Read CHAPTER VII - THE HOUSE RAISING of A Campfire Girl's Test of Friendship , free online book, by Jane L. Stewart, on ReadCentral.com.

The sun was scarcely up in the morning when Eleanor turned out and aroused the girls.

“We’ve got to get our own breakfast out of the way in a hurry, girls,” she said.  “When country people say early, they mean early-early!  And we want to have coffee and cakes ready for these good friends of ours when they do come.  A good many of them will come from a long way off and I think they’ll all be glad to have a little something extra before they start work.  It won’t hurt us a bit to think so, and act accordingly anyhow.”

So within half an hour the Pratts and the Camp Fire Girls had had their own breakfasts, the dishes were washed, and great pots of coffee were boiling on the fires that had been built.  And, just as the fragrant aroma arose on the cool air, the first of the teams that brought the workers came in sight, with jovial Jud Harkness driving.

“My, but that coffee smells good, Miss Mercer!” he roared.  “Say, I’m not strong for all these city fixin’s in the way of food.  Plain home cookin’ serves me well enough, but there’s one thing where you sure do lay all over us, and that’s in makin’ coffee.  Give me a mug of that, Mis’ Pratt, an’ I’ll start work.”

And from the way in which the coffee and the cakes, the latter spread with good maple syrup from trees that grew near Cranford, began to disappear, it was soon evident that Eleanor had made no mistake, and that the breakfast that she had had prepared for the workers would by no means be wasted.

“It does me good to see you men eat this way,” she said, laughing.  “That’s one thing we don’t do properly in the city-eat.  We peck at a lot of things, instead of eating a few plain ones, and a lot of them.  And I’ll bet that you men will work all the harder for this extra breakfast.”

“Just you watch and see!” bellowed Jud.  “I’m boss here to-day, ma’am, and I tell you I’m some nigger driver.  Ain’t I, boys?”

But he accompanied the threat with a jovial wink, and it was easy to see that these men liked and respected him, and were only too willing to look up to him as a leader in the work of kindness in which they were about to engage.

“I don’t know why all you boys are so good to me, Jud,” said Mrs. Pratt, brokenly.  “I can’t begin to find words to thank you, even.”

“Don’t try, Mis’ Pratt,” said Jud, looking remarkably fierce, though he was winking back something that looked suspiciously like a tear.  “I guess we ain’t none of us forgot Tom Pratt-as good a friend as men ever had!  Many’s the time he’s done kind things for all of us!  I guess it’d be pretty poor work if some of his friends couldn’t turn out to help his wife and kids when they’re in trouble.”

“He knows what you’re doing, I’m sure of that,” she answered.  “And God will reward you, Jud Harkness!”

Heartily as the men ate, however, they spent little enough time at the task.  Jud Harkness allowed them what he thought was a reasonable time, and then he arose, stretched his great arms, and roared out his commands.

“Come on, now, all hands to work!” he bellowed.  “We’ve got to get all this rubbish cleared out, then we’ll have clean decks for building.”

And they fell to with a will.  In a surprisingly short space of time the men who had plunged into the ruined foundations of the house had torn out the remaining beams and rafters, and had flung the heap of rubbish that filled the cellar on to the level ground.  While some of the men did this, others piled the rubbish on to wagons, and it was carted away and dumped.  The fire, however, had really lightened their task for them.

“That fire was so hot and so fierce,” said Eleanor, as she watched them working, “that there’s less rubbish than if the things had been only half burned.”

“I’ve seen fires in the city,” said Margery, “or, at least, houses after a fire.  And it really looked worse than this, because there’d be a whole lot of things that had started to burn.  Then the firemen came along, to put out the fire, and though the things weren’t really any good, they had to be carted away.”

“Yes, but this fire made a clean sweep wherever it started at all.  Ashes are easier to handle than sticks and half ruined pieces of furniture.  As long as it had to come, I guess it’s a good thing that it was such a hot blaze.”

The work of clearing away, therefore, which had to be done, of course, before any actual building could be begun, was soon accomplished.

“We’re going to build just the way Tom Pratt did,” said Jud Harkness.  He was the principal carpenter and builder of Lake Dean, and a master workman.  Many of the camps and cottages on the lake had been built by him, and he was, therefore, accustomed to such work.

