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CHAPTER XXI

AT THE HAY-MEADOWS

AFTERWARDS I think that the Old Squire regretted his sharpness with Addison in the matter of the hay-loader. For only a few mornings later he made us a very generous offer in the way of helping us on to earn money for school expenses.

"We shall need quite a good deal of hay at the lumber camps this coming winter," said he. "It is hard saying, too, how the lumber market is going to be next season, and I cannot safely promise much in advance. But hay we must have for the teams and I engage to pay you seventeen dollars a ton for all you will cut and stack, up at the hay-meadows."

Thereupon we pricked up our ears hopefully; and it was in consequence of this offer that two days later we all set off in a boat up Lurvey's Stream, for the meadows, with a full haying outfit of scythes, rakes, forks and a grindstone.



OFF FOR THE HAY-MEADOWS

In fact the market for spruce lumber was just then fitful; but far up in the great woods lay the hay meadows which the Old Squire had controlled for twenty years.

The hay was needed; and I suppose that he deemed it best to throw us on our own resources at the outset, and find out if we really desired an education enough to work for it.

Theodora and Ellen were quite, as much interested in this haymaking venture as were Addison, Halstead and myself. As they were to share with us in the profits, they bore their full share in the necessary labor cooking the food, getting our meals, and "keeping house" for us at the camp near the head of the meadows.

Lurvey's Stream is a small and, in this portion of its course, not a rapid river. We had to pole our boat seventeen miles, and in consequence did not reach the scene of our coming labors till afternoon.

It was the first time I had ever seen the place, although Addison and Halstead had been there the year before.

In truth, these meadows were then a veritable wild paradise; moreover there was that in the dark aspect of the pointed firs and the enclosing mountains which filled me with awe. It was all much as nature made it, a tract of natural grass-land, extending for six or seven miles along the stream, sometimes in plats of several acres together at the broad crooks and bends of the river, or notched irregularly back into the fir woods on both sides. There were scores of these curiously linked little openings, half-isolated one from another by rings and belts of choke-cherry, mountain-ash, moose-maple, willow and alder.

Through it all wound the stream, its course marked by a few water-maples and elms, where herons built their nests, and a profusion of high-bush cranberry.

On the north and west rose the dark-wooded Boundary mountains. In some of the wetter places grew rank green clumps of Indian poke around sloughs where stood numerous muskrat houses; but most of the meadow was firm land which could be "hayed" over with scythe and rake. One season fifteen years before, the Old Squire had obtained hay enough here to supply the ox-teams at four logging-camps on the stream below. At that time, too, efforts were made to seed these bottoms with "foul meadow," bluejoint and even redtop, with some degree of success.

On the west bank of the stream, near the falls at the head of the meadows, where the spruce woods began, stood a lumber-camp, consisting of two quaint structures, the "man camp" and the "ox camp," built of logs and roofed with riven splits. The man camp was our home during this haying venture. It was forty feet long by eighteen in width, and contained not only bunks, but a large old stove, very useful for cooking.

That afternoon the girls had us divide the camp midway its length into two rooms, by putting up a partition made of the splits from the roof of the ox camp. This done, they began their labors as housekeepers. In fair weather we took our meals at a table, made also of splits, just outside the camp door, in the shadow of a large gnarled yellow-birch which grew by a rock on the very bank of the stream a few rods below the falls.

We had brown doughnuts and cheese, pies, great pots of baked beans and brown bread, and in the morning popovers, Jersey butter, crisp bacon and delicious coffee, to say nothing of broad, thin "wheels" of "salt-rising" bread and great round yellow pones of johnny-cake.

Close by the birch, a little nearer the water, we set up our grindstone, and a few hundred yards lower down on the meadow, where bluejoint grew to the mower's waist, our first haymaking operations began and our first stacks were built.

It is almost needless to say that we soon became aware that haymaking at the meadows was hard work, far harder than on a well-equipped farm. For we not only had the thick, heavy grass to mow, spread and rake, but we had to carry all the hay together on hay-poles.

Building the stack, too, was no light task. A large pole, twenty feet in length, had first to be cut in the woods, brought to the spot and set firmly in the ground. A circular "bed" had then to be constructed round the base of the pole to keep the hay up from the damp ground. These beds were formed by setting crotched stakes two feet high in the earth, and laying cross poles and fir boughs on them.

