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The Camp Fire Girls on the March - Bessie King's Test of Friendship
by Jane L. Stewart
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Camp Fire Girls Series, Volume V

THE CAMP FIRE GIRLS ON THE MARCH or BESSIE KING'S TEST OF FRIENDSHIP

by JANE L. STEWART

The Saalfield Publishing Company Chicago AKRON, OHIO New York

MADE IN U. S. A.

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Copyright, 1914

By

The Saalfield Publishing Co.

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THE CAMP FIRE GIRLS ON THE MARCH

CHAPTER I

AN UNEXPECTED VISITOR

"Oh, what a glorious day!" cried Bessie King, the first of the members of the Manasquan Camp Fire Girls of America to emerge from the sleeping house of Camp Sunset, on Lake Dean, and to see the sun sparkling on the water of the lake. She was not long alone in her enjoyment of the scene, however.

"Oh, it's lovely!" said Dolly Ransom, as, rubbing her eyes sleepily, since it was only a little after six, she joined her friend on the porch. "This is really the first time we've had a chance to see what the lake looks like. It's been covered with that dense smoke ever since we've been here."

"Well, the smoke has nearly all gone, Dolly. The change in the wind not only helped to put out the fire, but it's driving the smoke away from us."

"The smoke isn't all gone, though, Bessie. Look over there. It's still rising from the other end of the woods on the other side of the lake, but it isn't bothering us over here any more."

"What a pity it is that we've got to go away just as the weather gives us a chance to enjoy it here! But then I guess we'll have a good time when we do go away, anyhow. We thought we weren't going to enjoy it here, but it hasn't been so bad, after all, has it?"

"No, because it ended well, Bessie. But if those girls in the camp next door had had their way, we wouldn't have had a single pleasant thing to remember about staying here, would we?"

"They've had their lesson, I think, Dolly. Perhaps they won't be so ready to look down on the Camp Fire Girls after this—and I'm sure they would be nice and friendly if we stayed."

"I wouldn't want any of their friendliness. All I'd ask would be for them to let us alone. That's all I ever did want them to do, anyhow. If they had just minded their own affairs, there wouldn't have been any trouble."

"Well, I feel sort of sorry for them, Dolly. When they finally got into real trouble they had to come to us for help, and if they are the sort of girls they seem to be, they couldn't have liked doing that very well."

"You bet they didn't, Bessie! It was just the hardest thing they could have done. You see, the reason they were so mean to us is that they are awfully proud, and they think they're better than any other people."

"Then what's the use of still being angry at them? I thought you weren't last night—not at Gladys Cooper, at least."

"Why, I thought then that she was in danger because of what I'd done, and that made me feel bad. But you and I helped to get her back to their camp safely, so I feel as if we were square. I suppose I ought to be willing to forgive them for the way they acted, but I just can't seem to do it, Bessie."

"Well, as long as we're going away from here to-day anyhow, it doesn't make much difference. We're not likely to see them again, are we?"

"I don't know why not—those who live in the same town, anyhow. Marcia Bates and Gladys Cooper—the two who were lost on the mountain last night, you know—live very close to me at home."

"You were always good friends with Gladys until you met her up here, weren't you?"

"Oh, yes, good friends enough. I don't think we either of us cared particularly about the other. Each of us had a lot of friends we liked better, but we got along well enough."

"Well, don't you think she just made a mistake, and then was afraid to admit it, and try to make up for it? I think lots of people are like that. They do something wrong, and then, just because it frightens them a little and they think it would be hard to set matters right, they make a bad thing much worse."

"Oh, you can't make me feel charitable about them, and there's no use trying, Bessie! Let's try not to talk about them, for it makes me angry every time I think of the way they behaved. They were just plain snobs, that's all!"

"I thought Gladys Cooper was pretty mean, after all the trouble we had taken last night to help her and her chum, but I do think the rest were sorry, and felt that they'd been all wrong. They really said so, if you remember."

"Well, they ought to have been, certainly! What a lot of lazy girls they must be! Do look, Bessie. There isn't a sign of life over at their camp. I bet not one of them is up yet!"

"You're a fine one to criticise anyone else for being lazy, Dolly Ransom! How long did it take me to wake you up this morning? And how many times have you nearly missed breakfast by going back to bed after you'd pretended to get up?"

"Oh, well," said Dolly, defiantly, "it's just because I'm lazy myself and know what a fault it is that I'm the proper one to call other people down for it. It's always the one who knows all about some sin who can preach the best sermon against it, you know."

"Turning preacher, Dolly?" asked Eleanor Mercer. Both the girls spun around and rushed toward her as soon as they heard her voice, and realized that she had stepped noiselessly out on the porch. They embraced her happily. She was Guardian of the Camp Fire, and no more popular Guardian could have been found in the whole State.

"Dolly's got something more against the girls from Halsted Camp!" explained Bessie, with a peal of laughter. "She says they're lazy because they're not up yet, and I said she was a fine one to say anything about that! Don't you think so too, Miss Eleanor?"

"Well, she's up early enough this morning, Bessie. But, well, I'm afraid you're right. Dolly's got a lot of good qualities, but getting up early in the morning unless someone pulls her out of bed and keeps her from climbing in again, isn't one of them."

"What time are we going to start, Miss Eleanor?" asked Dolly, who felt that it was time to change the topic of conversation. Dolly was usually willing enough to talk about herself, but she preferred to choose the subject herself.

"After we've had breakfast and cleaned things up here. It was very nice of the Worcesters to let us use their camp, and we must leave it looking just as nice as when we came."

"Are they coming back here this summer?"

"The Worcesters? No, I don't think so. I'm pretty sure, though, that they have invited some friends of theirs to use the camp next week and stay as long as they like."

"I hope their friends will please the Halsted Camp crowd better than we did," said Dolly, sarcastically. "The Worcesters ought to be very careful only to let people come here who are a little better socially than those girls. Then they'd probably be satisfied."

"Now, don't hold a grudge against all those girls, Dolly," said Eleanor, smiling. "Gladys Cooper was really the ringleader in all the trouble they tried to make for us, and you've had your revenge on her. On all of them, for that matter."

"Oh, Miss Eleanor, if you could only have seen them when I threw that basket full of mice among them! I never saw such a scared lot of girls in my life!"

"That was a pretty mean trick," said Eleanor. "I don't think what they did to bother us deserved such a revenge as that, even if I believed in revenge, anyhow. I don't because it usually hurts the people who get it more than the victims."

Bessie looked at Dolly sharply, but, if she meant to say anything, Eleanor herself anticipated her remark.

"Now come on, Dolly, own up!" she said. "Didn't you feel pretty bad when you heard Gladys and Marcia were lost in the woods last night? Didn't you think that it was because you'd got the best of the girls that they turned against Gladys, and so drove her into taking that foolish night walk in the woods?"

"Oh, I did—I did!" cried Dolly. "And I told Bessie so last night, too. I never would have forgiven myself if anything really serious had happened to those two girls."

"That's just it, Dolly. You may think that revenge is a joke, perhaps, as you meant yours to be, but you never can tell how far it's going, nor what the final effect is going to be."

"I'm beginning to see that, Miss Mercer."

"I know you are, Dolly. You were lucky—as lucky as Gladys and Marcia. You were particularly lucky, because, after all, it was your pluck in going into that cave, when you didn't know what sort of danger you might run into, that found them. So you had a salve for your conscience right then. But often and often it wouldn't have happened that way. You might very well have had to remember always that your revenge, though you thought it was such a trifling thing, had had a whole lot of pretty serious results."

"Well, I really am beginning to feel a little sorry," admitted Dolly, "though Gladys acted just as if she was insulted because we found them. She said she and Marcia would have been all right in that cave if they'd stayed there until morning."

"I think she'll have reason to change her mind," said Eleanor. "She'd have found herself pretty uncomfortable this morning with nothing to eat. And she's in for a bad cold, unless I'm mistaken, and it might very well have been pneumonia if they'd had to stay out all night."

"She's a softy!" declared Dolly, scornfully. "I'll bet Bessie and I could have spent the night there and been all right, too, after it was all over."

"You and Bessie are both unusually strong and healthy, Dolly. It may not be her fault that she's a softy, as you call her. The Camp Fire pays a whole lot of attention to health. That's why Health is one of the words that we use to make up Wo-he-lo. Work, and Health, and Love. Because you can't work properly, and love properly, unless you are healthy."

"I suppose what happened to Gladys last night was one of the things you were talking about when you wanted us to be patient, wasn't it?"

"What do you mean, Dolly?"

"Why, when you said that pride went before a fall, and that she'd be sure to have something unpleasant happen if we only let her alone, and didn't try to get even ourselves?"