“You mean you’re going to put up a square house?” said Eleanor.

“Yes, ma’am, just a square house, with a hall running right through from the front to the back, and an extension in the rear for a kitchen-just a shack, that will be.  Two floors-two rooms on each side of the hall on each floor.  That’ll give them eight rooms to start with, beside the kitchen.”

“That’ll be fine, and it will really be the easiest thing to do, too.”

“That’s what we’re figuring, ma’am.  You see, it’ll be just as it was when Tom Pratt first built here, except that he only put up one story at first.  Then, as Mis’ Pratt gets things going again, she can add to it, and if she don’t get along as fast as she expects, why, we’ll lend her a hand whenever she needs it.”

“How on earth could you get all the lumber you need ready so quickly?  That’s one thing I couldn’t understand.  The work is not so difficult to manage, of course.  But the wood-that’s what’s been puzzling me.”

Jud grinned.

“Well, the truth is, ma’am, I expect to have a little argument about that yet with a city chap that’s building a house on the lake.  I’ve got the job of putting it up for him, and if it hadn’t been for this fire coming along, I’d have started work day before yesterday.”

“Oh, and this is the lumber for his house?”

“You guessed it right, ma’am!  He’ll be wild, I do believe, because there’s no telling when I’ll get the next lot of lumber through.”

“You say the fire stopped you from going ahead with his house?”

“Yes.  You see all of us had to turn out when it got so near to Cranford.  My house is safe, I do believe.  I’m mighty scared of fire, ma’am, and I’ve always figured on having things fixed so’s a fire would have a pretty hard time reaching my property.  But of course I had to jump in to help my neighbors-wouldn’t be much profit about having the only house left standing in town, would there?”

Eleanor laughed.

“I guess not!” she said.  “But what a lucky thing for Mrs. Pratt that you happened to have just the sort of wood she needed!”

“Oh, well, we’d have managed somehow.  Of course, it makes it easier, but we’d have juggled things around some way, even if this chap’s plans didn’t fit her foundations.  As it happens, though, they do.  Old Tom Pratt had a mighty well-built house here.”

“Well, I’m quite sure that just as good a one is going up in its place.”

Jud Harkness watched the work of getting out the last of the rubbish.  Then he went over to the cleared foundations, and in a moment he was putting up the first of the four corner posts, great beams that looked stout enough to hold up a far bigger house than the one they were to support.

All morning the work went on merrily.  As Eleanor had predicted, and Bessie, too, there was plenty for the girls to do.  The sun grew hotter and hotter, and the men were glad of the cooling drinks that were so liberally provided for them.

“This is fine!” said Jud Harkness, as he quaffed a great drink of lemonade, well iced.  “My, but it’s a pleasure to work when it’s made so nice for you!  I tell you, having these cool drinks here is worth an extra hour’s work, morning and afternoon.  And what’s that-just the nails I want?  I’ll give you a job as helper, young woman!”

That remark was addressed to Bessie, who flushed with pleasure at the thought that she was playing a part, however small, in the building of the house.  And, indeed, the girls all did their part, and their help was royally welcomed by the men.

Quickly the skeleton of the house took form, and by noon, when work was to be knocked off for an hour, the whole framework was up.

“I simply wouldn’t have believed it, if I hadn’t seen it with, my own eyes!” said Eleanor.  “It’s the most wonderful thing I ever saw!”

“Oh, shucks!” said Jud, embarrassed by such praise.  “There’s lots of us-I don’t think we’ve done so awful well.  But it does look kind of nice, don’t it?”

“It’s going to be a beautiful house,” said Mrs. Pratt.  “And to think of what the place looked like yesterday!  Well, Jud Harkness, I haven’t any words to tell you what I really think, and that’s all there is to it!”

For an hour or more Margery and her helpers had been busy at the big fire.  At Eleanor’s suggestion two of the men had stopped work on the house long enough to put up a rough, long table with benches at the sides, and now the table was groaning with the fine dinner that Margery had prepared.

