Chapter XIX. Who was Smoking?
 

Mr. Bobbsey laughed, though he was worried about the fire. It seemed so odd for Freddie to want to go out in the cold, dark night.

"Not this time, my Fat Fireman!" said Freddie's papa. "It may be only a pile of rubbish on fire. I'll tell you about it when I come back."

"Where does it seem to be?" asked Mrs. Bobbsey.

"Down near the lake," answered her husband. "I'm afraid, he added in a lower voice, "that it may be our boathouse. It seems to be about there."

"Oh, I hope not!" she exclaimed. "Still, better that than our own house."

"If it's near the lake, papa," said Flossie who heard part of what her father said, "it will be easy to put it out, for there is plenty of water."

"Pooh! engines have their own water!" exclaimed Freddie, who had rather hazy notions as to how fire engines work. He was getting over his disappointment about not being allowed to go with his father, and had again cuddled down in his warm crib.

Another engine dashed by the Bobbsey house, and the ringing of the alarm bell increased. The voices and footsteps of many persons, as they rushed on to the blaze, could also be heard, and there resounded the cry of:

"Fire! Fire! Fire!"

Bert, who had been aroused with the others of the household, was dressing in his room. He felt that his father would let him go to the fire. At any rate he intended to be all ready when he made his request, so as not to cause delay.

"Are you going, Bert?" asked Nan, as from her room, next to that of her brother, she heard him moving around.

"I am, if father will take me," he said.

"It's too cold for me!" Nan exclaimed with a shiver, as she went back in bed again. She had gotten up to peer from the window at the red glare in the sky.

From the third floor, where Dinah slept, the colored cook now called down:

"Am anybody sick, Mrs. Bobbsey? What am de mattah down dere?"

"It's a fire, Dinah!" answered her mistress.

"Oh good land a'massy! Don't tell me dat!" she cried. "Sam ! Sam! Wake up. De house is on fire an' you'se got t' sabe me!"

"No, no, Dinah!" cried Mrs. Bobbsey, to calm the cook. "It isn't this house. It's down by the lake. If you look out of your window you can see it."

Dinah hurried across to her window, and evidently saw the reflection of the blaze, for she exclaimed:

"Thank goodness it ain't yeah! Mah goodness, but I suah was skarit fo' a minute!"

By this time Mr. Bobbsey had dressed, and had started downstairs. Bert came out of his room, also ready for the street.

"May I come, father?" he asked.

"Well, I declare!" exclaimed Mr. Bobbsey, in surprise. "So you got dressed too, did you?"

"Yes, sir. May I come?"

Mr. Bobbsey hesitated a moment, and then, with a smile, said:

"Well, I suppose so, since you are all ready. I'm taking Bert," he called to his wife. "Freddie, you'll have to be the Fat Fireman while I'm gone, and look after the house."

"That's what I will," said Freddie, "and if any sparks fly over here I'll throw the bath room sponge on 'em!"

"Good!" cried Mr. Bobbsey, and then, he and Bert hurried out.

The fire was now larger, as they could see when they got out in the street. There was no wind and the flames went straight up in the air. There were not many buildings down by the lake, only some boat shelters and places like that. The Bobbsey's boathouse was a fine large one, having recently been made bigger as Mr. Bobbsey was thinking of buying a new motor boat.

Mr. Bobbsey and his son hurried on, following the crowd that filled the street leading to the lake. Several gentlemen knew the lumber merchant, and called to him.

"I guess you're glad this isn't your lumber yard," said one.

"Yes, indeed," was the answer. "I had a little fire there once, and I don't want another. But I'm afraid this is some of my property just the same."

"Is that so?"

"Yes, it looks to be my boathouse."

"So it does!" cried another man.

"Oh, father!" cried Bert. "Our nice boathouse!"

"Well, the firemen may save it," said Mr. Bobbsey. "We will hope so, anyhow," he added.

They had not gone on much farther before Mr. Bobbsey and Bert could see that it was indeed their boathouse on fire. One side was all ablaze, and the flames were slowly, but surely, eating their way over the whole place. But two engines were now pumping streams of water on the fire, and they might put it out before too much damage was done.

Mr. Bobbsey rushed forward, and, as the policemen and firemen knew him, they let him get close to the boathouse.

"You stay here, Bert," said Mr. Bobbsey to his son.

"Where are you going?" Bert wanted to know.

"I'm going to see if we can save any of the boats."

There was a sailing craft, a number of rowboats, and a small gasoline launch in the boathouse. They had been stored away for the winter.

"Come on, men!" cried Mr. Bobbsey, as he saw some of his workmen in the crowd. "Help me save the boats!"

All rushed forward willingly, and, as there was part of the place where the flames had not yet reached, they could make their way into the house. They began lowering the boats into the icy water, while the firemen played the several lines of hose on the flames.

The third engine was now working, and so much water was pumped that even a larger fire could not have stood it for very long. The blaze began to die down, and when Mr. Bobbsey and his men were about to lower the gasoline launch into the icy water the chief ran up, saying:

"You don't need to do that! We've got the fire under control now. It will soon be out."

"Are you sure?" asked the lumber merchant.

"Yes. You can see for yourself. Leave the boat there. It will be all right."

Mr. Bobbsey looked, and was satisfied that the larger part of the boathouse would be saved. So he and his men stopped their work; and went outside to cool off.

A little later the fire was practically out, but one engine continued to throw water on the smouldering sparks. The crowd began to leave now, for there was nothing more to see, and it was cold.

"My!" exclaimed Bert as his father came back to where he had left his son, "it didn't take long to settle that fire."

"No, we have a good fire department," replied Mr. Bobbsey.

The fire chief came up to Mr Bobbsey, who expressed his thanks for the quick work of the firemen.

"Have you any idea what started the fire, Mr. Bobbsey?" asked the chief. "Was the boathouse in use?"

"No," was the answer. "It had been closed for the winter some time ago - in fact as soon as the carpenters finished making the changes. No one was in it as far as I know."

"Then how do you account for this?" asked the chief, as he held out a box partly filled with cigarettes. "I picked these up in the living room," he went on, for the boathouse had one room carpeted, and fitted with chairs and tables, and electric lights where the family often spent evenings during Summer.

"You found those cigarettes in the living room of the boathouse?" asked Mr. Bobbsey.

"I did; and the question is who was smoking?" went on the chief. "In my opinion the end of a cigarette thrown aside, or perhaps a lighted match dropped in some corner, started this fire. Who was smoking?"