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    Chapter 8

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    Chapter 9
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    "What's that!"

    "The garage on fire!"

    "Say, look at the blaze!"

    Such were some of the cries, as the boys tumbled out of bed, one after another. A bright glare of fire was dancing over the walls of the rooms.

    "It's some brushwood behind the garage!" announced Dave, as he poked his head out of a window to look. "It's that big heap the gardener put there yesterday."

    "He shouldn't have placed it so close," said Luke. "Why didn't he rake it to some spot in the open?"

    All of the boys were hurrying into their clothing as fast as possible. The alarm had been given by Senator Morr, and by the chauffeur, who slept in a room of the barn next to the garage.

    "Oh, Roger!" gasped Phil. "That big cannon cracker!"

    "I was thinking of it, Phil!" returned the senator's son, hurriedly. "We must get it out somehow!"

    "If it goes off it will wreck the building!"

    "Yes, and the gasoline tank with it!"

    The tank in question was not underground, as would have been safer, but was located in a bricked-up place at one side of the garage. In the storehouse were two barrels of gasoline, and also some lubricating oils. If that storehouse caught, it would certainly make a hot and dangerous blaze.

    Pell-mell down the stairs rushed the youths, one after another. In the meantime Senator Morr was dressing and so were the others of the household.

    "Be careful, boys! Don't go too close!" warned Mrs. Morr.

    "Watch out for an explosion!" puffed her husband. The senator was so stout that dressing in a hurry was no easy matter for him.

    When the boys got out in the garden they found the chauffeur and the gardener at work, trying to pull the burning brushwood away from the garage. The flames were crackling merrily and the sparks were flying in various directions.

    "I'm going in and get that big cannon cracker," said Roger to Phil, in a low voice, so that the others might not hear.

    "I'll go with you, Roger. Be careful, though, the sparks are flying all round that doorway."

    "I've shut everything!" bawled the chauffeur, as he saw Roger at the big sliding doors. "Better not open up, or the fire will get inside."

    "I've got to go in, Jake!" answered Roger. "I've got to get something out."

    "What?" asked Dave, who was close by.

    "Never mind, Dave. It's something that can't be left in there," and so speaking Roger slid open a door and hurried inside the garage. Phil came directly behind him.

    On the floor, in a corner, was a box with ordinary firecrackers in it--about two hundred packs in all. On top of this was a package in paper containing the big cannon cracker.


    "It's on fire!"

    Thus yelled both boys as they saw that the flames from the brushwood had made their way into a corner of the garage, just where the firecrackers had been placed. For an instant they hesitated, then both leaped forward again and commenced to stamp out the fire.

    It had caught at a corner of the box containing the smaller firecrackers and was also at the paper containing the cannon cracker. This Phil caught up, knocking the fire away with his hand.

    "What are you after, anyway?" The question came from Dave, who had followed his chums into the building. Buster, Shadow, and Luke were outside, at the rear, helping to pull the brushwood away and stamp out the flames.

    "Firecrackers--a box full!" cried Roger. "We must get it out!"

    "A giant firecracker!" added Phil. "Big enough to blow down a house!" And he held up the package and then made a dive for the outer air, for the garage was now full of smoke.

    Dave understood on the instant, and stooped to pick up one end of the burning box. Roger took the other end, and thus they ran from the garage.

    Crack! crack! crack! It was the small firecrackers in the box that were beginning to go off, the pieces flying through a lower corner of the burning box.

    "Into the back yard with it!" cried Roger. "Keep it away from the buildings!"

    "All right, this way!" answered Dave, and then the pair made for something of an open lot behind the kitchen of the mansion and there threw the box on the ground. Crack! bang! crack! went the firecrackers, going off singly and in bunches, until all were shot off.

    "It's a pity we didn't save 'em," said Roger, mournfully.

    "It's a grand good thing they didn't go off in the garage," returned Dave.

    "Well, I saved the big cannon cracker anyway," said Phil, as he walked up at that moment.

    "Where did you put it?" questioned Roger, quickly.

    "Over there, in a corner of the fence. I didn't want to take any chances, otherwise I might have taken it to the barn."

    "Better leave it outside, where it can't do any damage," said Dave.

    While talking, the three boys had been running back to the garage. There they found their chums and the men at work, including Senator Morr, all hauling the burning brushwood away and pouring water from a small hose on the flames. The most of the fire was out, so they found little to do. Only one corner of the garage had been touched, and for this the senator was thankful.

    "But it was careless of you, James, to put that brushwood there, so close to the building," he said to the gardener, "Don't do it again."

    "If you please, sir, I didn't put the brushwood as close as that," replied the gardener, stoutly. "Somebody else did that."

    "What!" cried the senator, in surprise.

    "I said I didn't put the brushwood so close to the garage, sir," repeated the gardener. "I put it right there," and he pointed to a spot about fifteen feet from the rear wall of the building. "I was going to burn it up first thing in the morning,--that is if the young gentlemen didn't want the stuff for a bonfire at night."

