Read CHAPTER IX - THE UNIFORM of An Amateur Fireman, free online book, by James Otis, on

When Jip Collins and those who had befriended him arrived at the point nearest Ninety-four’s house, on their way to the Thirty-fourth Street Ferry, Seth halted to take leave of his companions, and knowing what he was about to do, Dan urged that he be allowed to accompany him.

“You’re goin’ down to get your uniform on, an’ I want to see it the very first thing.”

“So you shall, Dan; but I’d rather you wouldn’t come with me now, ’cause there was nothin’ said about my bringin’ anybody.  Keep on with Bill an’ Jip, an’ I’ll go over to our room jest as soon as I get through at the engine-house.”

This did not please Master Roberts; but Bill Dean urged that Seth was in the right, and was very emphatic in the assertion that it would “be ’way off color to shove in” at such a time.

Therefore Dan ceased to insist, although it was with a very ill grace that he accepted the situation.

As a matter of course, once such a conversation was started, it became necessary to explain to Jip what important business called Seth away, and he said with a sigh: 

“I’m glad you’re playin’ in such luck, Seth, for you’re mighty square.  I s’posed after what I’d done nobody would let me come ’round their houses, an’ as for my gettin’ into any Department, why there never’ll be a show of such a thing as that.”

“Now don’t you get down in the dumps, Jip, ’cause you’ll soon pull up where you was before.  All that’s needed is to go on straight from this out, an’ show people you’re sorry for meddlin’ in such crooked business.”

After this attempt at consolation Seth parted with his companions, and ten minutes later was standing before ’Lish Davis on the lower floor of Ninety-four’s house.

“Well, what have you done with your firebug?” the driver asked, and such of the men as were idle gathered around to hear the conversation.

“We’ve shipped Sam Barney, an’ Jip’s gone down Thirty-fourth Street way sellin’ papers.”

“Do you allow he’ll run straight after this?”

“I’m almost certain of it, Mr. Davis.  He feels terrible bad, an’ if Sam gives him the chance he’ll show that he can be a decent feller.”

“I hope so, because I hate to see a boy go wrong.  Do you know, Amateur, that what’s done while you’re young hangs on after you get to be a man.  Then, when you’re getting along swimmingly, up comes somebody and tells of the mean trick you played when you was a kid.  It always counts against a man.  Now, I ain’t saying that your firebug won’t pull out of this, but he’s taking the chances that it’ll be thrown up in his face a hundred times ’twixt now and the next ten years, however straight he walks.  If a boy would only bear that in mind I allow he’d be a heap more careful about what he did.  Howsomever, you ain’t here for a lecture of that kind, and what’s more you don’t need one.  I allow you’re counting on that suit of clothes?”

“I s’posed that was what you wanted me to come for, sir.”

“Well, it was, Amateur, it was; and if you’ll go upstairs and look on my bed you’ll find the togs laid out there.  Put ’em on, and come down to show us how you look.”

“Are they new clothes, sir?”

“Of course they are.  You don’t allow that when this ’ere company takes it into their heads to fit out a kid they’re going to do it on second-hand rigging, do you?”

“I only asked the question ’cause I thought perhaps if they was all new I’d better wash my face an’ hands first.”

“That’s right, Amateur; fix yourself out the best you know how.  We want to see what kind of a looking kid we’ve taken on our hands.”

Instead of immediately acting upon his own suggestion Seth hesitated, and after a moment the driver asked: 

“What are you hanging in the wind now for?  Got anything on your mind?”

“I’d like to know, sir, if I’m to be allowed to pay for these clothes when I get so I can earn money enough?”

“Bless your heart, Amateur, when you’re regularly in the Department you shall come up and square the bills with Ninety-four if it so be you’re inclined; if not, why, what we do comes free as air, and we’re glad to give you a boost.  All the payment we want is that you’ll do us credit.  I’d like to have the boys up at headquarters, when they look at you, say to themselves, ‘That kid belongs to Ninety-four,’ and in the saying of it I’d have ’em think you was way up - something out of the ordinary run of kids, don’t you understand, Amateur?”

“If I can do anything to make you feel proud of me, Mr. Davis, I’ll be mighty glad; but I promise you shan’t be ashamed of having sent me there.”

“I ain’t counting on the possibility of that, Amateur, ’cause I believe I know you better.  Now, get along and put yourself into condition, ’cause there’s no knowing how soon we may get a call.”

Before looking at the new clothing Seth washed his face and hands with scrupulous care, used the comb and brush again and again until positive each single hair was in its proper place, and then went to the floor above.

He expected to see garments which somewhat resembled those worn by the firemen; but was unprepared for that which met his gaze.

