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Ottawa, made her about as good as new, and, renamed after the brave little English wife who had helped 'Poleon face the difficulties of his pioneer days in the district, and who now rested peacefully in a little grove of spruce behind the cottage, she was utilized as a supply-boat, carrying freight to lumbermen, prospectors, farmers, and, during the season, to several camps of summer visitors who were quartered around the head of the lake. Hurrying downstairs in her turn, Julie kindled a fire in the big wood-stove in the kitchen, and had the usual breakfast of salt pork, potatoes, and eggs in a dish on the table, with dark, habitant griddle-cakes sizzling in the pan, when her father came in a little later. Commenting kindly on her unusual early rising, and explaining the plan of action as his breakfast was served, the French-Canadian added, anxiously: “Mark, I hope he come queek, so we get away tout-swee'. Joe” (the early morning messenger) “say he tell heem on de way pas'. He ees to—” The statement was interrupted by a sudden rush to the door, and only then did Julie's ears, less keen than her father's, distinguish the rapid sputtering of a launch. Following to the little dock at the edge of the lake, she strained for a glimpse of the approaching craft through the smoke-laden air. It came into vision suddenly a couple of hundred yards away, a large motor-boat carrying perhaps twenty men. “De Rich-ards' boat from Haileyburr',” her father noted excitedly. “An' Mark, hees wit’ dem. Now, we not use de Belle.” Julie learned afterward what her father surmised at once—that a telegram or telephone message to Haileybury, a dozen miles directly across the lake, had brought the big launch much faster than the Belle, with some fire-fighting supplies, and that this boat had already done part of the duty the Belle was expected to do. As the launch swung in toward the dock, Julie's father hurriedly gave a few instructions: “De Belle,” pointing over his shoulder while he watched the oncoming boat. “Bank down de fire right 'way, It'ink she be all right. Tak' care leetle Louisette. You bot' all right here, so long you stay on de house. For me, I be back to-morrow, maybe noon, maybe night—I don't know, me.”
This latter as he patted the fifteen-year-old
girl on the shoulder, by way of caress, and
swung himself aboard amid a hoarse-voiced welcome. And until the launch roared off to the north out of sight in the smoke, she did not realize that her father was gone. However, to be left alone for a day or two like this was no unusual experience, though this was the first time the Belle had not been taken, and Julie had no qualms as she walked over to the boat, stepped aboard, and, letting herself down into the little stoke-hole, tossed a few shovels of ashes over the now roaring fire and closed the dampers tightly. Nor was this sort of thing unusual. Often, when the two girls made trips around the lake with their father, she and Louisette had spent hours with Mark beside the engine which they had learned to run and fire fairly well. “I 'll come and look at it again after awhile,” she thought. “It 's time now to wake Louisette and to get on with my breadmaking.” The morning passed uneventfully. Julie noted, indeed, when, later, she and twelveyear-old Louisette went down to the Belle, that the smoke seemed even thicker over the lake, and that the sun, usually brilliant at that time of the morning, was not yet visible. Busy with her baking and other household duties, however, and in her thoughts following her father in his journey northward, she gave little heed to outdoor matters. Once when Louisette, who had not yet developed the housewifely spirit, came running up from the pier to tell her that a steamer was going up the lake, she had gone down to the shore, the better to hear the frequently repeated toots of the whistle, and for a moment had been alarmed at the thickness of the smoke which made it impossible to see for any distance. As they waited, however, a slight breeze, fresh and sweet from across the lake, cleared away the smoke for a few moments, and they saw in the distance one of the larger passenger steamers making her way northward. The smoke grew thicker again as the two girls were eating dinner, so much so that it made Louisette choke once or twice. But since this had been quite an ordinary thing, they joked over it and went on with the meal, naturally assuming that the smoke was being carried from the fires their father had gone to fight fifty miles to the northeast. Again, dish-washing does not readily lend itself to the observation of outside conditions, particularly when fun-loving girls try to make a game of it, as was the custom of these two. But as Julie was hanging away the freshly washed pans in the little closet off the kitchen-dining-living-room an unusually acrid burst of smoke made her stop to cough and then whirl round in consternation as a sort of half-smothered cry of terror came from Louisette, who had stepped outside to look around.
