"Well have to get out," I yelled to Ma. I pulled her toward the back door. Smoke was already so thick you couldnt see much but the flames in the kitchen.
Mr. Pendergast come running in with another bucket of water.
I guess he must have been to the spring. "Dont throw no water," I hollered. But he flung the water right on the fire, making even more smoke and steam.
"Ive got to get my money," he shouted.
"What money?" I said. It was so hot I could barely stand in the doorway.
"My pension money," he yelled.
"You come back," I said, and grabbed at his arm. But he had already jerked away. He dropped to the floor and crawled under the smoke. I knelt down where I could see, out of the worst smoke, and watched him work his way to the right of the stove.
"Get back here," I hollered.
"You better stop him!" Ma screamed.
I knowed Mr. Pendergast kept a can of kerosene sometimes used to start fires behind the stove, but I had forgot about it. He reached into the corner behind the wood box and brought out a pint jar. And I think he would have made it out except for this explosion that flared up behind the stove. It must have been the kerosene catching fire. I screamed as the flames covered Mr. Pendergast up.
"Let him go," Ma shouted. But I couldnt just leave Mr. Pendergast laying there in the fire. I had to try to help him. He was screaming and the fire seemed to be right on top of his head.
"Take his foot," I hollered to Ma, but she was already out the door and on the back steps coughing and trying to get her breath. "Grab hold of his foot," I said.
I took hold of Mr. Pendergasts feet and yanked as hard as I could, and he moved a little. I was coughing too and felt smothered from the smoke. I jerked harder and got Mr. Pendergast halfway out the door. And then Ma took one of his feet and helped me pull him onto the porch.
Mr. Pendergasts hair was burning, and part of his shirt was burning. I didnt have nothing but my apron, and I put my apron over his hair and snuffed out the flames. I burned my hands a little, but got the fire out. And just then Ma brought a bucket of water still warm from the washpot and throwed it on his shirt. We rolled Mr. Pendergast over on the wet porch and seen how bad his face and forehead was burned. The skin looked black on his forehead and scalp where his hair had been. His eyebrows was burned off and the skin on his cheeks looked red and peeling, and bloody in places under the soot.
I was thinking we had to put something on his face and on his back where his shirt had burned. What you put on burns is butter or lard or some other kind of grease or oil. There was butter in the spring house, but the lard was burning up in the kitchen. And then I thought, No, Id better try to put the fire out first. If I can Ive got to save the house. I stood up and looked in the door.
"You stay out of there," Ma Richards hollered. "Nothing you can do."
Smoke poured out the door and out the windows. You couldnt see nothing in the kitchen. I couldnt even see any flames. That made me think nothing was burning but the lard, and maybe that could be put out. I looked around the porch and seen a pile of tow sacks by the hoes and shovel and mattock. They had been used I guess for taking corn to mill or carrying leaves to put in cow stalls. I grabbed up eight or ten sacks and run to the washpot.
"What are you doing?" Ma Richards called.
"Putting out the fire," I hollered back. I plunged the sacks into the pot and pulled them out streaming warm water. With my arms around the dripping sacks I run toward the back door.
"You stay out of there," Ma yelled.
I leaped up the steps and run past Mr. Pendergast into the smoking kitchen. The smoke was so thick I couldnt see much. Bending close to the floor I walked to the stove and throwed wet sacks on the burning canners, and then the smoke boiled up worse and I couldnt hardly see what I was doing. I run back out to the pile of sacks and got eight or nine more and carried them to the washpot.
Use of this excerpt from GAP CREEK may be made only for purposes of promoting the book, with no changes, editing, or additions whatsoever, and must be accompanied by the following copyright notice: Copyright © 1999 by Robert Morgan. All rights reserved.
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