Much depends on the way the hay is "laid," however. Beginning at the bottom, it must be piled slanting outward, in order that the "weather" may not get into it. Our rule was to lay each stack twelve feet in diameter on the bed, and gradually increase this diameter to fourteen feet at a height of about eight feet from the ground, then gradually draw it inward to the apex, where it was "bound in" to the pole with a withe, and a "weather cape" of rushes or fir boughs tied on to keep water from running in at the top. After it was laid and bound in, each stack was "dressed," or raked down, so as to make the sides shed water. Such is a properly constructed "bottle" stack. Addison had learned the art of stacking for it is an art under the Old Squire's own eye the year before.

In truth, the work proved unexpectedly hard.

During the first three forenoons Addison and Halstead mowed, while I spread out the swaths to dry, with a fork. In the afternoon we raked up the hay and stacked it.

From a ton to a ton and a half of hay was put in a stack, and we placed the stacks with a view to carrying the hay as short a distance as possible. For carrying the hay was very toilsome. First, two long hay-poles were laid parallel on the ground, two feet apart, and about two hundred pounds of hay loaded on them. One boy then went in front of the load, another behind, standing each between the two ends of the poles.

"Now!" said the boy in front; and both ends of the poles were raised at once. Then began the march to the stack. One can get very tired carrying three tons of hay that way.

The weather favored us that week; it was fair and not uncomfortably hot. But Halstead complained bitterly of the hard work, and I have doubts as to the result if Addison had not hired three French boys whom we espied, one afternoon, fishing in the stream. They had come down through the woods from Megantic, just over the Boundary.

These boys were wild-looking fellows, who wore fur caps. They could not speak English, and were very bashful with the girls at the camp; but they knew how to "hay," and by means of signs Addison struck a bargain with them to help us at a dollar a day and board. I must say of those French boys that they were the best boys to work whom I have ever seen on either side of the Boundary. We kept them mowing steadily, and we did the stacking.

On Friday afternoon Addison went home in the bateau. to get more food and money to pay our new help. For those French youngsters ate as resolutely as they worked.

During the first year or two at the old farm we had each laid by a little fund of our spare cash at the village savings-bank. The Old Squire constantly encouraged us to do so. "Have something in your own names," he used to say. "It gives one self-respect. It will make you better citizens."

Addison had, I remember, forty-seven dollars in the bank at this time, Theodora eighteen and Ellen sixteen, but I had been able to accumulate only eleven.

That Friday morning we talked the matter over very earnestly in camp. So strong was Addison's faith in this haying venture that he had determined to draw out his own deposit to pay for help, and he also induced Theodora, Ellen and myself to write and sign orders on bits of paper, to the bank, which would enable him to draw what we each had on deposit. We were thus putting our all into the enterprise, even though that "all" was not large.

While he was at home Addison also took in, as partners, Thomas Edwards and his sister, Catherine, who would help Theodora and Ellen.

Addison did not return with the money and food supplies until the following Monday morning; and meanwhile we had been reduced to a diet largely of fish and high-bush cranberries.

After this we went on haying for a week, and put up twenty-six stacks, estimated at forty tons. So far from exhausting the grass of the meadows, I may say without exaggeration that we might have put up three times as much.

But our money for hiring help was exhausted.

We therefore finished our haying and returned home, leaving the stacks to stand in the meadows until winter, when the hay could be drawn to the lumber-camps. There would be, Addison estimated, nearly six hundred dollars' worth to gain which we had invested our savings to the amount of ninety-two dollars, in addition to our labor and food supplies from home, which, however, the Old Squire never charged up against us. It looked like a fine stroke of business, with profits sufficient to pay expenses for the first term at the academy, with a surplus.

But danger impended danger which we had not anticipated. Our stacks were soon in peril.

August had been unusually dry that year, and the first half of September proved drier still. During the following week the sky grew very smoky; there were forest fires up in the great woods, and we noticed that the Old Squire cast uneasy looks in that direction. He was thinking of his logging-camps.

On the day following the county fair the old gentleman was at the fair-grounds on prize-committee business; and he had Ellen and myself go with him to help pack up our fruit and dairy exhibits. Thomas Edwards and Catherine were also there. But Addison and Halstead remained at home, to finish digging a field of potatoes. Theodora was also at home, assisting Gram.

At about three o'clock that afternoon the boys, as they plied their hoes, saw a rheumatic old trapper and hunter named Hewey Glinds, who lived up at the borders of the great woods, hobbling across the fields toward them.

"What do you suppose old Hewey wants of us?" said Halstead.

They were not left long in doubt.

