In the Burned Forest
The two boys were almost stunned by their discovery. For a moment neither spoke. Indeed neither dared to speak. Their disappointment was so keen, their thirst so intense, that both boys were near to tears. But presently they got command of themselves.
“I knew it had been a mighty dry season,” said Lew, in amazement, “but I never imagined it was anything like this. I supposed that spring never went dry.”
The two lads stood looking at each other in consternation.
“What in the world shall we do?” asked Charley, slowly.
“I don’t see that we can do anything,” rejoined Lew. “I’m all in myself. I couldn’t go another rod if somebody would pay me. We’ll just have to make the best of it.”
“Well, we can eat if we can’t drink,” said Charley. “Start a fire and I’ll get out the grub.”
Charley began to unroll his pack, while Lew gathered up a few twigs and made a cone-shaped little pile of them close beside the great rock. He struck a match and in a moment flames were drawing upward through the twigs. With the hatchet Lew cut some short lengths of heavier wood and soon the flames were leaping high, lighting up the forest for rods around.
Dismal, indeed, was the sight the two lads looked upon. Nowhere could they see anything green, save a few scattered ferns. Everywhere gaunt, ragged, blackened trees thrust their sorrowful looking trunks aloft. The earth was littered with blackened debris—burned and partly charred limbs and fallen trees. The very rocks were fire-scarred and scorched. Hardly could the mind of man conceive a picture more desolate. As the two boys looked at the scene before them, Lew quoted the sign on the hemlock.
“Everybody loses when timber burns,” he said. But though both boys were looking directly at what seemed the very acme of destruction and loss, neither as yet comprehended the full significance of the statement Lew was quoting.
Charley spread the grub out on his blanket and put the dishes together near the fire. While he was waiting for a bed of coals to form, he cut some bread and spread the slices with butter. Presently he put the little frying-pan over the coals and began to cook some meat. Every time he bent over his pile of grub, he smelled the coffee. The odor was tantalizing, almost torturing. Never, it seemed to him, had he ever wanted anything so much as he now wanted a drink of coffee. But with no water they could have no coffee. Finally Charley put the package of coffee in the coffee-pot and clamped down the lid so that the odor could reach him no longer. From time to time Lew quietly stirred the coals. Charley fried the meat in silence. Neither boy felt like talking.
When the meal was ready, they sat down on the dry ground and in silence ate their food.
Presently Lew broke the quiet. “I wonder what Roy had to say to-night. I thought maybe we’d be able to get our wireless up and listen in. But I’m too tired to bother with any wireless to-night, even from Roy. It’ll be the hay for mine, quick.”