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Amateur Fireman

William Henry Giles Kingston

  Produced by David Edwards, David K. Park and the OnlineDistributed Proofreading Team at (Thisfile was produced from images generously made availableby The Internet Archive)



  LIFE-SAVING CORPS AT WORK. _Frontispiece._]







  681 FIFTH AVE.




























  JIP AND THE FIRE-ALARM--_Title-page_ 40










  "I ain't sayin' as how I could run a whole fire, same as some of thechiefs do; but when it comes to drivin' an engine, Dan Roberts, an'doin' it in time to get the first water, or layin' hose, I wouldn'tknuckle down to the biggest man in the Department."

  "Now see here, Seth Bartlett, what's the sense of talkin' that way? Itwould be a good deal better, an' I ain't the only one who says it, ifyou'd stick right to shinin', an' stop playin' fireman, for that's 'boutthe biggest part of the work you do."

  "Do you s'pose I count on shinin' boots for a livin' all my life?"

  "You've got to make a better fist at it than you have done for a year ormore, else you'll never get into anythin' else. I tell you what it is,Seth Bartlett, when a man wants to hire a boy, he ain't pickin' out thefeller that's failed up two or three times over; but he generally looksfor the one what's makin' a go of it, whether it's shinin' or sellin'papers."

  "I ain't sayin' but you're right, Dan, an' I s'pose it's a good thingfor you to keep right on rememberin'; but it's different with me. Idon't count on any one man hirin' me when I strike out for somethin'better'n shinin'."

  "Oh, you don't, eh? What little game _have_ you got? Goin' to run abank, or keep a hotel, or do somethin' like that?"

  "You think you're funny, but you ain't. I'm goin' into the FireDepartment when the right time comes, an' don't you make any mistakeabout it."

  Dan laughed loud and long at this announcement, and Seth gazed at him ingrim silence until the explosion of mirth was somewhat subsided, when hesaid sharply:

  "I guess trade must have been pretty good with you to-day, else youwouldn't be feelin' so terrible funny."

  "Well, it hasn't. I got stuck on four _Heralds_ this mornin', an' five_Expresses_ to-night. That comes pretty near cleanin' off all theprofits, 'cause it's awful dull nowadays in my business, Seth."

  "Then I can't guess why you got so dreadful silly when I said I wasgoin' into the Department some day."

  "It would make anybody laugh, Seth, to hear a feller no bigger'n youtalk of such things. You must be a man to get that kind of a job."

  "Well, shan't I be in time--and not such a terrible long while either?I'm fourteen now, leastways, that's the way I figger it out, an' if Icould get one of them early spring moustaches like Sim Jepson israisin', folks would think I was a man when I wasn't only eighteen.Don't you reckon all the firemen were boys once?"

  "Yes," Dan replied doubtfully, "I s'pose they was," and he added quicklyas a sudden thought occurred to him, "but they had to know a good dealabout the business before they could get a job."

  "Course they did, an' it was a case of learnin'. That's jest what I'mdoin' when I tend out on fires. I'm gettin' posted, an' by an' by whenI'm old enough you'll see me in the Department, that's all there isabout it."

  Seth Bartlett and Dan Roberts were old friends, having made each other'sacquaintance no less than three months previous, when the former, whohad disagreed with Jip Collins on a matter regarding household affairs,was in search of a new roommate.

  Seth owned, or believed he did, certain rights in a small shed situatein the rear of Baxter Brothers' carpenter shop, where he made his home.

  It was a rude affair, originally built for the purpose of sheltering Mr.Baxter's horse and carriage, but afterward used as a storage place forsuch odds and ends as accumulate in a carpenter's work-shop.

  Seth had made his home in this shed for nearly a year, having been givenpermission to sleep there by one of the owners on a certain cold, stormynight, and he was not averse to telling his friends how he "worked thesnap."

