Chapter XLI. Hoarding for Winter
 

As was stated early in this simple history the original barn was built on a hillside, the rear facing the southeast; and since the foundations were still in a fair condition, and the site was convenient, I determined to build on the same spot, somewhat modifying the old plan. I had read of the importance of keeping manure under cover, and now arranged that by a trap door the cleanings of the horse and cow stable should be thrown into the basement, which, by a solid brick partition, should be so divided as to leave ample room for a dark cellar in which to store roots and apples. Through this trap door in the stable rich earth and muck from the banks of the creek could be thrown down also, covering the manure, and all could be worked over and mixed on rainy days. By this method I could make the most of my fertilizers, which may be regarded as the driving-wheel of the farm.

I had decided that the poultry-house and pigsty should form an extension to the barn, and that both should be built in the side of the bank also. They would thus have an exposure to the south, and at the same time, being formed in part by an excavation, would be cool in summer. The floor of the sty should have a slight downward slope, and be cemented. Therefore it could be kept perfectly clean. This residence of Bobsey's future pets should be at the extreme end of the extension, and above it should be a room in which I could store picked-up apples, corn, and other food adapted to their needs, also a conduit by which swill could be poured into the trough below without the necessity of entering the pen. I proposed to keep only two or three pigs at a time, buying them when young from neighboring farmers, and fattening them for our own use according to my own ideas.

The poultry-house, between the barn and sty, was to be built so that its side, facing the south, should be chiefly of glass. It was so constructed as to secure the greatest amount of light and warmth. Eggs in winter form the most profitable item in poultry keeping, and these depend on warmth, food, shelter, and cleanliness, with the essential condition that the hens are young. All the pullets of Winnie's early broods therefore had been kept, and only the young cockerels eaten or sold. We had the prospect of wintering about fifty laying hens; and the small potatoes we had saved would form a large portion of their food. Indeed, for some weeks back, such small tubers, boiled and mashed with meal, had formed the main feed of our growing chickens.

I learned that Bagley was out of work, and employed him to excavate the bank for these new buildings. We saved the surface earth carefully for compost purposes, and then struck some clean, nice gravel, which was carted away to a convenient place for our roads and walks. On a hillside near the creek were large stones and rocks in great quantity, and some of these were broken up for the foundations. Along the edge of the creek we also found some excellent sand, and therefore were saved not a little expense in starting our improvements.

It did not take the masons long to point up and strengthen the old foundations, and early in September everything was under full headway, the sound of hammer, saw, and plane resounding all day long. It was Winnie's and Bobsey's task to gather up the shavings and refuse bits of lumber, and carry them to the woodhouse.

"The ease and quickness with which we can build fires next winter," I said, "is a pleasant thing to think of."

Meanwhile the garden was not neglected. The early flight of summer- boarders had greatly reduced the demand for vegetables, and now we began to hoard them for our own use. The Lima-beans were allowed to dry on the vines; the matured pods of the bush-beans were spread in the attic; thither also the ripened onions were brought and placed in shallow boxes. As far as possible we had saved our own seed, and I had had a box made and covered with tin, so as to be mouse-proof, and in this we placed the different varieties, carefully labelled. Although it was not "apple year," a number of our trees were in bearing. The best of the windfalls were picked up, and, with the tomatoes and such other vegetables as were in demand, sent to the village twice a week. As fast as crops matured, the ground was cleared, and the refuse, such as contained no injurious seeds, was saved as a winter covering for the strawberry plants.

Our main labor, however, after digging the rest of the potatoes, was the setting of the remaining half-acre in the later varieties of the strawberry. Although the early part of September was very dry and warm, we managed to set out, in the manner I have described, two or three rows nearly every afternoon. The nights had now grown so long and cool that one thorough watering seemed to establish the plants. This was due chiefly to the fact that nearly every plant had a ball of earth attached to the roots, and had never been allowed to wilt at all in the transition. About the middle of the month there came a fine rain, and we filled the remainder of the ground in one day, all the children aiding me in the task. The plants first set out were now strong and flourishing. Each had a bunch of foliage six inches in diameter.

Thus, with helping on the new barn and other work, September saw a renewal of our early-summer activity.

"The winds in the trees are whispering of winter," I said to the children, "and all thrifty creatures--ants, bees, and squirrels--are laying up their stores. So must we."

I had watched our maturing corn with great satisfaction. For a long time Merton had been able to walk through it without his straw hat being seen above the nodding tassels. One day, about the 20th of the month, Mr. Jones came over with some bundles of long rye straw in his wagon, and said, "Yer can't guess what these are fer."

"Some useful purpose, or you wouldn't have brought them," I replied.

"We'll see. Come with me to the corn patch."

As we started he took a bundle under his arm, and I saw that he had in his hand a tool called a corn-knife. Going through the rows he occasionally stripped down the husks from an ear.

Finally he said: "Yes, it's ready. Don't yer see that the kernels are plump and glazed? Junior and I are going to tackle our corn ter- morrow, and says I to myself, 'If ourn is ready to cut, so is neighbor Durham's,' The sooner it's cut after it's ready, the better. The stalks are worth more for fodder, and you run no risk from an early frost, which would spile it all. You and Merton pitch in as yer allers do, and this is the way ter do it."

With his left hand gathering the stalks of a hill together above the ears, he cut them all olf with one blow of the corn-knife within six inches of the ground, and then leaned them against the stalks of an uncut hill. This he continued to do until he had made what he called a "stout," or a bunch of stalks as large as he could conveniently reach around, the uncut hill of stalks forming a support in the centre. Then he took a wisp of the rye-straw, divided it evenly, and putting the ends together, twisted it speedily into a sort of rope. With this he bound the stout tightly above the ears by a simple method which one showing made plain to me.

"Well, you are a good neighbor!" I exclaimed.

"Pshaw! What does this amount to? If a man can't do a good turn when it costs as little as this, he's a mighty mean feller. You forget that I've sold you a lot of rye-straw, and so have the best of yer after all."

"I don't forget anything, Mr. Jones. As you say, I believe we shall 'make a go' of it here, but we always remember how much we owe to you and Junior. You've taken my money in a way that saved my self- respect, and made me feel that I could go to you as often as I wished; but you have never taken advantage of me, and you have kept smart people from doing it. Do you know, Mr. Jones, that in every country village there are keen, weasel-like people who encourage new-comers by bleeding their pocket-books at every chance? In securing you as a neighbor our battle was half won, for no one needs a good practical friend more than a city man beginning life in the country."

"Jerusalem! how you talk! I'm goin' right home and tell my wife to call me Saint Jones. Then I'll get a tin halo and wear it, for my straw hat is about played out;" and away he went, chuckling over his odd conceits, but pleased, as all men are, when their goodwill is appreciated. If there is one kind of meanness that disgusts average human-nature more than another it is a selfish, unthankful reception of kindness, a swinish return for pearls.

After an early supper I drove to the village with what I had to sell, and returned with two corn-hooks. At dusk of the following day, Bagley and I had the corn cut and tied up, my helper remarking more than once, "Tell you what it is, Mr. Durham, there hain't a better eared-out patch o' corn in Maizeville."

On the following day I helped Bagley sharpen one of the hooks, and we began to cut the fodder-corn which now stood, green and succulent, averaging two feet in height throughout the field.