

To all this Mary listened with wide open eyes, and Fred Crashington
listened with wider open eyes; and little Rosebud listened with eyes and
mouth equally open--not that she understood anything of it, but because
the others were in that condition.

"Now, May, my pet," cried the fireman, catching up his little one and
tossing her in the air, "Ned, that is so fond of you, is a
blood-relation, so you may call him `uncle' next time he comes--uncle
Ned!"

"Unkil Ned," lisped the Rosebud.

"And me cousin," chimed in Fred.

"Iss--cuzn," responded May.

"Just so," cried Joe, seizing Fred round the waist and tossing him on
his right shoulder--Rosebud being already on his left--"come, I'll carry
you down the fire-escape now; hurrah! down we go."

How long Joe would have gone on playing with the children we cannot say,
for he was interrupted by the entrance of Bob and David Clazie.

"Come along, Joe," said the latter, "it's your turn to go along with us
to drill."

"It's 'ard work to 'ave to go playin' at fires doorin' the day, an'
puttin' of 'em out doorin' the night, Joe; ain't it?" said Bob Clazie.

"So 'tis Bob, but it must be done, you know.  Duty first, pleasure
afterwards," replied Joe, with a laugh.  "Besides, the green hands could
never learn how to do it if they hadn't some of the old uns to show 'em
the way."

"Hall right," replied Bob; "come along."

They left the room with a hearty "good-day" to Mrs Dashwood, and a nod
to the children.

Putting on the round sailor's caps which replaced the helmets when they
were not on actual service, the three firemen took their way towards the
city, and finally reached a large piece of open ground, where a number
of very old houses had been partly pulled down, to be soon replaced by
new ones.  The Fire-Brigade had obtained permission to perform their
drill there until the ground should be required.

It was a curious waste place in the heart of the great city, with
rubbish cumbering the ground in front of the half demolished houses.
Here several ungainly fire-escapes leaned against the ruined walls, and
thrust their heads through broken windows, or stood on the ground,
rampant, as if eager to have their heads crammed into smoke and flames.
Here also were several manual engines, with their appropriate gearing
and hose, and near to these were grouped a band of as fine, fresh,
muscular young fellows as one could wish to see.  These were the new
hands of the brigade--the young men, recently engaged, who were
undergoing drill.  Each was a picked, and, to some extent, a proved man.
The lightest and least powerful among these men was a sturdy,
courageous fellow.  He, like the others, had been tried at an old
fire-escape which stood in a corner of the yard, and which was unusually
large and cumbrous.  If he had failed to "work" various portions of that
escape single-handed, without assistance, he would have been pronounced
physically unfit for the service.  Courage and strength alone would not
have been sufficient.  Weight, to a certain extent, was essential.

Among these youths were several of the older hands, and one or two
officers of the brigade, the latter being distinguished by brass
ornaments or "brasses" on their shoulders.  They were there to
superintend and direct.  In the midst of them stood their chief,
explaining the minutiae of the work they had to do.

When our three firemen reached the drill-ground the chief was showing
his recruits how to coil several lengths of the hose, so as to avoid a
twist or "kink," which might endanger its bursting when the water was
turned suddenly on by the powerful "steamers."  He then pointed to the
tall empty buildings beside him and ordered his recruits to go into the
third floor of the premises, drag up the hose, and bring the branch to
bear on the back rooms, in which fire was supposed to be raging.

"Look alive, now," he said, "see how quickly you'll manage it."

Instantly the active youths sprang to their work.  Some got the hose out
of the box of an engine and uncoiled it length by length towards the
house, others screwed the lengths together at the same time that the
water-trough was being set up and the suction-pipe attached.  Meanwhile,
some had run up into the building, and from an upper window let down a
rope so as to be ready to drag up the hose when it was made long enough
to reach them.  Thus they practised during the forenoon the mimic
warfare with the flames which they should have to carry into actual
operation at night.  In another part of the yard a foreman was
instructing some recruits in the use of the fire-escape.  Under a
neighbouring archway stood a small group of idlers looking on at these
stirring operations, one of these was Philip Sparks, another was the
Bloater.  The interests of the first had taken him there, the second had
been led to the scene by his affections.  Sparks did not observe the
Bloater, but the Bloater being unusually sharp, had observed Sparks,
and, with a look of surprise and glee at the unexpected sight, set
himself to watch and listen.

"That's him," growled Sparks in a low whisper, pointing to Joe Dashwood
as he entered the yard.

This was said to a dark-skinned, ill-looking, powerful man who stood at
his elbow.  The man nodded in reply.

"Take a good look at him, Jeff; you'll know him again?"

Jeff nodded and guessed that he would.

"Well, then, West-End; Friday, at 12 p.m. Number 5, close to the
fire-station.  You won't forget?" whispered Sparks, as he and his
ill-looking friend slunk away.

"I say," observed the Bloater, poking Little Jim in the ribs, and
looking down at him with one eye shut, "you and I shall form an
engagement for Friday night--shan't we."

Little Jim opened his eyes very wide, pressed his mouth very tight, and
nodded his head violently.

"Well then," continued the Bloater, repeating Sparks's words in a deep
stage whisper, "West-End; Friday, at 12 p.m. Number 5, close to the
fire-station.  You won't forget?"

Little Jim again nodded his head, and uttered a little shriek of
delight.  This attracted the notice of a policeman, who hinted, as
delicately as possible, that the boys had better "move on."

They took the hint, and retired precipitately.



CHAPTER SIX.

Oh! but it _was_ an interesting occupation to watch the expression of
Little Jim's countenance, as the Bloater watched it, while the two boys
were on their way to the "West-End" that evening, bent on doing duty as
amateur watchmen on "Number 5," close to the fire-station.

"Your face ain't cherubic," observed the Bloater, looking down at his
little friend.  "If anythink, I should say it partakes of the diabolic;
so you've got no occasion to make it wus than it is by twistin' it about
like that.  Wotever do you do it for?"

Little Jim replied by a sound which can only be represented by the
letters "sk," pronounced in the summit of the nose.

"That ain't no answer," said the Bloater, with a knowing smile, the
knowingness of which consisted chiefly in the corners of the mouth being
turned down instead of up.  This peculiarity, be it carefully observed,
was natural to the Bloater, who scorned every species of affectation.
Many of his young friends and admirers were wont to imitate this smile.
If they could have seen the inconceivably idiotic expressions of their
countenances when they tried it, they would never have made a second
effort!

"Wot a jolly lark!" said Little Jim, prefacing the remark with another
"sk."

"Ha!" replied the Bloater, with a frown that implied the pressure of
weighty matters on his mind.

After a few minutes' silence, during which the cherubic face of Little
Jim underwent various contortions, the Bloater said--

"If I ain't mistaken, Jim, you and I are sound of wind and limb?"

Jim looked up in surprise, and nodded assent.

"Besides which," continued the Bloater, "we're rayther fleet than
otherwise."

Again Jim nodded and grinned.

"No Bobby as ever stuck 'is hignorant hinsolent 'ead into a 'elmet ever
could catch us."

"Sk!" ejaculated Jim, expanding from ear to ear.

"Well, then," continued the Bloater, becoming more grave and
confidential, "it's my opinion, Jim, that you and I shall 'ave a run for
it to-night.  It's quite plain that our hamiable friend who seems so
fond o' fire-raisin' is goin' to pay 'is respects to Number 5.  'Avin'
got it well alight it is just within the bounds o' the possible--not to
say prob'ble--that 'e'll give 'em leg-bail--make tracks, as the Yankees
say--cut and run for it.  Well, in course it would never do to let 'im
go off alone, or with only a 'eavy stoopid, conceited slow-coach of a
Bobby at 'is tail."

"No, no," responded Little Jim; "that would never do.  Quite out of the
question.  'Ighly himproper."

"Therefore," said the Bloater, with emphasis, "you and I shall 'ave to
keep our heyes on 'im, shan't we?"

He put this concluding question with a wink of such astounding
significance, that Little Jim could only reply with another "sk!" as he
stopped for a few moments to hug himself.

At the fire-station "close to Number 5," the firemen lounged about that
evening with the air of men who, although they chanced to be idle at the
moment, were nevertheless on the alert and ready for action at a
moment's notice.  Their large folding-doors stood open with an air of
off-hand hospitality.  A couple of engines stood within, glittering from
excessive polish and cleanliness.  Coils of hose and buckets, etcetera,
were seen here and there in readiness, while in an interior room a
glimpse might be had of gleaming brass helmets, which hung in a row on
the wall, each with an axe pendant below it; and, opposite to these, a
row of dry boots arranged on pegs with their soles to the ceiling.

The two boys lingered about the station admiring all this, and
commenting in their own peculiar fashion on men and things, sometimes
approvingly, often critically, and now and then disparagingly.  They
sometimes ventured to address a remark or two to any of the men who
chanced to look at them with a sufficiently good-humoured expression,
and even went the length of asking Bob Clazie if, in the event of the
Thames going on fire, "'e thought 'e could manage to put it hout!" to
which Bob replied that he thought he could if "cheek" were a
fire-extinguisher, and he only had a brigade of boys equal to the
Bloater to help him.

