Chapter XXXIX. A Trip to the Seashore

In the comparative leisure which the children enjoyed during August, they felt amply repaid for the toil of the previous months. We also managed to secure two great gala-days. The first was spent in a trip to the seashore; and this was a momentous event, marred by only one slight drawback. The "Mary Powell," a swift steamer, touched every morning at the Maizeville Landing. I learned that, from its wharf, in New York, another steamer started for Coney Island, and came back in time for us to return on the "Powell" at 3.30 P.M. Thus we could secure a delightful sail down the river and bay, and also have several hours on the beach. My wife and I talked over this little outing, and found that if we took our lunch with us, it would be inexpensive. I saw Mr. Jones, and induced him and his wife, with Junior, to join us. Then the children were told of our plan, and their hurrahs made the old house ring. Now that we were in for it, we proposed no half-way measures. Four plump spring chickens were killed and roasted, and to these were added so many ham sandwiches and hard-boiled eggs, that I declared that we were provisioned for a week. My wife nodded at Bobsey, and said, "Wait and see!"

Whom do you think we employed to mount guard during our absence? No other than Bagley. Mr. Jones said that it was like asking a wolf to guard the flock, for his prejudices yielded slowly; but I felt sure that this proof of trust would do the man more good than a dozen sermons.

Indeed, he did seem wonderfully pleased with his task, and said, "Ye'll find I've 'arned my dollar when ye git back."

The children scarcely slept in their glad anticipation, and were up with the sun. Mr. and Mrs. Jones drove down in their light wagon, while Junior joined our children in another straw-ride, packed in between the lunch-baskets. We had ample time after reaching the landing to put our horses and vehicles in a safe place, and then we watched for the "Powell." Soon we saw her approaching Newtown, four miles above, then speeding toward the wharf, and rounding into it, with the ease and grace of a swan. We scrambled aboard, smiled at by all. I suppose we did not form, with our lunch-baskets, a very stylish group, but that was the least of our troubles. I am satisfied that none of the elegant people we brushed against were half so happy as we were.

We stowed away our baskets and then gave ourselves up to the enjoyment of the lovely Highland scenery, and to watching the various kinds of craft that we were constantly passing. Winnie and Bobsey had been placed under bonds for good behavior, and were given to understand that they must exercise the grace of keeping moderately still. The sail down the river and bay was a long, grateful rest to us older people, and I saw with pleasure that my wife was enjoying every moment, and that the fresh salt breeze was fanning color into her cheeks. Plump Mrs. Jones dozed and smiled, and wondered at the objects we passed, for she had never been much of a traveller; while her husband's shrewd eyes took in everything, and he often made us laugh by his quaint remarks. Junior and Merton were as alert as hawks. They early made the acquaintance of deck- hands who good-naturedly answered their numerous questions. I took the younger children on occasional exploring expeditions, but never allowed them to go beyond my reach, for I soon learned that Bobsey's promises sat lightly on his conscience.

At last we reached the great Iron Pier at Coney Island, which we all traversed with wondering eyes.

We established ourselves in a large pavilion, fitted up for just such picnic parties as ours. Beneath us stretched the sandy beach. We elderly people were glad enough to sit down and rest, but the children forgot even the lunch-baskets, so eager were they to run upon the sand in search of shells.

All went well until an unusually high wave came rolling in. The children scrambled out of its way, with the exception of Bobsey, who was caught and tumbled over, and lay kicking in the white foam. In a moment I sprang down the steps, picked him up, and bore him to his mother.

He was wet through; and now what was to be done?

After inquiry and consultation, I found that I could procure for him a little bathing-dress which would answer during the heat of the day, and an old colored woman promised to have his clothing dry in an hour. So the one cloud on our pleasure proved to have a very bright lining, for Bobsey, since he was no longer afraid of the water, could roll in the sand and the gentle surf to his heart's content.

