Imágenes de páginas

men-Italians piling trunks, couches, and You learn to keep your mouth glued endless bags in narrow hallways, to the shut, an' then there's always a bit of peril of the whole world-Jews giving breathin' close to the ground near the never a thought to their precious belong. wall. The reports list twelve men killed ings, but tearing away to safety. He for the whole Department in two years, huskily spun us raw, comprehensive tales but still we buy cheaper life insurance of the terrors of his daily work, of the than brakemen, and Company Seventeen fumes of ammonia and vitriol, of the hasn't lost a man in a fire since 1875. deadly smoke of yellow pine, of the I've only been knocked out once in

[ocr errors]
[graphic][merged small]


liazard of crumbling walls, falling floors, eighteen years, and then I says to me-
burning ladders; of the surpassing peril self, "What's this ?' says I. Why!
of cellar and sub-cellar fires with their I'm feelin' fine!' No, I think it's an
hidden risk of drowning—a thousand easy death."
times worse in the Ghetto, where the At every lull in the night-long talk our
Jews secrete the great tanks for their novices' ears were stretched for the clang
baths of purification.

of the gong and the mad trampling of “Ugly life? Well, it's not as bad as the horses below us. It was three in

You get used to the stench the morning before we crawled into the of smoke. You soon have the trick of two empty cots in line with our “ bunk hanging together with the other boys. - ies." The night, from first to last,

you think.

brought not a sound, and we slept the But with the engine was the wondrous peaceful sleep of a country inn. We had life: “Sheridan and the engineer grapour bread and coffee at an indolent hour, pled me and thrust me into my coat. I and the boys of Seventeen voted us mas- seized the rubber-wound holding-bar. cots. When, infected, the nervous strain My legs stiffened as we bounded ahead, of waiting came on us too, we at last furiously rolling over the broken pave began to understand the first duty of ment. At first I saw nothing but the that life of killing waiting and killing great gleaming round of the smoke-stack work. It had turned sharply cold in before me. But when I got into the joy the night. The men were moody and of finding myself a part of the terrific restless, biting hard on their pipes ; the speed, my ears blasted by whistle and horses were stamping irritably. And bell, I leaned far to the right and caught still there was not a sign of fire among glimpses of Keeley, like a Roman charNew York's four million people. We ioteer, stooping over the pole, his hands fell to speculating on the doctrine of far apart, his curving whip flying through chances. Again we talked of roulette. the air lashing his plunging horses to a And again we seemed to wait for the fury of speed. Behind, the hose-cart declaring of the next in a series of the was lost in the streaming, descending ineluctably written procession of num clouds of our steam and smoke, Our bers. The blackboard bore the past speed, with a power of lightning, painted sequence of time and place, and to the life motionless, and as we tore in the newest recruit there seemed a fixed order parching cold through the very heart of in these strokes of fire—something that Jewry, a thousand phantasmagoric pica man could calculate if he had a little tures flew by us: a patriarch of Israel, more wit. There were those six nights posed in a doorway, oblivious of our before Christmas when the call rang clangorous race, his pipe smoke hanging regularly at 8:55. Last week there were still in the air; the white teeth and the those five successive early morning bells smile of a red-cheeked mädchen, fixed that Keeley-rashest and surest of driv- like the beauty of a Frans Hals painters—loved for his “ breakfast gong.” ing; a boy jumping out of our way, And as we talked this folly, the engineer, poised on the edge of the curb, painfully who was smearing putz-paste over the on one toe, like a weathercock goddess." nickel of his smoke-stack, nodded his And so, rolling uproariously along the head at us: “ You hear me! There's an littered and ash-strewn streets of the alarm coming now. See if we don't get Ghetto, nearly colliding with a trolley, it within an hour and have a hard after turning three perilous corners, we made noon and night of it.” It was then our half-mile. The horses were suddenly 11:38 A.M.

wheeled and thrown on their haunches, We patted the horses whose backs and the engine was shot to its exact were woefully spattered with spark-scars; place at the hydrant. Before us, but a kicked our heels to a warming beside hundred feet away, our fire was blazing the engine as we listened to the steam -a shop on the ground floor at the bird chirping in the boiler ; tramped a corner of a seven-story tenement. The dozen times round the spick-and-span crackling flames were flying to the third order of the equipment. “The Monk" story. The police had already formed brought us a sandwich, and we were just their “fire lines" and driven back the biting into the gray of the rye bread, swarming, curious Sunday crowd-it was when there came the rattling clanging of as if we were in the center of a cleared One Hundred. There was an instant stage in a great theater. While we were hammering of hoofs, a headlong rushing rushing forward, with eyes for nothing of men, for which there stands in the but that wind-fanned sheet of flames, in memory only a marvelous blur of thun a small fraction of a minute, by some derous sound and of electrically moving miracle of rapid work unseen by us, the bodies. We, too, were caught by the hose was laid. At the order “Stretch whirlwind-one to the engine, one to in,” we seized hold of our great limp the hose-cart.

