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
“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
“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
“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
“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,
“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
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
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
“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
“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, won’t 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.”