“My ranger reported to me by telephone last night that excepting for yourselves he had seen nobody in this region all day. This morning a fire breaks out; you report it promptly by wireless; and when we arrive, you have it almost out. Isn’t that a suspicious chain of circumstances? Doesn’t it look as though you might be trying to show the forester something?”
“A fellow who would set the forest afire just to prove his own qualifications as a fire fighter ought to be put in prison,” said Charley indignantly. “Do you think I’m that kind of a skunk?”
“No, I don’t,” said the forester. “I believe you boys had no hand in starting this fire and that you have risked your lives and done heroic work to save the forest. But I had to be sure. There is something queer about this fire. With no railroads near to shoot up sparks, no thunder-storms to flash lightning, and no campers to be careless with their fires, what did cause it? It isn’t the first time mysterious fires have started in this fine timber. You saw in the other valley what two of these fires did before we got them out. This is the third fire that has occurred in this tract. If it hadn’t been for you boys, I hate to think what would have happened. You have done a great service to the people of Pennsylvania.”
Charley was suddenly abashed. He turned his glance on the ground. He did not know what to say.
After a moment the forester spoke again. A new idea seemed suddenly to have occurred to him. “Now that you have had a taste of real fire fighting,” he said, “would you still like to be a fire patrol—possibly a ranger?”
“Better than anything in the world,” replied Charley. “I love the forest.”
“Are you sure you can be released from further school work?”
“I feel certain I can.”
“Then I have a particular job for you, Mr. Fire Guard.”
“Mr. Fire Guard,” echoed Charley, his heart beating wildly. “What do you mean?”
“I mean,” smiled the forester, “that you are here and now appointed a fire patrol; that you are now a representative of the State of Pennsylvania, and after you have been sworn in you will have the power of making arrests. The particular job I have for you is to guard this forest. Somebody wants to destroy this stand of virgin timber. Your job is to protect it.”
Making an Investigation
The fire crew, hardy woodsmen and rangers, accustomed to severe toil, soon beat out what was left of the fire. Then they went over the entire line of the fire to make sure every spark was extinguished. The forester and Charley found Lew, and the three crossed the valley to the brook where the two boys had begun their battle with the flames. When the fire crew had returned and the forester was satisfied that there was no further danger, he turned and held out his hand.