“You may cringe and bow and bear it if you choose; you may humble yourself to such a piece of insolence; but rest assured there are plenty of men and women in the Riflers who won’t bear it, Mr. Foster; and for one I won’t.” She had risen to her full height now, and her eyes were blazing. “For his own sake I trust the colonel will omit our names from the next entertainment he gives. Nellie shan’t—”
“Oh, think, Mrs. Rayner!” interrupted one of the ladies; “they must give her a dinner or a reception.”
“Indeed they shall not! I refuse to enter the door of people who have insulted my husband as they have.”
“Hush! Listen!” said Mr. Graham, springing towards the door.
There was wondering silence an instant.
“It is nothing but the trumpet sounding taps,” said Mrs. Rayner, hurriedly.
But even as she spoke they rose to their feet. Muffled cries were heard, borne in on the night wind,—a shot, then another, down in the valley,—the quick peal of the cavalry trumpet.
“It isn’t taps. It’s fire!” shouted Graham from the door-way. “Come on!”
Down in the valley south of the post a broad glare was already shooting upward and illumining the sky. One among a dozen little shanties and log houses, the homes of the laundresses of the garrison and collectively known as Sudsville, was a mass of flames. There was a rush of officers across the parade, and the men, answering the alarum of the trumpet and the shots and shouts of the sentries, came tearing from their quarters and plunging down the hill. Among the first on the spot came the young men who were of the party at Captain Rayner’s, and Mr. Graham was ahead of them all. It was plain to the most inexperienced eye that there was hardly anything left to save in or about the burning shanty. All efforts must be directed towards preventing the spread of the flames to those adjoining. Half-clad women and children were rushing about, shrieking with fright and excitement, and a few men were engaged in dragging household goods and furniture from those tenements not yet reached by the flames. Fire-apparatus there seemed to be none, though squads of men speedily appeared with ladders, axes, and buckets, brought from the different company quarters, and the arriving officers quickly formed the bucket-lines and water dipped up from the icy creek began to fly from hand to hand. Before anything like this was fairly under way, a scene of semi-tragic, semi-comic intensity had been enacted in the presence of a rapidly gathering audience. “It was worth more than the price of admission to hear Blake tell it afterwards,” said the officers, later.