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A Heroine in Humble Life., Star, Issue 5352, 3 July 1885
A Heroine in Humble Life.
♦ THE SELF-SACRIFICE OF ALICE AYRES. HER SAD DEATH. (Fbom the "Stab's" London Cobbebpondhnt.) To the list of heroines in humble life j whose sterling bravery and calm self- \ sacrifice a terrible catastrophe accidentally brought to light, must now be added the name of Alice Ayres, the little nursemaid who was carried to her " long home " in the dreary Islesworth cemetery on Monday afternoon last. This noble girl died in Guy's Hospital about a week ago from injuries sustained after performing an act of unexampled forethought and courage. What happened to her might happen almost any night to any girl in servioe, but it may safely be said (despite the love which many good nurses bear their charges) that not one woman in a thousand would, under similar circumstances, have shown the silent ' self-abnegnation and practical pluck of ; Alice Ayres. \ THIS FOOB DEAD GIBIi served in the family of a tradesman, living ©ver his shop, along with his wife and four children, at the corner of Gravel lane and Union Btreet, Borough ; and possibly no one who knew her dreamed for a moment that the willing, honest, hard-working servant possessed a nature out of the common. Yet, when the moment arrived, the lofty, ' brave soul in her which had done its simple duties roße to heroic heights, and the brave j girl, full of foresight, guided by the ten-, derwt pity, fulfilled her sad and piteous . destiny. At midnight last Friday week Mr [ Chandler, proprietor of the oil and colour Bhop in Southwark, with his family and servant, retired to sleep in sound health, and, as they supposed, in perfect safety. Two hours later a passer-by, perceiving flames issuing from the shop shutters, raised the cry of "HBBJ" which presently was echoed and re-echoed up and down the street. London is never i quiet, and never at rest. Soon a crowd from east, west, north, and south had gathered round the blazing oilshop, above which, at | an upper window, the girl Alice Ayres waa j observed in her nightdress, with anguish in ! her face, calling for help. She had been ! i awakened from her sleep by the crackling j of tjhe flames, and had rushed to the window ' |to raise an alarm. The corner of Gravel j lane and Union street is not far from the j station in Blackfriars road where the fire- j escape is kept in readiness all night, and quite dose to the headquarters of the | London Fire Brigade. In an instant the ! firemen were each at his appointed post. ! The horses were harnessed, the engines j drawn out with the usual speed, and the heavy cumbersome escape waa wheeled with all possible diligence to the scene of the fire. Meanwhile the oils and varnishes, and other inflammable matter with which the shop waa stocked,- burned so fiercely and co quickly that some method of rescue was clamoured for by the people in the atreet, realising the futility of waiting either for engines or for escape if the human lives within the building were to be saved from instant and frightful death. Women took off their shawls and men stripped themselves of their coats, and, tying the garments hastily together, held out the mass of stuff, Bhouting to the girl to leap from the window, and so make sure of saving her own life at least. At that moment rescue and safety were within reach of Alice Ayres. She had only to jump from the window into the outstretched garments and so escape. Instead of doing this . THE GIBL D-LIBBBATELY TTJBNED BACK into the burning chamber and into the dense gloom and blinding smoke beyond. As she did bo the long tongues of flame leaped forth from the fiery furnace within and flickered along the front of the doomed house, making it impossible to fix the escape, even had the machine been upon the spot. The people below, seeing the girl disappear, held their breath in horror. It seemed as if she had of her own free will chosen rather to perish than to escape. Presently she reappeared at the window. Alice Ayres knew well enough what she had to do in thaj; awful moment. Through the fierce flames and through the blinding, suffocating smoke she had made her way to the bedstead ; and, pulling off the feather-bed, carried the bulky burden to the window, and threw it out into the Btreet below. Then, for the first time, the frightened mob set up a shout and a cheer. A crowd is quick to recognise an act of exceptional courage. Instantly they close round the feather-bed, and spread it out to its fullest length and breadth, deeming, no doubt, that the girl meant it to break her fall. The people, however, did not yet comprehend the courageous nature of the servant-girl. WITH DEATH STAKING HEB IN