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

The door-keeper of the court attempted to check the rush which began with the entrance of Seth, Dan, and Bill; but it was impossible because of his delay.

He had at first objected to admitting the amateur fireman and his partner, but they speedily proved they were entitled to enter, by producing the subpoenas, and as he stepped aside for them to go in, the following came on with a rush as powerful as it was unexpected.

The official would have swept down upon the offenders and literally dragged them out, but that ’Lish Davis, who was standing just inside the door, said with a laugh: 

“I don’t reckon you’ve got time to sort ’em, Mr. Officer.  A kid is to be tried for arson this morning, and more’n likely as not half the crowd has been summoned as witnesses, for it’s only through his acquaintances that anything can be proven.”

The door-keeper looked for an instant at the buzzing throng which had settled down upon the front seats, and, understanding what a difficult task he might be setting himself, evidently decided that Mr. Davis was in the right.

Sam Barney already sat on the front row of seats allotted to spectators when Mrs. Hanson’s lodgers entered, and although Seth would have been better pleased to remain at a greater distance from the would-be detective, Bill Dean forced him along until they were directly behind Jip’s enemy.

“Don’t speak to him,” Seth whispered.  “I’m sorry we’re so near the duffer.”

“It’s jest where I counted on gettin’,” Bill replied, in a tone of satisfaction.  “I won’t have any row with the chump, but only shake him up a bit.”

“If we make any noise, all hands will be fired out.”

“Watch an’ see how quiet I’ll be,” Master Dean replied, and then before his companion could check him, he had leaned over and whispered in Sam’s ear:  “Be mighty careful you tell the truth in this court, or I’ll let out to the judge what you did in Philadelphy, an’ then perhaps Jip Collins won’t be the only prisoner ’round here.”

Master Barney turned quickly, and an expression of disquiet came over his face as he saw who were directly behind him.

He did not venture to make any remark, nor did Bill think it wise to repeat the threat; but he shook his fist warningly, which served the same purpose.

“Be quiet,” Seth whispered imploringly.  “It would be terrible if we got into a row here, for Mr. Davis is standing close by the door watchin’ us.”

“I won’t do a thing till we get outside, unless it happens that I have to tell the judge ‘bout Sam’s borrowin’ that money,” Master Dean replied in a tone sufficiently loud to be heard by the alleged detective.

Then the attention of all the sidewalk merchants was attracted to the opposite side of the room by Dan Roberts, who whispered loudly, pointing with outstretched finger: 

“There he is!  There’s Jip!”

The prisoner was being led in by a burly policeman, who kept a firm hold on the boy’s collar as if fearful he might make some desperate attempt at escape, and there was not a person in the court-room, with the probable exception of Sam Barney, who failed to feel a certain sympathy for the frightened lad.

“That’s his lawyer - the little feller with the big nose,” Dan whispered so loudly that not only his friends in the immediate vicinity, but all the attorneys within the enclosure, set apart for their especial use, heard the words, and much merriment ensued, during which the cause of it looked around in surprise, unable to discover the meaning of it.

Seth and Dan, who had never before attended the trial of a prisoner, expected there would be considerable ceremony, in which policemen would play a prominent part; therefore the case was begun and gone on with to some extent before they were aware of the fact.

It is true they saw Jip Collins standing up while the clerk read from a paper a quantity of words which had no meaning to them, and after a time, the prisoner was allowed to sit down again.

Then the “little man with the big nose” talked to the judge as if confiding in him some secret, after which the clerk called loudly: 

“Daniel Roberts!  Daniel Roberts!”

Seth’s partner gazed about him curiously, never once thinking the clerk referred to him, until ’Lish Davis, coming swiftly down from his station near the door, leaned over and pinched Dan’s ear as he asked: 

“Why don’t you answer to your name?”

“Is it me they mean?” Dan asked, and at that instant the clerk repeated the call.

