11. To The Rescue
 

It was a wild ride, never to be forgotten. Tom had all the lights turned up fully, so that he might see everything that was ahead. From twenty miles per hour the speed climbed up to twenty-five, then thirty, then thirty-five, and finally forty. Over the newly-mended bridge they dashed at breakneck speed.

"Be on your guard, Tom," warned Sam.

"We've got to get there," was the grim response. "The girls may be in danger."

"Right you are! Let her go for all she is worth!"

They had been making many turns and going up-hill and down, but now came a straight stretch of several miles, and here Tom put on all the extra power the touring car could command. From forty miles an hour, they reached forty-five, and then fifty, and, at one point, the speedometer registered fifty-four.

"My gracious, Tom, don't kill us!" yelled Bob, to make himself heard above the roar of the motor, for Tom had the muffler cutout wide open.

The youth at the wheel did not answer. He was giving all his attention to the running of the car, and this was needed. Along the roadway they sped like an arrow from a bow, past trees and fences, with here and there a farmhouse or a barn. Once Tom saw a white spot in the road ahead, and threw off the power. But it was only a flying newspaper, and on he went as speedily as before.

"It's at Hope, all right!" yelled Stanley, when they slowed down at a turn of the road.

"Yes, but I don't think it is any of the main buildings," returned another student.

"I hope not," came from Sam.

There was one more small rise to climb, and then they came into full view of what was ahead. Through the trees they saw that one of the large barns, in which the fire had evidently started, was almost totally consumed. The slight wind that was blowing had carried the sparks to one of the wings of the main building, and this was now in flames at several points.

"Here comes the fire engine!" cried Bob, as the touring car swept through the seminary grounds; and he pointed down the opposite road. Along this a small engine from a nearby town was approaching, hauled by a score of men and boys. Far down another road could be heard the tooting of another engine, probably from some other town.

"We might give some of those fellows help," suggested Songbird. "What's the matter with running the car down to where they are, and hitching fast?"

"You can do it, Songbird, if you wish," returned Tom, hurriedly. "I'll join you just as soon as I find out if the girls are safe."

"And I'll go with Tom," put in Sam.

"Oh, they must be safe; the fire isn't in that part of the building," broke in Stanley. "But go ahead, you fellows, we'll take care of the machine." For he well understood how anxious the Rovers must be regarding the Laning girls.

Leaping from the touring car, Sam and Tom joined the crowd in the vicinity of the fire, composed mostly of girl students and their teachers. About a score of men and boys living in the vicinity had come up, and these, with the hired help from the institution, were doing all in their power, to subdue the flames.

"Did all of the girls get out?" asked Tom, of the first teacher he met.

"I don't know-- I think so," was the answer.

The boys pushed their way along from one group of students to another, trying to catch sight of those whom they were seeking. In the meantime, Songbird and the others from Brill had taken charge of the touring car, and run it down a side road, where they hooked fast to one of the arriving fire engines, much to the relief of those who had been dragging the machine over the somewhat rough highway, and were almost exhausted.

"Oh, Sam!" The cry came from Grace, and the next instant the girl rushed up and fairly threw herself into the arms of the youngest Rover.

"Where is Nellie?" he demanded, quickly. "Is she safe?"

"Here I am!" was the call, and then Nellie came up and caught Tom by the shoulder. "Oh, isn't this dreadful!"

"It sure is, Nellie," returned Tom, as he slipped his arm around her waist. "But I am mighty glad that you are safe. Do you think everybody is out?"

"We don't know, but they ought to be out, for we had plenty of warning. The fire started in the barn, you know."

"What caused it?"

"They think one of the men must have been smoking and dropped a light in the hay. Anyway, the fire started there."

"The other fellows took the auto to help the fire engine," broke in Sam. "Here they come now," he added, as the machine came up with honking horn, and dragging one of the fire engines behind it.

"I wish we could do something to put out this blaze," came from Tom. "Sam, we must get busy."

"Right you are!"

"Oh, do be careful, both of you!" pleaded Nellie.

"Yes, don't get burnt," added Grace.

"We'll look out, don't you fear," answered Sam, and then he and Tom turned to join those at the fire engines and the hose carts.

The seminary was provided with several water towers, and from these some lines of hose had already been run to the fire. Now some additional lines of hose were laid from the fire engines, which began to take water from two cisterns. Soon the added streams showed their effect on the flames.

"Girls! girls! have any of you see Miss Harrow?" The cry came from one of the teachers, as she made her way through the crowd.

"Why, isn't she out?" asked a number.

"I don't know, I can't find her anywhere," replied the instructor.

"Was she in the building?"

"I think so. She said at supper time that she had a toothache, and was going to retire early." And thus speaking, the teacher hurried on.

"Is that the Miss Harrow who lost that four-hundred-dollar diamond ring?" asked Tom.

"Yes," replied Nellie.

"Was her room in that addition?" questioned Sam, quickly, pointing to an end of the building which was on fire in several places.