"Well, it looks like it, doesn't it?"

"I don't get much satisfaction out of seeing people punished that way, though," admitted Dolly, after a moment's thought. "It seems to me—well, listen, Miss Eleanor. Suppose someone did something awfully nice for me. It wouldn't be right, would it, for me just to say to myself, 'Oh, well, something nice will happen to her.' She might have some piece of good fortune, but I wouldn't have anything to do with it. I'd want to do something nice myself to show that I was grateful."

"Of course you would," said Eleanor, who saw the point Dolly was trying to make and admired her power of working out a logical proposition.

"Well, then, if that's true, why shouldn't it be true if someone does something hateful to me? I don't take any credit for the pleasant things that happen to people who are nice to me, so why should I feel satisfied because the hateful ones have some piece of bad luck that I didn't have anything to do with, either?"

"That's a perfectly good argument as far as it goes, Dolly. But the trouble is that it doesn't go far enough. You've got a false step in it. Can't you see where she goes wrong, Bessie?"

"I think I can, Miss Eleanor," said Bessie. "It's that we ought not to be glad when people are in trouble, even if they are mean to us, isn't it? But we are glad, and ought to be, when nice people have good luck. So the two cases aren't the same a bit, are they?"

"Right!" said Eleanor, heartily. "Think that over a bit, Dolly. You'll see the point pretty soon and then maybe you'll understand the whole business better."

Just then the girls whose turn it had been to prepare breakfast came to the door of the Living Camp, which contained the dining-room and the kitchen, and a blast on a horn announced that breakfast was ready.

"Come on! We'll eat our next meal sitting around a camp fire in the woods, if that forest fire has left any woods where we're going," announced Eleanor. "So we want to make this meal a good one. No telling what sort of places we'll find on our tramp."

"I bet it will be good fun, no matter what they're like," said Margery Burton, one of the other members of the Camp Fire. She was a Fire-Maker, the second rank of the Camp Fire. First are the Wood-Gatherers, to which Bessie and Dolly belonged; then the Fire-Makers, and finally, and next to the Guardian, whom they serve as assistants, the Torch-Bearers. Margery hoped soon to be made a Torch-Bearer, and had an ambition to become a Guardian herself as soon as Miss Eleanor and the local council of the National Camp Fire decided that she was qualified for the work.

"Oh, you'd like any old thing just because you had to stand for it, Margery, whether it was any good or not," said Dolly.

"Well, isn't that a good idea? Why, I even manage to get along with you, Dolly! Sometimes I like you quite well. And anyone who could stand for you!"

Dolly laughed as loudly as the rest. She had been pretty thoroughly spoiled, but her association with the other girls in the Camp Fire had taught her to take a joke when it was aimed at her, unlike most people who are fond of making jokes at the expense of others, and of teasing them. She recognized that she had fairly invited Margery's sharp reply.

"We'll have to hurry and get ready when breakfast is over," said Eleanor as they were finishing the meal. "You girls whose turn it is to wash up had better get through as quickly as you can. Then we'll all get the packs ready. We have to take the boat that leaves at half past nine for the other end of Lake Dean."

"Why, there's someone coming! It's those girls from the other camp!" announced Dolly, suddenly. She had left the table, and was looking out of the window.

And, sure enough, when the Camp Fire Girls went out on the porch in a minute, they saw advancing the private school girls, whose snobbishness had nearly ruined their stay at Camp Sunset. Marcia Bates, who had been rescued with her friend, Gladys Cooper, acted as spokesman for them.

"We've come to tell you that we've all decided we were nasty and acted like horrid snobs," she said. "We have found out that you're nice girls—nicer than we are. And we're very grateful—of course I am, especially—for you helping us. And so we want you to accept these little presents we've brought for you."



CHAPTER II

TROUBLE SMOOTHED AWAY

Probably none of the Camp Fire Girls had ever been so surprised in their lives as when they heard the object of this utterly unexpected visit. Marcia's eyes were rather blurred while she was speaking, and anyone could see that it was a hard task she had assumed.

It is never easy to confess that one has been in the wrong, and it was particularly hard for these girls, whose whole campaign against the Camp Fire party had been based on pride and a false sense of their own superiority, which, of course, had existed only in their imaginations.

For a moment no one seemed to know what to do or say. Strangely enough, it was Dolly, who had resented the previous attitude of the rich girls more than any of her companions, who found by instinct the true solution.

She didn't say a word; she simply ran forward impulsively and threw her arms about Marcia's neck. Then, and not till then, as she kissed the friend with whom she had quarreled, did she find words.

"You're an old dear, Marcia!" she cried. "I knew you wouldn't keep on hating us when you knew us better—and you'll forgive me, won't you, for playing that horrid trick with the mice?"

Dolly had broken the ice, and in a moment the stiffness of the two groups of girls was gone, and they mingled, talking and laughing naturally.

"I don't know what the presents you brought are—you haven't shown them to us yet," said Dolly, with a laugh. "But I'm sure they must be lovely, and as for accepting them, why, you just bet we will!"

"You know," said Marcia a little apologetically, "there aren't any real stores up here, and we couldn't get what we would really have liked, but we just did the best we could. Girls, get those things out!"

And then a dozen blankets were unrolled, beautifully woven Indian blankets, such as girls love to use for their dens, as couch covers and for hangings on the walls. Dolly exclaimed with delight as she saw hers.

"Heavens! And you act as if they weren't perfectly lovely!" she cried. "Why, Marcia, how can you talk as if they weren't the prettiest things! If that's what you call just doing the best you can, I'm afraid to think of what you'd have got for us if you'd been able to pick out whatever you wanted. It would have been something so fine that we'd have been afraid to take it, I'm sure."

"Well, we thought perhaps you'd find them useful if you're going on this tramp of yours," said Marcia, blushing with pleasure. "And I'm ever so glad you like them, if you really do, because I helped to pick them out. There's one for each of you, and then we've got a big Mackinaw jacket for Miss Mercer, so that she'd have something different."

"I can't tell you how happy this makes me!" said Eleanor, swallowing a little hard, for she was evidently deeply touched. "I don't mean the presents, Marcia, though they're lovely, but the spirit in which you all bring them."

"We—we wanted to show you we were sorry, and that we understood how mean we'd been," said Marcia.

"Oh, my dear, do let's forget all that!" said Eleanor, heartily. "We don't want to remember anything unpleasant. Let's bury all that, and just have the memory that we're all good friends now, and that we'd never have been anything else if we'd only understood one another in the beginning as well as we do now.

"That's the reason for most of the quarrels in this world; people don't understand one another, that's all. And when they do, it's just as it is with us—they wonder how they ever could have hated one another!"

"Why, where's Gladys Cooper?" asked Dolly, suddenly. She had been looking around for the girl who had been chiefly responsible for all the trouble, and who had been, before this meeting, one of Dolly's friends in the city from which she and Marcia, as well as the Camp Fire Girls, came. And Gladys was missing.

"She—why—she—she isn't feeling very well," stammered Marcia unhappily. But a look at Dolly's face convinced her that she might as well tell the truth. "I'm awfully sorry," she went on shamefacedly, "but Gladys was awfully silly."

"You mean she hasn't forgiven us?" said Eleanor gently.

"She's just stupid," flashed Marcia. "What has she got to forgive? She ought to be here, thanking Dolly and Bessie King for finding us, just as I am. And she's sulking in her room, instead!"

"She'll change her mind, Marcia," said Eleanor, "just as the rest of you have done. I'm dreadfully sorry that she feels that way, because it must make her unhappy. But please don't be angry with her if you really want to please us. We're just as ready and just as anxious to be friends with her as with all the rest of you, and some time we will be, too. I'm sure of that."

"We'll make her see what a fool she is!" said Marcia, hotly. "If she'd only come with us, she'd have seen it for herself. She said all the girls here would crow over us, and act as if we were backing down, and had done this because someone made us."

Eleanor laughed heartily.

"Well, that is a silly idea!" she said. "Just explain to her that we were just as pleased and as surprised to see you as we could be, Marcia. You didn't need to come here this way at all, and we know it perfectly well. You did it just because you are nice girls and wanted to be friendly, and we appreciate the way you've come a good deal more than we do the lovely presents, even."

"Well, I hope we'll see you again," said Marcia. "If you're going on that half past nine boat we'll go back now, and let you pack, unless we can help you?"

"No, you can't help us. We've really got very little to do. But don't go. Stay around, if you will, and we'll all talk and visit with you while we do what there is to be done."

