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By Jane L. Stewart
“You mean it will be a place where the Pratts can sleep?” said Margery. “Of course, it would be all right in this weather, but do you think it will stay like this very long?”
“Of course it won’t, Margery, but I don’t expect them to have to live this way all winter. If it serves to—night and to—morrow night I think it will be all that’s needed. Now you understand just what is to be done, don’t you? If you want to ask any questions, go ahead.”
“No. We understand, don’t we, girls?” said Margery.
“All right, then,” said Eleanor. “Girls, Margery is Acting Guardian while I’m gone. You’re all to do just as she tells you, and obey her just as if she were I. I see that Tom’s got the buggy all harnessed up. It’s lucky they were able to save their wagons and their horses, isn’t it?”
“What are you going to do in Cranford?” asked Dolly. “Won’t you tell us, Miss Eleanor?”
“No, I won’t, Dolly,” said Eleanor, laughing. “If I come back with good news–and I certainly hope I shall–you’ll enjoy it all the more if it’s a surprise, and if I don’t succeed, why, no one will be disappointed except me.”
And then with a wave of her hand, she sprang into the waiting buggy and drove off with Tom Pratt holding the reins, and looking very proud of his pretty passenger.
“Well, I don’t know what it’s all about, but we know just what we’re supposed to do, girls,” said Margery. “So let’s get to work. Bessie, you and Dolly might start picking out the boards that aren’t too badly burned.”
“All right,” said Dolly. “Come on, Bessie!”
“I’ll pace off the distance to see how big a place we need to make,” said Margery. “Mrs. Pratt, how far is it to a part of the woods that wasn’t burned? Miss Mercer thought we could get some green branches there for bedding.”
“Not very far,” said Mrs. Pratt, with a sigh. “That’s what seemed so hard! When we drove along this morning we came quite suddenly to a patch along the road on both sides where the fire hadn’t reached, and it made us ever so happy.”
“Oh, what a shame!” said Margery. “I suppose you thought you’d come to the end of the burned part?”
“I hoped so–oh, how I did hope so!” said poor Mrs. Pratt. “But then, just before we came in sight of the place, we saw that the fire had changed its direction again, and then we knew that our place must have gone.”
“That’s very strange, isn’t it?” said Margery. “I wonder why the fire should spare some places and not others?”
“It seems as if it were always that way in a big fire,” said Mrs. Pratt. “I suppose there’d been some cutting around that patch of woods that wasn’t burned. And only last year a man was going to buy the wood in that wood lot of ours on the other side of the road, and clear it. If he had, maybe the fire wouldn’t ever have come near us, at all.”
“Well, we’ll have to think about what did happen, not what we wish had happened, Mrs. Pratt,” said Margery, cheerfully. “The thing to do now is to make the best of a bad business. I’m going to send four or five of the girls to get branches. Perhaps you’ll let one of the children go along to show them the way?”
“You go, Sally,” said Mrs. Pratt to the oldest girl, a child of fourteen, who had been listening, wide—eyed, to the conversation. “Now, ain’t there somethin’ Ann an’ I can do to help?”
“Why, yes, there is, Mrs. Pratt. I think it’s going to be dreadfully hot. Over there, where we unpacked our stores, you’ll find a lot of lemons. I think if you’d make a couple of big pails full of lemonade we’d all enjoy them while we were working, and they’d make the work go faster, too.”
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