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- The Young Firemen of Lakeville - 4/29 -
"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.
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."
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