But, before he could enter it, a horrible thing occurred in the room he had just left; so horrible, it made him, brave as he was, turn and scream like a woman.
Some miscreant, by a simple but ingenious means, which afterward transpired, had mixed a quantity of gunpowder with the smithy-slack or fine cinders of Henry's forge. The moment the forge was hot, the powder ignited with a tremendous thud, a huge mass of flame rushed out, driving the coals with it, like shot from a gun; Henry, scorched, blackened, and blinded, was swept, as by a flaming wind, against the opposite wall; then, yelling, and stark mad with fright (for nothing drives men out of their wits like an explosion in a narrow space), he sprang at the window, head foremost, and with such velocity that the sawed iron snapped like a stick of barley-sugar, and out he went head foremost; and this it was made Cheetham scream, to see him head downward, and the paving-stones below.
But the aperture was narrow: his body flew through, but his tight arm went round the unbroken upright, and caught it in the bend of the elbow.
Then Cheetham roared, "Hold on, Little! Hold on, I tell you!"
The scared brain of a man accustomed to obey received the command almost without the mind; and the grinders and forgers, running wildly into the yard, saw the obnoxious workman, black as a cinder from head to foot, bleeding at the face from broken glass, hanging up there by one hand, moaning with terror, and looking down with dilating eye, while thick white smoke rushed curling out, as if his body was burning. Death by suffocation was at his back, and broken bones awaited him below.
At sight of this human cinder, hanging by one hand between two deaths, every sentiment but humanity vanished from the ruggedest bosom, and the skilled workmen set themselves to save their unpopular comrade with admirable quickness and judgment: two new wheel-bands, that had just come into the works, were caught up in a moment, and four workmen ran with them and got below the suspended figure: they then turned back to back, and, getting the bands over their shoulders, pulled hard against each other. This was necessary to straighten the bands: they weighed half a hundred weight each. Others stood at the center of the bands, and directed Little where to drop, and stood ready to catch him should he bound off them.
But now matters took an unexpected turn. Little, to all appearance, was blind and deaf. He hung there, moaning, and glaring, and his one sinewy arm supported his muscular but light frame almost incredibly. He was out of his senses, or nearly.
"Let thyself come, lad," cried a workman, "we are all right to catch thee."