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The Young Firemen of Lakeville - or, Herbert Dare's Pluck
by Frank V. Webster
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THE YOUNG FIREMEN OF LAKEVILLE OR HERBERT DARE'S PLUCK

BY

FRANK V. WEBSTER

Author Of "Only A Farm Boy," "The Newsboy Partners," "The Young Treasure Hunter," "Bob The Castaway," Etc.

ILLUSTRATED

1909



BOOKS FOR BOYS

By FRANK V. WEBSTER

12mo. Illustrated. Bound in cloth.

ONLY A FARM BOY, Or Dan Hardy's Rise in Life TOM THE TELEPHONE BOY, Or The Mystery of a Message THE BOY FROM THE RANCH, Or Roy Bradner's City Experiences THE YOUNG TREASURE HUNTER, Or Fred Stanley's Trip to Alaska BOB THE CASTAWAY, Or The Wreck of the Eagle THE YOUNG FIREMEN OF LAKEVILLE, Or Herbert Dare's Pluck THE NEWSBOY PARTNERS, Or Who Was Dick Box? THE BOY PILOT OF THE LAKES, Or Nat Morton's Perils TWO BOY GOLD MINERS, Or Lost in the Mountains JACK THE RUNAWAY, Or On the Road with a Circus



CONTENTS

CHAPTER

I A MIDNIGHT ALARM

II IN PERIL

III TALKING IT OVER

IV BERT HAS A PLAN

V BUYING THE ENGINE

VI THE FIRST RUN

VII BERT SAVES A TRAMP

VIII ON THE LAKE

IX A NARROW ESCAPE

X MYSTERIOUS ACTIONS

XI SUSPICIONS AROUSED

XII SAGGER'S FIRE LOSS

XIII SINGING A DIFFERENT TUNE

XIV A DANGEROUS GAME

XV A GENEROUS OFFER

XVI MR. BERGMAN'S PLANS

XVII THE ENGINES ARRIVE

XVIII THE PARADE AND PICNIC

XIX WINNING THE TRUMPET

XX A FALSE ALARM

XXI THE MYSTERIOUS MESSAGE

XXII THE STENOGRAPHER'S SUSPICIONS

XXIII A BRAVE RESCUE

XXIV AN ENCOUNTER WITH MUCHMORE

XXV THE MYSTERY SOLVED—CONCLUSION



CHAPTER I

A MIDNIGHT ALARM

"Fire! Fire! Turn out, everybody! Fire! Fire!"

This cry, coming like a clarion call, at midnight, awoke the inhabitants of the peaceful little New England village of Lakeville.

"Fire! Fire!"

Heads were thrust out of hastily-raised windows. Men and women looked up and down the street, and then glanced around to detect the reddening in the sky that would indicate where the blaze was. Timid women began sniffing suspiciously, to learn if it was their own homes which, unsuspectingly, had become ignited.

"Fire! Fire! Stimson's barn is burning! Fire! Fire!"

A man ran down the principal village street, shouting as he ran. At some doors he paused long enough to pound with his fist, awakening the dwellers who had not heard his call, for he was Rodney Stickler, the town constable and watchman, whose duty it was to sound the fire alarm, and summon the bucket brigade, in the event of a blaze.

"Hurry up!" Constable Stickler shouted, as he ran from house to house, striking with his fist on the doors of the residences where the members of the bucket brigade lived. "The barn is 'most gone! Fire! Fire!"

Men jumped from bed, pulled on shirts, trousers, and shoes or boots, and thus scantily attired, rushed forth to do battle with the flames.

In a small cottage, near the end of the village street, a lad, hearing the midnight alarm, got up and hurried to the window. He could make out the short, stocky form of Constable Stickler rushing about. Then, off to the left, he could see a dull glow in the sky. There was, also, the smell of wood burning.

"What is it, Herbert?" asked a woman's voice from another room.

"Fire, mother," replied Herbert Dare. "Mr. Stickler is giving the alarm."

"Whose place is it? I hope it isn't around here. Oh! fire is a dreadful thing! Where is it, Herbert?" And Mrs. Dare put on a dressing-gown and came into her son's room.

"I think he said it was Mr. Stimson's barn, mother. I can see a blaze over in that direction."

"Mr. Stimson's barn? He has a fine lot of cattle in it. Oh, I hope they save the poor creatures!"

Herbert, or, as he was usually called by his chums, Bert, grabbed up his clothes from a chair, and began to sort them in the darkness, looking for his trousers.

"What are you doing, Herbert?" asked his mother.

"I'm going to dress."

"What for?"

"I'm going to the fire."

"Herbert! Don't go! You might get hurt. Suppose some of the horses should run away and trample on you? Don't go!"

"I must, mother. They'll need all the help they can get. I must go!"

From the village street once more came the alarm.

"Fire! Fire! Fire!"

Now, however, more voices were shouting it. There was also the rush of feet, and Bert, peering from the window, saw a crowd of men and boys, many of them carrying buckets, hastening along. The glare in the sky had become brighter.

"I'm going to dress and go, mother," said the boy. "I want to aid all I can. We'd like help if our house was on fire."

"Oh, Herbert! Don't suggest such dreadful things!"

Mrs. Dare left her son's room, and in a few minutes he had dressed sufficiently to go out.

"Now do be careful, Herbert," called his mother, as he ran downstairs. "If anything should happen to you, I don't know what I'd do."

"I'll be careful."

Herbert Dare was the only son of a widow, Mrs. Roscoe Dare. Her husband had died several years previous, leaving her a small income, barely sufficient to support herself and her son. It may be added here that Mr. Dare had been a city fireman before his marriage. This, perhaps, accounted in a measure for the interest Herbert took in all alarms and conflagrations.

"It certainly looks like a big fire," thought the boy, as he broke into a run down the street. He soon caught up with the crowd hastening to the blaze.

"Hello, Bert!" shouted a lad to him. "Going to help put the fire out?"

"If they need me, Vincent. I see you have your bucket."

"Yep," replied Vincent Templer, one of Bert's chums. "It's dad's. He belongs to the bucket brigade, but he's away from home, and I took it."

"I wish I had one."

"Oh, I guess they'll have plenty at the barn."

"They'll need 'em, for it looks as if it was pretty well on fire."

The reflection of the blaze was now so bright that objects in the street could be plainly seen, and faces easily distinguished at a considerable distance.

"There's Cole Bishop!" said Bert to his chum, pointing to another lad, who was running along, evidently much out of breath, as he was quite fat.

"Hello, Cole!" called Bert.

"Hello—Bert! Goin'—to—the—fire?" came from Cole, with a puff between each word.

"Naw, we're goin' to a Sunday school picnic," replied Vincent, who was something of a joker.

"Humph! Funny—ain't—you!" remarked Cole.

The boys continued to speed on toward the burning barn, which was one of the buildings belonging to Anderson Stimson, a farmer, and located just on the edge of the village. The crowd had increased, and several score of people were on their way to the conflagration.

"They'll—have—a—hot—time—putting—out—that—fire," spoke Cole, with labored breath. "They—only—got—buckets."

"That's all they've had in Lakeville since the time it was founded by Christopher Columbus," remarked Vincent. "It's a good thing we don't have many fires."

"If I had my force pump I could show—show—'em—how—to—squirt— water," said Cole, who had begun the first part of the sentence very fast, but who had to slow down on the last section. He was almost completely out of breath.

"Why didn't you bring it along?" asked Bert.

"Huh! How—could—I—when—it's—fast—on—the—cistern?"

That argument was, of course, unanswerable. Cole Bishop was a lad quite fond of mechanics, and was usually engaged in making some new kind of machinery. His force pump was his latest effort, and he was quite proud of it.

"Say! I should think it was burning!" suddenly exclaimed Bert, as he and his chums turned a corner of the street and came in full view of the blazing barn. The structure seemed enveloped in flames, great tongues of fire leaping high in the air, and a black pall of smoke hovering like an immense cloud above it. "They can't save that!"

"Guess not!" added Vincent. "What good are buckets in a blaze like that? You can't get near enough to throw the water on."

"Wish—I—had—my—force—pump," panted Cole.

By this time the boys had joined the crowd that was already at the scene of the fire. The heat could be felt some distance away.

"Come on, everybody with buckets!" cried Constable Stickler, who sometimes assumed charge of the bucket brigade. "Form a line from the horse trough to the barn. Pass the full buckets up one side and the empty ones down the other. Let the boys pass the empty buckets an' the men the full ones."

"Let's form two lines for full buckets," proposed another man.

"We'll need three," put in a third individual.

"Who's runnin' this here fire, I'd like to know?" inquired the constable indignantly. "Git to work now."

"Yes, I guess they'd better, or there won't be any barn to save," spoke Bert.

The flames were crackling furiously. The crowd was constantly increasing, and nearly every man had a bucket or pail. Some had brought their wives' dishpans, as they could not find their pails in the darkness and confusion.

"Come on, Bert, let's get in line," suggested Vincent.

"Yes—let—me—git—to—a—place—where—I—can—rest," begged Cole.

"Here, I'll help," added John Boll, another of Bert's chums.

"I'd rather pass the full buckets," said Tom Donnell.

"Now then, everybody begin to pass," cried the constable, who had his men in some kind of shape. There were three lines extending from the burning barn to the horse trough, some distance away. The trough was fed by a pipe, running from a spring, and there was plenty of water.

"Dip an' pass," cried the constable, and the word went along the lines. Men standing near the trough dipped their pails in, handed them to the person standing next, and so, from hand to hand went the dripping buckets of water. At last the pail reached the end of the line, and the man nearest the blaze proceeded to throw on the quenching fluid.

But here a new difficulty presented itself. The blaze was so hot that no person could approach close enough to make the water effective. The whole front of the barn was in flames.

"This ain't going to be no good!" exclaimed one of the men on the end of a line up which the full buckets traveled. He tried to throw the water on the flames, but, approaching as close as he dared, he could not come within ten feet of the fire.

"I should say not," agreed his companion.

"Hey! What's the matter?" called the constable. "Why don't you throw the water on the flames, instead of on the ground?"

"Let's see you do it," was the angry answer.

"We'll have to go around to the back, and throw the water on there," was the advice of a tall, lanky farmer.

"What good'll that do?"

"Wa'al, we can't do no good here."

"That's so," was the general agreement.

