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particularly those patients who have come from the old country; they seem to have a vague idea that these stately ships are brought here to bear them home.
Some of them talk a great deal to each other, but seldom get, or seem to expect, answers to what they say. It pleases them much to speak to visitors, and they then make an effort to tell what may be asked of them, but will not take this pains with their fellow-patients. It is not worth while; they know that they are mad.
The 28th of May, 1845, will long be remembered at Quebec. The day was scorching hot, with a high wind, and clouds of dust rushing along the roads, in exposed places spinning round and round in little whirlwinds, almost choking those who were caught in their vortex.
But this is the busy time of the year; the streets and shops are crowded, the river covered with floating rafts of timber. Every hour, ships of the spring fleet round Point Levy, and make their numbers, in coloured flags, to their joyful owners. Masons and carpenters are hard at work, building on the vacant spaces of the streets, or repairing the ruins from small winter conflagrations. Over the rich valley of the St. Charles the husbandmen ply the spade and plough, and on the plains of Abraham a regiment of soldiers are skirmishing in loose and picturesque array. Every thing around betokens life and activity. Sudden and harsh among these pleasant scenes, the bells of the churches of St. Roch ring out the well known alarm of Fire. It was a quarter of an hour before noon when the first peal sounded.
Shortly afterwards, from among the thick clouds of dust arose a thin column of white smoke, at the far end of the suburb of St. Valliere, under the steep cliff. At first but little attention was excited, it was so common an occurrence, and only a few firemen hastened to the spot. They found that a large tannery had taken fire. The fire had spread to some extent, and there was great difficulty in procuring water. Sparks, and now and then a flame, began to shoot up into the smoke, already thick and much increased. The locality is unfortunate, for all the buildings round are of wood; the population, too, chiefly of simple and unener getic French-Canadians, is very dense.
The sparks are borne away on the wind—but for this wind all would yet be well-—and they rest on the dry shingle roofs; however, numbers of people are at hand, perched on the tops of the houses, to protect them. For about an hour the progress is but small; a stout Englishman is seated on the building next to the tannery, and, though the wind blows the stifling smoke and the sparks into his face, he boldly keeps to his work, to save his little property. He spreads wet blankets upon the shingles, changing them in a minute or two when dry and scorched; and, wherever the fire rests for a space, he is ready with a vessel of water.
But while this struggle is going on, a shout from the opposite side of the street proclaims that the fire has reached across, and the thickening smoke from above, shews that the houses on the cliff have also caught. At the same time, the blazing ruins of the tannery fall in with a heavy crash; smoke and flame burst out through the windows of the next house, and soon after, through the roof itself. The poor fellow who had kept it down so long, still struggles hard against it, and it is not till the ladder which he had ascended takes fire that, maimed and blackened, he comes down, and stands staring in despair at the progress of his ruin.
But this is no time to dwell on individual misery, for the flames increase rapidly, the wind still driving them fiercely on: sometimes they spread along the shingle roofs, at others work their way through the under stories of half a dozen houses unperceived, till, suddenly meeting with more combustible matter, they burst out above and at the windows. As the flames gain ground, they suck the wind down the narrow streets in whirling eddies. Every here and there the burning frame-work of a house tumbles in, and a shower of fiery morsels rises in the air, then sweeps along with the intolerable dust and smoke, spreading the destruction still further.
A large district is now in a blaze; there is no water; fire-engines are useless; and besides, the case is past their aid. A number of soldiers with ropes and axes come rushing down the hill: they set stoutly to their work, and hack and tear down the houses nearest to the flames, thus making a gap in hope of stopping the communication. But the fire is lifted up by the wind, and leaps on into other streets, and fastens fiercely on its prey. Far away to leeward, the red plague bursts up through the wooden roofs and the planked roads; overhead, under foot, on every side, it seems to close round the soldiers. They fall back from place to place, black with smoke and dust, but still struggling, almost against hope.
The inhabitants become frantic with terror;