Half a mile through the trees Charley smashed his way to the next ring of fire. He could see that the flames were leaping a little higher and that they were eating their way along at a faster pace than the first fire had traveled. He knew it would be hard to stop this blaze. But he cut a new bough, and gritting his teeth, once more fell to fighting fire.
Quickly he found it was quite a different fire from the one he had extinguished. Fitfully the wind was coming up. When it blew, the flames seemed to leap at Charley. His shoes, his clothes, his hands and wrists were blistered by the heat. His fingers were torn and his muscles ached. His lungs and throat became painful. His eyes grew blurred. He could no longer see clearly. There was a ringing noise in his ears. Yet coughing, choking, gasping for breath, stumbling and tripping, and at times falling prone, he fought his way along the line of fire.
He was so weak, so worn out from physical exertion and nervous strain that he could no longer think clearly. But blindly, stubbornly, doggedly, he fought the flames. His movements became mechanical. Sometimes his descending bough hit the fire and sometimes it struck the unignited leaves. Charley was fast nearing the point of exhaustion. He could scarcely control his movements. Yet he tried valiantly to hold himself to his task. He thought of the turtle-dove on the burning stump and for a moment the thought seemed to give him new strength. But the inspiration was only momentary. Blindly now he staggered along the line of fire, gasping, reeling, swaying, hardly able to keep his feet. He tottered on.
He could hardly raise his brush. His efforts were useless. Yet he hung doggedly to his duty. Just as he was about to plunge headlong into the flames, a shout sounded in his ears, forms came rushing through the smoke, and Charley was lifted in the forester’s strong arms and borne to one side.
For a long time Charley lay on his back, hardly conscious of anything. But slowly the pure air revived him and his powers came back. He sat up, then rose unsteadily to his feet. In a few moments he felt all right. He began to look about him. The fire he had been fighting was extinguished. He ascended an easily climbed tree and saw that the third fire in the valley was also out. He knew that the fire fighters had gone on to the next valley to subdue the blazes there. The wind was still no more than a zephyr and he knew they would succeed. The forest was saved. A feeling of great relief came to him.
He sat down and rested, thinking what he ought to do. He remembered what the forester had said about the desirability of an immediate investigation of incendiary fires. Here was his job.