Under Mr. Elmer’s direction the men covered the walls and roof of the house, which had already caught fire in several places, with wet blankets and carpets, and poured buckets of water over them. From these such volumes of steam arose that poor Ruth, seeing it from a distance, thought the house was surely on fire, and burst into tears.
So busy were all hands in saving the house that they paid no attention to the out-buildings, until Aunt Chloe, who had been working with the best of the men, screamed, “Oh, de chickuns! de chickuns!”
Looking towards the hen-house, they saw its roof in a bright blaze, and Aunt Chloe running in that direction with an axe in her hand. The old woman struck several powerful blows against the side of the slight building, and broke in two boards before the heat drove her away. Through this opening several of the poor fowls escaped; but most of them were miserably roasted, feathers and all.
This was the last effort of the fire in this direction, for the portion of it that met the cleared spaces, new furrows, and back-fires, soon subsided for want of fuel; while beyond the fields it swept away to the northward, bearing death and destruction in its course.
While most of the men had been engaged in saving the house and its adjoining fences, a small party, under the direction of Mr. March, had guarded the mill. They, however, had little to do save watch for flying embers, it was so well protected by its pond on one side and the river on the other.
By sunrise all danger had passed, and heartily thanking the kind friends who had come so readily to his assistance, Mr. Elmer dismissed them to their homes.
It took several days to recover from the effects of the great fire, and to restore things to their former neat condition; but Mr. Elmer said that, even if they had suffered more than they did, it would have been a valuable lesson to them, and one for which they could well afford to pay.
Soon after this Mr. Elmer decided to go to Tallahassee again to make a purchase of cattle; for, with thousands of acres of free pasturage all around them, it seemed a pity not to take advantage of it. Therefore he determined to experiment in a small way with stock-raising, and see if he could not make it pay. This time he took Mark with him, and instead of going down the river to St. Mark’s to take the train, they crossed on the ferry, and had Jan drive them in the mule wagon four miles across country to the railroad. On their way they came to a fork in the road, and not knowing which branch to take, waited until they could ask a little colored girl whom they saw approaching. She said, “Dis yere humpety road’ll take yo’ to Misto Gilcriseses’ plantation, an’ den yo’ turn to de right ober de trabblin’ road twel yo’ come to Brer Steve’s farm, an’ thar yo’ be.”
“Father, what is the difference between a plantation and a farm?” asked Mark, as they journeyed along over the “humpety” road.