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9 Sharp Work as Fire Fighters
Don stood spellbound while the huge ball of fire rolled down on the Hyde place. There was a crash that he could hear plainly even at his distance and the burning ball hit the barn. In a twinkling of an eye the wooden structure caught fire.

Then Don came to life. Raising his rifle he fired three swift shots, waking the camp instantly.

The Officer of the Guard rushed up to him. “What is the trouble, Lieutenant?” the cadet panted. But a red glow in the sky told him the story at once.

“Report a large fire at that farmhouse,” said Don. The Officer of the Guard dug for the colonel.

By this time the cadet camp was well lighted by the glare from Hyde’s barn. The colonel saw that hard work was needed and he directed the bugler to sound assembly. This was done, and the half-dressed cadets fell in formation.

“Secure all pails and double-quick it to the farmhouse!” was the order. The colonel knew that in this rural area there was no organized fire department and whatever attempts were made to extinguish a fire always came from helpful neighbors. Instantly, the ranks broke and the commissary department was fairly turned upside down as the soldiers rummaged for pails. When these had been secured they raced down the company street and took the road to Hyde’s house.

Fortunately for them—and for the Hydes—the distance was short. When the first cadets arrived in the front yard the barn was a roaring furnace. Hyde and his two sons were running around the yard in an aimless fashion and as Jim and Terry arrived the three of them dashed into the blazing barn. A moment later they came out, each of them hanging onto squealing, thrashing horses.

“The horses!” cried Jim, and at the word the cavalrymen and the artillerymen formed a body around him. In a mass they rushed the door of the barn. Fighting their way inside past the Hydes, who were coming out, the cadets paused to look about the stable, gasping as the heavy smoke crowded down their lungs.

The inside of the barn was curiously lighted. A pall of heavy smoke hung in the structure, and through this curtain the dull red flames shone and licked. Snapping and crackling sounds reached their ears as the wood burned, and a terrible shrieking, from the terrified horses, went right through them. Blind with fear the animals kicked and screamed.

No word was spoken as the cadets made a rush for the nearest horses. Jim had not put on a shirt, but some of the others had and these they now whipped off, throwing them over the heads of the rearing animals. Jim scooped a blanket up from the rack as he passed and made a cast for the head of a big dray horse in a stall.

But now his troubles began. The horse, wild with fright, avoided the blanket. It kicked at Jim and even snapped, tearing frantically on its halter. The heat was cracking Jim’s skin, the smoke choked him, and the crazy horse made his head ache trying to follow his rapid movements. Worse than that, the halter was tied in a ring on the wall, and the cavalryman was unable to pull it loose. As he was ready to sob with anger his fingers closed over the catch and with a jerk that tore his skin he loosed the rearing horse. Like a flash the animal backed from its stall and tried to find the door.

Now Jim succeeded in getting the blanket over his head and he felt his way to the door. The first breath of fresh air that he got went through him like the stab of a sword. Stumbling at every step he led the trembling horse to a tree far away from the barn and tied him securely. The smell of burning hair jabbed his nose and he knew that the animal had been burned in more than one place.

“I’ve got to go back,” he gasped, gulping the air in huge draughts. “But I can’t, I just can’t!”

But he started back, his feet like lead and his head ready to burst. Before he reached the door of the barn, however, a blackened figure with red hair stopped him.

“They’re all out,” Terry shouted. “And I’m all in!”

Together they sank down on the rude back steps of the farmhouse, entirely played out. While they sat there the bucket brigade was in full swing.

Those cadets who had been fortunate enough to secure buckets had jumped into action without wasting a moment’s time. The vanguard found the well and began to pump vigorously. As soon as the first pail was filled it was passed from hand to hand and the last cadet, running as close to the fire as the heat would allow him to, tossed it on the blaze. By the time he had finished a second cadet had run forward with another pail full. A second contingent of cadets, impatient at waiting around the well, found a small creek back of the barn and the buckets were dipped in here. Two steady streams were now being played in splashes on the blaze.

There was no hope of saving the barn but the work went grimly forward. A mountain of sparks was ascending, threatening the house and the smaller structures near by, to say nothing of the fields and woods. It required a special corps to put out scores of small fires that jumped up in the fields and on the other buildings. But in time the splashing buckets of water kept the sparks down and although the barn burned to the ground the house and smaller buildings were saved.

