Strawberry Acres by Grace S. Richmond
Part II. The Lanes and the Acres.
Chapter XII. In the Old Garden
"Mother, won't you drive out to the farm with us? Jo will tell you I drive like a veteran, and the roads aren't bad--with chains on the rear tires."
Jarvis's hand was on the door as he spoke. He wore a motorist's cap, coat, and leather gauntlets.
Mrs. Burnside shook her head, smiling. "I'll make my first trip into the country when the chains are not needed, son. Give Sally my love, and tell her that now spring is at hand I shall come out with you often."
"Let me tell her you'll come out and spend the whole season there. Furnish the west side of the house, take Joanna, share expenses--and chaperon her."
"Whom--Joanna?" Josephine Burnside, sheathing herself in veils for the drive in the chilly early April air, glanced at her brother with a mischievous air. "She's forty, if she's a day. Surely she doesn't need--"
"I wish you people would take me seriously. Could you find a pleasanter place to spend the summer? I expect to spend every daylight hour of every day there, from the fifteenth of April on."
"Then it's you who need the chaperon," declared Josephine. "Uncle Timothy Rudd is dragon enough for Sally."
"I shall want to be out there for every noon meal. Can't break off work and rush home three times a day, even with the new car--and she'll make it in twenty minutes, when the roads are good. I shall have to take my lunch in a pail, like my farm hands, if you don't come, for I'm not going to cast myself on the Lanes for food, except now and then."
"Come on, I'm ready. Talk to me about it on the way out, and when I come back I'll put it to mother so artfully she can't refuse." And Josephine took the control of the door-knob out of her brother's hand.
Jarvis applied himself silently to his steering-wheel until they were out of the city, for although after a month's practice he drove with considerable skill, he had not yet reached the point where steering through city traffic becomes purely mechanical. But once on the open road, with few vehicles in the way, Jarvis continued the subject.
"Do you think mother really dislikes the idea? It seems to me the most practical in the world. Those west rooms would be fine, furnished with summer stuff--I wouldn't for the world have you put anything in them that would make the other part of the house look shabby by contrast."
"Jarvis! As if we would! Why, it would be just mattings and wicker chairs, muslin curtains, and that sort of thing. And I think mother rather likes the idea. But she is afraid we should be forcing ourselves on them, as we did last summer with the tent. She doesn't doubt they would all like it, except Max. But he's so queer--he never likes what he's expected to."
"Max is the very one who would favour it this time. He said the other day he wished I could live out here, since I'm to run everything this season. I said I'd like mighty well to be on the ground, but couldn't, of course, in the circumstances, unless the family were along. He said, 'Set up for yourselves in the west wing, and be here to get up with the lark, in the approved farmer's style. I propose to sleep till the last minute, and let the early birds get all the worms they like.'"
"Oh, he was only joking."
"Of course he was joking, but I feel certain he'd favour the plan. He has reason to give me my head in every way, hasn't he? I'm equipping the place with farm tools and machines at my own expense, hiring help out of my own pocket, and taking all the risk. If I can't have the west wing for the summer I'll send back that disc-harrow that arrived yesterday--I'm as proud of it as I am of the car."
"Would you dare mention it to Sally?"
"The disc-harrow--or the plan? If she likes the plan as well as she does the harrow, she'll welcome it with open arms. I tell you, if I could strike the sparks out of Max with an expensive seed-sower that the mere sight of a set of hoes and rakes for her flower garden does with Sally, I'd be content. No, I don't dare mention it to Sally, but I should think you might. She'd certainly be delighted to have you and mother there--and she has to have me there anyhow, whether she likes it or not."
"Whether she likes it or not! Of course she likes it! Aren't you and she the best friends in the world?"
"I'm not so sure. Sally's good friends with everybody--but 'the best in the world'--well--I don't know!"
His tone was peculiar. Josephine looked quickly at him, through her enveloping veils. He was staring at the road ahead--as the driver of a high-powered motor through April mud must do, of course--yet his sister thought she detected a curious compression of the lips not due wholly to the strain of driving under difficulties.
"You're not afraid of her next-door neighbour, are you?" ventured the girl, casually, as if she meant nothing by the query.
"I like him immensely, as you know," was the quick reply. "And trust him, too--like a brother. But--well--it's no use talking about it. It's a fair field and no favours--and I can't complain of that. But--I'd rather like the advantage of being on the ground all summer, don't you see? Alone, there, even though I'm off in the fields half the time, I'll have to be everlastingly careful that I don't make myself intrusive. With you and mother there, the whole situation would be different. You do see, don't you, Sis?"
