Strawberry Acres by Grace S. Richmond
Part II. The Lanes and the Acres.
Chapter XIV. Two and Two
"Shall we make the haying a society affair for ladies in French frocks, or an athletic event for a lot of young fellows who don't know a rake from a pitchfork?"
The questioner was a tall young man in corduroy trousers and high boots, a blue flannel shirt and a nondescript hat--though the hat had come off as he approached the garden, where Sally Lane, in blue gingham and short sleeves, was carefully setting out some spice-pink roots.
Sally looked up. She had become accustomed in a measure to seeing the heir of the house of Burnside thus attired, and to noting the daily deepening coat of tan upon his face and arms, but it never failed to strike her afresh as a miracle which a year ago would not have seemed possible.
"I haven't the faintest intention of inviting any ladies in French frocks," she replied. "Do you know any gentlemen in frock coats who wish to be asked?"
"Plenty--but I'm not asking any invitations for them--this time. No--it's a bunch of the Reverend Donald Ferry's friends I want to invite."
"The Reverend--how odd that sounds!--Who are they?"
"News-boys, boot-blacks, office-boys, messenger boys--every kind of boy. He proposes to buy or borrow the rakes and pitchforks, have out a different set of lads for two days running, and present us with the labour of the crowd in return for the lark he expects it to be for them. Janet and Constance will supply the lunch. Of course the amount of work the boys do isn't to be reckoned on like that of trained hands. But our ten acres of hay isn't a tremendous crop, and with Jake Kelly and myself to boss the job, we ought to get through in respectable season, if the weather favours."
"Do have them come. Max is going to let Bob have his way at last, and leave the office, so he'll be on hand, too."
"Good! Bob's been on tenter-hooks all the week, I know, but I didn't know old Max had given in. Alec will be the next deserter from the ranks of the business men. Max may hang on through this season and next, but you'll see him with us the third, or I'll sacrifice my hat." He surveyed the specimen in his hands as he spoke. "Valuable offering it would make, wouldn't it? That hat began its career at a university and ends it on a farm. In my present state of mind I don't call that a come-down."
"Don't you?" asked a voice behind him, and Jarvis swung round to behold Janet Ferry, gloves and weeding instrument in hand. "Then I suppose it's not a come-down for my gloves, bought in Berlin, worn in London, and worn out in Sally's service in a garden composed mostly of weeds."
"Weeds! Will you have the goodness to look at my sweet-peas?" Sally indignantly waved an earth-bestained hand toward the trellis, where three pink, one white, and one brilliant crimson blossom flaunted themselves in the July sunshine as the first blooms of the sweet-pea season.
"I take it back," admitted Janet, "and I'll not call my work 'weeding.' What are you doing, idling here, Mr. Farmer? I thought you never allowed a moment to go to waste."
"I'm not wasting any now," disputed the farmer. "I merely paused a moment on my way to the barn where I intend to rig up a fork for unloading. I'm consulting the Lady of Strawberry Acres about letting your brother's boys come and rake hay for us."
"Oh, yes. He's full of that plan. I'll give you fair warning, Sally, if you give Don half an opening he'll have you overrun here with his proteges. Have you the least idea how many men, boys, and babies he has on his lists? And every one of them is a personal and particular friend of his."
"I know he's a tremendous worker." Sally rose to her feet and surveyed the result of her labours. "They look dreadfully droopy, don't they?"
"You need more water. I'll get it." And Jarvis picked up her sprinkling-can and was off with it.
"I shall be delighted to have the boys come, Janet," Sally went on heartily. "I think your brother's work is fine--great--and if the old farm can help in any way I shall be glad."
"I thought you were arranging to have a house-party from town, and I was afraid his plan would interfere."
"I did plan that, some time ago, but I like this idea much better. What's the use of exerting ourselves to entertain a lot of indifferent people when we can give a jolly time to the ones who never have any fun at all?"
