Chapter XV. Our Sunny Kitchen
 

Before we reached the landing I had invested a goodly sum in four pairs of rubber boots, for I knew how hopeless it would be to try to keep Winnie and Bobsey indoors. As for Mousie, she would have to be prudent until the ground should become dry and warm.

There is no need of dwelling long on the bringing home of our effects and the getting to rights. We were back soon after ten, and found that Winnie and Bobsey, having exhausted the resources of the house, had been permitted to start at the front door, and, with an old fire-shovel and a piece of board, had well-nigh completed a path to the well, piling up the snow as they advanced, so that their overshoes were a sufficient protection.

After we had carried in the things I interceded with Mr. Jones and then told the boys that they could take their guns and be absent two or three hours if they would promise to help faithfully the rest of the day.

I had bought at Maizeville Landing such provisions, tools, etc., as I should need immediately. Therefore I did not worry because the fickle March sky was clouding up again with the promise of rain. A heavy downpour now with snow upon the ground would cause almost a flood, but I felt that we could shut the door and find the old house a very comfortable ark.

"A smart warm rain would be the best thing that could happen to yer," said Mr. Jones, as he helped me carry in furniture and put up beds; "it would take the snow off. Nat'rally you want to get out on the bare ground, for there's allus a lot of clearin' up to be done in the spring and old man Jamison was poorly last year and didn't keep things up to the mark."

"Yes," I replied, "I am as eager to get to work outdoors as the boys were to go after rabbits. I believe I shall like the work, but that is not the question. I did not come to the country to amuse myself, like so many city people. I don't blame them; I wish I could afford farming for fun. I came to earn a living for my wife and children, and I am anxious to be about it. I won't ask you for anything except advice. I've only had a city training, and my theories about farming would perhaps make you smile. But I've seen enough of you already to feel that you are inclined to be kind and neighborly, and the best way to show this will be in helping me to good, sound, practical, common-sense advice. But you mustn't put on airs, or be impatient with me. Shrewd as you are, I could show you some things in the city."

"Oh, I'd be a sight queerer there than you here. I see your p'int, and if you'll come to me I won't let you make no blunders I wouldn't make myself. Perhaps that ain't saying a great deal, though."

By this time everything had been brought in and either put in place or stowed out of the way, until my wife could decide where and how she would arrange things.

"Now," I said, when we had finished, "carry out our agreement."

Mr. Jones gave me a wink and drove away.

Our agreement was this--first, that he and Mr. Rollins, the owner of the other team, should be paid in full before night; and second, that Mrs. Jones should furnish us our dinner, in which the chief dish should be a pot-pie from the rabbit caught by Merton, and that Mr. Jones should bring everything over at one o'clock.

My wife was so absorbed in unpacking her china, kitchen-utensils, and groceries that she was unaware of the flight of time, but at last she suddenly exclaimed, "I declare it's dinner-time!"

"Not quite yet," I said; "dinner will be ready at one."

"It will? Oh, indeed! Since we are in the country we are to pick up what we can, like the birds. You intend to invite us all down to the apple barrel, perhaps."

"Certainly, whenever you wish to go; but we'll have a hot dinner at one o'clock, and a game dinner into the bargain."

"I've heard the boys' guns occasionally, but I haven't seen the game, and it's after twelve now."

"Papa has a secret--a surprise for us," cried Mousie; "I can see it in his eyes."

"Now, Robert, I know what you've been doing. You have asked Mrs. Jones to furnish a dinner. You are extravagant, for I could have picked up something that would have answered."

"No; I've been very prudent in saving your time and strength, and saving these is sometimes the best economy in the world. Mousie is nearer right. The dinner is a secret, and it has been furnished chiefly by one of the family."

"Well, I'm too busy to guess riddles to-day; but if my appetite is a guide, it is nearly time we had your secret."

"You would not feel like that after half an hour over a hot stove. Now you will be interrupted, in getting to rights, only long enough to eat your dinner. Then Mousie and Merton and Winnie will clear up everything, and be fore night you will feel settled enough to take things easy till to-morrow."

"I know your thoughtfulness for me, if not your secret," she said, gratefully, and was again putting things where, from housewifely experience, she knew they would be handy.

Mr. and Mrs. Jamison had clung to their old-fashioned ways, and had done their cooking over the open fire, using the swinging crane which is now employed chiefly in pictures. This, for the sake of the picture it made, we proposed to keep as it had been left, although at times it might answer some more prosaic purpose.

At the eastern end of the house was a single room, added unknown years ago, and designed to be a bed-chamber. Of late it had been used as a general storage and lumber room, and when I first inspected the house, I had found little in this apartment of service to us. So I had asked Mr. Jones to remove all that I did not care for, and to have the room cleansed, satisfied that it would just suit my wife as a kitchen. It was large, having windows facing the east and south, and therefore it would be light and cheerful, as a kitchen ever should be, especially when the mistress of the house is cook. There Mr. Jones and I set up the excellent stove that I had brought from New York--one to which my wife was accustomed, and from which she could conjure a rare good dinner when she gave her mind to it. Now as she moved back and forth, in such sunlight as the clouding sky permitted, she appeared the picture of pleased content.

"It cheers one up to enter a kitchen like this," she said.

"It is to be your garden for a time also," I exclaimed to Mousie. "I shall soon have by this east window a table with shallow boxes of earth, and in them you can plant some of your flower-seeds. I only ask that I may have two of the boxes for early cabbages, lettuce, tomatoes, etc. You and your plants can take a sun-bath every morning until it is warm, enough to go out of doors, and you'll find the plants won't die here as they did in the dark, gas-poisoned city flat."

"I feel as if I were going to grow faster and stronger than the plants," cried the happy child.

Junior and Merton now appeared, each carrying a rabbit. My boy's face, however, was clouded, and he said, a little despondently, "I can't shoot straight--missed every time; and Junior shot 'em after I had fired and missed."

"Pshaw!" cried Junior; "Merton's got to learn to take a quick steady sight, like every one else. He gets too excited."

"That's just it, my boy," I said. "You shall go down by the creek and fire at a mark a few times every day, and you'll soon hit it every time. Junior's head is too level to think that anything can be done well without practice. Now, Junior," I added, "run over home and help your father bring us our dinner, and then you stay and help us eat it."

Father and son soon appeared, well laden. Winnie and Bobsey came in ravenous from their path-making, and all agreed that we had already grown one vigorous rampant Maizeville crop--an appetite.

The pot-pie was exulted over, and the secret of its existence explained. Even Junior laughed till the tears came as I described him, his father, and Merton, floundering through the deep snow after the rabbit, and we all congratulated Merton as the one who had provided our first country dinner.