Read CHAPTER VIII - JIP COLLINS’S RETREAT of An Amateur Fireman, free online book, by James Otis, on

So excited was Seth by this sudden and unexpected change in his fortunes that he could not bring himself to walk demurely down-town as he was in the custom of doing; but ran swiftly more than half the distance, repeating to himself over and over again: 

“I’m really goin’ into the Department after all!”

He was so highly elated when he met Dan that the latter instantly understood something of the utmost importance had transpired, and asked eagerly: 

“What’s flashed up on you, Seth?  Got a big job?”

“Indeed I have!  I’m goin’ into the Department!”

“Wha - wha - what?”

“I’m goin’ into the Department.  Mr. Davis an’ the rest of Ninety-four’s men have got me a job up at headquarters where I’ll have a chance to learn all the business, an’ then when I’m big enough, if my record is all right, I’ll slip in for a fireman as easy as winkin’.”

“Look here, Seth, what kind of a stiff are you tryin’ to give me?” Dan asked sharply.

“It’s a straight tip, old man.  Mr. Davis jest told me all about it, an’ says I mustn’t black boots any more except for Ninety-four’s men.  He didn’t even want me to do that; but I hung on till Mr. Dunton backed me up, an’ he finally gave in.  Say, do you know they’ve bought a uniform for me jest like they wear, only there’s no brass buttons on it.”

“Oh, go ’way, Seth.  You’ve slipped your trolley.”

“No, it’s all straight goods, Dan.  What kept me up there so long this mornin’ was talkin’ ’bout it.  I’m to go to-night and get the clothes.  The only thing that worries me is I can’t pay for them myself.”

“Anybody’d think to hear you talk that was hard luck.  Look here, Seth, if what you’ve been givin’ me is straight, you’ve struck a terrible snap, an’ a feller who’d kick ’cause somebody gives him a suit of clothes, ought’er go bare-backed.”

“It would look a good deal better, Dan, if I had the money to buy the things, rather than let them give ’em to me.”

“I ain’t so certain ‘bout that.  The biggest part of it is gettin’ ’em, an’ if they’re willin’ to put up I’d say let ’em buy anythin’ they wanted.  Look here, I can’t quite get it through my head that things is the way you tell, ’cause it don’t seem likely a boy could get in at headquarters.”

Seth repeated to his partner all that ’Lish Davis had said, and when the story was concluded Master Roberts commented on it in this fashion: 

“You’ll be out er sight, Seth; that’s all there is to it!” Then, realizing how his brother news-venders might be surprised, he added, “Come on quick, an’ let’s tell as many fellers as we can before we go to see Bill Dean ship Sam Barney to Philadelphy!”

Seth was by no means averse to making known his good fortune, and very shortly afterward the two were surrounded by a throng of incredulous news-venders and bootblacks, the majority of whom insisted that “they wouldn’t be stuffed with any such yarns, ’cause of course a feller as small as Seth Bartlett couldn’t get a job in the Department, even if it was only to sweep floors, wash windows, an’ that sort of thing.  Besides, if he was taken on at headquarters, nobody would give him a show of learnin’ the drill.”

Bill Dean called Dan aside, and after first persuading him to cross his throat with his fingers in order that he should be put on oath, as it were, asked regarding the truth of the statements made.

“It’s jest as I said, an’ he’s goin’ to have a reg’lar uniform, all but the buttons, to-night.”

“Did you hear any of Ninety-four’s men say so?”

“I wasn’t there, of course; but you know Seth Bartlett don’t go ’round shootin’ his mouth off the way some of the fellers do, an’ you can hang up to everythin’ he says; so I’m certain it’s true.”

“It must be,” Bill replied in a tone of conviction, and then approaching Seth gravely he extended his hand, saying as the amateur fireman grasped it: 

“I’m mighty glad you’ve struck it so rich, old man, an’ that’s a fact.  All of us know you’ve been runnin’ to fires pretty reg’lar; but we never b’lieved you’d really get into the Department.”

“I ain’t there yet,” Seth replied modestly; “but Mr. Davis says it’ll be my own fault if I don’t get in, so you can make up your mind I’ll keep my eyes open mighty wide.”

One by one Seth’s business acquaintances followed Bill’s example in the matter of giving credence to the wonderful story, until it was a generally accepted fact that no more than the truth had been told.

There were some doubters, however; but they were so few in number that it seemed as if there was no longer any question regarding the matter, and during the half-hour which followed Seth was kept busy answering the questions of the curious and, perhaps, envious ones.