"I'm awfully sorry Gladys is cutting up so. It makes me feel ashamed, Dolly," said Marcia, when she and Dolly were alone. "But you know how she is. I think she's really just as sorry as the rest of us, but—"

"But she's awfully proud, and she won't show it, Marcia. I know, for I'm that way myself, though I really do think I've been behaving myself a little better since I've belonged to the Camp Fire. I wish you'd join, Marcia."

"Maybe I will, Dolly."

"Oh, that would be fine! Shall I speak to Miss Eleanor? She'd be perfectly delighted, I know."

"No, don't speak to her yet. I've got a plan, or some of us have, rather, but it's still a secret so I can't tell you anything about it. But maybe I'll have a great surprise for you the next time I see you."

The time passed quickly and pleasantly, and all too soon Miss Eleanor had to give the word that it was time to start for the landing if they were to catch the little steamer that was to take them to the other end of the lake.

"I tell you what! We'll all go with you as far as you go on the boat, and come back on her," said Marcia. "That will be good fun, won't it? I've got plenty of money for the fares, and those who haven't their money with them can pay me when we get back to camp."

All the girls from Camp Halsted fell in with her suggestion, delighted by the idea of such an unplanned excursion. It was easy enough to arrange it, too, for the little steamer would be back on her return trip early in the afternoon, even though she did not make very good speed and had numerous stops to make, since Lake Dean's shores were lined with little settlements, where camps and cottages and hotels, had been built at convenient spots.

"We've heard you singing a lot of songs we never heard before," said Marcia to Bessie, as they took their places on the boat. "Won't you teach us some of them? They were awfully pretty, we thought."

"You must mean the Camp Fire songs," said Bessie, happily. "We'll be glad to teach them to you—and they're all easy to learn, too. I think Dolly's got an extra copy of one of the song books and I know she'll be glad to let you have it."

And so, as soon as Bessie explained what Marcia wanted, the deck of the steamer was turned into an impromptu concert hall, and she made her journey to the strains of the favorite songs of the Camp Fire, the Wo-he-lo cheer with its lovely music being, of course, sung more often than any of the others.

"We were wondering so much about that," said Marcia. "We could make out the word Wo-he-lo, but we couldn't understand it. It sounded like an Indian word, but the others didn't seem to fit in with that idea."

"It's just made up from the first syllables of work and health and love, you see," said Eleanor. "We make up a lot of the words we use. A good many of the ceremonial names that the girls choose are made that way."

"Then they have a real meaning, haven't they?"

"Yes. You see, one of the things that we preach and try to teach in the Camp Fire is that things ought to be useful as well as beautiful. And it's very easy to be both."

"But tell me about the Indian sound of Wo-he-lo. Was that just an accident, or was it chosen that way on purpose?"

"Both, I think, Marcia. You see, the Indians in this country had a lot of good qualities that a great many people have forgotten or overlooked completely. Of course they were savages, in a way, but they had a civilization of their own, and a great many of their practices are particularly well adapted to this country."

"Oh, I see! You don't want them to be forgotten."

"That's just it. It's a good way to keep the memory of earlier times alive, and there seems to be something romantic and picturesque about the Indian names and the Indian things."

"That's one of the things I like best that I've found out about the Camp Fire since you came to Camp Sunset. We used to think the Camp Fire meant being goody-goody and learning to sew and cook and all sorts of things like that. But you have a lot of fun and good times, too, don't you?"

"Yes, and there really isn't anything goody-goody about us, Marcia. You'd soon find that out if you were with us."

"Well, I'm very glad that so many people have been led to know the truth about us," said Eleanor, with a smile. "If everyone knew the truth about the Camp Fire, it would soon be as big and as influential as even the most enthusiastic of us hope it will be. And I'm sure that we'll grow very fast now, because when girls understand us they see that we simply help them to have the sort of good times they enjoy most. Having a good time is a pretty important thing in this life."

"I—I rather thought you would think that we spent too much time just having a good time," said Marcia, plainly rather surprised by this statement.

"I don't say anything about you girls in particular, because I don't know enough about you," replied Eleanor. "Of course, it's easy to get to be so bound up in enjoying yourself that you don't think of anything else. But people who do that soon get tired of just amusing themselves, so, as a rule, there's no great harm done. They get so that everything they do bores them, and they turn to something serious and useful, for a change."

"But you just said having a good time was important—"

"And I meant it," said Eleanor, with a smile. "Because it's just as bad to go to one extreme as to the other, and that's true in about everything. People who never work, but spend all their time playing aren't happy, as a rule, or healthy, either. And people who reverse that, and work all the time without ever playing, are in just about the same boat, only they're really worse off than the others, because it's harder for them to change."

"I think I'm beginning to see what you mean, Miss Mercer."

"Why, of course you are, Marcia! It's in the middle ground that the right answer lies. Work a little, and play a little, that's the way to get on and be happy. When you've worked hard, you need some sort of relaxation, and it's pretty important to know how to enjoy yourself, and have a good time."

"And you certainly can have bully good times in the Camp Fire," said Dolly, enthusiastically. "I've never enjoyed myself half so much as I have since I've belonged. Why, we have bacon bats, and picnics, and all sorts of things that are the best fun you ever dreamed of, Marcia. Much nicer than those stiff old parties you and I used to go to all the time, when we always did the same things, and could tell before we went just what was going to happen."

"And the regular camp fires, the ceremonial ones, Dolly," reminded Bessie. "Don't you think Marcia would enjoy that?"

"Oh, I know she would! Couldn't I bring her to one some time?" Dolly asked Eleanor.

"She'll be very welcome, any time," said Eleanor with a smile. "There's nothing secret about the Camp Fire meetings," she went on. "They're not a bit like high school and private school fraternities or sororities—whichever you call them."

"Why, look where we are!" said Marcia suddenly. "We'll be at the dock pretty soon."

"Why, so we will!" Eleanor said. "That's Cranford, sure enough, girls! We get off here, and begin our real tramp."

"I wish we were going with you," said Marcia, with a sigh of regret. "But we can't, of course. Well, I told Dolly we might have a surprise for her pretty soon, and we will if I've got anything to say about it, too. This has been awfully jolly! I guess I know a lot more about your Camp Fire now than I ever expected to. And I've enjoyed hearing every word, too."

Soon the little steamer was made fast to the dock, and the Camp Fire Girls streamed off, lining up on the dock. On the steamer the girls from Camp Halsted—all but Gladys Cooper, who had not made the trip—lined up, leaning over the rail.

"We'll see them off as the boat goes right back again," said Eleanor. "And let's give them the Wo-he-lo cheer for good-bye, girls."

So their voices rose on the quiet air as the steamer's whistle shrieked, and she began to pull out.

"Good-bye! Good luck!" cried Marcia and all the Halsted girls. "And come back whenever you can! We'll have a mighty different sort of welcome for you next time!"

"Good-bye! And thank you ever so much for the blankets!" called the Camp Fire Girls.



CHAPTER III

THE WORK OF THE FIRE

At Cranford began the road which the Camp Fire Girls were to follow through Indian Notch, the gap between the two big mountains, Mount Grant and Mount Sherman. Then they were to travel easily toward the seashore, since the Manasquan Camp Fire, ever since it had been organized, had spent a certain length of time each summer by the sea.

The Village of Cranford had been saved from the fire only by a shift of the wind. The woods to the west and the north had been burning briskly for several days, and every able-bodied man in the village had been out, day and night, with little food and less rest, trying to turn off the fire. In spite of all their efforts, however, they would have failed in their task if the change in the weather had not come to their aid. As a consequence, everyone in the village, naturally enough, was still talking about the fire.

"It isn't often that a village in this part of the country has such a narrow escape," said Eleanor, looking around, "See, girls, you can see for yourselves how close they were to having to turn and run from the fire."

"It looks as if some of the houses here had actually been on fire," said Dolly, as they passed into the outskirts of the village.

"I expect they were. You see, the wind was very high just before the shift came, and it would carry sparks and blazing branches. It's been a very hot, dry summer, too, and so all the wooden houses were ready to catch fire. The paint was dry and blistered. They probably had to watch these houses very carefully, to be ready to put out a fire the minute it started."

"It didn't look so bad from our side of the lake, though, did it?"

"The smoke hid the things that were really dangerous from us, but here they could see all right. I'll bet that before another summer comes around they'll be in a position to laugh at a fire."

"How do you mean? Is there anything they can do to protect themselves—before a fire starts, I mean?"

"That's the time to protect themselves. When people wait until the fire has actually begun to burn, it's almost impossible for them to check it. It would have been this time, if the wind had blown for a few hours longer the way it was doing when the fire started."

"But what can they do?"