’Lish Davis, if indeed it was he who ordered the uniform, had seen to it that each article was a facsimile, both as to texture and style, of what he himself wore, the one difference being that the buttons were plain black instead of gilt with raised letters.

During several moments Seth stood as if spell-bound, gazing at this, to him, first real evidence that he was in a certain degree, however remote, connected with the Department, and perhaps never again will he feel the same honest pride which was his at that moment, for he knew without being told that he had gotten this far toward the goal he had set himself by straightforward dealing and careful attention to all the duties which might be expected of him.

He did not say in so many words that he had earned them; but there was in his mind a sense of satisfaction in the knowledge that they would not have been presented unless he had shown himself to be in some degree deserving.

After a long survey of the garments, he put them on, and never was transformation more complete than when he was thus changed from a ragged boy of the street, to what, in the mirror at least, looked almost like a young gentleman.

“They’re mighty fine,” he said to himself as he examined first one coat-sleeve and then the other.  “They’re mighty fine, an’ it’ll be a terrible big tumble for me if I can’t satisfy ’em up to headquarters.”

Then came the fear that now, having reached the threshold of the Department, as it were, he might fail in his purpose, and Seth literally trembled with apprehension until ’Lish Davis’s voice was heard from below ordering him to “hurry up.”

“I won’t go back on Ninety-four’s men,” the boy said to himself resolutely.  “It’s jest as the driver says, all depends on me, an’ knowin’ what’s to be gained I’m a chump if I can’t pull through.”

Then, acting on an impulse, he slid down one of the poles, instead of going by the way of the stairs, and suddenly stood before the entire company, who were awaiting his appearance.

“Well done, Amateur, well done,” ’Lish Davis cried in a tone of approbation.  “I declare I wouldn’t have known who it was if I’d met you sudden-like on the street.  Why, you’re a corker, Amateur, a regular corker!”

“I do look pretty nice, an’ that’s a fact,” Seth replied complacently, whereat the men laughed heartily.

Then each member of the company in turn came forward and shook him by the hand, congratulating him upon his first appearance as a member of the Department, at the same time that they wished him success in the effort to gain a permanent foothold among them.

“You’re a credit to us, Amateur, and that much I must say.  The money we spent on the toggery ain’t been thrown away even if you do get fired out of headquarters after a spell.  From this time forth you’re much the same as a probationary fireman, and the bootblack part of it has disappeared, except when you’re ’round here where there’s no one to know what you’re doing.  Though, mark you, lad, I’m not saying anything against a boy’s shining boots for a living.  If you hadn’t done it well, and taken some pride in your calling, Seth Bartlett wouldn’t be standing in that ’ere suit of blue this minute.  Now that we’ve launched you, as it were, Amateur, I, and I’m speaking for my mates as well, want you to understand that it’s a hard row ahead.  You’ve got to work early and late; put up with a good many disagreeable things and look pleasant all the while; do considerable more’n your duty, and be always on the jump.  Keep up as we’ve known you, Amateur, my boy, and you’ll win.”

When this speech - for it could be called by no other name - was concluded, the driver’s comrades applauded loudly, and then ’Lish stepped back a few paces as if expecting Seth to respond.

The “probationary” fireman understood the movement; but the words in his mind would not come; instead of making what he considered a worthy reply, he said, and to him it sounded lame and poor: 

“I’ll do my best so’s you won’t be ashamed of me.”

“That’s all we’re asking for, Amateur, and to-morrow noon at twelve o’clock I’ve got leave of absence to take you up to headquarters.  You’re your own boss till then, and you’d better make the most of the holiday, ’cause it’ll be a long spell before you get another.”

“There’s only one thing I’d like to say, sir, an’ that I s’pose I mustn’t think of.”

“Do you mean you’re hankering to run to a fire with them good clothes on?”

“I’d like to shift ’em an’ go, sir, for - ”

At that instant the click caused by the opening of the electric circuit in the alarm was heard, followed by the striking of the joker.

The weight fell - the lever flew up - the horses were released, and before Seth could have spoken, even if he had had anything to say, the animals were under the swinging harness, while every man stood at his station.

“Get on, Amateur; get on alongside the engineer.  This may be the last time you’ll run with Ninety-four for quite a spell, and I’m minded to give you the advantage of it,” the captain cried as ’Lish Davis sprang to his seat, snapped into place the catch on his belt, and released the harness.

Almost before the last word was spoken Seth had leaped to the side of the engineer, and never a boy in New York City was more proud than he, when the ponderous engine, drawn by the plunging horses, left the building with a rattle and roar which could have been heard blocks away.

In a uniform hardly to be distinguished from the members of the company the Amateur was riding to his first fire in what seemed to him like an official capacity.