The astounding news brought by Seth and Dan had caused Sam Barney’s friends and acquaintances to forget for the time being that this promising detective was about to depart from New York; but Bill Dean, who had taken it upon himself to thus aid Jip Collins, soon bethought himself of the business in hand, and reminded the others of their duty by saying: 

“Look here, fellers, we mustn’t hang ’round here much longer, else there won’t be a chance of gettin’ Sam away to-day.  He’s got to go on the emigrant train, an’ the railroad folks will look for him jest as I said, ’cause I made a good deal of talk ‘bout his bein’ a detective.  You see I thought they’d be glad to have him go on their cars if we could make ’em b’lieve half as much as Sam tells ’bout himself.”

Thus reminded of their duty the young merchants set out in a body for the Cortlandt Street Ferry, much to the annoyance of those pedestrians against whom they jostled and tumbled in their eagerness to make way through the crowded thoroughfare.

The amateur detective was found at the corner of West Street, where he had promised to await Bill Dean’s coming, and one glance at the throng which had gathered to do him honor, as he believed, filled his heart with pride.

“They’re beginnin’ to find out that I’m no slouch of a detective after all, hey?” he said in a confidential whisper to Bill, and the latter replied in a matter-of-fact tone: 

“I ain’t certain you’d have seen so many of ’em, Sam, if it hadn’t been that they was all in a bunch listenin’ to the news ’bout Seth Bartlett, an’ after hearin’ it was in good trim for anythin’.”

“What’s the news ’bout Seth?” Sam asked with mild curiosity.

“Why, he’s goin’ into the Department.”

“Who?  Seth Bartlett?”

“Yep.  That is, it’s jest ’bout the same thing.  Ninety-four’s men have found him a job up to headquarters where he’ll have a chance to learn the business, ’cause there’s what you might call a school for firemen up there.”

Sam remained silent fully an instant gazing at his friend in open-mouthed astonishment, and then he said emphatically if not a trifle viciously: 

“I don’t b’lieve a word of it; that’s one of Seth Bartlett’s yarns!”

“He ain’t the kind of feller that goes ‘round lyin’, an’ it would be a chump trick for him to begin it now, ’cause if he don’t flash up in that uniform by to-morrow night we’ll know he’s been stuffin’ us.”

“Well, maybe there’s somethin’ in it,” Sam replied grudgingly, after a brief hesitation; “but it seems to me the Fire Department must be pretty hard up when they’ll take in a feller like Seth.”

“I don’t know why he wouldn’t make as good a fireman as you will a detective.  He’s been runnin’ with Ninety-four for more’n a year.”

“What does that ‘mount to?  He’s never done anythin’ same’s I have, to show that he had the stuff in him.”

“They say he come pretty nigh savin’ ’Lish Davis’s life the other night when them storage warehouses burned.”

“Oh, that’s all in your eye.  Dan Roberts told the yarn so’s to make hisself solid with Seth.”

There was no further opportunity for Sam to cast discredit upon Seth’s story, because the time was near at hand when he should take his departure, and those who had contributed to this important event were eager to hear in what way he proposed to distinguish himself.

“I’ll catch Jip Collins an’ send him up the river for five or ten years,” he said in reply to the questions of his friends, “an’ then I reckon people will find out whether I ’mount to anything as a detective, or not.”

“Are you sure he’s over in Philadelphy?” one of the boys asked of Sam.

“Course I am.”

“How did you find it out?”

“It wouldn’t be any use for me to try to tell, ’cause you couldn’t understand it; but that’s where the detective business comes in.  I’ve figgered it all out, an’ in less than half an hour from the time the train strikes the town I’ll have him ’rested.”

Some of those who were in the secret smiled; but Bill Dean and his friends refrained from any display of mirth, lest Sam, grown suspicious of his own wisdom, should at the last moment refuse to leave the city.

The would-be detective had desired to purchase his own ticket, but to this proposition those who had the matter in charge would not consent, and Bill Dean, in response to the suggestion made by several of the party, proceeded, as he expressed it, to “ship off Sam.”

That he had spoken the truth when he told of having had a conversation with the railroad officials regarding Master Barney’s departure, was proven when he approached the ticket-office, for the clerk recognized him at once, and when the money was placed on the ledge in front of him, immediately passed out that form of a ticket which would give to Jip’s pursuer a passage to Philadelphia.

Master Barney’s companions were eager to see him on board the cars; but after learning that such pleasure must be purchased by paying for a passage across to Jersey City and back, the majority of them decided the price was altogether too high.

“It’ll cost pretty nigh a dollar for this whole gang to go over,” Dan Roberts said after making a hurried calculation, “an’ Sam ain’t worth it.  I’d like to see how he swings hisself in the cars; but don’t count on puttin’ out my good money for it.”

There were very many of Dan’s opinion in the party, and after some discussion it was decided that Bill Dean and Seth Bartlett should accompany the detective during this first stage of the journey, and these two were instructed to “remember all Sam said, an’ how he looked, so’s to tell it to the rest of the crowd when they got back.”

