Louisa May Alcott: Jo's Boys

Chapter 11. EMIL'S THANKSGIVING (continued)

Emil had often blessed his one accomplishment during these months, for it cheered the long days, and made the twilight hour his happiest time, wind and weather permitting. So now he gladly tuned his pipe, and leaning on the taffrail near the girl, watched the brown locks blowing in the wind as he sang her favourite song:

'Give me freshening breeze, my boys,
A white and swelling sail,
A ship that cuts the dashing waves,
And weathers every gale.
What life is like a sailor's life,
So free, so bold, so brave?
His home the ocean's wide expanse,
A coral bed his grave.'

Just as the last notes of the clear, strong voice died away, Mrs Hardy suddenly exclaimed: 'What's that?' Emil's quick eye saw at once the little puff of smoke coming up a hatchway where no smoke should be, and his heart seemed to stand still for an instant as the dread word 'Fire!' flashed through his mind. Then he was quite steady, and strolled away saying quietly:

'Smoking not allowed there, I'll go and stop it.' But the instant he was out of sight his face changed, and he leaped down the hatchway, thinking, with a queer smile on his lips: 'If we are afire, shouldn't wonder if I did make a coral bed my grave!'

He was gone a few minutes, and when he came up, half stifled with smoke, he was as white as a very brown man could be, but calm and cool as he went to report to the captain.

'Fire in the hold, sir.'

'Don't frighten the women,' was Captain Hardy's first order; then both be stirred themselves to discover how strong the treacherous enemy was, and to rout it if possible.

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