"That's what Don says. And these boys are his special care. He has club-rooms for them in the city, and he's working now to get all sorts of additions to it--baths and showers and gymnasium apparatus. Oh, I think it's fine, too. I didn't at first, when he wrote me about it, but now that I'm here and see for myself, I'm immensely interested and want to help."
They discussed the coming event fully as they worked. It was discussed by everybody during the next few days, and plans were carefully perfected with the view of combining a good time for the young guests with the serious purpose of getting the haying done as promptly and effectually as possible.
So, on a certain day in early July, Jake Kelly cut the hay, the entire ten acres, and reported a fair crop for land that had been running wild so long, a rather rainy spring having helped matters considerably. On the morning of the next day Ferry's boys were to arrive.
"I wish it were a holiday for me," admitted Max, as he left the house to catch his car. "I'd rather enjoy seeing the mess Ferry and Jarve get into with a corps of bootblacks to make hay for them. They'll 'make hay,' all right, mark my word."
"Each of us girls is going to drive one load down to the barn," called Sally gayly, from the porch.
As he ran down the driveway, Max waved his hand with a gesture of despair as if to indicate that this announcement certainly finished the prospect of getting anything done on the farm.
"Don't mind him," said Jarvis, appearing in the doorway behind her. "I'm going to drive out the Southville road about five miles after a hay-fork and tackle I've bought of a man who's selling out. We don't really need one for our small crop, but it's too cheap to refuse. Back in a jiffy. Don't you want to go?"
"Thank you--too busy."
"You don't look it--" for she was starting away at a moderate pace down the driveway, her fresh blue-and-white print skirts giving forth a crisp little sound as she walked.
"But I am. I'm going on an errand."
"Down the road--Mrs. Hill's."
"Wait a minute and I'll have you there quicker than you can walk."
He ran in for his driving-gloves, and out through the back hall to the old carriage house where the car stood. He was only a minute in getting under way, for he had learned to leave his machine in a condition in which it could be used the next time without waiting to fill gasoline tanks or radiators. It was natural for him to go at things in a systematic way, and he kept his car, as he kept his books and papers, in order, quite without thinking much about it.
But with all his haste Sally had reached the driveway and gone a rod or two down the road before he overtook her. He slowed down at her side.
"Why didn't you wait? Jump in," said he, "and I'll have you there in one burst of speed."
Sally stepped up on the running board and stood there, her arm on the back of the roadster's seat.
"Get clear in, please," requested Jarvis. "There'll be no bursts of speed with you standing there."
"I can hold on perfectly well."
"So can the car stand still. It will stand still till you get in."
Sally took the seat. "Now hurry up, please," said she. "There isn't any use in my getting in at all, just for a foot or two of ride."
The car moved off. "Let's make it longer," Jarvis urged. "Drive out with me for the fork. We won't be half an hour away, and you can't have anything very pressing left on hand, with all the work you girls have done to get ready for those youngsters."
He opened his throttle, as he spoke, and the car responded. Sally shook her head, decidedly.
"No, no--I'm not going. I told Jo I'd be back in five minutes with the big pail Mrs. Hill said we might take for the lemonade."
"They won't need lemonade for two hours yet. Come on--I want company."
"Slow down, please," requested Sally, for the car was already approaching the farm house which was her destination. But instead of slowing down Jarvis deliberately increased his speed.
"I'm in the habit of doing most things you ask me to," said he, "but this time I'm going to have my way. There are plenty of people there to finish it all, this morning. I'll have you back before they miss you." And the car shot by the Hill farm house at a pace which supported his promise.
Sally sat back silently. Although Jarvis went on talking about various things she did not reply, and her silence lasted until, having gone a mile on his way, Jarvis slowed down a little and turned to look at her.
"What's the matter?" he asked. "You're certainly not angry with me for running away with you?"
She nodded, looking straight ahead. This was not like Sally, who, though she possessed plenty of spirit, was seldom known to sulk.
