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The Glorious Pool
EXIT ON HOOK AND LADDER
"WHY should we wear clothes?" demanded Rex Pebble with an ill-advised swish of his toga as he stalked across the room. "this lady and myself have been born again. we have nothing to conceal."
"You've got enough and more," retorted the fireman. "I wouldn't go round like that in my own home."
"Fireman," replied Mr. Pebble, "yours is a mistrustful nature or a very bad home. At the moment, I can't say which. You should learn to forget your body—to dismiss it, so to speak."
"If I had a body like his," put in Spray, "I'd be only too glad to forget it. I'd chuck it through the window."
"What's so awful about my body, lady?" the man asked in hurt tones.
"Almost everything," declared Spray. "It's overdressed, to start with. You've got on a funny hat, and you've got on a funny coat, and your rubber boots are a fair scream. I don't know for certain, but I'd lay attractive odds you're wearing long drawers as well—red ones."
"I am," admitted the fireman. "I always wear 'em, but they are not red."
"As I thought," replied Spray. "They're not red, but he always wears them. That means he sleeps in the things, and probably in his shirt, also. Tell him to go away."
"But, lady," protested the fireman, "us boys just naturally have to sleep in our underwear."
"You couldn't sleep naturally in your underwear," said Spray. "Don't try to do it in this house."
"I'm not sleeping, lady."
"You might as well be," she told him, "for all the good you're doing."
"But, lady," began the fireman, then hopelessly abandoned all thought of speaking sensibly with anyone connected with this surprising establishment. "You've got me all confused," he finished moodily. "I can't seem to be able to think straight any more."
"Fireman," said Mr. Pebble, "sit down and tell us your story from the beginning. Take off your hat and coat and forget dull routine for a space. And please endeavor to stop bickering with that woman. You should have better sense."
"But this house is burning up somewhere," the fireman protested.
"But not here," replied Mr. Pebble calmly, "and we are all that matter. Anyway, fireman, if this house does burn down, I'll set fire to another one and let you put it out. Nockashima will do it for me."
"Ha!" exclaimed the voice of Major Jaffey as the man himself staggered from the bathroom with a large bundle in his arms. "Ha! How jolly everyone looks. Ha!"
"Will you stop making that foolish noise?" said Spray. "You talk like a radio announcer for little children."
"Forgive my enthusiasm, madam," apologized the Major. "I always get that way when exhibiting my old and rare."
Mr. Pebble groaned.
"I wish you would add `books'," he said, "when you refer to that bundle, Major. Although I know what's in it now, the shock still remains."
"Certainly, sir," agreed the Major readily enough, then paused and looked closely at Rex Pebble and his mistress. "Tell me," he continued, "are you the same couple I had the privilege of meeting near the pool? You seem so very much younger now, but, of course, I may be wrong. The light was failing then, and my eyes are not what they used to be. Also, owing to the circumstances, I imagine you must have been under a considerable strain at the moment."
"You can attribute your error to all three factors," replied Mr. Pebble, "although I will admit I haven't felt so young in years."
"I felt that way myself," remarked Spray, "before I got involved with these two idiots. They have aged me terribly."
"Considering your abundant beauty," replied the Major with questionable gallantry as he ran his eyes over the woman, "you are lucky you did not get yourself even more deeply involved. Had I been a few years younger——"
"Say it and I'll knock your block off," said Spray. "I've stood enough from you and your old and rare. Break out your items. Have you any real bad books in that bundle?"
"That's all I have," replied the Major proudly. "Frankly, I don't see how any one person could have written some of them. They seem more like a compilation—the dregs of the ages, you know. I've a few that are so exceptionally vile they have to be printed in Latin."
"Well, don't show us any of those," Spray told him. "I'm a patriotic woman, and I don't like foreign dirt. It must be made in America."
"Your country is quite capable of it," the Major assured her generously. "But most American women are still a little fanciful about pornography and husbands."
"Pornography and husbands," Spray interrupted, "mean exactly the same thing."
"Which is as it should be," replied the Major, "but as I was saying, my lady clients—they constitute the majority—seem to fall more readily for both men and books bearing foreign titles."
"They're more depraved," observed Spray, "and all women need a dash of depravity to round out their natures. Men are depraved always. Women only in spots."
"Lady," said the fireman unexpectedly, "you never seem to be able to get out of your spot."
"Hit him with something," said the lady composedly.
"I think I've been insulted, although it doesn't hurt any."
