Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Corporal Cameron

The Haley farm was a survival of an ambitious past.  Once the property of a rich English gentleman, it had been laid out with an eye to appearance rather than to profit and, though the soil was good enough, it had never been worked to profit.  Consequently, when its owner had tired of Colonial life, he had at first rented the farm, but, finding this unsatisfactory, he, in a moment of disgust, advertised it for sale.  Pretentious in its plan and in its appointments, its neglected and run down condition gave it an air of decayed gentility, depressing alike to the eye of the beholder and to the selling price of the owner.  Haley bought it and bought it cheap.  From the high road a magnificent avenue of maples led to a house of fine proportions, though sadly needing repair.  The wide verandahs, the ample steps were unpainted and falling into ruin; the lawn reaching from the front door to the orchard was spacious, but overgrown with burdocks, nettles and other noxious weeds; the orchard, which stretched from the lawn to the road on both sides of the lane, had been allowed to run sadly to wood.  At the side of the house the door-yard was littered with abandoned farm implements, piles of old fence rails and lumber and other impedimenta, which, though kindly Nature, abhorring the unsightly rubbish, was doing her utmost to hide it all beneath a luxuriant growth of docks, milkweed, and nettles, lent an air of disorder and neglect to the whole surroundings.  The porch, or "stoop," about the summer kitchen was set out with an assortment of tubs and pails, pots and pans, partially filled with various evil looking and more evil smelling messes, which afforded an excellent breeding and feeding place for flies, mosquitoes, and other unpleasant insects.  Adjoining the door yard, and separated from it by a fence, was the barn yard, a spacious quadrangle flanked on three sides by barns, stables, and sheds, which were large and finely planned, but which now shared the general appearance of decrepitude.  The fence, which separated one yard from the other, was broken down, so that the barn yard dwellers, calves, pigs, and poultry, wandered at will in search of amusement or fodder to the very door of the kitchen, and so materially contributed to the general disorder, discomfort, and dirt.

Away from the house, however, where Nature had her own way, the farm stretched field after field on each side of the snake fenced lane to the line of woods in the distance, a picture of rich and varied beauty.  From the rising ground on which the house was situated a lovely vista swept right from the kitchen door away to the remnant of the forest primeval at the horizon.  On every field the signs of coming harvest were luxuriantly visible, the hay fields, grey-green with blooming "Timothy" and purple with the deep nestling clover, the fall wheat green and yellowing into gold, the spring wheat a lighter green and bursting into head, the oats with their graceful tasselated stalks, the turnip field ribboned with its lines of delicate green on the dark soil drills, back of all, the "slashing" where stumps, blackened with fire, and trunks of trees piled here and there in confusion, all overgrown with weeds, represented the transition stage between forest and harvest field, and beyond the slashing the dark cool masses of maple, birch, and elm; all these made a scene of such varied loveliness as to delight the soul attuned to nature.

Upon this scene of vivid contrasts, on one side house and barn and yard, and on the other the rolling fields and massive forest, Cameron stood looking in the early light of his first morning on the farm, with mingled feelings of disgust and pleasure.  In a few moments, however, the loveliness of the far view caught and held his eye and he stood as in a dream.  The gentle rolling landscape, with its rich variety of greens and yellows and greys, that swept away from his feet to the dark masses of woods, with their suggestions of cool and shady depth, filled his soul with a deep joy and brought him memory of how the "Glen of the Cup of Gold" would look that morning in the dear home-land so far away.  True, there were neither mountains nor moors, neither lochs nor birch- clad cliffs here.  Nature, in her quieter mood, looked up at him from these sloping fields and bosky woods and smiled with kindly face, and that smile of hers it was that brought to Cameron's mind the sunny Glen of the Cup of Gold.  It was the sweetest, kindliest thing his eye had looked on since he had left the Glen.

A harsh and fretful voice broke in upon his dreaming.

"Pa-a-w, there ain't a stick of wood for breakfast!  There was none last night!  If you want any breakfast you'd best git some wood!"

"All right, Mother!" called Haley from the barn yard, where he was assisting in the milking.  "I'm a comin'."

Cameron walked to meet him.

"Can I help?" he enquired.

"Why, of course!" shouted Haley.  "Here, Ma, here's our new hand, the very man for you."

Mrs. Haley, who had retired to the kitchen, appeared at the door. She was a woman past middle age, unduly stout, her face deep lined with the fret of a multitude of cares, and hung with flabby folds of skin, browned with the sun and wind, though it must be confessed its color was determined more by the grease and grime than by the tan upon it.  Yet, in spite of the flabby folds of flesh, in spite of the grime and grease, there was still a reminiscence of a one- time comeliness, all the more pathetic by reason of its all too obvious desecration.  Her voice was harsh, her tone fretful, which indeed was hardly to be wondered at, for the burden of her life was by no means light, and the cares of the household, within and without, were neither few nor trivial.

