The Rover Boys on the Ocean/13
THE FIRE AT THE HALL.
Sam had been right when he said that Dan Baxter was like his father. Parent and son were thoroughly bad, but how bad the Rover boys and their friends were still to learn.
On Saturday the cadets had a half-holiday, and some of them went over to the lake to fish, Sam and Tom accompanying the party.
While the boys were waiting for bites they espied a large sail-boat skimming along the lake shore. As it came closer Tom and Sam were much astonished to see that the boat contained Dan Baxter, Josiah Crabtree, and Mumps.
"By jinks, there is Mumps' yacht!" ejaculated Tom. "How in the world did he get her up here?"
"Brought her by way of the canal and the river, I suppose," answered Sam.
"Hullo there!" called out Larry Colby, who was in the crowd. "Mumps, you might be in better company." "You keep your mouth shut!" retorted Fenwick.
"If you talk to me I'll come ashore and give you a thrashing," put in Baxter.
"I dare you to come ashore!" burst out Tom. "You'll stay where you are if you know when you are well off."
No more was said, and presently the boat sped out of sight around a bend of the lake shore. Fishing proved to be good, and in the excitement of the sport Baxter and the others were, for the time being, forgotten.
It was late when the boys packed up. Sam had six fish, Tom as many more, and all of the others a fair catch.
"We'll have fish to-morrow for breakfast, sure," said Larry. "Hurry up, or we'll be late."
The party started off, but had only gone a short distance when Sam remembered that he had left his knife sticking in the stump of a tree, and ran back to get it, in the meantime turning his fish over to Tom.
The fishing place was behind a grove of trees, and when Sam reached it again he was much surprised to see Dan Baxter on shore, he having just left the yacht, which was cruising some distance away.
"Hullo! so you came back to have it out with me, eh?" cried Baxter, and before Sam could say a word, he was hurled flat and the bully came down on top of him.
Sam fought bravely, but was no match for the big fellow, who began to hammer him unmercifully. Realizing how matters were turning, the youngest Rover began to cry for help.
"You shut up!" stormed Dan Baxter. "Shut up, or I'll give it to you worse than ever!"
But Sam had no intention of taking such a drubbing quietly, and he yelled louder than ever. His cries reached Tom, who had dropped behind to allow his brother to catch up.
"Something is wrong," he muttered, and hanging the fish on a bush, he ran back at the top of his speed.
Dan Baxter heard him coming and tried to get away, but as Tom called out, Sam's courage rose, and he grabbed the bully by the foot and held him.
"Let go!" roared Dan Baxter, but Sam would not, and in a second more Tom was at hand and hit the bully such a stinging blow in the face that Baxter went down in a heap.
A rough-and-tumble scrimmage ensued, and it must be said that the bully got by far the worst of it. Tom hit him again and again, and Sam also, and when at last he staggered to his feet one eye was almost closed and his nose was bleeding profusely.
"Now I guess you won't tackle any of us again," said Tom.
"I'll get even—mark my words!" roared Baxter, and ran down the lake shore in the direction the Falcon had taken.
When Baxter reached the yacht he was so weak he could scarcely stand. It was a long while before he could stop his nose from bleeding, and his eye stung with a pain that was maddening.
"Did little Sam Rover do that?" asked Mumps, while Josiah Crabtree looked on in curious silence.
"Sam Rover?" snorted Baxter. "Not much! Why, the whole crowd piled on me—six or seven of them at a time. They tried to kill me!"
"Didn't you defend yourself, Daniel?" asked Crabtree.
"Of course I did. I knocked two of them down and another fellow had two of his teeth broken. But I couldn't fight all six single-handed."
"Oh, I presume not—especially such brutes as Captain Putnam is now raising."
"It's a pity we can't get square with them," said Mumps.
"Oh, I'll get square! You just wait," answered the bully cunningly. "I'm not done with them yet by any means."
"What will you do?"
"Just you wait and see."
"I don't wish to have you interfere with our plans," put in Josiah Crabtree.
"I won't interfere with the other plans. But I am going to get square."
"We've had delay enough," continued Josiah Crabtree.