The lines began to shift, to get out of the heat of the blaze. Meanwhile, those at the trough, not understanding what was going on, continued to pass up the full buckets, but as no one gathered up the empty ones to pass back, the waiting line of boys had nothing to do. Several began to leave, to get in a position where they could view the blaze better.

"Here, where are you boys going?" demanded Constable Stickler, who was running back and forth, not knowing what to do.

"There isn't anything for us to do," replied Bert. "We can't save that barn with buckets. We'd better help get some of the machinery and cattle out."

"That's right," added Vincent, and several men agreed with this.

"You—ought to have my force pump," spluttered Cole Bishop, who had now recovered his breath.

"Pass up the buckets! Pass the buckets!" was the cry that now came from the line of men, that had been extended to reach around to the rear of the barn, where, for the time being, there was no fire. "Pass the buckets!"

"Yes, pass the buckets!" shouted the constable. "Here, boys, come back to your places!" For a number of the boys had left, and there were long gaps in the line.

"Can't something be done to save the barn?" cried Mr. Stimson, who had been rushing back and forth, mainly engaged in carrying out some valuable harness from the blazing structure.

"We're tryin' to," replied the constable.

"Are all the cattle out?" asked Bert.

"Cattle? Land, no; I forgot all about them!" exclaimed the farmer. "I was busy taking my valuable harness out, and saving some of my deeds and mortgages in the house. I'm afraid that'll go next!"

"The house is in no danger as long as the wind keeps this way," said Bert, "but the cattle are. How many are in the barn?"

"Five horses and six cows. The cows are in the lower part. They're in no danger yet, but I guess the horses are done for. I forgot all about 'em!"

At that moment a shrill cry, almost like a human being in agony, rose above the crackle of the flames.

"Those are the horses!" cried Bert. "Come on! We'll try to save 'em!"



CHAPTER II

IN PERIL

Accompanied by several men and boys, Bert ran toward the barn. The whole front, and part of the roof, were now blazing. The structure was beyond saving, as far as anything the bucket brigade could do, but the members of that primitive fire department did not stop.

The buckets were passed from hand to hand, but such was the haste that a full bucket seldom reached the end of the line. Usually about half the fluid was spilled. And what little did get there was merely tossed against the side of the barn that was not yet burning, though from the way it was smoking it would evidently not be long before it burst into flames.

Once more came the frightened neighing of the horses, tied in their stalls. Their cries were weird and terrifying, for a horse seldom gives expression to its fear in that manner.

"You can't get 'em out!" called Constable Stickler, who had heard what had been said. He left his supervision of the bucket brigade and ran alongside of the boy. "The fire's all around 'em. You can't get 'em out!"

"Well, I'm going to try," declared Bert.

"My fine horses!" exclaimed Mr. Stimson. "This means a terrible loss to me!"

"Is the barn insured?" asked the constable.

"Yes, but my stock ain't. Oh, this is a terrible calamity! An awful misfortune!"

Bert approached as closely as he dared to the blazing front of the barn. Clearly no one could enter that way. But he knew the structure well, for he had once helped Mr. Stimson get in his hay, when a shower was threatened.

"Come around to the side door!" he called to those who followed him, and, such was the effect of his leadership, that no one now thought of questioning it. In times of excitement one cool head can do much, and Bert was cool.

Beside the main entrance to the barn, which was up an elevated driveway, there was a door opening into a sort of basement, and from that, by means of stairs, the main floor of the barn, where the horses were, could be reached. This door was locked, but Bert smashed the fastening with a big stone, since Mr. Stimson was too much excited to remember where the key had been placed.

"Come on!" cried the boy.

"You can't take the horses down these stairs," said the constable, as he and several other men followed Bert.

"No. Don't try it," added the farmer. "They'll break their legs."

"I'm not going to," said Bert. "Couldn't if I wanted to. The stairs are too narrow and steep. Hey, Cole," he called to his chum, who with Vincent had left the now utterly useless bucket brigade lines, "you slip around and let out the cows. Mr. Stimson, you'd better show him."

"That's right. We'll git the cows out!"

The cows were kept in the basement of the barn, the entrance to it being on the other side, level with the ground. The flames had not eaten down, as yet, and the cows were found patiently chewing their cud. It did not take long for Mr. Stimson and his neighbors to get them out.

With the horses it was a more difficult matter. These highly nervous animals, half maddened by the fire, were running about, having now broken their halters, and they could be heard trampling on the floor overhead. Part of the floor was burning, and the animals were confined by the flames to one side of the barn.

"You'll never git them out," prophesied the constable.

Indeed, Bert was beginning to have his own doubts. But he had a plan which he wished to try.

"Come on, Vincent," he called to his chum. "You know how to handle horses, don't you?"

"Sure."

By this time the two boys and the constable had reached the head of the stairs, and were inside the barn, on the main floor. Fortunately the flames were not yet near the stairway.

"Look out for the horses!" yelled Mr. Stickler. "They're crazy with fear!"

The animals certainly were. Back and forth they rushed as the shifting flames and smoke drove them from place to place. The interior of the barn was becoming hotter and hotter. Most of the front had burned away, and through it, wreathed in flames and smoke as it was, those inside could look out and see the wondering crowd gathered before the structure.

"Goin' to drive the horses through?" asked Vincent.

"No. They'd never cross those burning embers," replied Bert, pointing to where pieces of blazing wood had fallen across the threshold of what had been the big doors of the barn. There was a wide zone of fire, and from it the frightened horses shrank back, though, once or twice, they seemed about to make a rush across it to safety.

"How you goin' to do it?" asked the constable.

"Look out!" suddenly called Vincent. "They're coming right for us!"

The maddened creatures, frightened by a puff of smoke that surged down from the now blazing roof, charged, like a small troop of cavalry, right at the two boys and the man.

"Down into the stairway!" cried Bert, making a dash for the place they had just come up. They reached it just in time. The horses thundered past, huddled together, avoiding by instinct the narrow, steep stairs, down which, had they stumbled, they would have met their deaths.

"Now's our chance!" cried Bert. "While they're in the far end of the barn!"

"What are you going to do?" asked Vincent.

"Open those other big doors!"

The barn had two sets of large doors. Only one pair was used, however, those up to which the elevated driveway led. The others were to give air to the place, when hay was being stored away, and they opened right into the cow-yard, ten feet below, with a sheer drop over the threshold.

"Do you think those horses will jump out there?" asked the constable.

"I think they will, rather than burn to death."

"But the jump will break their legs."

"Not a bit of it. The cow-yard is soft and mucky. They will sink down in it, and the men can lead them out. Come on, Vincent, help me open the doors." Bert's plan was now evident, and it seemed feasible. But would the frightened horses leap to safety?

Running up from the stairway, in which they had crouched when the horses thundered past, the two boys hurried across the barn to the big doors. Constable Stickler called out:

"I'll go and send some men around to the cowyard."

"All right," replied Bert.

He and Vincent were almost at the doors when, once more, the horses came at them with a rush. The boys were in great peril, but Bert saw their chance of safety.

"Jump up on the mowing machine!" he yelled, and he and his chum crawled upon the apparatus just in time. So close were the horses that one of them stumbled over the extended tongue of the machine, and fell. It got up in an instant, however, and joined its companions, that stood trembling in a corner, staring with terrified eyes at the flames that were eating closer and closer. The barn floor was smaller than it had been, for the fire was consuming it, foot by foot.

"Come on, now!" cried Bert, and a moment later he had thrown aside the heavy bar that held the doors in place, and had swung them open. The draft, created by the fire, served to hold them so.

"Now help me drive the horses out," he called to Vincent. "Get behind them, but look out they don't turn on you."

Cautiously the two boys made their way to where the terrified animals were. Their mere movement was enough to send the horses off on the run again. Fortunately the leader smelled the fresh air coming in through the opened doors. The horse paused a moment on the threshold and seemed to be staring down into the partly illuminated cow-yard. Would he jump?

"Go on, old fellow!" called Bert, encouragingly. "Jump! You won't hurt yourself. It's soft mud. Go ahead, old fellow."

Whether the horse understood, or whether the boy's words calmed him, could not be told. Certainly he did jump, after a moment's hesitation, and a glance back at the flames which were coming closer and closer.

The other animals followed in an instant, for they had wanted only a leader. Above the roar of the flames Bert could hear the thud as the horses landed in the soft muck of the cow-yard, ten feet below. Then came a shout as the men rushed forward to secure them.

Bert looked from the big double doors. He could see the horses floundering around. One had fallen down, but none of them seemed to be injured. The valuable steeds had been saved by the lad's ready wit.

"I wonder if there's anything more we can save?" asked Vincent.

"Let's see if we can't shove out the mowing machine," suggested Bert. "If it falls in the muck it can't be damaged much."

The two boys shoved the apparatus to the opened doors. Another shove and it toppled over and out. It landed safely, as they learned later.

"Come on, here are some bales of hay and straw. Might as well save them, too," suggested Bert. "The fall won't hurt them, and the men can roll them out of the way before the flames reach them."

They managed to save several bales, all they could reach; and they also rolled out a carriage, which, as it had the bales to topple out on, falling only a short distance, was very little damaged.

"That's the stuff, boys!" called Constable Stickler, who with a crowd of others was in the cowyard, removing such things as the boys pushed or tossed out, for they found many small objects they could save.

"There isn't much more we can get out," called Bert in answer. "It's getting pretty hot here. Guess we'll have to leave, now."

He and Vincent turned to descend the inner stairs, by which they had entered. As they did so there was a crash, and the forward part of the roof fell in. An instant later the stairway was buried put of sight under a mass of blazing wood.

"We can't get out that way!" cried Vincent. "We're caught in a trap!"

"The big doors!" replied Bert. "We can jump out, just like the horses did."

"That's so! Come on! I guess the mud won't hurt us!" They turned to that side of the barn, but to their horror they saw a stream of fire pouring down over the opening, as a cataract of water flows over the edge of a fall. To escape they would have to jump through the flames.



CHAPTER III

TALKING IT OVER

What had happened was this. There was loose hay and straw in the upper part of the barn. The flames, eating up and along the roof, had burned into this, until the whole mass was ablaze.

Then, as the upper part of the side of the barn, above the big open doors, was burned through, the burning hay and straw began falling into the cowyard. Right down it fell, like a cataract of fire.