Dan looked about him in perplexity, uncertain as to what he should do, until ’Lish reached over to seize him by the collar, when he cried in a shrill voice: 

“Here I be, Mister!”

“Come forward to the witness-stand,” the official said sharply, while the spectators laughed heartily.

It was several moments before Master Roberts could be made to understand exactly where he should go, and then, assisted by ’Lish Davis and the clerk, he finally gained the stand, where he stood gazing around with the most friendly expression on his face.

For some reason no question was asked immediately, and after waiting two or three moments, Dan, believing the judge was ready to hear his story, began earnestly: 

“You see, it’s jest this way:  Jip, he didn’t count on doin’ anything off color, an’ if it hadn’t been for Sam Barney - ”

“Silence in the court!” the crier called, and Dan looked up in surprise at being interrupted so soon.

“He didn’t reckon on bein’ - ”

Dan stopped again as the same voice called loudly for silence in the court, and then the attorney employed to defend Jip explained matters by saying: 

“You must wait until you are questioned, Daniel.  There will be ample opportunity to give your evidence.”

“Dan ain’t goin’ to let any chance slip him,” Bill Dean whispered confidentially to Seth, and Sam Barney said in a tone sufficiently loud to be heard by those immediately behind him: 

“He’s a reg’lar chump, else he’d know enough to behave hisself on the witness-stand.”

“He’ll behave himself outside on the sidewalk in a way you won’t like if you shoot off your mouth too much,” Bill whispered, and Seth shook his friend’s arm warningly lest he disturb the court by his threats.

’Lish Davis evidently saw that there was bad blood between the alleged detective and Seth’s roommate, and at once forced the boys on the front seat to move nearer together until he had room to sit where he could keep all of them under his eye, a proceeding which caused the amateur fireman great relief of mind.

After what seemed like a long time in waiting, Jip’s attorney asked the witness: 

“What is your name?”

Dan appeared surprised at such a question, and after some slight hesitation replied: 

“Why, I’m the feller you told to come here.  Didn’t you hear the man call my name?  This is where they said I was to stand.”

The judge rapped smartly on the desk in front of him, and Dan turned quickly to see what had happened.

“Answer properly the questions asked of you!”

“That’s what - ”

The attorney interrupted him by asking as before: 

“What is your name?”

“It’s Dan Roberts, of course, an’ I was - ”

“Are you acquainted with the prisoner?”

“Do you mean Jip?  Why, of course I am; him an’ me used to work together when he lived with Seth Bartlett - ”

“Answer only the questions asked of you!” the judge said sternly, and for the instant Dan was abashed; but quickly recovered himself as he remembered what Seth had said regarding the possibility of aiding Jip by his evidence.

“Where were you when he set fire to the shed in Baxter’s lumber-yard?”

“Now, see here, mister, Jip never ’d done that - ”

“Where were you?” the attorney repeated, speaking so sharply that for the moment Dan was startled.

“Why, in the shed, of course, we - ”

“Had you heard the prisoner threaten to set fire to the shed?”

“He didn’t mean a word of it; did you, Jip?  He was - ”

“Unless you answer the questions which are asked, and in a proper manner, we shall find some means of punishing you,” the judge said sternly, and Jip’s attorney whispered a few words in the ear of the witness, which had the effect of checking him for the time being.

He was questioned regarding what he had heard Jip say as to burning the shed; how many times such threat had been repeated in his presence, and what the prisoner had told concerning the crime after it had been committed.

It was the last question which set loose the floodgates of his speech, and, regardless of the judge’s warnings or the attorney’s nervous gestures, he said, speaking rapidly in order that all might be told before they should check him: 

“Jip, he was awful sorry ‘cause he’d done it, an’ said he’d square things if we’d let him.  He wouldn’t even put up his hands when I was goin’ to thump him, an’ if Sam Barney hadn’t wanted to show hisself off for a detective there wouldn’t been any fuss like this.  What does he know ‘bout bein’ a detective?  Why, I wouldn’t - ”

By this time the court officials managed to stop the flow of words; but not before he had shaken his fist in the direction of Sam, and caused even the judge to smile.

