Strawberry Acres by Grace S. Richmond
Part I.--Five Miles Out
Chapter VII. Everybody is Satisfied
"Bobby, let's have a garden, you and I." Bob looked up from the front of the tent platform, where he sat polishing a pair of much-worn russet shoes. Riding back and forth, nights and mornings, on a bicycle, over very dusty roads, made it necessary to polish often. But Bob didn't mind. The two weeks of camp life he had enjoyed had made him indifferent to any extra trouble involved.
"Looks as if you had a garden somewhere," he responded, eyeing with favour the pailful of red raspberries Sally held up. "You must have got up with the lark, to have picked all those. Mary Ann hasn't more than started the fire in the kitchen tent. I had to go and help her. That girl doesn't know how to boil an egg. She cracks it getting it in. Her coffee is a thick, dark, wicked looking stuff. What do you suppose she does to it?" he asked in a whisper.
"Never mind. I'm growing stronger every minute, and mean to begin to cook, next week."
"Thank goodness!" murmured Bob. "I mean," he explained quickly, "that I'm thankful you're well enough."
Sally laughed, pulled off her wide straw hat, and sat down beside Bob.
"Your cheeks are pink as hollyhocks," he observed, eyeing her with satisfaction.
"I had a lovely time picking those raspberries," she said. "There must have been a big patch of them back there once. Bob, I want to start a kitchen garden. Max and Alec haven't waked up yet to the fun it would be to grow things on this old place, but you're always awake. Come on!"
Bob stood up.
"I'm ready for anything you say, but I don't know any more about planting gardens than I do about building bridges. You don't plant a garden in July--I'm sure of that."
"Isn't there a thing that can go in late, and produce a late crop?"
"Don't ask me. Maybe our friend Ferry would know. If there's anything he doesn't know, I haven't found it out. It's funny a preacher should be such an all-round sort of fellow, isn't it?"
"A--what?" Sally nearly dropped her raspberries, she was so astonished.
"A preacher. He preaches in the old white church with the big pillars, away down town in the middle of everything. I just found it out yesterday from a fellow in the office."
"Why, it can't be! He's always busy round that garden--or chopping wood up in our timber tract. He asked Max to let him work at that--for the sake of his muscle, he said."
"If you'll just stop and think, you'll find he isn't round all the time. He's in the city every day--has to be. He holds a half-hour noon service in the old church every day in the week for men. Fred Kentner says they flock in there like sheep--says he goes in often. It's cool in there, and he likes the things Ferry says. I'm going in with Fred some day soon. I'd like to find out what a fellow that can chop trees and fight with his fists can find to say in a pulpit."
"Fight with his fists!"
Bob chuckled. "I tackled him the other evening, out behind his house, just for fun. I got all I wanted in about two minutes. He was laughing all the time, but I couldn't get near him. He laid me on my back as helpless as a baby. Say, if Mary Ann doesn't get round with the oatmeal pretty soon, I'll have to go without. It's twenty minutes past six now."
"I'll see about it," and Sally hurried away, revolving in her mind this astonishing news.
"He can't be as young as he looks, then," she said to herself. "I shouldn't say he was a minute over twenty-five, but he must be."
Her mind turned later that day to a project more immediately promising than the garden. She wanted to have a house party--a tent party, to be accurate. The Burnsides had driven out twice to see them since they had become established, but Jarvis had been having another siege with his eyes, and Josephine had been entertaining visitors. Sally, in the fast-increasing strength and enthusiasm of returning health, longed for her friends, and began to plan how she could have all three with her for the space of at least two days.
"Wait a little longer," counselled Uncle Timothy. "Your strength is more that of happiness than of real physical gain, though you are certainly acquiring health rapidly. There will be plenty of hot weather in August, and you will be better fit to exert yourself."
Max and Alec backed him, for they were still more or less indifferent to the charms of active exercise, and when they had been fed, each evening, were in the habit of falling into postures of ease on the ground before the tent, while they discussed the happenings of the day.
