ONE Winter, several years ago, a fire broke out in a large house at the corner of a street in Ottawa. A great part of the building was of wood, and in spite of all that the firemen could do, the flames mounted higher and higher, till it became clear that the house was doomed.
Suddenly, to the horror of the crowd which was looking on, three men were seen at the window of the top story, stretching out their hands, and begging for help from the people.
To leap down to the hard pavement far below would be instant death. Go back: they could not. Already the smoke and the flames were close upon them. Despair was in their faces. What could be done?
The firemen quickly brought their ladders, but these were too short. The very longest of them would not reach half the distance. At last it seemed as if nothing could be done—as if the poor fellows must surely perish.
Among the great crowd that stood gazing in dread and pity at the blazing house was a colored boy named Charley Wright, a bootblack.
He, like the rest, had almost given up the men as lost, when suddenly he began to push his way among the people around him.
Every one looked on in wonder as the boy, having escaped from the crowd, seized a fireman's wrench that lay on the pavement, and began to climb a tall, smooth telegraph pole that rose exactly opposite the burning House.
To climb the pole, cold and wet with snow, was no easy task. But higher and higher the boy rose, until at length he reached the crossbars to which the telegraph wires were fixed.
The people below watched the boy breathlessly. Sitting on a crossbar, and working hard and fast with his wrench, he twisted off one of the thickest of the wire ropes. Down it fell, and the people saw, with a shout of joy, that the other end was fastened to a short pole on the roof of the burning building, just above the window at which the three men were standing, pale and frantic with fear.
A gasp of relief came from the crowd as they saw that the wire rope fell right across this window. "Slide down!" they cried, and one after another the three men took hold of the wire rope, sprang from the window, and slid down into safety.
In the first moment of excitement the brave boy, whose quick thought and prompt act had saved them, was forgotten. But when he slid down the telegraph pole a great cheer rose from the people, and the black boy had become a little hero. An old gentleman in the crowd was so delighted that he took up a collection for Charley on the spot. You may be sure the men who had been saved were eager to show him how thankful they were.
A large sum was raised and given to the boy. What became of him I do not know, but I hope, he is doing well.