  This is his version of what may perhaps be called a businesstransaction:

  "I did start in to live with Jim Wardwell's folks. You see, business wasmighty good for a spell, an' I got to feelin' way up toney where nothin'short of a reg'lar room would do me. I paid a dollar a week jest forsleepin' there. Ten big, round plunks for ten weeks, an' then I tumbledto myself! You see, it was too rich for my blood when there come a longspell of bad weather, an' I wasn't takin' in more'n twenty-five cents aday, so I snooped 'round to see if I couldn't find somethin' that wouldbe cheaper. Then I struck this shed, an' I says to myself, says I,'That's jest my size'; but I knew it wouldn't do to try to bite it outof the carpenter's ear 'less I had a pretty good story to put up. Iwaited four whole days till it turned 'round so cold that the hair onyour head would freeze, an' long towards the middle of the afternoon itbegan to snow. Then I said to myself that the time had come when I'd gotto make the trade. I crawled into the carpenter's shop an' give him apretty straight story. Told him how bad business was--Well, he could seefor himself nobody would want boots shined in that weather. He said if Ipromised him I wouldn't freeze to death, 'cause he didn't want any deadbootblacks on his hands, I could come in for a spell. An' don't youthink I wasn't fixed! All the shavings I wanted for a bed right there onthe floor, an' if the boss of the
Astor House had got down on his kneesbeggin' me to come to his hotel to stop, I'd said 'no,' 'cause Icouldn't be bothered with the airs they put on down that way. How longcan I stay here? I ain't troublin' my head 'bout that. I don't let theman what owns the place see me any oftener than I can help, an' solong's I keep out of sight there ain't much chance of my bein' fired."

  Seth's home in which he took so much pride was by no means asuncomfortable as one might suppose. With ample material in the shape ofshort lengths of boards, he had constructed a tiny apartment in one endwith so great care that only such wind as was necessary for perfectventilation found its way in to him, while his bed of shavings was morerest-inviting and probably more cleanly than was the well-worn mattresson which he had slept at Mrs. Wardwell's home.

  Once having taken possession of this abode, Seth set about making anhonest penny out of his new possessions by allowing Jip Collins tobecome his roommate upon the payment of fifteen cents each week, and forseveral months these two lived in apparent harmony, although Sethafterward said that "Jip tired him" by finding so much fault with theFire Department.

  Then came the time when the lodger insisted upon the use of candles atnight, and in smoking cigarettes inside the apartment, both of whichluxuries or pleasures had been expressly forbidden by Mr. Baxter when hegave the bootblack permission to occupy the premises.

  Jip had not departed in a friendly manner. He believed he had good causefor grievance against Seth, and on the day he left the lodgingsthreatened with many a needless word to "make it hot" for the would-befireman.

  Then Master Bartlett had taken Dan Roberts as a tenant, and the two hadbeen living as peacefully and comfortably as could be expected, save atsuch times as they heard of new and more startling threats from Jip, upto this moment when the lodger took it upon himself to criticise hislandlord's admiration of a fireman's calling.

  Seth Bartlett was not a general favorite among the merchants in theboot-blacking and newspaper business, owing to the general belief thathe "put on airs" because of his acquaintance with 'Lish Davis, driverof Ninety-four engine, which was stationed near Mr. Baxter's shed.

  When trade was dull, instead of joining his brother merchants inpitching pennies or such other games as they might chance to indulge in,Seth spent his time about the engine-house, on the alert for anopportunity to be of benefit to some of the men, hoping thereby to sofar earn their favor that he might be looked upon as a welcome visitor.

  During no less than two months had he thus apparently loitered around,bent on one object, and pursuing that steadily, without having been sofortunate as to attract particular attention. Then on a certain day,Elisha Davis, the driver, called upon the small workman for a shine.

  Seth's freckled face was radiant with delight as he entered theengine-house for the first time, and his big brown eyes wandered fromthe glittering machine, above the pole of which hung the shiningharness, to the apparently complicated apparatus of brass and walnutover the house-watchman's desk.

