Strawberry Acres by Grace S. Richmond
Part II. The Lanes and the Acres.
Chapter XI. What's in a Name?
"Well, here he comes," announced Maxwell Lane. With his hands in his pockets he was standing by a window which commanded a view of the gateway and approach to the house. "He 'phoned me this morning he'd be out--loaded for bear. I'll wager if he has one treatise on farming in that cutter he has forty."
Sally ran to look. "I don't see anything unusual," said she, her eyes on the trim sleigh drawn by a pair of fine grays, the driver waving an arm at the window as he caught sight of the faces thereat. "Expect to see horse-hoes and threshing machines sticking out from under his furs? Jolly!--that's a magnificent fox-skin robe he has over his knees. Looks like a farmer, doesn't he, now? Think a fellow in a silk-lined overcoat and driving-gloves like those knows anything about farming?--Or ever can know?" he added skeptically.
"I don't see why not. There's nothing about a silk-lined overcoat to prevent." Sally's tone was spirited. She thrust her hands into the pockets of the small ruffled apron she wore, and her elbows assumed an argumentative air. The black ribbon which tied her lengthening curly locks into a knot upon her head seemed to acquire a defiant effect. Evidently she was prepared to take sides in this matter. "If rich men's sons can learn railroading and mining and every other kind of business that soils their hands, I don't know what's to prevent one of them from learning farming."
"Oh, he'll get hold of a tremendous amount of book wisdom--I'm prepared for that," admitted Max. "But it takes a practical man to be a farmer. He'll want to use up a lot of money in experiments, of course--"
But Sally had disappeared into the hall, and was throwing open the front door. The sleigh, however, was going on past the house to the barn. "That means he intends to stay," reflected the girl and ran back to the kitchen for a few hurried words with Mary Ann Flinders. It was not the habit of the house materially to change any plans for the table on account of unexpected arrivals, but there were certain dishes Jarvis was known to enjoy so much that Sally liked to confront him with at least one of them, when she could.
"Make some of the apple-fry to go with the baked beans, please, Mary," she directed. "And be sure to put in plenty of sugar so it will get brown and candied, the way we like it. Use the Baldwin apples, and leave the red skins on the slices--that makes it look prettiest."
She peeped into the small kitchen mirror as she went by, the mirror whose presence was designed to point out to Mary Ann that her rough red locks might now and then need smoothing. Sally's own hair was the source of considerable bother at present, it having reached that stage, in its growth since her fever, when it was neither short nor long, and called for much skill in arrangement. She tucked in a stray curl or two, gave a perk to the black bow, stood on her tip-toes to make sure that the silk knot which fastened her sailor collar was in trim shape, and felt of the crisp strings which tied her decidedly coquettish apron, to ascertain that that bow was also snug. Then she looked round at Mary Ann, and caught that young person eyeing her slyly, but with great admiration. Sally laughed, and Mary Ann giggled. Then the latter glanced significantly out of the kitchen window toward the barn, whence a tall figure was issuing with its arms full of books and magazines.
"I guess I'd know, Miss Sally," ventured Mary Ann, "who was comin' if I didn't see for myself. Apple-fry, an' you primpin' up like that when you don't need it at all, bein' always tidy--"
"Mary, I'm surprised at you," said Sally severely, and walked out of the kitchen with her head up. But she had laughed, and Mary Ann was not afraid.
"Ridiculous!" said Sally to herself, in the hall. "I shall never look in that kitchen glass again, when anybody is here. As if I ever did any special 'primpin'' for an old friend like Jarvis! Girls like that are always thinking silly things." And she walked on to the hall door, of half a mind not to open it after all, lest Jarvis himself think his welcome too eager. Yet, as she always did open it for him, or for any other of their special friends whom she chanced to see approaching, she promptly discarded this line of conduct as absurd, and threw the door wide with the hospitable sweep to which he was so accustomed that he would have been surprised and puzzled at its absence.
He looked at her over his armful of books, his face red with the sting of the sharp January air, his eyes keen through the eye-glasses astride his nose. Goggles were now a thing of the past, but the eyeglasses, their lenses thick with the combination of formulae which had ruled their grinding, were a permanent necessity. It was the first time Sally had seen him since he had acquired them.
"Very becoming," she said, critically, as he put down the books on the hall table, pulled off the handsome driving-gloves which, according to Max, helped to disqualify him for his present ambitions, and shook hands with heartiness. "You no longer look pathetic, but distinguished--even scientific."
