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Ten Acres Enough
Chapter XIII.—City and Country Life contrasted


The pensive reader must not take it for granted that in going into the country we escaped all the annoyances of domestic life peculiar to the city, or that we fell heir to no new ones, such as we had never before experienced. He must remember that this is a world of compensations, and that nowhere will he be likely to find either an unmixed good or an unmixed evil. Such was exactly our experience. But on summing up the two, the balance was decidedly in our favor. It is true that though the town close by us had well-paved streets, yet the walk of half a mile to reach them was a mere gravel path, which was sometimes muddy in summer, and sloppy with unshovelled snow in winter. But I walked over it almost daily to the post-office, not even imagining that it was worse than a city pavement. The tramp of the children to school was not longer than they had been used to, and my wife and daughters thought it no hardship to go shopping among the well-supplied stores quite as frequently as when living in the city. Indeed, I sometimes thought they went a little oftener. They were certainly as well posted up as to the new fashions as they had ever been, while the fresh country air, united with constant exercise, kept them in good appetite, even to the rounding of their cheeks, and the maintenance of a better color in them than ever.

As to society, they very soon made acquaintances quite as agreeable as could be desired. Visiting became a very frequent thing; and after a few months I let in a suspicion that the girls found twice as many beaux as in the city, though there the average number is always larger than in the country. On throwing out an insinuation of this kind to Kate, one summer evening, after a large party of young folks had concluded their visit, she made open. confession that it was so, and volunteered her conviction that they were decidedly more agreeable. I admit this confession did not surprise me, as there was one young man among the party who had become especially attentive to Kate—bringing her the new magazines as soon as they were out, sundry books and pictorials, and always having a deal to say to her, with a singular genius for getting her away from the rest of the company, so that most of their mysterious small-talk could be heard by none but themselves. Another remark which I made to Kate on a subsequent occasion, touching this subject, covered her bright face with so many blushes that I ventured to mention the whole matter to my wife; but she made so light of the thing that I said no more at the time, thinking, perhaps, that the women were most likely the best judges in such cases. But I have since discovered that my prognostications were much more to be depended on than hers.

Then the walks for miles around us were excellent, and we all became great walkers, for walking we found to be good. Not merely stepping from shop to shop, or from neighbor to neighbor, but stretching away out into the country, to the freshest fields, the shadiest woods, the highest ridges, and the greenest lawns. We found that however sullen the imagination may have been among its griefs at home, here it cheered up and smiled. However listless the limbs may have been by steady toil, here they were braced up, and the lagging gait became buoyant again. However stubborn the memory may be in presenting that only which was agonizing, and insisting on that which cannot be retrieved, on walking among the glowing fields it ceases to regard the former, and forgets the latter. Indeed, we all came to esteem the mere breathing of the fresh wind upon the com­monest highway to be rest and comfort, which must be felt to be believed.

But then we had neither gas nor hydrant water, those two prime luxuries of city life. Yet there was a pump in a deep well under a shed at the kitchen door, from which we drew water so cold as not at any time to need that other city luxury, ice. It was gratifying to see how expertly even the small children operated with the pump-handle. In a month we ceased to regret the hydrants. As to gas, we had the modern lamps, which give so clear a light; not so convenient, it must be confessed, but then they did not cost us over half as much, neither did we sit up near so long at night. There were two mails from the city daily, and the newsboy threw the morning paper into the front door while we sat at breakfast. The evening paper came up from the city before we had supped. We had two daily mails from New York, besides a telegraph station. The baker served us twice a day with bread, when we needed it; the oysterman became a bore, he rang the bell so often; and the fish-wagon, with sea-fish packed in ice, directly from the shore, was within call as often as we desired, with fish as cheap and sound as any to be purchased in the city. Groceries and provisions from the store cost no more than they did there, but they were no cheaper. But in the item of rent the saving was enormous,—really half enough, in my case, to keep a moderate family. Many's the time, when sweating over the weeds, have I thought of this last heavy drain on the purse of the city toiler, and thanked Heaven that I had ceased to work for the landlord.