“You may step down,” the clerk said, after order had been restored, and Dan asked innocently: 

“Ain’t you goin’ to give me a chance to - ”

“Step down!” was the stern command and Master Roberts was forced to obey, much to his displeasure.

“I’ll bet I’d fix things if they’d give me a chance,” he whispered to Seth as he took his seat; “but that lawyer ’Lish Davis hired don’t ’mount to a row of pins.”

Then the amateur fireman’s name was called, and he proved a more satisfactory witness to all concerned than had Master Roberts.

He replied briefly to the questions, and when the examination was ended the judge asked how Jip had behaved after the crime was committed.

Then it was that Seth had an opportunity of telling how penitent the firebug had appeared to be; how eager he was to do all in his power toward repairing the wrong, and declared he did not believe the prisoner would “go crooked again.”

’Lish Davis next went on the stand, and although he could not swear to Jip’s repentance, he testified that the prisoner himself had sent in the alarm, and succeeded in saying many a good word for the boy.

“That driver is a dandy!” Dan whispered approvingly.  “I wish the lawyer was half as good.”

Master Roberts was better satisfied with the attorney a short time later, when he made a plea that sentence be suspended on the prisoner, who had promptly confessed his guilt, and even at the moment when the crime had been committed did all in his power to repair the mischief.

Then two or three others had something to say; but they appeared to be talking privately with the judge, rather than conducting the case, and to the great surprise of all the small spectators Sam Barney was not called to the witness-stand.

The fact that he had compassed the arrest of the prisoner was not even mentioned, much to the delight of Dan and Bill Dean, each of whom leaned forward from time to time to ask in a cautious whisper as to when the “big detective work was goin’ to be showed up?”

After a time it seemed to those in the front seats as if the prisoner had been forgotten by the court, for nothing was said to or about him, and Bill was on the point of asking Seth if the trial was concluded, when the judge ordered Jip to stand up.

Then he lectured him severely on the crime of arson, explained how many years of his life would be spent in prison if the provisions of the law were carried out to their fullest extent, and finally announced that sentence would be suspended during good behavior.

At this point ’Lish Davis left the court-room as if he no longer had any interest in the proceedings, and after a certain time the attorney led Jip out of the building, the latter’s acquaintances following in a body.

“Is it all over?” Dan cried, seizing the attorney by the arm in order to hold his attention, and before the gentleman could speak, Sam Barney cried vindictively: 

“You can bet it ain’t all over!  I’ve been buncoed by a lot of cheap firemen, an’ don’t count on holdin’ my tongue.  You’ll see Jip Collins in jail again before he’s a day older.”

“Yes, it is all over,” the attorney said in reply to Dan’s question.  “So long as Jip behaves himself, nothing more will be done; but if he should go wrong, sentence for this crime will be pronounced, and most likely he will be given the extreme penalty.”

“Can Sam Barney have him arrested?” Dan asked.

“No one can trouble him on this charge while he lives an honest life.”

“Then I’ll see that that duffer holds his tongue!” and Bill started toward the would-be detective in a threatening manner; but the latter was not minded to take any chances of an encounter.

He turned and fled instantly Bill made the advance, and did not halt until he was half a block or more away, when he shouted: 

“Wait an’ see what I’ll do to all you chumps who think you’re so awful smart!”

“I’ll give you a chance of seein’ what I’ll do, an’ without much waitin’, if you make any more cheap talk!”

With this threat Bill turned his back on the disappointed Sam, and Seth begged of him to remain quiet.

“It’s all right now,” he replied complacently.  “I’ve had my say, an’ if Sam knows what’s good for him, he’ll keep his tongue quiet.  There ain’t any reason why I shouldn’t fight, an’ he’ll soon find it out.”