"Thar's a big fire ragin' up in the woods!" he hailed. "It's workin' down onto them hay-medders. You're goin' to lose them stacks o' yourn, sure's you're born!"

They dropped their hoes. "We must go up there!" exclaimed Addison.

"Wal, ye can't go too quick!" cried old Hewey. "And you'd better take a scythe and ax along," he added, "and a couple o' buckets and a hoe and shovel. Ef I wa'n't so pesky lame, I'd go with ye."

The boys left everything, ran to the house, got tools, and hitched old Sol into the buckboard; for the water was now too low in the stream to go in the bateau, and they had to take the winter trail. Addison ran into the house to get food to carry, and to tell Theodora where and why they were going. Somewhat to his annoyance, at first, Theodora wanted to go with them.

"Oh, no, Doad, you had better not," he said.

"I'm sure I can help!" she cried. "I can put on that glazed cap of yours and my old rubber waterproof." Indeed, she insisted on going, and came out all ready as the boys drove through the yard. So all three set off together, and put Sol at his best pace.

The winter trail was far from being a smooth road, however, and Sol was by no means speedy. It was long past six when they reached the camp at the head of the meadows. The early September dusk was falling; but to their great relief, no fire was in sight, and there appeared to be no immediate danger. Yet the wind blew in fitful gusts from the west, and a vast amount of smoke that smelled strongly of burning spruce and pine was drifting over the meadows. As it grew dark, too, the sky over the forest, all round to the westward, was lighted by an ominous red glare.

This and the great amount of smoke rendered them very uneasy. There was not much that could be done in the night, however. Theodora got supper at the camp, and they watched till as late as ten or eleven o'clock. Then, as no fire was very near, Addison urged Theodora to catch a nap. "I will call you if there is any need of it," he said to her.

She accordingly retired to the little apartment which Ellen and she had contrived for themselves while we were haying. The two boys appear also to have fallen asleep not long after in the bunk of the living-room, and slept soundly.

Addison was the first to wake and go out. It was already light. A sense of danger oppressed him, for he had become aware of a far-borne, roaring sound, with which blended low, distant crashes, as of falling trees. The smoke was much thicker than on the evening before. It made his eyes smart. Vast white columns of it were rolling skyward over the woods. Flakes of white ashes were fluttering down. Across the stream he saw two otters loping along the bank, and heard robins crying in a disturbed manner.

"Halse!" he exclaimed, running back indoors. "The fire is close on us! Get up and help wet down the stacks!"

Halstead started up from sleep with an odd cry. He seemed dazed, and stared wildly about him; then dashing out, he crossed the stream and ran into the open meadow to look round. After a single glance he came rushing back. Addison noticed that he was pale.

"We never can fight it alone!" he cried. "The woods are all afire! I'm going for help!"

"No, no!" said Addison. "You must stay right here and help me wet down the stacks!"

But Halstead was quite wild, either from sudden fear for himself or some erratic notion of what he ought to do. Before Addison could remonstrate with him he ran to the ox camp, untied old Sol and jumped on his back. Addison rushed after him, shouting, "Stop! Come back, Halse, and help me wet down the stacks!" Theodora, too, who had now emerged from the camp, called to him several times.

"We need a big crew!" was all the reply Halse made; and at last Addison stopped chasing him, for he had put Sol at a gallop down the trail and was soon out of sight.

With another wrathful glance after him, Addison, in turn, ran out into the open meadow to see for himself the progress of the fire. Theodora, equally astonished and bewildered by Halstead's unexpected behavior, came hastening after. At a distance of less than half a mile the entire forest, all round to the west and northwest of the meadows, was on fire. Magnificent in the still faint dawn light, ruddy pillars of flame were climbing to the very tops of the firs. Immense writhing columns of yellowish and white vapor rolled upward into the sky.

For the moment awe fell on them both, awe and the instinct to escape.

With Addison, however, it was the instinct of an instant only. Thoughts of our haystacks and a determination to save them roused his courage. "If only Halse had taken the buckboard and you with him, Doad, I wouldn't have cared!" he exclaimed.

"But I wouldn't have gone!" cried Theodora, indignantly. "I will help you, Ad. I would stay and help if I burned up!"

"Come on, then!" shouted Addison.

Together they sped back to the camp, where the tools were still on the buckboard. First Addison hung the scythe in the snath, then got the buckets.

"Fetch the rake and hoe, Doad!" he exclaimed, and ran down the meadow on the west side of the stream, to where the nearest of the stacks stood. While he mowed swaths round them, Theodora hastily raked the dry grass away, clearing a little space round each one, so that the fire, when it came to run in the grass, might not so readily reach them.