"Well, that wasn't my fault. Mumps got sick, and that's all there is to it," growled Dan Baxter, and then went to dressing his swollen eye once more.
In the meantime Sam and Tom had rejoined their fellows and told their story. All of the others were indignant at Baxter's doing and glad to learn he had been given a sound drubbing.
"I don't see why he hangs in this neighborhood," said Larry. "It's a wonder he doesn't try to join his father."
"They are probably on the outs—since Dan took that two hundred dollars," answered Tom.
The boys were all tired that night, and the occupants of Dormitory No. 6 retired early in consequence.
It was a little after midnight that Dick awoke with a cough. He sat up in bed and opened his eyes to find the room almost filled with smoke.
"For gracious sake!" he muttered. "What's the matter here? Sam! Tom!"
"What's this?" came from Larry Colby. "Is the house on fire?"
He leaped from his bed, and so did Dick. By this time the smoke in the dormitory was getting thicker and thicker. It was coming through the door, which stood partly open.
"Wake up, boys; the Hall is on fire!"
"Fire! fire! fire!" came from all parts of the building.
One after another the cadets roused up. Some were completely bewildered and did not know what to do.
"We had better get out as soon as we can!" exclaimed Dick, as he slipped into his trousers. "Come, Tom! come, Sam!"
He ran for the hallway, to find it so thick with smoke that escape in that direction seemed cut off.
"We can't go down that way!" came from Frank. "We'd be smothered to death."
"Let's jump from the windows," put in Larry, who was more frightened than any of the others.
"No, no; don't jump yet!" cried Tom. "You'll break a leg, and maybe your neck."
"But I don't want to be burnt up," returned Larry, his teeth chattering.
"Hold on, we have that rope we used when we had the feast last summer," said Sam. "Let us tie that to the window and get down on it."
Sam ran to the closet and found the rope just where it had been left, on a hook in the corner. Soon they had it out and fastened to a bed-slat braced across the window frame.
"Down you go, Larry!" said Dick. "Be careful; I reckon we have plenty of time."
Larry slid down in a jiffy, and one after another the others came after him, Dick being the last. As the youth turned around on the window sill he saw the fire creeping in at the door. Their escape had taken place none too soon.
Down on the parade ground they found a motley collection of half-dressed cadets, instructors, servants, and others who had been sleeping in the burning Hall.
In the midst of the group was Captain Putnam, pale but comparatively cool, considering the excitement under which he was laboring.
"Are all the boys out?" he asked of George Strong. "Line them up and call the roll."
The roll-call was put through in double-quick order. Only two lads were missing, a boy named Harrison and another named Leeks.
"Here comes Harrison!" cried Harry Blossom, and the boy limped forth from the opposite side of the burning building.
"I sprang from the east wing," he explained. "I guess my ankle is sprained." And then he dropped down and was carried away from the scene to a place of safety.
"Where can Leeks be?" questioned Captain Putnam. "Leeks! Leeks! Where are you?" he cried with all the power of his lungs.
At first the only reply that came back was the roaring of the flames, as they mounted from one section of the Hall to another. Then, however, came a shriek from the rear end of the western wing.
"Help me! Save me! I don't want to be burnt up!"
"It is Leeks!" cried Tom. "See, he is on the gutter of the roof!"
He pointed in the direction, and all saw the cadet, dressed in nothing but his white gown, clinging desperately to the slates of the roof above the gutter. He had run from the second floor to the third and sought safety by crawling out of a dormer window.
"Don't jump!" cried a dozen in concert. "Don't jump, Leeks!"
"What shall I do? The flames are coming up here as fast as they can!" groaned the cadet. "Oh, save me, somebody!"
"Let's get the ladder," said Dick, and started for the barn, with a score of cadets at his heels and George Strong with them. In the meantime Captain Putnam again urged Leeks to remain where he was. "We will save you, don't fear," he added.
The fire below now made the scene as bright as day, and already the neighbors were rushing to the scene, followed by the Cedarville volunteer fire department, with their hose cart and old-style hand-pump engine.
Soon the ladder was brought out of the barn and rushed to the spot directly below where Leeks stood. Willing hands raised it against the building. And then a loud groan went up. The ladder was too short by ten feet—and it was the only ladder to be had!