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Ten Acres Enough
Chapter IV.—Buying a Farm—Anxiety to sell—Forced to quit


As already stated, I had in round numbers a clear two thousand dollars, with which to buy and stock a farm, and keep my family while my first crops were growing. As I was entirely free from debt, so I determined to avoid it in the future. Debt had been the bitter portion of my life, not from choice, but of necessity. My wife took strong ground in support of this resolution—what we had she wanted us to keep. I had too long been aided by her admirable counsel to reject it now. She had a singular longing for seeing me my own landlord. Her resolution was a powerful strengthener of my own convictions.

Thus resolved, we set out in the early part of March to seek a home. I was particular to take my wife with me—I wanted her to aid in choosing it. She was to occupy it as well as myself. She knew exactly what we wanted as regarded the dwelling-house,—the land department she left entirely to my judgment. I was determined that she should be made comfortable from the start, not only because she deserved to be made so, but to make sure that no cause for future discontent should arise. Indeed, she was really the best judge in this matter. She knew what the six children needed; she was the model of a housekeeper; there were certain little conveniences indispensable to domestic comfort to be secured, of which she knew more than I did, while her judgment on most things was so correct, that I felt confident if she were fully satisfied, the whole enterprise would be a successful one.

I loved her with the fervor of early married life— she had consented to my plans—she was willing to share whatever inconveniences might belong to our new position—was able to lighten them by her unflagging cheerfulness and thrift—and I was unwilling to take a single step in opposition either to her wishes or her judgment. Indeed, I had long since made up my mind, from observation of the good or bad luck of other men, that he who happens to be blessed with a wife possessing good sense and good judgment, succeeds or fails in life according as he is accustomed to consult her in his business enterprises. There is a world of caution, shrewdness, and latent wisdom in such women, which their husbands too frequently disregard to their ruin.

I am thus particular as to all my experiences; for this is really a domestic story, intended for the multitudes who have suffered half a lifetime from trials similar to mine, and who yet feel ungratified longings for some avenue of escape. My object being to point out that through which I emerged from such a life to one of certainty and comfort, the detail ought to be valuable, even if it fail to be interesting. It is possible that I may sink the practical in the enthusiastic, and prove myself to be unduly enamored of my choice. But as it is success that makes the hero, so let my experience he accepted as the test.

I had settled it in my mind that I would use a thousand dollars in the purchase of land, and that I could make Ten Acres Enough. This I was determined to pay for at once, and have it covered by no man's parchment. But when we set out on our search, we found some difficulties. Every county in New Jersey contained a hundred farms that were for sale. Most of them were too large for my slender purse, though otherwise most eligibly situated. Then we must have a decent house, even if we were forced to put up with less land. Numerous locations of this kind were offered. The trouble was—keeping my slender purse in view—that the farms were either too large or too small. My wife was not fastidious about having a fine house. On the contrary, I was often surprised to find her pleased with such as to me looked small and mean. Indeed, it seemed, after ten days' search, that the tables had been turned—she was more easily suited than myself. But the same deference which I paid to her wishes, she uniformly paid to mine.

It was curious to note the anxiety of so many land­owners to sell, and to hear the discordant reasons which they gave for desiring to do so. The quantity in market was enormous. All the real-estate agents had large books filled with descriptions of farms and fancy country-seats for sale, some to be had by paying one-fourth of the purchase-money down, and some which the owners would exchange for merchandise, or traps, or houses in the city. Many of them appeared simply to want something else for what they already had. They were tired of holding, and desired a change of some kind, better if they could make it, and worse if they could not. City merchants, or thriving mechanics, had built country cottages, and then wearied of them—it was found inconvenient to be going to and fro—in fact, they had soon discovered that the city alone was their place. Many such told us that their wives did not like the country.

Others had bought farms and spent great sums in improving them, only to sell at a loss. Farming did not pay an owner who lived away off in the city. Another class had taken land for debt, and wanted to realize. They expected to lose anyhow, and would sell cheap. Then there was another body of owners who, though born and raised upon the land, were tired of country life, and wanted to sell and embark in business in the city. Some few were desirous of going to the West. Change of some kind seemed to be the general craving. As I discovered that much of all this land was covered with mortgages of greater or less amount, it was natural to suppose the sheriff would occasionally turn up, and so it really was. There were columns in some of the county papers filled with his advertisements. I sometimes thought the whole country was for sale.