It seemed to the cadets that they had been working for hours on their task. Numerous neighbors had run over from near-by farms, armed with buckets and blankets, and their assistance was a welcome help. A wheezing old hand-pump on a flat truck was finally run into the yard and the water from the creek was thrown in a more or less uncertain stream on the smoldering embers of the ruins, but had the Hydes been compelled to wait for it and for the neighbors they would have been burned out of the house and home. Clouds of hissing steam rose from the blackened wood as the water was pumped and thrown on it.

Jim and Terry had braced up sufficiently to join the bucket brigade and they passed the pails with the others. Some of the cadets had stormed in the back door of Hyde’s house and had located a few pails and pans. As for the father and his two sons they had not been of much use after the horses had been taken. Utterly bewildered by the swift events they had run from place to place, too shaken to do anything practical.

“Were all of the animals taken out?” the colonel asked the farmer. He nodded dully.

“Wasn’t nothing but horses in that barn,” he returned. “The chickens is in the run there.”

The unfortunate chickens were scorched by the heat which had been so near to them but all of them were alive. They had run around the long inclosure squawking and screeching but the damage had not touched them. Some pigs near by were safe enough, and the only thing which had suffered was the barn itself and the horses, most of whom were burned in patches. Jim, who had recovered from his experience, dispatched a man to the camp to bring soothing salve for the animals’ burns. This was done and under Jim and Thompson’s watchful eyes the scorches were tenderly glossed over to heal.

A large group had gathered around the farmer and his sons and the cadets. One of the neighbors asked how the fire had started. Hyde shrugged his shoulders.

“I dunno,” he said. “All of a sudden I waked up to see the fire and we run out in a jiffy. I didn’t see how it got afire.”

The colonel turned to Don, who was close by. “How did you happen to see this fire, Lieutenant Mercer?” he asked.

Don narrated the story of the moving flame. The neighbors shot inquiring looks at the Hydes. A dozen tongues formed the word “Maul.”

“Maul is dead,” said one of the sons. “How could he do it?”

“Don’t forget the ghost of the Ridge,” said a man, seriously. “That’s Maul’s ghost.”

The oldest son had been prowling about the ruins and now set up a cry. “Look-a-here, Pop,” he called. There was an instant rush to the rear of the barn.

In the dim light of a few lanterns they made out the charred outline of wheels and under a smoking board some whisps of straw. A murmur of comprehension went up.

“Loaded a wagon of hay and lighted her up,” shouted a farmer. “Then they rolled it down the hill at the barn.”

There was no doubt that such had been the case. And no one seemed to ask why, a fact that puzzled the colonel and the boys.

“Why should anyone do a thing like that? And who is this Maul?” the colonel asked.

None of the Hydes replied but a neighbor was willing to talk. “A few years back there was a hill feud between the Hydes and the Mauls,” he said. “One or the other of them was trying to drive the other family out. But all of the Mauls disappeared or died several years ago. This here ghost must be one of the Mauls!”

“Evidently a very real Maul, if he can load a wagon with hay and roll it down the hill,” replied the colonel dryly. “Captain Jordan!”

“Sir?” the senior captain replied.

“Take a detail of men and search the hill. If you find anyone that looks suspicious bring him here to me.”

“Very well, sir,” replied Jordan, and picked a detail of five men. They departed up the slope at once.

“You won’t find any ghost hanging around now,” grinned a toothless old man.

The colonel paid no attention to the old man and they hung around for an hour longer. It was now three o’clock, but no one thought of quitting the scene. From snatches of conversation the cadets learned more about the bitter feud that had existed for generations between the Hydes and the Mauls. The last Maul had been drowned in a near-by river.

“At least he was swept down the river in a flood,” a neighbor said. “Nobody ever saw him since.”

“Well, these foolish feuds ought to stop,” growled the colonel. “A lot of innocent people suffer because of them.”

“We’ll attend to our own affairs,” the father said, sullenly. “We don’t need any interfering.”

“If it hadn’t been for our interfering tonight you would have been without a dozen horses and your house, my friend,” returned the colonel, calmly. The Hydes muttered to themselves.

Jordan and the detail returned soon afterward to report that there was no sign of anyone on the hill. “But we found the tracks and a lot of hay up on top of the hill.”

There was now nothing to keep them there any longer and they went back to camp, tired but satisfied. There was no word of thanks from the farmer or his sons.

“Nice, grateful bunch,” grumbled Don, inspecting sore hands and a red burn on his arm.

Jim ached all over but he managed to grin. “Sure, but we should worry. We got the horses out, and that is what counted.”


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