The would-be detective gravely shook hands with his followers, and, after cautioning those who were to accompany him to remain at a respectable distance lest they interfere with his plans, stole on board the ferry-boat in a manner well calculated to attract the attention and excite the mirth of every one who saw him.

“He thinks reg’lar detectives go snoopin’ ’round in that style,” Bill said in a whisper to Seth, “an’ jest as long as he keeps up such a fool idea he’ll never ‘mount to anythin’.  I ain’t sayin’ but what he might turn out to be quite a feller if he would only act decent.”

Sam appeared to think it necessary that he remain by himself during the short voyage, and when the boat arrived at the Jersey City slip refused to go on shore until after having satisfied himself, in his own grotesque fashion, that there were no enemies in the vicinity.

He entered the depot much in the same manner, and peered into the car fully five minutes before venturing to take a seat, after which he said in a tone of satisfaction to his companions: 

“I reckon I’ve done this thing pretty nigh right so far, an’ if I don’t bring Jip Collins back with me it’ll be ’cause some of them Philadelphy people spoil my game.”

“Are you reckonin’ on stayin’ there till you catch him?” Bill asked with a wink at Seth, and Master Barney replied confidently: 

“I can put my hands on him within an hour; but it may be we’ll stay overnight so’s I can bring him into town in the mornin’.”

“How are you countin’ on gettin’ your ticket to come back?” Seth asked.

“Oh, I’ve got that figgered out.  You see, jest as soon as I’ve nabbed Jip I’ll go to police headquarters an’ tell ’em who he is, an’ of course they’ll see that I get back.”

Bill had considerable difficulty in keeping his face straight during this portion of the conversation, and, fearing lest he might inadvertently betray the secret, made short work of the leave-taking.

Sam was in the car with the ticket in his hand, and it was hardly probable he would do other than proceed to his destination as had been agreed upon, therefore Bill said in an exceedingly friendly tone: 

“Well, we’d better be goin’, old man.  I’ll see you when you get back.”

Until this moment Seth had not realized that by supplying Master Barney with the means of transportation to Philadelphia, they were virtually exiling him from his home, and his heart misgave him as such phase of the case suddenly presented itself.

“Look here, Sam, s’posen it turns out that you don’t find Jip, how’ll you get home?” he asked, and there was in his mind the thought that he would divide his scanty store of money with the alleged detective; but the latter soon made it plain that he was, or believed he was, able to take care of himself.

“Don’t bother your head ’bout me, ’cause even if you have got a show of gettin’ into the Fire Department, you ain’t very well posted on the detective business.  I’ll get back without any of your help, an’ I’ll bring Jip with me.”

All Seth’s sympathy fled, and without further attempt at leave-taking the two walked out of the car, glancing back from the door an instant at the alleged detective, who was looking as important and satisfied as a boy well could look.

It was decided between Bill and Seth during the voyage across the river, that after having made a report to those who awaited their coming they would visit Jip Collins in his retreat at the Erie Basin.

“There’s only a few of us knows where he is, an’ of course we’ve got to keep it a secret for a spell, so you, an’ Dan, an’ I must give the other fellers the slip if we can.”

Seth agreed to this after having been assured that there would be no difficulty in getting back to the engine-house as Mr. Davis had commanded, and once they were on the New York shore Bill fulfilled his duty to his friends by giving a detailed account of all Sam had said and done.

Some members of the party - and there were a few who considered Master Barney one of the most promising young detectives in the city - were fully satisfied with the manner in which he was reported to have borne himself when he set out to bring to a successful close this his first important case; but those who believed that Sam’s ability existed only in his own mind were inclined to ridicule his fantastic behavior, and one of the company was applauded loudly as he said: 

“If Sam cavorts ’round Philadelphy the same way he went on board the ferry-boat, they’ll run him in for a lunatic, an’ we’ll never see him again till he turns over a mighty big leaf.”

Then the would-be detective’s acquaintances separated, each intent on his own business or pleasure, and there was nothing to prevent the three who were bent upon aiding Jip Collins, from proceeding on their errand of mercy.

Now that Sam Barney’s departure was an accomplished fact, Seth began to reproach himself with having aided in sending the boy so far from home that it might be many weeks before he could return, and while walking toward Hoboken Ferry gave words to these thoughts.

Bill Dean, however, was not troubled with any pangs of conscience because he had in a certain degree deceived Master Barney.

“It ain’t us who sent him over there.  He spouted up and told how Jip was in Philadelphy, an’ we hadn’t any call to tell him it wasn’t so.”

“But how’ll he get back?”

“Well, if I was in that town, or any other where the railroad folks only charge seventy-five cents to fetch me home, you can bet I wouldn’t hang ‘round the streets very long cryin’ baby; I’d hustle an’ earn money.  That’s the way Sam can get back, an’ the more you feel bad ’bout him the bigger fool you’re makin’ of yourself.  I ain’t stickin’ up for Jip Collins, ’cause when he set fire to Baxter’s lumber-yard he knew he was doin’ what would send him to jail; but at the same time ‘twixt him an’ Sam I ain’t certain but I’d rather give Jip a boost.”

