Chapter XXXVI. A Thunderbolt
 

From the experiences just related, it can be seen how largely the stress and strain of the year centred in the month of July. Nearly all our garden crops needed attention; the grass of the meadow had to be cured into hay, the currants and cherries to be picked, and fall crops, like winter cabbages, turnips, and celery, to be put in the ground. Of the latter vegetable, I set out only a few short rows, regarding it as a delicious luxury to which not very much time could be given.

Mr. Jones and Junior, indeed all our neighbors, were working early and late, like ourselves. Barns were being filled, conical hay- stacks were rising in distant meadows, and every one was busy in gathering nature's bounty.

We were not able to make much of the Fourth of July. Bobsey and Winnie had some firecrackers, and, in the evening, Merton and Junior set off a few rockets, and we all said, "Ah!" appreciatively, as they sped their brief fiery course; but the greater part of the day had to be spent in gathering the ripening black-caps and raspberries. By some management, however, I arranged that Merton and Junior should have a fine swim in the creek, by Brittle Rock, while Mousie, Winnie, and Bobsey waded in sandy shallows, further down the stream. They all were promised holidays after the fruit season was over, and they submitted to the necessity of almost constant work with fairly good grace.

The results of our labor were cheering. Our table was supplied with delicious vegetables, which, in the main, it was Mousie's task to gather and prepare. The children were as brown as little Indians, and we daily thanked God for health. Checks from Mr. Bogart came regularly, the fruit bringing a fair price under his good management. The outlook for the future grew brighter with the beginning of each week; for on Monday he made his returns and sent me the proceeds of the fruit shipped previously. I was able to pay all outstanding accounts for what had been bought to stock the place, and I also induced Mr. Jones to receive the interest in advance on the mortgage he held. Then we began to hoard for winter.

The Bagleys did as well as we could expect, I suppose. The children did need the "gad" occasionally and the father indulged in a few idle, surly, drinking days; but, convinced that the man was honestly trying, I found that a little tact and kindness always brought him around to renewed endeavor. To expect immediate reform and unvaried well-doing would be asking too much of such human nature as theirs.

As July drew to a close, my wife and I felt that we were succeeding better than we had had reason to expect. In the height of the season we had to employ more children in gathering the raspberries, and I saw that I could increase the yield in coming years, as I learned the secrets of cultivation. I also decided to increase the area of this fruit by a fall-planting of some varieties that ripened earlier and later, thus extending the season and giving me a chance to ship to market for weeks instead of days. My strawberry plants were sending out a fine lot of new runners, and our hopes for the future were turning largely toward the cultivation of this delicious fruit.

Old Jacox had plodded faithfully over the meadow with his scythe, and the barn was now so well filled that I felt our bay horse and brindle cow were provided for during the months when fields are bare or snowy.

Late one afternoon, he was helping me gather up almost the last load down by the creek, when the heavy roll of thunder warned us to hasten. As we came up to the high ground near the house, we were both impressed by the ominous blackness of a cloud rising in the west. I felt that the only thing to do was to act like the captain of a vessel before a storm, and make everything "snug and tight." The load of hay was run in upon the barn floor, and the old horse led with the harness on him to the stall below. Bagley and the children, with old Jacox, were started off so as to be at home before the shower, doors and windows were fastened, and all was made as secure as possible.

Then we gathered in our sitting-room, where Mousie and my wife had prepared supper; but we all were too oppressed with awe of the coming tempest to sit down quietly, as usual. There was a death-like stillness in the sultry air, broken only at intervals by the heavy rumble of thunder. The strange, dim twilight soon passed into the murkiest gloom, and we had to light the lamp far earlier than our usual hour. I had never seen the children so affected before. Winnie and Bobsey even began to cry with fear, while Mousie was pale and trembling. Of course, we laughed at them and tried to cheer them; but even my wife was nervously apprehensive, and I admit that I felt a disquietude hard to combat.

Slowly and remorselessly the cloud approached, until it began to pass over us. The thunder and lightning were simply terrific. Supper remained untasted on the table, and I said: "Patience and courage! A few moments more and the worst will be over!"

But my words were scarcely heard, so violent was the gust that burst upon us. For a few moments it seemed as if everything would go down before it, but the old house only shook and rocked a little.

"Hurrah!" I cried. "The bulk of the gust has gone by, and now we are all right!"

At that instant a blinding gleam and an instantaneous crash left us stunned and bewildered. But as I recovered my senses, I saw flames bursting from the roof of our barn.