As the night advanced the firemen devoted themselves to pipes, draughts,
and miscellaneous conversation in their back room, in which they were
occasionally interrupted by the tingle of the telegraphic bell, to
inform them that there was a chimney on fire in Holborn, to which they
need pay no attention, even though "called" by an excited informer,
because it was already being attended to, and didn't merit farther
notice; or to let them know that there was a fire raging in Whitechapel,
which, although being most energetically looked after by the men of the
brigade in its immediate neighbourhood, would be the better of aid,
nevertheless, from _one_ man from that station.

On such distant duty, Bob Clazie and his brother David were successively
sent out in different directions during the first part of the night; but
they returned in the course of an hour or so--Bob considerably dirtied
and moistened in consequence of having had to go vigorously into action
at the tail end of a fire, while David returned as he went, having found
that _his_ fire had been effectually got under before his arrival.

Only once during the night did a regular "call" reach the station.  It
was about eleven o'clock.  Our youthful watchmen, feeling that the
appointed hour was drawing nigh, had retired to the shade of a
neighbouring court to avoid observation, when a man came tearing round
the corner, dashed into the fire-station, tumbled over a bucket into the
midst of the men, and yelled, "Fire!"

In three minutes the engine was out, the horses were attached, the men
in their places, and away they went.

"Oh! let's follow," cried Little Jim, enthusiastically, while his eyes
glittered as if they, too, were on fire.

The more sedate Bloater laid his hand heavily on his little friend's
shoulder.

"No, Jim, no.  Business fust, pleasure arterwards.  We've got business
on hand to-night."

Little Jim felt the force of the observation, and made what we may call
a mighty effort--considering that he was such a mite of a thing--to
restrain himself.  His heroism was rewarded, for, in less than half an
hour, the engine came rattling back again, its services not having been
required!  The fire had occurred close to the fire-escape, of which one
of the men of that station had the charge that night.  He had run to the
fire with his escape at the first alarm, and had brought to bear on it
the little hand fire-engine, with which all the escapes are now
provided.  At that early stage in the fire, its little stream was more
effectual than the flood from a powerful "steamer" would have been at a
later period.  The consequence was that the fire was got under at once,
and, as we have said, the engine was not required.

"Wirtoo," observed the Bloater, sententiously, "is its own reward."

He pointed to the returning engine, and looked at Little Jim with
solemnity; whereupon Jim displayed all his teeth, nodded approval of the
sentiment, and--"sk!"

"Little Jim," continued the Bloater, shaking his head gravely, "they do
say--them as knows best, or thinks they does, which is all the same--
that there's wit in silence; if so, it appears to me that you tries to
be too witty at times."

"I dun know, Bob," replied Jim, with a meditative look, "much about wit
bein' in silence.  I only wish there was wittles in it.  Oh! wouldn't I
'old my tongue, just, till I was fit to bust!"

"But there ain't wittles in it, Jim, nor nothin' else worth 'avin', so
don't try it on too much to-night.  You see, I'm a bit down-'earted
about the thoughts o' this 'ere black business, an' feel the want of a
cheerin' word now and agin to keep up my droopin' spirits, d'ye see; so
don't stand grinnin' there like a Cheshire cat, else I'll--"

The Bloater terminated the sentence in action, by squeezing Little Jim's
cap over his eyes.  He was still engaged in this act of pleasantry when
Mr Sparks and his friend Jeff appeared on the other side of the street.
They walked smartly past the door of the fire-station, which was shut
by that time, the men having retired to their various domiciles for the
night, with the exception of the two on night duty.  They stopped at the
corner of the street, looked back, and stood as if conversing casually
with each other.  Meanwhile, the two boys shrank out of sight, and gazed
at them like weasels peeping out of a hole.  The street, being a small
back one, was quite deserted at that hour.  After talking in low tones
for a few seconds, and making sure, as Jeff said, that the coast was
clear, the incendiaries shrunk round the corner and disappeared.

"Now, Jim," whispered the Bloater, "they've gone to Number 5; let's
foller."

They were uncommonly active and sly little fellows, but, despite their
utmost efforts, they failed to gain a position of vantage from which to
observe the enemy without being seen.  They did, indeed, manage to make
out that the two men were for some time busily and stealthily engaged in
the neighbourhood of Joe Dashwood's dwelling, but what they were doing
could not be ascertained.  After repeated and desperate efforts to
overcome his difficulties, at the risk of his neck and to the detriment
of his shins, the Bloater at last sat down on a doorstep within a dark
passage, and feigned to tear his hair.

"Now ain't it wexin'?" he whispered, appealing to his small friend.

"Aggrawatin' beyond endoorance," replied Jim, with looks of sympathy.

"Wot _is_ to be done?" demanded the Bloater.

"Invite a Bobby to come an' help us," suggested Jim.

"H'm! an' stop 'em in their game, p'raps, at a pint w'ere nobody could
prove nothink against 'em, besides bringin' on ourselves the purlite
inquiry, `Wot are _you_ up to 'ere?'"

Little Jim looked disconsolate and said nothing, which, as the Bloater
testily remarked, was another of his witty rejoinders.

"Well, then," said Jim, "we must just wait till the fire breaks out an'
then bust upon 'em all of a 'eap."

"H'm! much they'd care for _your_ bustin' on 'em.  No, Jim, we must risk
a little.  Never wenter, never win, you know.  Just you go round by the
other end of the street and creep as close as you can; you're small, you
know, an' won't be so easy seen as me.  Try to make out wot they're up
to and then--"

"Then wot?"

"W'y, come back an' let me know.  Away!" said the Bloater, waving his
hand with the air of a field-marshal.

Jim disappeared at once and was absent about ten minutes, during which
Master Robert Herring sat in the dark passage biting his nails and
feeling really uncomfortable, as is usually the case with energetic
spirits when reduced to unavoidable inaction.  Presently Little Jim
returned with, as his friend and patron remarked, his eyes like two
saucers, and his face as white as a sheet.

"Hallo, Jim, wot's up?"

"Oh, Bob!" gasped Jim.

"Speak!" exclaimed the Bloater, seizing him by the shoulders and shaking
him violently.

"They've got the 'ouse choke full o' combustibles," gasped Jim in an
excited whisper.  "I see 'em stuffin' straw and pitch, an' I dun know
wot all, through a small back winder."

"So--_now's_ the time for a Bobby," observed the Bloater, leaping up.

"No, taint," said Jim, detaining him.  "I 'eard 'em speak.  Oh, they're
sly dogs!  They ain't a-goin' to run away arter settin' it alight.
They're goin' to run to the station, rouse up the men, an' help to put
it out! an' one of 'em says, `Jeff,' says 'e, larfin', `won't we lend
'em a good 'and to put it hout neither!'  And the other grinned, an'
says, `Yes, Phil, we'll do our best, an' it'll go hard if I can't in the
middle o' the smoke an' flames, git a chance at Joe to--.'  'E didn't
say no more, but 'e drewed 'is finger across 'is throat; but the one as
'e called Phil said, `No, Jeff, no, I'll split on you if you do.  It's
quite enough to give 'im a rap over the 'ead!'  I didn't wait to 'ear no
more arter that."

"They're safe not to go off, then," observed the Bloater; "nevertheless,
we must take a Bobby into our confidence now, for the case begins to
look ugly."

While these things were transpiring in the dark and silent night outside
of "Number 5," the inmates of that modest mansion were buried in
profound repose.  Joe Dashwood, on leaving the station for the night,
and going home, had found that Molly had already retired, and was asleep
in the inner room with the Rosebud in her bosom.

After contemplating this pleasant sight for a few minutes he returned to
the outer or kitchen-dino-drawing-room, where he found a cot
extemporised out of four chairs and a baking-board, on which reposed the
sturdy little figure of Fred Crashington.  That enthusiastic amateur
fireman had been invited to take up his quarters at Number 5, until his
father should be out of danger, and having devoted his energies during
the entire day, along with the Rosebud, in a futile effort to extinguish
that obstinate fire in the cupboard, had at length been persuaded to
retire exhausted to the baking-board, where he lay with a happy smile on
his parted lips, and his right arm embracing the quaint old helmet, with
which he was wont to extinguish his little head.

Being unusually tired that night, but not sleepy, Joe resolved to solace
himself with a pipe before lying down.  He threw off his coat, vest, and
braces, pulled up his flannel shirt, so as to let it hang comfortably
loose over the waistband of his trousers, sat down in an armchair in
front of the fire, filled his pipe, and began to smoke.  His intention
was to "take a few whiffs and then turn in," but the influence of the
tobacco appeared to be soporific, for he soon began to nod; then he
removed his pipe, stared earnestly at the fire, and established quite a
nodding acquaintance with it.  Presently he dropped his chin on his
broad chest and snored steadily.

From this condition of repose he was awakened by a sensation as if of
suffocation by smoke.  This was such an extremely natural, not to say
habitual, state of things with Joe, that he was at least a couple of
seconds in realising the fact that there was unusual cause for haste and
vigorous action.  Like a giant refreshed Joe leaped to his work.  Every
fibre of his huge frame was replete with energy, and his heart beat
strong, but it beat steadily; not a vestige of a _flutter_ was there,
for his head was clear and cool.  He knew exactly what to do.  He knew
exactly what was being done.  Surprise did, indeed, fill him when he
_reflected_ that it was his own house which had caught fire, but that
did not for a moment confuse him as to the certainty that the engine
must be already out, and his comrades rushing to his assistance.

