Then, with a swarm of followers, he pushed around the corner. Here, to be sure, there did seem to be less of smoke and blaze, owing to the direction of the night wind.
Now they were placing the ladder. It reached up to a window, and if only Jack would show himself all might be well. Seconds were like an eternity to those who crowded below, every face upturned, and every eye ranging along the side of the house.
The fire was pushing in this direction too, for it suddenly burst out of a broken window. From many pairs of lips there burst a groan. Well did they know that every second counted against the boy, who was doubtless groping his way along halls and through rooms filled with that overpowering smoke.
“There he is!”
It was like a sudden electric shock, that cry. The clarion notes of a bugle would not have thrilled that vast crowd one half so surely as did the appearance of a head at a window on the left.
Jack had been shrewd enough to pick out a room that was further away from the devouring flames. A hoarse shout went up at sight of him.
“He’s got the baby too!” was the tenor of that victorious cry; and it was as though every man and boy and other person present felt a personal interest in the success of Jack’s daring venture.
The precious baby was saved; yes, he was hugging the bundle to his breast; and during a lull in the clamor they plainly heard the lusty cries that proceeded from that shawl-wrapped package. Those were doubtless the most blessed sounds that ever reached the strained ears of the praying mother.
Quickly was the ladder lifted and rushed along the wall of the house until it stood beneath the window where Jack had shown himself.
The foreman himself mounted as soon as it was in position. But Jack refused to hand over his burden, nor could Mr. Elderkin insist. It was only right that the one who had saved the little darling should have the pleasure of placing her in the arms of the frantic mother.
But he could and did guide Jack’s feet as they sought the rounds of the friendly ladder, so that presently the boy, with singed hair, and begrimed with smoke, was lifted to the ground.
Hardly had Jack landed than a pair of arms encircled both him and the baby; for in that happy moment the mother realized what she owed this brave lad; and her heart was brimming over with gratitude.
Such shouts as went up then! Those still coming to the scene must have thought the wearers of the fire hats had succeeded in running a line of hose into a position where victory was assured.
Again the bucket brigade got busy, working with renewed zeal, though but little hope of saving any portion of the big building now remained. But every one was roused up to fever pitch by the excitement of the hour. And Jack’s valiant work had helped inspire them to renewed deeds of endeavor.
Paul led his chum away, for Jack was almost exhausted. Then came Mr. Stormways on the run, having just learned what his boy had done. He seized Jack in his arms, and shed tears over him; though at the same time his heart must have swelled within him with satisfaction that one of his brood had acquitted himself so well in a crisis that called for a cool head and nerves of steel.