Chapter XXXV. "We Shall All Earn Our Salt"
 

Raspberries and milk, with bread and butter and a cup of tea, made a supper that we all relished, and then Merton and I started for the boat-landing. I let the boy drive and deliver the crates to the freight agent, for I wished him to relieve me of this task occasionally. On our way to the landing I saw Rollins, who readily agreed to Bagley's wish, on condition that I guaranteed payment for the chickens. Stopping at the man's cottage further on, I told him this, and he, in his emphatic way, declared: "I vow ter you, Mr. Durham, ye shan't lose a feather's worth o' the chickens."

Returning home, poor Merton was so tired and drowsy that he nearly fell off the seat. Before long I took the reins from his hands, and he was asleep with his head on my shoulder. Winifred was dozing in her chair, but brightened up as we came in. A little judicious praise and a bowl of bread and milk strengthened the boy wonderfully. He saw the need of especial effort at this time, and also saw that he was not being driven unfeelingly.

As I sat alone with my wife, resting a few minutes before retiring, I said: "Well, Winifred, it must be plain to you by this time that the summer campaign will be a hard one. How are we going to stand it?"

"I'll tell you next fall," she replied, with a laugh. "No problems to-night, thank you."

"I'm gathering a queer lot of helpers in my effort to live in the country," I continued. "There's old Mr. Jacox, who is too aged to hold his own in other harvest-fields. Bagley and his tribe--"

"And a city wife and a lot of city children," she added.

"And a city greenhorn of a man at the head of you all," I concluded.

"Well," she replied, rising with an odd little blending of laugh and yawn, "I'm not afraid but that we shall all earn our salt."

Thus came to an end the long, eventful day, which prepared the way for many others of similar character, and suggested many of the conditions of our problem of country living.

Bagley appeared bright and early the following morning with his two elder children, and I was now confronted with the task of managing them and making them useful. Upon one thing I was certainly resolved--there should be no quixotic sentiment in our relations, and no companionship between his children and mine.

Therefore, I took him and his girl and boy aside, and said: "I'm going to be simple and outspoken with you. Some of my neighbors think I'm a fool because I give you work when I can get others. I shall prove that I am not a fool, for the reason that I shall not permit any nonsense, and you can show that I am not a fool by doing your work well and quietly. Bagley, I want you to understand that your children do not come here to play with mine. No matter whom I employed, I should keep my children by themselves. Now, do you understand this?"

They nodded affirmatively.

"Are you all willing to take simple, straightforward directions, and do your best? I'm not asking what is unreasonable, for I shall not be more strict with you than with my own children."

"No use o' beatin' around the bush, Mr. Durham," said Bagley, good- naturedly; "we've come here to 'arn our livin', and to do as you say."

"I can get along with you, Bagley, but your children will find it hard to follow my rules, because they are children, and are not used to restraint. Yet they must do it, or there'll be trouble at once. They must work quietly and steadily while they do work, and when I am through with them, they must go straight home. They mustn't lounge about the place. If they will obey, Mrs. Durham and I will be good friends to them, and by fall we will fix them up so that they can go to school."

The little arabs looked askance at me and made me think of two wild animals that had been caught, and were intelligent enough to understand that they must be tamed. They were submissive, but made no false pretences of enjoying the prospect.

"I shall keep a gad handy," said their father, with a significant nod at them.

"Well, youngsters," I concluded, laughing, "perhaps you'll need it occasionally. I hope not, however. I shall keep no gad, but I shall have an eye on you when you least expect it; and if you go through the picking-season well, I shall have a nice present for you both. Now, you are to receive so much a basket, if the baskets are properly filled, and therefore it will depend on yourselves how much you earn. You shall be paid every day. So now for a good start toward becoming a man and a woman."

I led them to one side of the raspberry patch and put them under Merton's charge saying, "You must pick exactly as he directs."

