Chapter XVII. Good Bargains in Maple Sugar
 

By eleven o'clock we had all the basement cleaned except the one cow-stall that was filled to the ceiling with litter; and Winnie had washed the windows. Then John Jones's lank figure darkened the doorway, and he cried, "Hello, neighbor, what ye drivin' at?"

"Look around and see, and then tell us where to get a lot of chickens."

"Well, I declare! How you've slicked things up! You're not goin' to scrub the dirt floor, are you? Well, well, this looks like business-- just the place for chickens. Wonder old man Jamison didn't keep 'em here; but he didn't care for fowls. Now I think of it, there's to be a vandoo the first of the week, and there was a lot o' chickens printed on the poster."

I smiled.

"Oh, I don't mean that the chickens themselves was on the poster, but a statement that a lot would be sold at auction. I'll bid 'em in for you if they're a good lot. If you, a city chap, was to bid, some straw-bidder would raise 'em agin you. I know what they're wuth, and everybody there'll know I do, and they'll try no sharp games with me."

"That will suit me exactly, Mr. Jones. I don't want any game-fowls of that kind."

"Ha, ha! I see the p'int. Have you looked into the root-cellar?"

"Yes; we opened the door and looked, but it was dark as a pocket."

"Well, I don't b'lieve in matches around a barn, but I'll show you something;" and he opened the door, struck a match, and, holding it aloft, revealed a heap of turnips, another of carrots, five barrels of potatoes, and three of apples. The children pounced upon the last with appetites sharpened by their morning's work.

"You see," resumed Mr. Jones, "these were here when old man Jamison died. If I hadn't sold the place I should have taken them out before long, and got rid of what I didn't want. Now you can have the lot at a low figure," which he named.

"I'll take them," I said, promptly.

"The carrots make it look like a gold-mine," cried Merton.

"Well, you're wise," resumed Mr. Jones. "You'll have to get a cow and a horse, and here's fodder for 'em handy. Perhaps I can pick 'em out for you, too, at the vandoo. You can go along, and if anything strikes your fancy I'll bid on it."

"O papa," cried the children, in chorus, "can we go with you to the vandoo?"

"Yes, I think so. When does the sale take place?"

"Next Tuesday. That's a good breed of potatoes. Jamison allus had the best of everything. They'll furnish you with seed, and supply your table till new ones come. I guess you could sell a barrel or so of apples at a rise."

"I've found a market for them already. Look at these children; and I'm good for half a barrel myself if they don't decay too soon. Where could we find better or cheaper food? All the books say that apples are fattening."

"That's true of man and beast, if the books do say it. They'll keep in this cool, dark cellar longer than you'd think--longer than you'll let 'em, from the way they're disappearin'. I guess I'll try one."

"Certainly, a dozen, just as if they were still yours."

"They wasn't mine--they belonged to the Jamison estate. I'll help myself now quicker'n I would before. I might come it over a live man, you know, but not a dead one."

"I'd trust you with either."

While I was laughing at this phase of honesty, he resumed: "This is the kind of place to keep apples--cool, dry, dark, even temperature. Why, they're as crisp and juicy as if just off the trees. I came over to make a suggestion. There's a lot of sugar-maple trees on your place, down by the brook. Why not tap 'em, and set a couple of pots b'ilin' over your open fire? You'd kill two birds with one stone; the fire'd keep you warm, and make a lot of sugar in the bargain. I opinion, too, the children would like the fun."

They were already shouting over the idea, but I said dubiously, "How about the pails to catch the sap?"

"Well," said Mr. Jones, "I've thought of that. We've a lot of spare milk-pails and pans, that we're not usin'. Junior understands the business; and, as we're not very busy, he can help you and take his pay in sugar."

The subject of poultry was forgotten; and the children scampered off to the house to tell of this new project.

Before Mr. Jones and I left the basement, he said: "You don't want any partition here at present, only a few perches for the fowls. There's a fairish shed, you remember, in the upper barnyard, and when 'tain't very cold or stormy the cow will do well enough there from this out. The weather'll be growin' milder 'most every day, and in rough spells you can put her in here. Chickens won't do her any harm. Law sakes! when the main conditions is right, what's the use of havin' everything jes' so? It's more important to save your time and strength and money. You'll find enough to do without one stroke that ain't needful." Thus John Jones fulfilled his office of mentor.