Baseball Joe on the School Nine/Chapter 19

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"What's that?" asked half a dozen of the white-robed lads.

"Fire, somewhere," answered Hiram, pausing in his rush toward Joe.

"Come on, this can wait," added one of his companions. "We're through with this initiation, anyhow."

"But I'm not through with him," snapped the bully with a glance of anger at the young pitcher. "I'll settle with him later."

"Fire! Fire!"

Again the cries rang out on the night air.

"The school must be on fire!" yelled Luke Fodick. "Come on, fellows!"

"Fire! Fire!"

Many voices now took up the cry outside, and through a partially-curtained window could be seen the dancing light of flames.

"Come on!" cried Joe to Tom. "We've got to be in on this, whatever it is!"

"Surest thing you know," agreed his chum.

They rushed from the room, following after Hiram and Luke The others straggled out as fast as they disrobed, for they did not want to be seen in their regalia by any of the school authorities who might be on hand after the alarm of fire.

"I hope it isn't any of the school buildings!" exclaimed Joe as he and Tom raced along.

"That's right. So do I. Look, you can see the reflection from here."

The boys were opposite a window in the corridor, and over the roof and spire of the school chapel could be seen a lurid glare in the sky, but what was burning could not be made out.

"It's the gym!" gasped Tom.

"Don't you dare say that!" cried Joe, "and with the baseball season just starting."

"Well, it looks like it anyhow."

Together they raced on until they came to a door that gave egress to the campus. Students were pouring out from their rooms in all directions, some eagerly questioning, and others joining in the cries of "Fire!" No one seemed to know where the blaze was.

Professor Rodd came out with his precious tall hat in one hand and a bundle of books in the other.

"Is the school doomed, boys?" he asked. "How did it start? Have I time to save anything else? I have some Latin books——"

"I don't know where it is, Professor," answered Joe. "But it isn't this building, anyhow."

"Good! I'm glad of it. I mean I'm sorry it's anywhere. Wait, and I'll be with you to help fight the flames."

He ran back to his quarters to return quickly minus his silk hat and the books, and he wore an old fashioned night-cap.

"There now, I'm ready," he announced, and he ran on as though he had donned a modern smoke helmet, used by the firemen. The boys laughed, serious and exciting as the situation was.

Dr. Rudden saw our two friends hurrying across the campus together.

"Why, boys!" cried the coach and athletic director. "You're all wet! How did it happen? Have you been playing the hose on the fire? Did it burst?"

"No, we haven't been to the blaze yet," answered Joe. "We had——"

"A sort of accident," finished Tom, as his chum hesitated for the right explanation. Then they avoided further conversation by racing toward the blaze, the light of which was becoming every minute more glaring.

A stream of students and teachers was now hurrying across the campus, heading for the path around the chapel, which building hid the fire from sight. As Tom and Joe turned the corner they saw at a glance what was burning.

It was an old disused factory about half a mile from the school, a building pretty much in ruins and of little value save as a sleeping place for tramps. Several times in the past there had been slight fires there but they had been quickly extinguished, though many said it would have been as well to let the old structure burn down.

This time it seemed as if this would happen. The factory was of wood, and there had been no rain recently, so it was quite dry, and there was a brisk wind to fan the flames.

"I guess it's a goner," panted Tom.

"Looks that way," agreed his chum.

"Here comes the fire department," went on the other, as they heard the clanging of a bell down the road. A little later they could see, by the glare of the fire, a crowd of village men and boys dragging, by the long rope attached to it, a combined chemical engine, and hook and ladder vehicle. It was a new acquisition in the town of Cedarhurst, and the citizens were very proud of it, though they had no horses to pull it. But everyone who could do so grabbed hold of the long rope.

"They're making good time," commented Joe.

"But they might as well save themselves. The old factory is better burned than standing. Guess some more tramps went in there."

"Then they'd better be getting out by now," observed the young pitcher, "for it must be pretty hot."

The lads ran on, and soon found themselves close to the burning structure. The heat of the flames could be felt, and Tom and Joe moved back into the crowd that had gathered. Up clattered the fire apparatus, and there was the usual excitement, with everyone giving orders, and telling how it ought to be done.

Finally a chemical stream was turned on, the whitish foaming mixture of bicarbonate of soda, sulphuric acid and water spurting upon the flames. There was a hiss, and the part of the fire that was sprayed quickly died out.

But it was evident that several chemical streams would be needed if the fire was to be completely extinguished, whereas two lines of hose were all that were available. In fact nothing but a smothering deluge of water would have been effective, and this was not obtainable.

"They'll never get that fire out!" cried a man in the crowd. "Why don't you let it burn, Chief?"

