Colonel Jolys sat down by the telephone after dinner, ready to answer immediately if anyone should ring. But a full stomach and a hot day conspired against him, and though he would never have admitted it, he fell into a doze. The jangling telephone bell woke him with a start.
“Hullo!” he jerked out, snatching the receiver up.
“Hullo! That Jolys?”
“Colonel Jolys here,” he replied, emphasising the title slightly. Really, young people these days… “Who’s that?”
“Jim Turner speaking,” came the answer.
The Colonel chuckled. “Well, well, so you’re back from gallivanting around in South America?” he began, ready for an enjoyable conversation. Jim Turner was always full of news, and happy to share it with an old man.
“Oh yes. Back today,” Jim said quickly. “Listen! Fire on High Topps.”
“What?” Colonel Jolys snapped, leaping out of his chair in shock. Then he got hold of himself; this was what he’d been waiting for all summer. “Can you see the smoke from Beckfoot?”
“Yes, got a good hold by the look of it,” Jim replied.
The Colonel thought quickly. The Topps themselves were scarcely populated, but the sea of bracken and heather would provide good fuel. “What’s the wind up there?”
“Blowing from Dundale… Southerly.”
What had started the fire? Some fool motorist, most likely, local people knew better. It would be sweeping across High Topps from the Dundale road, with a Southerly wind. Atkinson’s would be safe, south of the road, and there were several men there; but Tyson’s would be straight in the fire’s path, with only Mrs Tyson and young Robin, and if the wood caught no-one could hold it. Then there was Low Farm; the rivers would be little protection with the drought, the old man wasn’t up to much, and the boy too young.
“Right. I’ll call the firefighters out; you get the farmers organized to hold out until we arrive. Try Atkinson’s and Tyson’s.” He had no qualms about entrusting the task to Jim; he had been a wild boy, certainly, but he was a good man now.
Hanging up on the answering “Right,” he headed for the door. Suddenly he remembered the Blackett lasses and their friends were camping somewhere up on the hills… He hoped they’d have enough sense to get out of the fire’s way. Weren’t there a few small ones? Well, he’d have to trust to Jim Turner, and the older ones, to keep them safe.
The car started at once, and the fire-brooms were already stacked in the back. He began sounding the coach horn, and others answered with cheering promptness. They’d take the Dundale road, he decided, stop before the turn near Tyson’s, and go up through the woods. They should be fast enough to get ahead of the fire, and burn a strip in front of it… Other motors were already swinging in behind him, pausing to pick up men. Good. He and his firefighters were ready, and by golly, they would stop the fire.