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Chapter 16

AT THE MOVING PICTURE THEATER


The moving picture theater was large enough to hold several hundred people, and when the boys entered they found the place almost full.

"There are some seats--over on the left," remarked Jack, as he pointed them out. "Two in one row and two directly behind."

"Why not two in one row and two directly in front?" returned Andy, gaily, and then headed for the seats.

"You and Fred had better sit in front, and Randy and I can take the back seats," went on Jack; and so it was arranged.

They had come in between pictures and while some doors had been open for ventilation, so that the place was fairly light. As Jack took his seat he noticed that the girls who had come in just ahead of the boys were sitting close by.

"They certainly do look like nice girls," was Jack's mental comment; and he could not help but cast a second glance at the girl sitting directly next to him. She was attired in a dark blue suit trimmed in fur and held a hat to match in her lap. Jack noted that she was fair of complexion, with dark, wavy hair.

"I'm thinking this is going to be a pretty interesting picture for us, Andy," remarked Randy, as the name of the production was flashed upon the screen. "'The Gold Hunter's Secret--A Drama of the Yukon,'" he read. "That must have been taken in Alaska."

"That's right, Randy," returned his twin. "Gee! I hope this Alaskan play doesn't affect us; like that other Alaskan play once affected dad," he went on, referring to a most remarkable happening, the details of which were given in "The Rover Boys in Alaska."

"It isn't likely to," answered Randy, promptly. "Poor dad was in no mental condition to attend that show, Uncle Dick once told me. He had been knocked on the head with a footstool, and that had affected his mind."

The four Rovers were soon absorbed in the stirring drama of the Alaskan gold fields, and for the time being almost forgot their surroundings. In the midst of the last reel, however, Jack felt the girl beside him stirring.

"It's my hatpin," she whispered. "It just fell to the floor."

"I'll get it," he returned promptly, and started to hunt in the dark. He had to get up and push up his seat before the hatpin was recovered.

"Oh, thank you very much," said the girl sweetly, when he presented the article to her.

"You are welcome, I'm sure," returned the Rover boy; and then he added with a smile: "Accidents will happen in the best of families, you know," and at this both the girl and two of her companions giggled.

The photo-drama was presently finished and was followed by a mirth-provoking comedy at which the entire audience laughed heartily. Then came a reel of current events from various portions of the globe.

"Say, there's something worth looking at!" cried Fred, as a boat race was flashed on the screen.

"Right you are," responded Jack. "Just see those fellows pull! Isn't it grand?" he added enthusiastically. "I'd like to be in that shell myself," and he turned suddenly, to catch the girl beside him casting her eyes in his direction. She dropped them quickly, but her whole manner showed that she, too, was interested, not only in the race, but in what Jack had said. The cadets, of course, were in uniform, so the girl knew they were from Colby Hall.

The reel of current events had almost come to a finish, and there was intense silence as the picture showed the funeral of some well-known man of the East, when there came a sudden splutter from the operator's booth in the back gallery. This was followed by several flashes of light and then a small explosion.

"What's that?"

"Some explosion!"

"The theater's on fire!"

"Let's get out of this!"

"That's right! I don't want to be burnt to death!"

Such were some of the exclamations which arose on the air. A panic had seized the audience, and, like one person, they leaped to their feet and began to fight to get out of the theater. In a twinkling there was a crush in the aisles, and several people came close to being knocked down and trampled upon.

"Where's my hat?"

"Get back there--don't crush these children!"

"See the smoke pouring in!"

"Open the side door, somebody!"

"Keep cool! Keep cool!" yelled somebody from the gallery. "There is no fire! Keep cool!" But there was such a tumult below that scarcely anybody paid attention to these words.

While many fought to get out the way they had come in, others stormed towards the side doors of the playhouse. Meanwhile, an ill-smelling cloud of smoke drifted through the auditorium.

With the first alarm the Rover boys had leaped to their feet, and almost by instinct the others looked to Jack to see what he would do.

"Oh, oh! is the place on fire?" cried the girl who had been sitting next to the oldest Rover, and she caught him by the arm.

"I don't know," he answered. "Something exploded in the operating room."

"Oh, let us get out!" came from one of the other girls.

"Yes, yes! I don't want to be burnt up!" wailed a third.

"Don't get excited," warned Jack. "I don't believe there is any great danger. There is no fire down here, and there seem to be plenty of doors."

"The fellow upstairs said to keep cool," put in Randy. "Maybe it won't amount to much after all."

Most of the lights had gone out, leaving the theater in almost total darkness.

