Page:Marietta, or the Two Students.djvu/52

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She held the rope in her hand, but she knew not where she might fasten it. There was but one thing to which she could attach it, and that was a burning rafter. There was no alternative; she threw it over the blazing timber, and made it secure by a knot. The next moment she had thrown her weight upon that uncertain support, and was rapidly descending to Eugene. It was a fearful hazard, but there was no other chance of safety. But a short time would elapse before the rope would be burned off, and should it be so before she had made the descent, instant death awaited her. She had made half the distance, when she knew by the vibrating motion that one strand had parted. With a convulsive shudder, she thought of the fall of Thick. She had made two-thirds of the descent, when the same motion of the support to which she clung for life, gave intimation that another strand had burned off, and she was suspended by only one over that chasm.

"Haste Cecil, haste, another moment and you are lost," shouted Eugene in an agony of suspense. "Cecil,—dear Cecil, quick, quick."

"Eugene," cried a stentorian voice from another room, "save yourself or you perish—the roof totters, for God's sake, Eugene, fly."

"I perish then, or save her," he replied with frightful calmness.

Cecil was now within a few feet of, Eugene, and being directly over the aperture, he could not reach her.

"Swing yourself towards me,—give the rope a slight movement this way."

She did as he directed. The last strand burned off at that instant, and she fell into the arms of Eugene.

"Saved, thank heaven."

Covered with smoke, with their clothes burned in many places, Dr. Frene and Levator rushed into the chamber:

"This way," shouted the Dr., as begrimmed with smoke and ashes, grasping the helve of an axe in his stalwart hand, he sprang towards the wall which separated the tenement they were in from the next beyond, and with the strength of a Hercules, commenced opening a passage. Each well directed blow, shook fearfully the blazing fabric over their heads, and caused hot cinders to fair thickly about them. It was a wild, anxious group—Eugene, Levator, and the half suffocated, fainting Cecil, in the back ground, watching the mighty effects of Dr. Frene, their bosoms swelling with hope or tortured with fear, as his labors were successful or threatened to fail. Through the blinding smoke they could discern the bright gleam of the polished edge of the weapon he wielded with his right hand, as it whirled in quick successive circles about his head, and fell with a crash upon the yielding walls. It was a heavy broad-axe, but in that moment of danger, he wielded it as the merest toy.

"The roof is falling," cried Eugene, folding Cecil to his bosom. "We shall perish together. God forgive us all."

"Amen," responded Levator fervently.

"The opening is large enough," shouted the Dr.; "save yourselves."

At that moment a strong grasp was laid upon Eugene, who overcome with heat and smoke was about sinking to the floor, and he felt himself dragged—with Cecil—through a narrow space, and in a place of comparative safety, while a terrible crash behind them announced that the roof had fallen. The part of the building in which they found themselves had suffered but little from the fire. After pausing a moment to recover themselves, they without difficulty found their way into the street, grateful for their wonderful preservation from a horrible death.

When the fire had been subdued, and the crowd had retired, Gaunt and the virago returned, and stole quietly into that part of the dwelling which the fire had left, congratulating themselves upon the success of their plot, and the supposed death of Cecil.