Chapter XXXI. Nature Smiles and Helps
 

The Saturday evening which brought us almost to the middle of June was welcomed indeed. The days preceding had been filled with hard, yet successful labor, and the weeds had been slaughtered by the million. The greater part of our crops had come up well and were growing nicely. In hoeing the corn, we had planted over the few missing hills, and now, like soldiers who had won the first great success of the campaign, we were in a mood to enjoy a rest to the utmost.

This rest seemed all the more delightful when we awoke on the following morning, to the soft patter of rain. The preceding days had been unusually dry and warm, so that the grass and tender vegetables were beginning to suffer. I was worrying about the raspberries also, which were passing out of blossom. The cultivator had been through them, and Merton and I, only the evening before, had finished hoeing out the sprouting weeds and surplus suckers. I had observed, with dread, that just as the fruit was forming, the earth, especially around the hills, was getting dry.

Now, looking out, I saw that the needful watering was not coming from a passing shower. The clouds were leaden from horizon to horizon; the rain fell with a gentle steadiness of a quiet summer storm, and had evidently been falling some hours already. The air was so fragrant that I threw wide open the door and windows. It was a true June incense, such as no art could distil, and when, at last, we all sat down to breakfast, of which crisp radishes taken a few moments before from our own garden formed a part, we felt that nature was carrying on our work of the past week in a way that filled our hearts with gratitude. The air was so warm that we did not fear the dampness. The door and windows were left open that we might enjoy the delicious odors and listen to the musical patter of the rain, which fell so softly that the birds were quite as tuneful as on other days.

The children joined me in the porch, and my wife came out laughing, and put her hand on my shoulder as she said, "You are not through with July and August yet."

Mousie held her hands out in the warm rain, saying: "I feel as if it would make me grow, too. Look at the green cherries up there, bobbing as the drops hit them."

"Rain isn't good for chickens," Winnie remarked, doubtfully.

"It won't hurt them," I replied, "for I have fed them so well that they needn't go out in the wet for food."

The clouds gave us a more and more copious downfall as the day advanced, and I sat on the porch, resting and observing with conscious gratitude how beautifully nature was furthering all our labor, and fulfilling our hopes. This rain would greatly increase the hay-crops for the old horse and the cow; it would carry my vegetables rapidly toward maturity; and, best of all, would soak the raspberry ground so thoroughly that the fruit would be almost safe. What was true of our little plot was equally so of neighbor Jones's farm, and thousands of others. My wife sat with me much of the day, and I truly think that our thoughts were acceptable worship. By four in the afternoon the western horizon lightened, the clouds soon broke away, and the sun shone out briefly in undiminished splendor, turning the countless raindrops on foliage and grass into gems, literally, of the purest water. The bird-songs seemed almost ecstatic, and the voices of the children, permitted at last to go out of doors, vied with them in gladness.

"Let July and August--yes, and bleak January--bring what they may," I said to my wife, "nevertheless, this is Eden."

In spite of the muddy walks, we picked our way around the garden, exclaiming in pleased wonder at the growth made by our vegetable nurslings in a few brief hours, while, across the field, the corn and potato rows showed green, strong outlines.

I found that Brindle in the pasture hadn't minded the rain, but only appeared the sleeker for it. When at last I came in to supper, I gave my wife a handful of berries, at which she and the children exclaimed. I had permitted a dozen plants of each variety of my garden strawberries to bear, that I might get some idea of the fruit. The blossoms on the other plants had been picked off as soon as they appeared, so that all the strength might go toward forming new plants. I found that a few of the berries of the two early kinds were ripe, also that the robins had been sampling them. In size, at least, they seemed wonderful compared with the wild fruit from the field, and I said:

"There will be lively times for us when we must get a dozen bushels a day, like these, off to Mr. Bogart."

The children, then, thought it would be the greatest fun in the world. By the time supper was over, Mr. Jones and Junior appeared, and my neighbor said in hearty good-will:

"You got your cultivatin' done in the nick of time, Mr. Durham. This rain is a good hundred dollars in your pocket and mine, too."

I soon perceived that our enemies, the weeds, had millions in reserve, and on Monday--the day after the rain--with all the children helping, even Mousie part of the time, we went at the garden again. To Mousie, scarcely an invalid any longer, was given the pleasure of picking the first green peas and shelling them for dinner. We had long been enjoying the succulent lettuce and the radishes, and now I said to Winnie: "To-morrow you can begin thinning out the beets, leaving the plants three inches apart. What you pull up can be cooked as spinach, or 'greens,' as country people say. Our garden will soon enable us to live like princes."

As the ground dried after the rain, a light crust formed on the surface, and in the wetter portions it was even inclined to bake or crack. I was surprised at the almost magical effect of breaking up the crust and making the soil loose and mellow by cultivation. The letting in of air and light caused the plants to grow with wonderful vigor.

On Wednesday morning Merton came running in, exclaiming, "O papa! there's a green worm eating all the leaves off the currant and gooseberry bushes."

I followed him hastily, and found that considerable mischief had already been done, and I went to one of my fruit books in a hurry to find out how to cope with this new enemy.

As a result, I said: "Merton, mamma wishes to go to the village. You drive her and Mousie down, and at the drug-store get two pounds of white hellebore, also a pound of Paris green, for I find that the potato bugs are getting too thick to be managed by hand. Remember that these are poisons, the Paris green a deadly one. Have them carefully wrapped up, and keep them from everything else. When you return I'll take charge of them. Also, get a new large watering- can."

That afternoon I mixed a heaping tablespoonful of the hellebore through the contents of the watering-can, on which I had painted the word "Poison." With this infusion I sprinkled thoroughly every bush on which I could find a worm, and the next morning we had the pleasure of finding most of these enemies dead. But some escaped or new ones were hatched, and we found that we could save our currants only by constant vigilance. Every evening, until the fruit was nearly ripe, we went over the bushes, and gave the vile little pests a dose wherever we found them. Our other can I also labelled "Poison," with dashes under it to show that it was to be used for Paris green alone. A teaspoonful of this deadly agent was enough, according to my book, for the amount of water held by the ordinary wooden pail. I kept this poison out of Bobsey's reach, and, indeed, where no one but myself could get at it, and, by its aid, destroyed the potato beetles and their larvae also. Whatever may be true in other parts of the world, in our region, certainly, success can be secured only by prompt, intelligent effort.