We had books as abundantly as aforetime, as we retained our share in the city library, and became subscribers to that in the adjoining town. It is true that the road in front of us was never thronged like Chestnut-street, but we neither sighed after the crowd nor missed its presence. We saw no flash of jewelry, nor heard the rustling of expensive silks, except the few which on particular occasions were sported within our own unostentatious domicile. Our entire wardrobes were manifestly on a scale less costly than ever. Our old city friends were apparently a great way oft, but as they could reach us in an hour either by steamboat or rail, they quickly found us out. The relish of their society was heightened by distance and separation. In short, while far from being hermits, we were happy in ourselves. I think my wife became a perfectly happy woman—what it had been the great study of my wedded life to make her—the very sparkle and sunshine of the house. She possessed the magic secret of being contented under any circumstances. The current of my life had never been so dark and unpropitious, that the sunshine of her happy face, falling across its turbid course, failed to awake an answering gleam.

Speaking of visitors from abroad, I noticed that our city friends came to make their visits on the very hottest summer days, when, of all others, we were ourselves sufficiently exhausted by the heat, and were disposed to put up with as little cooking and indoor work as possible. But as such visitations were not exactly comfortable to the visited, so we could not see how they could be any more agreeable to the visitors. Yet they generally remarked, even when the mercury was up to ninety-five, "How much cooler it is in the country!" They did really enjoy either themselves or the heat. But my wife told them it was only the change of scene that made the weather tolerable, and that if they lived in the country they would soon discover it to be quite as hot as in the city. For my part, I bore the heat admirably, though tanned by the sun to the color of an aborigine; but I enjoyed the inexpressible luxury of going constantly in my shirt-sleeves. I can hardly find words to describe the feeling of comfort which I enjoyed for full seven months out of the twelve from this little piece of latitudinarianism, the privilege of country life, but an unknown luxury in the city.

I saw that this press of company in the very hottest weather imposed an unpleasant burden on my wife, for she and my two oldest daughters were the sole caterers; and I intended to say something to her concerning it, as soon as a large party, then staying several days with us, should have concluded their visit. But on going into our chamber that very evening, she surprised me by asking if I could tell her why, when Eve was made from one of Adam's ribs, there was not a hired girl made at the same time, for to her mind it took three to make a pair— he, she, and a hired girl. I replied that I had not given much time to the study of navigation, but that I quite understood her meaning, and that it was exactly what I had myself been thinking of. If Adam's rib, after producing Eve, had not held out to produce a hired girl also, I told her there was a much quicker way of getting what she wanted, and that the first morning paper she might pick up would produce her twenty hired girls.

In this way, before the summer was over, I procured her a servant, thus making her little establishment complete. For this luxury we paid city wages. But this was a small item, when I saw how much her presence relieved my wife. After that, I do not think she complained quite as much of the hot weather, nor was she inclined so frequently to repeat her former observation, that the sultry days always brought the most company. Indeed, I am certain that on one or two occasions, when the dog-days were terribly oppressive, she prevailed on different parties to prolong their stay for nearly a week.

Now, this taking on of Betty did not imply that my daughters were to be brought up to do nothing —or to do everything that is fashionable imperfectly. My wife had already educated them in domestic duties—not merely to marry, to go off with husbands in a hurry, and afterwards from them. To the two eldest she had taught a trade, and they were both able to earn their salt. They could not only dress themselves, but knew how to make their dresses and bonnets, and all the clothing for the younger children. She cultivated in them all that was necessary in the position in which they were born, one thing at a time, but that thing in perfection; so that if parents were impoverished, or if in after-life reverses should overtake themselves, they might feel independent in the ability to earn their own support. She frowned upon the senseless rivalries of social life, as destructive of morals, mind, and health, and imbued their spirits with a devout veneration for holy things. She taught them no worship of the almighty dollar, but sound, practical economy, the art of saving the pieces. Surely it must be education alone which fills the world with two kinds of girls—one kind which appears best abroad, good for parties, rides, and visits, and whose chief delight is in such things—good, in fact, for little else. The other is the kind that appears best at home, graceful in the parlor, captivating in social intercourse, useful in the sick chamber as in the the dining-room, and cheerful in all the precincts of home. They differ widely in character. One is often the family torment; the other the family blessing: one a moth consuming everything about her; the other a sunbeam, inspiring life and glad­ness all along her pathway. As my wife embodied in herself all that to me appeared desirable in woman, so she possessed the faculty of transfusing her own virtues into the constitution of her daughters.


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