They, too, thought only of the fire which was now rushing toward them. The fleeing animals ran in and out among the men’s feet, without attracting attention. No one struck at the adder or tried to catch the mother grouse as she ran back and forth with her little peeping birdlings. They did not even bother about Thumbietot. In their hands they held great, charred pine branches which had dropped into the brook, and it appeared as if they intended to challenge the fire with these weapons. There were not many men, and it was strange to see them stand there, ready to fight, when all other living creatures were fleeing.
As the fire came roaring and rushing down the slope with its intolerable heat and suffocating smoke, ready to hurl itself over brook and leaf-tree wall in order to reach the opposite shore without having to pause, the people drew back at first as if unable to withstand it; but they did not flee far before they turned back.
The conflagration raged with savage force, sparks poured like a rain of fire over the leaf trees, and long tongues of flame shot hissingly out from the smoke, as if the forest on the other side were sucking them in.
But the leaf-tree wall was an obstruction behind which the men worked. When the ground began to smoulder they brought water in their vessels and dampened it. When a tree became wreathed in smoke they felled it at once, threw it down and put out the flames. Where the fire crept along the heather, they beat it with the wet pine branches and smothered it.
The smoke was so dense that it enveloped everything. One could not possibly see how the battle was going, but it was easy enough to understand that it was a hard fight, and that several times the fire came near penetrating farther.
But think! After a while the loud roar of the flames decreased, and the smoke cleared. By that time the leaf trees had lost all their foliage, the ground under them was charred, the faces of the men were blackened by smoke and dripping with sweat; but the forest fire was conquered. It had ceased to flame up. Soft white smoke crept along the ground, and from it peeped out a lot of black stumps. This was all there was left of the beautiful forest!
The boy scrambled up on a rock, so that he might see how the fire had been quenched. But now that the forest was saved, his peril began. The owl and the hawk simultaneously turned their eyes toward him. Just then he heard a familiar voice calling to him.
Gorgo, the golden eagle, came sweeping through the forest, and soon the boy was soaring among the clouds—rescued from every peril.
THE FIVE SCOUTS
Once, at Skansen, the boy had sat under the steps at Bollnaes cottage and had overheard Clement Larsson and the old Laplander talk about Norrland. Both agreed that it was the most beautiful part of Sweden. Clement thought that the southern part was the best, while the Laplander favoured the northern part.