But yet there was a vast body of owners, many of them descendants of the early settlers, whom no consideration of price could tempt to abandon their inheritances. They seemed to know and understand the value of their ancestral acres. We met with other parties, recent purchasers, who had bought for a permanency, and who could not be induced to sell. In short, there seemed to be two constantly flowing streams of people—one tending from city to country, the other from country to city. Doubtless it is the same way with all our large cities. I think the latter stream was the larger. If it were not so, our cities could not grow in population at a rate so much more rapid than the country. At numerous farm­houses inquiries were made if we knew of any openings in the city in which boys and young men could be placed. The city was evidently the coveted goal with too large a number.

This glut of the land-market did not discourage us. We could not be induced to believe that land had no value because so many were anxious to dispose of it. We saw that it did not suit those who held it, and knew that it would suit us. But we could not but lament over the infatuation of many owners, who we felt certain would be ruined by turning their wide acres into money, and exposing it to the hazards of an untried business in the city. I doubt not that many of the very parties we then encountered have, long before this, realized the sad fate we feared, and learned too late that lands are better than merchandise.

One morning, about the middle of March, we found the very spot we had been seeking. It lay upon the Amboy Railroad, within a few miles of Philadelphia, within gunshot of a railroad station, and on the outskirts of a town containing churches, schools, and stores, with quite an educated society. The grounds comprised eleven acres, and the dwelling-house was quite large enough for my family. It struck the fancy of my wife the moment we came up to it; and when she had gone over the house, looked into the kitchen, explored the cellar, and walked round the garden, she expressed the strongest desire to make it our home.

There was barn enough to accommodate a horse and cow, with a ton or two of hay, quite an extensive shed, and I noticed that the barnyard contained a good pile of manure which was to go with the property. The buildings were of modern date, the fences were good, and there was evidence that a former occupant had exercised a taste for fruit and ornamental trees, while the garden was in very fair condition. But the land had been wholly neglected. All outside of the garden was a perfect scarecrow of tall weeds, thousands of which stood clear up to the fence top, making sure that they had scattered seeds enough for twenty future crops.

But I noticed that the land directly opposite was in the most admirable condition, and I saw at a glance that the soil must be adapted to the very purpose to which it was to be applied. The opposite ground was matted with a luxuriant growth of strawberries, while rows of stalwart raspberries held up their vigorous canes in testimony of the goodness of the soil. A fine peach-orchard on the same neighboring property, seemed impatient to put forth and blossom unto harvest. The eleven acres could be no worse land than this, and though I had a horror of weeds, yet I was not to be frightened by them. I knew that weeds were more indigenous to New Jersey than even watermelons.

This miniature plantation of eleven acres belonged to a merchant in the city. He had taken it to secure a debt of eleven hundred dollars, but had pledged himself to pay the former owner whatever excess over that sum he might obtain for it. But pledges of that loose character seldom amount to much—the creditor consults his own interest, not that of the debtor. The latter had long been trying to sell, but in vain; and now the former had become equally embarrassed, and needed money even more urgently than the debtor had done. The whole property had cost the debtor eighteen hundred dollars. His views in founding it were similar to mine. He meant to establish for himself a home, to which at some future period he might retire. But he made the sad mistake of continuing in business in the city, and one disaster succeeding another, he had been compelled to abandon his anticipated refuge nearly a year before we came along.

All these facts I learned before beginning to negotiate for the purchase. As the banished man related them to me, going largely into the history of his hopes, his trials, his disappointments, I found cause for renewed thankfulness over my superior condition. With a single exception, his experience had been the counterpart of my own—he had lost all and was loaded with debt, while I had saved something and owed no man. But when, in language of the tenderest feeling, he spoke of his wife, whose highest passion had been gratified by the possession of a home so humble as even this—when he described bow happy she had been in her garden, and how grief-stricken at being compelled to leave it—his eloquence fairly made my heart ache. I am sure my wife felt the full force of all he said. Her own attachment to the spot had already begun to take root, and she could sympathize with this rude sundering of a long-established tie.


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