"They can have a cleared space between the town and the forest, for one thing, with a lot of brush growing there, if they want to keep that. Then, if a fire starts, they can set the brush afire, and make a back fire, so that the big fire will be checked by the little one. The fire has to have something to feed on, you see, and if it comes to a cleared space that's fairly wide, it can't get any further.

"Oh, a cleared space like that doesn't mean that the village could go to sleep and feel safe! But it's a lot easier to fight the fire then. All the men in town could line up, with beaters and plenty of water, and as soon as sparks started a fire on their side of the clearing, they could put it out before it could get beyond control."

"Oh, I see! And being able to see the fire as soon as it started, they wouldn't have half so much trouble fighting it as if they had to be after the really big blaze."

"Yes. The fire problem in places like this seems very dreadful, but when the conditions are as good as they are here, with plenty of water, all that's needed is a little forethought. It's different in some of the lumber towns out west, because there the fires get such a terrific start that they would jump any sort of a clearing, and the only thing to do when a fire gets within a certain distance of a town is for the people who live in the town to run."

Soon the road began to pass between desolate stretches of woods, where the fire had raged at its hottest. Here the ground on each side of the road was covered with smoking ashes, and blackened stumps stood up from the barren, burnt ground.

"It looks like a big graveyard, with those stumps for headstones," said Dolly, with a shudder.

"It is a little like that," said Eleanor, with a sigh. "But if you came here next year you wouldn't know the place. All that ash will fertilize the ground, and it will all be green. The stumps will still be there, but a great new growth will be beginning to push out. Of course it will be years and years before it's real forest again, but nature isn't dead, though it looks so. There's life underneath all that waste and desolation, and it will soon spring up again."

"I hope we'll get out of this burned country soon," said Dolly. "I think it's as gloomy and depressing as it can be. I'd like to have seen this road before the fire—it must have been beautiful."

"It certainly was, Dolly. And all this won't last for many miles. We really ought to stop pretty soon to eat our dinner. What do you say, girls? Would you like to wait, and press on until we come to a more cheerful spot, where the trees aren't all burnt!"

"Yes, oh, yes!" cried Margery Burton. "I think that would be ever so much nicer! Suppose we are a little hungry before we get our dinner? We can stand that for once."

"I think we'll enjoy our meal more. So we'll keep on, then, if the rest of you feel the same way."

Not a voice dissented from that proposition, either. Dolly was not the only one who was saddened by the picture of desolation through which they were passing. The road, of course, was deep in dust and ashes, and the air, still filled with the smoke that rose from the smouldering woods, was heavy and pungent, so that eyes were watery, and there was a good deal of coughing and sneezing.

"It's a lucky thing there weren't any houses along here, isn't it?" said Margery. "I don't see how they could possibly have been saved, do you, Miss Eleanor?"

"There's no way that they could have saved them, unless, perhaps, by having a lot of city fire engines, and keeping them completely covered with water on all sides while the fire was burning. They call that a water blanket, but of course there's no way that they could manage that up here."

"What do you suppose started this fire, Miss Eleanor?"

"No one will ever know. Perhaps someone was walking in the woods, and threw a lighted cigar or cigarette in a pile of dry leaves. Perhaps some party of campers left their camp without being sure that their fire was out."

"Just think of it—that all the trouble could be started by a little thing like that! It makes you realize what a good thing it is that we have to be careful never to leave a single spark behind when we're leaving a fire, doesn't it?"

"Yes. It's a dreadful thing that people should be so careless with fire. Fire, and the heat we get from it, is responsible for the whole progress of the race. It was the discovery that fire could be used by man that was back of every invention that has ever been made."

"That's why it's the symbol of the Camp Fire, isn't it?"

"Yes. And in this country people ought to think more of fire than they do. We lose more by fire every year than any other country in the world, because we're so terribly careless."

"What is that there, ahead of us, in the road?" asked Bessie, suddenly. They had just come to a bend in the road, and about a hundred yards away a group of people stood in the road.

Eleanor looked grave. She shaded her eyes with her hand, and stared ahead of her.

"Oh," she cried, "what a shame! I remember now. There was a farm house there! I'm afraid we were wrong when we spoke of there being no houses in the path of this fire!"

They pressed on steadily, and, as they approached the group forlorn, distressed and unhappy, they saw that their fears were only too well grounded. The people in the road were staring, with drawn faces, at a scene of ruin and desolation that far outdid the burnt wastes beside the road, since what they were looking at represented human work and the toil of hands.

The foundations of a farm house were plainly to be seen, the cellar filled with the charred wood of the house itself, and in what had evidently been the yard there were heaps of ashes that showed where the barns and other buildings had stood.

In the road, staring dully at the girls as they came up, were two women and a boy about seventeen years old, as well as several young children.

Eleanor looked at them pityingly, and then spoke to the older of the two women.

"You seem to be in great trouble," she said. "Is this your house?"

"It was!" said the woman, bitterly. "You can see what's left of it! What are you—picnickers? Be off with you! Don't come around here gloating over the misfortunes of hard working people!"

"How can you think we'd do that?" said Eleanor, with tears in her eyes. "We can see that things look very bad for you. Have you any place to go—any home?"

"You can see it!" said the woman, ungraciously.

Eleanor looked at her and at the ruined farm for a minute very thoughtfully. Then she made up her mind.

"Well, if you've got to start all over again," she said, "you are going to need a lot of help, and I don't see why we can't be the first to help you! Girls, we won't go any further now. We'll stay here and help these poor people to get started!"

"What can people like you do to help us?" asked the woman, scornfully. "This isn't a joke—'t ain't like a quiltin' party!"

"Just you watch us, and see if we can't help," said Eleanor, sturdily. "We're not as useless as we look, I can tell you that! And the first thing we're going to do is to cook a fine dinner, and you are all going to sit right down on the ground and help us eat it. You'll be glad of a meal you don't have to cook yourselves, I'm sure. Where is your well, or your spring for drinking water? Show us that, and we'll do the rest!"

Only half convinced of Eleanor's really friendly intentions, the woman sullenly pointed out the well, and in a few moments Eleanor had set the girls to work.

"The poor things!" she said to Margery, sympathetically. "What they need most of all is courage to pick up again, now that everything seems to have come to an end for them, and make a new start. And I can't imagine anything harder than that!"

"Why, it's dreadful!" said Margery. "She seems to have lost all ambition—to be ready to let things go."

"That's just the worst of it," said Eleanor. "And it's in making them see that there's still hope and cheer and good friendship in the world that we can help them most. I do think we can be of some practical use to them, too, but the main thing is to brace them up, and make them want to be busy helping themselves. It would be so easy for me to give them the money to start over again or I could get my friends to come in with me, and make up the money, if I couldn't do it all myself."

"But they ought to do it for themselves, you mean?"

"Yes. They'll really be ever so much better off in the long run if it's managed that way. Often and often, in the city, I've heard the people who work in the charity organizations tell about families that were quite ruined because they were helped too much."

"I can see how that would be," said Margery. "They would get into the habit of thinking they couldn't do anything for themselves—that they could turn to someone else whenever they got into trouble."

"Yes. You see these poor people are in the most awful sort of trouble now. They're discouraged and hopeless. Well, the thing to do is to make them understand that they can rise superior to their troubles, that they can build a new home on the ashes of their old one."

"Oh, I think it will be splendid if we can help them to do that!"

"They'll feel better, physically, as soon as they have had a good dinner, Margery. Often and often people don't think enough about that. It's when people feel worst that they ought to be fed best. It's impossible to be cheerful on an empty stomach. When people are well nourished their troubles never seem so great. They look on the bright side and they tell themselves that maybe things aren't as bad as they look."

"How can we help them otherwise, though!"

"Oh, we'll fix up a place where they can sleep to-night, for one thing. And we'll help them to start clearing away all the rubbish. They've got to have a new house, of course, and they can't even start work on that until all this wreckage is cleared away."

"I wonder if they didn't save some of their animals—their cows and horses," said Bessie. "It seems to me they might have been able to do that."

"I hope so, Bessie. But we'll find out when we have dinner. I didn't want to bother them with a lot of questions at first. Look, they seem to be a little brighter already."

The children of the family were already much brighter. It was natural enough for them to respond more quickly than their elders to the stimulus of the presence of these kind and helpful strangers, and they were running around, talking to the girls who were preparing dinner, and trying to find some way in which they could help.

And their mother began to forget herself and her troubles, and to watch them with brightening eyes. When she saw that the girls seemed to be fond of her children and to be anxious to make them happy, the maternal instinct in her responded, and was grateful.

"Oh, we're going to be able to bring a lot of cheer and new happiness to these poor people," said Eleanor, confidently. "And it will be splendid, wont it, girls? Could anything be better fun than doing good this way? It's something we'll always be able to remember, and look back at happily. And the strange part of it is that, no matter how much we do for them, we'll be doing more for ourselves."