"'Scientific' is the word, if you want to flatter me," he declared, throwing off his overcoat and gathering up the books again. "I'm acquiring agricultural science by the peck measure--chock full and running over. I've reached the point where I must get rid of some of it upon my partners or suffer serious consequences. Max here? Was it he at the window? I can't see more than a rod through these things yet--not used to them."
"Yes, he's here. He always spends his Saturday half-holiday at home now. The rest are away. Alec and Bob are off on the hill by the timber lot, trying Mr. Ferry's toboggan with him--it's just come. Uncle Tim has gone over to see how they're making it go."
"Glad the coast is clear. It might embarrass me to set forth my schemes to more than two at once."
Sally led the way to the living-room--in old times the "drawing-room," but now deserving the less imposing title after a fashion which made it the most homelike of apartments. It was the only room on the lower floor--except the dining-room and kitchen--which the Lanes had attempted to furnish for the winter, so the rugs and chairs, tables and couch, of the little flat had been all that was necessary to make it habitable and pleasant. A brisk fire burned on the wide hearth, of itself a furnishing without which many a sumptuous room may seem cheerless and in-hospitable. The walls were covered with a quaint old paper of white, with gold stripes about which green ivy leaves wound conventionally. This might have given the room a cold aspect, but Sally had hung curtains of Turkey-red print at the windows, and had covered the couch and its pillows with the same warm-coloured fabric, with a result so pleasing to the eye that visitors, at the first sight, were wont to exclaim: "Who would think you could have made this big room look so homelike? How have you done it?"
"Thirty-two yards of Turkey-red," was Sally's customary demure answer, and the visitor, if a woman, was sure to respond, "Oh, yes, of course. Such a lovely idea for winter." If a man, he was more apt merely to stare at Sally, with real respect for the feminine comprehension of the influence of a hue upon a general effect, not understanding the matter himself, but dimly comprehending that the result had been accomplished and the room made to look like a refuge from the bitterest storms which might sweep outside.
"Well, primed to the muzzle?" was Max's greeting. He had not taken the trouble to go to the hall to welcome the guest, but had thrown himself among the red pillows, facing the fire. The wide couch stood always in comfortable proximity to the hearth, and was a favourite resort for the entire household. Not unadvisedly had Sally covered the eight pillows with the strong red fabric. It could withstand the wear and tear of pillow fights and of use as seats upon the floor before the fire better than almost any material that could be found at the price.
"Look at the titles of these, and see if I haven't a right to be primed. Mother and Jo have taken turns reading to me for a week--they too are possessed of an extraordinary amount of miscellaneous information."
"Miscellaneous--that's undoubtedly the word. It will be a long day before any of us have any classified and usable knowledge to work with."
With a critical eye Max scanned the titles of the books as Jarvis set them forth in an impressive row upon the old mahogany table where the reading lamp stood, surrounded by books, magazines, and papers, in generous quantity.
"Strawberries--Market Gardening--Analyses of the Soil--Bacteria--Nitrogen--Drainage--Agricultural Implements--Increasing the Fertility of the Land--and so forth--and so forth," Max murmured, as his eye ran hurriedly along the subjects represented. "Well, you've certainly gone in deep."
"Nearly submerged, at times. But I think I've got my head out of water now, and have evolved a scheme that will do to begin on--with your approval. I wish you'd go at the reading of these--some of them, anyhow. I've marked what seemed to be the most important. You can do it while I'm away. I'm planning to take a trip around to the best farms I can hear of, and have a series of talks with the owners. I shall end up with a scientific experiment station, for by that time I ought to have some working knowledge to build on, and can understand what I'm trying to get at."
From among his pillows Max gazed at his friend. Saturday afternoon was always a time of relaxation for the bank clerk, when he could get through with his work and hurry home. He did not as yet feel a particle of enthusiasm over the farming plans, and it was difficult for him to comprehend Jarvis's interest. But he had ceased to oppose the project, except by comments skeptical to a degree. Jarvis was to assume the risk of all expensive experiments during the first two seasons, and Max was not to leave the bank, so there was everything to be gained and nothing to be lost by giving the experimenter a free hand.
Jarvis was sitting bolt upright by the table, his shoulders back, his head up, energy in every outline. Sally, studying him, and remembering his long exile from all active labour while his eyes were recovering from their misuse at college, silently rejoiced in his appearance of vigour. Just now, as he spoke of his plans, he seemed especially full of life and determination, and the contrast between the two young men was one which made the girl wonder rather anxiously if they could really become partners in this new enterprise.
