Chapter XXXVIII. August Work and Play
 

I was now eager to begin the setting of the strawberry plants in the field where we had put potatoes, but the recent heavy shower had kept the latter still green and growing. During the first week in August, however, I found that the tubers had attained a good size, and I began to dig long rows on the upper side of the patch, selling in the village three or four barrels of potatoes a week for immediate use. By this course I soon had space enough cleared for ten rows of strawberries; and on the 6th of August Mr. Jones came and plowed the land deeply, going twice in a furrow. Then I harrowed the ground, and, with a corn-plow, marked out the space with shallow furrows three feet apart. Through five of these furrows Merton sprinkled a good dressing of the poultry compost, and in the remaining five drills we scattered wood ashes. Thus we should learn the comparative value of these fertilizers. Then I made a rude tray with two handles, so that it could be carried between Merton and myself. When the sun declined, we went to the strawberry bed, and having selected the Duchess variety to set out first, soaked with water a certain portion of the ground that was thick with plants. Half an hour later, we could dig up these plants with a ball of earth attached to their roots. These were carried carefully on the tray to the field, and set out in the furrows. We levelled the ground first, so that the crown of the plant should be even with the surrounding surface. We set the plants a foot apart in the rows, and by dusk had three rows out. Early the next morning we gave these plants a good soaking in their new starting place, and, although the weather was now dry and warm, not a leaf withered, and all began to grow as if they had not been moved. It seemed slow work, but I believed it would pay in the end, especially as Merton, Winnie, and I performed nearly all the labor.

We had now dispensed with Bagley's services, a good word from me having secured him work elsewhere. I found that I could not make arrangements for rebuilding the barn before the last of August, and we now began to take a little much-needed rest. Our noonings were two or three hours long. Merton and Junior had time for a good swim every day, while the younger children were never weary of wading in the shallows. I insisted, however, that they should not remain long in the water on any one occasion, and now and then we each took a grain or two of quinine to fortify our systems against any malarial influences that might be lurking around at this season.

The children were also permitted to make expeditions to mountain- sides for huckleberries and blackberries. As a result, we often had these wholesome fruits on the table, while my wife canned the surplus for winter use. A harvest apple tree also began to be one of the most popular resorts, and delicious pies made the dinner-hour more welcome than ever. The greater part of the apples were sold, however, and this was true also of the Lima-beans, sweet corn, and melons. We all voted that the smaller ears and melons tasted just as good as if we had picked out the best of everything, and my account- book showed that our income was still running well ahead of our expenses.

Bobsey and Winnie had to receive another touch of discipline and learn another lesson from experience. I had marked with my eye a very large, perfect musk-melon, and had decided that it should be kept for seed. They, too, had marked it; and one morning, when they thought themselves unobserved, they carried it off to the seclusion of the raspberry bushes, proposing a selfish feast by themselves.

Merton caught a glimpse of the little marauders, and followed them. They cut the melon in two, and found it green and tasteless as a pumpkin. He made me laugh as he described their dismay and disgust, then their fears and forebodings. The latter were soon realized; for seeing me in the distance, he beckoned. As I approached, the children stole out of the bushes, looking very guilty.

Merton explained, and I said: "Very well, you shall have your melon for dinner, and little else. I intend you shall enjoy this melon fully. So sit down under that tree and each of you hold half the melon till I release you. You have already learned that you can feast your eyes only."

There they were kept, hour after hour, each holding half of the green melon. The dinner-bell rang, and they knew that we had ripe melons and green corn; while nothing was given them but bread and water. Bobsey howled, and Winnie sobbed, but my wife and I agreed that such tendencies toward dishonesty and selfishness merited a lasting lesson. At supper the two culprits were as hungry as little wolves; and when I explained that the big melon had been kept for seed, and that if it had been left to ripen they should have had their share, they felt that they had cheated themselves completely.

"Don't you see, children," I concluded, "that acting on the square is not only right, but that it is always best for us in the end?"

Then I asked, "Merton, what have the Bagley children been doing since they stopped picking raspberries for us?"

"I'm told they've been gathering blackberries and huckleberries in the mountains, and selling them."

"That's promising. Now I want you to pick out a good-sized water- melon and half a dozen musk-melons, and I'll leave them at Bagley's cottage to-morrow night as I go down to the village. In old times they would have stolen our crop; now they shall share in it."

When I carried the present on the following evening, the children indulged in uncouth cries and gambols over the gift, and Bagley himself was touched.

"I'll own up ter yer," he said, "that yer melon patch was sore temptin' to the young uns, but I tole 'em that I'd thrash 'em if they teched one. Now yer see, youngsters, ye've got a man of feelin' ter deal with, and yer've got some melons arter all, and got 'em squar', too."

"I hear good accounts of you and your children," I said, "and I'm glad of it. Save the seeds of these melons and plant a lot for yourself. See here, Bagley, we'll plow your garden for you this fall, and you can put a better fence around it. If you'll do this, I'll share my garden seeds with you next spring, and you can raise enough on that patch of ground to half feed your family."

"I'll take yer up," cried the man, "and there's my hand on it ag'in."

"God bless you and Mrs. Durham!" added his wife "We're now beginning to live like human critters."

I resumed my journey to the village, feeling that never before had melons been better invested.

The Moodna Creek had now become very low, and not more than half its stony bed was covered with water. At many points, light, active feet could find their way across and not be wet. Junior now had a project on hand, of which he and Merton had often spoken lately. A holiday was given to the boys and they went to work to construct an eel weir and trap. With trousers well rolled up, they selected a point on one side of the creek where the water was deepest, and here they left an open passage-way for the current. On each side of this they began to roll large stones, and on these placed smaller ones, raising two long obstructions to the natural flow. These continuous obstructions ran obliquely up-stream, directing the main current to the open passage, which was only about two feet wide, with a post on either side, narrowing it still more, In this they placed the trap, a long box made of lath, sufficiently open to let the water run through it, and having a peculiar opening at the upper end where the current began to rush down the narrow passage-way. The box rested closely on the gravelly bottom, and was fastened to the posts. Short, close- fitting slats from the bottom and top of the box, at its upper end, sloped inward, till they made a narrow opening. All its other parts were eel-tight. The eels coming down with the current which had been directed toward the entrance of the box, as has been explained, passed into it, and there they would remain. They never had the wit to find the narrow aperture by which they had entered. This turned out to be useful sport, for every morning the boys lifted their trap and took out a goodly number of eels; and when the squirmers were nicely dressed and browned, they proved delicious morsels.