Addison was strong and quick; he worked fast; within fifteen minutes they had cleared the grass from round the base of the eleven stacks to the west of the stream. Addison then caught up the hoe and dug a little ditch across the westward side of each in the soft black loam.

But already the firs all along the border of the meadow on that side were ablaze, with a tremendous crackling and roar. Fortunately, the wind blew but fitfully as yet. The chief danger was from blazing cinders and sparks whirled upward with the smoke.

The rush "cape" on top of one stack suddenly began to blaze; but seizing a bucket, Addison dashed water over it from the stream. Theodora brought another bucketful. They put the blaze out, then wet down all eleven of the stacks, running to and from the stream, bringing more than fifty bucketfuls within ten minutes all this in a rain of ashes, amidst smoke so thick that they panted as they worked. The roar of the conflagration, too, nearly drowned their voices.

For a few minutes it looked as if they might succeed; but glancing across the stream, Addison saw, to his consternation, that one of the stacks on the east side was blazing; also that sparks had set the dry grass over there on fire in several places.

"Doad, it's getting the start of us!" he cried. "Come on, quick!"

He splashed through the stream, dipping up a bucketful, and then ran to the stack and put out the blaze. Theodora followed him, filling her own bucket, and they wet the stack down. But even as they did so another stack began to smoke and there were fifteen stacks on that side!

Then began a desperate struggle against what seemed hopeless odds. There was now no time to mow round all these stacks or dig trenches. With a few hasty slashes of his knife, Addison cut bunches of green alder bushes by the stream.

"Take these, Doad, and whip out the little fires in the grass as fast as they catch!" he exclaimed. "Keep them from running to the stacks."

This for a time she succeeded in doing, darting this way and that, up and down the meadow. Addison, meanwhile, had snatched up the buckets again, and filling them, rushed to 'the burning stack, the whole top of which was now afire. He quenched it, however, partly with water, partly by whipping out the blaze.

But by this time still another at a distance was smoking. They had to run fast to save that one; there was no rest even to take breath. Fires in the grass were starting on all sides. Flying sparks scorched their faces and burned dozens of little holes in their clothes. Time and again they had to throw water on each other.

It was little wonder, indeed, that such frantic exertion proved too much for a girl. While running with her bucket of water, Theodora was suddenly overcome, either by the smoke or heat. Turning to take the bucket from her, Addison saw that she had sat down in the grass, very pale, panting for breath.

Self-reproach smote him. Doad!" he exclaimed, helping her to her feet. "Go up on this side of the stream to the falls and sit down there beside that big rock by the water. The fire will not get to you there, for there's sand and gravel all round. Sit there till you are rested. Don't come down here again!"

"But, Ad, I want to help!" she still urged.

"Go!" he exclaimed. "Don't bother!" And very reluctantly Theodora left him there.

While this was happening two more stacks had taken fire, and one of them burned in spite of all Addison could do with bucket and bushes.

While rushing with his buckets to a bend of the stream, he saw the alders on the other side part, and a large bear that the fire had driven from the woods plumped into the water up to its neck, and stood there, wheezing for breath. Addison did not stop for bears, however; he got more than fifty bucketfuls from the same pool where the animal stood. Deer, too, were bounding across the meadow, and a cow moose and calf went galloping by.

His clothes repeatedly took fire as he whipped the blazing grass, and to keep from blazing himself he jumped into the water time and again, then, all dripping, sprang out and rushed to the fight again. He simply would not give up, but fought on with grim determination, regardless of the outlook or of the passage of time.

He had now wet down all the stacks on the east side of the stream; but by this time one of those already wet on the west side was afire! Then began the worst, most disheartening part of the struggle; for by this time the dry grass was afire all over the meadows, as well as the fir woods on both sides. The smoke and heat were well-nigh unbearable. It was only by plunging into the stream repeatedly that he was able to endure it and go on.

Addison had succeeded in putting out the burning stack on the west side, and once more drenched the entire eleven over there. But the heat and smoke rapidly dried them; he found that he must keep wetting them, going from one to another as fast as he could run. Before he was aware there were so many of them partly hidden from view by trees and bushes another down the stream on the east side was ablaze past quenching. After this he ran from one to another of the stacks, dashing water on them, six or eight bucketfuls apiece, and kept them all dripping wet.