A perfunctory knock on the door heralded the arrival of Nockashima, carrying a tall shaker full of fresh cocktails and two glasses.
"Get two more glasses, Nocka," Spray commanded. "I'm celebrating this fire with the dregs of society. It's a regular slumming party."
"Very good, madam," grinned the little yellow man. "I go get. One glass for brute of fire fella, other for Old and Rare." At the mere mention of the name Nockashima seemed to become irresistably amused. He indulged in several inane giggles, then rapidly blinked his eyes. "Very funny name, that," he commented. "Always good for small giggle. Old and Rare. What is this old and rare he all time talk about? I fairly stream with mirth. Such elderly gentleman to go on so. Old, yes, but rare—I not think that, boss. What you think? Maybe I know. Maybe I not. I keep mouth shut. Not laughing matter, all this old and rare."
"You neither keep your mouth shut," Spray retorted scoldingly, "nor do you refrain from laughing. That's all you've been doing since you tainted the air with your presence—giggling and gibbering like an hysterical high-school girl with a case of yellow jaundice. Get out of here and fetch those glasses."
"I get," replied Nockashima. "I get, madam, plenty quick. I know man once with old and rare. He Japanese fella, too."
"No," said Mr. Pebble firmly but sympathetically. "No, Nocka. Not that one. You can tell it to Fifi after you've brought those glasses."
Nockashima was always at his highest efficiency when ministering to people's thirst, including his own. He was both generous and broad-minded about it. Something in his simple nature was soothed and filled with joy by having dealings with either a bottle or a cocktail shaker. He would never have lasted long in a bone-dry family. The quick little patter of his feet had hardly died away before he was back again with the glasses.
"Fire fellas all good and drunk," he announced as he filled the four glasses. "All wet, too. Unable to find small blaze they put themselves out with roars and drinks. Lots of fun down there. Fifi very busy with love and fury. I participate, madam, with tentatively. That right, boss?"
"Almost, Nocka," replied Mr. Pebble. "We'll take that up later. Is there still any smoke doing?"
"Plenty of all that," declared Nocka. "All come from oven where steak still smoulder. They not look into that. Shall I suggest, madam?"
"No," Spray told him. "I wouldn't go so far as that. They might think you officious. Firemen don't like to be told anything. Just let them romp around in their own oafish way. Perhaps they will go to sleep."
There was a knock on the door, and a fireman partially blinded by either smoke or liquor staggered into the room.
"Chief sends his compliments, lady," he said in a dazed voice. "He wants to know if we can set fire to your house in a couple of places—just little ones, you know. You see, lady, we've got to have some sort of a fire to give us boys an excuse for having stayed away so long. Can we?"
"Sure," replied Spray generously. "Go right ahead. Lend us your hook and ladder?"
"Help yourself," replied the fireman with a big-hearted wave of his hand. "But don't hurt it. It's a good old hook and ladder. Hal, there, will help you. He swings a mean rear wheel."
"I do that," replied Hal modestly. "Glad to bear a hand." He paused and grinned at the other fireman, then added, "These are real nice people after you get to know them."
"That's mighty nice of you," Rex Pebble told the fireman. "It's a funny thing, but I've never been on a hook and ladder."
"You'll like it," said the Chief's emissary simply. "The corners are just great. They'll like the corners, won't they, Hal?"
"Yes," replied Hal. "They'll like the corners."
"May I be the bell ringer?" asked Spray Summers. "I never rang the bell on a hook and ladder."
"Go right ahead, lady," said the first fireman. "You can ring the bell just as much as you please. There's a siren, too."
"Isn't that dandy!" said Spray. "Empty that shaker, Nocka, and fill it up again. Listen, Hal, will you lend me your hat and coat?"
"Guess I better had," replied Hal, thoughtfully surveying the woman. "You don't seem to be willing to wear anything else."
"Then I'll drive," Mr. Pebble decided, "and the Major can hang on."
Nockashima giggled at this as if amused by some inner vision.
"Tough riding for Old and Rare," he said, "but what matter? All in fun. I come along with bottles."
"Must I go?" asked Major Jaffey. "I too have never been on a hook and ladder, and I'm not sure that I yearn to acquire the habit at my time of life."
"Oh, you've got to come," Spray assured him. "Our hook-and-ladder party wouldn't be complete without you, Major."
The Major sighed resignedly, then retired to the bath-room from which he presently emerged attired in a pair of trousers.
