The Red Jacket by George M. Baker

‘Tis a cold, bleak night! with angry roar
The north winds beat and clamor at the door;
The drifted snow lies heaped along the street,
Swept by a blinding storm of hail and sleet;
The clouded heavens no guiding starlight lend
But o’er the earth in gloom and darkness bend;
Gigantic shadows, by the night lamps thrown,
Dance their weird revels fitfully alone.

In lofty halls, where fortune takes its ease,
Sunk in the treasures of all lands and seas;
In happy homes, where warmth and comfort meet
The weary traveler with their smiles to greet;
In lowly dwellings, where the needy swarm
Round starving embers, chilling limbs to warm,
Rises the prayer that makes the sad heart light—
“Thank God for home, this bitter, bitter night!”

But hark! above the beating of the storm
Peals on the startled ear the fire alarm.
Yon gloomy heaven’s aflame with sudden light,
And heart-beats quicken with a strange affright;
From tranquil slumbers springs, at duty’s call,
The ready friend no danger can appall;
Fierce for the conflict, sturdy, true, and brave,
He hurries forth to battle and to save.

From yonder dwelling, fiercely shooting out,
Devouring all they coil themselves about,
The flaming furies, mounting high and higher,
Wrap the frail structure in a cloak of fire.
Strong arms are battling with the stubborn foe
In vain attempts their power to overthrow;
With mocking glee they revel with their prey,
Defying human skill to check their way.

And see! far up above the flame’s hot breath,
Something that’s human waits a horrid death;
A little child, with waving golden hair,
Stands, like a phantom, ‘mid the horrid glare,—
Her pale, sweet face against the window pressed,
While sobs of terror shake her tender breast.
And from the crowd beneath, in accents wild,
A mother screams, “O God! my child! my child!”

Up goes a ladder. Through the startled throng
A hardy fireman swiftly moves along;
Mounts sure and fast along the slender way,
Fearing no danger, dreading but delay.
The stifling smoke-clouds lower in his path,
Sharp tongues of flame assail him in their wrath;
But up, still up he goes! the goal is won!
His strong arm beats the sash, and he is gone!

Gone to his death. The wily flames surround
And burn and beat his ladder to the ground,
In flaming columns move with quickened beat
To rear a massive wall ‘gainst his retreat.
Courageous heart, thy mission was so pure,
Suffering humanity must thy loss deplore;
Henceforth with martyred heroes thou shalt live,
Crowned with all honors nobleness can give.

Nay, not so fast; subdue these gloomy fears;
Behold! he quickly on the roof appears,
Bearing the tender child, his jacket warm
Flung round her shrinking form to guard from harm,
Up with your ladders! Quick! ’tis but a chance!
Behold, how fast the roaring flames advance!
Quick! quick! brave spirits, to his rescue fly;
Up! up! by heavens, this hero must not die!

Silence! he comes along the burning road,
Bearing, with tender care, his living load;
Aha! he totters! Heaven in mercy save
The good, true heart that can so nobly brave!
He’s up again! and now he’s coming fast—
One moment, and the fiery ordeal’s passed—
And now he’s safe! Bold flames, ye fought in vain.
A happy mother clasps her child again.