Toward noon the conflagration seemed to abate a little, and hopes of winning encouraged Addison. The sky had darkened. Through the smoke, clouds could be seen gathering, but immediately gusts of wind, from a shower passing a mile to the northward, sent sparks and flame eddying across the meadows again; and before he could run with water and his alder brush three stacks were afire, one of which burned despite his efforts.

Wind eddies now seemed to come first from one quarter, then from another; and for two hours Addison was constantly running up and down, quenching new outbursts of the fire. Then came a smart shower, which rendered the danger less imminent, and gave him a moment's respite.

All the time anxiety concerning Theodora disturbed him. When the shower began, he started to find her; but to his great relief he met her bringing a pot of coffee in one hand and a pie in the other. Nor had she been all this time making coffee. Theodora, indeed, had been fighting fire on her own account, and almost as successfully as Addison himself.

After resting by the great rock in the cool of the falls for a few minutes, she had felt much better, and had started to go back down the meadows; but the fire was now burning all round the little clearing in which the lumber-camp stood.

Suddenly she perceived that the roof of the ox camp was smoking. In fact, it was ablaze before she could do anything to put it out, for at first she could find nothing with which to carry or throw water. At last she snatched a kettle off the camp stove, and used it as a bucket.

The ox camp burned in spite of Theodora's best efforts, however, and the blazing cinders from it and the burning woods would certainly have set the roof of the man camp on fire if she had not thrown water smartly for an hour or more, wetting down both roof and walls repeatedly.

While Addison was saving the stacks, Theodora saved the camp, with all we had in it. And that old camp afterward well known as Boundary Camp was yet to be the scene of several remarkable adventures.

Meanwhile, down at the farm that morning, we had been uncertain what to do, not knowing the extent of the fire, and deeming it possible that Addison and Halstead together might be able to look out for the hay. We had got home from the fair, with our stock and other exhibits, late the evening before, and were not astir very early. In fact, we were at the breakfast-table, between eight and nine, when Halstead, the panic-stricken, came home, running old Sol and looking very wild indeed.

On the way down, his imagination appeared to have run away with him completely. His first words to us as we rushed out were, "The meadows are all afire! The stacks are all burnt up!"

"But where are Addison and Theodora?" the Old Squire exclaimed. "Why did you leave them?"

"I came for help!" cried Halstead, in a strange, high-pitched voice. "It needs a big crew! We must raise a crew and go back!" He was nearly in tears.

"Did you leave Addison and Theodora in the camp?" the Old Squire questioned him.

"Yes!" cried Halstead, vaguely. "But it is all burnt up before this time! The fire was close by! 'Twas the awfullest sight I ever saw!"

This, of course, was very alarming if true. The Old Squire called in our two hired men from the field, and sent me off in haste to summon Mr. Edwards and his son Thomas; and as soon as they came, two of the farm horses were hitched into a double-seated market-wagon and we set off up the trail.

Halstead was so excited and upset that the Old Squire told him he need not go back.

The day proved very hot for September, and all the way up through the great woods the air was so full of smoke that our eyes smarted from it. Driving as fast as possible, however, we were unable to reach the meadows till after four o'clock in the midst of that shower.

It was a strange sight. Stumps, logs and fallen trees were still burning on all sides, and the entire stretch of meadow-land, where the fire had consumed the dry grass, was now smoking and steaming in the rain.

The horses kept snorting, and they were very loath to go past the worst of the fires, but we urged them on. In truth, we were in great anxiety. It was plain that a mighty conflagration had been raging there. And what had become of Addison and Theodora?

At last we came in sight of the camp, and to our great relief perceived that it was still standing, unconsumed. What we saw there as we drove up was Addison, sitting on the "deacons' seat" near the door, eating a crust of pie, and Theodora just emerging from the door with a dishful of hot oatmeal porridge!

But at first glance we hardly knew either of them, they were so muddy, singed and blackened, Addison in particular. His clothing was sodden, caked with dry mud and burned full of holes, as was his hat. His eyes were red-ringed, his hands blistered, his boots burned and crumpled yellow. In truth, he was the worst-looking boy I ever saw!

But he grinned through his grime when he saw us drive up. For the fight was won a wonderful fight, too, for a boy, eighteen. He had saved five hundred dollars' worth of hay.

The Old Squire got out, and going down the meadows among the stacks, ran an experienced eye over the mute evidences of the struggle that had gone on there, then came back to camp.

"Addison," said he, "you're a man, every inch a man!" and gave him a hearty handshake.

We never said much about this to Halstead afterward. Not every boy inherits a good head for emergencies.


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