Chapter XXX. Weeds and Working for Dear Life

The beautiful transition period of spring passing into summer would have filled us with delight had we not found a hostile army advancing on us--annual weeds. When we planted the garden, the soil was brown and clean. The early vegetables came up in well-defined green rows, the weeds appearing with them, too few and scattered to cause anxiety. Now all was changed. Weeds seemed created by magic in a night. The garden was becoming evenly green throughout; and the vegetables, in some cases, could scarcely be distinguished from the ranker growth of crowding, unknown plants among and around them. I also saw that our corn and potato field would soon become, if left alone, as verdant as the meadow beyond. I began to fear that we could not cope with these myriads of foes, little now, but growing while we slept, and stealing a march on us in one part of the place while we destroyed them in another.

With something like dismay I called Mr. Jones's attention to these silent forces, invading, not only the garden and fields, but the raspberries and, indeed, all the ground now devoted to fruit.

He laughed and said: "The Philistines are on you, sure enough. I'm busy whackin' them over myself, but I guess I'll have to come and give you a lift, for you must get these weeds well under before hayin' and raspberry-pickin'-time comes. It's warm to-day, and the ground's middlin' dry. I'll show you what can be done in short metre. By the way, I'll give you a little wrinkle worth knowin'. I've observed that you didn't bring the children to the country to be like weeds--just ter grow and run ter seed, ye know. It's 'stonishin' how soon weeds, whether they're people or pusley, get seedy. Well, now, call the children and come with me to the garden."

We were all soon there, including my wife, who shared my solicitude.

"You see," resumed Mr. Jones, "that these weakly little rows of carrots, beets, and onions would soon be choked by these weeds, not an inch high yet. The same is true of the corn and peas and other sags. The pertaters are strong enough to take care of themselves for a time, but not long. I see you and Merton have been tryin' to weed and hoe them out at the same time. Well, you can't keep up with the work in that way. Take now this bed of beets; the weeds are gettin' even all over it, and they're thicker, if anywhere, right in the row, so that it takes a good eye to see the beets. But here they are, and here they run across the bed. Now look at me. One good showin' is worth all the tellin' and readin' from now to Christmas. You see, I begin with my two hands, and pull out all the weeds on each side of the little row, and I pull 'em away from the young beets so as not to disturb them, but to leave 'em standin' straight and saucy. Careless hands will half pull out the vegetables at the same time with the weeds. I had to strap Junior once before he learned that fact, and it was amazin' how I helped his eyesight and trained his fingers through his back. Well, now, you see, I've cleared out this row of beets half across the bed and the ground for an inch or two on each side of it. I drop the weeds right down in the spaces between the rows, for the sun will dry 'em up before dinner-time. Now I'll take another row."

By this time Merton and I were following his example, and in a few moments a part of three more rows had been treated in the same way.

"Now," continued Mr. Jones, "the weeds are all out of the rows that we've done, and for a little space on each side of 'em. The beets have a chance to grow unchoked, and to get ahead. These other little green varmints in the ground, between the rows, are too small to do any harm yet. Practically the beets are cleaned out, and will have all the ground they need to themselves for three or four days; but these weeds between the rows would soon swamp everything. Now, give me a hoe, and I'll fix them."

He drew the useful tool carefully and evenly through the spaces between the rows, and our enemies were lying on their sides ready to wither away in the morning sun.

"You see after the rows are weeded out how quickly you can hoe the spaces between 'em," my neighbor concluded. "Now the children can do this weedin'. Your and Merton's time's too valyble. When weeds are pulled from right in and around vegetables, the rest can stand without harm for a while, till you can get around with the hoe and cultivator. This weedin' out business is 'specially important in rainy weather, for it only hurts ground to hoe or work it in wet, showery days, and the weeds don't mind it a bit. Warm, sunny spells, when the soil's a little dry, is the time to kill weeds. But you must be careful in weedin' then, or you'll so disturb the young, tender sass that it'll dry up, too. See, I'll pull some weeds carelessly. Now obsarve that the beets are half jerked up also. Of course that won't answer. I'll come over this afternoon with my cultivator, and we'll tackle the corn and pertaters, and make such a swath among these green Philistines that you'll sleep better to- night. But ye're goin' to come out right, mind, I tell ye so; and I've seen mor'n one city squash come to the country with the idee that they were goin' to beat us punkins all holler."

And he left us laughing and hopeful.

"Come, Winnie and Bobsey, begin here on each side of me. I'll show you this morning and then I trust you can be left to do the weeding carefully by yourselves to-morrow. Pressing as the work is, you shall have your afternoons until the berries are ripe."

"Can't I help, too?" asked Mousie.