TBE FACE, she was not thinking of herself or of her own safety. Once more she penetrated among the flame-lit dense smoke-wreaths of the burning building, and soon re-ap-peared with a little three-year : old child in her arms. In a resolute tone Alice Ayres called out to know if all was tight, and when an assuring answer reached her ears dropped the little one carefulljfcupon the outstretched featherbed. A dozen hands shot forth, and the child was carried safely off. Again Alice Ayrea turned her face from the crowd, and bent her steps within ; and onoe again, as coolly as before, she brought a child to the window and threw it upon the bed below. Even then the duty she had set herself was not fulfilled. Gasping for breath, but still resolute, she went back for the last time, and for the last time came forward bearing the third life it was her determination to save from an early and untimely fate. But the flame and the smoke were proving too powerful for the daring and the heroism of Alice Ayres. She was seen, n-AJ-E*. IN THB BUEJJINQ WINDOW-BASH to sway from side to side, and to totter as if about to fall. A loud cry went up from the flame-lighted faces of the crowd, a cry of agony, an imploring wail I ".Save yourself! For God's sake, save yourself I" they clamoured and shrieked. For a moment Alice Ayres turned her head over her shoulder to where her master and mistress and the last of their children, as she thought, lay, perhaps insensible, and then, enfeebled no doubt by her exertions, aad half-stifled by .the smoke, staggered to the window-sill and sprang forward. SHE MISSED BEB LEAP, and striking the upper portion of the shop-front, fell headforemost upon the bed, breaking her spine. The crowd took her up gently and carriod her ofl to the j hospital. When the fire-engines and the escape came upon the scene, although thero had not been a moment's delay, it was too late to save either life or property. Tho inflammable contents of the oilshop burned bo rapidly and so fiercely that the firemen declared it would bo an act of madness to enter the premises. It was impossible even to "pitch" the escape against the windows, ©opious streams of water were poured upon the incandescent mass. Again and again hug*, volumes of smoke, pillars of flame, and showers of sparks flhot up into the dark Bky. Twenty engines were at work at one and the same time. At length, after .a severe effort, the fire was got under, and the men entered among the Btill smouldering and smoking ruins. They found • I TES CHARRED BODIES OF MOTHER AND CHILD not' far from the window where Alice Ayrea had enacted that scene of womanly pity and courage. When she turned her head •ver her Bhoulder at that last moment, and when the look of Inexpressible grief came into her eyes, she must have seen them crouching there, it may be, insensible from terror and choking with the dreadful fumes and the smoke of the fire. The father was found dead upon the stairs, with his cash-box close beside him. Ho had, evidently, been smothered in the very act of attempting to ! save his money. Everything that science, care, and gentleness could do was done by the skilful doctors and kindly nurses at the hospital to save the invaluable life of , Alice Ayres. But all was in vain. From that moment when, missing her leap, the j girl fell from the blazing window-frame Head foremost she never regained con-
soioußness. From day to day, from hour j to kour, with a tender smile npon her comely face, -he lingered in painlesa trouble until Bhe died. The kind folk came and carried her to her parents' home at Isle- j worth, whence sixteen Btalwart firemen, in reliefs of four bearers, bore the coffin to TH* GRAVE-SIDE. i All her friends and relations and all the : poor of the place where Alice was reared followed her bier, and twenty girls dressed i in white, belonging to the village school where she learned her simple duty, brought flowers and laid them upon her ooffin. For many miles round Isleworth the tradespeople and gentlefolk came with posies of spring flowers and wreaths of rare blooms, and dropped them into her open grave. Her nearest friends, poor labouring people, now desire to get together a sum sufficient to raise a headstone to her memory. Of course they will succeed in so modest a tribute to one so worthy of being remembered. Alice Ayres furnishes one more proof of the virtue and devobion which are to be found, like hidden flowers, iv the • recesses of our vast social life. Unselfish, , brave, dutiful, and sensible, her name will 1 be epitaph enough to make her grave ! sacred and honoured for many a generation j to come. I
A Heroine in Humble Life., Star, Issue 5352, 3 July 1885
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