It made a pile in the muck of the cow-yard, whence the men had led the horses, wheeled out the mowing machine and carriage, and removed the baled hay and straw.

At first the blazing wisps were extinguished, as the cow-yard was wet, but, as more and more of the hay and straw fell, there gradually grew a pile of blazing hot embers. But, worse than all, was the curtain of fire that shut off escape by the big doors.

"What are we going to do?" asked Vincent, his face white with fear.

"We are up against it," replied Bert, speaking more calmly than would have been possible for most lads. But Herbert Dare was unusually cool- headed, a fact which later stood him in good service.

"Maybe the stairs are safe now," suggested Vincent.

It needed but a look at them to show that they were almost burned away.

"No escape there," decided Bert.

"Isn't there an end door?"

"One, up in the loft, but it's thirty feet from the ground and that's too much of a jump. Besides, we can't get into the loft now. It's a mass of flames."

"Then we've got to jump through the big doors and take our chances with the fire!" declared Vincent.

"Wait a minute," advised Bert.

He looked about him, seeking some means of escape. It would be dangerous to try to leap through the doors. They would fall into a mass of burning straw, which would scar them terribly, as would also the falling cataract of ignited wisps. Yet there was no other way.

Then a daring idea came to Bert. He remembered reading about a man who once escaped in a similar manner from a burning barn.

"Grab up a horse blanket!" he called to Vincent. There were several scattered about the barn, and they were of heavy wool.

"I've got one," shouted Vincent. At the same time Bert found a large one.

"Dip it in water," was the next command.

In one corner of the barn, near the horse stalls, there was a pump, at which were filled the pails to water the horses when they were in the barn. There was water in one pail now.

Bert dipped his blanket in, and drew it out dripping wet. But the wool had absorbed most of the water, and there was only a little more left in the pail.

"Here, wrap this about you, and jump!" cried Herbert, passing the wet blanket to his chum, and taking the dry one from him.

"What will you do?"

"Never mind about me! I'll pump some more water. You jump, before it's too late!"

Outside could be heard confused shouting. It was the crowd, calling to the boys to hasten, as the roof was about to fall in. There were anxious eyes waiting for the reappearance of the two young heroes.

"Jump! Jump through the big doors!" yelled Bert, helping Vincent to wrap the blanket about his body, and fairly shoving him toward the only available avenue of escape. "Jump! It will be too late in another minute!"

Above the crackle of the flames could be heard men yelling:

"Come on, boys! Come on! The roof's going!"

With a look at his chum, Vincent pulled the blanket more closely about him, leaving only a small opening near his face through which he could look. Then he ran to the big doors.

Bert stuffed his blanket into the pail, in the bottom of which was a little water. Then he began to work the pump to get more.

He gave one glance, saw his chum leap through the big opening, with the curtain of fire, and then, murmuring a hope that he was safe, he began to work the pump-handle. To his horror no water came. The fire had eaten down into the cow stable, and melted the pipe that ran from the pump to the cistern. No water was available to wet his blanket, on which he depended to save himself from the flames.

"Bert! Bert! Come on! Jump!" he heard some one call.

He caught up his blanket It was merely damp.

"It's got to do!" he murmured. "I'll be scorched, I'm afraid, but there's no help for it! Here goes!"

Wrapping the covering about him, he dashed across the barn floor. It was ablaze in several places under his feet. The cataract of fire was now fiercer than ever over the opening of the big doors. Holding the blanket to protect his head, he took a running start, and jumped.

Straight through the big opening he went, and he heard a confused cheer and shout as he appeared. He felt the hot breath of the fire all about him. He smelled the scorching wool, the burning straw and hay. His nose and mouth seemed full of cinders. He felt himself falling down, down, down. He tried to keep himself upright, that he might land on his feet, but, in spite of himself, he felt that he was turning on his back. He twisted and squirmed, as does a diver who wants to cleave the water cleanly. Oh, how Bert wished he was diving into the old swimming hole, instead of into a fiery mass of straw and hay!

He landed on the ground in a crouching position. He seemed to be smothering in a mass of black cinders that rose up in a feathery cloud all about him. He could hardly breathe.

Then he felt some one grab him—several hands began carrying him forward. An instant later his blanket was unwrapped from his head, and he found himself in the midst of a crowd of men and boys.

"Look out! The blanket's afire!" some one called, and Constable Stickler kicked the burning mass of wool to one side.

Suddenly there was a great crash, and the roof of the barn toppled in. A great shower of sparks arose, and there was a dense cloud of smoke. Then the flames seemed to die down, for there was little left for them to feed on.

"You got out just in time," said Vincent, coming up to Bert, and grasping him by the hand. "Did you get burned any?"

"Just a bit; on one hand. I had to leave it out to hold the edges of the blanket together. How about you?"

"Not a scorch, but I'm wet through from the blanket. It saved me, though."

"The pump wouldn't work," explained Bert. "But come on, let's get out of this. I'm standing in mud up to my knees. Why, the pile of burning straw and hay that was down here seems to be out."

"Yes. I yelled to the bucket brigade that they'd better use the water on this, instead of throwing it against the sides of the barn, where it wasn't doing any good. So they did, and they kept a good deal of the fire down, so's you'd have a good place to land in."

"I owe that to you, Vincent."

"And I owe my wet blanket to you, so we're even. But let's get on dry ground."

The cow-yard, with the natural wetness that always existed there, to which had been added many gallons of fluid from the bucket brigade, was now a miniature swamp.

The boys, followed by an admiring throng, made their way to the front of the barn. All work at attempting to save it had now ceased. Nothing more could be done, and, as all the cattle and horses had been saved, as well as some of the wagons and machinery, it might be said that all that was possible had been accomplished.

"Got to let her burn now," said the constable. "How'd it start, Mr. Stimson?"

"Tramps must have sot it, I guess. Fust I knowed I woke up, an' see th' blaze. Then I sent my boy Tom out to yell."

"Yes, I heard him," replied the constable. "He yelled good and proper. I got right after the bucket brigade." "That's what you did."

"Well, the bucket brigade might as well have stayed in bed for all the good it did," remarked Cole Bishop, who had recovered his usual calmness. "You'd ought to had a couple of force-pumps like mine."

"Oh, you boys clear out," advised the constable. "First thing you know you'll git hurt."

"Huh! I guess if it hadn't been for some of us boys, there'd be a bigger loss than there is," retorted Cole.

"That's so," agreed Mr. Stimson. "Bert and Vincent saved me several hundred dollars by getting out them horses."

"Any of 'em hurt?"

"The bay mare's a little lame, from jumpin', an' the roan gelding is scratched on the fore quarter. But, land! that's nothin'. They'll be all right in a day or two."

"Pretty heavy loss, ain't it, neighbor Stimson?" asked Mr. Peter Appelby, who lived next to the man whose barn was now but a mass of glowing embers.

"Yes, 'tis, but I got insurance. I'm glad it wasn't the house."

"Guess you kin be. Land! but it did go quick! I never see such a fierce fire. I sure thought them two boys would be burned to death," remarked Nate Jackford, another neighbor.

"So did I," admitted Mr. Stimson. "It's been a terrible night."

"But it might have been worse."

"That's so."

There was nothing more that could be done. The horses and cows were taken in charge by several neighbors, who agreed to keep them until Mr. Stimson could build a temporary barn. Then, as there was little more to see, for the barn was now completely consumed, the crowd began dispersing.

"Lakeville ought to have a fire department," said Bert, as he walked home with his chums.

"Yep. They need some force-pumps like mine," agreed Cole. "I got a hose rigged up on it, an' if our house got afire, I could put it out as easy as pie."

"Yes, it's a good pump of yours," admitted Vincent, "but what we need here is a regular pumping engine, and some lines of hose. If we'd had 'em to-night we might have saved the barn."

"The Selectmen of Lakeville are too stingy to appropriate any money for a fire department," said Bert. "I remember once, years ago, when my father was alive, he proposed it, but nothing ever came of it."

"This is a miserly town, anyhow," added Cole. "They never have any Fourth of July celebration."

"That's right," agreed his chums.

Little was talked of in the village the next day but the fire at the barn. Bert and Vincent were praised on all sides, and when Bert appeared in the streets, with one hand bandaged up, where it had been slightly burned, he was congratulated by nearly every one who met him, until he blushed like a girl.

"If Constable Stickler had given the alarm a little earlier, so's the bucket brigade could have got there quicker, we could have saved the barn," said Moses Sagger, the owner of the only butcher shop in town. He was a member of the brigade.

"That bucket brigade could never have put out that fire, Moses," said Peter Appelby. "There wasn't water enough."

"Yes, there was. Didn't we put out the fire at Sim Rockford's, one day, about two years ago?"

"Yes, but that was only his henhouse, when his wife put a charcoal fire in it to keep the hens warm so's they'd lay more. That wasn't much of a blaze. Besides, it was in the daytime, and we had the brook to get water from."

"Well, the bucket brigade's good enough for Lakeville," declared the butcher. "What's the use of talking? I've seen it do good work."

"Well, maybe once in a while. But it can't handle a big fire. We need a regular department, that's what we do."

"What, and increase the taxes to pay for it? I guess not much!" exclaimed Mr. Sagger. "I pay too high taxes now. The bucket brigade is good enough."

"That's the kind of men that keeps Lakeville from growing," thought Mr. Appelby, as he walked off. "He's too miserly to want to pay a few dollars extra each year to support a regular fire department. But we'll have to have one some day."

That day was nearer than Mr. Appelby supposed.



CHAPTER IV

BERT HAS A PLAN

Lakeville was a typical New England village. It was of fair size, and was located on Green Lake, hence the name. There was also a small river which emptied into the lake, and which ran around one edge of the town. Altogether it was a very nice place, but, like many other towns, the principal citizens lacked a progressive spirit.

The town was governed by ten men, called the Selectmen, who were elected each year, and who formed a sort of council. Then there was a mayor. At the time this story opens Mr. Appelby was mayor, and Moses Sagger was chairman of the Selectmen. Mr. Sagger had an ambition to be mayor the next year, and he was working to that end.

"Well, Herbert," said Mrs. Dare to her son at dinner the day following the fire, "I hope you don't get up to go to any more midnight alarms."

"Why, mother?"

"Because I was worried to death about you. I knew you would get hurt, and, sure enough, you did."

