Chapter XXIV. "No Blind Drifting"

One long, stormy day I prepared an account-book. On its left-hand pages I entered the cost of the place and all expenses thus far incurred. The right-hand pages were for records of income, as yet small indeed. They consisted only of the proceeds from the sale of the calf, the eggs that Winnie gathered, and the milk measured each day, all valued at the market price. I was resolved that there should be no blind drifting toward the breakers of failure--that at the end of the year we should know whether we had made progress, stood still, or gone backward. My system of keeping the accounts was so simple that I easily explained it to my wife, Merton, and Mousie, for I believed that, if they followed the effort at country living understandingly, they would be more willing to practice the self- denial necessary for success. Indeed, I had Merton write out most of the items, even though the record, as a result, was not very neat. I stopped his worrying over blots and errors, by saying, "You are of more account than the account-book, and will learn by practice to be as accurate as any one."

My wife and Mousie also started another book of household expenses, that we might always know just where we stood and what our prospects were.

Weeks would elapse before our place would be food-producing to any great extent. In the meantime we must draw chiefly on our capital in order to live. Winifred and I resolved to meet this necessity in no careless way, feeling that not a penny should be spent which might be saved. The fact that I had only my family to support was greatly in our favor. There was no kitchen cabinet, that ate much and wasted more, to satisfy. Therefore, our revenue of eggs and milk went a long way toward meeting the problem. We made out a list of cheap, yet wholesome, articles of food, and found that we could buy oatmeal at four cents per pound, Indian meal at two and a half cents, rice at eight cents, samp at four, mackerel at nine, pork at twelve, and ham at fifteen cents. The last two articles were used sparingly, and more as relishes and for flavoring than as food. Flour happened to be cheap at the time, the best costing but seven dollars a barrel; of vegetables, we had secured abundance at slight cost; and the apples still added the wholesome element of fruit. A butcher drove his wagon to our door three times a week and, for cash, would give us, at very reasonable rates, certain cuts of beef and mutton. These my wife conjured into appetizing dishes and delicious soups.

Thus it can be seen that we had a varied diet at a surprisingly small outlay. Such details may appear to some very homely, yet our health and success depended largely upon thoughtful attention to just such prosaic matters. The children were growing plump and ruddy at an expense less than would be incurred by one or two visits from a fashionable physician in the city.

In the matter of food, I also gave more thought to my wife's time and strength than to the little people's wishes. While we had variety and abundance, we did not have many dishes at any one meal.

"We shall not permit mamma to be over the hot range any more than is necessary," I said. "She and Mousie must give us, from day to day, what costs little in time as well as money."

Fortunately, plain, wholesome food does not require much time in preparation. There would be better health in many homes if there was more economy in labor. For instance, the children at first clamored for griddle-cakes, but I said, "Isn't it nicer to have mamma sit down quietly with us at breakfast than to see her running back and forth from the hot stove?" and even Bobsey, though rather ruefully, voted against cakes, except on rare occasions.

The wash-tub I forbade utterly, and the services of a stout Irishwoman were secured for one day in the week. Thus, by a little management, my wife was not overtaxed. Indeed, she had so much leisure that she and Mousie began giving Winnie and Bobsey daily lessons, for we had decided that the children should not go to school until the coming autumn. Early in April, therefore, our country life was passing into a quiet routine, not burdensome, at least within doors; and I justly felt that if all were well in the citadel of home, the chances of the outdoor campaign were greatly improved.