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IN A MOMENT OF PERIL., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 2, Issue 339, 9 May 1881
IN A MOMENT OF PERIL.
( Continued.) A faint tremulous wind presently overtook them. The sunshine died out as a deep black shadow stole over the plains. Flocks of birds flew past them silently. Wild dogs, prairie-hens, hares, and rabbits scudded along through the grass and tangled reeds. Scarcely daring to look back, they pressed on, their horses straining every nerve. Five miles were passed—six, seven. They were getting on well, but the fire behind was getting on better. Looking back, and seeing how fast it was gaining on them, Fred would have given worlds to have Nancie safe at home. They reached a belt of low trees, a conspicuous landmark in the prairie. Just eight miles more before them! Heavens, it seemed like a journey across the world! And the awful tugging at their hearts—the horrible dread ! Already a low sullen roar was heard behind them. The wind was increasing every moment; birds flew by with hoarse shrieks, and a horrible gloom was settling around them. On, on they went, not speaking a word except now and then to encourage the horses. Not that they needed it; they were galloping along like racehorses, every sinew and muscle strained to the utmost.
Great clouds of smoke were now overtaking them, circling and eddying above their heads. A pungent-smelling vapour came creeping along the ground, almost suffocating them with its fumes. The dull rushing roar of the fire increased every moment behind them, while the snapping of the canebrakes and the crackling of the dry gramma-grass were distinctly audible. Still they were getting on. Seven, six, five miles. The fire was gaining on them with awful rapidity, but the cliff was rising clear and distinct before them. Half an hour more and they would be safe. Suddenly, without a moment’s warning, Nancie’s horse stumbled in a bole, pitched heavily forwards, and fell on her knees. Fred threw himself off Hotspur in an instant, and, before Nancie could free her foot from the stirrup, was at her side.
* What is it ?’ cried Nancie. ‘ls she hurt ?’ And, though her voice was steady, she trembled violently. A glance was sufficient to show the injury.
1 One of her legs is broken,’ he replied. ‘ You must ride behind me. Quick, Nancie, there is no time to loose!’ mounting Hotspur as he spoke, and holding out his hand to help her to mount. * Quick, your hand !’ ‘ Oh, Fred, I cannot leave her to be burnt to death I’ cried Nancie, bending over Miss Molly, who looked up at her mistress with agonised eyes, and uttered a low moan of intense painful suffering. Fred drew a pistol from his holster. ‘There is no other way,’ he said, quietly, as he fired. The chestnut’s pretty head fell prone on the rank grass, a shudder passed over her graceful limbs, and she lay dead before them.
With a sob Nancie turned silently from her favorite, and gave her hand to Fred. In another moment they were flying over the plain. Alas, with how small a chance now! The gallant horse, strive as He might, made but little way with his double burden. There was only a few miles more. Already the air was scorching. The smoke and vapor enveloped them in suffocating clouds, hiding the bluff from view, and choking them with their stifling breath. The roar of the fire sounded fearfully near, the moments flew fast, and the deadly sounds behind grew every moment more distinct. The wind had increased to a tempest, which blew the smoke in denser clouds over them. A lurid yellow glare tinged the heavy
-mSsaes, the heat of the furious was perceptibly felt. *ls there a chance ?’ whispered Nancie, looking fearfully behind as the
good horse strained onwards. ‘Yes, if we can hold out for ten minutes more,’ he answered.
‘ Heaven help us !’ she cried, closing her eyes as a furious blast of wind brought a breath of fierce heat against her cheek.
He drew her arm closely around him, taking one small hand in an. eager, covetous grasp.
‘ Pray for us, Nancie,’ be? whispered, quietly. . . _ Only two miles now. Teh... little minutes of time, and they would be safe. But Hotspur was failing.: iHe sprang forward now with cbhVuisive bounds, his gallant limbs trembled hineath him; every breath wi? a short, 1 gaspingsob. ■ . , ; Another mile—-half a mile 1 . O Heaven, have, mercy! The scorching breath of the fire was upon them; they, were in a whirlwind of dense snffbfc^t- / ing smoke. The, horse stumbled at every step —he gasped and moaned like a human soul in extremity, . Covered; with foam and trembling convulsively, he struggled on. Little flames and, eddies of fire, heralds of the horrors behind, crept among the tangled grass.