"Oh, this burn? That doesn't amount to much. I'm glad I went, for I helped Mr. Stimson save something from the fire."

"Yes, I heard about it. All the neighbors are talking about you. You certainly take after your father, and I am quite proud, though I can't get over how frightened I felt."

"I'm sorry you feel that way, mother, for I was thinking of a plan that might save the village from any more such fires, and I might have to take part in it"

"What do you mean, Herbert?"

"Well, I think the village ought to have a fire department, a volunteer one at least, and I was thinking of organizing it."

"Well, Herbert, you know your poor father used to say the same thing, but he never could get any one to agree with him. The men don't seem to take an interest in such a matter, though I should think they would."

"I wasn't thinking of taking in the men, mother."

"Not take in the men? Whom would you have, then?"

"The boys—my chums."

"What! your friends—the boys you play ball with?"

"Yes. I think we could organize as good a fire department as if we had the men, and I'm sure we could get out quicker on alarms, and could beat the bucket brigade all to pieces."

"I'm afraid that's too big an undertaking for you boys, Herbert. Maybe the men will get together, now, and do something, after this barn fire. Perhaps they'll organize a department."

"I don't believe so. I heard that Mr. Appelby and Mr. Sagger were talking about it, and Sagger and his crowd object to spending the money."

"That's another point, Herbert. You'd have to have money to run a department."

"Not much. You see we boys would serve without pay, and all we'd need would be an engine."

"But engines, even the kind worked by hand-pumps, cost money."

"I know it, but we might get a second-hand one cheap. We could raise the money somehow—get up a show, or have a ball game."

"Perhaps you might, Herbert. But I don't want you running into danger. I'm sure you are thoughtful to take so much interest in the affairs of the town. Your father used to be that way."

"Well, our house might catch fire some day, mother, and if I belonged to the boys' volunteer department, we could put it out for you in a hurry."

"Don't suggest such a thing, Herbert. I'm afraid we'll never have a department here."

"Stranger things have happened, mother. I'm going off now to see some of the boys."

Though this was the first time Bert had spoken to his mother about his plan of organizing a fire department in Lakeville, he had been thinking over the matter for some time. Even before the barn burned down he had had the 'notion in his head, and, when he saw the futile efforts of the bucket brigade, he determined to take some action.

As he strolled down the village street, on the lookout for some of his chums to whom he might broach the subject, he espied Cole Bishop.

"Hello, Bert!" called Cole. "How's your burn?"

"It's getting better. What you going to do?"

"Nothing special. What are you?"

"Same thing, I guess. I was looking for some of the boys."

"What for? Going swimming or fishing?"

It was the vacation season, school having closed about a week previously.

"Well, I wasn't exactly going swimming, but I want to talk about water."

"About water? Say, you ought to see my force-pump. I put some new washers in it, and it'll squirt fifty feet now. Come on over. I wish our house would catch fire."

"You do? What for?"

"Well, I'd show you how to put it out. I've got my pump on the cistern, and some hose ready to attach. It's got the bucket brigade beaten a mile."

"That's what I want to find some of the boys to talk about, Cole. I'm thinking of organizing a fire department."

"A fire department! Say, that's great! I'll belong, and I'll let 'em use my force-pump—no, I can't, either. It's fast to the cistern." "I guess we'd need something a little larger than that, if we have a department," replied Bert, "but you can join, and we'll let you fix the engine pumps when they get out of order."

"Will you, really? Say, that's immense!"

"There's Vincent, now," went on Herbert Dare, as he saw his chum who had aided him at the barn blaze.

"Yes, and John Boll is with him. Hey, John! Hi, Vincent! Here she comes!" and Cole threw a ball high in the air towards the other two boys. John caught and returned it.

"Come on over here," called Cole. "Bert has a great scheme."

The four boys were soon in earnest conversation. Bert told of his plan for getting as many of the village boys as possible to join a volunteer fire department to answer all alarms.

"Where are you going to get the engine?" asked John.

"And where's the money coming from?" inquired Vincent.

"That's all got to be thought out," replied Bert. "Maybe Cole can make us an engine. He makes almost anything."

"That's so," came from John.

"Guess I'll have to wait a few years before I can make a fire engine, though," responded Cole. "But say, I just happened to think of it! They've got a new chemical engine over to Jamesville."

"I don't see how that helps us," said Bert.

"Don't you? Well, listen. If they've got a new engine, they won't need their old hand-pumping one."

"Well?"

"Don't you see what I mean? They'll sell the old machine and we can buy it. It's a good one, and has a fine pump on. All it needs is a little fixing, and I can do that. What's the matter with buying the second-hand engine of Jamesville?"

"Nothing's the matter," returned Bert slowly, "except that we haven't got the money."



CHAPTER V

BUYING THE ENGINE

This announcement served like a dash of cold water to the boys. They had been quite enthusiastic over Cole's plan, but Bert's words made them realize that it was one thing to say what they would do, and another to accomplish it.

"I—I guess we'll have to give it up," said John Boll. "It would be lots of fun for us boys to have a department, but I'm afraid we can't."

"It wouldn't be altogether fun," said Bert, "as we'd have to work hard to put out fires. But I don't know that we'll have to give up the plan. I wanted to talk to you fellows, and see how you felt about it. Perhaps we can raise the money."

"How?" asked Vincent.

"Well, we could give some sort of an entertainment, get up a ball game, and charge admission, and we boys can make some cash doing odd jobs, and put that in the treasury."

"I believe the folks in this town are too mean to come to a show or a ball game, even if it was to help buy an engine, and a second-hand one at that," declared John.

"We'll give 'em the chance," replied Bert. "But, fellows, what do you think of the plan?"

"What plan is it?" asked a new voice, and the boys looked up to see Tom Donnell.

"We're going to have a fire department," declared Cole, and he proceeded to tell what they were discussing.

Tom was enthusiastic over it, as, indeed, were all the boys. Several other lads came along, until there was quite a crowd of them, and Bert was kept busy explaining his scheme.

From his butcher shop near by, Moses Sagger looked at the knot of earnestly talking lads. To him that meant but one thing.

"Them boys is hatching some mischief," he said to his helper. "They're going to play some trick, I'll bet an apple."

"And I guess it's a rotten apple at that," thought Sidney Balder, who worked for Mr. Sagger. "He's too mean to bet a good apple."

"Better keep your eyes open for them boys," went on the butcher. "They'll tip over one of my barrels of potatoes outside, or throw mud in on my floor, or something. Guess you'd better bring in all the stuff from outside, until they go away."

"I don't believe they'll touch anything, Mr. Sagger," declared Sidney, who did not fancy having to bring in all the boxes and barrels from in front of the shop, and take them out again.

"Yes, they will! I know boys! They're always playing tricks. Bring the things in."

So Sidney had to do it, laboring hard, and all to no purpose, for no sooner had he brought the produce in, than Bert and his chums passed on down the street, not bestowing so much as a glance at the butcher shop. They were too occupied thinking of the prospective fire department.

"There, I'm glad they're gone," said Mr. Sagger. "They made me nervous standing there. Put the things out again, Sid."

The boys, at Cole's suggestion, had adjourned to his barn. He had a double object in inviting them. He wanted to have a comfortable place to sit down, while they talked the matter over, and he wanted to demonstrate his improved force-pump.

This pump was the pride of Cole's heart. He had made it out of parts of several old pumps, and, to give him credit, it did throw quite a stream, when the handle was vigorously worked. The boys admired it to his entire satisfaction, and even admitted that it would be of good service if ever Cole's house caught fire.

"Now, let's talk business," Bert proposed. "Cole, do you know about how much the authorities at Jamesville would want for their old engine?"

"I haven't the least idea, but I should think they'd sell it cheap."

"Do you know whether they will sell it?" asked Tom.

"No, not for sure, but I should think they would."

"We can't go by that," declared Bert. "We've got to find out for sure."

"I move that Bert and Cole be a committee to go over to Jamesville, and see if they can buy the engine," sang out Vincent. "That'll start things going."

"Why, we haven't got our fire department yet," objected Charlie Rupert.

"What's the good of a department if you haven't got an engine?" replied Tom Donnell. "I'm in favor of that motion."

"So am I!" cried a number of the boys.

"We haven't regularly organized," said Bert, who was rather pleased at the enthusiasm of his chums, "but I'll be willing to go over to Jamesville and see what we can do. Cole can look at the pumps, and see if they will work well."

"Yes, they can't fool me on pumps," declared the owner of the improved forcing apparatus on the family cistern.

Thus it was decided, though there was enough more talk about it to fill several books the size of this one. Bert and Cole promised to go over to Jamesville the next day, and report back to their chums, in Cole's barn, the following night. Jamesville was a village about five miles from Lakeville, but more progressive in every way than its neighbor.

Bert and Cole made the trip the next day. They inquired at the Jamesville post-office as to whom they might approach in the matter of buying the second-hand engine, and were referred to the chief of the small fire department.

That individual received the boys cordially. He was a man much interested in fighting fires, and he was justly proud of the new chemical engine the town had purchased.

"Will they see the old engine?" asked Bert anxiously, after they had been shown the new one.

"Yes, the town committee voted to dispose of her to anybody that wants her."

"How much?" And at the question the hearts of the boys beat anxiously.

"Sixty dollars, and it's very cheap. It cost three hundred when new. It's got double-acting pumps, and there's two hundred feet of good hose. It's dirt cheap."

It was. Cole, who knew something of machinery, admitted this, and Bert had hardly hoped to get anything in the shape of an engine for less than seventy-five dollars.

"Do you boys want to buy it?" asked the chief, for Bert had told him the object of their visit.

"We did, but we haven't the money. Could the engine be held for us, for a few weeks?"

The chief looked thoughtful. Then he told the boys he hardly believed this was possible, as it was not certain they could raise the cash, and, in the meantime, a sale to some other party might be lost.

But the chief sympathized with the boys. He took them around to the chairman of the town committee, and the result of the visit was that the official agreed to hold the engine for a week for the Lakeville boys. If they could raise twenty dollars by that time they could take the engine, and agree to pay the rest in installments.

Bert and Cole talked the matter over. They thought this was possible, and they agreed to it. The result was they hurried back to Lakeville, with a written option on the engine, good for one week.

