Instead of dying out at sunset, as it usually did, the wind increased to a gale as darkness set in, and Mr. Elmer cast many troubled glances at the dull red glow in the southern sky before he retired that night.
Mark and Frank occupied the same room, for Mr. March had not yet found time to build a house, and it seemed to them as though they had but just fallen asleep when they were aroused by Mr. Elmer’s voice calling through the house,
“Wake up! Everybody dress and come downstairs as quickly as you can. Mark! Frank! Hurry, boys!” “What is it, father?” asked Mark, as he tumbled down-stairs and burst into the sitting-room only about half dressed, but rapidly completing the operation as he ran. “What’s the matter? Is the house on fire?”
“No, my boy, not yet, but it’s likely to be very soon if we are not quick in trying to save it. The piney woods to the south of us are all in a blaze, and this gale’s driving it towards us at a fearful rate. I want you and Frank to go as quickly as you can across the river and rouse up every soul in the village. Get every team and plough in Wakulla, and bring them over, together with every man and boy who can handle an axe.”
Mr. Elmer had hardly finished before both boys were out of the house and running towards the river. Although it was still several miles off, they could already hear the roar of the flames rising above that of the wind, and could smell the smoke of the burning forest.
They were soon across the river, and while Mark ran to the houses of Mr. Bevil and Mr. Carter to waken those gentlemen, Frank bethought himself of the church-bell, which hung from a rude frame outside the building, and hurrying to it, seized the rope and began to pull it violently.
The effect of the loud clanging of the bell was almost instantaneous, and the colored people began pouring from their tumble-down old houses, and hurrying towards the church to see what was the matter. Many of them in their haste came just as they had jumped from their beds; but the darkness of the night and their own color combined to hide the fact that they were not fully dressed, until some light-wood torches were brought, when there was a sudden scattering among them.
Frank quickly explained the cause of the alarm, and the men hurried off to get their teams, ploughs, and axes; for Mr. Elmer had been so kind to them that all were anxious to do what they could to help him in this time of trouble.
Among the first boat-load that Frank ferried across the river was Black Joe, with his “ok” attached to a very small plough, with which he felt confident he could render most valuable assistance.
By the light of the approaching flames surrounding objects could already be distinguished, and as they hurried up to the house the first comers found Mr. Elmer, Mr. March, and Jan hard at work. They were clearing brush and hauling logs away from the immediate vicinity of the out-buildings, and had got quite a space ready in which the ploughs could be set to work.