"Yes, she has the corner window, right over there," responded Grace, pointing to a spot close to where the building was in flames.

The words had scarcely left the lips of the girl, when, to the horror of those standing below, a third story window was suddenly thrown up, and the head of a woman appeared.

"Help! Help! Save me!" The cry came wildly from the woman, who was plainly terror-stricken.

"It's Miss Harrow!" cried a score of voices.

"Look! Look! The fire is on both sides of her!"

"Don't jump! Don't jump!" yelled Tom, at the top of his lungs, and he saw the teacher prepare to cast herself to the ground.

"Can't you come down by the stairs?" called out Sam, as loudly as he could.

"I'm afraid to open the door! The hall is full of smoke and fire!" screamed the teacher. "Save me! Save me!"

"Haven't they got a ladder handy?" asked Tom.

"Sure, we've got a ladder-- half a dozen of 'em," responded one of the men who worked around the place.

"Where is it? Show it to us, quick!" put in Sam.

"All right, this way," returned the man, and started off with Sam at his heels.

"Don't jump! don't jump! We'll help you!" cried a dozen voices to the teacher.

"We are going to get a ladder!" yelled Tom. "Stay where you are!"

And then he followed the others. The ladders were kept in a wagon shed, and it took but a few moments to bring them out. They were four in number, and of various sizes.

"I'm afraid none of 'em is long enough to reach that winder," said the man who had led the way.

"You are right," replied Tom. "But what's the matter with lashing a couple of them together? Here's a rope." And he pointed to a washline that hung on a nearby hook.

In frantic haste a dozen persons carried the ladders to the burning building. Tom followed with the rope, which he unwound on the way. Then the washline was cut, and with it two of the longest ladders were lashed together as quickly as possible. Then the combination ladder was raised against the building and set close to the window, to the sill of which Miss Harrow clung.

"I'll go up if you want me to," cried Tom, as he saw the men who belonged around the place hold back. "You steady the ladder so it doesn't slip."

"Want me to help, Tom?" asked Sam.

"No, you see that they steady the ladder." And thus speaking, Tom began to mount the rungs.

A cheer went up, but to this the youth paid no attention. In a few seconds he was at the third story window. He had to pass through considerable smoke, but as yet the flames had not reached that vicinity.

"Come, give me your hand, and step out on the ladder," cried Tom to the teacher.

"I-- I can't!" gasped Miss Harrow. And now the youth saw that she was almost paralyzed from fright. She clung desperately to the window sill, evidently unable to move. Clinging to the ladder with his left hand, Tom placed his right foot on the window sill, and then he reached down and caught the teacher under the arm.

"Come, you don't want to stay here," he ordered, almost sternly, and pulled the teacher to her feet.

"Oh, oh, we'll fall! I can't do it!" were her gasped-out words.

"You've got to do it-- unless you want to be burned up. Now then, if you don't want to climb down the ladder, let me carry you."

"I-- I-- oh-- I can't move!" And with these words, the teacher sank down across the window sill.

A sudden change in the wind drove a cloud of smoke into Tom's face, and for the moment he and the teacher were hidden from the view of those below.

"Oh, look! Tom will be burned up!" screamed Nellie.

"No, he won't," returned Sam, reassuringly. "He knows what he is doing." Nevertheless, Sam was as anxious as anyone over his brother's safety.

When the smoke shifted, it was seen that Tom had hauled the teacher from the window sill and had her over his shoulder. She hung down limply, showing that she had lost consciousness. Rung by rung, the youth came down the ladder slowly with his burden.

"He's got her! He's got her!" was the glad cry, and a few seconds later Tom reached the ground, where he was immediately surrounded by the others.

"Oh, Tom, how did you do it?" cried Nellie, hysterically.

"Oh, it was not much to do-- anybody could have done it," replied the youth. "Say, what am I to do with her?" he added, indicating the burden on his shoulder.

"This way, please," said the teacher who had taken charge of matters, and she led the way out on the campus and to a bench on which some of the girls had piled their fancy pillows. Here Miss Harrow was made as comfortable as possible.

By this time a third fire engine had arrived, and more streams were directed on the flames. The ladder was used by some of those at the nozzle of one of the hose lines, and by this means the fire in the wing of the main building was quickly extinguished. Nothing could be done towards saving what was left of the barn, so the firemen directed all their efforts towards keeping the conflagration from spreading.

"Well, it's about out," said Sam, a little later. "Some mess, though, believe me!"

"Oh, I am so thankful it was not worse!" murmured Grace. "Suppose it had burned down the main building!"

"Tom, you're a hero!" cried Spud, coming up.

"Nothing of the sort," retorted Tom. "Anybody could have done what I did, and you know it."

"All the same, you're the one who did it," answered Spud, admiringly.

"He certainly did," said one of the men in the crowd. "That teacher ought to be mighty thankful for what he did for her."

"I don't want her thanks," added Tom, in a low voice. "All I want her to do, is to treat Nellie fairly."