Their chums were hastily summoned, the matter talked over, and the boys went down in their pockets for whatever small sums they had saved up. The total was only eight dollars, but Bert proposed that they get up an exhibition ball game and charge admission.

This was done, and, by hard work, doing all the odd jobs they could find, the boys just managed to raise the twenty dollars, having made seven at the ball game.

"Let's get right over to Jamesville, the first thing in the morning," proposed Cole, after the contest was over and he and Bert were counting up the proceeds. "Maybe they'll sell it to some one else."

"Our time isn't up for two days."

"I know; but they might forget. Well start early."

They did, and before noon had completed arrangements, paid the twenty dollars, signed an agreement to pay forty more, and were told they could take the engine.



CHAPTER VI

THE FIRST RUN

"How are we going to get it home?" asked Cole, as he and Bert, with the Jamesville fire chief, went out to look at the hand engine. It was in a shed, back of the place where the new chemical machine was housed.

"Can't you borrow a horse and drive it over?" asked the chief.

"No; let's get the fellows over here and pull it back to Lakeville," proposed Bert. "That'll be fun. We'll wake up our old town by parading through it."

"That's the idea," agreed the chief. "Your citizens need stirring up, anyhow. That was quite a fire you had over there the other night. If you'd had a chemical engine like ours that blaze could have been put out."

"That's what it could," replied Cole.

"I had a visit from one of your men the other day," went on the chief.

"Who?"

"Mr. Sagger. He wanted to know, in case they had a bad fire in Lakeville, if we'd lend 'em our engine."

"What did you tell him?" asked Bert.

"I said we were always willing to help our neighbors, but that we wouldn't lend our new engine. I asked him why they didn't have some sort of a department, instead of a bucket brigade, but he said they were poor, and couldn't afford it."

"Why, he's worth lots of money," declared Cole. "He could support a department himself, and never miss the cash!"

"Did he say anything about our boys' department?" asked Bert.

"Yes, he mentioned it; but he laughed at it. Said it was only a lark of you lads, and would never amount to anything."

"We'll show him!" exclaimed Cole. "Maybe he'll be glad of our service, some day."

"I like the spirit you boys show," went on the chief. "If I can help you, give you advice, or anything like that, why, don't hesitate to call on me."

They thanked him, and promised that they would. Then they again began to discuss how to get the engine back, and finally decided to get their chums, make a trip for it, and haul it back in triumph that afternoon.

A hand fire engine, as probably many of my young readers know, is just what the name implies. In the days before steam engines were invented, one manner of putting out fires was by hand engines.

The hand engines of those days, and the one which the Lakeville boys had purchased, was nothing more or less than a big tank on wheels, with a pump to force the water from the tank through a hose. The water was poured into the tank by pails, so that a sort of bucket brigade was really necessary. Then there was needed many pairs of strong arms to work the pump handles, or "brakes," as they were sometimes called.

These handles were quite long, and usually there were two of them, arranged something like those on a hand-car, used by construction gangs on a railroad. There was thus room enough for several men or boys to take hold of the poles on either side of the engine.

Sometimes those working the handles stood on the ground, or, in case of a large engine, like the one the boys had purchased, on top of the water tank. The water was poured into the tank at one end and forced out at the opposite end, through the hose. On some engines there were two lines of hose, and very powerful pumps, but, of course, the efficiency of the engine depended on the amount of water it could throw, and this, in turn, depended on how fast the bucket brigade could fill the tank.

When the tank was full and sturdy arms were working the long handles up and down, there was a steady clank-clank to the pump, and a stream could be thrown for some distance. The engine was hauled to fires by means of a long double rope, which, when not in use, could be reeled up, as could also the hose.

Some of those old hand engines were very elaborate affairs, with brass work and shiny lamps on them, and they were gaily painted. The one the boys had purchased had been a fine machine in its day, but was rather battered now. Still, it was in good working order, and had a long length of hose.

"I'll tell you what let's do," suggested Cole, as he and Bert were on their way to Lakeville, to get their chums; "let's wait until after dark to bring it into town, and then we can light the lanterns on the machine," for there were four, one on each corner.

"Good idea!" replied Bert. "We'll do it. And we'll march down the main street, singing. I guess that will make a stir."

The plan met with instant endorsement on the part of their chums. They got together as many boys as they could, and late that afternoon the crowd went to Jamesville. The engine, which had been put in good shape, was ready for them.

"Look out you don't lose the buckets," cautioned the chief. "They're hanging underneath the tank. Now, boys, good luck, and may your first run be a success."

They thanked him for his good wishes, and the lads, having grasped the long rope, set out, dragging the engine after them. They made good time, and soon were on the outskirts of Lakeville.

"Now, wait until I light the lamps," said Bert, as it was getting dark. "Then we'll start through the town, singing. Sing for all you're worth!"

The boys needed no urging. They were full of enthusiasm over the new plan, and when the lamps were lighted on the old engine they gleamed on the brass work, making it sparkle brightly.

"It looks almost as good as new!" exclaimed Cole. "And them pumps is fine. They're almost as good as my force pump."

"Oh, let up on that force pump, can't you!" asked Tom Donnell. "You'd think it was the only pump in town!"

"It's the only one of that kind," declared Cole, a little hurt that his "patent" should thus be spoken of.

"All ready, now, boys?" asked Bert.

"All ready," was the general response.

They started off. Above the rumble of the wheels of the engine rose their voices in song, and, as they entered the main street of the village, people began to come out to see what the unusual excitement was about, for the purchase of the engine was not generally known, few persons believing the boys were serious in organizing a department. "It's a circus!" exclaimed a little girl.

"Naw, it's one of them Indian medicine shows," declared Moses Sagger, who stood on the steps of his butcher shop.

"Why, it's a fire engine!" exclaimed several men. "However in the world did the boys get it? They must have borrowed it to have some fun with!"

"More likely took it without permission," said Mr. Sagger. "Somebody ought to tell Constable Stickler."

Down the street marched the proud boys, singing at the tops of their voices, the lamps showing off the engine to good advantage.

"Well, I must say those young chaps have a lot of gumption!" declared Mr. Appelby. "I wonder if they're going to keep the engine?"

"I wish there was a fire—I mean a little one, that wouldn't do much damage," said Cole. "I'd like to show 'em how she works."

"We might have arranged a bonfire in some lot and given an exhibition," suggested Bert, "We'll do that, after we have our company regularly organized."

But the boys were destined to give an exhibition before they anticipated it.

From down toward the end of the village street there came a cry.

"Fire! Fire! Fire!"

It was Constable Stickler's voice.

"Fire! Fire!" he yelled. "Kimball's haystack is on fire! Turn out the brigade!"

It was a quiet evening, and his voice carried a long distance. The boys heard it plainly.

"Come on, fellows!" cried Bert. "Here's our chance! The engine is in good working order, and we'll have our first run!"



CHAPTER VII

BERT SAVES A TRAMP

The boys needed no further call. With whoops and yells they began to haul the engine rapidly in the direction of the fire, the reflection of which could already be seen.

"Come on!" cried Mr. Sagger, to several of the bucket brigade. "We must put out the fire. Come on, men!"

He caught up his bucket from the corner where he kept it. Other villagers did likewise, and soon there was quite a throng headed for the burning haystack.

"Leg it, boys! Leg it!" cried Tom Donnell. "Don't let those fellows of the bucket brigade get ahead of us!"

"If-they-do-we-can-beat-'em-by-squirting-more-water," panted Cole Bishop. "But-say-fellows-go-a little slower-I can't-run-much farther."

Indeed, he was out of breath, for the long tramp from Jamesville had tired him.

"Jump up on the engine, Cole," proposed Bert. "We can pull you. We'll make you engineer, and the engineer always rides on the machine."

"All—right," responded Cole, gratefully. He scrambled up on the apparatus, and, with a shout and cheer, the boys were off faster than before, for Cole had been a hindrance rather than a help, in pulling the apparatus, as he could not go fast.

"Fire! Fire!" shouted many voices, taking up the cry of the constable.

This brought out nearly all the members of the bucket brigade. The blaze was now brighter.

"Where we going to get our water?" asked John Boll of Bert, as he raced alongside of his chum, both dragging on the rope.

"In the brook. It runs right past Kimball's place, and we can form a line of buckets right down to it and up to the engine."

Mr. Kimball's place was on a side street. He had a house and a small barn. The latter building was not large enough to store his hay in, so he kept the stuff in a stack outside.

"Come on! Come on!" Constable Stickler could be heard yelling. "The barn'll catch pretty soon."

"We're coming!" replied Bert.

"For th' love of tripe! What's that?" cried the constable, as he caught sight of the engine.

"The Lakeville Fire Department!" responded several boys.

"Humph!" exclaimed the constable. "Don't you boys go to interferin' with the bucket brigade. I won't have it. The bucket brigade is the regular department for this town."

"The only thing the matter with it is that it can't put out any fires," was the retort from John Boll. "Let's show 'em how we do it, boys."

On the way from Jamesville, Bert and Cole, who had been instructed by the chief of that department how to operate the engine, imparted this information to their chums. So, though the lads had never before worked a hand engine, they felt that they could make a good showing.

"We'll have to hustle, boys," called Bert to his little force. "That bucket brigade will have it in for us, and they can handle a haystack fire pretty good. Let's show 'em how we do it."

By this time they had turned down the side street to where the burning hay was. The flames had mostly enveloped it, and Mr. Kimball and his two sons were vainly dashing pails of water at the base of the ignited pile.

"Run the engine right down to the brook," said Bert. "We won't have to pass the water so far then. As soon as it stops I'll unreel the hose and Cole will call for some fellows to jump up and work the handles. Don't have any disputes. The rest will pass buckets, and John Boll and Tom Donnell can handle the nozzles. I'll pass water, this time."

The post of honor, of course, was at the nozzles, of which there were two. Next to that came being at the handles, or brakes, while the hardest work and probably the least spectacular was passing the water. Bert deliberately selected this, as he knew putting out the fire depended entirely on the water, and he did not want it said that he chose the best position, as he wanted plenty of lads to assist him with the buckets.

"This way, bucket brigade!" called Mr. Sagger, who acted as a sort of chief at times.

"Here you are with the engine," cried Bert, in opposition. "Right down to the brook, boys!"

"Form lines!" directed Mr. Sagger. "Pass buckets."