For a moment or two Mrs. Haley stood in silence studying and appraising the new man.  The result did not apparently inspire her with hope.

"Come on now, Pa," she said, "stop yer foolin' and git me that wood.  I want it right now.  You're keepin' me back and there's an awful lot to do."

"But I ain't foolin', Ma.  Mr. Cameron is our new hand.  He'll knock yeh off a few sticks in no time."  So saying, Haley walked off with his pails to the milking, leaving his wife and the new hand facing each other, each uncertain as to the next move.

"What can I do, Mrs. Haley?" enquired Cameron politely.

"Oh, I don't know," said Mrs. Haley wearily.  "I want a few sticks for the breakfast, but perhaps I can get along with chips, but chips don't give no steady fire."

"If you would show me just what to do," said Cameron with some hesitation, "I mean, where is the wood to be got?"

"There," she said, in a surprised tone, pointing to a pile of long logs of ash and maple.  "I don't want much."  She gathered her apron full of chips and turned away, all too obviously refusing to place her hope of wood for the breakfast fire upon the efforts of the new man.  Cameron stood looking alternately at the long, hard, dry logs and at the axe which he had picked up from the bed of chips.  The problem of how to produce the sticks necessary to breakfast by the application of the one to the other was one for which he could see no solution.  He lifted his axe and brought it down hard upon a maple log.  The result was a slight indentation upon the log and a sharp jar from the axe handle that ran up his arm unpleasantly.  A series of heavy blows produced nothing more than a corresponding series of indentations in the tough maple log and of jars more or less sharp and painful shooting up his arms. The result was not encouraging, but it flashed upon him that this was his first attempt to make good at his job on the farm.  He threw off his coat and went at his work with energy; but the probability of breakfast, so far as it depended upon the result of his efforts, seemed to be growing more and more remote.

"Guess ye ain't got the knack of it," said a voice, deep, full, and mellow, behind him.  "That axe ain't no good for choppin', it's a splittin' axe."

Turning, he saw a girl of about seventeen, with little grace and less beauty, but strongly and stoutly built, and with a good-natured, if somewhat stupid and heavy face.  Her hair was dun in colour, coarse in texture, and done up loosely and carelessly in two heavy braids, arranged about her head in such a manner as to permit stray wisps of hair to escape about her face and neck. She was dressed in a loose pink wrapper, all too plainly of home manufacture, gathered in at the waist, and successfully obliterating any lines that might indicate the existence of any grace of form, and sadly spotted and stained with grease and dirt. Her red stout arms ended in thick and redder hands, decked with an array of black-rimmed nails.  At his first glance, sweeping her "tout ensemble," Cameron was conscious of a feeling of repulsion, but in a moment this feeling passed and he was surprised to find himself looking into two eyes of surprising loveliness, dark blue, well shaped, and of such liquid depths as to suggest pools of water under forest trees.

"They use the saw mostly," said the girl.

"The saw?" echoed Cameron.

"Yes," she said.  "They saw 'em through and then split 'em with the axe."

Cameron picked up the buck-saw which lay against a rickety saw horse.  Never in his life had he used such an instrument.  He gazed helplessly at his companion.

"How do you use this thing?" he enquired.

"Say! are you funny," replied the girl, flashing a keen glance upon him, "or don't ye know?"

"Never saw it done in my life," said Cameron solemnly.

"Here!" she cried, "let me show you."

She seized the end of a maple log, dragged it forward to the rickety saw horse, set it in position, took the saw from his hands, and went at her work with such vigour that in less than a minute as it seemed to Cameron she had made the cut.

"Give me that axe!" she said impatiently to Cameron, who was preparing to split the block.

With a few strong and skillful blows she split the straight-grained block of wood into firewood, gathered up the sticks in her arms, and, with a giggle, turned toward the house.

"I won't charge you anything for that lesson," she said, "but you'll have to hustle if you git that wood split 'fore breakfast."

"Thank you," said Cameron, grateful that none of the men had witnessed the instruction, "I shall do my best," and for the next half hour, with little skill, but by main strength, he cut off a number of blocks from the maple log and proceeded to split them. But in this he made slow progress.  From the kitchen came cheerful sounds and scents of cooking, and ever and anon from the door waddled, with quite surprising celerity, the unwieldy bulk of the mistress of the house.

"Now, that's jest like yer Pa," Cameron heard her grumbling to her daughter, "bringin' a man here jest at the busy season who don't know nothin'.  He's peckin' away at 'em blocks like a rooster peckin' grain."

"He's willin' enough, Ma," replied the girl, "and I guess he'll learn."

