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- Driven Back to Eden - 30/38 -
gathering nature's bounty.
We were not able to make much of the Fourth of July. Bobsey and Winnie had some firecrackers, and, in the evening, Merton and Junior set off a few rockets, and we all said, "Ah!" appreciatively, as they sped their brief fiery course; but the greater part of the day had to be spent in gathering the ripening black-caps and raspberries. By some management, however, I arranged that Merton and Junior should have a fine swim in the creek, by Brittle Rock, while Mousie, Winnie, and Bobsey waded in sandy shallows, further down the stream. They all were promised holidays after the fruit season was over, and they submitted to the necessity of almost constant work with fairly good grace.
The results of our labor were cheering. Our table was supplied with delicious vegetables, which, in the main, it was Mousie's task to gather and prepare. The children were as brown as little Indians, and we daily thanked God for health. Checks from Mr. Bogart came regularly, the fruit bringing a fair price under his good management. The outlook for the future grew brighter with the beginning of each week; for on Monday he made his returns and sent me the proceeds of the fruit shipped previously. I was able to pay all outstanding accounts for what had been bought to stock the place, and I also induced Mr. Jones to receive the interest in advance on the mortgage he held. Then we began to hoard for winter.
The Bagleys did as well as we could expect, I suppose. The children did need the "gad" occasionally and the father indulged in a few idle, surly, drinking days; but, convinced that the man was honestly trying, I found that a little tact and kindness always brought him around to renewed endeavor. To expect immediate reform and unvaried well-doing would be asking too much of such human nature as theirs.
As July drew to a close, my wife and I felt that we were succeeding better than we had had reason to expect. In the height of the season we had to employ more children in gathering the raspberries, and I saw that I could increase the yield in coming years, as I learned the secrets of cultivation. I also decided to increase the area of this fruit by a fall-planting of some varieties that ripened earlier and later, thus extending the season and giving me a chance to ship to market for weeks instead of days. My strawberry plants were sending out a fine lot of new runners, and our hopes for the future were turning largely toward the cultivation of this delicious fruit.
Old Jacox had plodded faithfully over the meadow with his scythe, and the barn was now so well filled that I felt our bay horse and brindle cow were provided for during the months when fields are bare or snowy.
Late one afternoon, he was helping me gather up almost the last load down by the creek, when the heavy roll of thunder warned us to hasten. As we came up to the high ground near the house, we were both impressed by the ominous blackness of a cloud rising in the west. I felt that the only thing to do was to act like the captain of a vessel before a storm, and make everything "snug and tight." The load of hay was run in upon the barn floor, and the old horse led with the harness on him to the stall below. Bagley and the children, with old Jacox, were started off so as to be at home before the shower, doors and windows were fastened, and all was made as secure as possible.
Then we gathered in our sitting-room, where Mousie and my wife had prepared supper; but we all were too oppressed with awe of the coming tempest to sit down quietly, as usual. There was a death-like stillness in the sultry air, broken only at intervals by the heavy rumble of thunder. The strange, dim twilight soon passed into the murkiest gloom, and we had to light the lamp far earlier than our usual hour. I had never seen the children so affected before. Winnie and Bobsey even began to cry with fear, while Mousie was pale and trembling. Of course, we laughed at them and tried to cheer them; but even my wife was nervously apprehensive, and I admit that I felt a disquietude hard to combat.
Slowly and remorselessly the cloud approached, until it began to pass over us. The thunder and lightning were simply terrific. Supper remained untasted on the table, and I said: "Patience and courage! A few moments more and the worst will be over!"
But my words were scarcely heard, so violent was the gust that burst upon us. For a few moments it seemed as if everything would go down before it, but the old house only shook and rocked a little.
"Hurrah!" I cried. "The bulk of the gust has gone by, and now we are all right!"
At that instant a blinding gleam and an instantaneous crash left us stunned and bewildered. But as I recovered my senses, I saw flames bursting from the roof of our barn.
