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The Abandoned Farmer
By Sydney H. Preston
Charles Scribner’s Sons
New York 1901
Copyright, 1901, by
Charles Scribner’s Sons
All rights reserved
|I.||Before the Plunge||1|
|II.||Peter Waydean is Found Wanting||22|
|IV.||The Education of Griggs||60|
|V.||Paul and the Chickens||89|
|VI.||A Cow and a Calf||104|
|VII.||The Advent of William Wedder||125|
|VIII.||Marion Rises to the Occasion||146|
|IX.||Aunt Sophy’s Generosity||168|
|X.||Uncle Benny Creates a Diversion||183|
|XII.||The Exit of William Wedder||224|
|XIII.||The Fairy Well||236|
|XIV.||A Pastoral Call||254|
The Abandoned Farmer
I BEFORE THE PLUNGE
“You need to turn the little chap loose in the country,” was the doctor’s verdict, given in a low tone that didn’t—thank Heaven!—attract Paul’s attention, though if the child hadn’t been absorbed for the moment in driving a brood of imaginary chickens into an imaginary coop under a real parlor table this indiscreet reference would have caused a scene. The doctor had been cautioned not to do or say anything that would arouse suspicion in the mind of our offspring as to the real nature of his visit, so he should have known better, but of course he couldn’t know what a dread Paul had of sometime having to go somewhere without his parents.
Marion sank weakly into a chair, then sat up very straight and braced herself for what was coming; I made a frantic pantomimic appeal to the doctor for temporary silence, then I grabbed Paul by the arm, pointing out the fiction that the chickens had escaped around the end of the table into the hall. When he had darted out in pursuit I shut the door, turning in time to hear Marion say with a piteous break in her voice: “Doctor, tell us the worst—is it his lungs?”
His tone, to our over-anxious ears, had suggested a fear that he was about to break the news that our precious boy was doomed to an early grave, and it was a relief to see him not only smile, but look as if he would enjoy a hearty laugh. “Don’t be alarmed, Mrs. Carton,” he said cheerily. “He’s a delicate little fellow, but spry as a cricket and quite sound. Send him to the country for six months,—and—ha ha!—don’t coddle him so much.”
Send our little Paul to the country! Even in her half-allayed anxiety Marion smiled at the idea. Paul, who had never been away from her tender care for one hour, who had howled with dismay when he gathered from our unguarded conversation that when little boys went to school they didn’t take their parents too! Now Paul, up to this time, fortunately for our peace of mind, had been spared the ordinary illnesses and accidents of childhood; indeed, so carefully had he been guarded, that at the age of six he had never tasted unboiled water, unsterilized milk or unhygienic bread, and although he had learned to walk upstairs by himself, had never descended alone except when an anxious parent stood breathlessly at the foot of the stairs ready to break a possible fall. An ordinary child might have rebelled or evaded our watchfulness, but Paul was not an ordinary child, and he was preternaturally anxious to avoid danger and keep us up to the mark. His active little mind ferreted out supposititious disasters with alarming realism until our nerves were unstrung by the constant effort to guard against the possible calamities that he suggested.
Send Paul to the country? Send him—to the country! A likely thing, indeed!—and leave us to be tortured by mental visions of his dear little incapable feet projecting out of a water barrel or being mowed off by an overgrown lawn-mower, his helpless form impaled upon the horns of a bull or dangling from the mouth of a vicious horse.
That evening, after Paul was safely asleep, we talked the whole matter over. We had previously toyed with nebulous schemes of living in the country, but the doctor’s opinion transformed what had seemed an impracticable but entrancingly delightful castle-in-the-air to a definite consideration of how we could make it an actuality. As Marion said, it was our plain duty to do what was best for Paul, even if we had to sacrifice a few extraneous luxuries in carrying it out, and when she used the word duty I knew that, come what would, we were going to live in the country. Duty is Marion’s strong point; mine also, in a sort of second-hand way, for I have learned to obey the dictates of her conscience with an amazing alacrity. With her, the principle involved in the most trivial act is a matter of vital importance, while I am inclined to act first, and from that action deduce a principle to justify the course I have taken. Her mind is intensely analytical, and she believes rigidly what she ought to believe; I am, perhaps, a trifle more imaginative, more easily swayed by passing enthusiasms, more given to believing what I want to believe, less inclined to see a clear-cut difference between black and white.
It is not strange, therefore, that our opinions often differ, but in this case we were of one mind from the first, the only difficulty that faced us being the question of ways and means, and on this point Marion was, strange to say, more optimistic than I.
“I have a feeling, a presentiment,” she said, in a tone of fervent conviction, “that if we make up our minds hard enough it will become possible. We’ve been talking about this for years, and I never felt until this moment that it was really going to be true.”
For a moment her calm certainty influenced my hopes, then I shook my head doubtfully. “You forget,” I rejoined, “that there’s no other opening in sight, and as long as I’m doing ‘Music and Drama’ for the Observer I must stay in the city. If I had regular hours, if I were a bank clerk, for instance, we might live in the suburbs, but——”
“We’ve been over all that hundreds of times,” she interrupted, “and you know that if you had been a bank clerk I wouldn’t have married you. You’re not going to give up journalism, but I’m sure something will happen to let us live where we want to live. And as for the suburbs, it seems to me it would be better to get a real farm in the real country. If we could find a good comfortable farm-house near the railroad with plenty of land around it, I don’t believe it would cost us any more than one of those flimsy cottages with a garden plot attached that we looked at last year.”
I found, as we talked the matter over, that Marion’s imagination had been fired by the idea of some quaint old-fashioned homestead with gabled roof, open fireplaces and latticed windows, surrounded by ancient shade-trees and a straggling apple-orchard. All these accessories I could appreciate, and, in comparison, an ordinary suburban cottage, one of many others exactly alike, began to seem quite out of the question. There were delightful possibilities about buying a real farm, not to mention the inviting prospect of running it afterward.
“That’s a capital idea!” I exclaimed, in eager approval. “I could raise a couple of hundred dollars to make the first payment, then we could give a mortgage for the balance and pay it off with the proceeds of the first year’s crop. Then we could soon make enough money to——”
I stopped short, for I became aware that my wife was regarding me with a smile of loving toleration. “There you are again, Henry,” she said, with a merry laugh. “What a lot of money we’d save if I let you carry out a few of your wild schemes! We’re not going to raise one dollar to make a first payment; we’re not going to give a mortgage, so you’ll not be able to pay it off with the first year’s crop.”
“But it was your proposal,” I protested, “you said——”
“I didn’t say we might buy a farm, but I think we might be able to rent one for less than we pay for this house, and I’m sure we can live more cheaply in the country than in the city, if we make up our minds not to spend money needlessly.”
It didn’t seem to me that a rented farm without a mortgage could be as attractive as the one I had imagined, but I reluctantly admitted that Marion’s plan might be more economical than mine. If I hadn’t done so she certainly would have reminded me of some of my errors of judgment.
“And now,” she continued, “the next thing to consider is how much money we can afford not to spend on the farm.”
At that moment I had mentally unloaded a car of farm implements, resplendent in green and red paint, with the same feeling of delightful excitement that accompanies the unpacking of a Noah’s ark. In fact, I had them arranged on the station platform and was directing my hired men how to load the wagons. “Can afford not to spend,” I repeated abstractedly.
There was silence. When I awoke from my reverie I discovered that my wife was gazing at me with a curious expression, her lips tightly compressed. I stood to attention at once.