At the end of another fortnight, however, everybody admitted that Sally seemed enough like herself to be permitted the mild dissipation of a tent party, and she proceeded joyfully to plan for the occasion.
"Alec and Bob will have to sleep outside," she decided.
"Thank you, not for me!" said Alec.
"Oh, don't go and be a spoil-sport now, Al!" cried Bob. "I'd a good deal rather sleep outdoors than not."
"You have my permission," rejoined Alec.
"I will sleep out-doors, with pleasure," said Uncle Timothy.
"Never, if I give you my room!" and Sally looked indignant.
"I should enjoy it," Mr. Rudd insisted. "This out-door life has renewed my youth. If the weather is favourable during your friends' visit you can count on having my room for them."
Of course Alec could not allow such a reversal of the natural order of things, and he announced the fact with firmness mixed with irritation. Uncle Timothy, however, also persisted, went into town and bought a hammock, and returning hung it under the trees.
Sally, with the help of Mary Ann, did considerable preliminary baking, and the Ferrys, hearing of the coming event, contributed a large basketful of garden produce. Sally, running over to thank Mrs. Ferry, told her all about her plans. She had already grown very fond of the little lady, whose happiness at being with her son, after a long period of separation from him, made her a cheery companion.
"I hope you and Mr. Ferry will come over this evening," urged Sally. "We want to make it a jolly time for our friends, and I'm sure you'll enjoy knowing Mrs. Burnside."
"Mother's a little shy," said a voice from behind Mrs. Ferry, who stood in the small porch, looking down at her visitor. Sally, in a crisp frock of white with tiny black figures, her sunny head uplifted, and her cheeks now round and rosy with returning health, looked past Mrs. Ferry's shoulder, smiling. "She is decidedly modest about showing off before people, but she could entertain your guests quite by herself, if she would."
"Donald!" The small lady faced about, as her son's arm came round her shoulders. "What an idea!"
"She's the finest reader in the state," asserted the young man. "She's a scholar, she's--"
"Donald, you will lose your car!"
"She taught me all I know, and a great deal more that I don't know, because my head wouldn't hold it.
'And still the wonder grew, That one small head could carry all she knew.'
Now I shall have to run for it, which will be most undignified. Good-by, mother!" He kissed her. "Good-by, Miss Sally! We'll be there to-night."
He swung away down the road at a brisk pace, turning once to wave his hat at the figure on the porch.
"Such a boy!" breathed the mother. "Yet such a man, Miss Sally, though his mother says it. And he'll go off with all that nonsense on his lips, and a head full of talk for those men in the church at noon--talk that will go straight to their hearts--and, better, to their judgments."
"I haven't yet been able to realize that he's a minister," Sally ventured. "Somehow, seeing him out-doors here--"
Mrs. Ferry nodded. "I know. Nobody takes him for what he is, because he will not do what he calls 'dress the part every day.' And he is such a believer in making the physical life offset the mental and spiritual--if I may put it so--that I tell him he may be in danger of becoming so athletic--and so agricultural"--she smiled--"that he will crowd out the spiritual. Yet he knows I don't mean that. He turns up many a rich nugget of thought, when he is hoeing the ground--and chops down many an error when he fells a tree, perhaps!"
"I don't doubt it," agreed Sally, regarding the proud little mother with real envy of her fortunate son. "Please come over early," she begged, as she took her leave, after lingering a little to tell Mrs. Ferry more about her plans for the evening.
"Sally Lunn!" Josephine exclaimed, a few hours later. "What have you been doing to yourself? You never looked so well. Behold her, Jarvis! But don't dare take off your blue goggles. Her radiance is fairly dazzling, and is liable to blind you."
"It's partly sunburn," confessed Sally. "I go deliberately out and let the sun smite me, first on the right cheek and then on the left. For awhile I burned my nose at the same time, which was not picturesque. But now I put a thick coating of talcum powder on my nose, and burn myself only where it is artistic."
