Chapter 27: Flames
Lin looked around the vicinity until her sight landed on a pile of hay on a corner. Not far from the hay were chopped firewood stacked up against the wall. Lin Xin ordered Zhao Qiang to move the hay over beside the firewood.
She asked him, “Is there a match?”
“Yes.” He took half a packet of matches from his pockets that he had smuggled from the kitchen when they were locked up that night.
Lin Xin had seen him steal those matches previously, but she never expected him to carry it around until now. She grabbed the matchbox and hurriedly tried to ignite a stick, once then twice without success.
Zhao Qiang asked incredulously, “What do want to do?”
Lin Xin simply replied, “Set fire.”
Zhao Qiang couldn’t help but think, ‘Has Lin Xin lost her mind? Why would she try to set up a fire in broad daylight? Isn’t it smarter to light it up during the evening?
He hurriedly stepped forward and snatched back match from her hands, “Why would you do something so crazy?”
“Give it back!” Lin Xin ordered. The cold glint in her eyes caused Zhao Qiang to tremble and to give up any resistance.
Zhao Qiang was too afraid to stop her. He squatted down and helped her ignite a fire. Striking a match needed skill; the amount of strength should just be right, not too fast and not too slow. Zhao Qiang understood the mechanics well and was able to light one match after the other. The ignited matchsticks fell upon the hay and quickly formed a sizable fire. After a while, it spread towards the firewood, causing thick smoke to form and permeate into the air.
When the fire began to burn violently, Lin Xin pulled Zhao Qiang and ran. On such a bright and sunny day with fine weather, a big fire is the last thing someone would expect. Lin Xin dragged the boy to a hidden corner to observe the courtyard.
The first person who discovered the fire was a seven-year-old child who had a cleft lip and poor intelligence. When he spotted the sizable flames, he quickly fled towards the crowd while exclaiming, “Fire, fire, fire, fire!!!”
It was not long before many children were drawn towards the scene. By this time, the fire had spread to the white walls, causing its exterior to blacken. But when Lin Xin noticed that the room’s door still remained shut, she raised her voice and loudly asked, “There’s a fire? What about the Dean? Let’s go warn the Dean…”
When a child encounters such a big event, it was natural for that youth to seek out an adult. No one thought that there was anything wrong about her suggestion. When the children asked around for the Dean’s whereabouts, one of the orphans suddenly spoke up, saying, “The Dean seems to be in his room.”
One of the orphans, who was slightly older than the others, hurried to the entrance of the Dean’s office.
“Dean, dean!! Fire, there’s a large fire…”
After a while, the Dean opened the door and emerged from his room. His shirt was loose and baggy and his hair was unruly, as if he had just got out of bed. Lin Xin felt nauseous, but she could only bite her tongue and imitate the crowd’s reactions and childlike words.
The Dean noticed that the intense fire had steadily spread towards the east side, causing a large portion to be consumed in flames. He ran barefoot to fetch a bucket of water, but when he tossed the bucketful onto the fire, it only caused the flames to burn even more violently. Seeing that his very own room was about to burn down, the Dean shouted loudly, “Everyone, go and fetch water to dampen the fire. Quickly!”
When they heard his angry order, the children quickly ran to find containers that could carry water. All the pots and pans were taken, and the scene fell into chaos. No one noticed Lin Xin, who sneaked into the Dean’s office.
This was the first time she had entered his room. It was simply furnished with a table and two chairs; the books were neatly arranged in the bookcase and everything was spotless. Lin Xin suddenly remembered a line from a movie: ‘If a man’s room was too clean and lacked strange odors, that man was either effeminate or gay.” [note] a line from the movie, Chinatown Detective 唐人街探案 [/note]
She walked a few more steps inside. The door to the bedroom was left slightly open and a pair of pants were discarded at the foot of the entrance. Lin Xin was sure that she had seen it before; these were the pants that Lin Xinyu usually wore, but now it was discarded pitifully on the floor.
(T/N: Somebody should shove that Dean into the fire)