He strode to the door and opened it.  A volume of dense black smoke,
followed by sheets of flame drove him back.  At the same moment loud
shouts were heard outside, and a shriek came from the inner room.  Joe
dashed towards it.  In passing, he pulled Fred off the baking-board, and
at the same moment seized the curious old helmet, and almost
instinctively clapped it on his own head.  There was a back door to the
house.  Joe grasped his wife, and the Rosebud, and the bedclothes in one
mighty embrace, and bore the whole bundle towards this back door.
Before he reached it it was dashed open by Bob Clazie, who sprang in
with the "branch."  Bob, having been roused to a fire so near at hand,
had not taken time to go through the usual process of putting on his
uniform.  He, like Joe, was in dishabille.

"Here, take care of 'em.  Let go the branch; I'll look after it.  Foul
play here.  Let the police look out."

Joe said this sharply as he thrust the bundle containing his wife into
Bob's arms, and, picking up the Rosebud, who had slipped out, clapped
her on Bob's back.  Bob made for the back staircase, while Joe picked up
the branch, and turning his head in the direction of the open door,
shouted in the voice of a stentor, "Down with 'er!"  Meanwhile, Fred,
who had a vague impression that the fire in the cupboard had got to a
powerful head at last, picked up the hose and looked on with a sleepy
smile.

Obedient to the order, the water rushed on, filled and straightened the
hose, threw Fred on his back on the floor, and caused the nozzle to
quiver as Joe directed it to the fire.

Just then a man dashed into the room.

"Lend a hand here," cried Joe glancing round.

He saw in a moment by the man's look that he meant mischief.  Instantly
he turned the nozzle full in his face.  Jeff, for it was he, fell as if
he had been shot, and was partly washed, partly rolled down the back
staircase, at the foot of which a policeman was prepared to receive him,
but Jeff sprang up, knocked down the policeman, and fled.  Seeing this,
Mr Sparks took alarm, and was about to follow when the Bloater suddenly
sprang at his throat and Little Jim caught him by the legs.  He quickly
disengaged himself, however, and ran off at full speed, closely followed
by his young tormentors and two policemen, besides a miscellaneous crowd
of hooting and yelling lads and boys.

It was an exciting chase that ensued.  The two policemen were young and
strong, and for some time kept pretty near the fugitive, but gradually
they fell behind, and, by doubling through several narrow streets,
Sparks threw them off the scent.  As for the crowd, the greater part of
those who composed it gave in after a short run.  But the Bloater and
Little Jim were not thus to be got rid of.  They were fleet of foot and
easily kept Mr Sparks in view, though he made desperate efforts to
catch them, as well as to get away from them.  The two boys were so
persevering that they followed him all the way to Thames Street, and,
just when the unhappy man thought he had at length eluded them, they set
up the cry of "Stop thief!" and gave chase again with a new force of
policemen and roughs at their heels.

Turning abruptly into a dark passage, Sparks rushed upstairs, burst open
a door and fell exhausted on the floor of the cheerless room occupied by
poor Martha Reading.  Almost at the same moment the two boys, who were
at least a hundred yards in advance of the other pursuers, sprang into
the room.

"Ha! run you down at last, have we?" gasped the Bloater.

Poor startled Martha, leaping at once to the conclusion that he was
pursued, fell on her knees, and, in a voice of agonising entreaty,
begged the boys to have mercy on him!

"Eh! hallo! what?" exclaimed the Bloater, taken by surprise.  Then,
under a sudden impulse, he dashed out of the room followed by Little
Jim, and rushed into the street just as the first of the crowd came up.

"This way!  Straight on! hooray!" he shouted, leading off the crowd in
the direction of the river.  The crowd followed.  The Bloater led them
into a maze of intricate back streets; shot far ahead of them, and then,
doubling, like a hare, into a retired corner, stood chuckling there
while the shouting crowd swept by.

For a few minutes, Little Jim was utterly bereft of speech, owing to a
compound of amazement, delight, excitement and exhaustion.  After a
little time he said--

"Well, this _is_ a lark!  But, I say, Bloater, d'ye think it was right
to let 'im off like that?"

"Who's let 'im off, stoopid?" retorted the Bloater.

"Don't I know 'is name--at least part of it; an' the 'abitation of 'is
wife, or sweet-'eart, or sister, or suthin' o' that sort?"

"Oh, ah, werry true," replied Little Jim, with a terminating "sk!"

"Well, that bein' 'ow it is, we han't let 'im off just yet, d'ye see?
So, now we'll go an' turn in."

With that observation the Bloater and Little Jim went away to search for
and appropriate some convenient place of repose for the night.



CHAPTER SEVEN.

Seated by the fire-side of Joe Dashwood's new abode--for the old one,
although not quite "burnt out," was uninhabitable--Bob Clazie chatted
and smoked his pipe contentedly.  At the conclusion of a remark, he
looked up in Mrs Dashwood's puzzled face, and said, "That's 'ow it is,
d'ye see?"

"No, I don't see," replied Mary, with a smile.

"No? well, now, that _is_ koorious.  W'y, it's as plain as the nose on
my face.  See here.  As the law now stands, there is no public authority
to inwestigate the cause o' fires in London; well, wot's the consikence,
w'y, that there are regular gangs of scoundrels who make it their
business to arrange fires for their own adwantage."

"Now, that's just what I don't understand," said Mary, knitting her
pretty brows; "what advantage _can_ it be to any one to set fire to a
house, except to pick-pockets who may get a chance of doing business in
the crowd?"

"Well, that of itself is enough to endooce some blackguards to raise a
fire, and likewise to get the shillin' for bringin' the first noose to
the station; which, by the way, was the chief okipation of that willain
Phil Sparks, I'm pretty sure.  But here's 'ow it is.  The swindlers I
speak of, go an' take 'ouses--the further from fire-stations the better.
Then they furnishes the 'ouses, arter which they insures 'em.  In the
course of a short time they removes most of the furniture in a quiet
way, and then set the 'ouses alight, themselves escapin', p'r'aps, in
nothin' but their night clothes.  So, you see, they gits the insurance,
which more than pays for all the furniture they had bought, besides
which they 'ave a good deal of the furniture itself to sell or do wot
they please with.  That's one way in which fires are raised,--ain't it
Joe?"

Joe, who sat smoking in silence on the other side of the fire, nodded,
and, turning his head round, advised Fred Crashington and little May to
make "less row."

"But we can't put it out widout a row!" remonstrated the Rosebud.

"What! have you found a fire in _this_ cupboard, as well as in the one
o' the old house?" asked Joe, with a laugh.

"Iss, iss; an' it's a far wuss fire than the last one!"

"That's your sort!" cried Fred; "now then, May, don't stand jawin'
there, but down with number two.  Look alive!"

"Ha! chips o' the old blocks, I see," said Bob Clazie, with a grin.
"Well, as I was sayin', there's another class o' men, not so bad as the
first, but bad enough, who are indooced to go in for this crime of
fire-raisin'--arson they calls it, but why so is beyond me to diskiver.
A needy tradesman, for instance, when at his wits'-end for money, can't
help thinkin' that a lucky spark would put him all right."

"But how could the burning of his goods put him all right?" demanded
Mary.

"W'y, 'e don't want goods, you know, 'e wants to sell 'is goods an' so
git _money_; but nobody will buy, so 'e can't sell, nor git money, yet
money must be 'ad, for creditors won't wait.  Wot then?  All the goods
are insured against fire.  Well, make a bonfire of 'em, redoose 'em all
to hashes, an' of coorse the insurance companies is bound to pay up, so
'e gits rid of the goods, gits a lot o' ready money in 'and, pays off
'is creditors, and p'r'aps starts fresh in a noo business!  Now, a
public officer to inwestigate such matters would mend things to some
extent, though 'e mightn't exactly cure 'em.  Some time ago the Yankees,
I'm told, appointed a officer they called a fire-marshal in some of
their cities, and it's said that the consikence was a sudden an'
extraor'nary increase in the conwictions for arson, followed by a
remarkable decrease in the number o' fires!  They've got some-thin' o'
the same sort in France, an' over all the chief towns o' Europe, I
b'lieve, but we don't need no such precautions in London.  We're rich,
you know, an' can afford to let scamps burn right an' left.  It ain't
worth our while to try to redooce the number of _our_ fires.  We've
already got an average of about five fires every twenty-four hours in
London.  Why should we try to make 'em less, w'en they furnishes 'ealthy
work to such fine fellows as Joe and me and the police--not to mention
the fun afforded to crossin'-sweepers and other little boys, whose chief
enjoyment in life would be gone if there was no fires."

"If _I_ had the making of the laws," exclaimed Mary, flushing with
indignation as she thought of her own recent risks and losses in
consequence of fire-raising, "I'd have every man that set light to his
house _hanged_!"

"Ah; an' if 'e could also be draw'd and quartered," added Bob, "and 'ave
the bits stuck on the weathercocks of Saint Paul's, or atop of Temple
Bar, it would serve 'im right."

"We must have you into Parliament some day, Molly," said Joe, with a
smile.  "Women are tryin' hard, I believe, to get the right to vote for
members; w'y not go the whole hog and vote themselves in?"

