‘Now then, lasses,’ said he, having rapidly completed his task, ‘th’ little uns fust,’ and in a moment a girl of twelve was swinging seventy feet in the air, while a crowd of roaring humanity below held its breath, and gazed with dilating eyes on the child who hung between life and death. In a minute more the spell of silence broke, and a roar, louder than before, told that the little one had touched earth without injury, save hands all raw from friction with the rope along which she had slidden.
Child after child followed; then the women were taken in their turn, and lowered safely into the factory yard.
By the time it came to the turn of Amos, the roar of the fire sounded like the distant beating of many seas along a rock-bound coast. The hot breath was ascending, and thin tongues of flame began to shoot through the floor of the room where he stood. The pungent smell of burnt cotton stung his nostrils and blinded his eyes with pain, and the atmosphere was fevered to such a degree that with difficulty he drew his breath.
His turn had come, but was he the last in the room? Something told him that he was not, that he must look round and satisfy himself, otherwise his duty was unfulfilled.
The tongues of flame became fiercer; he saw them running along the joints of the boarding, and feeding on the oil and waste which had accumulated there for years. He felt his hour was come. But he was calm. God ruled. No mistake could be made by the Almighty—nor could any mistake be made by himself, for was he not under Divine guidance?
Calmly he walked along the length of the room, stepping aside to escape the flame, and searching behind each roving-frame in his walk, as though to assure himself that no one remained unsaved.
Coming to the last frame, he saw the fainting form of one of his back-tenters, the very child whose ears he had so savagely pulled but an hour before.
There she lay, with her pallid, pinched face across her arm, the flames creeping towards her as though greedy to feed themselves on her young life.
In an instant Amos stepped towards the child and raised her in his arms, intending to return to the window and so seek escape. He was too late, however; a wall of fire stretched across the room, and he felt the floor yielding beneath his feet.
He was still calm and self-contained. He thought of Him who was said to dwell in devouring flames, and was Himself a consuming fire. He thought of the three Hebrew youths and the sevenfold-heated furnace. He thought of the One who was the wall of fire to His people, and he was not afraid.
On swept the blaze. In a few moments he knew the roof must follow the fast-consuming floor. Still he was calm. He stepped on to one of the stone sills to secure a moment’s respite, and he cried in an unfaltering voice, ‘The Lord reigneth. Let His will be done.’
Frantic efforts were being made by the crowd below to recall Amos, who had been seen to disappear from the window into the room. His name was shouted in wild and entreating cries, and men reared ladders, only to find them too short, while women threw up their arms and fell fainting in excitement on the ground.