The guide pointed earthward. At his feet a dwarfed growth of blueberry bushes and tiny trees was already springing up to screen the unsightly, ash-strewn land.
“True enough, Joe! Nature is a grand one for remedies,” answered the doctor. “Still, it will be half a century or more before she can raise a timber growth here again. Hulloa! Dol, what are you fellows up to?”
While his elders were studying the brulee, Dol, who objected to dreary sights, had marched down to the brink of the stream, accompanied by Royal’s young brothers, Will and Martin Sinclair. The little river gurgled and frisked along beside the burnt tract, like a line of life bordering death. It seemed to the boys to prattle about its victory over the flames when it stopped their sweeping course, so that the woods on its opposite bank were uninjured, as were those beyond the brook in the rear.
“We’re studying the ways of the great sea-serpent!” shouted back Dol, who was splashing about in a sedgy pool.
By and by when the guides had finished their work of making camp, when they had pitched the tents, cut boughs for beds and fuel in the spruce grove behind, and were cooking an odorous supper, the three juveniles came slowly towards the camp-fire from the water.
“What on earth have you got there, young one?” asked Dr. Phil; for Adolphus Farrar was bareheaded, and carried his hat very gingerly, with its corners clutched together to form a bag.
“The big sea-serpent himself,” answered Dol mysteriously.
Of a sudden he opened his dripping hat, and spilled out a small water-snake, about ten inches long, upon the doctor’s lap.
There was a great roar of laughter, in which Dol’s abettors, Will and Martin, joined with cheerful shouts. The little joke had the effect of winning everybody’s thoughts from roaring flames, wrecked forests, and the dreary brulee. Uncle Eb killed the snake, maintaining that water-snakes were “plaguy p’isonous,” while Cyrus scouted the idea. The supper that evening was a merry enough meal. The camp, lit by the ruddy glow from its great fire, looked an oasis of light, warmth, and jollity in the black and burnt desert.
The darky, hearing Cyrus declare that he was fearfully hungry, mixed some flapjacks to form a second course, after the venison steaks and potatoes. He had exhausted his stock of maple sugar, but he produced a small wooden keg of the apparently inexhaustible molasses.
“He! he! he! Dat jest touches de spot, don’t it?” he chuckled, when, having carefully served each member of the party, he seated himself about three feet from the camp-fire, with a round dozen of the thin cakes for his own eating.
He coated them with the thick molasses, and set the keg down side by side with a bag of potatoes which had been brought from the settlement.
There these provisions remained when, earlier than usual, the party turned in, and stretched their tired limbs to rest, lying down, as they had done before when sleeping under canvas, with all their garments on save coats and moccasins. Whether Uncle Eb forgot his “m’lasses,” or whether he purposely left it without, there not being a spare inch of room in the small tents, no one then or afterwards inquired.