"Isn't it fine that we've got those blankets?" said Dolly. "If we camp out here to-night they'll be very useful."

"They certainly will. And we shall camp here, though not in tents. Later on this afternoon, we'll have to fix up some sort of shelter. But that will be easy. I'll show you how to do it when the time comes. Now we want to hurry with the dinner—that's the main thing, because I think everyone is hungry."



CHAPTER IV

GETTING A START

Often people who have been visited by great misfortunes become soured and suspect the motives of even those who are trying to help them. Eleanor understood this trait of human nature very well, thanks to the fact that as a volunteer she had helped out the charity workers in her own city more than once. And as a consequence she did not at all resent the dark looks that were cast at her by the poor woman whose every glance brought home to her more sharply the disaster that the fire had brought.

"We've got to be patient if we want to be really helpful," she explained to Dolly Ransom, who was disposed to resent the woman's unfriendly aspect.

"But I don't see why she has to act as if we were trying to annoy her, Miss Eleanor!"

"She doesn't mean that at all, Dolly. You've never known what it is to face the sort of trouble and anxiety she has had for the last few days. She'll soon change her mind about us when she sees that we are really trying to help. And there's another thing. Don't you think she's a little softer already?"

"Oh, she is!" said Bessie, with shining eyes. "And I think I know why—"

"So will Dolly—if she will look at her now. See, Dolly, she's looking at her children. And when she sees how nice the girls are to them, she is going to be grateful—far more grateful than for anything we did for her. Because, after all, it's probably her fear for her children, and of what this will mean to them, that is her greatest trouble."

Dinner was soon ready, and when it was prepared, Eleanor called the homeless family together and made them sit down.

"We haven't so very much," she said. "We intended to eat just this way, but we were going on a little way. Still, I think there's plenty of everything, and there's lots of milk for the children."

"Why are you so good to us!" asked the woman, suddenly. It was her first admission that she appreciated what was being done, and Eleanor secretly hailed it as a prelude to real friendliness.

"Why, you don't think anyone could see you in so much trouble and not stop to try to help you, do you?" she said.

"Ain't noticed none of the neighbors comin' here to help," said the woman, sullenly.

"I think they're simply forgetful," said Eleanor. "And you know this fire was pretty bad. They had a great fight to save Cranford from burning up."

"Is that so?" said the woman, showing a little interest in the news. "My land, I didn't think the fire would get that far!"

"They were fighting night and day for most of three days," said Eleanor. "And now they're pretty tired, and I have an idea they're making up for lost sleep and rest. But I'm sure you'll find some of them driving out this way pretty soon to see how you are getting on."

"Well, they won't see much!" said the woman, with a despairing laugh. "We came back here, 'cause we thought some of the buildings might be saved. But there ain't a thing left exceptin' that one barn a little way over there. You can't see it from here. It's over the hill. We did save our cattle and a good many chickens and ducks. But all our crops is ruined—and how we are ever goin' to get through the winter I declare I can't tell!"

"Have you a husband? And, by the way, hadn't you better tell me your name!" said Eleanor.

"My husband's dead—been dead nearly two years," said the woman. "I'm Sarah Pratt. This here's my husband's sister, Ann."

"Well, Mrs. Pratt, we'll have to see if we can't think of some way of making up for all this loss," said Eleanor, after she had told the woman her own name, and introduced the girls of the Camp Fire. "Why—just a minute, now! You have cows, haven't you! Plenty of them? Do they give good milk!"

"Best there is," said the woman. "My husband, he was a crank for buyin' fine cattle. I used to tell him he was wastin' his money, but he would do it. Same way with the chickens."

"Then you sold the milk, I suppose?"

"Yes, ma'am, and we didn't get no more for it from the creamery than the farmers who had just the ornery cows."

"Well, I've got an idea already. I'm going back to Cranford as soon as we've had dinner to see if it will work out. I suppose that's your son?"

She looked with a smile at the awkward, embarrassed boy who had so little to say for himself.

"Well, while the girls fix you up some shelters where you can sleep to-night, if you stay here, I'm going to ask you to let him drive me into Cranford. I want to do some telephoning—and I think I'll have good news for you when I come back."

Strangely enough, Mrs. Pratt made no objection to this plan. Once she had begun to yield to the charm of Eleanor's manner, and to believe that the Camp Fire Girls meant really to help and were not merely stopping out of idle curiosity, she recovered her natural manner, which turned out to be sweet and cheerful enough, and she also began to look on things with brighter eyes.

"Makes no difference whether you have good news or not, my dear," she said to Eleanor. "You've done us a sight of good already. Waked me up an' made me see that it's wrong to sit down and cry when it's a time to be up an' doin'."

"Oh, you wouldn't have stayed in the dumps very long," said Eleanor, cheerfully. "Perhaps we got you started a little bit sooner, but I can see that you're not the sort to stay discouraged very long."

Then, while a few of the girls, with the aid of the Pratt children, washed dishes and cleared up after the meal, Eleanor took aside Margery and some of the stronger girls, like Bessie and Dolly, to show them what she wanted done while she was away.

"There's plenty of wood around here," she said. "A whole lot of the boards are only a little bit scorched, and some of them really aren't burned at all. Now, if you take those and lay them against the side of that steep bank there, near where the big barn stood, you'll have one side of a shelter. Then take saplings, and put them up about seven feet away from your boards."

She held a sapling in place, to show what she meant.

"Cut a fork in the top of each sapling, and dig holes so that they will stand up. Then lay strips of wood from the saplings to the tops of your boards, and cover the space you've got that way with branches. If you go about half a mile beyond here, you'll be able to get all the branches you want from spots where the fire hasn't burned at all."

"Why, they'll be like the Indian lean-tos I've read about, won't they?" exclaimed Margery.

"They're on that principle," said Eleanor. "Probably we could get along very well without laying any boards at all against that bank, but it might be damp, and there's no use in taking chances. And—"

"Oh, Miss Eleanor," Dolly interrupted, "excuse me, but if it rained or there were water above, wouldn't it leak right down and run through from the top of the bank?"

"That's a good idea, Dolly. I'll tell you how to avoid that. Dig a trench at the top of the bank, just as long as the shelter you have underneath, and the water will all be caught in that. And if you give the trench a little slope, one way or the other, or both ways from the centre, not much, just an inch in ten feet—the water will all be carried off."

"Oh, yes!" said Dolly. "That would fix that up all right."

"Get plenty of branches of evergreens for the floor, and we'll cover those with our rubber blankets," Eleanor went on. "Then we'll be snug and dry for to-night, anyhow, and for as long as the weather holds fine."

"You mean it will be a place where the Pratts can sleep?" said Margery. "Of course, it would be all right in this weather, but do you think it will stay like this very long?"

"Of course it won't, Margery, but I don't expect them to have to live this way all winter. If it serves to-night and to-morrow night I think it will be all that's needed. Now you understand just what is to be done, don't you? If you want to ask any questions, go ahead."

"No. We understand, don't we, girls?" said Margery.

"All right, then," said Eleanor. "Girls, Margery is Acting Guardian while I'm gone. You're all to do just as she tells you, and obey her just as if she were I. I see that Tom's got the buggy all harnessed up. It's lucky they were able to save their wagons and their horses, isn't it!"

"What are you going to do in Cranford!" asked Dolly. "Won't you tell us, Miss Eleanor?"

"No, I won't, Dolly," said Eleanor, laughing. "If I come back with good news—and I certainly hope I shall—you'll enjoy it all the more if it's a surprise, and if I don't succeed, why, no one will be disappointed except me."

And then with a wave of her hand, she sprang into the waiting buggy and drove off with Tom Pratt holding the reins, and looking very proud of his pretty passenger.

"Well, I don't know what it's all about, but we know just what we're supposed to do, girls," said Margery. "So let's get to work. Bessie, you and Dolly might start picking out the boards that aren't too badly burned."

"All right," said Dolly. "Come on, Bessie!"

"I'll pace off the distance to see how big a place we need to make," said Margery. "Mrs. Pratt, how far is it to a part of the woods that wasn't burned? Miss Mercer thought we could get some green branches there for bedding."

"Not very far," said Mrs. Pratt, with a sigh. "That's what seemed so hard! When we drove along this morning we came quite suddenly to a patch along the road on both sides where the fire hadn't reached, and it made us ever so happy."

"Oh, what a shame!" said Margery. "I suppose you thought you'd come to the end of the burned part?"

"I hoped so—oh, how I did hope so!" said poor Mrs. Pratt. "But then, just before we came in sight of the place, we saw that the fire had changed its direction again, and then we knew that our place must have gone."