"Well, I'm sorry if you are--but not sorry I ran away with you. You can talk to me or not, but you can't get away. I'm in too much of a hurry to have time to take you back, so I can keep you to myself for one straight half-hour. And that's--whether you know it or not--more than I've had for a month--six weeks--two months."
This declaration unlocked Sally's lips. "How absurd," said she, still gazing straight ahead.
"It may be absurd, but it's true. You may not have noticed it, but it's true just the same. I don't know whether it's intentional on your part or not--and I don't know which I would rather have it, that you've meant to keep away, or that you haven't noticed that you have. I think," he added, judicially, "that not knowing that you have would be much the worse, so I choose to think you've meant to do it. And I want to know why."
He turned and looked at her again. The cheek next him was pink, and momentarily growing pinker. Sally again murmured something which sounded like "perfectly absurd." But Jarvis considered that no answer at all. The car began to climb a long grade.
"Please tell me," he urged.
"There's nothing to tell," said the girl, reluctantly. "There are ever so many of us, now, and we're naturally all together--or some of us are together--"
"And some of us aren't."
"We're just a lot of boys and girls--"
"Are we? I feel rather grown up myself."
Sally spoke quickly. "I'm not. Or, at least, I don't want to be. I want to stay a girl--a little girl, I'd be, if I could--just as long as I can. I want to have good times--all together. Not--two and two." The cheek next him was a very deep pink indeed, now.
"Do I try to make it 'two and two'?"
"You seem to."
"And you don't want me to?"
"If I happen to see you alone in the garden, must I go and get your Uncle Tim or my mother?"
"Not if you'll talk sense."
"I don't talk sense?"
Sally did not answer this question, so he repeated it, in the form of an accepted statement: "So I don't talk sense."
This certainly called loudly for an explanation, and Sally made it--in a way. "I think you know what I mean."
"I know what I mean, but I didn't know it deserved that name."
"It's only--" Sally hesitated, then she went through with it, speaking hurriedly: "I don't want you to bother about me--doing things for me--except as you do them for us all. You--you--are getting--"
"Well, what am I getting? Out with it!"
"To seem--not like my old friend Jarvis Burnside. And--I'd rather have him back."
It was certainly out now. Jarvis drove on up the hill steadily, without any further questioning. It was precisely like Sally thus bravely to have shown him where he stood. It was a position clearly defined; he had stood on it so long that he ought surely to be able easily to go back to it. But he had driven to the top of the hill and on for two miles down the road, had taken the turn to the left and pursued that road for another mile, so that he was nearly at his destination, before he spoke. When at last he did speak it was only to say, very quietly and cheerfully--at least, so it sounded:
"All right, Sally."
Then he turned in at an open gate, and in less than five minutes, with the hay-fork and tackle and ropes at their feet, he was turning out again.
The drive back was rather a silent one. Jarvis spoke often, and Sally replied, but it was about things to be seen along the wayside, or of the plans for the day. The trip was made rather faster than it had been done in coming, and the pace was excuse enough for there being no prolonged conversation on any subject. Jarvis was now an expert driver and by no means an over-cautious one, though he took no risks that he would have called by that name, when he was not alone. More than once his passenger held her breath, but realized afterward that she had been in no real danger. Then they were at home, and Sally was saying, "Thank you very much," as she jumped out, quite as if she had eagerly requested to be taken.
"You are entirely welcome," was his response, in such an odd tone that she looked round at him. He was smiling, but not at her--at the driveway before him, and she could not help noting that he did not appear to be at all crushed by anything that had occurred that morning. It struck her that he had never seemed a stronger or more attractive figure than he looked at this moment, sitting at the wheel with the bright July sunlight touching his brown cheek and clean-cut profile; his head, with its heavy crop of dark hair, bare and breeze-tossed; his powerful engine throbbing before him. Suddenly she wanted to say: "You don't mind, do you?" with a queer little feeling that he didn't mind quite enough! But the car was already off, and she went on into the house with a sense of not feeling quite so relieved as might have been expected at having brought about something she had been wishing for some time to accomplish, but hadn't known just how.