  'Lish, as his comrades spoke of him, was not in the mood to wait untilthe boy's curiosity had been satisfied, for at any instant an alarmmight summon him to duty, and he impatiently called upon Seth to setabout his work, or "clear out."

  Never before had the bootblack spent so much time over a single pair ofboots; he polished them with his brushes until they shone like mirrors,then hardened the gloss with a piece of flannel, and when it seemed asif his work had been done to perfection, blackened the brilliant surfaceagain with the hope of improving what had apparently been a greatsuccess.

  "You're not any too quick about the job; but there ain't a lad aroundhere that could have done it better," 'Lish said approvingly, and wouldhave given the boy a nickel, but that the latter drew back quickly.

  "I don't want anythin' for the shine; I'd like mighty well to give youone every day."

  "Do you go around working for thanks?" the driver asked with no littlesurprise.

  "Of course I take my pay from other folks; but I wouldn't let anyfireman put up for a shine."

  "Why not?"

  "'Cause I'm jest the same as one myself--that is, I'm goin' into theDepartment when I'm old enough."

  "Stuck on the business, eh?"


  "That's jest the size of it!" Seth cried enthusiastically. "I tend outon most all the fires in Ninety-four's district, an' sometimes I geta chance to sneak inside the lines."

  "You do, eh? Well, I'll have an eye out after this, and if I get myhands on you there won't be any more such sneaking."

  "Now, what's the matter with my doin' a little thing like that? It don'thurt anybody, an' I pick up a good many points."

  "Some day a falling wall will knock you down, or you'll find yourselfunder the wheels of an engine, and then your 'points' won't be of anyparticular advantage."

  "I can take care of myself as well as you, an' if I don't knock 'roundwhen there's a fire, how am I ever goin' to learn the business?"

  "You don't want to learn what's a dog's life at the best. Steer clear ofit, lad, and put your mind on anything else, for a man don't last longat this kind of work; even if he doesn't get killed offhand, it's only aquestion of time--and in many cases a precious short time--before afireman is laid on the shelf, worn out. Now, clear away from here if youwon't take pay for the shine, and remember that I'll have my eye outafter this to see you don't get inside the lines."

  Seth obeyed promptly with never a protest, and 'Lish said to thewatchman at the desk:

  "That's a decent kind of a lad, and if he hangs around here any morethere's no reason why we shouldn't throw a job in his way now and then."

  "How does that fit in with the lesson you read to him?"

  "I didn't try to make it fit. If I can scare him out of the notion he'sgot in his head, it'll show he ain't suited for this kind of a life; butif he sticks at it, I'll believe it's worth while to give him a lift nowand then."

  If Seth could have heard this brief conversation he would, most likely,have indulged in the latest jig-step he had learned, and perhapsneglected his work as bootblack until hunger forced him to take up thebrushes again; but he was ignorant of 'Lish's good intentions, and wentaway with a heavy heart, yet having no idea of abandoning his efforts to"learn the business."

  He did not cease to spend his spare moments about Ninety-four's house,and after 'Lish Davis had many times threatened the direst punishment ifhe persisted in such a course, but without effect, the members of thecompany came to look upon Seth as a boy of pluck, who would one dayforce his way into the Department.

  However, no one of Ninety-four's men had given him an opportunity fordoing other than blacking boots, and the boy was entirely ignorant oftheir friendliness toward him.

  Such was the general position of affairs on the night when Dan Robertsbelieved it his duty to mildly reprove Seth for spending so much time inwhat seemed to be idleness when he should be looking for customers.

  After the master of the shed-home had announced so positively that hewould be a fireman in due course of time, Dan, remembering how JipCollins had lost his footing in the household, decided he had done hiswhole duty in the matter, and straight-way changed the subject ofconversation by saying:

  "Sam Barney had mighty bad luck to-day. First off, somebody passed alead dime on him, an' then he lost as many as fifteen cents at oneslap."