"They'd make splendid firemen too," said Clazie, "at least if they were
only half as vigorous as your little May.  By the way, Joe," continued
Bob, "has Sparks been took yet?"

"Not yet.  It is rumoured that the crossin'-sweeper who chased him down
so smartly, suddenly favoured his escape at last, from some
unaccountable cause or other.  I suppose that Sparks bribed him."

"You're sure it was Sparks, are you?" inquired Bob.

"Quite sure.  It is true I only saw his confederate, but one of the men
who had often seen Sparks in company with Crashington, his
brother-in-law, knew him at once and saw him run off, with the boys
after him.  He's a bad lot, but I hope he'll escape for poor Mrs
Crashington's sake."

"And _I_ hope he won't escape, for poor Martha Reading's sake!" said
Mary with much decision of tone.

"That's his sweet-'eart--a friend of Molly's!" said Joe to Bob in
explanation.

At this point in the conversation, Master Fred Crashington, in his
frantic efforts to reach an elevated part of the cupboard, fell
backwards, drawing a shelf and all its contents on the top of himself
and May.  Neither of them was hurt, though both were much frightened.

"I think _that_ must have put the fire out at last," said Joe, with a
laugh, as he took the panting rosebud on his knee and smoothed her soft
little head.  "We'll sit quiet now and have a chat."

A knock at the outer door here called Mrs Dashwood from the room.

"Fire!" exclaimed May, holding up her finger and listening with eager
expectation.

"No, little woman," said Joe, "they would ring loud if it was fire."

Meanwhile Mrs Dashwood opened the door and found herself confronted by
a boy, with his hands in his pockets and his cap thrown in a reckless
way half on the side and half on the back of his head.

"Oh, I suppose you are the boy Herring, sent here by Miss Reading," said
Mrs Dashwood.

"Well, as to that, ma'am, you must be guided by taste.  I've 'eard of
men of my years an' standin' bein' styled 'obble-de-'oys.  My name,
likewise, is open to question.  Some of my friends calls me 'Erring--
others of 'em, Raw 'Erring--others, again, the Bloater.  But I'm in no
wise partikler, I _did_ come from Miss Reading to 'ave an interview with
Mrs Dashwood--whom--I presoom--"

Here the Bloater laid his hand on his heart and made a courtly bow.

Mrs Dashwood laughed, and said, "come in, boy."

"I have a pal, ma'am--a chum--a--in fact a _friend_--may I--"

Without finishing his sentence or waiting for a reply, the Bloater gave
a sharp whistle, and Little Jim stood by his side as if by magical
influence, looking the embodiment of united innocence and impudence.

"Come in, both of you, and make haste," said Mary, ushering them into a
small empty room.  "Now, boy--"

"Bloater, ma'am, if you 'ave no objection."

"Well, Bloater, our communication with each other must be brief and to
the point, because--"

"Yes, ma'am--sharp and short," interrupted the Bloater--"reasons not
required."

Smiling in spite of herself, Mrs Dashwood said--

"You know Mr Sparks, and can--can--in short, give him into the hands of
justice."

"If I knowed w'ere justice was," said the Bloater, sternly, "p'raps I
might give Mr Sparks into 'is 'ands, but I don't.  It's my opinion that
_justice_ ain't finished yet.  They've made 'is 'ands no doubt--and
pretty strong ones they are too--but they 'aven't give 'im brains yet.
'Ows'ever, to make a long story short, 'as 'Amlet said to 'is father's
ghost, w'ich was prince of Timbuctoo, I _do_ know Mr Sparks, and I
_can_ give 'im into the 'ands of the p'lice--wot then?"

"_Do it_!" said Mrs Dashwood, with sudden intensity of feeling and
manner, "Do it, boy--" ("Bloater," murmured the lad), "do it, Bloater.
Oh! you have no idea what a blessing it would be to--to--to--a poor,
dear girl who is mad--infatuated and, and--then, he is _such_ a
scoundrel; such a fire-raiser, deceiver, villain--"

"You don't appear to like 'im yourself," remarked the Bloater.

He said this so quietly and with an air of calmness which contrasted so
strongly with Mrs Dashwood's excitement, that Little Jim gave vent to
an irresistible "sk" and blew his nose violently to distract attention
from it.

"Will you not consent to give up a thorough scoundrel, who every one
condemns?" demanded Mrs Dashwood, with sudden indignation.

"Well, that depends--"

"Bloater," said Mary, with increasing earnestness, "I cannot bribe you--
I have not the means even if I had the will; but I would not if I could.
I scorn bribery.  If you will not aid me for the sake of a poor,
helpless, infatuated girl, who is on the brink of ruin--"

"Missis Dashwood," said the Bloater, with a look of serio-comic dignity,
"I scorns bribery as much as you does.  `No bribery, no c'rupt'ons, no
Popery,' them's my mottoes--besides a few more that there's no occasion
to mention.  W'ether or not I gives 'im up depends on circumstances.
Now, I s'pose _you_ want's 'im took an' bagged, 'cause 'e ain't fit for
your friend Martha Reading--we'll drop the `Miss' if you please.  Well,
wot I want to know is, does Martha think as you does?"

"Of course not, boy.  No doubt she knows that he is an unworthy
scoundrel, but she can't prevail on herself to forsake him; so, you see,
I want to help her a little."

"Ah, I see--yes--I see.  Well, missis, I'll take it into consideration.
Come along, Jim."

Without waiting for a reply, the Bloater quitted the house abruptly,
followed by his friend.  He walked very fast towards the City--so fast
that Jim was compelled to trot--and was unusually silent.  He went
straight to the abode of Martha Reading, and found her sewing and
weeping.

"Ha! _he's_ bin with you, I see," said the Bloater.  "Did 'e ask you to
let 'im 'ide 'ere?"

"Ye-es;" said Martha, hesitating; "but I refused to do it.  God knows
how willing--how willing--I would be to shelter and save him if I
could!"

"Would you shelter a _guilty_ man?" demanded the Bloater, sternly.

"I don't know that he is guilty," said Martha, evasively.  "But, tell
me, what did Mrs Dashwood want with you?"

"That's a private matter," said the Bloater, frowning.  "You can't turn
me off the scent like that.  I ask you, ain't it right to 'and a guilty
man over to justice?"

"It is," replied Martha, wiping her eyes, "but it is also right to
temper justice with mercy."

"I say, that's drawin' it rather fine, ain't it?" said the Bloater,
screwing up one eyebrow and turning towards Little Jim; but that small
youth was so touched with the poor girl's sorrow and so attracted by her
countenance, that he had quite forgotten his patron for the moment.
Going towards her, he laid his dirty little hand on her knee, and looked
up in her face.

"God bless you, dear boy," she said, patting him on the head, "you are
the first that has given me a look of sympathy for many--"

She broke down suddenly, burst into a flood of tears, and, seizing the
child in her arms, absolutely hugged him!

"Hallo! hallo!" cried the Bloater, when Little Jim was released.  "I
say, you know, come, this sort o' thing will never do.  W'y, its
houtrageous.  Come along with you."

Saying which he seized Little Jim by the collar, dragged him out into
the street, and hurried him along.  Presently he released him, but
without slackening his pace, and said, "Now, Jim, you an' I shall go and
pay _another_ wisit."

They traversed several small streets, which seemed to be influenced by a
tendency to gravitate towards the Thames; while the river, as if in
sympathy, appeared to meet them more than half way in the shape of mud.
As they proceeded, huge warehouses frowned above, having doors high up
on their blank faces where windows ought to have been, with no steps
leading thereto, but in some cases with huge block tackles pendent
therefrom, suggestive of the idea that the owners were wont to drop the
enormous hooks and fish for passers-by.  These streets naturally became
more nautical in some respects as they neared the river.  Old bits of
timber lay here and there among old cordage in little yards, where the
owners appeared to deal in small-coal and miscellaneous filth.
Elsewhere, worn-out anchors held tenaciously to the mud, as if afraid of
being again pressed into service and carried off to sea.  Everything was
cold, dismal, dreary, disreputable; and here, in the dirtiest corner of
the smallest possible yard, the Bloater found a half-concealed door that
might have been the portal to a dog-kennel or pig-sty.  Opening it he
entered, and Little Jim followed.

The aspect of things inside was not attractive.  Dirt, damp, and rubbish
prevailed in the room, which was just big enough to permit of a tall man
lying down, but not high enough to admit of his standing up.  An
uncommonly small four-post bed almost filled the apartment, at the foot
of which, on the floor and half-reclining against one of the posts, lay
Phil Sparks, either dead-drunk or asleep, or both.

The Bloater glanced back at Little Jim with a look of satisfaction, and
held up his finger to enjoin silence.  Peering round the room, which was
lighted by a farthing candle stuck in the neck of a pint bottle, he
observed a piece of rope lying among some rubbish.

"Ha! this'll do," he whispered, as he took it up, and, with wonderful
rapidity, made a loop on it.

"Now, Jim, you be ready to cut and run if he should waken before I 'ave
'im fast.  Don't mind me; I'll look arter myself.  An' wotever you do,
_don't holler for the bobbies_.  Mind that, else I'll strangle you."

