Page:Whymper - Scrambles amongst the Alps.djvu/170

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chap. v.

sky, black dots with long shadows hurrying towards the place, and the crests of the ridges catching the light and standing out like spectres. All the world was in motion, for the neighbouring villages—now aroused—rang out the alarm. I pulled on my shirt, and tore over the bridge. Three large chalets were on fire, and were surrounded by a mass of people, who were bringing all their pots and pans, and anything that would hold water. They formed themselves into several chains, each two deep, leading towards the nearest stream, and passed the water up one side, and the empty utensils down the other. My old friend the mayor was there, in full force, striking the ground with his stick, and vociferating, "Work! work!" but the men, with much presence of mind, chiefly ranged themselves on the sides of the empty buckets, and left the real work to their better halves. Their efforts were useless, and the chalets burnt themselves out.

The next morning I visited the still smouldering ruins, and saw the homeless families sitting in a dismal row in front of their charred property. The people said that one of the houses had been well insured, and that its owner had endeavoured to forestall luck. He had arranged the place for a bonfire, set the lower rooms on fire in several places, and had then gone out of the way, leaving his wife and children in the upper rooms, to be roasted or not as the case might be. His plans only partially succeeded, and it was satisfactory to see the scoundrel brought back in the custody of two stalwart gensdarmes. Three days afterwards I was in London.