Then Bill discussed the affair in its different phases, laying great stress upon what was apparently to him a fact, that by giving Sam Barney an opportunity of learning that he was not really a detective, they were conferring a benefit upon him.

As Master Dean presented the case, there had been no deception practised, because they could only have convinced Sam of his error by betraying Jip, who had placed himself in the hands of his friends, and Master Barney never once asked for information, but, instead, asserted that he knew where the fugitive was concealed.

In this wise was the time spent during what was a reasonably long journey, and Bill had hardly more than come to the end of his arguments when they arrived at the Erie Basin.

“There’s where Jip is hidin’,” Master Dean said as he pointed to a dilapidated boat lying at the opposite side of the Basin, and at that moment Dan and Seth saw what at first sight appeared to be a dark-colored ball placed in the combing of the companionway hatch.

When it suddenly disappeared, and a certain portion of it came again into view, they understood it was the head of the young gentleman they had journeyed thus far to visit, and Dan shouted loudly: 

“Hi!  It’s only us!  Don’t get scared!”

Not until he had assured himself by actual survey that there were none other than these three friends in the vicinity, did the disconsolate-looking firebug venture to show himself, and then he came out on the deck with a certain humility that was in marked contrast with his former swagger.

“Is Sam Barney still on my trail?” he asked piteously, and that he might not be kept in suspense, Bill gave a detailed account of the afternoon’s proceedings so far as the detective was concerned.

A long-drawn sigh of relief escaped from the fugitive’s lips as he said: 

“I was terrible ’fraid he’d find me out up here, cause whether he’s a detective or not, Sam has a way of snoopin’ ‘round an’ gettin’ at things that other fellers don’t want him to know.  Do you reckon I can show myself down-town now?”

Seth was forced to repeat what ’Lish Davis had told him, and again a gloom gathered on the firebug’s face, but it was lightened somewhat when the amateur fireman added: 

“There’s no reason, Jip, why you can’t come out an’ earn your livin’ so long’s you walk straight, for I don’t b’lieve anybody will try to ’rest you, now Sam is away from the city; but remember what Mr. Davis said, that if you should do anythin’ more crooked, this would all come up against you.”

“Look here, Seth, I know I did a mighty mean thing when I set fire to the shed in Baxter’s yard, an’ whether you believe it or not, I was terrible sorry the minute the shavin’s caught fire; but don’t think I ain’t been served out.  It’s awful to stay all night on this boat; I hear all kinds of noises an’ it seems to me as if the place was reg’larly ha’nted.  I’d almost rather go to jail than stay here any longer.”

“But you’ve got to live somehow, Jip.”

“It won’t be here.  I’ve been thinkin’ if I could get rid of Sam Barney I’d go over by the Thirty-fourth Street Ferry.  Nobody knows me there an’ it ought to be a good place for sellin’ papers.”

Bill Dean thought this a wise plan, providing Jip could find lodgings round about that locality, and then came the question as to how it would be possible for him to start in business again, for he confessed that all his money had been spent in the purchase of food.

“What with helpin’ Sam Barney off, layin’ out for a spread last night, an’ gettin’ money together to pay the room-rent, this is kind of a tough week for me,” Dan said thoughtfully; “but I’ll be willin’ to chip in a nickel toward helpin’ you along, Jip.”

Bill and Seth made the same generous proposition, and when the money had been handed to the fugitive it was as if he found it difficult to swallow a certain lump which had arisen in his throat.

“You fellers have been terrible good to me after I come pretty near killin’ you, an’ I want you to b’lieve I’m goin’ to be straight.  I’ll try to show that I can be decent.”

“Of course you can, Jip,” Seth said soothingly, “and there’s no need of your tellin’ us ‘bout it.  Jest plug right ahead an’ do the best you know how; then things will come out all right, I’m certain.  By the time Sam gets back we’ll take care he don’t meddle with the case, an’ I reckon Mr. Davis will fix the balance.  When you goin’ to leave here?”

“Jest as soon as I can.  I made up my mind this noon that I’d let Sam Barney lug me off to jail rather than stay any longer.”

“Then come with us, an’ there’ll be time for you to get in some of the evenin’ trade if we hurry.  Bill an’ Dan will go over with you an’ see if there’s any fellers ’round the Thirty-fourth Street Ferry that might make trouble, an’ most likely I’ll see you again to-morrow.”

At this point Dan would have told the firebug of Seth’s good fortune, but that the latter checked him, believing at such a time the information had best be withheld, and the three Good Samaritans with their penitent friend set out for New York.