"Come on for the side door," said Jack. "That's the nearest way out."

The smoke from above was now settling, and this caused many to cough, while it made seeing more difficult than ever. Jack pushed Fred ahead of him, holding one hand on his cousin's shoulder, while with the other hand he reached out and grasped the wrist of the girl who had been sitting beside him.

"You had better come this way," he said; "and bring your friends along."

"All right. But do hurry!" she pleaded. "I am so afraid that something will happen."

"Oh, Ruth! can we get out?" questioned the girl next to her.

"I don't know. I hope so," answered the girl addressed, and then began to cough slightly, for the smoke was steadily growing thicker.

It was no easy matter to reach the side entrance, for already half a hundred people were striving to get through a doorway not much over two feet wide. The air was filled with screams and exclamations of protest, and for the time being in the theater it was as if bedlam had broken loose.

"Are we all here?" came from Andy, as, with smarting eyes, he tried to pierce the gloom.

"I'm here," answered his twin.

"So am I," came simultaneously from Jack and Fred.

Then Jack turned to the girl who was now beside him.

"Are all your friends with you?"

"I--I think so," she faltered; and then she added: "Annie, are Alice and Jennie with you?"

"Yes. We're all here," came from somebody in the rear. "But, oh, do let us get out! I can scarcely breathe!"

"I've lost my hat!" wailed another.

"Oh, never mind your hat, Alice, as long as we get out," came from the girl who was next to Jack.

At last the crowd at the doorway thinned out, and a moment later the four Rovers, pushing the girls ahead of them, managed to get outside. They found themselves in a narrow alleyway, and from this hurried to the street beyond.

"Oh, how glad I am that we are out of there!" exclaimed the girl who had been sitting beside Jack.

"I'm glad myself," he added, wiping away the tears which the smoke had started from his eyes.

"If only they all get out safely!" said one of the other girls.

"I don't know about that," answered Randy, seriously. "It was a bad enough crush at that side door, but I think it was worse at the front doors."

By this time everybody seemed to be out of the theater. An alarm of fire had been sounded, and now a local chemical engine, followed by a hook and ladder company, came rushing to the scene. There was, for fully ten minutes, a good deal of excitement, but this presently died down when it was learned positively that there was no fire outside the metallic booth from which the pictures had been shown and where the small explosion had occurred.

"It wasn't much of an explosion," explained the manager of the theater. "It was more smoke than anything else."

"Yes. And I yelled to the crowd that there was no fire and that they must keep cool," added the man who had been operating the moving picture machine.

In the excitement several people had been knocked down, but fortunately nobody had been hurt. A number of articles of wearing apparel had been left in the theater.

"I wish I could get my hat," said the girl named Alice, wistfully. "I don't want to go back to school bareheaded."

"What kind of a hat was it?" questioned Randy, who stood beside her. "Maybe I can get it for you;" and then, after the girl had given him a description of the head covering, he went off to question one of the theater men about it. In a few minutes more he came back with the missing property.

After Randy returned, the boys introduced themselves to the girls, and learned that all of the latter were scholars at Clearwater Hall. The leader of the party was Ruth Stevenson, who had sat next to Jack, while her friends were Annie Larkins, Alice Strobell, Jennie Mason and May Powell.

"I know a fellow named Powell quite well," remarked Jack, as the last-named girl was introduced. "He goes to our school. His name is Dick, but we all call him Spouter."

"Dick Powell is my cousin," answered May. And then she added smilingly: "I've heard of you Rover boys before."

"Yes, and I've heard of you, too," broke in Ruth Stevenson.

"And who told you about us?" questioned Jack.

"Why, a big boy at your school--the head of the football team."

"Oh! do you know Gif Garrison?"

"Yes. I suppose you know him quite well?"

"Well, I should say so!" declared Jack. "Why, my cousin Fred here is named after Gif Garrison's father. His father and my father were school chums."

"Oh! Why then we know a lot of the same people, don't we? How nice!" returned Ruth Stevenson, and smiled frankly at Jack.

After that the talk between the boys and the girls became general, and each crowd told the other of how matters were going at their own particular school.

"Yes, I've been up to Colby Hall several times to see the baseball and the football games," said Ruth to Jack in answer to his question. "It's certainly a splendid place."

"Some day, if you don't mind, I'll come over and take a look at Clearwater Hall," he answered.

"Clearwater Hall! Say, that must be a fine place to get a drink!" piped in Andy; and at this little joke all of the girls giggled.


Edward Stratemeyer