Several shakers later the five members of the improvised fire company, now no longer in their right minds, clung to the long vehicle for better support and peered unintelligently at its various mysterious parts.
"It's a wicked-looking thing," observed the Major skeptically. "Which is the front end of it, do you suppose?"
"Here wheel," exclaimed Nockashima. "Maybe that front end. I not sure. Maybe is, though."
"There are two wheels," declared Rex Pebble. "Two good excellent wheels. Both different. I'm looking for the front one."
"There's the front one," said Hal, the fireman. "That's your wheel. I'll take the back wheel and twist it clean off."
"I wouldn't do that," objected Major Jaffey. "We might need the thing for corners."
"There are not going to be any corners," said Rex Pebble. "I'm going to cut right through them."
"Oh, you take the front wheel and I'll take the back wheel," Spray sang in a high, plaintive voice, "and I'll be in wee bits before you."
"Don't," protested the Major, shivering in spite of him-self. "When your voice issues from under that helmet it sounds like a wind blowing from a cave. That's a very sad song. I have Scotch blood in my veins."
"And I have Japanese," Nockashima informed them. "Might not have too much of that very long. Where I stand, boss?"
"Stand on the running board," commanded Mr. Pebble, "so you'll be able to run back and forth with the bottles. I want some Scotch whisky in my veins. Pass me a bottle." He drank deeply, then surveyed his crew with a kindling eye. "A strange gathering," he murmured, "to be seen anywhere, but especially on a hook and ladder."
Rex Pebble had spoken no more than what was true.
For the first time in her life Spray Summers had allowed her personality to become completely submerged, although much of the rest of her was fully exposed. In place of the towel she wore the fireman's rubber coat, only the top button of which was in service. Her head, nose, and eyes were hidden from view within the helmet. Her legs and feet were bare save for the unhelpful addition of a pair of high-heeled mules.
"They ought to cut windows in these diving bells," she complained as she groped her way round the hook and ladder. "It's like playing with a prehistoric animal in the pitch dark. I'm not going to see much life in this darned thing."
"Why don't you take it off?" asked Mr. Pebble.
"I refuse," she retorted. "It must stay on. This helmet disguises my sex."
Major Jaffey laughed mirthlessly.
"I'm glad you think so," he said.
"Listen, lady," put in Hal, the fireman, "I don't like to say anything, seeing as how you all have been so nice to me, but if you're going happily about thinking your sex is disguised, someone's going to get an awful shock. That helmet just hides your head, and there's lots more to you than that. Why don't you button my coat? I always do."
"You button your mouth," said Spray. "I'm not going to suffocate for anybody. And, anyway, what's the great difference between us? You're naked from the waist up, and I'm naked from the waist down. It's a tie. And look at Gaius Cassius, there. He's just an animated tablecloth."
It was true. Rex Pebble was stalking about in the darkness very much in the manner of the last of the Romans. His feet were encased in a pair of soft-soled slippers. Major Lynnhaven Jaffey was dressed in the same fashion as the fireman, being content with a pair of trousers. The little yellow man was the best dressed member of the party. He was fully clad, and his white mess jacket gave a nautical touch to the outfit. However, it must be said that it would have been difficult to find five persons who looked less qualified to take a hook and ladder out for a spin.
"Yes," Mr. Pebble was saying to no one in particular, "it certainly is a bang-up hook and ladder. Never looked at one close before."
"Bang-up is an unfortunate term," replied Major Jaffey. "I greatly fear it's going to look even banger-up before this night is over."
"Have no fear," Mr. Pebble assured him. "Have no fear at all. This is going to be a runaway. I could drive the thing in my sleep. Come here with that pail, Nocka. I want a drink."
"We all want a drink, Nocka," said Spray. "We'll make it a stirrup cup."
The little yellow man set down his pail while the party gathered round it and selected bottles at random. Stars from a naked sky winked at their libations. It was a clear, still night. Occasionally a snatch of song or a burst of coarse laughter drifted from the house. Once the French maid, Fifi, was heard to push a perfunctory scream, after which the burst of laughter was, if anything, even coarser. The street was deserted. What few neighbors had been attracted to the spot by the noise of the fire apparatus had returned to their respective homes, their fond expectations unrealized. Few things are more disappointing to the normally constituted man or woman than a fire that fails to come off, especially when the fire belongs to someone else. Taking all things into consideration, Rex Pebble could not have chosen a better night for a hook-and-ladder ride.