  "How?" Seth asked with no slight show of interest.

  "That's what he can't make out. He had the money in the same pocketwhere he always carries it, when all of a sudden it was gone."

  "Somebody touched him."

  "Must be, an' Sam thinks he's got an idea who it is."

  "Can't be any of the reg'lar gang, 'cause I don't know a feller whatwould do a trick like that."

  "Sam's keepin' mighty close about it, an' I wouldn't wonder if he foundthe whole business out before long. He comes near to bein' a reg'lardetective, you know."

  "Who? Sam?"


  "But what does
he know about the detective business?"

  "Perhaps he's learnin' it same's you are the fireman's racket."

  This reduced Seth to silence, and Dan, fearing that he might have givenoffence, hastened to say in a most friendly tone:

  "Of course if a feller studies over anything of that kind he'll sooncome somewhere near knowin' a little about it, an' Sam is posted in moreways than one."

  "Then how does it happen he let anybody go through him?"

  "That's the funny part of it, an' the folks what did it must have beenmighty slick, 'cause, you see----"

  Dan was interrupted by the sound of footsteps near at hand, and ever onthe alert against possible danger, Seth made his way to the door of theshed as he asked sharply:

  "Who's there?"

  "It's only me," a familiar voice replied, and he knew that the visitorwas none other than the boy of whom he and his lodger had just beenspeaking.

  "Dan was tellin' me you'd lost your money. Didn't come up herereckonin' he or I'd got it, did you?"

  "I ain't any sich fool as that; but Jip Collins has been makin' a gooddeal of cheap talk this afternoon, an' I thought perhaps you'd like toknow 'bout it."

  "He's allers doin' that, an' I reckon it's more wind than anythin'else."

  "I wouldn't wonder if this time he got right down to business, an' youought'er keep a pretty sharp lookout, Seth. These are too snug quartersfor you to lose through a feller like Jip."

  "Come inside and set down," Master Bartlett said as his lodger joinedhim at the door of the shed. "Dan an' me is here alone, an' you won'tmind if it's dark, 'cause you see I promised Mr. Baxter straight out an'out that there shouldn't ever be any kind of a light inside. That's oneof the things Jip kicked about, you know."

  Sam Barney promptly accepted the invitation. Being an old friend ofSeth's, he was familiar with the household arrangements, and despite thedarkness made his way through the shed to the box-like home in onecorner, where, after some difficulty, he found a block of wood thatserved as chair.

  Seth threw himself upon the bed of shavings, and Dan lounged negligentlynear the entrance.

  "I should think it would be kind er lonesome in here nights when it'slike this," Sam suggested as he tried in vain to distinguish the form ofeither of his companions.

  "Well, it ain't, 'cause Dan an' me don't spend a great deal of timesettin' 'round after we once get in. We should have been asleep beforethis if he hadn't had considerable to say 'bout my tryin' to be afireman. He'd jest got through when you came."

  "Well, say, Seth, you don't b'lieve you're ever goin' to get on to theDepartment, jest 'cause you run to every fire Ninety-four goes to, doyou?"

  "I don't know why I can't be a fireman jest as easy as you can adetective, an' some of the fellers say you're workin' mighty hard to beone."

  "Well, s'posen I am?" and Sam spoke sharply.

  "I ain't kickin' against it; but was only sayin' that it's jest as easyfor me to get what I'm tryin' for, as it is for you."

  Sam's opinion on the subject may have differed from that of his host,but he refrained from making any reply, and at once began to speakconcerning the purpose of his visit.

  "Jip Collins is goin' to work some kind of a racket on you, an' I reckonI can guess pretty nigh what it is. He was makin' a good deal of talkthis afternoon, an' it seems as though the time had come when you'dbetter have your eyes open."

  "Jip's allers had a good deal to say since I told him he couldn't sleephere any longer; but it never 'mounted to anythin'."

