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- Driven Back to Eden - 20/38 -


Our neighbor soon paused and resumed: "I guess I'll give you a hint that'll add bushels of pertaters to yer crop. After I've plowed the garden, I'll furrow out deep a lot of rows, three feet apart. Let Merton take a hoe and scrape up the fine old manure in the barnyard. Don't use any other kind. Then sprinkle it thickly in the furrows, and draw your hoe through 'em to mix the fertilizer well with the soil. Drop your seed then, eight inches apart in the row, and cover with four inches of dirt. One can't do this very handy by the acre, but I've known such treatment to double the crop and size of the pertaters in a garden or small patch."

I took the hint at once, and set Merton at work, saying that Winnie and Bobsey could gather all the worms he wanted. Then I went for a half-bushel of early potatoes, and Mr. Jones showed me how to cut them so as to leave at least two good "eyes" to each piece. Half an hour later it occurred to me to see how Merton was getting on. I found him perspiring, and almost panting with fatigue, and my conscience smote me. "There, my boy," I said, "this is too hard work for you. Come with me and I'll show you how to cut the potatoes. But first go into the house, and cool off while you drink a glass of milk."

"Well, papa," he replied, gratefully, "I wouldn't mind a change like that. I didn't want you to think I was shirking, but, to tell the truth, I was getting played out."

"Worked out, you mean. It's not my wish that you should ever be either played or worked out, nor will you if you take play and work in the right degree. Remember," I added, seriously, "that you are a growing boy, and it's not my intention to put you at anything beyond your strength. If, in my inexperience, I do give you too hard work, tell me at once. There's plenty to do that won't overtax you."

So we exchanged labors, and by the time the garden was plowed and the furrows were made I had scraped up enough fine material in the barnyard to give my tubers a great start. I varied my labor with lessons in plowing, for running in my head was an "old saw" to the effect that "he who would thrive must both hold the plow and drive."

The fine weather lasted long enough for us to plant our early potatoes in the most approved fashion, and then came a series of cold, wet days and frosty nights. Mr. Jones assured us that the vegetable seeds already in the ground would receive no harm. At such times as were suitable for work we finished trimming and tying up the hardy raspberries, cleaning up the barnyard, and carting all the fertilizers we could find to the land that we meant to cultivate.

CHAPTER XXIV

"NO BLIND DRIFTING"

One long, stormy day I prepared an account-book. On its left-hand pages I entered the cost of the place and all expenses thus far incurred. The right-hand pages were for records of income, as yet small indeed. They consisted only of the proceeds from the sale of the calf, the eggs that Winnie gathered, and the milk measured each day, all valued at the market price. I was resolved that there should be no blind drifting toward the breakers of failure--that at the end of the year we should know whether we had made progress, stood still, or gone backward. My system of keeping the accounts was so simple that I easily explained it to my wife, Merton, and Mousie, for I believed that, if they followed the effort at country living understandingly, they would be more willing to practice the self- denial necessary for success. Indeed, I had Merton write out most of the items, even though the record, as a result, was not very neat. I stopped his worrying over blots and errors, by saying, "You are of more account than the account-book, and will learn by practice to be as accurate as any one."

My wife and Mousie also started another book of household expenses, that we might always know just where we stood and what our prospects were.

Weeks would elapse before our place would be food-producing to any great extent. In the meantime we must draw chiefly on our capital in order to live. Winifred and I resolved to meet this necessity in no careless way, feeling that not a penny should be spent which might be saved. The fact that I had only my family to support was greatly in our favor. There was no kitchen cabinet, that ate much and wasted more, to satisfy. Therefore, our revenue of eggs and milk went a long way toward meeting the problem. We made out a list of cheap, yet wholesome, articles of food, and found that we could buy oatmeal at four cents per pound, Indian meal at two and a half cents, rice at eight cents, samp at four, mackerel at nine, pork at twelve, and ham at fifteen cents. The last two articles were used sparingly, and more as relishes and for flavoring than as food. Flour happened to be cheap at the time, the best costing but seven dollars a barrel; of vegetables, we had secured abundance at slight cost; and the apples still added the wholesome element of fruit. A butcher drove his wagon to our door three times a week and, for cash, would give us, at very reasonable rates, certain cuts of beef and mutton. These my wife conjured into appetizing dishes and delicious soups.

