Newspaper Page Text
THE LADDER. BY CHARLES G. D. ROBERTS
(Copyrighted, 19t4, by the Newspaper Enterprise Association.)
The bare, three-storied, barn-like
structure which served the mill
hands for a boarding-house was on
fire. The old fire-hose, brought hur
riedly from the mill, had burst under
the first strain. The flames were
having it all their own way.
But suddenly a groan of horror
went up, and the calm of the crowd
broke into tumult. A child's form
had appeared in the topmost window
at the right. Men raced for ladders.
But one tall figure, in shirtsleeves
and top-boots, had dashed straight
for the front door.
"It's Mart Block," went the word
among the crowd. "If anybody kin,
he'll git through."
A ladder was thrust into place, held
almost perpendicular by the men at
its foot. It did not quite reach the
window sill, hut no one doubted that
Block could get to it with his burden.
Nevertheless, he seemed to hesitate.
"Come up and get her, some one!"
shouted Block. A riverman was half
way up the ladder before the sen
tence had passed his hps. Block
reached out, put the child into his
hands, and watched her being car
ried down to safety.
But he made no motion to follow.
A light flashed into the room behind
him. He turned and looked at it
Was he mad? Suddenly he shouted:
"A rope! Fling me a rope!"
In a moment a coil came circling
up to him. Block seized it and made
it fast to the bedstead in the room.
Then he slipped out from the win
dow and, to the speechless bewinder
ment of the crowd, came swiftly
down the rope hand over hand, ignor
ing the every existence of the ladder
An hour later Martin Block, his
scorched face and-hands shining with
sweet-oil, was sitting in the back
room of the Mills store. The store
keeper, Sandy MacNutt, was there,
and big Steve Corrigan and Jom
Sayres, the river boss.
"Martin!" drawled Sayres, "what
did ye do it for?"
"Do what for?" asked Block after
Sayres grunted impatiently.
"I was afraid to come down the
ladder," answered Block quietly.
An incredulous laugh greeted this
"It's true, so help me!" persisted
Block. "Boys, it was just something
I couldn't do. I'd have jumped out
sooner. I'm scared of a ladder!
"Once upon a time I was just
about ten years younger than I am
now, and more than ten years,
foolisher, down at Progresso, on the
Gulf of Mexico, I hadn't been over
lucky, but I found enough gold to
give me the taste for it. And just
now my head was buzzing with fool
yarns of buried treasure. When one
gets that bee in his brain, he's ready
tor most any kind of nonsense that's
put up to him.
"I was sitting alone in front of a
little posanda, looking out over the
hot shining water, all streaked blue
and green so lovely one never gets
tired staring at it, when up came a
couple of hard customers. I knew
they were bad ones all right I knew
there was lots of rope looking for the
both of them up along New Mexico
and Arizona, where the climate had
got unhealthy for them.
"One of the two, and a 'greaser'
Antonio, he called himself, never
seemed to need any. more name than
that. The other was mostly Amer
ican, with a dash of everything else
you can think. He -was not bad look
ing except for his mouth," which was
just a kind of hard-edged gash
across his face. The name he an
swered to was 'Baldy.'
"Well, I was glad to see them, and,
they came right to business.
"It was a man's job, all right, that
they were putting up to me. And it