“Good solid food-no fancy fixings!” Eleanor had decreed.  “These men burn up a tremendous lot of energy in work, and we’ve got to give them good food to replace it.  So we don’t want a lot of trumpery things, such as we like!”

She had enforced a literal obedience, too.  There were great joints of corned beef, red and savory; pots of cabbage, and huge mounds of boiled potatoes.  Pots of mustard were scattered along the table, and each man had a pitcher of fine, fresh milk, and a loaf of bread, with plenty of butter.  And for dessert there was a luxury-the only fancy part of the meal.

Eleanor had had a whispered conference with Tom Pratt early in the day, as the result of which he had hitched up and driven into Cranford, to return with two huge tubs of ice-cream.  He had brought a couple of boxes of cigars, too, and when the meal was over, and the men were getting out their pipes, Eleanor had gone around among them.

“Try one of these!” she had urged.  “I know they’re good-and I know that when men are working hard they enjoy a first-class smoke.”

The cigars made a great hit.

“By Golly!  There’s nothing she don’t think of, that Miss Mercer!” said Jud Harkness appreciatively, as he lit up, and sent great clouds of blue smoke in the air.  “Boys, if we don’t do a tiptop job on that house to finish it off this afternoon we ought to be hung for a lot of ungrateful skunks.  Eh?”

There was a deep-throated shout of approval for that sentiment, and, after a few minutes of rest, during which the cigars were enjoyed to the utmost, Jud rose and once more sounded the call to work.

“I’ve heard men in the city say that after a heavy meal in the middle of the day, they couldn’t work properly in the afternoon,” said Eleanor, as she watched the men go about their work, each seeming to know his part exactly.  “It doesn’t seem to be so with these men, though, does it?  I guess that in the city men who work in offices don’t use their bodies enough-they don’t get enough exercise, and they eat as much as if they did.”

“I love cooking for men who enjoy their food the way these do,” said Margery happily.  “They don’t have to say it’s good-they show they think so by the way they eat.  It’s fine to think that people really enjoy what you do.  I don’t care how hard I work if I think that.”

“Well, you certainly had an appreciative lot of eaters to-day, Margery.”

As the shadows lengthened and the sun began to go down toward the west the house rapidly assumed the look it would have when it was finished.  A good deal of the work, of course, was roughly done.  There was no smoothing off of rough edges, but all that could be done later.

And then, as the end of the task drew near, so that the watchers on the ground could see what the finished house would be like, Mrs. Pratt, already overwhelmed by delight at the kindness of her neighbors, had a new surprise that pleased and touched her, if possible, even more than what had gone before.  A new procession of wagons came into sight in the road, and this time each was driven by a woman.

And what a motley collection of stuff they did bring, to be sure!  Beds and mattresses, bedding, chairs, tables, a big cook stove for the kitchen, pots and pans, china and glass, knives and forks-everything that was needed for the house.

“We just made a collection of all the things we could spare, Sarah Pratt,” said sprightly little Mrs. Harkness, a contrast indeed to her huge husband, who could easily lift her with one hand, so small was she.  “They ain’t much on looks, but they’re all whole and clean, and you can use them until you have a chance to stock up again.  Now, don’t you go trying to thank us-it’s nothing to do!”

“Nothing?” exclaimed Mrs. Pratt.  “Sue Harkness, don’t you dare say that!  Why, it means that I’ll have a real home to-night for my children-we’ll be jest as comfortable as we were before the fire!  I don’t believe any woman ever had such good neighbors before!”

Long before dark the house was finished, as far as it was to be finished that day.  And, as soon as the men had done their work, their wives and the Camp Fire Girls descended on the new house with brooms and pails, and soon all the shavings and the traces of the work had been banished.  Then all hands set to work arranging the furniture, and by the time supper was ready the house was completely furnished.

“Well,” said Eleanor, standing happily in the parlor, “this certainly does look homelike!”

There was even an old parlor organ.  Pictures were on the wall; a good rag carpet was on the floor, and, while the furniture was not new, and had seen plenty of hard service, it was still good enough to use.  The Pratt home had certainly risen like a Phoenix from its ashes.  And tired but happy, all those who had contributed to the good work sat down to a bountiful supper.