With this advice and caution, the Bloater advanced toward the recumbent
man, and passed the rope softly round his body, including his arms and
the bedpost in the coil.  Drawing it suddenly tight, he hastily made it
fast; but there was no occasion for haste, for the sleep of the man was
so profound that the action did not awake him.

"Hall right--fus' rate," said the Bloater aloud, as he wound the rope
round and round Sparks, so as to make him doubly secure.  "Nothin' could
be better.  Now, Jim, I'm goin' for to preach a sermon to-night--a sort
o' discoorse.  You never heard me preach, did you?"

Little Jim, who, despite his love of mischief, was somewhat alarmed at
the strange proceedings of his friend and patron, looked at him with a
mingled expression of fear and glee, and shook his head.

"Well, you shall 'ear.  Moreover, I 'ope that you'll profit by wot you
'ears."

Saying this, he advanced his hand towards the sleeping man's face, and,
causing his thumb to act as a trigger to his middle finger, gave him
such a flip on the point of his nose, that he awoke with a tremendous
roar.  Suddenly he became pale as death--supposing, no doubt, that he
had betrayed himself--and glanced towards the door with a bewildered
stare.

"Oh, you needn't alarm yourself," said the Bloater, placing a stool in
front of his victim, and sitting down thereon, with a hand on each knee,
"it ain't the bobbies.  If you keep quiet, there's no fear of _them_ in
this neighbourhood.  I can call 'em w'en I wants 'em.  There's nobody
but me and Little Jim 'ere--your friends, you know."

Becoming suddenly convinced of the truth of this, Phil Sparks, who was
very drunk, made so desperate an effort to free himself that he nearly
overturned the bed.

"Oh, you are anxious to see the bobbies, are you?  Well, go an' call 'em
in, Jim."

Jim rose to obey, and the man became instantly quiet.

"Ho! you're reasonable now, are you?  That's well.  You needn't call 'em
in yet, Jim.  We'll grant 'im a reprieve.  Fetch that stool, an' sit
down beside me--there.  Now, Mr Sparks, _alias_ Blazes, no doubt
_you're_ a precious specimen of hinnocent 'unmanity, ain't you?"

Sparks made no reply, but scowled at the boy with a look of deadly
hatred.

"Well, upon my word," resumed the Bloater, with a smile, "if I kep' a
menagerie, I'd offer you five 'undred a year to represent a Tasmanian
devil.  But look 'ere, now, I've no time to waste with you; I come 'ere
to give you a bit of my mind.  You're a fire-raiser, you are.  Ah! you
may well wince an' grow w'ite.  You'd grow w'iter still, with a rope
round your neck, if you wos left to _my_ tender mercies, you w'ite
livered villain! for I knows you; I've watched you; I've found you hout;
an' I've only got to 'old up my little finger to cut your pretty little
career prematoorly short.  You don't seem to like that?  No, I didn't
expect you would.  This young man, whose 'art is big, if 'is body's
small, knows as much about you as I do.  Two witnesses, you see; but you
_ain't_ left to _our_ tender mercies; and if you wants to know who
delivered you from us, and from the maginstrates, and Jack Ketch,
_alias_ Calcraft, I replies, _Martha Reading_.  Ha! you look surprised.
Quite nat'ral.  You've deserved very different treatment from that young
ooman, an' didn't expect that she'd return good for evil, I s'pose.
That's because you don't know 'er; you don't understand 'er, you
miserable lump of selfish stoopidity.  'Ows'ever, as I said before, I
ain't a-goin' to waste no more time with you.  But let me, before
biddin' you adoo, give you a caution.  Remember, that _I've got my eye
on you_.  Just one word more.  W'en you thinks of _me_, don't think of
one as 'as got any tender mercies, for I ain't got none; not a scrap of
'em, nor nothin' of the sort.  W'en you wants to know the true cause of
your bein' let off, just think of two words--_Martha Reading_!  She
knows nothin' o' wot I'm doin', nevertheless, _she's_ done it!  Let 'er
name ring in your ears, an' thunder in your brain, and burn in your
'art, till it consooms your witals or your willany!  Now, Jim,"
concluded the Bloater, rising and opening a large clasp-knife, "you go
to the door, open it wide, an' stan' by to cut, and run.  This gen'lm'n
ain't to be trusted w'en free.  Are you ready?"

"Hall ready," replied Jim.

The Bloater cut the cord that bound Phil Sparks, and darted from the
room.  Before the man could disentangle himself from its coils, the boys
were safe from pursuit, quietly wending their way through the crowded
thoroughfares of the great city.



CHAPTER EIGHT.

Several months passed away.  During this period Phil Sparks kept in
close hiding, because, although the Bloater, true to his promise,
refrained from giving information against him, there were others who
knew and suspected him, and who had no visions of an imploring Martha to
restrain them in their efforts to deliver him into the hands of justice.

During this period, also, Ned Crashington recovered his wonted health
and vigour, while his wife, to some extent, recovered her senses, and,
instead of acting as an irritant blister on her husband, began really to
aim at unanimity.  The result was, that Ned's love for her, which had
only been smothered a little, burst forth with renewed energy, and
Maggie found that in peace there is prosperity.  It is not to be
supposed that Maggie was cured all at once.  She was not an angel--only
an energetic and self-willed woman.  She therefore broke out now and
then in her old style; but, on the whole, she was much improved, and the
stalwart fireman no longer sought martyrdom in the flames.

During this period, too, the men of the Red Brigade held on the even
tenor of their furious fiery way; not, indeed, scatheless, but with a
much smaller amount of damage to life and limb than might have been
expected in a service where the numerical strength was so low--only
about 380 men--and where the duty, night and day, was so severe and
hazardous.

About this time, their Chief's "Report" for the past year was issued,
and it revealed a few facts which are worthy of record.  It stated that
there had been altogether 1946 fires in London during the past twelve
months; that is, an average of a little more than five fires every
twenty-four hours.  Of these 1670 had been slight, while 276 were
serious.  In these fires 186 persons had been seriously endangered, of
whom 153 were rescued by the men of the Red Brigade, while 33 perished,
despite the most gallant efforts to save them.  The Report showed,
further, that there were in London at that time, (and it is much the
same still), 50 fire-engine stations, 25 land steam fire-engines, 85
manual fire-engines, 2 floating steam fire-engines on the Thames, and
104 fire-escapes.  The number of journeys made by the fire-engines
during the year was 8127, and the total distance run was 21,914 miles.
This, the reader will observe, implies an enormous amount of labour
performed by the 380 heroes who constitute the Red Brigade, and who,
although thus heavily overtaxed, were never heard to murmur or complain.
That they suffered pretty frequently and severely might have been
expected.  In truth, it is a marvel that they did not suffer more.  The
Report showed that, among them all in the course of the year, they had
received 36 contusions, dislocations, fractures, and such like injuries;
22 incised, lacerated, and punctured wounds; 18 injuries to eyes, head,
and arms; 2 internal injuries; 22 sprains, and, strange to say, only 4
burns and scalds, making 104 injuries altogether, but no deaths.

Things being in this condition, the brigade lay on its oars, so to
speak, awaiting "a call," one bleak evening in November, when everything
in London looked so wet, and cold, and wretched, that some people went
the length of saying that a good rousing fire would be quite a cheering
sight for the eyes to rest upon.

In the West-End station, to which we have directed attention more than
once in this tale, Joe Dashwood, and Ned Crashington, and Bob Clazie,
with his brother David, and some more of the men, were seated in the
inner lobby, discussing the news of the day, and settling the affairs of
the nation to their own entire satisfaction.  The Bloater and Little Jim
were also there, hanging about the door.  These fire-eating youths had
become so fond of the locality and of the men, that they had taken to
sweeping a crossing in the neighbourhood, and were wont to cheer their
spirits, during intervals of labour, by listening to, or chaffing, the
firemen, and following them, when possible, to fires.

Suddenly the rattle of the telegraphic bell roused the men.  This was so
common an occurrence, that it scarcely called forth a passing remark.
One of them, however, rose with alacrity, and, replying to the signal,
read off the message.  We cannot give the precise words of the telegram,
but it was to the effect that a fire had broken out at Saint Katharine's
Docks, and that all available force was to be sent out at once.

On hearing this there was unusual promptitude in the movements of the
firemen.  At all times they are bound, on pain of a heavy fine, to turn
out in three minutes after receiving the call to a fire.  Sometimes they
succeed in turning out in less.  It was so on the present occasion.
Mention of a fire anywhere near the docks has much the same effect on
the Red Brigade as the order to march to the field of Waterloo had on
the British army.  The extreme danger; the inflammable nature of the
goods contained in the huge and densely-packed warehouses; the proximity
to the shipping; the probability of a pitched battle with the flames;
the awful loss of property, and perhaps of life, if the fire should gain
the mastery, and the urgent need there is for hurrying all the
disposable force in London to the spot without delay, if the victory is
to be gained--all these circumstances and considerations act as an
unusually sharp spur to men, who, however, being already willing at all
times to do their utmost, can only force themselves to gain a few
additional moments of time by their most strenuous exertions.

In less than three minutes, then, our West-End engine sprang off, like a
rocket, at full gallop, with a crack of the whip, a snort from the
steeds, a shout from the men to clear the way, and a cheer from the
bystanders.