“The fire!” the child cried; “Julie, it 's—”
There was no need to finish the sentence. As the little girl ran into the doorway and into her sister's arms, Julie felt a puff of hot wind in her face, and, looking across the clearing, saw billows of red smoke roll over the tree-tops. While she stood for a moment trying to comprehend what seemed the utterly impossible, the roar of the fire, only a few hundred yards away, came to her ears, and a burning branch dropped in the middle of the clearing. Another fell near the Belle, and a third dropped, blazing, somewhere into the lake beyond. Then Julie understood. The fires had evidently worked their way southward more rapidly than any one had expected, had jumped across the Des Quinze, and, covering, during the morning, the thirty or forty miles intervening, had worked up to the Lagasse clearing from the east. For a time the gentle breeze from the lake had held back the worst of the smoke, but now the wind created by the fire itself, and fanned by the hot blasts from the miles of burning forest behind, was sweeping the blaze back through the district along the lake, which had been deemed entirely safe. Had 'Poleon Lagasse been interested in farming in his early days, instead of lumbering, conditions would in all probability have been entirely different in that immediate section. But having spent his winters in the camps and his summers on the river, and having developed the commercial spirit even before he came into possession of the Belle, his time had been occupied on the water rather than with his ax, and, in consequence, the little home, somewhat larger now and of better appearance than when he had brought his family there ten years before, was set in a clearing not more than fifty yards wide, with a garden running from the house back to the roadway, which opened to the rear into a sort of avenue through the spruce. Swampy ground lay to the south, around which the road ran, so that the nearest neighbor was not within a quarter of a mile. Julie drew a half-sobbing breath as the seriousness of the situation came to her, and then choked again as a wave of smoke, carrying hot, but dead, cinders, rushed through the doorway. For a second or two she was stupid with terror. Since her mother's death, she had assumed the woman's place as far as she could, and had measured up bravely; but this was a crisis no girl of fifteen could face without an almost overwhelming fear. And added to all the anxiety over her own situation was also a fear for her father. Was he in the midst of the fire, or beyond it? It was a situation to make a stout and grown-up heart quail. She did not realize Louisette's weight on her breast till a convulsive,
strangling sob from the little girl brought the older one back to a sense of her responsibilities. As the blaze burst through the trees on the other side of the clearing, the stories of what people had done in the fires farther north in the previous summers ran vividly through her mind and helped her to a decision. “To the lake, cheries” she cried, raising Louisette and starting to drag her away from the house; “we 'll be safe there.” Her thought was, of course, to take refuge in the water, since she knew that the air would be less stifling at the lake's surface. Looking back again, she had an instant of hope that the fire might jump the clearing and leave the house unscathed. Another cry from Louisette made her turn quickly. A huge piece of blazing birch bark, carried forward by the wind, had fallen on the roof of the Belle's little cabin, quickly igniting the painted surface. Julie did n’t think at all after that. At least, she cannot remember making any plan. It had not occurred to her before that anything could happen to the Belle. But now this threatened catastrophe loomed even larger than personal danger. With a rush, she covered the fifty feet to the dock, almost dragging Louisette off her feet, literally tossed the little girl aboard, and in ten seconds more had a bucket, with a line attached, over the side. That bucketful and another extinguished the blaze, and almost before Louisette recovered from her surprise at being on the Belle rather than in the lake, Julie had her by the arm and was dragging her toward the little pilot-house in the bow. “Take the wheel and be ready to steer out into the lake, as you do for Father,” were her instructions, given with surprising coolness. “I think there 'll be steam enough, and I'm going to start the engine.” Julie's coolness, somehow, communicated itself to Louisette. As she stepped into the boarded-in cubbyhole, just large enough to accommodate the steering-wheel and a stool, and braced herself with a grasp of the spokes, a puff of smoke and live sparks entered the window-opening in the front, and for the moment blinded her. She put up one hand to brush a cinder from her cheek, and then tried vainly to pull up the little windowsash. She let go of this, however, and grasped the wheel again when a rumble and accompanying vibration came from behind and underneath her and she knew that the Belle's engine was turning over slowly. A creak from the hawser running from the forward bitts drew her attention; and looking from the door, she saw that the Belle had moved back a foot or two and that Julie was out on the dock casting off the stern line, which had eased off as the boat moved back. “Now,” thought Louisette, “she 'll start the engine forward, throw off that bow line, and then jump aboard.” Julie did just that—or, rather, part of it.
In the meantime, the boat, impelled by the slowly moving screw and held only by the bow line, had kicked herself around till she was at almost a right angle with the dock, against which she was bumping her nose. Julie took in the situation at a glance, tossed her burden on deck, after a moment's struggle loosened the loop of the hawser from the pile which served as a snubbing-post, and scrambled over the low rail and up on deck. Motioning Louisette back into the pilot
house, she ran again
to the engine, which responded in a moment with a more rapid and regular pap-a-poof, pap-a-poof from the exhaust-pipe behind the wheel-house. Encouraged, Louisette used all her strength to turn the wheel sharply to starboard, and, as she gained headway, the Belle struck the dock a sliding blow with her quarter and then turned out into the lake into thinner smoke. Louisette breathed more freely, as in a moment or two the
Darting back into the little engine-room, she reversed the engine, left it running slowly, and then jumped to the dock again. But as she did so her eyes strayed back to the house. Louisette, watching through the smoke, saw her hesitate a moment, and then noted a wave of the hand—apparently intended to convey some message to her. Then for a moment, Julie disappeared, hidden in a cloud of hot smoke which enveloped the boat and made the little girl at the wheel rub her eyes. But when the swirl passed, she was amazed and terrified to see her sister running back up the path to the house. As Louisette looked toward it, she saw that the roof was blazing in two or three places and that spurts of fire were coming from one of the open upstairs windows. She cried out vainly, waited a moment in confusion, and then stepped down on deck to follow, when Julie reappeared with something in her arms, dodged a burning brand on the path, and dashed breathless to the pier.
