Read PART III: CHAPTER VI of The Home , free online book, by Fredrika Bremer, on ReadCentral.com.

UNHAPPINESS.

Night succeeded the joyful evening, and the members of the Frank family lay deep in the arms of sleep, when suddenly, at the hour of midnight, they were awoke by the fearful cry of “Fire! fire!”

The house was on fire, and smoke and flames met them at every turn; for the conflagration spread with incredible speed. An inconceivable confusion succeeded: one sought for another; one called on another; mother and children, inmates and domestics!

Only half-dressed, and without having saved the least thing, the inhabitants of the house assembled themselves in the market-place, where an innumerable crowd of people streamed together, and began to work the fire-engines; whilst church bells tolled violently, and the alarm-drums were beaten wildly and dully up and down the streets. Henrik dragged with him the young Baron L , who was speechless, and much injured by the fire.

The mother cast a wild searching look around among her children, and suddenly exclaiming “Gabriele!” threw herself with a thrilling cry of anguish into the burning house. A circle of people hastily surrounded the daughters, in order to prevent their following her, and at the same moment two men broke forth from them, and hastened with the speed of lightning after her. The one was her beautiful, now more than ever beautiful, son. The other resembled one of the Cyclops, as art has represented them at work in their subterranean smithies, excepting that he had two eyes, which in this moment flashed forth flames, as if bidding defiance to those with which he was about to combat. Both vanished amid the conflagration.

A moment’s silence ensued: the alarm-drum ceased to beat; the people scarcely breathed; the daughters wrung their hands silently, and the fire-bell called anxiously to the ineffectual engine-showers, for the flames rose higher and higher.

All at once a shout was sent from the mass of the people; all hearts beat joyfully, for the mother was borne in the arms of her son from amid the flames, which stretched forth their hissing tongues towards her! and now another shout of exultation! The modern Cyclop, in one word the Assessor, stood in a window of the second story, and, amid the whirlwind of smoke, was seen a white form, which he pressed to his bosom. A ladder was quickly raised, and Jeremias Munter, blackened and singed, but nevertheless happy, laid the fainting but unhurt Gabriele in the arms of her mother and sisters.

After this, he and Henrik returned to the burning house, from which they were fortunate enough to save the desk containing the Judge’s most valuable papers. A few trifles, but of no great importance, were also saved. But this was all. The house was of wood, and spite of every effort to save it, was burned, burned, burned to the ground, but, as it stood detached, without communicating the fire to any other.

When Henrik, enfeebled with his exertions, returned to his family, he found them all quartered in the small dwelling of the Assessor, which also lay in the market-place; while Jeremias seemed suddenly to have multiplied himself into ten persons, in order to provide his guests with whatever they required. His old housekeeper, what with the fire, and what with so many guests who were to be provided for in that simply-supplied establishment, was almost crazed. But he had help at hand for everybody: he prepared coffee, he made beds, and seemed altogether to forget his own somewhat severe personal injuries by the fire. He joked about himself and his affairs at the same time that he wiped tears from his eyes, which he could not but shed over the misfortunes of his friends. Affectionate and determined, he provided for everything and for every one; whilst Louise and Leonore assisted him with quiet resolution.

“Wilt thou be reasonable, coffee-pot, and not boil over like a simpleton, since thou hast to provide coffee for ladies!” said the Assessor in jesting anger. “Here, Miss Leonore, are drops for the mother and Eva. Sister Louise, be so good as to take my whole storeroom in hand; and you, young sir,” said he to Henrik, as he seized him suddenly by the arm, and gazed sharply into his face, “come you with me, for I must take you rather particularly in hand.”

There was indeed not a moment to lose; a violent effusion of blood from the chest, placed the young man’s life in momentary danger. Munter tore off his coat, and opened a vein at the very moment in which he lost all consciousness.

“What a silly fellow!” said the Assessor, as Henrik breathed again, “how can anybody be so silly when he is such a clever fellow! Nay, now all danger for the time is over. Death has been playing his jokes with us to-night! Now, like polite knights, let us be again in attendance on the ladies. Wait, I must just have a little water for my face, that I need not look, any more than is necessary, like ’the Knight of the Rueful Countenance!’”