But she had no time left in which to do any thinking about her own affairs. As was easily to be discerned by the distant shoutings, Ferry's city guests had arrived, and had taken possession of the hayfield. From the kitchen window they could be seen, swarming about with rakes and pitchforks, like so many black spiders. There were many more of them than could possibly be used to any advantage, it seemed; but as about half of the distant figures appeared to be standing on their heads it might be taken for granted that employment of some sort could be had for everybody.
At noon the four girls captured Jake and his horses, filled the bottom of the hay-wagon with baskets and pails, and were borne up to the fields, where they were hailed with cheers. Under a tall elm, at one side of the scene of operations, they spread the lunch, and a motley crowd was presently encamped around it. Their entertainers thought they had never seen a happier lot of youngsters. They were of all sorts and sizes, but in one point they were alike: their ignorance of the country and their delight in this interesting and novel experience. They were very plainly all devoted friends of the young man who had brought them there, as could be seen in their every look at him.
"How long have you known Mr. Ferry?" Josephine asked of one slim, tall lad, with black hair drooping over a pair of sharp black eyes, his pale face full of animation.
"Oh, ever since he come down our street one day an' axed me 'bout a feller I knowed that jes' come back from the horspital. Chap got run over--Mr. Ferry was feared he wouldn't have no home to stay in when he got out o' horspital. No more he didn't--till then. After that day, he did, all right."
Josephine glanced toward the subject of these remarks and then back at the lad, who nodded. "Bet yer life 'twas him fixed it," he declared. "There don't no kid go without some kind of a home, if he can fix things for 'em."
"You boys must think a good deal of him," suggested Josephine.
The boy's lips answered only "You bet!" But his face instantly became eloquent.
After lunch the first load of hay was pitched upon the wagon, Jarvis, Jake, and Ferry wielding the pitchforks, Sally driving, and a big boy at the bridle of the colt that had run away during the ploughing season and so could not be trusted entirely to Sally, although she begged to be allowed to manage him without help. He was not exactly a colt, after all, being four years old, but he was new in the traces of the work-horse and Jake kept an eye on him.
"You fellers pitch pretty well fer green hands," acknowledged Jake, when the load was nearly on. He was on the wagon with Sally, placing the forkfuls as they were pitched on. "Expected to see one or 'tother of you git winded and go set down under the ellum. 'Bout the third load'll git you, though, I calc'late."
The two contestants exchanged laughing glances under the forkfuls at the moment lifted above their heads. "This fellow's a Hercules for muscle," said Jarvis to Jake, "but I've discovered several places in my anatomy not so well developed as they might be. I'm going to get after them right away and train them up to the standard. Great Caesar, but it's a hot day!"
He stood up and wiped his perspiring brow.
"I think it's deliciously cool," remarked Sally from the top of the load.
"It's perfectly comfortable here," called Janet, from the fence near by, where the other three girls were perched.
Jake grinned. He had been grinning more or less all day. This "haying it" with a field full of boys and young ladies was a new and interesting experience for Mr. Kelly.
At this moment a diversion arose. Two of the guests, disputing for the possession of a pitchfork, both naturally preferring it to a rake for bunching up from the winrows--being raked by Bob with a horse-rake--had decided to settle the matter, street fashion, with their fists. They were pretty evenly matched and a rough-and-tumble fight ensued. Ferry stopped to watch the bout and see that fair play was enforced. Everybody else stopped work also, and stood looking that way. Jake Kelly, perhaps the most interested spectator in the field, slid down from the load and strolled toward the affair, still grinning. Jarvis, with the precaution of a glance around at the wagon, on the top of which perched Sally, took a few steps in the same direction. It was hot, and he was glad of a moment's respite from his labours. He did not see that the lad at the bridle of the "colt" had relaxed his hold.