"Learn!" puffed Mrs. Haley contemptuously.  "Did ye ever see an old-country man learn to handle an axe or a scythe after he was growed up?  Jest look at 'im.  Thank goodness! there's Tim."

"Here, Tim!" she called from the door, "best split some o' that wood 'fore breakfast."

Tim approached Cameron with a look of pity on his face.

"Let me have a try," he said.  Cameron yielded him the axe.  The boy set on end the block at which Cameron had been laboring and, with a swift glancing blow of the axe, knocked off a slab.

"By Jove!" exclaimed Cameron admiringly, "how did you do that?"

For answer the boy struck again the same glancing blow, a slab started and, at a second light blow, fell to the ground.

"I say!" exclaimed Cameron again, "I must learn that trick."

"Oh, that's easy!" said Tim, knocking the slabs off from the outside of the block.  "This heart's goin' to be tough, though; got a knot in it," and tough it proved, resisting all his blows.

"You're a tough sucker, now, ain't yeh?" said Tim, through his shut teeth, addressing the block.  We'll try yeh this way."  He laid the end of the block upon a log and plied the axe with the full strength of his slight body, but the block danced upon the log and resisted all his blows.

"Say! you're a tough one now!" he said, pausing for breath.

"Let me try that," said Cameron, and, putting forth his strength, he brought the axe down fairly upon the stick with such force that the instrument shore clean through the knot and sank into the log below.

"Huh! that's a cracker," said Tim with ungrudging admiration.  "All you want is knack.  I'll slab it off and you can do the knots," he added with a grin.

As the result of this somewhat unequal division of labor, there lay in half an hour a goodly pile of fire wood ready for the cooking. It caught Haley's eye as he came in to breakfast.

"I say, Missus, that's a bigger pile than you've had for some time. Guess my new man ain't so slow after all."

"Huh!" puffed his wife, waddling about with great agility, "it was Tim that done it."

"Now, Ma, ye know well enough he helped Tim, and right smart too," said the daughter, but her mother was too busy getting breakfast ready for the hungry men who were now performing their morning ablutions with the help of a very small basin set upon a block of wood outside the kitchen door to answer.

There were two men employed by Haley, one the son of a Scotch- Canadian farmer, Webster by name, a stout young fellow, but slow in his movements, both physical and mental, and with no further ambition than to do a fair day's work for a fair day's pay.  He was employed by the month during the busier seasons of the year.  The other, Perkins, was Haley's "steady" man, which means that he was employed by the year and was regarded almost as a member of the family.  Perkins was an Englishman with fair hair and blue eyes, of fresh complexion, burned to a clear red, clean-cut features, and a well knit, athletic frame.  He was, as Tim declared, a terror to work; indeed, his fame as a worker was well established throughout the country side.  To these men Cameron was introduced as being from Scotland and as being anxious to be initiated into the mysteries of Canadian farm life.

"Glad to see you!" said Perkins, shaking him heartily by the hand. "We'll make a farmer of you, won't we, Tim?  From Scotland, eh? Pretty fine country, I hear--to leave," he added, with a grin at his own humour.  Though his manner was pleasant enough, Cameron became conscious of a feeling of aversion, which he recognised at once as being as unreasonable as it was inexplicable.  He set it down as a reflection of Tim's mental attitude toward the hired man. Perkins seized the tin basin, dipped some water from the rain barrel standing near, and, setting it down before Cameron, said:

"Here, pile in, Scotty.  Do they wash in your country?"

"Yes," replied Cameron, "they are rather strong on that," wondering at the same time how the operation could be performed successfully with such a moderate supply of water.  After using a second and third supply, however, he turned, with hands and face dripping, and looked about for a towel.  Perkins handed him a long roller towel, black with dirt and stiff with grease.  Had his life depended upon it Cameron could not have avoided a shuddering hesitation as he took the filthy cloth preparatory to applying it to his face.

"'Twon't hurt you," laughed Perkins.  "Wash day ain't till next week, you know, and this is only Wednesday."  Suddenly the towel was snatched from Cameron's hands.

"Gimme that towel!"  It was the girl, with face aflame and eyes emitting blue fire.  "Here; Mr. Cameron, take this," she said.

"Great Jerusalem, Mandy!  You ain't goin' to bring on a clean towel the middle of the week?" said Perkins in mock dismay.  "Guess it's for Mr. Cameron," he continued with another laugh.

"We give clean towels to them that knows how to use 'em," said Mandy, whisking wrathfully into the house.

"Say, Scotty!" said Perkins, in a loud bantering tone, "guess you're makin' a mash on Mandy all right."

"I don't know exactly what you mean," said Cameron with a quick rising of wrath, "but I do know that you are making a beastly cad of yourself."

"Oh, don't get wrathy, Scotty!" laughed Perkins, "we're just having a little fun.  Here's the comb!"  But Cameron declined the article, which, from its appearance, seemed to be intended for family use, and, proceeding to his room, completed his toilet there.