"When will you go?" Max inquired. "Wish I weren't tied to a desk. I'd go too--for the trip."
"I wish you could. You'd enjoy not only the trip but the interviews. I'd guarantee your interest before we'd made half our rounds."
"Any idea what you'll make the chief crop?" Max inquired, his eyes again wandering over the titles of the books.
"Strawberries," his prospective partner responded, at once.
"Strawberries! Expect to make a living off those?"
"Strawberries!"--This was Sally, in a tone of delight. "Lovely! I'll help pick. Can we have them next June? Oughtn't we to have sowed them last fall?"
A roar from the young man on the couch, and an irrepressible broad smile on the face of the one by the table, made Sally colour with chagrin. "I suppose I've said something awful?" she queried.
"Max and I'll make worse blunders than that before we are through," Jarvis consoled her, while Max, chuckling, attempted to instruct his sister and prove that after all he did know a thing or two about farming.
"You don't sow strawberries for a crop," he explained, wisely, "you set out plants. And you don't get a crop the first year, either--eh, Jarve? So Sally needn't begin to make a sun-bonnet to wear picking berries next June."
"Nor the second June, either, perhaps," admitted Jarvis, reluctantly. "To get the best results we shouldn't use land that's just been ploughed where there's been only sod for years. We ought to plant potatoes or cabbages the first year, to get the ground in shape. Then it'll need a lot of fertilizing after that. We have to get rid of the grubs in the old sod--"
"Grubs!" Max sat upright with a jerk. "There you are, at the first drop of the hat. Grubs--pests--not only after you get your plants out but two seasons beforehand."
He eyed his friend, as if he had presented a conclusive argument against strawberry raising. But Jarvis only laughed good-humouredly.
"That's part of the game," said he. "Meanwhile, there are some quick crops we ought to be able to market the first year. But, after talking with several city dealers and commission men, I'm confident it will pay us to go about strawberry culture with the most careful preparation we can make. Some cities are surrounded by strawberry gardeners, but there's almost nobody in that business around here. No reason why not--soil and climate all right enough--so it seems to me it's our chance. The city gets most of its 'home-grown' strawberries from a hundred miles away, which means that they can't be marketed as fresh as ours can be. I propose to build up a demand for absolutely fresh berries, picked at dawn and marketed before the dew is off, strictly fine to the bottom of the full-sized basket. Several grades, but our reputation on the big ones, of course. There's no reason why we can't do it--"
But he had gone as far as could have been expected without an ironic comment from Max. "Oh, it's all clear as daylight!" that young man agreed. "Even the grubs that infest the soil now will take to the woods when they hear of the onslaught that's coming. We've only to set out the plants, sit on the fence till the gigantic berries are ripe, than haul in the nets. No May freezes, no droughts, no--"
"You are a pessimist, aren't you?" Jarvis broke in. "I know of only one thing that will ever work a reformation in you--and that's a summer's work in the open air."
"Pessimist, am I? Well--"
It was Sally who interrupted, this time. During Jarvis's explanation of his plan she had been absorbed in the contemplation of a new idea. She proceeded to launch it against the tide of Max's retort, and her enthusiastic shriek overbore his deeper-toned growl. "I've a name for this place!" she cried, clapping her hands. "A name! I've tried and tried to think of one, you know, Jarvis, and nothing has suited. Uncle Maxwell never named it anything. Uncle Timothy thinks 'The Pines' would be a good name but I'm sure there are hundreds of country places called 'The Pines.' Alec says 'Woodlands,' and Bob votes for 'Farview'--though there's no far view at all till you get up to the hill by the timber lot. But now--I have the name!"
She spoke impressively, and they both looked at her, waiting for the revelation about to fall from her lips. She did not keep them waiting long.
Silence ensued. Sally looked from one to the other. Max began to laugh.
"Better call it 'Prospective Strawberry Acres'" said he.
"It's certainly an original name," mused Jarvis. "Not a high-sounding one, certainly. But you don't want a high-sounding name--for a farm."
"It's a nice, colourful name," argued Sally.
"'Colourful!'--Now, by all that's eccentric, what's a colourful name?" demanded Jarvis, laughing.
"Think of strawberries among the green leaves, in the sun--Jarvis, let's have green leaves on all the baskets!--and think of crushed strawberries, and the beautiful, rich, red juice. It's a nice, rich name, just as my Turkey-red curtains make a warm, homey-looking room."