"There's an honest confession for you," and Jarvis shook hands so heartily that Sally's fingers ached for a minute afterward. "I can see some of the rouge through my glasses."
"I must look purple to you, then. Red and blue make purple, on cheeks as well as palettes, don't they? Joey, what made you put on a white dress? I planned to take you all blackberrying over in the pasture."
"Lovely! Lend me an apron, and I'll risk the dress. This is a beautiful time of day to pick blackberries."
The three set off. As they passed the garden on the farther side of the hedge they were hailed by Donald Ferry. "May I go, too?" called the young man, and he leaped lightly over the hedge.
Jarvis Burnside went forward and held out his hand. "I heard you speak, this noon," he said, in a low tone.
Ferry returned the pressure heartily. "I saw you," he answered.
"You did? I was away back by the door."
"My eyes are pretty good. And it's easy to see a friend, you know."
"I'll be glad to have you call me that," said Jarvis.
"I've wanted to since I saw you first," replied Ferry, with the simplicity of manner which won him confidence and warm liking wherever he went.
He was in a holiday mood. He insisted on carrying all the pails, and juggled with them, producing a clash of sound which echoed through the meadows. In his gray flannels and flowing blue tie, he looked much more like a college boy than a member of the most dignified of professions.
"How strong and healthy he looks!" observed Jarvis to Sally, as they led the way toward the blackberry pasture. "He couldn't have got his education without spending more or less time in-doors, but he must have put in every spare minute in the open air. The sight of him makes me feel more than ever that I was a fool to dig away as I did, ruining my eyes for the sake of doing two years' work in one. Gained a lot, didn't I? Do you realize it's more than a year since I took my degree? And not a blessed thing since but idle around, waiting for these eyes to get back into shape."
"It must have seemed a long year," agreed Sally, sympathetically. "But haven't you made things worse by using your eyes every now and then against orders?"
"Guilty. The sight of a book is like cheese to a mouse, to me. Just after a visit to Doctor Meyer I'm meek and obedient as a lamb; then I pass a book-shop, look in at the windows, glance round to see if any oculists or mothers observe me, dodge in, get into a corner with some book--and an hour is gone before I think I've done more than inspect the table of contents."
"I knew you must be breaking rules, when you had so many relapses, after Jo had said the eyes were better. It's a pity you live in a stone block, instead of a place like this, where there is out-doors enough to keep any one busy."
"It is a pity. I wish we lived on a farm like this. I'd like nothing better than trying my hand at scientific farming. If I'm going to be everlastingly handicapped by these eyes I might as well look round for an out-door job. You can't think how I wish now I'd put in my time studying civil engineering."
"I thought scientific farming called for lots of reading."
"It does, properly. I should have to have a partner to do the studying. But it also calls for plenty of open-air work, and that--well, it's getting to have more and more attraction for me. Look up the pasture there. Isn't that a beautiful scene at this hour of day, even through blue glasses?"
"If Max only felt as you do! But don't you think he's looking better since he's been sleeping out here? He actually owned this morning that he was sorry he couldn't get back in time for the blackberry picking."
"Really? The old boy must be waking up a bit. I'm thinking of offering to rent a few acres out here, so as to start a market-garden next spring--if my eyes still need favouring, and there's not much doubt of that. Perhaps the sight of me digging round here will stir him up."
"If it only would! Oh, Jarvis, how I'd love to spend the winter in that house!" and Sally turned to gaze back at it.
"Would you--clear off out here among the snow-drifts? Well, I could imagine myself doing it with enthusiasm--under two conditions. The use of my eyes and the use of the library at the top of those stairs. By the way, has Max taken any steps to sell that?"
"He's been consulting a man or two, and he had one out here not long ago. I've begged him to be careful, if he must sell it, lest he shouldn't get all it's worth."
