Page:My Life and Loves.djvu/175

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143
THE GREAT FIRE OF CHICAGO.

a fire was so common a thing in the wooden shanties on the outskirts of American towns that nobody cared to listen to my epic.

Next night, Sunday, the alarm bell began ringing about eleven o'clock: I was still dressed in my best. I changed into my working clothes, I do not know why, put my belt about me with a revolver in it and again took out the mare and rode to the fire. When still a quarter of a mile away, I realized that this fire was much more serious than that of the previous night: first of all, a gale of wind was blowing right down on the town. Then, when I wondered why there were so few fire-engines, I was told that there were two other fires and the man with whom I talked did not scruple to ascribe them to a plot and determination to burn down the town! "Them damned foreign anarchists are at the bottom of it," he said, "three fires do not start on the very outskirts of the town with a gale of wind blowing, without some reason."

And indeed, it looked as if he were right. In spite of all the firemen could do, the fire spread with incredible rapidity. In half an hour I saw they were not going to master it soon or easily and I rode back to get Reece, who had told me that he would have come with me the previous night if he had known where the fire was. When I got back to the hotels Reece had gone out on his own and so had Dell and the Boss. I went back to the fire. It had caught on in the most extraordinary way. The wooden streets now were all blazing; the fire was swallowing block after block and the heat was so tremendous that the fire-engines could not get within two hundred yards of the blaze. The roar of the fire was unearthly. Another thing I noticed almost immediately: the heat was so terrific that the water decomposed into its