Bert and his chums ran the engine close to the stream of water. Then Burt unreeled the two lines of hose, and gave them in charge of Tom and John. Cole was busy oiling the brake bearings and calling for ten boys to assist him. The others, with Bert, grabbed the buckets from where they hung underneath the tank, and ran toward the brook.

In less than three minutes from the time they had the engine in place, the boys at the handles could pump water, so quickly was the tank partly filled.

"Now, boys, keep her as near full as you can," advised Bert.

There were many willing hands. Into the tank splashed pail after pail of water. Up and down went the long handles, with a "clank-clank." The flattened lines of hose filled out as the water squirted through them, and an instant later, out from the nozzles spurted vigorous streams, which Tom and John aimed at the blazing stack.

There was a loud hissing, as the water struck the hot embers, and a great cloud of steam arose.

"That's the stuff!" cried Bert, from his position near the brook. "We'll have it out in a few minutes."

"Pass the buckets faster!" cried Mr. Sagger. "Douse out the fire!"

The members of the brigade had not been idle. They had formed two lines, one for the empty and one for the filled pails, and the end man at the latter line was kept busy tossing gallon after gallon of water on the fire. But his was slow work compared with that of even the primitive hand engine. He had to stop, momentarily, after each bucketful, to reach for another and to toss aside the empty one.

Then, again, he could only throw water on one spot at a time, and this only a short distance above the ground, whereas most of the fire was near the top. But the hose lines could be aimed to send the water high into the air, whence it descended in a shower, wetting the stack all over.

Such vigorous treatment could have but one effect. In a little while the fire was under control, save at one place, and this was opposite the line formed by the bucket brigade. The young firemen had refrained from directing water from their lines there, as they did not want to wet the men.

"Douse the blaze there!" cried Mr. Kimball, as he saw that in spite of the good work of the boys much of his hay might yet be burned.

"Don't you dare do it!" cried Mr. Sagger to John and Tom. "We can put this out."

"Why don't you do it, then?" inquired the owner of the hay. "You've been long enough at it. Here, I'll do it."

He made a grab for the nozzle Tom held, and in doing so doused Mr. Sagger.

"I'll have you arrested for that!" cried the butcher. "You done it on purpose!"

"Wa'al, I'm going to have this fire out!" replied Mr. Kimball, and a few seconds later, with the aid from the other nozzle, the blaze was comparatively out. It still smouldered a bit on top, but a few sprinkles from a hose quenched that.

"Fire's out!" cried Cole, from his place on top of the engine. "How's that for the new department?"

"Boys, you're all right!" exclaimed Mr. Kimball. "There ain't more than half my hay burned. If I'd waited for that bucket brigade it would all be gone!"

"That's not so!" cried Mr. Sagger. "We'd have had it out in five minutes, if those lads hadn't interfered with us."

"That's right," added several men, who did not like the praise accorded to the young fellows.

In spite of the good work they had done, there was not the best of feeling toward the boys on the part of the members of the bucket brigade. But on unprejudiced observers the work of the young firemen made a good impression, and they were warmly praised.

Quite a crowd had collected around the engine, examining it by the light of the four lanterns. All the boys were there save Bert, and he had remained near the brook to gather up some of the engine buckets that had been dropped there.

As he was picking them up he saw some one crossing the little bridge that spanned the stream, over a hole that was quite deep. The bridge had no side rails, and the figure, which was that of a man, seemed to be unfamiliar with this fact.

As Bert watched he saw the man sway toward the edge, and, an instant later, topple over into the water, where there was quite a swift current.

"Help! Help!" the man cried. "I'm drowning!"



Bert hesitated only long enough to toss off his coat and in he plunged. He could just make out the head of the man, being swept under the bridge, and he swam rapidly toward it. An instant later he had caught the man by his rather long hair and was pulling him toward shore.

"You—you saved my life!" gasped the rescued one, as soon as he was on the bank and could speak, for he had swallowed some water. "I can't swim."

"Oh, I guess you'd have been all right," said Bert. "It is shallow a short distance below here, and you could have waded out."

"No," said the man, rather solemnly; "I'd have gone to the bottom and stayed there. I'm that unlucky."

He seemed quite affected and spoke sadly. Then, by the distant gleam of the lanterns on the engine, Bert saw that the man was ragged and quite unkempt. In short, he was a tramp.

"Where are you from?" asked Bert.

"From New York. I was asleep under that haystack, and I woke up to find it on fire."

"Were you smoking there?" asked Bert, suspiciously.

"No," replied the tramp, so earnestly that Bert believed him. "I don't smoke. But I was traveling with a fellow who did. Maybe it was his pipe that set the fire. He ran off, and I stayed around to see you boys put out the fire. You did it in great shape. I started to cross the bridge and I fell off. I'm weak, I guess. I haven't had anything to eat all day."

"Where are you going?" asked Bert, for he felt a sympathy for the man. No one else had been attracted to the scene, as every one was too much interested in the new engine to leave it.

"I don't know," replied the man, despondently, "I'm looking for work."

"What do you do."

"I'm a stenographer and typewriter, but there are so many girls at it now that a man can't get living wages. So I decided to become a tramp. I wanted to get out doors, because my health is not good. But I can't get anything to do, except very heavy tasks, and I'm not able to do them."

"I'll see if I can't help you," proposed Bert. "Come with me. I can give you a bed for the night."

"No, you've done enough for me. You saved my life, and I'm grateful. Some day, maybe, I can return the favor. I'll go on now. If I stayed around here they might arrest me on suspicion of setting the hay on fire. I'll keep on. Maybe something will turn up."

"Then take this money," said Bert, handing the tramp a quarter. "You can get something to eat with it."



CHAPTER VIII

ON THE LAKE

The tramp seemed overcome by emotion. He held the quarter which Bert had given him as though he did not know what to do with it.

"It's a good one," said the lad, with a smile.

"Oh, I wasn't thinking that," was the answer. "It—it seems queer to have any one decently civil to me, that's all. I tell you, I appreciate it, young fellow. I've had a hard time of it. Maybe it was mostly my own fault, but I certainly have had hard luck. I can't afford to work for the wages they pay girls, and since I had to give up my job I've been down and out. Nobody had a decent word to say to me—especially since my clothes got to looking so bad."

"I wish I could do something else for you," said Bert. "But I haven't any more money. You see, we boys are trying to pay for that engine."

"Oh, I wouldn't accept any more of your money. It makes me ashamed to take this, when I'm a grown man, and you're but a lad. I tell you, when I fell in the water I didn't much care whether I came up again or not."

"That's a wrong way to feel."

"I know it, and I'm going to get over it. I'm going to make a new start, thanks to you. I'll not forget you. Maybe you'll see me when you least expect it."

With this the tramp turned away, crossed the little bridge, this time in safety, and hurried off across the fields, as he saw several of the boys coming down toward the brook.

"That's a queer tramp," thought Bert. "I wonder if I ever shall see him again?"

He was destined to, and under strange circumstances.

"Hello, Bert!" cried Cole, who was one of the group of boys. "What are you doing here? The fire's all out."

"I know it. I was gathering up the buckets. Guess we'd better get the engine back home—that's another thing we hadn't thought of. Where are we going to keep it?"

"My barn's a good place," replied Cole. "That will give me a chance to fix some of the pump valves. They didn't work just right to-night. Why—hello! You're all wet!" he added, as he came close to his chum, and saw that his clothes were dripping water.

"Yes-er-I-cr-I got in the brook," replied Bert, not caring to tell about the tramp just yet.

"I should say you did get in. Some of the fellows must have left the buckets too close to the edge. But, come on, let's haul the engine back."

Most of the crowd had now dispersed, a few members of the bucket brigade lingering to further examine the engine, while some of them made slighting remarks about it. The boys paid no attention to them, but, taking hold of the long rope, pulled the machine through the main street of the village. The lads found their new fire department increased largely as they advanced, for not a youngster in town, whether or not he had before this taken an interest in the organization, but who was now glad to get hold of the rope and pull.

"Guess we could organize two companies with this crowd," remarked Cole, looking at the throng.

"Yes. We'll have to get together to-morrow or next day and elect officers. Then we'll have to arrange some sort of a plan for answering alarms."

The engine was run into Cole's barn, and the boys crowded around for another observation of it. They actually seemed to hate to leave it to go home to bed. "Say, I guess it isn't going to run away," remarked John Boll, at length. "It'll be here tomorrow and the next day. I'm going home."

This started the boys to moving, and soon Cole shut up the barn, taking extra good care to see that the doors were locked.

"Maybe some members of that jealous bucket brigade might take a notion to run our engine off," he said to himself.

But no such calamity happened, and the machine was safe in the barn in the morning when Cole overhauled the valves and fixed them. Bert and some of his chums called around after breakfast, and they talked fires and engine to their hearts' content.

In the next few days several meetings were held, and the Boys' Volunteer Fire Department of Lakeville was formally organized. Because of his part in starting it, Herbert was unanimously elected captain. There was a little contest as to who should be the lieutenant, but the honor went to Vincent in recognition of his good work at the Stimson barn fire.

Of course, Cole was made engineer, chief mechanic and everything else that pertained to the actual operation of the engine. He was about the only boy who could qualify, for only he could take the pumps apart and get them together again. Tom Donnell was made chief of the "bucket corps," as the boys decided to call that part of the fire-fighting force whose duty it was to keep the engine tank filled with water. The other boys, to the number of a score or more, were made ordinary firemen, to help haul the engine, pass the buckets or work the handles.

There was some dispute as to who would be in charge of the hose, at the nozzle ends, during a fire, and, to get around this, as it was considered a post of honor, Bert decided the boys could take turns. There was something fascinating about directing a stream of water upon a blaze, and it is no wonder that every boy but Cole wanted the place. That is, excepting Bert, and he had all he could take care of with his duties as captain.

It was decided to keep the engine permanently in Cole's barn, as that was near the centre of the village.

"We ought to have some sort of an alarm bell," suggested John Boll. "We can't always depend on Constable Stickler."

"That's so," admitted Bert. "I wonder if we couldn't get permission to have the church bell rung?"

This seemed a good idea, and Bert and Cole interviewed the minister on the subject. He readily agreed to let the bell on the edifice be rung whenever there was a fire, and it was arranged that a long rope would hang from the belfry to the ground outside, where it could be reached by the constable and pulled to give an alarm. Mr. Stickler was delighted with his new office and increased duties.

