Now, Dick saw quite well that it was no use arguing with her when she was in this mood, so when they arrived at Lady James's house he bade her rather a cold farewell, and promised to come and see her for the last time on Sunday, before he went to Scotland.
Sala went straight up to her room, and throwing herself on her bed wept bitterly. She felt very lonely, and, now that even Dick was vexed with her, she began to think that her behaviour was not all it should have been. She knew she had quite lost her temper and behaved badly, and although we may say she had some excuse, it is always a silly thing to do. Nobody will respect a person who gives way to their evil passions, and Sala felt that for the time being she had estranged her father and Dick and greatly lowered herself in their opinion. She fell on her knees and begged God with might and main to forgive her, and rose in a few minutes feeling calmer and happier.
The servants' supper-bell had rung, but Sala did not feel inclined to talk and laugh with the others, so she stayed where she was and occupied herself with her thoughts, which were anything but happy ones. The next day was very wet and gloomy and quite in accordance with Sala's feelings, as the more she thought over the previous day's events the angrier she felt with herself, knowing that, after all, it did not much matter to her if her father were married, as she was always in service, and hoped soon to be married herself.
She also could not help remembering how, in spite of herself, she had been struck by Mrs. Carrol's much softened voice and manner, and she really began to think that, after all, it might be for the best.
The days dragged slowly on, till at last Sunday arrived, and Sala had decided to make her peace with Dick, not liking him to go on his journey feeling unhappy about her. Six o'clock was the hour he generally came, and she rushed upstairs to see that her hair was tidy, and had taken the opportunity of pinning some geraniums into her dress, which had been sent downstairs from the drawing-room to be thrown away. Seven o'clock came, but did not bring Dick, and Sala was tortured with melancholy thoughts as to whether he had decided he would not see her till she had made her peace with her father. At last she was obliged to give up all idea of his coming, as it was now ten o'clock, and very miserable were her feelings when she crept into bed and sobbed herself to sleep.
At the end of the week Sala, who generally distributed the servants' letters, was much surprised at finding one for herself.
Now, everybody likes to receive letters from their friends, and for Sala, who had never had many, the excitement was great; in fact, she quite forgot all about her father's sudden marriage and Dick's departure, as well as the week's misery, and, getting into a corner by herself, she opened the letter and began to read, and this is what she read--
"MY DEAR Sala,
"I am afraid you must be very angry with me for not having turned up on Sunday, but on Friday night master told me he wanted me to pack up everything as we were to go on Saturday by the night mail to Scotland, so I really could not get a minute to go and see you. I hope this will find you well as it leaves me, and happier than when I saw you last. I am very happy here, and it is a beautiful place, but a long way off from you. Write to me soon, as I will also to you.
"Your affectionate friend,
Sala was very much relieved by the contents of this letter, and decided that she would go and see her father as soon as she could. This opportunity soon occurred, and Sala found him and her stepmother having their supper together. Mr. House looked rather sheepishly at his daughter, not quite knowing in what frame of mind she intended to make this visit, but he soon saw that she really was doing her best to set matters straight again.
Mrs. House offered her some tea, which Sala gladly accepted, and they all three talked cheerfully about future plans and past events, not touching, however, on the two chief changes in the family.
At last she left them alone together, and the door had hardly closed behind her when Sala was on her knees by her father's chair, asking him to forgive and forget all the unkind speeches she had made about his marriage. Mr. House was delighted at the reconciliation, as he loved his daughter most dearly, and they spent one of the happiest hours together they had ever passed.
Sala went with a light heart back to her work, feeling that certainly peace was better than strife, and wondering how she had managed to keep up the disturbance for so long.
Many weeks elapsed with no noteworthy events, and Sala felt quite happy and established in her situation, knowing that she was earning enough money to prevent her from being any sort of burden to her father or stepmother.
Lady James was at this time rather delicate, having had a bad attack of rheumatic fever, from which she had, however, almost recovered.