Two of these bystanders started off alongside of the engine, with
glittering eyes and flushed cheeks.  The Bloater and Little Jim had
heard the telegraph read off, had caught the words, "Fire--Saint
Katharine's Docks," and knew well what that implied.  They resolved to
witness the fight, and ran as if their lives depended on the race.  It
need scarcely be said that the engine quickly left them out of sight
behind, not only because the horses were fleet, but also because various
pedestrians, into whose bosoms the boys plunged in their blind haste,
treated them rather roughly, and retarded their progress a good deal.
But nothing short of a knock-down blow could have put a full stop to the
career of those imps of the broom.  After innumerable hair-breadth
escapes from "bobbies" and others, by agile bounds and desperate plunges
among horses' legs and carriage-wheels, they reached the scene of action
not _very_ long after the engine with which they had set out.

It was night.  The fire had been raging for some time with terrible
fury, and had already got full possession of two large warehouses, each
five or six floors in height, all connected by means of double iron
folding-doors, and stored from basement to roof with spirits, tallow,
palm-oil, cotton, flax, jute, and other merchandise, to the extent of
upwards of two millions sterling in value.  The dock fire-engines had
been brought to bear on the flames a few minutes after the fire was
discovered.  The two floating-engines were paddled at once to the spot,
and their powerful hydrants poured continuous streams on the flames;
while, every few minutes, another and another of the land-engines came
rattling up, until all the available force of the Red Brigade was on the
spot, each man straining, like the hero of a forlorn hope, regardless of
life and limb, to conquer the terrible foe.  The Brompton and Chelsea
volunteer fire-brigade, and several private engines, also came up to
lend a helping hand.  But all these engines, brave hearts, and vigorous
proceedings, appeared at first of no avail, for the greedy flames shot
out their tongues, hissed through water and steam, and licked up the
rich fuel with a deep continuous roar, as if they gloated over their
unusually splendid banquet, and meant to enjoy it to the full, despite
man's utmost efforts to oppose them.

The excitement at this time was tremendous.  Every available spot of
ground or building from which the most limited view of the fire could be
obtained, was crowded to excess by human beings, whose upturned faces
were lighted more or less ruddily according to their distance from the
fire.

No doubt the greater proportion of the vast multitude beheld the waste
of so much property with anxiety and regret.  Doubtless, also, many
thoughtless ones were there who merely enjoyed the excitement, and
looked on it as a pyrotechnic display of unwonted splendour.  But there
was yet another class of men, aye, and women, whose view of the matter
was fitted to cause anxiety in the breasts of those who talk of
"elevating the masses," and this was by far the largest class.  The
greater part of them belonged to the lowest class of labourers, men
willing to work for their living, but who got little to do.  Amongst
these not one expression of regret was to be heard, though the women
sometimes asked anxiously whether any one was likely to be hurt.  But
let a few of these speak for themselves.

"Ah," said an old woman, with an unintellectual style of countenance,
"now there will be plenty of work for poor men."

"Yes," responded a rough, with a black eye, "that's true.  My blissin',
as Paddy says, on a fire; it warms the cockles o' yer heart an' kapes
yer hands busy."

"They've much need to be kep' busy, sure enough," remarked another man,
"for mine have been pretty idle for more than a week."

"I wish," exclaimed another, with a bitter curse on mankind in general,
"that the whole Thames would go a-fire, from Westminster to Gravesend."

The energy with which this was said caused a general laugh and a good
deal of chaff, but there was no humour in the man who spoke.  He was one
of those of whom it is said by a periodical which ought to know, that
hundreds of such may be seen day by day, year by year, waiting at the
different gates of the docks, in stolid weariness, for the chance of a
day's work--the wage of which is half-a-crown.  When a foreman comes to
a gate to take on a few such hands, the press of men, and the faces,
hungry and eager beyond description, make one of the saddest of the sad
sights to be seen even at the east end of London.

In another part of the crowd, where the street was narrow, a scene of a
most fearful kind was being enacted.  All scoundreldom appeared to have
collected in that spot.  For two or three hours robbery and violence
reigned unchecked in the very face of the police, who, reduced to
inaction by the density of the crowd, could render little or no
assistance to the sufferers.  Scarcely one respectably dressed person
was unmolested.  Hats were indiscriminately smashed over the brows of
their wearers, coats were torn off their backs, and watches and purses
violently wrested from their owners.  In many cases there was no attempt
at secrecy, men were knocked down and plundered with all the coolness
and deliberation, with which we commonly pursue our lawful calling.

By degrees the perseverance and heroism of the firemen were rewarded.
The fire began to succumb to the copious floods with which it was
deluged, and, towards midnight, there was a perceptible diminution in
the violence of the flames.  There were, however, several temporary
outbursts from time to time, which called for the utmost watchfulness
and promptitude on the part of the Brigade.

During one of these a block of private dwellings nearest to the
conflagration was set on fire.  So intent was every one on the _great_
fire that this incidental one was not observed until it had gained
considerable headway.  The buildings were very old and dry, so that,
before an engine could be detached from the warehouses, it was in a
complete blaze.  Most of the inhabitants escaped by the chief staircase
before it became impassable, and one or two leaped from the lower
windows.

It chanced that Joe Dashwood's engine was nearest to this house at the
time, and was run up to it.

"Now then, lads, look alive," said Joe, as the men affixed the hose and
suction-pipe.

"Out o' the way!" cried Ned Crashington to two boys who appeared to be
rather curious about the operations of the firemen.

"I say," exclaimed the Bloater in great excitement, "why--that's the
'ouse w'ere _Martha_ lives!"

"Who's Martha?" asked Ned, without interrupting his operation of
screwing on an additional length of hose.

"W'y, the friend o' Joe Dashwood's wife--Martha--Martha Reading, you
know."

"Eh!" exclaimed Ned, looking up.

At that moment Martha herself appeared at a window in the upper storey,
waving her arms and shrieking wildly for help.  Men were seen
endeavouring to bring forward a fire-escape, but the crowd was so dense
as to render this an unusually difficult and slow operation.

Without uttering a word, Ned Crashington dashed up the blazing
staircase.  For a moment he was lost to view, but quickly reappeared,
attempting to cross a half-charred beam which overhung a yawning gulf of
fire where the first and second floors had just fallen in.  Suddenly a
dense mass of smoke surrounded him.  He staggered, threw up his arms,
and was seen to fall headlong into the flames.  A deep groan, or cry of
horror, arose from the crowd, and wild shouts of "fetch a ladder,"
"bring up the escape," were heard, while poor Martha got out on the
window-sill to avoid the flames, which were rapidly drawing towards and
almost scorching her.

Just then a man was seen to dash furiously through the crowd, he fought
his way madly--knocking down all who opposed him.  Gaining the door of
the burning house he sprang in.

"I say," whispered Little Jim, in an excited voice, "it's Phil Sparks!"

"I'm glad to hear it," observed a quiet, broad-shouldered man, who stood
near two policemen, to whom he winked knowingly.

The Bloater attempted to move off, but one of the policemen detained
him.  The other detained Little Jim.

Meanwhile the crowd looked for Phil's reappearance on the beam from
which poor Ned Crashington had fallen, but Phil knew the house better
than Ned.  He gained the upper floor by a back stair, which was not
quite impassable; seized Martha in his arms, just as she was about to
leap into the street, and dragged her back into the smoke and flames.
It appeared almost certain that both must have perished; but in a few
seconds the man was seen to descend the lower stair with the woman in
his arms, and in another moment a wild enthusiastic cheer burst from the
vast multitude as he leaped into the street.

Laying Martha gently down on a doorstep, Sparks bent over her, and
whispered in her ear.  She appeared to have swooned, but opened her
eyes, and gazed earnestly in the face of her deliverer.

"The Lord must have sent you to save me, Phil; He will save _you_ also,
if you will trust Him."

"Forgive me, Martha, I was hard on you, but--"

"God bless you, Phil--"

"Clear the way there," cried a commanding voice; "here, doctor, this
way."

The crowd opened.  A medical man came forward and examined Martha, and
pronounced her to be only slightly injured.  Several men then raised her
and carried her towards a neighbouring house.  Phil Sparks was about to
follow, but the quiet man with the broad shoulders touched him gently on
the arm, and said that he was "wanted."

"Sorry to interrupt you in such a good work, but it can't be helped.
Other people can take care of her now, you know; come along."

Sparks' first impulse was to knock the quiet man down and fly, but he
felt a restraining power on his other arm, and, looking round, observed
a tall policeman at his side.  As if by magic, another tall policeman
appeared in front of him, and a third behind him.  He suddenly bent down
his head and suffered himself to be led away.  Seeing this, the Bloater
and Little Jim wrenched themselves from the grasp of their respective
captors, dived between the legs of the bystanders, as eels might do
among sedges, and vanished, to their own inexpressible delight and the
total discomfiture of the "bobbies."  They met a few minutes later at a
well-known rendezvous.

"I wish 'e 'adn't bin took," said the Bloater with a look of regret on
his expressive though dirty countenance.

"Poor Martha!" said Little Jim, almost crying as he thought of her.
"'Ow much d'you think 'e'll get, Bloater?"