pipe and stood from the nozzle numbers

[graphic][subsumed][ocr errors][ocr errors]
[ocr errors]



Three and Five, be

tine, they seemed to fore and behind

feel no stirring of the Sheridan. As we

blood in their wonwaited a short sec

derful feats. But for ond for water, we

us were the keen watched, aye, felt,

sensations. Always the growing power

the action of men and height of the

and horses seemed flaines; saw the fire

quicker than our leap like a cat to

sight. And not our the wooden coping

eyes only, but our of the shop window

hands, arms, legs, next door. Then the

were leaden dulland hose became rigid

heavy-moving. We as a post with the

thought it a marvel might of the water;

that we ever caught the frosted gray col

engine or truck, and umn slapped against

at the next alarm, at the stone portico,

2:52, it was a trithere was a prelim

umph of observation inary swish at the

that one of us dared blaze without, and

affirm that he saw Sheridan's hoarse

the suspended harprofanity hurled us

ness drop upon the into the fire. As we

horses when the drivdrove through the

er pulled his reins. door, to our right lay

Again the engineer

THE CHIEF twisted masses of

touched his flaming red-hot iron glowing dully in the smoke. oiled torch to the excelsior, the flames We could see the man before us a foot roared from the smoke-stack as we away on the other side of the hose, but boomed over the gutter plank within we could see nothing else in the blinding eleven seconds, and again the earth smart and the darkness, and we never shook beneath our five tons of vibrant knew how the man at the nozzle found metal as we whirled along Ludlow Street. the living heart of the fire. Water Sheridan leaned to the driver, croaking slopped and spattered everywhere. The his cautions. The rhythmical, plunging heat surged at us scorching. The smoke flight of the wheels began to get into was intolerable, and we bent down for air. the head, and the novice knew at last We choked and spluttered and wept. At why even the mascot dog of a company the last minute of our strength came the “ rolls" to a fire. It was a curtain prayed-for order to back out. We were blaze, out before our coming. Yet we dripping, our faces grimed, streaming. dashed up the eight half-Alights of stairs, The smoke soon cleared. The water was erupted into the singed apartment, and shut off. Axes and picks tore out still were met with sad Oriental patience and steaming woodwork. There was a hasty, disregard by a half-dozen Russian Jews careful search for further fire. With the squatting in the disorder. quick order “Take up," the hose was With a rush we were back to listen, rapidly thrown back, folded into the hour after hour, to the gongs clamoring truck, and back to quarters we rolled, for engines in distant streets of the clanging, to answer the next alarm, ever-burning city. And with tempered which might already have sounded. impatience we idled. We made a strange

We arrived at 12:52. The stopped dinner of grilled liver, bitter pickles, and clock marked 12:26. It was unimagin- the unleavened matsoths; and it was not ably quick work—the hard work, dulled till 8:36 that we were again summoned, into habit, of a fast trade. So the men and the engineer rejoiced in the honor thought it, and, drilled in the swift rou- of a prophet. The horses vaulted over

the sill with us into the darkness. We we were whooping on our way to see the made a roaring course of a mile, tumbled smoldering remains of a sofa. off, hurried with lanterns and pikes up Six fires within eleven hours stood the dark hallways swarming with silent, slow tally in glaring chalk on the blackboard. people. There had been a minute's flare The horses were worn to dropping; the from an overturned lamp. At 9:26 we

men, if they had not been firemen, would were off again to a minor blaze in Grand have sworn they were dead. At midStreet, where a woman had been hide- night we crawled to the soft beds. Yet ously burned. Within another half-hour one of us slept not. His cot was nearwe were rushing towards the river-a est the first of the brass poles, but he swift fight with a lumber-yard fire was so dulled with exhaustion that he perilous for its swaying piles and treach was the last of the men on a new alarm erous footing. At 11:27 One-Eight- at 1:30 to take the silent, sliding drop Nine stormed out, and before Headquar- to the rubber-cushioned mat below, and ters could repeat the signal on the larger the engine was shrieking its whistle in a gong, with a glazed and icicled engine wild soprano over the curb when, hatless

[graphic][merged small][merged small]
« AnteriorContinuar »