He looked round at her for an instant, to search her face beneath the masking veils, confident that if he could be sure of her sympathy his sister was the strongest ally he could have. The subject had never been brought up quite so definitely between them before, although Jarvis had no doubt that both mother and sister understood the long persisting intention which within the last year had grown in him so overwhelmingly strong.
The machine, after the manner of motor-cars, took the opportunity of his momentary relaxation of vigilance to skid rather alarmingly in a particularly slippery section of clay road. Though Jarvis promptly brought it about and had things in hand again, Josephine forgot to answer while she resumed control over the function of breathing. But when her brother gently repeated his question she answered warmly:
"Indeed I do, boy--and more clearly than I have before. For myself, I should love to spend the summer with Sally, and I'll do my best to bring it about."
That was all he wanted, and he plunged into talk about the farm, what had been done, what was being done, and what remained to do. It seemed that, while much had been accomplished, a mountain of tasks remained. The place had been running down so long that every inch of it required immediate taking in hand.
"There's not much to expect the first year in the way of crops," he explained. "We shall plough all we can in April, and sow it in May to buckwheat."
"Buckwheat! What do you want of that?"
"Nothing--but to turn it under and give the ground a chance to enrich itself. All the north meadow we shall let come to the haying--by the way, that'll be a jolly time for you to be there. I believe Sally has great plans for the haying. The old apple orchard we had carefully pruned in February, and we're going to plough it--Sally's not pleased at that, she says it will be prettier not ploughed; but the poor old roots need to be saved from starving. We nearly came to blows over that, and of course I was sorry to oppose her about anything that has to do with the beauty of the place. But the quickest road to lasting improvement is the one we must take, and I hope there'll be enough more blossoms on the trees in the future to make up for the loss of the grass."
"You won't lose ground with Sally by opposing her, now and then. She'll come round in the end to seeing you're right."
"I'll have plenty of chances to win favour by opposition with everybody. Even Mr. Rudd has his ideas about what ought to be, because of what was when he was a boy on the farm up in New Hampshire. Max wanted the new fence posts of ash, though locust is much more lasting, and there's plenty to spare in the timber lot. As for the neighbouring farmers, they're already keenly alive to our first efforts, and some of them are watching eagerly to see us make mistakes--but not all. There are several who are progressive enough themselves to want to see us win out with modern methods."
"With all your studying, I suppose you'll make some mistakes."
"Mistakes!--Dozens of them. But we won't make the same one twice. Jo, if you could have heard those fellows talk whom I heard on my trip, the ones who run the really successful farms on scientific methods, you wouldn't wonder at my interest."
He was still talking away when he turned the car in through the now restored gateway. It may be worth while to mention that the first thing in which Max had shown a real interest was the restoration of that gateway. He had declared--nobody knew why--that it must be in absolutely correct shape before the Neil Chases came through it again. So the mason who came to mend the broken chimney found himself, much to his surprise, put first at the tumble-down stone pillars of the gateway. The carpenter, also, who arrived prepared to repair the porch columns and floor, and to mend the broken shutters, was led at once by the young master of the place to the gateway and instructed that he must make the old gate itself substantial, and hang it so that it should swing true. But although it was nearly six months since the Chases had tried to buy the place, they had not yet driven through that restored gateway. Possibly they did not care to be in haste to look at the place they could not own.
"There's Sally, in the old garden. She told me she could hardly wait to begin on it," and Josephine waved her hand at a distant figure with a spade in its hand. The spade was promptly cast aside and the worker came running around the house to meet the arriving car. "Isn't she looking splendidly?" Sally's friend murmured in her brother's ear, as the figure came near enough for a pair of very blooming cheeks to show clearly in the April sunshine.
"Never better. Out-door life is going to make her a Hebe," replied the driver of the car, under his breath, though he kept his eyes dutifully on the roadway until the car came to a standstill and he had stopped his engine.
"Come and see the garden, and listen to my plans," commanded Sally, the moment her friends were on the ground. "No, I don't mean Jarvis. I know he has more important business--in the orchard, or the barns, or the woods, or the south lot--"
"Meadow, please," corrected Jarvis, with a smile which suggested past efforts to teach Sally the nomenclature of the farm.
"--or anywhere that he can walk to in the mud, and come back covered with stick-tights, with a tear in his coat. He looks happiest when his clothes are most demoralized and his boots thickest with clay."
"The sign of your true farmer," urged Jarvis.
But Sally had no further attention to bestow on him, and immediately led Josephine away over the damp and spongy sod to that portion of the ground at the rear of the house which showed, by a few lingering signs, that it once had been a proud and stately old-time garden.