"That's very strange, isn't it?" said Margery. "I wonder why the fire should spare some places and not others?"

"It seems as if it were always that way in a big fire," said Mrs. Pratt. "I suppose there'd been some cutting around that patch of woods that wasn't burned. And only last year a man was going to buy the wood in that wood lot of ours on the other side of the road, and clear it. If he had, maybe the fire wouldn't ever have come near us, at all."

"Well, we'll have to think about what did happen, not what we wish had happened, Mrs. Pratt," said Margery, cheerfully. "The thing to do now is to make the best of a bad business. I'm going to send four or five of the girls to get branches. Perhaps you'll let one of the children go along to show them the way?"

"You go, Sally," said Mrs. Pratt to the oldest girl, a child of fourteen, who had been listening, wide-eyed, to the conversation. "Now, ain't there somethin' Ann an' I can do to help?"

"Why, yes, there is, Mrs. Pratt. I think it's going to be dreadfully hot. Over there, where we unpacked our stores, you'll find a lot of lemons. I think if you'd make a couple of big pails full of lemonade we'd all enjoy them while we were working, and they'd make the work go faster, too."

"The water won't be very cold," suggested Ann.

"Pshaw, Ann! Why not use the ice?" said Mrs. Pratt, whose interest in small things had been wonderfully revived. "The ice-house wasn't burned. Do you go and get a pailful of ice, and we'll have plenty for the girls to drink. They surely will be hot and tired with all they're doing for us."

"I'm sorry I ever said Mrs. Pratt wasn't nice," said Dolly to Bessie, when they happened to overhear this, and saw how Mrs. Pratt began hustling to get the lemonade ready.

"I knew she'd be all right as soon as she began to be waked up a little," said Bessie. "This is more fun than one of our silly adventures, isn't it, Dolly? Because it's just as exciting, but there isn't the chance of things going wrong, and we're doing something to make other people happy."

"You're certainly right about that, Bessie. And it makes you think of how much hard luck people have, and how easy it would be for people who are better off to help them, doesn't it?"

"It is easy, Dolly. You know, I think Miss Eleanor must help an awful lot of people. It seems to be the first thing she thinks of when she sees any trouble."

"She makes one understand what Wo-he-lo really means," said Dolly. "She's often explained that work means service—doing things for other people, and not just working for yourself."

"That's one of the things I like best about the Camp Fire," said Bessie, thoughtfully. "Everyone in it seems to be unselfish and to think about helping others, and yet there isn't someone to preach to you all the time—they just do it themselves, and make you see that it's the way to be really happy."

"I wouldn't have believed that I could enjoy this sort of work if anyone had told me so a year ago. But I do. I haven't had such a good time since I can remember. Of course, I feel awfully sorry for the Pratts, but I'm glad that, if it had to happen to them, we came along in time to help them."

They hadn't stopped working while they talked, and now they had brought as many boards as Margery wanted.

"There are lots more boards, Margery," said Dolly. "Why shouldn't we make a sort of floor for the lean-to? If we put up a couple of planks for them to rest on, every so often, we could have a real floor, and then, even if the ground got damp, it would be dry inside."

"Good idea! We'll do that," said Margery, who was busy herself, flying here, there, and everywhere to direct the work. "Go ahead!"

And so, when the sound of wheels in the road heralded the return of Miss Eleanor in the buggy, the work was done, and the lean-to was completed, a rough-and-ready shelter that was practical in the extreme, though perhaps it was not ornamental.

"Splendid!" cried Eleanor. "But I knew you girls would do well. And I've got the good news I hoped to bring, too!"



CHAPTER V

GOOD NEWS FROM TOWN

Everyone rushed eagerly forward, and crowded around Miss Mercer as she descended from the buggy, smiling pleasantly at the bashful Tom Pratt, who did his best to help her in her descent. And not the least eager, by any means, was Tom Pratt's mother, whose early indifference to the interest of these good Samaritans in her misfortunes seemed utterly to have vanished.

"Oh, these girls of yours!" cried Mrs. Pratt. "You've no idea of how much they've done—or how much they've heartened us all up, Miss Mercer! I don't believe there were ever so many kind, nice people brought together before!"

Eleanor laughed, as if she were keeping a secret to herself. And her words, when she spoke, proved that that was indeed the case.

"Just you wait till you know how many friends you really have around here, Mrs. Pratt!" she said. "Well, I told you I hoped to bring back good news, and I have, and if you'll all give me a chance, I'll tell you what it is."

"You've found a place for all the Pratts to go!" said Dolly.

"You've arranged something so that they won't have to stay here!" agreed Margery.

"I don't know whether Mrs. Pratt would agree that that was such good news," she said. "Tell me, Mrs. Pratt—you are still fond of this place, aren't you?"

"Indeed, and I am, Miss Mercer!" she said, choking back a sob. "When I first saw how it looked this morning, I thought I only wanted to go away and never see it again, if I only knew where to go. But I feel so different now. Why, all the time we've been working around here, it's made me think of how Tom—I mean my poor husband—and I came here when we were first married. Tom had the land, you see, and he'd built a little cabin for us with his own hands."

"And all the farm grew from that?"

"Yes. We worked hard, you see, and the children came, but we had a better place for each one to be born in, Miss Mercer—we really did! It was our place. We've earned it all, with the help from the place itself, and before the fire—"

She broke down then, and for a moment she couldn't go on.

"Of course you love it!" said Eleanor, heartily. "And I don't think it would be very good news for you to know that you had a chance to go somewhere else and make a fresh start, though I could have managed that for you."

"I'd be grateful, though, Miss Mercer," said Mrs. Pratt. "I don't want you to think I wouldn't. It'll be a wrench, though—I'm not saying it wouldn't. When you've lived anywhere as long as I've lived here, and seen all the changes, and had your children born in it, and—"

"I know—I know," interrupted Eleanor, sympathetically. "And I could see how much you loved the place. So I never had any idea at all of suggesting anything that would take you away."

"Do you really think we can get a new start here?" asked Mrs. Pratt, looking up hopefully.

"I don't only believe it, I know it, Mrs. Pratt," said Eleanor, enthusiastically. "And what's more, you're going to be happier and more prosperous than you ever were before the fire. Not just at first, perhaps, but you're going to see the way clear ahead, and it won't be long before you'll be doing so well that you'll be able to let my friend Tom here go to college."

Mrs. Pratt's face fell. It seemed to her that Eleanor was promising too much.

"I don't see how that could be," she said. "Why, his paw and I used to talk that over. We wanted him to have a fine education, but we didn't see how we could manage it, even when his paw was alive."

"Well, you listen to me, and see if you don't think there's a good chance of it, anyhow," said Eleanor. "In the first place, none of the people in Cranford knew that you'd had all this trouble. It was just as I thought. Their own danger had been so great that they simply hadn't had time to think of anything else. They were shocked and sorry when I told them."

"There's a lot of good, kind people there," said Mrs. Pratt, brightening again. "I'm sure I didn't think anything of their not having come out here to see how we were getting along."

"Some of them would have been out in a day or two, even if I hadn't told them, Mrs. Pratt. As it is—but I think that part of my story had better wait. Tell me, you've been selling all your milk and cream to the big creamery that supplies the milkmen in the city, haven't you?"

"Yes, and I guess that we can keep their trade, if we can get on our feet pretty soon so that they can get it regular again."

"I've no doubt you could," said Eleanor, dryly. "They make so much money buying from you at cheap prices and selling at high prices that they wouldn't let the chance to keep on slip by in a hurry, I can tell you. But I've got a better idea than that."

Mrs. Pratt looked puzzled, but Tom Pratt, who seemed to be in Eleanor's secret, only smiled and returned Eleanor's wise look.

"When you make butter you salt it and keep it to use here, don't you?" Eleanor asked next.

"Yes, ma'am, we do."

"Well, if you made fresh, sweet butter, and didn't salt it at all, do you know that you could sell it to people in the city for fifty cents a pound?"

Mrs. Pratt gasped.

"Why, no one in the world ever paid that much for butter!" she said, amazed. "And, anyhow, butter without salt's no good."

"Lots of people don't agree with you, and they're willing to pay pretty well to have their own way, too," she said, with a laugh. "In the city rich families think fresh butter is a great luxury, and they can't get enough of it that's really good. And it's the same way, all summer long, at Lake Dean.

"The hotel there will take fifty pounds a week from you all summer long, as long as it's open, that is. And I have got orders for another fifty pounds a week from the people who own camps and cottages. And what's more, the manager of the hotel has another house, in Lakewood, in the winter time, and when he closes up the house at Cranford, he wants you to send him fifty pounds a week for that house, too."