One day there was to be a large dinner-party in the house, and Edith, Sala's friend, the housemaid, was going to look over the staircase at all the smart dresses, and had promised to tell Sala, who could not be spared, all about them. Eight o'clock arrived, and Edith ran upstairs to watch the ladies come, and go down to dinner. She had never seen so many grand-looking people, and her heart was filled with longing desire to possess only one dress half as beautiful as the ones she saw. There was her mistress looking lovely in deep pink satin, her wonderful hair crowned by a tiara of diamonds and pearls.
When the dining-room door had shut them off from Edith's eyes, she went downstairs into the drawing-room, and, putting all thoughts of dresses and diamonds out of her head, busied herself in smoothing the covers, shaking up the cushions, and putting chairs and sofas straight again.
When her work was over, she joined the others downstairs, not at all objecting to taste some of the dishes which came down from the dinner party.
At half-past eleven all the visitors had left, and Sala was lazily sitting down chatting away to the other servants, who all felt that they deserved a little rest after such a busy evening. At last Sala and Edith took up their candles to go to bed, leaving the others still talking. On the way Sala heard Sir Alfred and Lady James going upstairs to their rooms, so she told Edith she was going to have one look at her beautiful mistress, and Edith had better come too, so they went up by the back staircase and peeped through the swing door.
Sir Alfred was behind his wife, when suddenly Edith gave a loud cry, and rushed downstairs again before Sala had time to see what had happened.
Sir Alfred flung open the door and demanded an explanation of this singular conduct, when again a cry was heard, and this time it was clearly that of "fire." Sir Alfred, grasping the situation in a minute, bade his wife fly down to the bedroom, off the drawing-room, rouse their two boys, who slept there, and tell the women-servants to leave the house instantly, as he already judged the fire to be of considerable dimensions. He, meanwhile, would rush upstairs to fetch Charlie, who slept in the nursery.
Sir Alfred very soon found this to be utterly impossible, as when he opened the door he was met by volumes of smoke, and found the nursery to be one mass of flames. In a minute all was confusion, men-servants rushing about trying to save what valuables they could from the bedrooms, which were still untouched. The inmates were now assembled in front of the house, gazing horror-struck at the flames, as they illumined the darkness and filled the upper windows with their glare. Of course the whole neighbourhood was roused, and the wildest excitement prevailed.
The policemen were shouting directions, which were as far as possible obeyed, and the suspense was at last broken by the cry of, "Out of the way; here come the fire engines." The horses dashed up, panting and foaming, and all was instantly discipline and order, the walls in a minute were swarming with firemen, and water was flooding the street. But who can describe the feelings of Sir Alfred, who dared not tell his wife of his unsuccessful attempt to rescue Charlie. Hardly master of his senses, he rushed madly from room to room in the vain hopes of discovering the child, until with difficulty, for the whole staircase was now rapidly becoming one mass of flames, he escaped into the street.
Suddenly there was a universal murmur, and a voice shouted out, "Hold on, miss. Don't look down; we'll get you."
These words were addressed to Sala, who had suddenly appeared on the drawing-room balcony, with Charlie peacefully sleeping in her arms.
Suddenly he awoke and began to cry, but poor Sala was in no state of mind to comfort him. What ages it seemed! How slowly help came towards her, and how very heavy Charlie was getting!
Her brain seemed reeling, and her thoughts surged up, reproaching her for many a thing she had never thought twice about.
"LET HIM DOWN, MISS; IT'S ALL RIGHT NOW."
She uttered a prayer for help, and clenched her teeth, determined to hold out till relief came; and relief came but slowly. At last, when she felt it impossible to hold this heavy burden any longer, a man's voice called out to her, "Let him down, miss; it's all right now." But Sala would not let Charlie out of her arms, fearing the effects which the awful sight of the flames might have on his already highly excitable brain; so she clutched him tighter, and the only thing to be done was to lift them over the balcony down together.
The crowd--for where is there ever a greater crowd than near a fire?--cheered loudly; but Sala had fainted away, and never heard how heartily it sympathized.
Sir Alfred, who had gazed up horror-struck at the brave girl, was jealously holding the boy in his arms, evidently looking for the marks of fire which he was certain must be upon him. Charlie was, however, quite unhurt, and after giving him to a friend to hold, he knelt down by Sala, who was still insensible, and began trying to restore her. A neighbour offered to take her into their house, and gratefully accepting this kindness, Sir Alfred and a fireman carried her indoors.