Then Seth turned to the attorney, who was yet talking with Jip, and asked: 

“How’s he goin’ to pay you for lookin’ after him?”

“I don’t expect he can.  The bill was settled by some firemen belonging to Ninety-four engine.”

With this the lawyer, after advising Jip to call upon him from time to time, went his way, and Mrs. Hanson’s lodgers stood looking at each other as if expecting some important proposition was about to be made.

“It won’t do to take you up to our house, Jip, ’cause there are three of us already, an’ the boss of the place can’t have all the boys in the city runnin’ in an’ out there for sixty cents a week,” Seth said hesitatingly, wondering what could be done with the lad who had been put on probation.

“I ain’ thinkin’ you could take me there,” Master Collins replied promptly.  “Now I’m out, I’ll begin to sell papers down by the ferry again, ‘cause I’ve got fourteen cents left, an’ if Sam Barney leaves me alone, I’ll pull through all right.”

“If he so much as looks crossways at you, I’ll give him something to remember me by,” Bill cried.

“It’s a good thing to get right at your work,” Seth said approvingly.  “Stick at it, an’ us fellers will come to see you whenever we get a chance.”

“You’ve been mighty good to me, all three of you, an’ I only wish I could - ”

It was impossible for the penitent firebug to say anything more.  The tears he had been holding back since he first appeared in court now came out in full force, and, seated on the curbstone, he gave full sway to the sense of loneliness and shame in his heart.

Mrs. Hanson’s lodgers soothed him as best they could, and not until he was ready for business once more, with a bundle of evening papers under his arm, did Seth think of leaving him.

Dan and Bill had both equipped themselves for work, and promised to have an eye out for Jip during the remainder of that day at least; therefore, Seth believed himself at liberty to follow his own inclinations.

“I want to go up to the engine-house for a spell; but I’ll be in the room in time to go with you to school,” he said to Dan, and the latter replied cheerily: 

“All right, we’ll flash up there by dark, and you needn’t be ’fraid anybody will get the best of Jip while we’re round.”

Ten minutes later Seth was in Ninety-four’s quarters, standing in front of ’Lish Davis, as the latter asked sternly: 

“Why didn’t you stay down-town an’ enjoy yourself?  That’s what I told you to do.”

“I can have more fun up here, an’ I didn’t think you’d care if I loafed ’round till it was time to go to school.”

“Care?  Of course we don’t, Amateur; but you ought’er have some change; there’s no sense in hanging on here all the time.”

“I don’t see very much of you, an’ perhaps - ”

“You’re reckoning that we may get a call, and you’ll have the chance to go out with us?”

“If there was one, I’d like - ”

Mr. Davis interrupted him by saying with mock seriousness: 

“I’m afraid, Amateur, we shall have to hire a back-yard somewhere, and keep a little blaze going so’s to amuse you.”

Seth laughed heartily at this conceit, and then bethinking himself that there was no reason why he should not give the men’s boots an extra polish, brought his outfit from the chamber above, although Jerry Walters insisted strongly that he should sit still “and visit with ’em.”

To do this work he had drawn on an old pair of overalls to protect his blue trousers, taken off his coat, and was in full working costume, when a “click” came from the Morse instrument, and the men were already on their feet as the alarm began to sound.

“Am I in it?” Seth cried eagerly, as the horses dashed out of their stall, and ’Lish Davis replied, while attending to his portion of the work: 

“I reckon we shall have to take you along, Amateur, seeing ’s this fire seems to have started jest when you got into trim for hard work.  Swing alongside the engineer, and we’ll allow you’re one of the company.”

By the time the driver ceased speaking the engine was on its way out of the building, and Seth, swaying to and fro, clung for dear life to the guard-rail, as the mighty machine was drawn swiftly over the pavement.

“There’s no chance of our getting first water this time, even if we are taking the mascot with us,” Jerry Walters said with a laugh, and Amateur knew there were no less than three engines stationed nearer the signal-box, from which had come this alarm, than was Ninety-four.

