Meet us on:
Welcome to Read Print! Sign in with
or
to get started!
 
Entire Site
    Try our fun game

    Dueling book covers…may the best design win!

    Random Quote
    "It is a paradoxical but profoundly true and important principle of life that the most likely way to reach a goal is to be aiming not at that goal itself but at some more ambitious goal beyond it."
     

    Subscribe to Our Newsletter

    Follow us on Twitter

    Never miss a good book again! Follow Read Print on Twitter

    Chapter 12

    • Rate it:
    Launch Reading Mode Next Chapter
    Chapter 13
    Previous Chapter
    IN THE BURNING COTTON MILL

    The two companies were in such positions that Captain Artie's command would be the first to receive the charge of the Confederates, who were coming on yelling like demons. The enemy felt that the chances of escape were slim, and came on in sheer desperation; and a crowd of desperate men can accomplish a good deal at times.

    But Artie, youthful as he was, did not quail. As rapidly as it could be accomplished, he wheeled to one side and shouted to his first line to "Take aim--fire!" And the blaze of the carbines caused a temporary check.

    As the Confederates came on again, the second line emptied their weapons. Again there was a halt, and the enemy's line split, as though the men had thought better of it and were desirous of running around the Union soldiers.

    Artie saw the movement and turned to Captain Richland. "I can take care of the crowd on the right," he said.

    "All right; I'll take that on the left," was the quick reply, and the third company of the first battalion opened fire, while Artie's command double-quicked to the new position indicated.

    Again came a charge against the fourth company. But the force of the Confederates now numbered but eighteen, and with two men shot down they retreated as quickly as they had charged, and sought shelter behind the cotton mill. Here the first company dislodged them, and then they threw down their arms.

    The other wing, led by the impetuous captain, hurled itself against Captain Richland's company. The Confederate leader was supported by half a dozen "fire-eaters," and about two score men; and although the charge was not entirely successful, yet in the general mêlée resulting, the captain and about half of those behind him managed to escape. The others were either shot down or added to the prisoners previously taken.

    The mill was now burning furiously at one end, making one of the hottest fires the Lyon boys had ever witnessed. In it were stored hundreds of bales of cotton which the owners had been trying to work off in one way or another for months, but without success, for the cotton trade of the Southern states was glutted, the blockade runners from Europe carrying away only a small portion of the product.

    "That building is doomed," observed Deck to Artie, who had come up, breathing heavily after his hard work in disarming a burly ruffian who had tried to cut him down from behind. "We may as well move on with our prisoners."

    Deck had scarcely spoken, when a cry rent the air. The cry came in a man's voice, and was full of agony and terror.

    "Help! help! help!"

    "The cry comes from the other end of the mill," exclaimed Artie. "Come on around and see what is up," and he ran off; for he was on foot, as was also the major.

    The end to which the captain had referred was not yet in a blaze, but the smoke was curling from every opening, showing that the fire was making rapid headway in that direction. Presently came a change in the wind, causing the smoke to veer around.

    "It's a man--in that upper window!" ejaculated Artie, pointing with his hand. "Why don't you jump down?" he yelled.

    "I can't!" came in a painful gasp. "My leg is caught fast in some machinery and I can't loosen it. Save me, for the love of Heaven! Don't let me die like this--even if I am a Confederate!"

    "Caught fast!" echoed Deck. "Can't you break away at all?"

    "No! no! Reckon my leg is broken!" The unfortunate one gave a moan of pain. "Won't you do something for me?"

    "I will--if it can be done," answered Deck. He turned to the cavalrymen standing near. "Boys, have any of you seen a ladder about?"

    One and another shook their heads. "There's a box," said one, "but it's not over three feet high, and the window is twenty feet up."

    "The box won't do. How about a rope?"

    "Here's a stout cord," said another.

    "Not heavy enough."

    "Help me--quick! The fire is coming this way!" shrieked the imperilled Confederate. "Save me, and I'll give you all I'm worth!"