"To your places, everyone," he commanded. "Hal, you know this hook and ladder very much better than we do, help them to climb aboard. Nockashima, look alert withthat bucket of bottles, and when anyone calls, scramble to him with a drink. I suspect he'll need it."
"Also she," commented Spray.
It is doubtful if the members of that oddly assorted group actually believed they were going through with the mad enterprise up to the moment Rex Pebble set the hook and ladder in motion with a violent and ominous lurch.
"It's a runaway," he called back over his shoulder. "I could drive this boat with my eyes shut."
"Hope not do," muttered Nockashima. "If boat run away already, what will be later? Mere scamper along, I fear, don't you, boss?"
"I fear nothing," Mr. Pebble shouted.
"So do I," sang out Spray. "Lend an ear to this one." Like a soul in torment the scream of the siren split through the night.
"Don't do that," protested the Major, who appeared at the moment to be chinning himself on a ladder. "It sounds so ostentatious. Why not glide smoothly along so we can all enjoy the scenery?"
"This crazy hook and ladder doesn't know any better," Mr. Pebble explained between lurches. "It seems to have only one speed, and that's high, like myself. Haven't found the foot brake yet."
"Well, hurry up and find it," shouted the firemen, his face streaming with perspiration. "If we don't brake together we'll damn well break apart."
"Sounds like a quotation to me," Rex Pebble observed above the racket. "Oh, here's the brake. Hold tight, everyone."
For an awful moment the hook and ladder seemed to be of at least two minds about what to do with itself. The front wheels came to a sudden stop while the rear ones appeared to be determined to continue forward to see what was going on up there. The middle section, after a passionate attempt to buck, compromised by slewing sidewise, thus giving to the hook and ladder the appearance of a sprawling Z. Mr. Pebble, looking back over his shoulder, found himself sitting almost face to face with the fireman in the rear seat.
"Good gracious!" exclaimed Mr. Pebble. "How did you get here? I've been under the impression there were yards and yards of sheer ladder between us."
"God!" grated the fireman. "What a thing to do! I'm disgusted."
"Mist' Old and Rare," proclaimed Nockashima, "seem to be disgust also. Hear funny noises he make."
"Dear me," ejaculated Rex Pebble, regarding the dangling body of Major Jaffey. "The poor chap. I think we've jerked him into a suicide. He's actually strangling to death between two ladders. Hurry, Nocka, and unhook his chin. I can't stand those noises."
"He not make them long," said the little yellow man. "All up soon with Old and Rare."
Giggling callously to himself at the prospect of the Major's approaching strangulation, Nockashima wormed his way through a jungle of ladders and laid hands on the dangling body. And that was literally what the Major had succeeded in doing with his body. In some strange way he had contrived to get his neck wedged between two ladders. The rest of the man was swinging free. Now, it does not improve a dangling body to be burdened with additional weight. The little yellow man burdened the Major's with his, or to put it clearly, he added his body to the Major's and clung on. Even in his agony an expression of sheer astonishment flickered in the old gentleman's bulging eyes before horror once more filled them.
"Come down," panted Nockashima. "You hear up above? Boss say not dangle. He not like whiffling noise. Squeeze hard through."
Every instinct in the Major's body cried out to have words with this maniacal Japanese, but those instincts were set at naught by his rapidly closing throat. Rex Pebble had climbed down from his lofty seat and now stood watching the efforts of the little servant with deep absorption. He was joined by Spray and the fireman.
"What's wrong now?" she wanted to know.
"The Major's dangling," Mr. Pebble told her briefly. "I can't drive a dangling body through the streets."
"Why doesn't that little Jap try to push the body up?" demanded the fireman. "He's swinging from the poor guy's legs just like they were a couple of ropes. That's not going to help his neck any."
"I'm afraid the neck is beyond redemption," Mr. Pebble observed. "However, there's no harm trying. Hey, Nocka! Stop playing Tarzan with the Major's legs and try to push him up. See if you can keep his head on. He'll be no good without it."
Nockashima reversed his tactics and pushed with all his might.
"You hear up there?" he grunted. "You hear what boss say? Push hard up. Altogether push." The Japanese took his own injunction so seriously that the Major's long body doubled up like a jackknife. This greatly perplexed Nockashima. "Can't squeeze shoulders through now, boss. What say I do—let body hang?"
"Spread the ladders," cried Hal, the fireman. "Here, let me at him."