“A nasty place for a fire,” the engineer said as the engine, following another an hundred yards or more in advance, rolled on toward a block of apartment houses, from the centre of which could be seen dense clouds of black smoke ascending.

“And it seems to have a good start,” Walters added.

Then Ninety-four’s hose was coupled on, and, without attracting the attention of the driver, Seth followed Joe Black and Jerry as they dragged the nozzle up the steps to the entrance of the threatened building.

“Get back, Amateur!” one of them shouted, and the boy cried imploringly: 

“Please let me go as far as you do!  It’s my first chance, an’ I’ve got my old clothes on!”

“All right; but have an eye on yourself, and see to it the battalion chief don’t spot you,” Joe Black replied carelessly, and Seth congratulated himself that he had gone to Ninety-four’s quarters instead of spending his time down-town.

The fire appeared to have its strongest hold in the shaft of the elevator, coming from the basement, and the two men whom Seth was following, joined by Ben Dunton, dragged the long length of hose up one flight of stairs to the landing where tongues of yellow flame were apparently coming through the very floor.

Once they were in position for battle with the foe directly before them, Jerry Walters ran into the adjoining apartment, and shouted through the open window.

Even where he stood, shielding his face with his arm as best he could from the intense heat and blinding smoke, Seth could hear the cry: 

“Ninety-four!  Start your water!  Start your water!”

If there was any response those on the landing did not hear it; but a few seconds later the leathern hose began to stiffen and round out into shape, and then with a mighty rush that threatened to wrest the nozzle from the three strong men who were holding it, a jet of water struck the burning floor with a force that would have shattered less substantial timbers.

“Hurrah for Ninety-four!” and Seth sprang to the hose, intent on doing a full share of the work even though his face was almost blistered by the heat.

“Get back, Amateur, get back!  It’s too hot for you here!” and Ben Dunton thrust Seth aside with his elbow at the very instant a wild scream was heard on the stairway in the rear of the firemen.

Turning quickly Seth saw dimly through the volume of choking vapor the form of a woman, and it seemed to him that Ben Dunton was trying to force her down the stairs when she shrieked: 

“There’s a child on the next floor!”

Jerry Walters and Joe Black could not leave their places of duty; but Ben Dunton sprang forward, and almost instinctively Seth followed, the smoke being so dense at the top of the stairs as to screen his movements from the view of those at the nozzle.

For an instant he fancied Jerry called his name, and then he was groping his way upward, half-blinded, choking, but eager to do what he might toward a rescue.

He gained the second landing.

Here everything was obscured by the black smoke, and he could no longer see Dunton, although now and then a crashing noise as of wood being splintered under heavy blows told, as he believed, that the brave fireman was intent on the effort to save life even though his own might pay the forfeit.

Then with a roar the flames burst from the elevator shaft directly in front of him, and he staggered on along the hallway, hardly knowing in which direction he was going until, from behind a door near at hand came that which sounded like the crying of a child.

He had only to turn the knob in order to gain an entrance into the apartment, which seemed entirely free from smoke, as compared with the place he had just left.

On the floor near the window sat a child crying piteously, and Seth caught the little thing in his arms, thinking it would be possible to gain the foot of the stairs, where he had left Black and Walters, before either he or his charge should receive serious injury.

Thus laden he ran toward the hallway, but only to retreat.

The flames were pouring up through the shaft, spreading out in every direction, and forming such a barrier as he could not hope to pass.

He shouted for Dunton, but no reply came, and for the briefest interval of time he despaired.

Then came into his mind as clearly as if the words were yet being spoken, what he had heard said to one of the classes concerning just such peril as he was in at that moment, and without delay he returned to the room, closing the door behind him to shut out the noisome vapor as nearly as might be.

“Don’t cry, baby, don’t cry,” he said soothingly to the screaming child as he ran here and there looking for something with which to carry into practice the lesson he had received.