    "I'm coming!" answered Deck. "I wonder where the stairs are," he half muttered, as he turned toward one of the entrances to the mill.

    "For gracious' sake, Deck, what are you going to do?" cried Artie.

    "Going to that fellow's aid."

    "But it's not safe to enter the building. The fire is working this way just as hard as it can."

    "I'll risk it, Artie; I don't want to see that poor fellow die like a rat in a trap."

    "Yes, but--but--"

    "There is no time to waste, Artie," answered Deck, and breaking away from the hold the captain had taken, he leaped for the wide-open door of the mill.

    "If he goes, I'll go too," cried Artie, and started to follow the major; but strong hands held him back.

    "One is enough," said Captain Abbey. "I trust he is successful."

    Captain Richland shook his head seriously. "The fire is sweeping to this quarter of the building with great swiftness," he remarked.

    Into the building rushed Deck, to find himself at once in an atmosphere charged with smoke, yet not so heavily but that he could see about him. To his left was a rough wooden stairway with an iron rod for a hand-rail. Leaping for this, he began to mount the stairs three steps at a time.

    The higher up he went, the thicker became the smoke, and on the upper flooring he could scarcely breathe. Bending low, to get the benefit of any air which might be circulating, he crept along in the direction of the Confederate sufferer. He had gone but a dozen steps when he halted. Before him was what appeared to be a solid wooden partition.

    "Hi! where are you?" he called out; but the fire had now crept so close that the crackling of the flames drowned out every other sound. Feeling that it would be a waste of precious time to remain where he was, he ran along the wooden barrier from one end to the other. A door at last was found, but it was tightly closed and refused to budge.

    Taking his sabre, Deck attempted to get it in the crack between the door and its frame. The point only could be introduced, and not caring to break this off, he withdrew the blade. By this time the smoke was making him dizzy, and he flew for a window to get some air.

    "Help!" he heard the Confederate cry again, and now made a discovery he fancied would be of advantage to him in his endeavor to assist the unfortunate man. The window to which he had made his way was within two feet of the wooden partition, while the window at which the Confederate was calling from was an equal distance from the partition, on the other side. The two windows, therefore, were but four feet apart.

    As has been mentioned, it was twenty feet to the ground, a distance great enough to cause serious results should the major take a tumble. But Deck did not count the consequences. He was going to help the rebel if he could.

    Crawling forth, he turned on the window-sill and stood upright. The framing was not over six inches in depth and was plain, affording but a scant hold. He had hardly appeared when a shout went up from below. "There is the major now!"

    "Major, look out there, or you'll break your neck!"

    These and other remarks were made, but Deck paid no attention further than to "look out," whatever that might mean. In reality his gaze was fastened on the window next to him, and now he leaned over and caught hold of the edging. But at this distance the hold was too uncertain to be depended upon, and he drew back.

    The question of what was to be done next was a serious one. The wind had shifted again, giving a temporary check to the fire in that direction; but it would shift back, and then Deck felt the end of the mill would be close at hand. He looked at the next window again.

    A large nail caught his eye, fastened at the top of the frame. He felt that this would hold, if only he could reach it. He took off his sabre belt and examined it.

    The belt was strong and so was the buckle, and leaning over he threw one end of the belt out, not once, but several times. At last a portion of the buckle caught over the nail. He pulled on the leather to make sure it would bear his weight, then swung to the sill of the next window with ease.

    "Thank Heaven!" he heard the Confederate ejaculate. The man had been holding himself up as far as possible, but had now dropped flat on his back.

    Despite the smoke, the major soon took in the situation. The Confederate had stepped upon the lever of a compressor; the jaw of the machine had opened, and his leg had been caught and held. Whether the limb was broken or not, the major could not tell; but it was certain the unfortunate one was suffering intense pain, and this, added to his fright because of the fire, made him truly an object of compassion.

    "Can you--you--release me?" he groaned, and he seemed to be on the point of fainting.

