Beautiful Joe/Chapter 35
R. MORRIS stayed no longer. He followed Mr. Montague along the sidewalk a little way, and then exchanged a few hurried words with some men who were standing near, and hastened home through streets that seemed dark and dull after the splendor of thh fire. Though it was still the middle of the night, Mrs. Morris was up and dressed and waiting for him. She opened the hall door with one hand and held a candle in the other. I felt frightened and miserable, and didn't want to leave Mr. Morris, so I crept in after him.
"Don't make a noise," said Mrs. Morris. "Laura and the boys are sleeping, and I thought it better not to wake them. It has been a terrible fire, hasn't it? Was it the hotel?" Mr. Morris threw himself into a chair and covered his face with his hands.
"Speak to me, William," said Mrs. Morris, in a startled tone. "You are not hurt, are you?" and she put her candle on the table, and came and sat down beside him.
He dropped his hands from his face, and tears were running down his cheeks. "Ten lives lost," he said; "among them Mrs. Montague."
Mrs. Morris looked horrified, and gave a little cry, "William, it can't be so!"
It seemed as if Mr. Morris could not sit still. He got up and walked to and fro on the floor. "It was an awful scene, Margaret. I never wish to look upon the like again. Do you remember how I protested against the building of that death-trap? Look at the wide, open streets around it, and yet they persisted in running it up to the sky. God will require an account of those deaths at the hands of the men who put up that building. It is terrible—this disregard of human lives. To think of that delicate woman and her death agony." He threw himself in a chair and buried his face in his hands.
"Where was she? How did it happen? Was her husband saved, and Charlie?" said Mrs. Morris, in a broken voice.
"Yes; Charlie and Mr. Montague are safe. Charlie will recover from it. Montague's life is done. You know his love for his wife. Oh, Margaret! when will men cease to be fools? What does the Lord think of them when they say, 'Am I my brother's keeper?' And the other poor creatures burned to death—their lives are as precious in his sight as Mrs. Montague's."
Mr. Morris looked so weak and ill that Mrs. Morris, like a sensible woman, questioned him no further, but made a fire and got him some hot tea. Then she made him lie down on the sofa, and she sat by him till day-break, when she persuaded him to go to bed. I followed her about, and kept touching her dress with my nose. It seemed so good to me to have this pleasant home after all the misery I had seen that night. Once she stopped and took my head between her hands, "Dear old Joe," she said, tearfully, "this is a suffering world. It's well there's a better one beyond it."
In the morning the boys went down town before breakfast and learned all about the fire. It started in the top story of the hotel, in the room of some fast young men, who were sitting up late playing cards. They had smuggled wine into their room and had been drinking till they were stupid. One of them upset the lamp, and when the flames began to spread so that they could not extinguish them, instead of rousing some one near them, they rushed downstairs to get some one there to come up and help them put out the fire. When they returned with some of the hotel people, they found that the flames had spread from their room, which was in an "L" at the back of the house, to the front part, where Mrs. Montague's room was, and where the housemaids belonging to the hotel slept. By this time Mr. Montague had gotten upstairs; but he found the passageway to his wife's room so full of flames and smoke, that, though he tried again and again to force his way through, he could not. He disappeared for a time, then he came to Mr. Morris and got his boy, and took him to some rooms over his bank, and shut himself up with him. For some days he would let no one in; then he came out with the look of an old man on his face, and his hair as white as snow, and went out to his beautiful house in the outskirts of the town.
Nearly all the horses belonging to the hotel were burned. A few were gotten out by having blankets put over their heads, but the most of them were so terrified that they would not stir.
The Morris boys said that they found the old Italian sitting on an empty box, looking at the smoking ruins of the hotel. His head was hanging on his breast, and his eyes were full of tears. His ponies were burned up, he said, and the gander, and the monkeys, and the goats, and his wonderful performing dogs. He had only his birds left, and he was a ruined man. He had toiled all his life to get this troupe of trained animals together, and now they were swept from him. It was cruel and wicked, and he wished he could die. The canaries, and pigeons, and doves, the hotel people had allowed him to take to his room, and they were safe. The parrot was lost—an educated parrot that could answer forty questions, and among other things, could take a watch and tell the time of day.
Jack Morris told him that they had it safe at home, and that it was very much alive, quarreling furiously with his parrot Bella. The old man's face brightened at this, and then Jack and Carl, finding that he had had no breakfast, Went off to a restaurant near by, and got him some steak and coffee. The Italian was very grateful, and as he ate, Jack said the tears ran into his coffee cup. He told them how much he loved his animals, and how it "made ze heart bitter to hear zem crying to him to deliver zem from ze raging fire."
The boys came home, and got their breakfast and went to school. Miss Laura did not go out. She sat all day with a very quiet, pained face. She could neither read nor sew, and Mr. and Mrs. Morris were just as unsettled. They talked about the fire in low tones, and I could see that they felt more sad about Mrs. Montague's death, than if she had died in an ordinary way. Her dear little canary, Barry, died with her. She would never be separated from him, and his cage had been taken up to the top of the hotel with her. He probably died an easier death than his poor mistress. Charley's dog escaped, but was so frightened that he ran out to their house, outside the town.
At tea time, Mr. Morris went down town to see that the Italian got a comfortable place for the night. When he came back, he said that he had found out that the Italian was by no means so old a man as he looked, and that he had talked to him about raising a sum of money for him among the Fairport people, till he had become quite cheerful, and said that if Mr. Morris would do that, he would try to gather another troupe of animals together and train them.
"Now, what can we do for this Italian?" asked Mrs.
Morris. "We can't give him much money, but we might let him have one or two of our pets. There's Billy, he's a bright, little dog, and not two years old yet. He could teach him anything."
There was a blank silence among the Morris children. Billy was such a gentle, lovable, little dog, that he was a favorite with every one in the house. "I suppose we ought to do it," said Miss Laura, at last, "but how can we give him up?"
There was a good deal of discussion, but the end of it was that Billy was given to the Italian. He came up to get him, and was very grateful, and made a great many bows, holding his hat in his hand. Billy took to him at once, and the Italian spoke so kindly to him, that we knew he would have a good master. Mr. Morris got quite a large sum of money for him, and when he handed it to him, the poor man was so pleased that he kissed his hand, and promised to send frequent word as to Billy's progress and welfare.