RALLYING FROM THE BLOW
Our house was far enough from the barn to prevent the shock of the thunderbolt from disabling us beyond a moment or two. Merton had fallen off his chair, but was on his feet almost instantly; the other children were soon sobbing and clinging to my wife and myself.
In tones that I sought to render firm and quiet, I said: "No more of this foolish fear. We are in God's hands, and He will take care of us. Winifred, you must rally and soothe the children, while Merton and I go out and save what we can. All danger to the house is now over, for the worst of the storm has passed."
In a moment my wife, although very pale, was reassuring the younger children, and Merton and I rushed forth.
"Lead the horse out of the barn basement, Merton," I cried, "and tie him securely behind the house. If he won't go readily, throw a blanket over his eyes."
I spoke these words as we ran through the torrents of rain precipitated by the tremendous concussion which the lightning had produced.
I opened the barn doors and saw that the hay was on fire. There was not a second to lose, and excitement doubled my strength. The load of hay on the wagon had not yet caught. Although nearly stifled with sulphurous smoke, I seized the shafts and backed the wagon with its burden out into the rain. Then, seizing a fork, I pushed and tossed off the load so that I could draw our useful market vehicle to a safe distance. There were a number of crates and baskets in the barn, also some tools, etc. These I had to let go. Hastening to the basement, I found that Merton had succeeded in getting the horse away. There was still time to smash the window of the poultry-room and toss the chickens out of doors. Our cow, fortunately, was in the meadow.
By this time Mr. Jones and Junior were on the ground, and they were soon followed by Rollins, Bagley, and others. There was nothing to do now, however, but to stand aloof and witness the swift destruction. After the first great gust had passed, there was fortunately but little wind, and the heavy downpour prevented the flames from spreading. In this we stood, scarcely heeding it in the excitement of the hour. After a few moments I hastened to assure my trembling wife and crying children that the rain made the house perfectly safe, and that they were in no danger at all. Then I called to the neighbors to come and stand under the porch-roof.
From this point we could see the great pyramid of fire and smoke ascending into the black sky. The rain-drops glittered like fiery hail in the intense light and the still vivid flashes from the clouds.
"This is hard luck, neighbor Durham," said Mr. Jones, with a long breath.
"My wife and children are safe," I replied, quietly.
Then we heard the horse neighing and tugging at his halter. Bagley had the good sense and will to jerk off his coat, tie it around the animal's eyes, and lead him to a distance from the fatal fascination of the flames.
In a very brief space of time the whole structure, with my summer crop of hay, gathered with so much labor, sunk down into glowing, hissing embers. I was glad to have the ordeal over, and to be relieved from fear that the wind would rise again. Now I was assured of the extent of our loss, as well as of its certainty.
"Well, well," said the warm-hearted and impulsive Rollins, "when you are ready to build again, your neighbors will give you a lift. By converting Bagley into a decent fellow, you've made all our barns safer, and we owe you a good turn. He was worse than lightning."
I expressed my thanks, adding, "This isn't as bad as you think; I'm insured."
"Well, now, that's sensible," said Mr. Jones. "I'll sleep better for that fact, and so will you, Robert Durham. You'll make a go of it here yet."
"I'm not in the least discouraged," I answered; "far worse things might have happened. I've noticed in my paper that a good many barns have been struck this summer, so my experience is not unusual. The only thing to do is to meet such things patiently and make the best of them. As long as the family is safe and well, outside matters can be remedied. Thank you, Bagley," I continued, addressing him, as he now led forward the horse. "You had your wits about you. Old Bay will have to stand under the shed to-night."
"Well, Mr. Durham, the harness is still on him, all 'cept the head- stall; and he's quiet now."
"Yes," I replied, "in our haste we didn't throw off the harness before the shower, and it has turned out very well."
"Tell ye what it is, neighbors," said practical Mr. Jones; "'tisn't too late for Mr. Durham to sow a big lot of fodder corn, and that's about as good as hay. We'll turn to and help him get some in."
This was agreed to heartily, and one after another they wrung my hand and departed, Bagley jogging in a companionable way down the road with Rollins, whose chickens he had stolen, but had already paid for.
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