    For reply Deck grasped the lever and attempted to force it back. It was stuck, and he had to exert all his strength to move it even an inch. Seeing an iron rod handy, he used it as another kind of lever, and with a click the jaws of the machine opened, and the Confederate was free.

    "What shall I do?" he asked, in a whisper. "I--I can't walk."

    "I will carry you," answered Deck. "Wait just a second."

    He bounded along the wooden partition to where the door was situated. The air was tremendously hot, and the wind was shifting back. As he gained the door there was a dull booming, as a portion of the flooring in another department of the mill gave way, and the whole structure began to shake.

    The door was merely latched and he flung it wide open. But this created a draught, and he closed it again; then ran back for the Confederate. The poor fellow had fainted.

    The load was a heavy one, but in the excitement Deck could have carried twice the weight. Flinging his burden over his right shoulder, he staggered through the smoke. The room was now ablaze overhead, and the sparks fell thickly upon his unprotected head and neck.

    "God see us both through this in safety!" was the silent prayer which came from his heart, and now the door was reached again. In a moment more he stood in the apartment he had first entered. A look of consternation spread over his pale, set face.

    The fire had been at work overhead, running from end to end of the mill roof. Now it had worked its way downward, and that part of the ceiling above the stairway was a seething and roaring mass of flames and smoke. It looked as if at any instant a portion of the roof might cave in, burying the whole stairway beneath it.

    Should he risk a descent? Deck's heart almost stood still as he asked himself the question. He was brave, even to rashness; but this was very much like courting death. For the moment he thought of home, his mother, and of sweet Kate Belthorpe. Should he risk being torn from all that was dear to him?

    Another booming decided him. The fire had come down behind him, cutting off his retreat. He must go forward or give up the struggle. With another silent prayer that Heaven might guide and protect him, he grasped his burden closer and advanced to the top of the stairs. Soon he was hurrying downward as rapidly as the weight on his shoulder would permit. Five steps were passed and he paused.

    A blazing board had come down directly in front of him. As he stood still, another came down, striking him on the unoccupied shoulder. He waited no longer, but, calculating as well as he could, made a clean leap to the bottom.

    Luckily he landed squarely, and, though his burden made him stagger, he did not fall. As he started for the open doorway, there was a crash, and the stairway became a thing of the past. The young major had missed death by less than five seconds.

    How he gained the open air, Deck could not tell afterward. The smoke was so thick he could not see, and breathing was out of the question. "Out there--help me!" he yelled, when he saw the light, and then Artie and several others ran to his aid. Two cavalrymen took the unconscious Confederate and laid him on the grass.

    "Deck, are you hurt?" asked the young captain, anxiously, seeing how pale the young officer was. The major could not stand upright.

    "Hurt? No--I'm--I'm--all right," was the answer; and then the gallant youth fainted dead away.

    With the wounded, he was carried on a stretcher to the nearest ambulance. Artie was permitted to go along, and Captain Abbey took command of the battalion. The Confederate was placed among the wounded of his own company.

    Colonel Lyon was not near the mill, and it was not until night that he heard Deck was sick. The major did not recover consciousness for an hour, and then it was found he had a fever. That night was an anxious one for both the colonel and the young captain, and the morning brought small comfort. Deck was out of his mind, and the doctor was afraid he had inhaled too much smoke, and possibly some of the flames.

    "The boy meant well, but he overdid the matter," said Colonel Lyon, sadly. "I warned him over and over again to be more careful; but he was too anxious to make a record for himself to listen to me. If anything happens to him, what will his mother and the others say?"
    Next Chapter
    Chapter 13
    Previous Chapter
    If you're writing a Edward Stratemeyer essay and need some advice, post your Edward Stratemeyer essay question on our Facebook page where fellow bookworms are always glad to help!

    Top 5 Authors

    Top 5 Books

    Book Status
    Finished
    Want to read
    Abandoned

    Are you sure you want to leave this group?