Gas was a luxury not quite two years old in Shannondale, and had been put in Arthur’s house just before he left for Florida. Collingwood being further from the village could not boast of it yet and consequently Richard was not as much accustomed to it as he would otherwise have been. On this occasion he did not know that it was lighted until, as he stood by the dressing bureau, he felt the hot air in his face. Thinking to extinguish the light by turning the arm of the fixture just as he remembered having done some years before, he pushed it back within an inch of the heavy damask curtain which now shaded the window, and too much absorbed in his own painful reflections to think of ascertaining whether the light was out or not, he groped his way to the single bed, and threw himself upon it, giving way to a paroxysm of grief.
It was strange that one in his frame of mind should sleep, but nature was at last exhausted, and yielding to the influence of the peculiar atmosphere slowly pervading the room, he fell away into a kind of lethargic slumber, while the work of destruction his own hand had prepared, went silently on around him. First the crimson curtain turned a yellowish hue, than the scorched threads dropped apart and the flame crept into the inner lining of cotton, running swiftly through it until the whole was in a blaze, and the wood-work of the window, charred and blackened, and bore the deadly element still onward, but away from the unconscious Richard, leaving that portion of the room unscathed, and for the present safe. Along the cornice under the lathing, beneath the eaves they crept—those little fiery tongues—lapping at each other in wanton, playfulness, and whispering to the dry old shingles on the roof above of the mischief they meant to do.
Half an hour went by, and from the three towers of Shannondale the deep toned bells rang out the watchword of alarm, which the awakened inhabitants caught up, echoing it from lip to lip until every street resounded with the fearful cry, “Fire, fire, Grassy Spring is all on fire.”
Then the two engines were brought, from their shelter, and went rattling through the town and out into the country, a quarter of a mile away, to where the little forked tongues had grown to a mammoth size, darting their vicious heads from beneath the rafters, reaching down to touch the heated panes, hissing defiance at the people below, and rolling over the doomed building until billow of flame leaped billow, both licking up in their mad chase the streams of water poured continually upon them.
Away to the eastward the night express came thundering on, and one of its passengers, looking from his window, saw the lurid blaze, just as once before he had seen the bonfire crazy Nina kindled, and as he watched, a horrible fear grow strong within him, manifesting itself at last in the wild outcry, “’Tis Grassy Spring, ’tis Grassy Spring.”
Long before the train reached the depot, Arthur St. Claire, had jumped from the rear car, and was flying across the meadow toward his burning home, knowing ere he reached it that all was lost. Timbers were falling, glass was melting, windows were blazing, while at every step the sparks and cinders whirled in showers around his head.