The fire was, by now, gradually getting under control, and it only remained to house the inmates, who, having fortunately not gone to bed, were still in their everyday clothes, Lady James and her little one being the only exceptions. Everybody was anxious to do their best for the James family, who were great favourites with all who knew them, and, by half-past one, all were settled somewhere for the night.
Now we must go back to the origin of the fire.
Master Charlie, "Baby Charlie," as he was called, being the youngest, had determined to have a little fun; so, after dinner was served, and his nurse was safely downstairs at her supper, he got out of bed, lit a candle, and began reading a book his father had just given him, which was very exciting. Curiously enough he came to a part of the book where there had also been a dinner-party, and the children of the house had gone down to dessert. Charlie began thinking it was rather hard luck he had not been allowed to see something of the party, and he wondered in his little brain whether he could not manage it, so he put the candle and the book on the floor near the table, as he knew he was doing wrong, and did not want them to be seen, and crept stealthily downstairs.
He found to his surprise that the drawing-room door was open, and the room itself was empty, as Sir Alfred and Lady James, whose guests had just left, were playing a game of billiards in the billiard-room, so as he had no idea how late, or how early it was, he went behind a screen near the balcony window and sat down to wait. But it was in reality about eleven, all the ladies had left, and the servants were very busy downstairs. As it was long past Charlie's bedtime he fell soundly asleep. Now, the nurse, who had only been a short time in Lady James's family, was most unscrupulous, and when she came down for her supper, she found it so much more amusing than sitting alone in the nursery, that, trusting Charlie was sound asleep, she remained downstairs chatting quite happily with the servants. The fire had now been smouldering some time, and had been caused by the candle falling out of the candlestick on to the open book, which blazed up in a few minutes, and quickly set the tablecloth alight. Edith and Sala were the first to go upstairs and to discover the flames. Sala at once thought of the stone staircase which led up to Charlie's room, and which could not catch fire; but she had scarcely reached the top floor, when she saw the walls of the night nursery fall in, and, through a rift in the flames, saw, to her horror, that Charlie's bed was empty. Thinking that the child had got frightened by the flames, and had probably strayed into some of the lower rooms, she searched carefully into every cupboard and corner of the bedrooms and dressing-rooms. But all this took a long time, and the flames were gaining rapidly upon her. Sala soon remembered that the stone staircase ended on the drawing-room floor, being continued in wood, which had already caught fire from the flames of the front staircase. She was still searching frantically in Lady James's boudoir, which was next to the drawing-room, for Charlie, when she saw, to her horror, that all exit from downstairs was now impossible. She bethought herself of the drawing-room balcony, which was of stone, and in opening the window which led on to it, she saw, to her mingled horror and relief, the form of little Charlie peacefully sleeping behind the big screen. Her thankfulness can better be imagined than described, and seizing the child in her arms she ran out, thankful to get in the air and to leave the suffocating rooms, now filled with smoke, behind her.
Poor Sala was very ill for a week, but in reality it was more the shock which had upset her than the actual burns, although she had several rather bad ones on her arms. However, after these had been carefully dressed with lint and croton oil, she felt fairly like herself again.
Poor Lady James had suffered from the disaster terribly, and was obliged to go abroad for her health, which the doctor feared would only with great difficulty be re-established; so one day Sir Alfred sent for Sala to come to his study, and when she had arrived, he began by telling her how unutterably grateful they were to her, and little Charlie, who was close at hand, thanked her also in his pretty childish manner. Sir Alfred then went on to say how sorry they all were to lose her, but as it was impossible to take her abroad with them she must look out for another place. Here poor Sala, who had been very happy in their service, completely broke down. Sir Alfred soothed her as best he could, and assured her that their gratitude was much too great ever to allow them to forget her. He also gave her a purse with fifty pounds in it, forty of which he begged her to put at once into the savings bank, and he also promised to add one pound to it every Christmas.
Sala was surprised and greatly overcome at this great generosity and gratitude, saying that anybody else would have done the same in her place. She said good-bye to her mistress, whom she felt very sorry to see looking so ill, took a still sadder leave of her fellow-servants, and went for a few days to her father's home.