66 BLACK BEAUTY,
and choking. I heard Ginger coughing, and one of the other horses seemed very restless; it was quite dark, and I could see nothing, but the stable seemed full of smoke, and I hardly knew how to breathe.
The trap-door had been left open, and I thought that was the place it came through. I listened, and heard a soft, rushing sort of noise, and a low crackling and snapping. I did not know what it was, but there was something in the sound so strange that it made me tremble all over. The other horses were now all awake; some were pulling at their halters, others were stamping.
At last I heard steps outside, and the ostler who had put up the traveller's horse burst into the stable with a lantern, and began to untie the horses and try to lead them out; but he seemed in such a hurry and so frightened himself that he frightened me still more. The first horse would not go with him; he tried the second and third, and they, too, would not stir. He came to me next and tried to drag me out of the stall by force; of course that was no use. He tried us all by turns, and then left the stable.
No doubt we were very foolish, but danger seemed to be all round, and there was nobody we knew to trust in, and all was strange and uncertain. The fresh air that had come in through the open door made it easier to breathe, but the rushing sound overhead grew louder, and as I looked upward, through the bars of my empty rack, I saw a red light flickering on the wall. Then I heard a cry of " Fire!" outside, and the old ostler quietly and quickly came in; he got one horse out, and went to another, but the flames were playing round the trap-door, and the roaring overhead was dreadful.
The next thing I heard was James's voice, quiet and cheery, as it always was.
" Come, my beauties, it is time for us to be off, so wake up and come along." I stood nearest the door, so he came to me first, patting me as he came in.