He clawed his way through the ladders and quickly released the Major. That gentleman dropped to the street and refused to budge until he had been resuscitated by several drinks, after which he called Nockashima every vile name he could drag from the darkened recesses of his memory. This served only to amuse the little yellow man.
"Major better dead than live," he observed. "He make bad sounds either way."
"Is that so, you dope-fed flea?" growled the Major, seating himself on the curb. "Who did you think you were, anyway, the man on the flying trapeze? One would think my neck was a length of molasses candy, the way you wobbled it about."
"Let's try to forget all about it," Rex Pebble suggested, seating himself by the Major. "Sit down, everybody, and we'll have a bit of a drink before we try another spin."
It was while they were thus peacefully engaged that they became aware of a person behind them. Turning defensively, they confronted the presence. It turned out to be a hatless gentleman in evening clothes and a flushed face.
"Hello," said the well-dressed gentleman with childlike directness. "Give me some of that drink. I'm thirsty."
"Why should we give you some of this drink?" asked Spray Summers. "We're thirsty, too."
"But you've got such an awful lot of it," explained the man. "And I haven't any."
"We like a lot of it," Spray retorted.
"So do I," agreed the man. "Give me just a little sip."
"Give him a little sip," Mr. Pebble said, then addressed himself to the stranger. "Have you got a fire any-where that needs a little putting out?"
"I've got one inside me," said the man, "but nothing can put that out."
"You don't understand," said Mr. Pebble. "I mean a real one. We've got a hook and ladder we could use if you only had a fire."
"I've got a house," replied the man thoughtfully. "It would make a good fire. It's so big. But you might burn my family up. You don't want to do that, do you?"
"Not especially," said Rex Pebble. "We'll put your family out also."
"You mean, after it's caught fire?"
"Any old time," declared Mr. Pebble. "If and when your family catches fire."
"Why not put my family out first?" asked the gentleman.
"We might wake somebody up," said Mr. Pebble.
"That's right," agreed the gentleman, now thoroughly convinced. "We'll put them out after. Let's have some more drink, then we'll set fire to my house and family. Sure you can put them out?"
"No," declared Spray promptly. "We never put out any fires. My house is on fire right now, but we can't find out where."
"Maybe it's your family," suggested the man.
"No," replied Spray. "I don't think you're right. I haven't any family."
"Then it's burning elsewhere," commented Mr. Pebble.
"You never lose a chance, do you?" sneered the woman. "When I was a babe in arms I had a swell family."
"All right, sweetheart," said Mr. Pebble, hastily. "All right. Let's not start that again."
"I've put out lots of fires," Hal announced boastfully as he removed a bottle from his lips. "I've put out entire cities."
"That's all very well," put in Major Jaffey, "but what we need now is someone who knows how to build a fire."
"I know how to make fire," said Nockashima, "but I not know how to put it out. I break down in nerves."
"I can build 'em," bragged the fireman, "and I can put 'em out. Come on, show me this house."
Together the little party followed Hal across a smooth lawn in the direction of a magnificent residence.
"We'll set it afire in the back," he whispered, "because if we started it in the front someone might notice it before it had time to do any good."
"It's not going to do my family any good, no matter where you set it on fire," observed the gentleman. My name is Gibbs. What's yours? I'd like to know the name of the people I'm setting my house on fire with—it seems less impersonal that way."
"That man's name is Major Jaffey," Spray said with great presence of mind. "He'll do for the bunch of us. We're all Jaffeys except the opium eater, and he isn't human. The Major's our drunken father."
"He dresses you sort of funny," remarked Mr. Gibbs. "Haven't you enough clothes to go round?"
"Around what?" asked Spray.
"It doesn't matter," replied Mr. Gibbs. "Don't mention it. Sorry I spoke. What a lovely night for a fire. Thought you had no family."
"I don't count them," Spray told him.
"I couldn't tonight," said the man. "Not even if I tried, but I won't ever forget them."
This sort of conversation was enough to get them without mishap to the back of the house. Here they busied themselves collecting papers and bits of wood which, under the direction of Hal, the two-way fireman, they piled up in a corner of the back veranda.
"That should be enough to burn my house up," observed Mr. Gibbs, "not to mention my family."
The Major produced a box of matches, and soon the fire was merrily burning. Mr. Gibbs considered the blaze for a moment, then disgustedly snapped his fingers.
"There's been a mistake," he announced. "We've set fire to the wrong house. This one isn't mine."
"Don't you know your own home?" demanded Rex Pebble.