Fred turned in the saddle and< tried* to draw Nancie’s head down on to his breast. She made no but, when he would have hidden her eyes from sight, she lifted them, clearly and, unflinchingly, to his. , , ; ‘ Don’t, Fred—l can face death with: open eye?,’ she, said; and, catching., hold of his hand, she pulled it gently away. As she did so a great shpwerof sparks, borne on' the fierce wind,-fell around and over them, : . :
‘ Oh, my darling, to think this should be the end!’ he cried, despairingly, knowing how very near it was now. ‘ No, no,’ she cried, ‘it is not the; end ! See ! we are close to the bluff! Oh, thank Heaven—thank' HfeayCri! ' and she pointed to inplii m which a rift in the sinoke r disptesed rising right before them not fifty yards, away. ‘On Hotspur—on, good horse —one more struggle-kki <jh ! ’“* she ,shouted r encouragingly. • T :r ns ’ ' Cheered by her voice and hand, the brave horse gathered all hi’s strength for one trernendous effort, and Bounded forward with frantic leaps. * But'it was } an expiring struggle. Ere ten yards i were passed, he fell to the ground, gasping and panting, his brave spirit overcome .at , lest. Fred , dragged Nancie away, andi seizing harid, began running towards the Muff, near now—so near. —and yet one look ; back she gave. The nrc: waS'clbse behind, a fearful sight . The fierce heat scorched .their■ .faces,’' sparks l of burnt grass, cane, and splinters of wood fell in showers about thera , stifling choking sthoke them, paralysing every nerve. On, on,' with frantic flying ? in ijront, death behind —and such 5 a death !. * Leave me Fred/ gasped Nancie, I faintly. ‘I can go ho farther. Tell them at home—my love —-kiss me once, Fred, and ’ She dropped to-the ! ground with a choking sob, : 1 ' * With a wild cry he caught bet up ill his arms and staggered on. They were close to the bluff now—a steps, and he gained the foot; of the ascent. Stumbling, struggling, panting, he pressed on, .Up >the face 0! the rock. The fire rushed after him, sending out long tongues of flame, as tf to grasp
its prey; it licked up the scanty herbage, and raged and roared in v fury. But altent more ykfdsi *s T * f 4
‘O, Heaven have mercy !’, Staggering, dizzy, almost . frantic, he struggled step after step, step after.stpp. One more ! ‘ Oh, thank ' HeaVerf-r | thank Heaven—-safety at, last! ’ It was a terribly narrow escape. So close had been the fire, so deadly, the peril, that it seemed as ifonly k miracfe had saved them. Half ah hour after-* 11 wards, when they had sufficient strength to struggle onwards t 6 the Rdd Ranch,! they began to realise .to what am me-* tremity of danger; thtey ■oeln reduced. Their clothes looked like I ) tinder, and hung on them' in shreds and patches. Nancie’s face was deadly white, except for avivid red scar,down..u'» •ne side of her cheek and neck, where <>} a scorching flame • had caught 'it Fred’s right arm was completely diS i,r |, abled; his hands and face were a deep crimson in hue. The fire had sborchea j ; him terribly. As they crept slowly' i along, Fretf / looked wistfully into Nancie’s face. 1 * ‘ Did you mean it, Nancie?’ he asked, gently. ' ■ ■ ‘ Mean what ? ’ she said, her eyes dropping shyly before,his. . , ~, ‘What you said a whiUSago.. I Will I you kiss me, Nancie, my own dear,love ? ~ ‘Yes,’ she whispered, turning her sweet face to his.— Family Httrali. ‘
IN A MOMENT OF PERIL., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 2, Issue 339, 9 May 1881
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