Chapter VI. A Bluff Friend

The almanac had announced spring; nature appeared quite unaware of the fact, but, so far as we were concerned, the almanac was right. Spring was the era of hope, of change, and hope was growing in our hearts like "Jack's bean," in spite of lowering wintry skies. We were as eager as robins, sojourning in the south, to take our flight northward.

My duties to my employers had ceased the 1st of March: I had secured tenants who would take possession of our rooms as soon as we should leave them; and now every spare moment was given to studying the problem of country living and to preparations for departure. I obtained illustrated catalogues from several dealers in seeds, and we pored over them every evening. At first they bewildered us with their long lists of varieties, while the glowing descriptions of new kinds of vegetables just being introduced awakened in us something of a gambling spirit.

"How fortunate it is," exclaimed my wife, "that we are going to the country just as the vegetable marvels were discovered! Why, Robert, if half of what is said is true, we shall make our fortunes."

With us, hitherto, a beet had been a beet, and a cabbage a cabbage; but here were accounts of beets which, as Merton said, "beat all creation," and pictures of prodigious cabbage heads which well-nigh turned our own. With a blending of hope and distrust I carried two of the catalogues to a shrewd old fellow in Washington Market. He was a dealer in country produce who had done business so long at the same stand that among his fellows he was looked upon as a kind of patriarch. During a former interview he had replied to my questions with a blunt honesty that had inspired confidence. The day was somewhat mild, and I found him in his shirt-sleeves, smoking his pipe among his piled-up barrels, boxes, and crates, after his eleven o'clock dinner. His day's work was practically over; and well it might be, for, like others of his calling, he had begun it long before dawn. Now his old felt hat was pushed well back on his bald head, and his red face, fringed with a grizzled beard, expressed a sort of heavy, placid content. His small gray eyes twinkled as shrewdly as ever. With his pipe he indicated a box on which I might sit while we talked.

"See here, Mr. Bogart," I began, showing him the seed catalogues, "how is a man to choose wisely what vegetables he will raise from a list as long as your arm? Perhaps I shouldn't take any of those old- fashioned kinds, but go into these wonderful novelties which promise a new era in horticulture."

The old man gave a contemptuous grunt; then, removing his pipe, he blew out a cloud of smoke that half obscured us both as he remarked, gruffly, "'A fool and his money are soon parted.'"

This was about as rough as March weather; but I knew my man, and perhaps proved that I wasn't a fool by not parting with him then and there.

"Come now, neighbor," I said, brusquely, "I know some things that you don't, and there are affairs in which I could prove you to be as green as I am in this matter. If you came to me I'd give you the best advice that I could, and be civil about it into the bargain. I've come to you because I believe you to be honest and to know what I don't. When I tell you that I have a little family dependent on me, and that I mean if possible to get a living for them out of the soil, I believe you are man enough both to fall in with my plan and to show a little friendly interest. If you are not, I'll go farther and fare better."

As I fired this broadside he looked at me askance, with the pipe in the corner of his mouth, then reached out his great brown paw, and said,--


I knew it was all right now--that the giving of his hand meant not only a treaty of peace but also a friendly alliance. The old fellow discoursed vegetable wisdom so steadily for half an hour that his pipe went out.

"You jest let that new-fangled truck alone," he said, "till you get more forehanded in cash and experience. Then you may learn how to make something out of them novelties, as they call 'em, if they are worth growing at all. Now and then a good penny is turned on a new fruit or vegetable; but how to do it will be one of the last tricks that you'll learn in your new trade. Hand me one of them misleadin' books, and I'll mark a few solid kinds such as produce ninety-nine hundredths of all that's used or sold. Then you go to What-you-call- 'em's store, and take a line from me, and you'll git the genuine article at market-gardeners' prices."

"Now, Mr. Bogart, you are treating me like a man and a brother."

"Oh thunder! I'm treating you like one who, p'raps, may deal with me. Do as you please about it, but if you want to take along a lot of my business cards and fasten 'em to anything you have to sell, I'll give you all they bring, less my commission."

"I've no doubt you will, and that's more than I can believe of a good many in your line, if all's true that I hear. You have thrown a broad streak of daylight into my future. So you see the fool didn't part with his money, or with you either, until he got a good deal more than he expected."

Well, well, Mr. Durham, you'll have to get used to my rough ways. When I've anything to say, I don't beat about the bush. But you'll always find my checks good for their face."

"Yes, and the face back of them is that of a friend to me now. We'll shake again. Good-by;" and I went home feeling as if I had solid ground under my feet. At supper I went over the whole scene, taking off the man in humorous pantomime, not ridicule, and even my wife grew hilarious over her disappointed hopes of the "new-fangled truck." I managed, however, that the children should not lose the lesson that a rough diamond is better than a smooth paste stone, and that people often do themselves an injury when they take offence too easily.

"I see it all, papa," chuckled Merton; "if you had gone off mad when he the same as called you a fool, you would have lost all his good advice."

"I should have lost much more than that, my boy, I should have lost the services of a good friend and an honest man to whom we can send for its full worth whatever we can't sell to better advantage at home. But don't mistake me, Merton, toadyism never pays, no matter what you may gain by it; for you give manhood for such gain, and that's a kind of property that one can never part with and make a good bargain. You see the old man didn't mean to be insolent. As he said, it was only his rough, blunt way of saying what was uppermost in his mind."