"I'll have a regular signal system," he explained to the boys, after studying over the matter at some length. He had lost all his antipathy to the engine, and now favored the new fire department more than he did the bucket brigade. "I'll ring the bell once when there's a fire in the northern part of the town," he said; "twice when it's in the east, three times when it's in the south, and four strokes when the blaze is on the west side."

The boys were pleased with this plan, and also delighted that the old constable took such an interest in their work. As for the members of the bucket brigade, they, for the most part, sneered whenever the new department was mentioned.

"Wait 'till they get up against a real fire," said Moses Sagger. "Then we'll see what good their old second-hand engine is. They'll have to depend on the bucket brigade then."

The matter of paying the remaining forty dollars due on the engine worried Bert and his chums not a little, until Cole's father suggested that they charge a small sum weekly for each boy who belonged. As every youth in town was anxious for the honor, it was figured that they could collect at least a dollar a week in this way, since they charged each boy five cents, and there were over twenty. Then, too, at Mr. Bishop's suggestion, they decided to ask a donation from every person whose property they helped save from the flames.

Mr. Kimball, whose haystack was partly saved, heard about this, and sent the boys five dollars. Mr. Stimson, in view of the good work of Bert and Vincent, sent the new department ten dollars, so they began to see their way clear, especially as the Jamesville authorities voted to give the boys as long as they needed to pay for the engine.

For a week or more after the haystack fire there was no occasion to use the engine. It had been put in good shape by Cole, and parts of it had been given a fresh coat of paint, until it looked almost as good as new. Constable Stickler had practiced sending the signals, and the bell could be heard by the boys living in the farthest part of the town. As soon as members of the new fire department heard the signal they were to dress quickly, and hurry to Cole's barn. Thus, with the constable on the watch to detect the first sign of a blaze, the boys were ready to tackle the biggest kind of a conflagration.

One pleasant summer day, Bert and several of his chums were out in a rowboat on the lake. They frequently spent much time on the water, for there was good fishing in it and in the river which flowed into the lake, and they also had much fun swimming.

"Let's row over toward the big cove and have a dip," proposed Bert, who, with Tom Donnell, was at the oars. "It's getting too hot out here in the sun."

All agreed, and soon they were in a secluded part of the sheet of water. Big Cove, as it was locally called, was a sort of bay, almost out of sight from the main part of the lake. To reach it the boys had to row around a point, which extended for quite a distance out into the water. On this point was a boathouse, which was part of the property on which stood an old and what at one time had been a handsome residence. This was on a bluff, overlooking the lake, and was known as the Stockton mansion.

As the rowboat turned this point the boys were surprised to see a small motor craft shoot out from the boathouse.

"Look at that!" exclaimed Bert. "I didn't know there was one of those gasolene jiggers on the lake."

"Me either," added Tom. "Must be a new one. Wonder who's in it?"

"Must be somebody from the Stockton house," said Vincent; "though I didn't know anybody was living there now."

"Yes, there's somebody in it," added John Boll, "but I never knew they had a boat."

"Look out!" suddenly exclaimed Bert. "It's coming right for us!"

Sure enough the motor boat was headed straight for the rowing craft, and it was coming on at top speed. No one could be seen in it, though the engine could be heard puffing.

"It's running away!" cried Tom. "Let's catch it!"

"Let's get out of the way, you mean," called Bert. "Do you want to be sunk in the deepest part of the lake? Pull on your left oar, Tom! Pull! Pull!"

The motor boat was now almost upon the other craft.



CHAPTER IX

A NARROW ESCAPE

"Give a yell!" suggested Vincent.

"What for?" panted Bert, as he struggled with the oars, trying to swing the boat out of danger. "There's nobody aboard to steer the boat out of the way."

But Vincent yelled anyhow, and, to the surprise of the boys, a figure suddenly showed itself in the motor boat. It was that of a man, and he had been lying down in the craft, adjusting some of the machinery while the engine was running.

His sudden exclamation, as he sat up on hearing Vincent's yell, showed that he was not aware how close he was to a collision. He jumped to his feet, leaped forward to the wheel, and with a few quick turns sent his boat to one side.

And it was only just in time, for the freeboard of his craft grazed the extended oars that Tom and Bert had thrust out to dip in the water, in order to further swing their boat around.

"I didn't see you!" exclaimed the man, as his boat rushed past. "I was fixing my engine. I'm sorry!"

"Whose boat is that?" asked Bert.

But the man returned no answer, and in a few seconds he was too far off to enable the boys to repeat the question.

"Do any of you fellows know him?" asked Bert of his chums.

"Seems to me I saw him in the village the other day," replied Tom. "He was buying some stuff in the drug store. He's a stranger in town."

"Wonder what he's doing around here?" asked Vincent. "It's a good thing I hollered when I did, or he'd have punched a hole in us."

"You're right," agreed Bert. "I didn't think there was anybody in the boat. But didn't he come out of the Stockton boathouse?"

"He sure did," replied Tom. "But there hasn't been a boat there in several years. We've been in swimming around here lots of times, and I never saw one before."

"Me either," chimed in several lads.

"And that's a new power boat," went on Bert. "It's a dandy, too. We ought to have a gasolene engine to work our fire apparatus."

"No, we shouldn't!" exclaimed Cole. "Those valves on our pumps wouldn't stand being worked too fast. Our engine is good enough as it is."

"Of course it is. We haven't had much use of it lately, have we?"

"No; but it's all ready when we get an alarm. I oiled her up good yesterday. And I guess the constable is on the job every night. He's as anxious for a fire as we are, for he wants to ring the bell."

"Still, I don't believe any one really wants a blaze," remarked Bert, and then he added: "We can make another payment on the engine this week, and then we'll only owe twenty-six dollars."

"Oh, we'll soon have it paid for," declared Vincent.

By this time the boys had reached the "swimming hole," and, tying up their boat, they soon were undressed and splashing about in the water.

The lads had great fun, playing all sorts of games and tricks, but soon the descending sun warned them that it was time to start for home, and after a "last dive" they donned their garments and began rowing back around the point. They kept a watch for the motor boat, but saw nothing of it, nor did there appear to be any signs of life about the old mansion up on the bluff.

The Stockton house was a source of some mystery to the villagers. The mansion, which, years before, had been the scene of much life and gaiety, was owned by Harris Stockton, who was reputed to be quite wealthy. But one day he had disappeared, saying good-bye to no one, and it was generally supposed he had gone abroad, as he was rather eccentric, and given to going and coming most unexpectedly.

It was thought that the house was deserted, but neighbors frequently saw an old woman about it, after Mr. Stockton had disappeared, and she announced that she was the housekeeper, Sarah Blarcum by name. There was also a young man seen about the premises, and, in answer to questions from inquisitive persons, Mrs. Blarcum stated that the young man was Mr. Stockton's nephew, Alfred Muchmore, who was running the place during his uncle's absence. As to where Mr. Stockton had gone, Mrs. Blarcum did not know, though she said the nephew had given her to understand his uncle was traveling in Europe.

Muchmore was not known to any of the village people, and seemed to keep pretty much to the mansion. He was seen about the grounds occasionally, but Mrs. Blarcum attended to all the marketing.

"Well, Herbert," said his mother that night, "you haven't had much use of your new engine, have you?"

"Not yet; but we will."

"Oh, I hope you don't have to go to any dangerous fires. I'm so afraid you'll get hurt."

"A fireman has to take chances, mother. Father had to do it, remember."

"But you are only a volunteer."

"That's the best kind. I think I'll get the boys together and have a practice run. We need a little drilling. But I'd just as soon an alarm wouldn't come in to-night. I'm dead tired, and I can sleep like a top, after my swim."

"Then if I hear an alarm from the church bell I suppose you don't want me to call you?"

"Of course, I do, mother. But I guess I'll hear the bell if it rings."

But Bert did not, and it was not until his mother had shaken him vigorously, several hours later, that he became aware of the frantic sounding of the fire alarm.

"Herbert! Herbert!" called his mother. "The fire bell is ringing!"

"Dong! Dong! Dong! Dong!"

The bell gave out four quick strokes. Then a pause.

"Dong! Dong! Dong! Dong!"

"It's on the west side of town!" exclaimed the boy, as he reached out and made a grab for his clothes. They were arranged on a chair near his bed, in readiness for quickly putting on; a practice observed by all the young members of the volunteer department.

"Look out of the window, mother, and see if you can discover a blaze, please," directed Bert, as he began to dress.

"Yes, I can see a light off in the west."

"That must be it. Did the bell ring long before you called me?"

"Only once. I was awake and heard it. Now, do be careful, Herbert. Don't get into danger." "I'll not, mother," and, with a kiss for his parent, Bert dashed down the stairs, and ran at top speed for Cole's barn. He saw several of his chums in the street, headed in the same direction.



CHAPTER X

MYSTERIOUS ACTIONS

"Where is it?" asked Bert, of Tom Donnell, whom he joined, almost as soon as he came out of the house.

"I don't know. I heard the four bells. Old Stickler is ringing yet. He didn't lose any time." "No, he didn't. Say, Vincent, do you know where it is?"

"I heard Simon Pierson say, as I ran past his house, a few minutes ago, that he thought it was the Stockton mansion. He can see it from his third floor."

"The Stockton mansion! If that gets going we can't put that out with our little engine."

"Maybe it's only a small blaze."

"I hope so," replied Bert. "But come on. We must run faster than this."

They found quite a crowd of the young firemen at Cole's barn when they got there. Cole had jumped out of bed at the first signal from the bell, and had lighted the lamps on the engine.

"Run her out!" he cried, as Bert and his chums came in sight.

"No, wait a few minutes," directed the captain. "We will need a few more fellows to haul her up the hill, and there's no use going off short-handed.

"But the fire will get too much of a start."

"Can't help it. Might as well not go at all as to go with not enough to work the engine. The bucket brigade would only laugh at us then."

"There's some of 'em now!" exclaimed Cole.

Out in the village street could be heard the tramp of running feet, and a man's voice crying:

"Come on, bucket brigade! We'll beat the new department!"

"Why don't the fellows hurry!" exclaimed Cole. "We'll get left!"