"You see the old box border is still in pretty good condition, only winter-killed--is that the word?--in a few places. I shall try to fill those in, for I care more for the box than for anything I could have. See how it outlines all those funny little curving paths, where I suppose roses and larkspur and bleeding hearts and sweet-williams used to grow. They're going to grow again, if I can make them."
"Lovely! I can see it now. And phlox--Sally, you must have masses of phlox--and candy-tuft, and mignonette, and sweet alyssum--"
"And love-in-a-mist, and forget-me-nots, and sweet peas, and hollyhocks. Only the hollyhocks are not going to be in the garden, but in a long row back there, to screen away the kitchen garden from the lawn. Only--oh, dear, you have to wait so long for the things you want most! Hollyhocks don't bloom the first year from seed--and I want to see them there this first summer, pink and white and red and yellow in the sun, like a row of children dressed for a party."
"Can't you get plants somewhere?"
"Perhaps, from the neighbours--only country people don't go in much for the old-fashioned flowers now. They have rubber-plants and hydrangeas--in tubs--just think--in tubs! And geraniums in tomato cans!"
"Sally! Not all of them. They have nasturtiums--."
"Yes, and pink sweet peas beside them, to set one's teeth on edge. By the way, my sweet peas are in!" Her voice proclaimed triumph, and she led the way down one of the damp, moss-grown paths to a sunny spot where a long strip of freshly raked earth showed that somebody had lately been at work. "Bob dug it up for me, Uncle Timmy fertilized it, I raked it and planted the seeds, while the whole family stood around and gave advice. Max wanted them sowed thinner and Alec thicker. I consulted the seed catalogue and the directions on the paper packet, and then sowed them just as my judgment directed."
"As you haven't a particle of judgment--"
"Experience, you mean. No, I haven't experience, but I consider that I have judgment, and I sowed the seeds according to that. In June I will pick you a gorgeous bunch of them."
"In June--if I'm not away somewhere. In which case you can send them to me in a paste-board box."
"Joey Burnside!" Sally picked up a rake lying in the path and brandished it fiercely. "Don't you dare to go away--anywhere. You're to come and visit me--from June till September."
"How would May till November do?"
"Still better. The idea of your expecting me to get along without you, the very first summer I live in a place big enough for anybody to visit me in! You can go off to your fashionable resorts in the winter, if you want to--I can spare you better, then. But this summer! Jo, think of the moonlight nights, with the odour of mignonette coming up to the porch from the garden--"
"I don't think the odour of the mignonette would carry so far."
"We can walk within range, then. And the evenings on the porch, with Mr. Ferry and his sister over--and his sister's friend--"
"I didn't know he had a sister--or that the sister had a friend."
"She's been in Germany the last two years, living with an aunt, and studying music--the piano. The friend has a voice. Oh, we'll have the jolliest times--you can't think. And in July will be the haying. Jo, we'll have larks during haying--real country larks--and a barn dance. You can't go away anywhere--not even for a week-end house party! Say you won't!"
"You artful schemer--I don't see how I can," and Josephine looked as if she couldn't. "But see here, Sally. I couldn't come and visit you here and leave mother alone. You know she would go with me, if it were to the mountains or to the sea-side."
"I'd love to have her come too," said Sally, quickly, "if she would care to. How I wish she would. Then I shouldn't have to bother Mrs. Ferry to come over every time we had the young people all here. If I could just furnish the west wing for you--"
"Why not let us furnish it?" Josephine jumped at her opportunity. Somehow, during the last few minutes she had become firmly convinced that she could not think of spending the summer months anywhere but at the farm. All sorts of pictures had leaped into her mind at Sally's outlines of what the summer was to be. The stage seemed set for happenings of extraordinary interest, from which she did not want to be left out. There would be other things going on at the old place besides ploughings and plantings, harvestings and threshings--or perhaps it might be that these very terms in the vegetable kingdom might come to be used significantly of doings in the human sphere of action.
Sally looked up with a flash of protest in her eyes. "Let you furnish it!" she exclaimed. "Oh, but I couldn't--I know what your furnishing it would mean. Persian rugs and silk hangings, Satsuma jars and cut-glass bowls filled with roses. And on the other side of the hall our poor things would look"--she stopped short, and was silent for an instant. Then, "I'm an envious pig," she owned. "If you'll only come you may furnish it in teak wood and Chinese embroidery, and I'll be contented on my--bare floors."
