Chapter 16 Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 737

The Fire

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Later that night a traveler brings his horse to the stable; the second hostler works on the horse while a young man smoking a pipe, Dick Towler, lounges in the doorway to talk. The hostler asks Towler to get some hay for the horses but to lay down his pipe before climbing the ladder into the loft. The young man goes into the loft, and Black Beauty hears him walking overhead, dropping the hay down for the horses. James comes to check on his two horses one last time that night, and then the stable door is locked.

Black Beauty does not know how long he has been sleeping or what time it is, but he wakes up feeling uncomfortable. He does not know why he gets up, but he sees the air around him is “all thick and choking.” Ginger is coughing, and another horse is moving restlessly. It is dark; Black Beauty can see nothing. The smoke is making it difficult for him to breathe. The trapdoor to the loft is still open, and it seems as if the smoke is emanating from there. Now the horse hears a soft, rushing kind of noise with a low crackling and snapping. He does not recognize the sound, but he is afraid of it. The other horses are now awake, showing signs of panic.

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Latest answer posted August 4, 2016, 9:52 am (UTC)

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Finally Black Beauty hears footsteps. The younger hostler enters the stables with a lantern and tries to lead the horses out; however, because he is frightened and hurried, he makes the horses panic even more. He tries to drag the horses out, one by one, but none of them will go with him. Though it may be foolish to stay, the horses have no one to trust in this strange, uncertain environment. The sounds overhead are growing louder, and now red light flickers on the wall. Outside, someone cries “Fire!”; inside, the noise and smoke are dreadful.

The next thing Black Beauty hears is James’s voice, calm and cheerful, as always. He coaxes Black Beauty, who is closer to the door, out of the burning stable by placing the scarf from around his neck over the horse’s eyes. Once Black Beauty is out safely, James calls for someone to take him, while James goes back into the fire for Ginger. Black Beauty whinnies when James leaves him; Ginger hears the sound, which gives her the courage to leave the burning stable.

There is much confusion in the yard as horses are gathered and carriages are pulled out of the stable. The hotel's windows are open all around, and people at the windows shout at the crowd below. Black Beauty hears his master’s voice, just as he also hears a crash from the stable. In a moment, James is visible through the smoke, leading Ginger. The mare is coughing, and James is unable to speak. As the fire engine arrives, the Squire commends James for his bravery and says they will leave the hotel at once.

The group from Birtwick is able to see the stars shining in the otherwise still night, once they move away from the scene of the fire. Finding another hotel on the opposite side of the marketplace, the Squire entrusts James with the horses' care and goes back for his wife. The horses hear a dreadful noise as they are being moved to their new stalls. It is the sound of the horses that did not escape the fire being burned to death. It is a terrible sound; Black Beauty and Ginger feel bad about what they hear. They, however, are being well cared for in their new stalls.

In the morning, the master checks on his horses and commends James again for his bravery. Mrs. Gordon is resting after her distressing night, so the remainder of the journey is postponed until that afternoon. James goes to retrieve the harnesses and carriage. James tells the hostler that the cause of the fire was a mystery until someone remembered seeing Dick Towler walk into the stable with a lit pipe in his mouth. Though he denies taking the pipe with him to put down some hay, no one believes Towler. Black Beauty thinks John Manly’s rule never to allow a pipe in the stable is wise. Only two walls of the stable are left standing, and two horses lost their lives in the fire.

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