Chapter VII. Mr. Jones Shows Me the Place
 

The next day, according to appointment, I went to Maizeville. John Jones met me at the station, and drove me in his box-sleigh to see the farm he had written of in his laconic note. I looked at him curiously as we jogged along over the melting snow. The day was unclouded for a wonder, and the sun proved its increasing power by turning the sleigh-tracks in the road into gleaming rills. The visage of my new acquaintance formed a decided contrast to the rubicund face of the beef-eating marketman. He was sandy even to his eyebrows and complexion. His scraggy beard suggested poverty of soil on his lantern jaws. His frame was as gaunt as that of a scare-crow, and his hands and feet were enormous. He had one redeeming feature, however--a pair of blue eyes that looked straight at you and made you feel that there was no "crookedness" behind them. His brief letter had led me to expect a man of few words, but I soon found that John Jones was a talker and a good-natured gossip. He knew every one we met, and was usually greeted with a rising inflection, like this, "How are you, John?"

We drove inland for two or three miles.

"No, I didn't crack up the place, and I ain't a-goin' to," said my real-estate agent. "As I wrote you, you can see for yourself when we get there, and I'll answer all questions square. I've got the sellin' of the property, and I mean it shall be a good bargain, good for me and good for him who buys. I don't intend havin' any neighbors around blamin' me for a fraud;" and that is all he would say about it.

On we went, over hills and down dales, surrounded by scenery that seemed to me beautiful beyond all words, even in its wintry aspect.

"What mountain is that standing off by itself?" I asked.

"Schunemunk," he said. "Your place--well, I guess it will be yours before plantin'-time comes--faces that mountain and looks up the valley between it and the main highlands on the left. Yonder's the house, on the slope of this big round hill, that'll shelter you from the north winds."

I shall not describe the place very fully now, preferring that it should be seen through the eyes of my wife and children, as well as my own.

"The dwelling appears old," I said.

"Yes; part of it's a good deal more'n a hundred years old. It's been added to at both ends. But there's timbers in it that will stand another hundred years. I had a fire made in the livin'-room this mornin', to take off the chill, and we'll go in and sit down after we've looked the place over. Then you must come and take pot-luck with us."

At first I was not at all enthusiastic, but the more I examined the place, and thought it over, the more it grew on my fancy. When I entered the main room of the cottage, and saw the wide, old- fashioned fireplace, with its crackling blaze, I thawed so rapidly that John Jones chuckled. "You're amazin' refreshin' for a city chap. I guess I'll crack on another hundred to the price."

"I thought you were not going to crack up the place at all."

"Neither be I. Take that old arm-chair, and I'll tell you all about it. The place looks rather run down, as you have seen. Old Mr. and Mrs. Jamison lived here till lately. Last January the old man died, and a good old man he was. His wife has gone to live with a daughter. By the will I was app'inted executor and trustee. I've fixed on a fair price for the property, and I'm goin' to hold on till I get it. There's twenty acres of plowable land and orchard, and a five-acre wood-lot, as I told you. The best part of the property is this. Mr. Jamison was a natural fruit-grower. He had a heap of good fruit here and wouldn't grow nothin' but the best. He was always a-speerin' round, and when he come across something extra he'd get a graft, or a root or two. So he gradually came to have the best there was a-goin' in these parts. Now I tell you what it is, Mr. Durham, you can buy plenty of new, bare places, but your hair would be gray before you'd have the fruit that old man Jamison planted and tended into bearing condition; and you can buy places with fine shade trees and all that, and a good show of a garden and orchard, but Jamison used to say that an apple or cherry was a pretty enough shade tree for him, and he used to say too that a tree that bore the biggest and best apples didn't take any more room than one that yielded what was fit only for the cider press. Now the p'int's just here. You don't come to the country to amuse yourself by developin' a property, like most city chaps do, but to make a livin'. Well, don't you see? This farm is like a mill. When the sun's another month higher it will start all the machinery in the apple, cherry, and pear trees and the small fruits, and it will turn out a crop the first year you're here that will put money in your pocket."

Then he named the price, half down and the rest on mortgage, if I so preferred. It was within the limit that my means permitted.

I got up and went all over the house, which was still plainly furnished in part. A large wood-house near the back door had been well filled by the provident old man. There was ample cellar room, which was also a safeguard against dampness. Then I went out and walked around the house. It was all so quaint and homely as to make me feel that it would soon become home-like to us. There was nothing smart to be seen, nothing new except a barn that had recently been built near one of the oldest and grayest structures of the kind I had ever seen. The snow-clad mountains lifted themselves about me in a way that promised a glimpse of beauty every time I should raise my eyes from work. Yet after all my gaze lingered longest on the orchard and fruit-trees that surrounded the dwelling.

"That's sensible," remarked Mr. Jones, who followed me with no trace of anxiety or impatience. "Paint, putty, and pine will make a house in a few weeks, but it takes a good slice out of a century to build up an orchard like that."

"That was just what I was thinking, Mr. Jones."

"Oh, I knowed that. Well, I've got just two more things to say, then I'm done and you can take it or leave it. Don't you see? The house is on a slope facing the south-east. You get the morning sun and the southern breeze. Some people don't know what they're worth, but I, who've lived here all my life, know they're worth payin' for. Again, you see the ground slopes off to the crick yonder. That means good drainage. We don't have any malary here, and that fact is worth as much as the farm, for I wouldn't take a section of the garden of Eden if there was malary around."

"On your honor now, Mr. Jones, how far is the corner around which they have the malaria?"

"Mr. Durham, it ain't a mile away."

I laughed as I said, "I shall have one neighbor, it seems, to whom I can lend an umbrella."

"Then you'll take the place?"

"Yes, if my wife is as well satisfied as I am. I want you to give me the refusal of it for one week at the price you named."

"Agreed, and I'll put it in black and white."

"Now, Mr. Jones," I began with an apologetic little laugh, "you grow one thing up here in all seasons, I fancy--an appetite. As I feel now, your pot-luck means good luck, no matter what is in it."

"Now you talk sense. I was a-hankerin' myself. I take stock right off in a man or a critter with an appetite. They're always improvin'. Yes, sir; Maizeville is the place to grow an appetite, and what's more we can grow plenty to satisfy it."

Mrs. Jones made a striking contrast to her husband, for she first impressed me as being short, red, and round; but her friendly, bustling ways and hearty welcome soon added other and very pleasant impressions; and when she placed a great dish of fricasseed chicken on the table she won a good-will which her neighborly kindness has steadily increased.