Chapter XXVI. A Country Sunday
 

Hitherto the Sabbaths had been stormy and the roads bad, and we had given the days to rest and family sociability. But at last there came a mild, sunny morning, and we resolved to find a church-home. I had heard that Dr. Lyman, who preached in the nearest village had the faculty of keeping young people awake. Therefore we harnessed the old bay-horse to our market-wagon, donned our "go-ter-meetin's," as Junior called his Sunday clothes, and started. Whatever might be the result of the sermon, the drive promised to do us good. The tender young grass by the roadside, and the swelling buds of trees, gave forth delicious odors; a spring haze softened the outline of the mountains, and made them almost as beautiful as if clothed with foliage; robins, song-sparrows, and other birds were so tuneful that Mousie said she wished they might form the choir at the church. Indeed, the glad spirit of Spring was abroad, and it found its way into our hearts. We soon learned that it entered largely also into Dr. Lyman's sermon. We were not treated as strangers and intruders, but welcomed and shown to a pew in a way that made us feel at home. I discovered that I, too, should be kept awake and given much to think about. We remained until Sunday-school, which followed the service, was over, and then went home, feeling that life both here and hereafter was something to be thankful for. After dinner, without even taking the precaution of locking the door, we all strolled down the lane and the steeply sloping meadow to our wood lot and the banks of the Moodna Creek. My wife had never seen this portion of our place before, and she was delighted with its wild beauty and seclusion. She shivered and turned a little pale, however, as she saw the stream, still high and swift, that had carried Bobsey away.

Junior joined us, and led the children to a sunny bank, from which soon came shouts of joy over the first wildflowers of the season. I placed my wife on a rock, and we sat quietly for a time, inhaling the fresh woody odors, and listening to the murmurs of the creek and the song of the birds. Then I asked: "Isn't this better than a city flat and a noisy street? Are not these birds pleasanter neighbors than the Daggetts and the Ricketts?"

Her glad smile was more eloquent than words could have been. Mousie came running to us, holding in her hand, which trembled from excitement, a little bunch of liverworts and anemones. Tears of happiness actually stood in her eyes, and she could only falter, "O mamma! just look!" and then she hastened away to gather more.

"That child belongs to nature," I said, "and would always be an exile in the city. How greatly she has improved in health already!"

The air grew damp and chill early, and we soon returned to the house. Monday was again fair, and found us absorbed in our busy life, each one having plenty to do. When it was safe to uncover the raspberries, Merton and I had not lost a moment in the task. At the time of which I write we put in stakes where they were missing, obtaining not a few of them from the wood lot. We also made our second planting of potatoes and other hardy vegetables in the garden. The plants in the kitchen window were thriving, and during mild, still days we carried them to a sheltered place without, that they might become inured to the open air.

Winnie already had three hens sitting on their nests full of eggs, and she was counting the days until the three weeks of incubation should expire, and the little chicks break their shells. One of the hens proved a fickle biddy, and left her nest, much to the child's anger and disgust. But the others were faithful, and one morning Winnie came bounding in, saying she had heard the first "peep." I told her to be patient and leave the brood until the following day, since I had read that the chicks were stronger for not being taken from the nest too soon. She had treated the mother hens so kindly that they were tame, and permitted her to throw out the empty shells, and exult over each new-comer into a brief existence.

Our radishes had come up nicely; but no sooner had the first green leaves expanded than myriads of little flea-like beetles devoured them. A timely article in my horticultural paper explained that if little chickens were allowed to run in the garden they would soon destroy these and other insects. Therefore I improvised a coop by laying down a barrel near the radishes and driving stakes in front of it to confine the hen, which otherwise, with the best intentions, would have scratched up all my sprouting seeds. Hither we brought her the following day, with her downy brood of twelve, and they soon began to make themselves useful. Winnie fed them with Indian-meal and mashed potatoes and watched over them with more than their mother's solicitude, while Merton renewed his vigilance against hawks and other enemies.

With this new attraction, and wildflowers in the woods, the tying up of raspberries became weary prose to Winnie and Bobsey; but I kept them at it during most of the forenoon of every pleasant day and if they performed their task carelessly, I made them do it over. I knew that the time was coming when many kinds of work would cease to be play to us all, and that we might as well face the fact first as last. After the morning duties were over, and the afternoon lessons learned, there was plenty of time for play, and the two little people enjoyed it all the more.

Merton, also, had two afternoons in the week and he and Junior began to bring home strings of sweet little sunfish and winfish. Boys often become disgusted with country life because it is made hard and monotonous for them.