The next second, in spite of the intense heat, he and the other lads were scattering the hay on the side of the stack that was not yet ablaze.
“That’s the way to do it!”
“Why didn’t we think of that before?”
“Get busy, everybody! Scatter the hay!”
These cries greeted the activity of Tom and his three friends, and, a few seconds later, as many of the crowd of students as could get near were picking and tearing at the stacks of hay, with whatever they could lay their hands on—pitchforks, rakes, sticks, clothes-poles—anything that would serve to scatter the inflammable mass, that was not yet ablaze, far enough off so that the tongues of fire could not reach it.
It was hot work and disagreeable work, for the smoke and ashes were blown into the faces of the lads time and again. Yet they persisted, not from any love for the farmer, since his treatment of Tom was well known, but because of the lads’ inherent desire to do something—especially at a fire.
Meanwhile, Mr. Appleby, seeing that the blaze was now in competent hands, turned his attention to the barns, getting out, with the help of some students and his hired men, the farm machinery, and some sacks of grain.
But there was no need of this, as it developed, for, in a comparatively short time, Tom’s tactics proved effective. The fire, from lack of material to feed on, gradually died out, and though the greater part of the two stacks were consumed, the scattering of the remaining hay solved the problem.
The fierce heat and blaze began to subside, and in a short time all that was left was a pile of glowing ashes. Tom and his friends ceased their efforts, and withdrew to the cooler area near the barn, that had been half emptied of their contents before it was certain that they would not go up in flames and smoke.
“Well, that’s over,” remarked Jack, as he stood his pitchfork up against the building, “and I’m glad of it.”
“So am I,” declared Bert.
“And you’re a mighty lucky man, Mr. Appleby,” said one of his neighbors, “that you have any out-buildings left.”
“But look at the hay that’s burned!” whined the farmer. “Nigh on to three tons of it gone, an’ the rest spiled by smoke, I reckon.”
“But you’re lucky just the same,” insisted another neighbor who had come over to help fight the blaze. “If it hadn’t been for these school boys, and that one in particular who had the gumption to think of scattering the hay, you’d be many thousands of dollars poorer than you are now. What’s a few tons of hay compared to that?”
“Of course!” came a murmur from several other farmers.
“Humph!” almost sneered Mr. Appleby. “Them school fellers! Maybe they know more about this fire than they’re lettin’ on!”
“What’s that?” cried Tom, who overheard the words. “What do you mean?”