"Why, however did you manage to get all those orders?" asked Margery, amazed.

"I telephoned to the manager of the hotel," said Eleanor. "And then I remembered the girls at Camp Halsted, and I called up Marcia Bates and told her the whole story, and what I wanted them to do. So she and two or three of the others went out in that fast motor boat of theirs and visited a lot of families around the lake, and when they told them about it, it was easy to get the orders."

"Well, I never!" gasped Mrs. Pratt. "I wouldn't ever have thought of doin' anythin' like that, Miss Mercer, and folks around here seem to think I'm a pretty good business woman, too, since my husband died. Why, we can make more out of the butter than we ever did out of a whole season's crops, sellin' at such prices!"

"You won't get fifty cents a pound from the hotel," said Eleanor. "That's because they'll take such a lot, and they'll pay you every week. So I told them they could have all they wanted for forty cents a pound. But, you see, at fifty pounds a week, that's twenty dollars a week, all the year round, and with the other fifty pounds you'll sell to private families, that will make forty-five dollars a week. And you haven't even started yet. You'll have lots more orders than you can fill."

"I'm wonderin' right now, ma'am, how we'll be able to make a hundred pounds of butter a week."

"I thought of that, too," said Eleanor, "and I bought half a dozen more cows for you, right there in Cranford. They're pretty good cows, and if they're well fed, and properly taken care of, they'll be just what you want."

"But I haven't got the money to pay for them now, ma'am!" said Mrs. Pratt, dismayed.

"Oh, I've paid for them," said Eleanor, "and you're going to pay me when you begin to get the profits from this new butter business. I'd be glad to give them to you, but you won't need anyone to give you things; you're going to be able to afford to pay for them yourself."

Mrs. Pratt broke into tears.

"That's the nicest thing you've said or done yet, Miss Mercer," she sobbed. "I just couldn't bear to take charity—"

"Charity? You don't need it, you only need friendly help, Mrs. Pratt, and if I didn't give you that someone else would!"

"And eggs! They'll be able to sell eggs, too, won't they!" said Dolly, jumping up and down in her excitement.

"They certainly will! I was coming to that," said Eleanor. "You know, this new parcel post is just the thing for you, Mrs. Pratt! Just as soon as a letter I wrote is answered, you'll get a couple of cases of new boxes that are meant especially for mailing butter and eggs and things like that from farmers to people in the city.

"You'll be able to sell eggs and butter cheaper than people in the city can buy things that are anything like as good from the stores, because you won't have to pay rent and lighting bills and all the other expensive things about a city store. I'm going to be your agent, and I do believe I'll make some extra pocket money, too, because I'm going to charge you a commission."

Mrs. Pratt just laughed at that idea.

"Well, you wait and see!" said Eleanor. "I'm glad to be able to help, Mrs. Pratt, but I know you'll feel better if you think I'm getting something out of it, and I'm going to. I think my running across you when you were in trouble is going to be a fine thing for both of us. Why, before you get done with us, you'll have to get more land, and a lot more cows and chickens, because we're going to make it the fashionable thing to buy eggs and butter from you!"

Mrs. Pratt seemed to be overwhelmed, and Eleanor, in order to create a diversion, went over to inspect the lean-to.

"It's just right," she said. "Having a floor made of those boards is a fine idea; I didn't think of that at all. Good for you, Margery!"

"That was Dolly's idea, not mine," said Margery.

"You were perfectly right, too. Well, it's getting a little late and I think it's time we were thinking about dinner. Margery, if you'll go over to the buggy you'll find quite a lot of things I bought in Cranford. We don't want to use up the stores we brought with us before we get away from here. And—here's a secret!"

"What?" said Margery, leaning toward her and smiling. And Eleanor laughed as she whispered in Margery's ear.

"There are going to be some extra people—at least seven or eight, and perhaps more—for dinner, so we want to have plenty, because I think they're going to be good and hungry when they sit down to eat!"

"Oh, do tell me who they are," cried Margery, eagerly. "I never saw you act so mysteriously before!"

"No, it's a surprise. But you'll enjoy it all the more when it comes for not knowing ahead of time. Don't breathe a word, except to those who help you cook if they ask too many questions."

Dinner was soon under way, and those who were not called upon by Margery busied themselves about the lean-to, arranging blankets and making everything snug for the night.

The busy hands of the Camp Fire Girls had done much to rid the place of its look of desolation, and now everything spoke of hope and renewed activity instead of despair and inaction. A healthier spirit prevailed, and now the Pratts, encouraged as to their future, were able to join heartily in the laughter and singing with which the Camp Fire Girls made the work seem like play.

"Why, what's this?" cried Bessie, suddenly. She had gone toward the road, and now she came running back.

"There are four or five big wagons, loaded with wood and shingles and all sorts of things like that coming in here from the road," she cried. "Whatever are they doing here?"

"That's my second surprise," laughed Eleanor. "It's your neighbors from Cranford, Mrs. Pratt. Don't you recognize Jud Harkness driving the first team there?"

"Hello, folks!" bellowed Jud, from his seat. "How be you, Mis' Pratt? Think we'd clean forgot you? We didn't know you was in such an all-fired lot of trouble, or we'd ha' been here before. We're come now, though, and we ain't goin' away till you've got a new house. Brought it with us, by heck!"

He laughed as he descended, and stood before them, a huge, black-bearded man, but as gentle as a child. And soon everyone could see what he meant, for the wagons were loaded with timber, and one contained all the tools that would be needed.

"There'll be twenty of us here to-morrow," he said, "and I guess we'll show you how to build a house! Won't be as grand as the hotel at Cranford, mebbe, but you can live in it, and we'll come out when we get the time and put on the finishing touches. To-night we'll clear away all this rubbish, and with sun-up in the morning we'll be at work."

Eleanor's eyes shone as she turned to Mrs. Pratt.

"Now you see what I meant when I told you there were plenty of good friends for you not far from here!" she cried. "As soon as I told Jud what trouble you were in he thought of this, and in half an hour he'd got promises from all the men to put in a day's work fixing up a new house for you."

Mrs. Pratt seemed too dazed to speak.

"But they can't finish a whole house in one day!" declared Margery.

"They can't paint it, and put up wall paper and do everything, Margery," said Eleanor. "That's true enough. But they can do a whole lot. You're used to thinking of city buildings, and that's different. In the country one or two men usually build a house, and build it well, and when there are twenty or thirty, why, the work just flies, especially when they're doing the work for friendship, instead of because they're hired to do it. Oh, just you wait!"

"Have you ever seen this before!"

"I certainly have! And you're going to see sights to-morrow that will open your eyes, I can promise you. You know what it's like, Bessie, don't you? You've seen house raisings before?"

"I certainly have," said Bessie. "And it's fine. Everyone helps and does the best he can, and it seems no time at all before it's all done."

"Well, we'll do our share," said Eleanor. "The men will be hungry, and I've promised that we'll feed them."



CHAPTER VI

THE GOOD SAMARITANS

"Well, I certainly have got a better opinion of country people than I ever used to have, Bessie," said Dolly Ransom. "After the way those people in Hedgeville treated you and Zara, I'd made up my mind that they were a nasty lot, and I was glad I'd always lived in the city."

"Well, aren't you still glad of it, Dolly? I really do think you're better off in the city. There wouldn't be enough excitement about living in the country for you, I'm afraid."

"Of course there wouldn't! But I think maybe I was sort of unfair to all country people because the crowd at Hedgeville was so mean to you. And I like the country well enough, for a little while. I couldn't bear living there all the time, though. I think that would drive me wild."

"The trouble was that Zara and I didn't exactly belong, Dolly. They thought her father was doing something wrong because he was a foreigner and they couldn't understand his ways."

"I suppose he didn't like them much, either, Bessie."

"He didn't. He thought they were stupid. And, of course, in a way, they were. But not as stupid as he thought they were. He was used to entirely different things, and—oh, well, I suppose in some places what he did wouldn't have been talked about, even.

"But in the country everyone knows the business of everyone else, and when there is a mystery no one is happy until it's solved. That's why Zara and her father got themselves so disliked. There was a mystery about them, and the people in Hedgeville just made up their minds that something was wrong."

"I feel awfully sorry for Zara, Bessie. It must be dreadful for her to know that her father is in prison, and that they are saying that he was making bad money. You don't think he did, do you?"

"I certainly do not! There's something very strange about that whole business, and Miss Eleanor's cousin, the lawyer, Mr. Jamieson, thinks so too. You know that Mr. Holmes is mighty interested in Zara and her father."

"He tried to help to get Zara back to that Farmer Weeks who would have been her guardian if she hadn't come to join the Camp Fire, didn't he?"