Suddenly one of the lads in the affair of the pitchfork got in a bit of unfair work--unfair according to the standards Ferry had introduced among these young friends of his. A protesting yell from at least a dozen throats instantly called the fighters' attention to this fact, and Ferry himself called out, "No fouls, Bates!"
At the yells the "colt" plunged, carrying his mate with him. Sally, though unprepared, hung on gallantly to the lines, trying hard to pull the pair to a standstill. The ground was uneven, and not free from an occasional stone. The wagon had not gone its own length before a shriek from the girls on the fence had brought Jarvis, Jake, and Ferry to the right-about, and all three rushed for the horses' heads. But they were too late to prevent the accident which is always liable to happen in a hayfield, particularly when the driver is a novice. The right front wheel swerved into a hollow, the wagon tipped, the "colt" plunged again. Sally slipped, and tried to throw herself down in safety upon the top of the load, but it slid with her, and in an instant the spectators and the three dashing to the rescue saw the whole load go like a green mountain to the ground, covering Sally from sight.
Now a forkful of hay is light, but a load of the fragrant stuff is very heavy and very smothery, and it depends entirely upon where the victim lands under such an avalanche whether the matter is serious or otherwise. For a minute nobody could be sure just where the slender, blue-clad figure might be, for it made no outcry. The hearts of them all were in their throats for a minute, as the men tore at the hay with their hands, Jarvis thundering at the tall lad, who seized upon a pitchfork, "Don't touch it with that, you fool!"
He was blaming himself savagely as he worked for leaving the girl for an instant, under such conditions. Ferry was calling, "Don't be frightened, we'll have you out in a minute!" Jake was grunting, "Hope the little gal ain't far under--hope to mercy she ain't!" and Josephine, Janet, and Constance were trying to get a chance to help, though the most they could do was to keep clear of the desperately working arms of the men.
It was Jarvis who, with a hoarse ejaculation of thankfulness, came first upon a fold of the blue skirt. Sally had not been under the heaviest part of the load, and doubtless it was only the smother of the hay which kept her from calling out--if the fall itself had not hurt her. In a minute more they had her out, very red and choky, her eyes blinded with dust, her curls full of hay-seed; and she was lying on a soft mound of the fragrant stuff, the girls fanning her, Ferry bringing her lemonade from the pail, and Jarvis watching her with his heart in his eyes--only, fortunately, considering the conversation of the morning, her own eyes were too full of sticks to see.
"You're not hurt anywhere, dear?" one or other of the girls asked her, at close intervals, and Sally shook her head each time, until at length she was able to clear her throat enough to murmur: "Only my feelings, as Jake said. It was so--silly--of me!"
"It was much worse than silly--of us," vowed Donald Ferry, his fine, freckled face a deep Indian-red with heat and anxiety, his breath still a trifle laboured with the furious exertion of the rescue.
But in a very short time she was all right again, and sitting up on her hay throne, watching the wrecked load being pitched back upon the wagon.
The horses had not escaped, for a dozen boys had set after them, headed by the tall youth, and the boot-blacks and news-boys had proved themselves decidedly more efficient at stopping runaways than at making symmetrical hay-cocks.
"If you have any regard for my pride," said Sally suddenly, when the load was half replaced, "you'll let me drive down to the barn."
The three men stopped and looked at her.
"That's mighty plucky of you, Miss Sally," declared Donald Ferry, "but--if you have any regard for our feelings--" and he let an eloquent shake of the head finish his sentence for him.
Jarvis said nothing. But a certain peculiar set of his jaw, as he went on with his pitching, spoke volumes.
As for Jake Kelly--"Wall, I want to know!" said he. Then he laughed outright. "I calc'late, miss," said he, "ef you ride on that thar' load o' hay again to-day it'll be because them two's rendered incompetent o' action! An' they don't look to me much 'sif paralysis would set in yit awhile!"