But Josephine's affectionate arm was around her friend's shoulders. "Sally Lunn," said she, soothingly, "give us credit for better taste than that, entirely from the standpoint of harmony. In a summer home on a farm people of sense don't use Persian rugs or teak wood. We'd put plain white straw matting on the floors, hang muslin curtains at the windows, and use the simplest willow furniture to be had. The windows should be open every minute, and there would be bowls of roses about--only I'd rather it would be sweet-williams or clove-pinks. Sally, don't you adore the old-fashioned clove-pinks, with their dear, spicy smell? And the bowls themselves wouldn't be cut glass--I despise cut glass for old-fashioned flowers, and so do you. Now, will you let us come?"
Sally looked at her friend for a minute, thinking as she did so that for a rich girl Josephine Burnside possessed the sweetest common sense ever owned by anybody. Then she dropped her rake and pulled at Josephine's hand.
"Come!" she cried. "Let's go back and look at the west wing. And the bedrooms over it are the nicest in the house. I haven't used them only because they were so big. But you won't care how many acres of straw matting have to be used to cover them."
"Do you think Max will be willing for us to come?" Josephine asked with some anxiety, as they went in. "You remember, about the tent--"
"Oh, he's anxious now to get Jarvis on the ground. And he's spoken more than once about the desirability of our renting some of our unused space, only of course I wouldn't hear of it, before, to strangers."
Josephine plunged into details. They would bring Joanna for the season, that paragon of cooks. She should assist Mary Ann--
At which Sally laughed, and said that if incompetent little Mary Ann could assist dignified, competent Joanna, it would be a matter for congratulation.
"We'll all dine together every night in the big dining-room, with all the windows also open, and more flowers on the table."
Josephine would have gone on to further details, but as they crossed the hall to the west wing, the knocker on the front door banged with a decisive sound, and Sally opened to find Donald Ferry on the threshold.
"I came on a matter of business," said he, when he had shaken hands, "if you can call asking a favour business. Shall I plunge into it?--A certain storage house in a city near our old home has gone out of commission, and we are notified that everything my mother has had stored there since we left the home must be moved at once. Now that my sister and her friend are to be here with us through the summer we should like to have my sister's piano where she could use it. But"--he spread out his arms with a gesture conveying the idea of great proportions--"the piano is a grand--and not a miniature grand at that--concert size. We couldn't possibly put it in our little house. Would it be asking too much of you to allow it to stand in one of your rooms through the summer, where Janet could do some practising on it? I assure you her practising is of the nature of a morning musicale," he added--as if Sally might need assurance in the matter.
Sally turned to Josephine. "It's a special providence," said she solemnly, "to keep me from envying you your matting and willow furniture. Will you have a concert grand in the west wing? I trow not."
Then she answered to her questioner. "Of course we shall be delighted," she told him. "And as I say, it will have a chastening effect on the Burnside family, who are thinking of furnishing our west wing and spending the summer with us. I'm sure they won't think of bringing a grand piano out here."
Donald Ferry looked greatly pleased at this news. "That's fine," said he. "Mother has been promising Miss Constance Carew and Janet all sorts of pleasures in the country, and I should say this makes a sure thing of it. If four girls on a farm can't have a good time together--even when not aided and abetted by as many boys--there will be something wrong with them--and the boys. Can't we be called boys?--That's great news. And I may tell mother you will prove your good friendship by taking the white elephant of a piano? May we send it right away? You see, since it must be moved at once, it had best come where it is to stay. And we'll send around a tuner. Please use it all you can, just to keep it in good shape."
"I'm not the tiniest sort of a musician," said Sally regretfully. "But Josephine is--she'll keep it in tune for you. I'll merely see that it's dusted."
When he had gone Sally and Josephine looked at each other. "Miss Burnside," said Sally, solemnly, "I feel it in my bones that you and Miss Ferry and Miss Carew and Miss Lane are to take part, this summer, in a melodrama of thrilling interest. Country setting, background of hay-field, with cows coming down the lane. Curtain rises to the time of 'Sweet Lavender.' Miss Burnside is discovered, sun-bonnet on head, rake in hand, pretending to accomplish the bunching up of one hay-cock before the sun goes down. Enter at right young city clergyman, also in rustic attire. At the same time, enter, left, Miss Carew, in rival sun-bonnet. Miss Burnside gives one glance at her rival--"
But a warm hand over Sally's saucy mouth, and a protesting--"Sally Lane, if you begin that sort of thing I won't live a minute in your west wing,"--put an end to the stage directions.
"All right, dear," agreed Sally. "We won't talk any such silly stuff. We'll be four little country girls together, playing in the hay, and if we want to go barefoot we will--when there's nobody to see. But I hope, don't you, Jo? that 'Miss Carew' isn't as grand as she sounds!"