"Yes. You see, in the state where Hedgeville is, Farmer Weeks is her legal guardian, and he could make her work for him until she was twenty-one. He's an old miser, and as mean as he can be. But once she is out of that state, he can't touch her, and Mr. Jamieson has had Miss Eleanor appointed her guardian, and mine too, for that state. The state where Miss Eleanor and all of us live, I mean."

"Well, Mr. Holmes is trying to get hold of you, too, isn't he?"

"Yes, he is. You ought to know, Dolly, after the way he tried to get us both to go off with him in his automobile that day, and the way he set those gypsies on to kidnapping us. And that's the strangest thing of all."

"Perhaps he wants to know something about Zara, and thinks you can tell him, or perhaps he's afraid you'll tell someone else something he doesn't want them to know."

"Yes, it may be that. But that lawyer of his, Isaac Brack, who is so mean and crooked that no one in the city will have anything to do with him except the criminals, Mr. Jamieson says, told me once that unless I went with him I'd never find out the truth about my father and mother and what became of them."

"Oh, Bessie, how exciting! You never told me that before. Have you told Mr. Jamieson?"

"Yes, and he just looked at me queerly, and said nothing more about it."

"Bessie, do you know what I think?"

"No. I'm not a mind reader, Dolly!"

"Well, I believe Mr. Jamieson knows more than he has told you yet, or that he guesses something, anyway. And he won't tell you what it is because he's afraid he may be wrong, and doesn't want to raise your hopes unless he's sure that you won't be disappointed."

"I think that would be just like him, Dolly. He's been awfully good to me. I suppose it's because he thinks it will please Miss Eleanor, and he knows that she likes us, and wants to do things for us."

"Oh, I know he likes you, too, Bessie. He certainly ought to, after the way you brought him help back there in Hamilton, when we were there for the trial of those gypsies who kidnapped us. If it hadn't been for you, there's no telling what that thief might have done to him."

"Oh, anyone would have done the same thing, Dolly. It was for my sake that he was in trouble, and when I had a chance to help him, it was certainly the least that I could do. Don't you think so?"

"Well, maybe that's so, but there aren't many girls who would have known how to do what you did or who would have had the pluck to do it, even if they did. I'm quite sure I wouldn't, and yet I'd have wanted to, just as much as anyone."

"I wish I did know something about my father and mother, Dolly. You've no idea how much that worries me. Sometimes I feel as if I never would find out anything."

"Oh, you mustn't get discouraged, Bessie. Try to be as cheerful as you are when it's someone else who is in trouble. You're the best little cheerer-up I know when I feel blue."

"Oh, Dolly, I do try to be cheerful, but it's such a long time since they left me with the Hoovers!"

"Well, there must be some perfectly good reason for it all, Bessie, I feel perfectly sure of that. They would never have gone off that way unless they had to."

"Oh, it isn't that that bothers me. It's feeling that unless something dreadful had happened to them, I'd have heard of them long ago. And then, Maw Hoover and Jake Hoover were always picking at me about them. When I did something Maw Hoover didn't like, she'd say she didn't wonder, that she couldn't expect me to be any good, being the child of parents who'd gone off and left me on her hands that way."

"That's all right for her to talk that way, but she didn't have you on her hands. She made you work like a slave, and never paid you for it at all. You certainly earned whatever they spent for keeping you, Miss Eleanor says so, and I'll take her word any time against Maw Hoover or anyone else."

"I've sometimes thought it was pretty mean for me to run off the way I did, Dolly. If it hadn't been for Zara, I don't believe I'd have done it."

"It's a good thing for Zara that you did. Poor Zara! They'd taken her father to jail, and she was going to have to stay with Farmer Weeks. She'd never have been able to get along without you, you know."

"Well, that's one thing that makes me feel that perhaps it was right for me to go, Dolly. That, and the way Miss Eleanor spoke of it. She seemed to think it was the right thing for me to do, and she knows better than I do, I'm sure."

"Certainly she does. And look here, Bessie! It's all coming out right, sometime, I know. I'm just sure of that! You'll find out all about your father and mother, and you'll see that there was some good reason for their not turning up before."

"Oh, Dolly dear, I'm sure of that now! And it's just that that makes me feel so bad, sometimes. If something dreadful hadn't happened to them, they would have come for me long ago. At least they would have kept on sending the money for my board."

"How do you know they didn't, Bessie? Didn't Maw Hoover get most of the letters on the farm?"

"Yes, she did, Dolly. Paw Hoover couldn't read, so they all went to her, no matter to whom they were addressed."

"Why, then," said Dolly, triumphantly, "maybe your father and mother were writing and sending the money all the time!"

"But wouldn't she have told me so, Dolly?"

"Suppose she just kept the money, and pretended she never got it at all, Bessie? I've heard of people doing even worse things than that when they wanted money. It's possible, isn't it, now? Come on, own up!"

"I suppose it is," said Bessie, doubtfully. "Only it doesn't seem very probable. Maw Hoover was pretty mean to me, but I don't think she'd ever have done anything like that."

"Well, I wouldn't put it above her! She treated you badly enough about other things, heaven knows!"

"I'd hate to think she had done anything quite as mean as that, though, Dolly. I do think she had a pretty hard time herself, and I'm quite sure that if it hadn't been for Jake she wouldn't have been so mean to me."

"Oh, I know just the sort he is. I've seen him, remember, Bessie! He's a regular spoiled mother's boy. I don't know why it is, but the boys whose mothers coddle them and act as if they were the best boys on earth always seem to be the meanest."

"Yes, you did see him, Dolly. Still, Jake's very young, and he wouldn't be so bad, either, if he'd been punished for the things he did at home. As long as I was there, you see, they could blame everything that was done onto me. He did, at least, and Maw believed him."

"Didn't his father ever see what a worthless scamp he was?"

"Oh, how could he, Dolly? He was his own son, you see, and then there was Maw Hoover. She wouldn't let him believe anything against Jake, any more than she would believe it herself."

"I'm sorry for Paw Hoover, Bessie. He seemed like a very nice old man."

"He certainly was. Do you remember how he found me with you girls the day after Zara and I ran away? He could have told them where we were then, but he didn't do it. Instead of that, he was mighty nice to me, and he gave me ten dollars."

"He said you'd earned it, Bessie, and he was certainly right about that. Why, in the city they can't get servants to do all the things you did, even when they're well paid, and you never were paid at all!"

"Well, that doesn't make what he did any the less nice of him, Dolly. And I'll be grateful to him, because he might have made an awful lot of trouble."

"Oh, I'll always like him for that, too. And I guess from what I saw of him, and all I've heard about his wife, that he doesn't have a very happy time at home, either. Maw Hoover must make him do just about what she wants, whether he thinks she's right or not."

"She certainly does, Dolly, unless she's changed an awful lot since I was there."

"Well, I suppose the point is that there really must be more people like him in the country than like his wife and Farmer Weeks. These people around here are certainly being as nice as they can be to the poor Pratts. Just think of their coming here to-morrow to build a new house for them!"

"There are more nice, good-hearted people than bad ones all over, Dolly. That's true of every place, city or country."

"But it seems to me we always hear more of the bad ones, and those who do nasty things, than we do of the others, in the newspapers."

"I think that's because the things that the bad people do are more likely to be exciting and interesting, Dolly. You see, when people do nice things, it's just taken as a matter of course, because that's what they ought to do. And when they do something wicked, it gets everyone excited and makes a lot of talk. That's the reason for that."

"Still, this work that the men from Cranford are going to do for the Pratts is interesting, Bessie. I think a whole lot of people would like to know about that, if there was any way of telling them."

"Yes, that's so. This isn't an ordinary case, by any means. And I guess you'll find that we'll do plenty of talking about it. Miss Eleanor will, I know, because she thinks they ought to get credit for doing it."

"So will Mrs. Pratt and the children, too. Oh, yes, I was wrong about it, Bessie. Lots of people will know about this, because the Pratts will always have the house to remind them of it, and people who go by, if they've heard of it, will remember the story when they see the place. I do wonder what sort of a house they will put up?"

"It'll have to be very plain, of course. And it will look rough at first, because it won't be painted, and there won't be any plaster on the ceilings and there won't be any wall paper, either."

"Oh, but that will be easy to fix later. They'll have a comfortable house for the winter, anyhow, I'm sure. And if they can make as much money out of selling butter and eggs as Miss Eleanor thinks, they'll soon be able to pay to have it fixed up nicely."

"Dolly, I believe we'll be able to help, too. If those girls at Camp Halsted could go around and get so many orders just in an hour or so, why shouldn't we be able to do a lot of it when we get back to the city?"

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