Winnie and Bobsey were to pick in another part of the field, Mousie aiding until the sun grew too warm for the delicate child. Bagley was to divide his time between hoeing in the garden and spreading the grass after the scythe of old Mr. Jacox. From my ladder against a cherry-tree, I was able to keep a general outlook over my motley forces, and we all made good progress till dinner, which, like the help we employed, we now had at twelve o'clock. Bagley and his children sat down to their lunch under the shade of an apple-tree at some distance, yet in plain view through our open door. Their repast must have been meagre, judging from the time in which it was despatched, and my wife said, "Can't I send them something?"

"Certainly; what have you to send?"

"Well, I've made a cherry pudding; I don't suppose there is much more than enough for us, though."

"Children," I cried, "let's take a vote. Shall we share our cherry pudding with the Bagleys?"

"Yes," came the unanimous reply, although Bobsey's voice was rather faint.

Merton carried the delicacy to the group under the tree, and it was gratefully and speedily devoured.

"That is the way to the hearts of those children," said my wife, at the same time slyly slipping her portion of the pudding upon Bobsey's plate.

I appeared very blind, but asked her to get me something from the kitchen. While she was gone, I exchanged my plate of pudding, untouched as yet, for hers, and gave the children a wink. We all had a great laugh over mamma's well-assumed surprise and perplexity. How a little fun will freshen up children, especially when, from necessity, their tasks are long and heavy!

We were startled from the table by a low mutter of thunder. Hastening out, I saw an ominous cloud in the west. My first thought was that all should go to the raspberries and pick till the rain drove us in; but Bagley now proved a useful friend, for he shambled up and said: "If I was you, I'd have those cherries picked fust. You'll find that a thunder-shower'll rot 'em in one night. The wet won't hurt the berries much."

His words reminded me of what I had seen when a boy--a tree full of split, half-decayed cherries--and I told him to go to picking at once. I also sent his eldest boy and Merton into the trees. Old Jacox was told to get the grass he had cut into as good shape as possible before the shower. My wife and Mousie left the table standing, and, hastening to the raspberry field, helped Winnie and Bobsey and the other Bagley child to pick the ripest berries. We all worked like beavers till the vivid flashes and great drops drove us to shelter.

Fortunately, the shower came up slowly, and we nearly stripped the cherry-trees, carrying the fruit into the house, there to be arranged for market in the neat peck-baskets with coarse bagging covers which Mr. Bogart had sent me. The little baskets of raspberries almost covered the barn floor by the time the rain began, but they were safe. At first, the children were almost terrified by the vivid lightning, but this phase of the storm soon passed, and the clouds seemed to settle down for a steady rain.

"'Tisn't goin' to let up," said Bagley, after a while. "We might as well jog home now as any time."

"But you'll get wet," I objected.

"It won't be the fust time," answered Bagley. "The children don't mind it any more'n ducks."

"Well, let's settle, then," I said. "You need some money to buy food at once."

"I reckon I do," was the earnest reply.

"There's a dollar for your day's work, and here is what your children have earned. Are you satisfied?" I asked.

"I be, and I thank you, sir. I'll go down to the store this evenin'," he added.

"And buy food only," I said, with a meaning look.

"Flour and pork only, sir. I've given you my hand on't;" and away they all jogged through the thick-falling drops.

We packed our fruit for market, and looked vainly for clearing skies in the west.

"There's no help for it," I said. "The sooner I start for the landing the better, so that I can return before it becomes very dark."

My wife exclaimed against this, but I added: "Think a moment, my dear. By good management we have here, safe and in good order, thirty dollars' worth of fruit, at least. Shall I lose it because I am afraid of a summer shower? Facing the weather is a part of my business; and I'd face a storm any day in the year if I could make thirty dollars."

Merton wished to go also, but I said, "No; there must be no risks of illness that can possibly be avoided."

I did not find it a dreary expedition, after all, for I solaced myself with thoughts like these, "Thirty dollars, under my wife's good management, will go far toward providing warm winter clothing, or paying the interest, or something else."

Then the rain was just what was needed to increase and prolong the yield of the raspberry bushes, on which there were still myriads of immature berries and even blossoms. Abundant moisture would perfect these into plump fruit; and upon this crop rested our main hope.