One portion of his dream was being realized, and he said to himself as he clung to the rail, swung to and fro by the swaying of the ponderous machine, that when the time came for him to be regularly enrolled in the Department he would use every effort toward being assigned to Ninety-four.

“You are our mascot, Amateur,” Jerry Walters, who stood next to Seth, shouted at the full strength of his lungs in order that the words might be heard above the clanging of the gong and rattle of wheels, “and if you’re to bring us good luck we shall get first water to-night.”

Seth’s heart sank.  For the moment he believed Walters was in earnest, and knew full well, having the location of each signal station in mind, that there were two engines whose houses were nearer the call than was Ninety-four’s.

To get first water under such circumstances seemed impossible, and timidly Seth reminded Walters of the fact.

“I know it, Amateur, and am not counting that we’ll win; but if we should, and if there be such things as mascots, then I’m free to admit you’ll be a lucky one for us.”

Perhaps ’Lish Davis had in his mind some idea similar to that expressed by Walters, for although Seth had seen him urge his horses to their utmost speed time and again, never before had he known him to press them so hard.

The mass of steel and iron was drawn over the pavement as if it had been but a feather’s weight, and ’Lish Davis guided the horses, without checking their speed in the slightest, around a sharp corner so suddenly that Seth was nearly overthrown, while the clanging of gongs in the distance told of the approach of a second engine.

“It’s Fifty-three!” Jerry Walters shouted in the boy’s ear.  “It’s Fifty-three, and we’ve got thirty seconds the start of her.  How about getting first water now, Amateur?”

Seth pointed straight ahead where could be seen a cloud of sparks arising from the stack of a third engine which was coming directly toward them.

“Yes, Amateur, it’s her or Ninety-four; Fifty-three is distanced, and I’ll hold that you’re bringing good luck to us if we do no more than beat one of ’em out.”

Every man of that company, however eager he had previously been to be first at the scene of conflict, seemed now to outdo himself in activity.

A cloud of black smoke issuing from the second floor of a dwelling located the fire, and Ninety-four’s tender was making a run for the nearest hydrant, passing the engine just as ’Lish Davis slackened speed.

Joe Black had gained the desired spot in advance of his rival, and as Ninety-four’s tender dashed by, fifteen or twenty feet of the hose had been run off of the reel.

Then it was that Jerry Walters and ’Lish Davis gave vent to a loud cry of triumph, for Joe Black had made the connection.

Ninety-four’s tender was stretching in just as the other company reached the hydrant, beaten by no more than ten seconds.

“We’ve got first water, Amateur, we’ve got first water!” Jerry Walters shouted as if having taken leave of his senses.  “It ain’t that we’ve never done such a thing; but this time it didn’t belong to us, and we took it on your first run!  If that ain’t being a mascot for Ninety-four I don’t know what you will call it.”

Then there was no time for congratulations or further discussion regarding the matter, for the men had work to do which could not be delayed, and Seth was about to follow Joe Black when ’Lish Davis shouted: 

“Come back here, Amateur!  Come back!  This is no time for you to be gettin’ points when you’re wearing the first decent suit of clothes you ever owned.  Get alongside and behave yourself.  I didn’t allow you was to do any work when the captain let you in on this trick.”

Under other circumstances Seth would have been grievously disappointed at being thus commanded to remain where he could see little or nothing of what was being done; but now he was so elated at the victory won that all else seemed but slight by comparison.

“I s’pose you’d have gone in there if you was wearing the finest coat ever made, eh?” the driver asked gravely, and Seth replied with another question: 

“Wouldn’t you, sir?”

“What I’d do don’t cut any figger, Amateur.  It’s my business to go in there, but not yours yet a while.  When the time comes that you’re bound to step up with the foremost, I’m expecting to see you there, and wouldn’t say a word that might hold you back.  Now you’re playing the gentleman, and you’ll stay with me; besides, it ain’t going to turn out anything after all.  A curtain or some such flummery is blazing.  It can’t be much more.”

In this surmise ’Lish Davis was correct.

Within ten minutes after Ninety-four was ready for work word came to “shut off,” and the men set about disconnecting the hose.

So slight had been the fire that only two members of the company were detailed to do the overhauling - that, is to thoroughly go through the building from top to bottom to make certain no spark had been left which might be fanned into a flame - and the remainder of the men were ordered back to the house.

“It’s what we may call a howling success, this first run of yours, Amateur,” ’Lish Davis said as he drove leisurely homeward.  “We’ve beat ’em all out, had little work to do, and it wasn’t much more than good practice, with a precious fine record at the bottom of it.  But don’t you get puffed up thinking everything is going your way just ’cause you’ve started in easy and slick.”

“There’s no reason why I should be puffed up, Mr. Davis, except that I’ve had a chance to do what I’ve been longin’ for - and that is to go out with Ninety-four as if I belonged to her.”