"Because we're here to put out fires. I'm going to——"

But what the chief was going to do he never said, for at that moment, above the crackling of the fire and the shouts of the men and boys, there arose an agonized shout.

"Help! Help! Save me!"

All eyes turned instinctively upward, and there, perched on the ledge of what had once been the clock tower of the factory, high above the roaring, crackling flames, stood a man, wildly waving his arms and crying:

"Help! Help! Save me!"

"Look! A man! He'll be burned to death!" yelled a score of persons as they saw the danger.

"That's about right, unless he gets down pretty soon," shouted Tom into Joe's ear. "Why doesn't he go down?"

"Probably because the stairs are burned away," was Joe's shouted answer—everyone was shouting, partly to make themselves heard and partly because of the excitement, which was contagious.

"Help! Help!" cried the man again. He gave one look below him and crowded closer to the outer edge of the tower.

"Look out! Don't jump!" someone cried.

"We'll save you!" shouted the chief. "Get the ladder, boys! Lively now!"

Scores of willing ones raced to the wagon and began pulling out the ladders. They were the extension kind, and could be made quite long. Several men ran with one toward the building.

"Not that side! The flames are too hot! You can't raise it there!" cried the chief. "Try around back!"

The men obeyed but a moment later there came a disappointing shout:

"Too short! The ladder's too short! Get a longer one!"

"That's the longest we've got!" answered the chief.

"Then splice two together!" urged some one, but the suggestion could hardly have been carried out with safety. No one knew what to do. The flames were mounting higher and higher, bursting out on all sides now, so that in a few moments, even had there been a ladder long enough to reach to the man, it could not have been raised against the building.

"Help! Help!" continued to call the one. He moved still nearer to the edge of the tower.

"Don't jump! Don't!" yelled the crowd. "You'll be killed!"

"He might just as well be killed by the fall as burned to death," remarked one man grimly. "In fact I'd prefer it."

"Can't someone do something?" begged a woman hysterically.

The man held out his hands appealingly.

"Oh, if we only had an airship, we could rescue him!" murmured Tom.

"By Jove!" exclaimed Joe. "I have an idea. If I could only get a rope up to him he could slide down it, if we held the outer end away from the fire—a slanting cable you know."

"That's it!" yelled his chum.

"How are you going to get a rope up to him?" asked Luke Fodick, who was standing beside our hero. "No one could throw a rope up there."

"No, perhaps not a rope," admitted Joe, "but if I could throw a string we could tie the rope to the string and he could haul it up and fasten it."

"But you can't even throw a string up there," insisted Luke.

"Of course not!" added Hiram, who had joined his crony. "Nobody could."

"Yes they can—I can!" cried Joe. "I'll throw up this ball of cord. It will unwind on the way up if I keep hold of one end of it," and he pulled from his pocket a ball of light but strong cord. Joe used it to wind around split bats. "I'm going to throw this," cried the young pitcher. "Hey there!" he yelled to the man on the tower. "Catch this as it comes, and pull up the rope we're going to fasten on!"

The man waved his hands helplessly. He could not hear.

"Where you going to get the rope?" asked Tom.

"Off the fire apparatus, of course. It's long and strong. Tom, you go get the rope off; I've got to make the man hear and understand before I can throw the cord."

"That's the stuff! The rope from the engine!" cried the man near Joe. "That's the idea, young fellow!"

Accompanied by Tom, the man raced to the engine. He quickly explained what the plan of rescue was, and others aided in taking from the reel the long rope by which the apparatus was pulled. Once more Joe shouted his instructions, while the fire raged and crackled and the crowd yelled.

"Quiet! Quiet!" begged Joe. "I've got to make him hear!"

"Make a megaphone—here's a newspaper," suggested a man. He quickly rolled it into a cone, tore off the small end to make a mouthpiece and Joe had an improvised megaphone. Through it he begged the crowd to keep silent, and at last they heard and understood.

"I'm going to throw you a ball of cord!" called Joe through the paper cone to the man on the tower. "Catch it, and when I yell again, pull up the rope. Fasten it to the tower and we'll hold the ground end out and away from the flames. Then slide down."

The man waved his hands to show that he understood. Then Joe got ready to throw up the cord.

"He can't do it! He'll never be able to get that ball up to the man. It will fall short or go into the flames," said Luke Fodick.

"He can't, eh?" asked Tom, who came back, helping to pull the long rope. "You don't know how Joe Matson can throw. Just watch him."

And, amid a silence that was painfully tense, the young pitcher got ready to deliver a ball on which more depended than on any other he had ever thrown in all his life.