Jarvis shook his head. "These are mysteries too deep for my imagination," he owned. "But you can call it 'Pumpkin Hollow,' if you like--that's a colourful name, too, I should judge--a fine natural yellow."
"Oh," Sally exclaimed, "we must raise pumpkins, among the corn--of course we'll have corn. Pumpkins lying about among shocks of corn in the fall sunshine make the most delightful picture."
Max lay back among his pillows, apparently overcome with emotion. "Oh, you're a practical person for a farmer's housekeeper!" he jeered. "Your one idea will be to have the crops look pretty in the sunshine. You'll be tying ribbons on the strawberry baskets to match the fruit."
Sally nodded. "Maybe I shall," she acknowledged. "Anyhow, I know people buy the things that are most artfully put up."
A loud bang of the front door made her pause to listen. Hurried footsteps clattering through the hall prepared the party for the bursting open of the door. Bob, his cheeks like winter apples, his boots crusted with snow, shouted at the company:
"Oh, pull yourselves loose from this stuffy fire and come up on the hill. Mr. Ferry's toboggan goes like lightning express from the top of the hill clear down to the big elm in the middle of the south meadow. He's a dandy at it. I can't steer the thing yet, at all, but he'll teach me. Put on your duds and come on--he sent me for you."
Max settled himself more reposefully than ever among his pillows. "Go 'way," he commanded. "My half-holidays are not for work."
But Sally sprang to her feet, seeing which Jarvis got promptly to his.
"Sorry we haven't blanket tobogganing suits, Bob," said Jarvis, "but we can try it in derby hats and kid gloves. I'm ready."
Sally rushed away to array herself in a miscellaneous costume composed of Max's gray sweater-jacket, Bob's crimson skating cap, Uncle Timothy's white muffler, and a short, rainy-day skirt of her own. The others eyed her approvingly as she rejoined them, the crimson cap on her blonde curls proving most picturesque. Out of doors the colour in her cheeks, stung by the frosty air, presently brought them to match the cap. By the time the three reached the hill they looked as ready for sport as Donald Ferry himself. That young man, in a regulation toboggan suit of gray blanket cloth, with a cap of the same, looked like a jolly boy as he brought the toboggan into place with a flourish and invited his guests to "pile on."
It was glorious fun. Certainly Ferry was an accomplished tobogganist, for he steered with great skill over a somewhat complicated course, including excursions between trees set rather closely together, over hummocks and through erratic dips, at a pace which quite took his passengers' breath away.
"It's the best fun I ever had in my life," cried Sally, as they climbed the hill for the third time. "What a shame for Max not to come."
"We'll have him out next time. To taste tobogganing is to become an enthusiast," declared Ferry, walking at one side of the crimson cap, while Jarvis kept close upon the other. Alec and Bob were doing tricks in the snow all the way up the hill, to the amusement of Uncle Timothy Rudd, who watched interestedly from the top, but could not be prevailed upon to try a journey.
Suddenly Sally looked down toward the house. She shielded her eyes with one hand.
"There's Mary Ann Flinders, watching at the kitchen window," she exclaimed. "Poor child, how she must envy us!" She stopped short and looked at the toboggan's owner. "Why can't we ask her up for a little while, Mr. Ferry?" she suggested. "You wouldn't mind, would you?"
"Not in the least. Shall I go for her?"
"I'll go. Please don't come." And Sally was off like the wind, down over the path which much tramping had made through the snow. Jarvis and Ferry looked at one another and smiled.
"Do you know another girl in the world who would have thought of doing that?" asked Jarvis, with amusement.
"Not many, out of those who happened to have devoted cavaliers beside them, certainly," admitted the other young man, looking after the rapid transit of the crimson cap across the snowy fields. "But Miss Sally is a law unto herself--and the unexpected is the thing one may expect from her every time. Yet she's not capricious purely for the sake of being capricious, like so many girls. She can be counted on--at the same time that one doesn't know exactly where to find her." He laughed. "There's a paradox for you."
"Counted on to do the thing you're glad afterward she has done," supplemented Sally's old friend.
If Sally could have heard them, her small ears--burning with the transition from cold air to warm, as in the kitchen she hurriedly forced Mary Ann, protesting with feeble giggles, into whatsoever garments could be adapted to the purpose--would have burned even more fiercely. But it is quite safe to say that she had no thought whatever of the effect her impulsive little act might have upon anybody--except Mary Ann herself.