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Chapter XIX. The Burning Forest.

HELEN'S courage at the appalling sight of the blazing wood, now began to fail her at last. She had escaped from the bushrangers, and from the natives; but from her present peril she saw no escape!

The dead timber with which the surface of the ground was covered, afforded ready materials for the extension of the fire which spread rapidly on the right and on the left; while the flames, leaping from bush to bush, and from branch to branch, licking the tall stems with their fiery tongues, threatened to form a blazing canopy of fire over their heads.




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She endeavoured to console herself and her companion with the consideration that the flames which bore such danger to themselves, would serve as a fiery screen to keep off the natives who they did not doubt were in pursuit of them. But all fear of the natives was presently swallowed up by the urgency of the peril which immediately assailed them; for the fire, they clearly saw, outran their most strenuous efforts to fly from it; and it was so close on them, that it was evident to both, that to attempt to get out of the range of the flames by a side-movement, would be only a waste of time, and a folly to think of;—their only chance of escape, if chance there was, was by flying directly before it.

But they soon began to feel the effect of the heat produced by so great a body of fire, giving them a foretaste of one of the most dreadful of deaths; and the smoke began to encircle them within its thick dark folds, so that sometimes it was only from the sound of the crackling wood behind them,


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that they were able to keep in the right direction.

To add to their fears they found themselves beset by numerous black and diamond-spotted snakes, which, driven from their retreats by the advancing fire, wound their way rapidly onwards, but happily too intent on saving themselves to molest those who were flying from the same danger. Nor was this the worst; for the flames, suddenly finding materials more inflammable to feed on, spread themselves on both sides of the struggling fugitives with extraordinary rapidity, threatening to enclose them and thus cut off all possibility of escape.

But still they kept on their course; jumping over logs of dead timber; scrambling through the underwood; and exerting every nerve to hasten their flight from the terrible enemy roaring behind them. The wood was so thick, and the smoke so obscured the atmosphere, that they could see nothing before them but the straight and branchless trunks of the tall


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stringy-bark trees; and when the fire increased in its circular direction around them, they lost their guide and mark by which they had hitherto directed their course.

Blinded by the smoke; their senses scared by the fire; and their judgment lost, from the imminency of the peril which surrounded them, they hesitated in their flight;—not knowing which way to direct their steps, and meeting with flames on all sides,—they stood still, and awaited their doom in silence.

Helen sunk on her knees, and prayed aloud and fervently! Her fellow-sufferer stood aghast at the frightful sight of the blazing forest, and gazed at the flames which were coming thick upon them in trembling and speechless helplessness! There was no longer any hope; and both were so exhausted by their previous exertions, that they had not strength to stir.

“This is a dreadful death to die,” said Helen to her companion; “but there is no hope! And at least it is better to die thus than by the


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torments of the savages. The fire blazes fiercer in that direction than ever!”

“It is all over with us, miss!” said poor Jeremiah. “I could not move an inch farther if the fire was burning my legs.”

“We must say farewell to each other, my good friend,” continued Helen; “but at least I can thank you for having been the means of releasing me from the savages; and if I had lived, depend upon it you should have found me grateful.”

“You are very good to say so, miss; and if we had not been burned as we are to be, if you would have put in a good word for me with your sister, Miss Louisa;—but it is too late now! To be burned to death in this way! It is very dreadful! There's a blaze! Miss: we must try to get away a little further from those flames! Your dress will catch fire in a moment!”

“Try and save yourself, my good friend,” said Helen. “I cannot move a step further, I


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am so exhausted. Save yourself, and tell Louisa that my last words were—”

She was interrupted by a blaze of light from the inflammation of some dead bushes, so close that the flames almost scorched her. The effect was so powerful on Jeremiah that he started up, and although, the moment before, it seemed that no peril and no pain could force him to move, he suddenly found himself excited in an extraordinary manner.

“It is too hot to bear,” he cried out: “Miss Horton, get up and try to move a little farther off.”

“Impossible!” replied Helen; “I am utterly exhausted, and I cannot move. But, save yourself, my good friend, and leave me to die where I am. The smoke will soon stifle me before the fire comes!”

“But the fire is come, miss,” replied Jeremiah; “and if your dress catches, how are we to put it out?”

“Save yourself,” repeated Helen; “but tell my dear father—and I should like you to say to


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Mr. Trevor—from me—say that I was encompassed by flames when I sent the message—say—that I was dying—my good friend—you will particularly remember to say that I was dying——”

“I have heard the Bushranger say, ‘never say die while there's a chance left!’ and here is a chance left, Miss Horton: I feel myself strong again. I can carry you a little way; and I will do it. I will never leave you to be burned to death while I save myself! Give me your hand, miss, and get up.”

Helen raised herself up; but she would not be carried. Jeremiah had scarcely assisted her a few yards when the wind rose and blew over them a shower of sparks from the burning charcoal, and it seemed, for a few seconds, that they were in the very midst of the fire, and about to be consumed. But the same wind cleared also the space before them from the thick clouds of smoke which impeded their view. It was only for a moment; but that moment of time served to reveal to them


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that they were approaching the verge of the forest, for the broad glare of day appeared beyond, forming a contrast by its white light with the red flames of the burning trees.

The hope which had been extinguished in Helen's heart now revived! She felt herself animated with new energy; but it required the utmost stretch of exertion on the part of both to keep ahead of the flames. Every instant of time was precious, for they saw the fire sweeping round with rapid strides to the point whither they were urging themselves forward; and just as they reached the spot they found their passage barred in that direction by a solid wall of fire!

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