"Twenty years at least; p'r'aps go for life; you see it's an aggrawated
case.  I've bin makin' partikler inquiries, and I finds 'e's bin raisin'
no end o' fires doorin' the last six months--kep' the Red Brigade
trottin' about quite in a surprisin' way.  I rather fear that 'e'll be
let in for ever an' a day."

The Bloater was not quite correct in his guess.  When the trial came on,
to the surprise of all, especially of his "pals," Phil Sparks pleaded
_guilty_!  Partly in consideration of this, and partly on account of his
last courageous act in saving the girl, he was let off with fifteen
years penal servitude.

But, to return from this episode.  The great fire at the docks, after
gutting several warehouses, was finally subdued.  And what of the loss?
A hundred thousand pounds did not cover it, and every insurance office
in London suffered!  In addition to this, several persons lost their
lives, while the Red Brigade, besides having some of their number more
or less severely injured, lost one of its best and bravest men.

Gallant Ned Crashington's fighting days were over.  His mangled remains
were gathered up next morning, and, a few days later, were conveyed by
his comrades to their last resting-place.

It is no easy matter to move the heart of London.  That vast
nation-in-a-city has too many diverse interests to permit of the eyes of
all being turned, even for a moment, upon one thing.  Nevertheless the
fireman's funeral seemed to cause the great cord to vibrate for a
little.  Hundreds of thousands of people turned out to witness the
cortege.  Ned's coffin was drawn, military fashion, on one of the
engines peculiar to his profession, with his helmet and hatchet placed
upon the lid.  The whole of the force of the brigade that could be
spared followed him in uniform, headed by their chief, and accompanied
by a large detachment of the police force.  The procession was imposing,
and the notices that appeared next day in all the papers were a touching
tribute of respect to the self-sacrificing fireman, who, as one of these
papers said, "left a widow and son, in poor circumstances, to mourn his
early death."

Ah, these things were soon forgotten in the rush of the world's business
by all save that widow and son, and one or two bosom friends.  Even the
men of the Red Brigade _appeared_ to forget the fallen hero very soon.
We say "appeared," because there were some among them who mourned Ned as
a dear brother, chief among whom was Joe Dashwood.  But whatever the
feelings of the firemen might have been, theirs was a warfare that
allowed no time for the undue indulgence or exhibition of grief.  The
regular "calls" and duties went on steadily, sternly, as if nothing had
occurred, and before Ned's remains had lain a night in their last
resting-place, many of his old comrades were out again doing fierce
battle with the restless and untameable flames.



CHAPTER NINE.

Years passed away, and with them many old things vanished, while many
novelties appeared, but the Red Brigade remained much as it was,
excepting that it was, if possible, smarter and more energetic than
ever.

In the lobby of our West-end station one pleasant summer evening, the
men sat and stood about the open door beside the trim engines and
_materiel_ of their profession, chatting heartily as men are won't to do
when in high health and spirits.  There were new faces among them, but
there were also several that had long been familiar there.  The stalwart
form of Joe Dashwood was there, so little altered by time that there was
nothing about him to tell that he was passing the period of middle-age,
save a few grey hairs that mingled here and there with the dark curls on
his temples.  Bob Clazie was there also, but he had not stood the trials
of his profession so well as Joe--probably his constitution was not so
strong.  A disagreeable short cough harassed him, though he made light
of it.  Frequent scorching, smoking, and partial suffocation had
increased his wrinkles and rendered his eyelids permanently red.
Nevertheless, although nearly fifty years old, Bob Clazie was still one
of the best men in the Brigade.

Joe Dashwood wore a pair of brass epaulettes on his shoulders, which
indicated that he had attained to the highest rank in the service, short
of the chief command.

He was giving directions to one of the younger men of the force, when a
tall strapping young man, with a plain but open and singularly pleasing
countenance entered, and going up to him shook him warmly by the hand.

"Well, Bob, what's the news? you seem excited this evening," said Joe.

"So I am, Joe; and with good reason too, for several pleasant things
have happened to-day.  In the first place, my friend and patron--"

"That's the old gentleman with the ruddy face and the bald head?"
interrupted Joe.

"Yes, and with the kind heart.  Don't ever omit the kind heart, Joe, in
your description of him, else you'll only have painted half the
portrait."

"Well, but the kind heart ain't quite so visible at first sight as the
ruddy face and bald head, you know."

"Perhaps not; but if you watched him long enough to see him _act_, you'd
perceive the kind heart as plain as if it hung at his button-hole, and
beat like a sixty-horse-power steam-engine _outside_ his ribs instead of
inside," said the strapping young man with quite a glow of enthusiasm.
"Oh, if you could only see how that old gentleman labours, and strives,
and wears himself out, in his desire to rescue what they call our Street
Arabs, you couldn't help loving him as I do.  But I'm wandering from the
pleasant things I've got to tell about.  Through his influence my friend
Jim has obtained a good appointment on the Metropolitan Railway, which
gives him a much better salary than he had in Skrimp's office, and opens
up a prospect of promotion; so, although it sends him underground before
his natural time, he says he is quite content to be buried alive,
especially as it makes the prospect of his union with a very small and
exceedingly charming little girl with black eyes, not quite so remote as
it was.  In the second place, you'll be glad to hear that the directors
of the insurance office with which I am connected have raised my salary,
influenced thereto by the same old gentleman with the ruddy face, bald
head, and kind heart--"

"Coupled with your own merits, Bob," suggested Joe.

"I know nothing about _that_," replied the strapping young man with a
smile, "but these pleasant pieces of good fortune have enabled me and
Jim to carry out a plan which we have long cherished--to lodge together,
with Martha Reading as our landlady.  In truth, anticipating some such
good fortune as has been sent to us, we had some time ago devoted part
of our savings to the purpose of rescuing poor Martha from that
miserable needlework which has been slowly killing her so long.  We have
taken and furnished a small house, Martha is already installed as the
owner, and we go there to-night for the first time, as lodgers."

"You don't say so!" exclaimed Joe, laughing; "why, Bob, you and your
friend act with as much promptitude as if you had been regularly trained
in the Fire-Brigade."

"We received much of our training _from_ it, if not _in_ it," returned
the strapping young man with the plain but pleasant countenance.  "Don't
you remember, Joe, how perseveringly we followed you in former days when
_I_ was the Bloater and _he_ was Little Jim?"

"Remember it!  I should think I do," replied Joe.  "How glad my Mary
will be when she hears what you have done."

"But that's not all my news," continued the Bloater, (if we may presume
to use the old name).  "Last, but not least, Fred has asked me to be his
groom's-man.  He wrote me a very pathetic letter about it, but omitted
to mention the day--not to be wondered at in the circumstances.  Poor
Fred, his letter reminded me of the blotted copies which I used to write
with such trouble and sorrow at the training school to which my patron
sent me."

"There's reason for the blotted letter besides the excitement of his
approaching marriage," said Joe.  "He hurt his hand the last fire he
attended, and it's in a sling just now, so he must have taken it out,
for temporary duty when he wrote to you.  The truth is that Fred is too
reckless for a fireman.  He's scarcely cool enough.  But I can inform
you as to the day; it is Thursday next.  See that you are up to time,
Bob."

"No fear of me being late," replied the Bloater.  "By the way, have you
heard of that new method of putting out fires that somebody has
invented?"

"I did hear of some nonsensical plan," replied Joe, with a slight
expression of contempt, "but I don't think it worth while to pay
attention to things o' this sort.  There's nothin' can beat good cold
water."

"I'm not so sure of that, Joe," replied his friend gravely.  "I have
been reading an account of it in the _Insurance Guardian_, and it seems
to me that there is something worth attending to in the new plan.  It
looks as if there was life in it, for a company is to be got up called
the `Fire and Water Company.'"

"But what _is_ this new plan?" asked Joe, sending forth a violent puff
from his pipe, as if to indicate that it would all end in smoke.

"Well, I'm not sure that I've got a correct notion of it myself, but my
impression is that carbonic acid gas is the foundation-principle of it.
Fire cannot exist in the presence of this gas--wherever it goes
extinction of fire is instantaneous, which is more than you can say for
water, Joe; for as you know well, fire, when strong enough, can turn
that into steam as fast as you can pour it on, and after getting rid of
it in this way, blaze up as furious as ever.  What this company proposes
to do is to saturate water with this carbonic acid gas mixed with
nitrogen, and then pour that prepared water on fires.  Of course, if
much water were required, such a plan would never succeed, but a very
small quantity is said to be sufficient.  It seems that some testing
experiments of a very satisfactory kind have been made recently--so you
see, Joe, it is time to be looking out for a new profession!"

"H'm.  I'll stick to the old brigade, at all events till the new company
beats us from the field.  Perhaps when that happens they'll enrol some
of us to work the--what d'ye call 'em?--soda-water engines.  They'll
have engines of course, I suppose?"

"Of course," replied the Bloater; "moreover, they mean to turn their
prepared water to good account when there are no fires to put out.  It
is said that the proportions of the mixture can be so varied that, with
one kind, the pump may be used for the clarification of beer, oils,
treacle, quicksilver, and such like, and for the preservation of fruit,
meat, milk, etcetera, and with another mixture they propose to ventilate
mines and tunnels; water gardens; kill insects on trees and flowers;
soften water for domestic uses, and breweries, and manufacture
soda-water, seltzer water, and other aerated beverages--"

"Oh, I say, Bob, hold on," cried Joe; "you seem to forget that my
capacity for swallowing is limited."

