“On board, quick,” he ordered. “The fire’s on top of us!”
Quickly the women obeyed, and scrambled from the rock into the boat, nearly capsizing it as they did so.
“Set there, an’ be still,” Eben commanded, as he pushed away from the shore, seated himself, and again dipped the oars into the water. He headed the boat around the lower point of the island, and rowed hard. So taken up were the women with watching the fire, that they hardly looked at their rescuer. Had they done so they would have been greatly shocked. The hair had disappeared from his head, his face, arms and hands were red and swollen, while his shirt was entirely charred across his chest and shoulders. His blood-shot eyes, and the haggard expression on his face told their own tale, although he gave no outward sign of his suffering. He rowed as he had never rowed before, for the lives of the women depended upon his exertions.
Eben had been rowing only a few minutes when the fire reached the lower end of the island. It burst with a mighty roar from among the trees, and hurled its flames out over the rocks where the women had been huddled but a short time before. They shivered as they watched the fearful sight, and silently clung to each other. But even now they were not beyond danger. The flames, as if angered by losing their human prey, reached out over the water in a final effort to seize the fleeing ones. Showers of blazing embers were poured forth, and fell around the boat, and at times upon the occupants. The women were now kept alert and busy extinguishing these brands by hurling the largest overboard, and by dashing water with their hands and a small baling can over the others. The heat was intense, and at times almost unbearable. The smoke, too, was blinding and suffocating. This, added to the heat and the roar of the fire, made their position a veritable inferno, from which there seemed no way of escape. So far as they could tell the country all around them was aflame.
Eben uttered no sound, but pulled strongly at the oars. Occasionally he turned his head in an effort to see the mainland toward which he was urging the boat. The fire was sweeping down along the shore, and he could tell by the sound how far it had advanced. In a short time it would be opposite them, and if thus caught between the flames on the shore and those on the island their fate would be sealed.