"Here they are!" shouted Tom Donnell, as about ten lads rushed into the barn. They lived on the far side of town, and had come in a bunch to respond to the alarm.

"Grab the rope, boys!" cried Bert. "Don't let the bucket brigade beat us!"

The long double line was run off the reel, and a two-score of ready hands grasped it. Cole, as was his privilege, jumped on the engine to steer, for he had rigged up a tiller wheel on it, since it had been in his barn, and this made it easier to pull, even with his added weight.

"Let her go!" he called, and with a rumble over the barn floor, the apparatus was hauled out, the bell on the engine clanging out a warning.

In the street in front of Cole's house, were several members of the bucket brigade, trying to catch up with the foremost men, who, under the leadership of Moses Sagger, were running toward the blaze.

These stragglers the young firemen shortly left behind, and soon they were almost up to the head of the line of the older fire-fighters.

"It's the Stockton mansion, all right!" cried Cole, as they got to the foot of the hill on which the big house stood. It could be plainly seen now, and flames were shooting from a side window.

"It hasn't got much of a start yet," shouted Bert. "Maybe we can put it out, boys, and save the house. Come on, for all you're worth!"

The lads needed no urging. They reached the burning house almost as soon as did the first contingent of the bucket brigade. Out in the yard was an old woman, wringing her hands, and crying:

"Oh, dear! Oh, dear! We'll all be burned up! The house will be destroyed! Oh, dear! Oh, dear!"

"Where is a well or cistern?" asked Bert, as he signalled his company to halt the engine.

"A cistern? Oh, dear! Here's one! But be careful you don't fall in. It's very deep. Oh, dear! This fire is terrible!"

The flames were gaining headway, but seemed to be only in one part of the house, on the east side.

"Run the engine close to the cistern," directed Bert. "Tom, you and John cut down the clothes line. Fasten some lengths to the buckets. We'll have to dip up the water from the cistern, and pour it into the engine tank. Vincent, you take charge here, and see to the buckets. Cole, get your fellows to the handles! Tom, you and Charlie Sanders take the nozzles! Lively now!"

His orders were promptly executed. In a short time several buckets had long pieces of rope attached to them, by which they could be dropped down into the cistern, when the cover was removed. They could then be pulled up full, and the fluid emptied into the tank.

The hose was unreeled, and with the nozzles in charge of Tom and Charlie, Bert hurried into the house.

"Show us the way to where the fire is," he said to the old housekeeper.

"Right this way! Right this way!" she cried, hurrying into the side door of the house as fast as her tottering legs would carry her. "The fire's in an unused part of the mansion. It's near a chimney flue. Oh, dear! It's awful!"

Bert and his two chums followed her. Meanwhile, the bucket corps was rapidly dipping up water and filling the tank. The boys had not yet begun to work the handles, as Bert had arranged to give a signal, on a whistle he carried, when he wanted the water to begin to flow.

The tank was almost full, and Cole was beginning to wonder when the young captain would signal for the streams. The flames were becoming brighter and brighter, and were now shooting from windows on the side of the house, a big chimney, built up from outside, jutting out between the casements.

"Here, you boys git away from here, and let us git some water!" cried Moses Sagger, as, followed by several men he pushed his way to the cistern. He had been searching all about the premises for a well which the bucket brigade might use, but had not been successful.

"We were here first, and we're going to stay!" declared Vincent.

"That's what!" added Cole. "Besides, you men can't dip up any water unless you put some ropes on your buckets."

"Where are the ropes?" asked the butcher, as he saw the truth of that statement.

"You'll have to find 'em, same as we did," replied Vincent, as he and his chums continued to dip and fill. But the clothes line was all cut up, and there was no more rope in sight, save that by which the engine was hauled.

"Take that rope," suggested one member of the bucket brigade.

"Don't you dare touch that!" cried Cole. "Reel it up, boys, and if they try to take it, douse 'em with water."

"No, we haven't any right to take their rope," spoke a cooler-headed member of the men's fire department. "Come on to the lake, men. We've got enough men to make a long bucket line. There's plenty of water there."

Just then there came a blast from the whistle Bert carried.

"Pump!" yelled Cole. "Pump, boys!"

The lads, who had mounted to the top of the engine tank, began to work the handles with vigor, the flat hose bulged out, and, from the sound of the pumps, the young firemen knew they were sending out two vigorous streams.

"Now, boys, lively!" cried Vincent. "Give 'em all the water they can use!"

Thus it became a good-natured race between the two divisions of the department, one trying to pump as much water as possible, and the other seeing to it that the tank did not become empty. Because of the closeness of the engine to the cistern, and the fact that there was plenty of water in it, the tank was kept more than half full all the while.

Meanwhile, the bucket brigade had been formed, and was passing water from the lake. But, as it had to go, hand by hand in the buckets, up a flight of stairs, very little of the fluid reached the blaze. The fire had been gaining headway. Bert and his two chums had entered a long hall with their hose, and they saw where the floor and woodwork, adjoining the chimney, were on fire.

"Douse her out, boys!" cried Bert, as he signalled for the water. A moment later two big streams spurted from the brass nozzles, and fell with a hiss on the leaping flames.

"I'll take a look around and see if it's breaking out anywhere else," said Herbert. "One stream is almost enough there."

He turned aside, and started to run down another hall, that was at right angles to the one where the fire was. Suddenly a man confronted him, and, even in the excitement, Bert knew him for the individual who had been in the motor boat that nearly ran the boys down.

"Where are you going?" the man asked.

"To look and see if there is a blaze anywhere else," replied Bert.

"Who are you?" inquired the man, who appeared very much excited, more so than the occasion called for, since, as yet, the fire was not beyond control.

"I'm captain of the Boys' Volunteer Fire Department," replied Bert. "Who are you?"

"I'm Mr. Muchmore. I'm in possession of this house, and you can't pass here!"

"But I only want to see if there's another place on fire. We have two lines of hose, and one is enough back there."

"I don't care! You can't pass here!"

Bert wondered at the man's mysterious action, but the boy had no right to dispute the peremptory orders.

"Put out that fire back there," went on Mr. Muchmore, motioning to where Bert had come from. "That is all there is in the house. And don't you dare pass into this hall."

"Very well," replied the young captain, quietly, as he returned to Tom and Charlie.

Just then he thought he saw a flicker of flame beyond where Muchmore was standing. He started forward to investigate.

"Keep back, I tell you!" cried the man, and he thrust Bert to one side so violently that the young fireman hit the wall with considerable force.

"There's no need for you to do that!" Bert exclaimed, highly indignant. "I only want to help put out the fire!"

"You can't come in this hall!" declared the man, and then, before Bert could answer, he turned and ran along it at full speed.

"Well, he certainly acts queer," thought the boy, but, as a second look convinced him that there was no blaze in that part of the house, he returned to his chums.

In spite of their efforts the fire seemed to be gaining.

"See if they can't give us a bit more water!" cried Charlie.

Bert leaned out of a window, and whistled a signal that had been agreed upon, whenever more pressure was needed. The boys at the handles, who had lagged a bit, increased their strokes, and more water was available. A few seconds later Vincent, who had turned his supervision of the bucket corps over to John Boll, came into the smoke-filled hall.

"Can I help you, Bert?" he asked.

"Oh, yes!" exclaimed Mrs. Blarcum, the aged housekeeper, as she stood some distance back, out of the smoke. "There are some valuable paintings in that room, and they ought to be saved. Can you boys get them out?" and she pointed to the door of an apartment just back of where the two lads, with the hose nozzles, stood.

"Sure we will!" replied Vincent. "Come on, Bert. That will be easier than saving horses."

The flames seemed to be eating back, in spite of the efforts of the young firemen, and the aid given by the bucket brigade, which last was not much. They had run up ladders on the outside of the house, near where the flames were, and were throwing water on in that way.

"Why, the door's locked!" exclaimed Vincent, as he tried the knob. "Where's the key?"

"Locked!" repeated Mrs. Blarcum. "I didn't know that. The paintings will be burned, and Mr. Stockton was very fond of them. They cost a lot of money."

"We can break the door in!" cried Bert. "Come on, Vincent!"

The boys prepared to rush at the portal.

"Stop!" cried a ringing voice, and they looked up to see Muchmore hastening toward them. "Don't you dare go into that room!"



CHAPTER XI

SUSPICIONS AROUSED

For a moment the boys hardly knew what to do. They stood looking at Muchmore, who seemed very angry, and also intensely excited.

"We're going to save the pictures" said Vincent.

"There are no pictures in there!" declared the man.

"The housekeeper said so," put in Bert.

"Yes, yes! The valuable paintings belonging to Mr. Stockton!" exclaimed Mrs. Blarcum. "They'll be burned up! The fire is coming this way!"

"I don't care if it is!" fairly shouted Muchmore. "Let the pictures burn. As for you, old woman, if I find you meddling any more, with what doesn't concern you, I'll find a way to stop you! Now clear out!"

The woman shrank back, mumbling to herself, and hastened down the stairs.

"You boys are too fresh!" went on Muchmore. "Why don't you mind your own business?"

"Our business is to put out fires!" declared Herbert. "And that's what we're doing here."

"Then keep out of places where you have no right to enter! There is no fire here!"

"But it may get here soon, and we wanted to save the things," added Vincent.

"Get out!" exclaimed Muchmore, in an angry voice. "Don't you attempt to go into that room. You'd better pay more attention to the blaze."

"The blaze is being attended to all right," replied Herbert. "We've got two streams on it. But if you don't want us to save any goods, I'm sure we don't mind. Come, Vincent, we'll leave."

The two boys, puzzled by Muchmore's queer actions, went back to where their companions were still playing water on the flames.

The fire was now under control, the boys having prevented its spread beyond a small area. Quite a hole was burned in the floor, and the flames had eaten through the side of the house, and burned out two windows. A little more water served to put out the last sparks.

"Guess we're done," said Charlie. "You can signal 'em to stop pumping, Captain Bert," and he laughed, for he was well pleased with his role of fireman. Bert blew the prearranged blasts on his whistle, and the boys at the brakes were glad enough to cease, for their arms ached with the strain. Those drawing water from the cistern likewise welcomed the respite.

"Take up the hose," ordered Herbert, with as much importance as if he was a battalion chief of a big city department.

Tom and Charlie went through the hall, dragging the two lines with them, and the hose was soon reeled back on the engine.

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