"Well, perhaps you'll get it enlarged enough before long, to swallow all
that and a deal more," said the Bloater, with a half serious air.
"Meanwhile I'll continue to wish all success and prosperity to the Red
Brigade--though you _do_ cause a tremendous amount of damage by your
floods of water, as we poor insurance companies know.  Why, if it were
not for the heroes of the salvage corps we should be ruined altogether.
It's my opinion, Joe, that the men of the salvage corps run quite as
much risk as your fellows do in going through fire and smoke and working
among falling beams and tumbling walls in order to cover goods with
their tarpaulins and protect them from water."

"I admit that the salvage men do their work like heroes," said Joe; "but
if you would read our chief's report for last year, you would see that
we do our best to put out fires with the smallest possible amount of
water.  Why, we only used about eleven million gallons in the last
twelve months--a most insignificant quantity that, for the amount of
work done!"

A tinkle of the telegraph bell here cut short the conversation.  "Fire,
in the Mall, Kensington," was the signal.

"Get her out, lads!" cried Joe, referring to the engine.

Helmets and hatchets were donned and buckled on in the old style, and
quiet jokes or humorous and free-and-easy remarks were uttered in slow,
even sleepy tones, while the men acted with a degree of prompt celerity
that could not have been excelled had their own lives depended on their
speed.  In three minutes, as usual, they were off at full gallop.  The
Bloater--who still longed to follow them as of old, but had other
business on hand--wished them "good luck," and proceeded at a smart pace
to his new lodgings.

We must change the scene now, for the men of the Red Brigade do not
confine their attentions exclusively to such matters as drilling,
fighting, suffering, conquering, and dying.  They sometimes marry!  Let
us look in at this little church where, as a passer-by remarks,
"_something_ appears to be going on."

A tall handsome young man leads to the altar a delicate, beautiful,
blooming bride, whose bent head and blushing cheek, and modest mien and
dependent air, contrast pleasantly with the gladsome firm countenance,
stalwart frame, and self-reliant aspect of the bridegroom.

Looking at them as they stood then, no one could have entertained for a
moment the idea that these two had ever united in the desperate and
strenuous attempt to put out a fire!  Yet so it was.  They had, once
upon a time, devoted themselves to the extinction of a fire in a
cupboard with such enthusiasm that they had been successful not only in
putting that fire out, but in lighting another fire, which nothing short
of union for life could extinguish!

Joe Dashwood gave away the bride, and he could not help remarking in a
whisper to the Bloater, (who was also there in sumptuous attire), that
if ever a man was the born image of his father that man was Fred
Crashington--an opinion which was heartily responded to by Mrs Maggie
Crashington, who, then in the period of life which is described as "fat,
fair, and forty," looked on at the proceedings with intense
satisfaction.  Mary Dashwood--also fat, fair, and forty--was there too,
and if ever a woman congratulated herself on a rosebud having grown into
a full blown blush-rose, that woman was Mary.

Besides a pretty large company of well-dressed people, with white
favours in their breasts, there was a sprinkling of active men with
sailor-like caps, who hung about the outskirts of the crowd, and among
these were two or three stout fellows with brass helmets and dirty hands
and faces, and wet garments, who had returned from a recent fire, just
in time to take a look at their comrade and his fair bride.

"Poor Ned, how his kind heart would have rejoiced to see this day!"
murmured Joe, brushing his cheek hastily as he retired from the altar.

So, the wedding party left the church, and the firemen returned to their
posts of watchfulness and duty.

About the same period that this wedding took place, there was another
wedding in the great metropolis to which we would draw the reader's
attention.  Not that it was a great one or a splendid one; on the
contrary, if it was marked by any unusual peculiarities, these were
shabbiness and poverty.  The wedding party consisted of only two,
besides the bride and bridegroom, and everything was conducted with such
quietness, and gravity, and absence of excitement, that it might almost
have been mistaken for a funeral on a small scale by any one
unacquainted with the ceremonial appertaining thereto.

The happy pair, besides looking very sad, were past the meridian of
life.  Both were plainly dressed, and each appeared desirous of avoiding
observation.  The man, in particular, hung his head and moved awkwardly,
as if begging forgiveness generally for presuming to appear in the
character of a bridegroom.  His countenance had evidently never been
handsome, but there was a sad subdued look about it--the result,
perhaps, of prolonged suffering--which prevented it from being
repulsive.  He looked somewhat like an invalid, yet his powerful frame
and the action of his strong muscular hands were not in keeping with
that idea.

The bride, although careworn and middle-aged, possessed a singularly
sweet and attractive countenance--all the more attractive that it wore a
habitual expression of sadness.  It was a sympathetic face, too, because
it was the index to a loving, sympathetic, Christian soul, and its
ever-varying indications of feeling, lightened and subdued and modified,
but never quite removed, the sadness.

The two who composed the remainder of this wedding party were young men,
apparently in a higher position of life than the principals.  The one
was tall and strapping, the other rather small, but remarkably active
and handsome.  It was evident that they were deeply interested in the
ceremony in which they took part, and the smaller of the two appeared to
enjoy some humorous reminiscences occasionally, to judge from the
expression of his face when his glance chanced to meet that of his tall
friend.

As they were leaving the altar, the bridegroom bent down and murmured in
a deep soft voice--

"It's like a dream, Martha.  It ain't easy to believe that such good
luck should come to the likes o' me."

The bride whispered something in reply, which was inaudible to those who
followed.

"Yes, Martha, yes," returned the bridegroom; "no doubt it is as you put
it.  But after all, there's only one of His sayin's that has gone right
home to me.  I've got it by heart _now_--`I came not to call the
righteous, but _sinners_ to repentance.'  'Twould have bin all up with
me long ago but for that, Martha."

They reached the door at this point, got into a cab, and drove away.
The remainder of the wedding party left the little church on foot.

The same evening on which this event took place, the strapping young man
and the little active youth sat together at the open window of a
comfortable though small parlour, enjoying a cup of tea.  The view from
the window was limited, but it possessed the charm of variety;
commanding as it did, a vista of chimney-pots of every shape and form
conceivable--many of which were capped with those multiform and hideous
contrivances, with which foolish man vainly endeavours to cure smoke.

"Well, Jim," asked the strapping youth, as he gazed pensively on this
prospect, "what d'you think of it?"

"What do you refer to, Bob--our view or the wedding?"

"The wedding, of course."

"It's hard to say," replied Jim, musing.  "He seemed to be such an
unmitigated scoundrel when we first made his acquaintance that it is
difficult to believe he is a changed man now."

"By which you mean to insinuate, Jim, that the Gospel is not sufficient
for out-and-out blackguards; that it is only powerful enough to deal
with such modified scoundrels as you and I were."

"By no means," replied Jim, with a peculiar smile; "but, d'you know,
Bloater, I never can feel that we were such desperate villains as you
make us out to have been, when we swept the streets together."

"Just listen to him!" exclaimed the Bloater, smiting his knee with his
fist, "you can't _feel_!--what have _feelings_ to do with knowledge?
Don't you _know_ that we were fairly and almost hopelessly _in the
current_, and that we should probably have been swept off the face of
the earth by this time if it had not been for that old gentleman with
the bald head and the kindly--"

"There, now, Bloater, don't let us have any more of that, you become
positively rabid when you get upon that old gentleman, and you are
conceited enough, also, to suppose that all the gratitude in the world
has been shovelled into your own bosom.  Come, let us return to the
point, what do I think of the wedding--well, I think a good deal of it.
There is risk, no doubt, but there is that in everything sublunary.  I
think, moreover, that the marriage is founded on _true love_.  He never
would have come to his present condition but for true love to Martha,
which, in God's providence, seems to have been made the means of opening
his mind to Martha's _message_, the pith of which message was contained
in his last remark on leaving the church.  Then, as to Martha, our own
knowledge of her would be sufficient to ease our minds as to her wisdom,
even if it were not coupled with the reply she made to me when I
expressed wonder that she should desire to marry such a man.  `Many
waters,' she said, `cannot quench love!'"

"Ha! you know something of that yourself," remarked Bob with a smile.

"Something," replied Little Jim, with a sigh.

"Well, don't despond," said the Bloater, laying his hand on Jim's
shoulder.  "I have reason to know that the obstacles in your way shall
soon be removed, because that dear old gentleman with the--"

He was cut short by a loud, gruff shouting in the street below,
accompanied by the rattling of wheels and the clatter of horses' hoofs.

"Ah, there they go!" cried Jim, his eyes glistening with enthusiasm as
he and his friend leaned out of the window, and strove to gain a glimpse
of the street between the forest of chimneys, "driving along, hammer and
tongs, neck or nothing, always at it night and day.  A blessing on
them!"

"Amen," said the Bloater, as he and Jim resumed their seats and listened
to the sound of the wheels, voices, and hoofs dying away in the
distance.

Reader, we re-echo the sentiment, and close our tale with the remark
that there are many rescued men and women in London who shall have
cause, as long as life shall last, to pray for a blessing on the
overwrought heroes who fill the ranks, and fight the battles of the Red
Brigade.





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