Thus it can be seen that we had a varied diet at a surprisingly small outlay. Such details may appear to some very homely, yet our health and success depended largely upon thoughtful attention to just such prosaic matters. The children were growing plump and ruddy at an expense less than would be incurred by one or two visits from a fashionable physician in the city.

In the matter of food, I also gave more thought to my wife's time and strength than to the little people's wishes. While we had variety and abundance, we did not have many dishes at any one meal.

"We shall not permit mamma to be over the hot range any more than is necessary," I said. "She and Mousie must give us, from day to day, what costs little in time as well as money."

Fortunately, plain, wholesome food does not require much time in preparation. There would be better health in many homes if there was more economy in labor. For instance, the children at first clamored for griddle-cakes, but I said, "Isn't it nicer to have mamma sit down quietly with us at breakfast than to see her running back and forth from the hot stove?" and even Bobsey, though rather ruefully, voted against cakes, except on rare occasions.

The wash-tub I forbade utterly, and the services of a stout Irishwoman were secured for one day in the week. Thus, by a little management, my wife was not overtaxed. Indeed, she had so much leisure that she and Mousie began giving Winnie and Bobsey daily lessons, for we had decided that the children should not go to school until the coming autumn. Early in April, therefore, our country life was passing into a quiet routine, not burdensome, at least within doors; and I justly felt that if all were well in the citadel of home, the chances of the outdoor campaign were greatly improved.

CHAPTER XXV

OWLS AND ANTWERPS

Each day at dawn, unless it was stormy, Merton patrolled the place with his gun, looking for hawks and other creatures which at this season he was permitted to shoot. He had quite as serious and important an air as if he were sallying forth to protect us from deadlier foes. For a time he saw nothing to fire at, since he had promised me not to shoot harmless birds. He always indulged himself, however, in one shot at a mark, and was becoming sure in his aim at stationary objects. One evening, however, when we were almost ready to retire, a strange sound startled us. At first it reminded me of the half-whining bark of a young dog, but the deep, guttural trill that followed convinced me that it was a screech-owl, for I remembered having heard these birds when a boy.

The moment I explained the sound, Merton darted for his gun, and my wife exclaimed: "O dear! what trouble is coming now? Mother always said that the hooting of an owl near a house was a bad omen."

I did not share in the superstition, although I disliked the uncanny sounds, and was under the impression that all owls, like hawks, should be destroyed. Therefore, I followed Merton out, hoping that he would get a successful shot at the night prowler.

The moonlight illumined everything with a soft, mild radiance; and the trees, with their tracery of bough and twig, stood out distinctly. Before we could discover the creature, it flew with noiseless wing from a maple near the door to another perch up the lane, and again uttered its weird notes.

Merton was away like a swift shadow, and, screening himself behind the fence, stole upon his game. A moment later the report rang out in the still night. It so happened that Merton had fired just as the bird was about to fly, and had only broken a wing. The owl fell to the ground, but led the boy a wild pursuit before he was captured. Merton's hands were bleeding when he brought the creature in. Unless prevented, it would strike savagely with its beak, and the motions of its head were as quick as lightning. It was, indeed, a strange captive, and the children looked at it in wondering and rather fearful curiosity. My wife, usually tender-hearted, wished the creature, so ill-omened in her eyes, to be killed at once, but I granted Merton's request that he might put it in a box and keep it alive for a while.

"In the morning," I said, "we will read all about it, and can examine it more carefully."

My wife yielded, and I am not sure but that she thought we might avert misfortune by showing mercy.

Among my purchases was a recent work on natural history. But our minds had been engrossed with too many practical questions to give it much attention. Next morning we consulted it, and found our captive variously described as the little red, the mottled, or the screech owl. Then followed an account of its character and habits. We learned that we had made war upon a useful friend, instead of an ill-boding, harmful creature. We were taught that this species is a destroyer of mice, beetles, and vermin, thus rendering the agriculturist great services, which, however are so little known that the bird is everywhere hunted down without mercy or justice.

"Surely, this is not true of all owls," I said, and by reading further we learned that the barred, or hoot owl, and the great


Driven Back to Eden - 20/38

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