“As if you belonged to her!  That’s what we allow you do, Amateur.  From this out, unless it so be you turn about wonderfully and go crooked, you’re one of us - an honorary member, so to speak.”

“Put down on the roll as the official mascot,” Jerry Walters cried, whereat the remainder of the company laughed heartily, and in this jovial mood was Ninety-four returned to her quarters; but Seth was not allowed to take part in the washing-up lest he should soil his fine feathers.

“I’m counting on your striking in at headquarters lookin’ just as fine as silk, which you couldn’t do if we let you hang ’round here helping with the dirty work,” ’Lish Davis said when Seth would have claimed it as his right to be allowed to assist in the labor.  “You’re to toddle straight home now, for you’ve hung ’round this house long enough; stay there till morning, come over here for a bit about your usual time, and then take a spell at swelling down-town until nigh on to twelve o’clock, when I’ll be ready to go with you.  Well, why don’t you start?”

“I wanted to thank you for lettin’ me run with Ninety-four the first night I had my uniform on.”

“You needn’t do anything of the kind.  The captain happened to be soft just as the alarm struck, else you wouldn’t have got away with us.  Now clear out, and take care you don’t get into mischief.”

As Seth went toward his lodgings he wondered whether the people whom he met in the street were not surprised at seeing him thus clad like a fireman, and so intent was he on walking erect with his shoulders thrown well back, that he might the better look the part he hoped one day to play, that he failed to observe Dan Roberts until the latter, suddenly recognizing his partner, shouted shrilly: 

“Hi!  Seth!  Do you mean that’s really you?”

“Don’t make such a row on the street, Dan, ’cause folks will wonder what’s the matter.  But say, I do look pretty fine, eh?”

“Fine?  Why, that’s no name for it, old man.  You’re out of sight!  Where did you get ’em?”

“This is the uniform I was tellin’ you ’bout.  Mr. Davis gave it to me when I was over to the engine-house, an’ do you know I hadn’t more’n got into it when there was an alarm, an’ I rode to the fire on Ninety-four jest as if I belonged to her.”


“I did for a fact.”

“Well, if they let you do that there ain’t much question ’bout your gettin’ into the Department.”

“Mr. Davis says it all depends on me now, an’ you can bet I’ll work mighty hard, Dan Roberts.”

“If you don’t you’re a bloomin’ idjut!  Why, I wouldn’t ever knowed you if I’d been goin’ fast!  I was kind-er loafin’ along wonderin’ when you’d be home, an’ thinkin’ of Jip, so had time to look ’round.  First off I couldn’t make up my mind to holler, you looked so bloomin’ swell.  Now, I don’t see why I shouldn’t go in for somethin’ same’s you did, an’ flash up in sich style; but no, I’ll stick to sellin’ papers, that’ll be the way with me, an’ think I’m playin’ in great luck if I get to own a stand on some corner.”

“You talk as if I was already in the Department, instead of havin’ to work my way up to it.”

“I only wish I was as near there.  By the time you’re captain of a company I’ll jest about get so I can pay my own way, with never two cents ahead.”

“Now, don’t begin to jump on yourself ’cause it seems as if I was gettin’ along pretty fast; but wait an’ see how I pan out, an’ as for doin’ nothin’ but sellin’ papers, why, that’s ‘cordin’ to the way you want it.  There ain’t any need of stickin’ to sich business unless you hanker for it.”

“Yes there is, except I’m willin’ to starve,” Dan replied mournfully, and to raise him from the depths of despondency into which he had been plunged by a sight of the uniform, Seth began to ask him questions concerning Jip.

“We left him down at the ferry.  Bill Dean struck a feller there who promised to give Jip a lift now an’ then.  I don’t reckon he’ll have any trouble, ‘cause them as are sellin’ papers down that way don’t seem to have much sand to ’em.  He’s goin’ to sleep with Bill’s friend, an’ take it all in all I think he’s gettin’ along mighty well, considerin’ it ain’t a week since he burned us out.  Say, goin’ into the house now, or do you count on swellin’ ’round a spell first?”

“We’ll go home, Dan, an’ in the mornin’, after I’ve shined for Ninety-four’s men, I’ll meet you down-town.”

“What?  You goin’ to do any more shinin’?”

“I am for them in that house, an’ I’ll keep it up till I get to be reg’larly in the Department.  They’ve done so much for me, Dan, that if I should spend half my time as long as I live blackin’ their boots, I wouldn’t square things.”

“If I counted on bein’ a fireman I’d be one; I wouldn’t black boots for anybody.”

“Neither will I when I’m really in the Department; but I’m a long ways from there yet a while.  Come home, an’ to-night I’ll stand a spread so’s to celebrate wearin’ the new uniform.”