She must have known that the large bird was a golden eagle—a plunderer, who was usually welcomed with loud shots; doubtless she had also seen the queer changeling he bore on his back. But she had not thought of what they were. As soon as she understood that they were hungry, she shared her good bread with them.
“If I ever become human again,” thought the boy, “I shall look up the pretty woman who lives near the great river, and thank her for her kindness to us.”
THE FOREST FIRE
While the boy was still at his breakfast he smelled a faint odour of smoke coming from the north. He turned and saw a tiny spiral, white as a mist, rise from a forest ridge—not from the one nearest him, but from the one beyond it. It looked strange to see smoke in the wild forest, but it might be that a mountain stock farm lay over yonder, and the women were boiling their morning coffee.
It was remarkable the way that smoke increased and spread! It could not come from a ranch, but perhaps there were charcoal kilns in the forest.
The smoke increased every moment. Now it curled over the whole mountain top. It was not possible that so much smoke could come from a charcoal kiln. There must be a conflagration of some sort, for many birds flew over to the nearest ridge. Hawks, grouse, and other birds, who were so small that it was impossible to recognize them at such a distance, fled from the fire.
The tiny white spiral of smoke grew to a thick white cloud which rolled over the edge of the ridge and sank toward the valley. Sparks and flakes of soot shot up from the clouds, and here and there one could see a red flame in the smoke. A big fire was raging over there, but what was burning? Surely there was no large farm hidden in the forest.
The source of such a fire must be more than a farm. Now the smoke came not only from the ridge, but from the valley below it, which the boy could not see, because the next ridge obstructed his view. Great clouds of smoke ascended; the forest itself was burning!
It was difficult for him to grasp the idea that the fresh, green pines could burn. If it really were the forest that was burning, perhaps the fire might spread all the way over to him. It seemed improbable; but he wished the eagle would soon return. It would be best to be away from this. The mere smell of the smoke which he drew in with every breath was a torture.
All at once he heard a terrible crackling and sputtering. It came from the ridge nearest him. There, on the highest point, stood a tall pine like the one in which he sat. A moment before it had been a gorgeous red in the morning light. Now all the needles flashed, and the pine caught fire. Never before had it looked so beautiful! But this was the last time it could exhibit any beauty, for the pine was the first tree on the ridge to burn. It was impossible to tell how the flames had reached it. Had the fire flown on red wings, or crawled along the ground like a snake? It was not easy to say, but there it was at all events. The great pine burned like a birch stem.