I looked into her eager, wistful face, but said, firmly: "Not now, dear. The sun is too hot. Toward night, perhaps, I'll let you do a little. By helping mamma in the house you are doing your part."

We made good progress, and the two younger children speedily learned the knack of working carefully, so as not to disturb the little vegetables. I soon found that weeding was back-aching work for me, and therefore "spelled" myself by hoeing out the spaces between the rows. By the time the music of the dinner-bell sounded, hosts of our enemies were slain.

Mr. Jones, true to his promise, was on hand at one o'clock with his cultivator, and began with the corn, which was now a few inches high. Merton and I followed with hoes, uncovering the tender shoots on which earth had been thrown, and dressing out the soil into clean flat hills. As our neighbor had said, it was astonishing how much work the horse-cultivator performed in a short time. I saw that it would be wise for us, another year, to plant in a way that would permit the use of horse-power. Even in the garden this method should be followed as far as possible.

Mr. Jones was not a man of half-way measures. He remained helping us, till he had gone through the corn, once each way, twice between the long rows of potatoes, then twice through all the raspberry rows, giving us two full days of his time altogether.

I handed him a dollar in addition to his charge, saying that I had never paid out money with greater satisfaction.

"Well," he said, with a short, dry laugh, "I'll take it this time, for my work is sufferin' at home, but I didn't want you to get discouraged. Now, keep the hoes flyin', and you're ahead once more. Junior's at it early and late, I can tell ye."

"So I supposed, for we've missed him."

"Good reason. When I'm through with him he's ready enough to crawl into his little bed."

So were we for a few days, in our winning fight with the weeds. One hot afternoon, about three o'clock, I saw that Merton was growing pale, and beginning to lag, and I said, decidedly: "Do you see that tree there? Go and lie down under it till I call you."

"I guess I can stand it till night," he began, his pride a little touched.

"Obey orders! I am captain."

In five minutes he was fast asleep. I threw my coat over him, and sat down, proposing to have a half-hour's rest myself. My wife came out with a pitcher of cool butter-milk and nodded her head approvingly at us.

"Well, my thoughtful Eve," I said, "I find that our modern Eden will cost a great many back-aches."

"If you will only be prudent like this, you may save me a heart- ache. Robert, you are ambitious, and unused to this kind of work. Please don't ever be so foolish as to forget the comparative value of vegetables and yourselves. Honestly now" (with one of her saucy looks), "I'd rather do with a few bushels less, than do without you and Merton;" and she sat down and kept me idle for an hour.

Then Merton got up, saying that he felt as "fresh as if he had had a night's rest," and we accomplished more in the cool of the day than if we had kept doggedly at work.

I found that Winnie and Bobsey required rather different treatment. For a while they got on very well, but one morning I set them at a bed of parsnips about which I was particular. In the middle of the forenoon I went to the garden to see how they were getting on. Shouts of laughter made me fear that all was not well, and I soon discovered that they were throwing lumps of earth at each other. So absorbed were they in their untimely and mischievous fun that I was not noticed until I found Bobsey sitting plump on the vegetables, and the rows behind both the children very shabbily cleaned, not a few of the little plants having been pulled up with the weeds.

Without a word I marched them into the house, then said: "Under arrest till night. Winnie, you go to your room. I shall strap Bobsey in his chair, and put him in the parlor by himself."

The exchange of the hot garden for the cool rooms seemed rather an agreeable punishment at first, although Winnie felt the disgrace somewhat. When, at dinner, nothing but a cup of water and a piece of dry bread was taken to them, Bobsey began to howl, and Winnie to look as if the affair was growing serious. Late in the afternoon, when she found that she was not to gather the eggs or feed her beloved chickens, she, too, broke down and sobbed that she "wouldn't do so any more." Bobsey also pleaded so piteously for release, and promised such saint-like behavior, that I said: "Well, I will remit the rest of your punishment and put you on trial. You had no excuse for your mischief this morning, for I allow you to play the greater part of every afternoon, while Merton must stand by me the whole of the week."

My touch of discipline brought up the morale of my little squad effectually for a time. The next afternoon even the memory of trouble was banished by the finding of the first wild strawberries. Exultation and universal interest prevailed as clusters of green and red berries were handed around to be smelled and examined. "Truly," my wife remarked, "even roses can scarcely equal the fragrance of the wild strawberry."

From that day forward, for weeks, it seemed as if we entered on a diet of strawberries and roses. The old-fashioned bushes of the latter, near the house, had been well trimmed, and gave large, fine buds in consequence, while Mousie, Winnie, and Bobsey gleaned every wild berry that could be found, beginning with the sunny upland slopes and following the aromatic fruit down to the cool, moist borders of the creek.

"Another year," I said, "I think you will be tired even of strawberries, for we shall have to pick early and late."