"He'd better be mighty careful. I wish he'd trust me with that commission. I believe I'll mention it to him to-night. I understood he didn't intend to do anything about it at present, but if he has his mind on selling it I must have a word with him. I believe the collection is worth a good deal more than any of us appreciate."
Jarvis did not fail to follow up this idea. When the party returned to the tent Max was coming from the house. Jarvis talked with him for some time, and the conference ended with both of them looking cheerful.
Max was undoubtedly feeling the benefit of his taste of out-door life. He joined in the festivities of the evening with more zest than he had shown in a long time, greatly to the delight of everybody. It was a merry evening, and was followed by much jollity over the bestowing of so many people comfortably for the night.
Going to occupy his hammock, Mr. Rudd found a long figure swinging reposefully in it.
"Why, Jarvis!" he ejaculated. "This is my place. You are to have a room in the tent."
"Not while you sleep outside, sir," returned the guest, remaining composed for slumber. "Beside, I don't get a chance to sleep outdoors very often, and on such a night as this I wouldn't miss it."
"I don't suppose I can forcibly eject you," admitted Mr. Rudd.
"No, I think not. I may not be as muscular as our friend Ferry, but I haven't given up my morning exercise before my cold plunge since I left college, and I'm in fair shape to hold my own with whoever attempts to take this hammock away from me. Go back to your room, please, Mr. Rudd. I never was more comfortable in my life."
To prove it, Jarvis went promptly to sleep, and nearly every one else did the same. Mrs. Burnside was awake for some time, but she, too, fell asleep at last, leaving only one pair of wide-awake eyes in the tent. Sally, for some unknown reason, could not feel the first inclination to repose. She was up and sitting on a pillow beside her open tent flap, gazing out into the night, when she heard a singular noise.
It was like the distant roar of the sea, but there was no sea within many miles. It did not sound in the least like wind, yet wind it must be, she thought, and in the space of a half minute the roar had so gained in volume that it appeared to be approaching with great rapidity. Sally rose and peered up toward the sky, for usually she could see a small patch of it beyond the grove. But she could discern no appearance of the sky, although a few minutes before the stars had been shining brilliantly.
She had no time within which to take any further observations. Before she had fairly begun to wonder what might be coming, and to tell herself that she had heard no growl of thunder and that therefore this could not be the approach of one of those severe electrical storms with which a period of intense heat sometimes terminates, the thing had happened. With a burst, a tremendous blast of wind struck the tent. It swayed and strained at its guy-ropes, the poles creaked and cracked, and in less time than it takes to tell it, the whole flapping structure had gone down with one ballooning heave, flat upon the ground, covering its inmates with billowing canvas.
Then came a terrific clap of thunder and a flash of the fiercest lightning Sally had ever seen. Instantly there was a sudden and overwhelming downpour of rain, as if the heavens had opened. Then everybody was shouting or calling. Outside the tent, Jarvis, in his hammock, and Bob, on his blankets on the ground, had been soaked to the skin before they knew what had happened, and were trying to discover a place where they could crawl under the wrecked canvas and find a shelter from the deluge.
"Where are you all? Anybody hurt?" cried Jarvis, groping in the blackness.
"All right!" screamed Josephine, who had put her hand under the canvas partition and found her mother, whose bed was next her own.
"All right!" shrieked Sally, who had received a soaking by having been close to the open tent-flap when the flood came. But she did not mention that just now.
"Here's a place to get under!" cried Bob to Jarvis, and the two managed to work themselves under cover. A convenient table made a nook to receive them, and kept the tent off their heads.
"I've crawled under my cot!" announced Alec, at the top of his lungs.
"So have I!" called Mr. Rudd. He was congratulating himself that he had not slept in the hammock, but he was much worried concerning Jarvis and Bob.
Then Max fired the shot that, sooner or later, he might have been expected to fire. As loudly as he could vociferate against the roar of the storm, he sent a triumphant challenge to the party: "I hope you're all--satisfied--with the beauty of sleeping in the--open air!"