ONE of the most thrilling adventures, and most
startling if not miraculous escapes, that it has ever been our duty to
chronicle, occurred this morning at the N. Y. C. & W. offices adjoining
the station. It appears that a spark from an engine fell among some old
papers at the rear of the general offices, and all unseen a fire was
started which, before it was discovered, ate its way along the sills, and
secured a grip upon the building which it was impossible to stay. Indeed,
before it was discovered, the lower floor was in flames, and so rapidly
did they spread that the main staircase was ablaze, and all escape shut
off in a shorter time than it takes to record it. Most of the employees,
however, who were engaged on the second and third floors, were able to
escape, either by jumping or by the use of ladders that
were brought into hasty requisition.
It was only when she appeared at the window, calling
frantically for help, that the spectators below, including her half-crazed
father, realised her awful position. "My daughter! my daughter!" moaned
her father. "Can no one save her? Oh, what will her poor mother do! It
will kill her!"
The crowd stood awe-stricken and speechless. It looked
as though the young girl’s doom was sealed irrevocably, and that no power
on earth could save her from the relentless fury of the flames which were
rapidly closing about her. The frantic girl seemed to realise the
situation, for she was seen to close her eyes and cover them with her
hands, as if she contemplated a leap to the stone sidewalk some sixty-five
feet below, which meant certain death. The suspense was awful.
Suddenly a young man, not more than nineteen years, but
lithe, active, and with a look of determination on his face, sprang from
the mute, silent, and awe-stricken crowd, and shouted, "Give me a rope!"
A strong coil of rope was instantly supplied, and
throwing it over his head, he rushed to the gable end of the building,
where the lightning-rod passed from the ground to the chimney above. He
gave it a few hasty jerks, and as it was firm, the fastenings having been
built in with the brickwork when the building was erected, he determined
to make the attempt. Pausing for an instant, while he raised his eyes
aloft to survey the scene, and possibly breathe a silent request for
strength in his hazardous venture, the young man seized the lightning-rod
and began his perilous ascent. He availed himself of every crevice and
niche in the brick wall, which fortunately was rough, in order that he
should not put too great a strain on the rod.
The spectators held their breath while the young hero
slowly but steadily climbed aloft. There was not one who did not regard
the adventure as so extremely hazardous that it was almost tantamount to
Even if the rod should hold out, and he should reach
the roof, would he be in time to save the girl? The flames were slowly but
surely encompassing her, and it did not look as if she could hold out many
What suspense could be more awful than that which
prevailed during the moments of the young man’s ascent of the last few
feet? The rod seemed to loosen and sway slightly, and a cry of horror went
up from the crowd below, but the hero kept on his way, and when at last he
threw a loop of the rope about the chimney, and, aided by that, swung
himself nimbly upon the ridge-board, a great shout of triumph surged up
from the multitude beneath, which must have sent a thrill through the
young hero’s heart. He could scarcely - have
expected to reach the roof when he started to climb, but there he was.
There was not an instant to be lost, and fastening the rope securely about
the massive chimney, he slid down to the attic window. The smoke had now
so completely enveloped it that the crowd below lost sight of the girl,
and a cry went up, "Too late! Too late!"
But this cry gave place to a great burst of applause as
the young man, who had leaped into the attic through the window, almost
instantly reappeared with the girl in his arms, whilst the flames fairly
chased him out. It was a perilous task to make his way back to the
ridge-board with the extra burden which he had, but he did it. The great
concourse beneath held their breath as they watched the daring youth, with
pallid face and teeth firmly set, slowly approach the ridge-board with his
"He’s reached it! he’s reached it! Thank God, he’s
reached it!" went up the cry, as the young man regained the chimney.
It took but a moment to fasten the rope around the
semi-conscious form of Helen Rolphe, and when that was done, he passed it
twice around the massive chimney to check the draw upon it, and holding it
firmly in his hands, he pushed the girl’s form over the gable. In an
instant she was dangling unconscious in mid-air. Her body descended slowly
but surely towards the ground as her rescuer let the rope slip through his
firm grip. To describe the awful suspense of those moments while Helen
Rolphe’s form was being lowered, is impossible.
But even when the unconscious girl was safe in her
father’s arms, and the half-crazed man was bending over her, talking
wildly and incoherently, the suspense was far from over, for the bravest
youth in all New York was still in mortal peril.
The fire had advanced rapidly; half the roof had fallen
in, and unless the young man was quick, his doom was sealed. Despite the
awful ordeal and the frightful strain upon his nerves, he still bore up.
Fastening the rope about the chimney, he threw himself over and slid
rapidly down. He was not an instant too soon, for the fire had seized the
rope and burned it so that it broke when the brave boy was within ten feet
of the ground, and he fell helpless and unconscious to the earth.
Cheer upon cheer rent the air, but the youth was all
unconscious of the salvos in his honour that went up from a thousand
throats. He was carried to a drug store close by, and there, after a few
minutes, he recovered consciousness. His first enquiry was for the young
girl for whom he had risked his life. When assured of her safety, he
seemed satisfied. It was not till some time afterwards that the young
hero’s identity was known, for he modestly sought to treat the matter