Having devoured a few sandwiches to keep up our courage, we all procured bathing-dresses, even Mrs. Jones having been laughingly compelled by her husband to follow the general example. When we all gathered in the passage-way leading to the water, we were convulsed with laughter at our ridiculous appearance; but there were so many others in like plight that we were scarcely noticed. Mrs. Jones's dress was a trifle small, and her husband's immensely large. He remarked that if we could now take a stroll through Maizeville, there wouldn't be a crow left in town.

Mrs. Jones could not be induced to go beyond a point where the water was a foot or two deep, and the waves rolled her around like an amiable porpoise. Merton and Junior were soon swimming fearlessly, the latter wondering, meanwhile, at the buoyant quality of the salt water. My wife, Mousie, and Winnie allowed me to take them beyond the breakers, and soon grew confident. In fifteen minutes I sounded recall, and we all emerged, lank Mr. Jones now making, in very truth, an ideal scarecrow. Bobsey's dry garments were brought, and half an hour later we were all clothed, and, as Mr. Jones remarked, "For a wonder, in our right minds."

The onslaught then made on the lunch-baskets was never surpassed, even at that place of hungry excursionists. In due time we reached home, tired, sleepy, yet content with the fact that we had filled one day with enjoyment and added to our stock of health.

The next morning proved that Bagley had kept his word. Everything was in order, and the amount of work accomplished in the garden showed that he had been on his mettle. Hungry as we had been, we had not emptied our lunch-baskets, and my wife made up a nice little present from what remained, to which was added a package of candy, and all was carried to the Bagley cottage.

Juvenile experiences had not exactly taught the Bagley children that "the way of the transgressor is hard,"--they had not gone far enough for that,--and it certainly was our duty to add such flowers as we could to the paths of virtue.

The month of August was now well advanced. We had been steadily digging the potatoes in the field and selling them in their unripened condition, until half the acre had been cleared. The vines in the lower half of the patch were now growing very yellow, and I decided to leave them, until the tubers should thoroughly ripen, for winter use. By the 20th of the month we had all the space that had been cleared, that is, half an acre, filled with Duchess and Wilson strawberries; and the plants first set were green and vigorous, with renewed running tendencies. But the runners were promptly cut off, so that the plants might grow strong enough to give a good crop of fruit in the following June.

I now began to tighten the reins on the children, and we all devoted more hours to work.

During the month we gathered a few bushels of plums on the place. My wife preserved some, and the rest were sold at the boarding-houses and village stores, for Mr. Bogart had written that when I could find a home market for small quantities of produce, it would pay me better than to send them to the city. I kept myself informed as to city prices, and found that he had given me good and disinterested advice. Therefore, we managed to dispose of our small crop of early pears and peaches as we had done with the plums. Every day convinced me of the wisdom of buying a place already stocked with fruit; for, although the first cost was greater, we had immediately secured an income which promised to leave a margin of profit after meeting all expenses.

During the last week of August the potatoes were fully ripe, and Merton, Winnie, Bobsey, and I worked manfully, sorting the large from the small, as they were gathered. The crop turned out very well, especially on the lower side of the field, where the ground had been rather richer and moister than in the upper portion.

I did not permit Merton to dig continuously, as it was hard work for him; but he seemed to enjoy throwing out the great, smooth, white- coated fellows, and they made a pretty sight as they lay in thick rows behind us, drying, for a brief time, in the sun. They were picked up, put into barrels, drawn to the dry, cool shed, and well covered from the light. Mr. Jones had told me that as soon as potatoes had dried off after digging, they ought to be kept in the dark, since too much light makes them tough and bitter. Now that they were ripe, it was important that they should be dug promptly, for I had read that a warm rain is apt to start the new potatoes to growing, and this spoils them for table use.

So I said: "We will stick to this task until it is finished, and then we shall have another outing. I am almost ready to begin rebuilding the barn; but before I do so, I wish to visit Houghton Farm, and shall take you all with me. I may obtain some ideas which will be useful, even in my small outlay of money."