  "But look here, Seth, this time I b'lieve he'll do some mischief. He'sbeen tellin' that he'll give you a chance to show how much of a firemanyou are, an' I heard him talkin' 'bout touchin' a match to shavings,so's to smoke you out, till I've made up my mind that he's goin' to setfire to this place."

  Seth laughed derisively.

  "I ain't 'fraid of a feller like him."

  "Then it's all right, an' no harm done in my tellin' you; but if I wasin your place I'd keep my eyes open pretty wide. Now, Jip Collins can'tscare me a little bit; but yet if I was in a snap like this, an' I knewhe'd threatened to set fire, it would kind er stir me up a bit."

  "Don't you go to thinkin' I ain't glad 'cause you told me, Sam, for I am,only it don't stand to reason a feller like Jip Collins can do much ofanythin'."

  "Don't you be so sure of that," Dan Roberts cried. "I've heard somethin''bout what Jip's been sayin', though I never b'lieved he had it in hishead to burn the place up; but this much is sure: if it could be donewithout his takin' too many chances, he's jest the kind of a feller whatwould try it. He claims that, accordin' to the trade, you give him theright to stay in this place jest as long as _you_ did, and that it wasthe same as swindlin' him when I come in."

  "He knows better than that. I told him we'd try it a spell, an' see howwe got along; the very first night I went all over the business withhim, an' said if we couldn't hitch together easy like, why we didn'twant to stay in the same place, an' he was satisfied with it. Now, Idon't see how I can do anythin' if he's bent on settin' fire to theshed, more'n lookin' 'round pretty sharp before I go to bed."

  "If I owned this place same's you do, I should set up nights, 'causethen's when he'll try his game," Sam said with an air of wisdom. "Itain't likely he'll come 'round here in the daytime; but after the menhave gone away from the shop it wouldn't be anyways hard for him to getin an' strike a match to some of these shavin's."

  "But accordin' to that you couldn't do very much work, if you set up allnight watchin' for Jip Collins. You'd have to sleep in the daytime. Idon't see how a feller is goin' to earn his livin' any sich way."

  "I didn't say you ought'er do it," Sam replied quickly; "but was onlytellin' what I believed in. It ain't likely you'd have to stand watchmany nights, 'cause the first time you caught Jip you'd put an end toit by pretty nigh thumpin' the life out er him; then I don't reckon he'dcome again."

  "Do you s'pose he's countin' on doin' this all alone?"

  "No; he's got a couple of fellers from Brooklyn that he's chummin' withjest now, an' most likely they're comin' into the game."

  "If they do, an' I should watch for Jip till I caught him, there ain'tany great show of my thumpin' him very bad if he's got two others tolend a hand."

  "You ain't scared of him, are you?" Sam asked quickly.

  "Not much I ain't; but I'll keep clear from that kind of a racket till Iknow somethin' 'bout it. I can't 'ford to have a row, don't you see,'cause if any of Ninety-four's men heard I was fightin' my way along, aslikely as not they'd shut me off from goin' to the engine-house, an'then ag'in when the time comes for me to get into the Department itwould give me a black eye if I had the name of doin' sich things. Idon't s'pose that would hurt a detective; but they're mighty carefulwhat kind of fellers they have in the Department, an' I don't count onhavin' a bad mark to my name four years from now."

  "Well, suit yourself about that, of course. It ain't any of mybusiness, only I thought I'd tell you what Jip's sayin', an' I've got toget along over towards Hoboken."

  Then, from the noise he made, his hosts understood that Sam Barney wasmaking his way out of the apartment, and Dan asked in a friendly tone ifhe had made any new discoveries regarding the theft of his money.

  "I'm follerin' up a pretty good clue now," Sam replied in a tonecalculated to give the hearer an impression that he could tell more ifit was necessary, and then with a cheery "So long," he rapidly made hisway across the lumber-yard to the street.