"Well, you see," explained Mr. Gibbs, "I live in the front of mine. Rarely get round to the back."
"Oh, I see," said Mr. Pebble. "That does make things different. What shall we do now?"
"We might put this fire out," replied Mr. Gibbs, "and then go over to my place. It's just next door. Or we might burn them both down. What do you think?"
"I think," said Major Jaffey, "that it's high time we were shoving off. It wouldn't look well for us to be seen setting fire to the house of perfect strangers."
"Oh, I know these people," declared Mr. Gibbs. "They are good friends of mine."
"You mean," put in Spray, "they were good friends of yours. I agree with Daddy for a change. Let's clear out."
"Wait a sec," said Mr. Gibbs. "I'd better let these people know their house is burning up, or they might burn up with it."
With this he started shouting in a loud voice and kept it up until a window flew open and a bald head was thrust out into the night. Mr. Pebble and his companions crept shyly out of sight behind some bushes.
"Oh, it's you, Gibbs," said the owner of the bald head. "Drunk as usual. What have you done this time—set fire to my house?"
"My mistake, Charlie," replied Gibbs. "I thought this house was mine. Sorry."
"No," answered Charlie, looking down at the blaze. "This isn't your house. Yours is next door. I've been living here for quite some time."
"Sure you have, Charlie," laughed Mr. Gibbs. "As if I didn't know that."
"But you didn't know it," said Charlie. "You just admitted you didn't."
"Not in the dark," explained Mr. Gibbs, "but now that it's burning down I recognize it distinctly. This is your house, Charlie, and I set fire to it. How am I ever going to make it up to you? Shall I set mine on fire, Charlie?"
"No," replied Charlie generously. "Don't do anything rash. Let me set it on fire for you."
"That's fair, Charlie," said Mr. Gibbs with every indication of sincere gratitude. "That's what I call meeting me more than halfway. But hadn't you better wake your folks up first? A spark might blow in, you know, and ignite one of them."
"I hope a spark ignites them all," declared Charlie with surprising ferocity. "If it did, I might be able to enjoy a little peace at home."
"But not if your home burns down," Mr. Gibbs re-minded him. "Not then, Charlie, because if your house burns down you won't have any home in which to enjoy your peace."
"That's well taken," said Charlie. "I'll be right down to help you put out this fire; then we'll see how your house burns."
Charlie's bald head was withdrawn from the night, and in a surprisingly short time the man appeared on the back veranda.
"It's a good fire," commented Mr. Gibbs modestly.
"Much too good for this house," replied Charlie. "A fire like that deserves far better material—something more institutional and centrally located. What's bad for fires?"
"Water," suggested Mr. Gibbs.
"I know," said the other impatiently, "but that's so old-fashioned. Couldn't we think up a new way?"
"You know something," said Mr. Pebble in a low voice to Spray. "The way they go on is almost making me sober. We've been listening to a conversation either between two exceedingly courteous lunatics or else two quietly plastered gentlemen with a quaint sense of fun."
"Perhaps they're drunk and insane too," suggested Spray. "These thoroughbred families can throw off some rare progeny every now and then. Let's clear out of this. We're really quite harmless compared with them."
But before they crept away through the shadows the members of the party were privileged to catch a last snatch of conversation between the two gentlemen.
"It entirely slipped my mind," Mr. Gibbs was saying. "Only a short time ago I invited a number of half-naked persons to take part in this fire. They had a dandy hook and ladder."
"That's too bad," was Charlie's sympathetic reply.
"They must have gone to some other house. I've had a swell hook and ladder up in the attic for years. Got it on my seventh birthday. Only trouble is, two wheels are missing and it hasn't any ladders."
"And anyway," said Mr. Gibbs, "it wouldn't be quite large enough. This fire's getting taller all the time."
"They do," observed Charlie wisely, "until they go out."
"That tears it!" exclaimed Spray. "Let's hurry. Those two men are as mad as a couple of hatters."
Mr. Pebble never did learn what the two gentlemen did with their fire. The amazing events of that evening and of many subsequent ones fully occupied his mind. In later years, however, he occasionally found himself wondering whether Mr. Gibbs and his friend Charlie were really as mad as they seemed or were merely passing the time away in idle banter. Probably he could have found out had he cared to, but it was one of those piquant little problems he preferred to leave unsolved. As it was, Rex Pebble learned far too many of the truths of life to make it a going concern. However, he succeeded in disguising this knowledge to himself as well as to others—that is, most of the time he did.
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