    "But who did put the brushwood up against the garage?" demanded Senator Morr.

    "I'm sure I don't know," put in the chauffeur. "But what James says, sir, is true--he put the heap out there--I was working around the garage when he did it."

    "Do you mean to insinuate that this fire was set by somebody?" cried the senator, quickly.

    "I don't know about that, sir," answered the chauffeur, while the gardener merely shrugged his shoulders. He was an old man and one who had been trusted by the Morrs for years.

    "If what you say is true, I'll have to look into this matter," remarked Senator Morr. "I don't propose to have my garage burnt down, with two automobiles worth five thousand dollars,--not to say anything about the danger to the rest of the place. If I find----"

    Bang! It was an explosion like a cannon and made everybody jump. As Dave looked, he saw a corner of a distant fence fly apart, and bits of fire seemed to fill the midnight air. Then followed utter silence.

    "The cannon cracker!" gasped Phil.

    "What could have made it go off?" asked Roger.

    "Some sparks from this fire--or else it was lit when Phil took it out," answered Dave.

    "What are you talking about?" asked Senator Morr, and when he had been told he shook his head and smiled, grimly.

    "Well, I'm glad it didn't go off in the garage," he said. "But after this you must keep your explosives in a safer place. Jake, James, bring some buckets of water and put out that fire from the explosion. It isn't much, but we want no more sparks flying around here."

    The water was brought, and soon every spark had been extinguished. Then the crowd went back to the garage, to make sure that no more fire lingered in that vicinity.

    "It certainly looks as if somebody had set this fire," mused Senator Morr. "Perhaps a tramp. Have you seen any such fellows around here?" he asked, looking at the others.

    The boys had seen no tramps at all, and James said he had seen none for over a week.

    "I saw one day before yesterday," said the chauffeur, "but I know he left town that night--I saw him board a freight train."

    "Well, it is strange. Keep your eyes open," said Senator Morr, and then he returned to the house, to quiet his wife and retire once more.

    "It's mighty queer about that fire," remarked Luke, when the boys were undressing. "It certainly does look as if it was set."

    "Dave, do you think Merwell and Haskers would do it?" questioned Roger.

    "Yes, if they were in this neighborhood. But have they been here?"

    The boys looked at each other. Nobody had seen Merwell or the former teacher of Oak Hall in that vicinity.

    "Let us make some inquiries down at the railroad station in the morning," suggested Dave. "If those two stopped off here somebody must have seen them."

    "Phew! what a noise that cannon cracker did make!" murmured Phil. "If we had set that off in the morning--as we intended--I reckon it would have woke up the neighborhood pretty well."

    "It did wake some folks up," answered Roger, for quite a few boys and men had come up to find out what the flames and noise meant.

    "It was certainly some firecracker," was Luke's comment.

    "Say, speaking of firecrackers puts me in mind of a story!" burst out Shadow.

    "Wow! A story this time of night!" murmured Buster. "I'm going to bed."

    "This is a short one," pleaded the would-be story-teller. "A man was giving a celebration one Fourth of July to a lot of children. He had ordered a lot of firecrackers, but they didn't come. So he sent a telegram to the wholesale house in the city. 'Send big and little crackers as ordered at once.' About an hour afterwards he got a return telegram which said, 'Our grocery department is closed to-day. Your order for crackers will be filled to-morrow.'"

    "Call that a crackerjack joke?" asked Roger, with a grin.

    "Don't crack any more like that, Shadow," added Dave.

    "You might get fired if you do," contributed Phil; and then a general laugh went up, after which all of the boys again retired.

    In the morning the lads inspected the vicinity of the fire once more, and spent some time in shooting off a pistol and a shotgun which Roger possessed. Then, acting on a suggestion from Dave, they took a walk to the railroad station.

    Here an interesting bit of news awaited them, which was to the effect that, owing to some trouble with a bridge about a mile outside of Hemson, two passenger trains and a freight had been held up at the station for several hours.

    "Most of the passengers remained in the trains," said the station agent. "But some of 'em got restless and they went over to the hotel, and some walked down to where the bridge was being repaired."

    "Did you notice two people in particular?" asked Roger, and described Merwell and Job Haskers as well as he could.

    "No, I don't remember seeing those fellows," said the agent.

    From the railroad station the boys went to the hotel, and then walked along the country road leading to the Morr place. Presently they met a man driving a milk wagon.

    "Say, you had a fire last night, didn't you?" asked the driver of Roger, as he reined up.

    "Yes, Mr. Platt," answered the senator's son. "But it didn't amount to anything."

    "How did it catch, do you know?" went on the driver of the milk wagon, curiously.

    "No, we are trying to find out."

    "Maybe it was set. I see two fellers sneakin' around your place last evening," went on Mr. Platt.
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