showers of sparks, which had enveloped the craft ever since they had boarded her, ceased; but she peered fixedly through the thinning smoke-cloud, trying to pick out a course across the lake to safety. And then— She did n’t faint—she had been bred to meet emergencies without shirking. She did jump back, let go the wheel, and scream, however, when a small tongue of flame curled around over the sill of the window in front of her. Julie must have heard the scream, for before Louisette had time to collect herself, the older girl was out on deck, had seen the small fire which had started from a spark in a ledge in front of the pilot-house, and had that useful bucket over the rail again. The next Louisette knew, half that bucketful came through the window into her face, the other half, at the same time, serving to quench the blaze. Another couple of buckets of water removed that danger. Louisette heard other bucketfuls splashed violently against the cabin-house all around, however, before Julie came back to talk to her. “I think we are all right now,” commented the older girl, whose fears had been relieved by action. “Let me take the wheel for a while. Was n’t it lucky Father put the fire on this morning, and that steam was up? All I had to do was to scrape off the ashes I put on just after breakfast and shovel in a little coal.” A quarter of a mile out in the lake the air was notably clearer and breathing was easier. Neither girl spoke for a time, though Louisette, relieved for the present from anxiety, breathed half sobbingly as she stood beside her sister. Julie's fears for her father kept her thoughts off the burning home they had left, and perhaps the sense of responsibility also helped her to control her feelings. Only once did she look back, and then, as her glance ran northward along the lake shore, she again gasped in surprise. Huge blotches of red cloud were visible as far as she could See. Had any one been watching closely, they would have seen her glance at the little girl beside her and her lips whiten, as if they had come together firmly in making a decision. Then Louisette cried out, as the wheel was whirled round to port: “You ’re not going back—there?” “No, not there,” came the reply, with eyes set ahead, as the little steamer changed her course from almost due west to north. “But did you see how the fire is running up all along the lake? I'm wondering about the campers at the Point. And about the
Montour people in the bay beyond. They
may be all right, but we can see—” Up at the Point, five minutes later, the Belle began to run into patches of thick smoke again. Julie had just been back to the engine, adding some coal and squirting some oil on the crank-shaft bearings, when she heard a hail from a little way ahead, and, looking through the smoke, saw two skiffs, apparently full of people. Slowing to halfspeed, she ran on deck again, where she learned that the campers had been driven off in boats, but were safe. “I 'm afraid things are bad in the bay,” one of the women added, above the crying of a child. “All their men went away with ours this morning. The fire seemed to hit them before it did us, and they have n't boats enough to get out. Can you—” Julie was in at the engine again and had it running full ahead before the speech was
completed. And then, as they rounded the Point, the scene of half an hour earlier was repeated. The little bay opened up in a V-shape, perhaps two hundred yards across, with a small creek at the apex. The trees had been cleared back a slight distance from the shore, but the fire had broken through, so that, as far as could be seen through the smoke-banks, the very earth at the water's edge seemed to be burning. This time Julie took the wheel and sent Louisette back to the engine, with a warning to obey sharply the signals on the gongindicator which communicated from the pilot to the engineer. As she entered the bay, steering by instinct rather than by sight, she pulled the whistle-rope in front and shrieked out a signal. This was answered a moment later in a way that made her catch her breath—by a cry, first faint, then louder, as though two or three female voices were shouting. And then, as the Belle forged ahead, the smoke lifted for a moment and she saw, a hundred yards ahead and perhaps a hundred feet from shore, a half-dozen people in the water, submerged to their necks. Even where the boat then was, the waves of heat poured almost unbearably through the window in front and through the open doors at the side. Julie was thankful now for the scores of times her father had let her bring the Belle in by herself to the dock at home. And she knew that Louisette, if the child were not overcome by the situation or by the heat, could be depended on to obey the signals, as she had done many times under Mark's direction. Julie let the Belle run on another fifty yards, then signaled “Stop,” then “Halfspeed, reverse,” and, twisting the wheel a spoke or two to port, ran in alongside the woman nearest her. It was perhaps four minutes later, though to Louisette, waiting in the heat, almost unbearable even in the well-protected engineroom, it seemed an hour, when the “Reverse” signal, followed by “Full speed ahead,” came. But in that four minutes two babies, both crying, a little lad, and four women had been tossed, helped, or had clambered up on deck and made their way into the cabin-house. One of the women went outside at Julie's call and was pouring buckets of water on smoking spots on the Belle's cabin and deck. Two minutes more, and they were out of the bay, out of the worst of the smoke, in