The breakfast was laid in the kitchen proper, a spacious and comfortable room, which served as living room for the household. The table was laden with a variety and abundance of food that worthily sustained the reputation of the Haleys of being "good feeders."  At one end of the table a large plate was heaped high with slices of fat pork, and here and there disposed along its length were dishes of fried potatoes, huge piles of bread, hot biscuits, plates of butter, pies of different kinds, maple syrup, and apple sauce.  It was a breakfast fit for a lord, and Cameron sat down with a pleasurable anticipation induced by his early rising and his half hour's experience in the fresh morning air with the wood pile.  A closer inspection, however, of the dishes somewhat damped the pleasure of his anticipation.  The food was good, abundant, and well cooked, but everywhere there was an utter absence of cleanliness.  The plates were greasy, the forks and knives bore the all too evident remains of former meals, and everywhere were flies.  In hundreds they swarmed upon the food, while, drowned in the gravy, cooked in the potatoes, overwhelmed in the maple syrup, buried in the butter, their ghastly carcasses were to be seen.  With apparent unconcern the men brushed aside the living and picked out and set aside the remains of the dead, the unhappy victims of their own greed or temerity, and went on calmly and swiftly with their business.  Not a word was spoken except by Cameron himself, who, constrained by what he considered to be the ordinary decencies of society, made an effort to keep up a conversation with Mr. Haley at the head of the table and occasionally ventured a remark to his wife, who, with Mandy, was acting as a waiter upon the hungry men.  But conversation is a social exercise, and Cameron found himself compelled to abandon his well meant but solitary efforts at maintaining the conventions of the breakfast table.  There was neither time nor occasion for conversation.  The business of the hour was something quite other, namely, that of devouring as large a portion of the food set before them as was possible within the limits of time assigned for the meal.  Indeed, the element of time seemed to be one of very considerable importance, as Cameron discovered, for he was still picking his way gingerly and carefully through his pork and potatoes by the time that Perkins, having completed a second course consisting of pie and maple syrup, had arrived at the final course of bread and butter and apple sauce.

"Circulate the butter!" he demanded of the table in general.  He took the plate from Cameron's hand, looked at it narrowly for a moment, then with thumb and forefinger drew from the butter with great deliberation a long dun-coloured hair.

"Say!" he said in a low voice, but perfectly audible, "they forgot to comb it this morning."

Cameron was filled with unspeakable disgust, but, glancing at Mrs. Haley's face, he saw to his relief that both the action and the remark had been unnoticed by her.  But on Mandy's face he saw the red ensign of shame and wrath, and in spite of himself he felt his aversion towards the ever-smiling hired man deepen into rage.

Finding himself distanced in his progress through the various courses at breakfast, Cameron determined to miss the intermediate course of pie and maple syrup and, that he might finish on more even terms with the others, proceeded with bread and butter and apple sauce.

"Don't yeh hurry," said Mrs. Haley with hearty hospitality.  "Eat plenty, there's lots to spare.  Here, have some apple sauce."  She caught up the bowl which held this most delicious article of food.

"Where's the spoon?" she said, glancing round the table.  There was none immediately available.  "Here!" she cried, "this'll do."  She snatched a large spoon from the pitcher of thick cream, held it dripping for a moment in obvious uncertainty, then with sudden decision she cried "Never mind," and with swift but effective application of lip and tongue she cleansed the spoon of the dripping cream, and, stirring the apple sauce vigourously, passed the bowl to Cameron.  For a single moment Cameron held the bowl, uncertain whether to refuse or not, but before he could make up his mind Mandy caught it from his hands.

"Oh, Ma!" she exclaimed in a horrified tone.

"What's the matter?" exclaimed her mother.  "A little cream won't hurt."

But Mandy set the bowl at the far end of the table and passed another to Cameron, who accepted it with resolute determination and continued his breakfast.

But Perkins, followed by Webster and Tim, rose from the table and passed out into the yard, whence his voice could be heard in explosions of laughter.  Cameron in the meantime was making heroic attempts to cover up the sound by loud-voiced conversation with Haley, and, rendered desperate by the exigencies of the situation, went so far as to venture a word of praise to Mrs. Haley upon the excellence and abundance of her cooking.

"She ain't got no chance," said her husband.  "She's got too much to do and it's awful hard to get help.  Of course, there's Mandy."

"Of course, there's Mandy," echoed his wife.  "I guess you'd just better say, 'There's Mandy.'  She's the whole thing is Mandy.  What I'd do without her goodness only knows."

But Mandy was no longer present to enjoy her mother's enconiums. Her voice could be heard in the yard making fierce response to Perkins' jesting remarks.  As Cameron was passing out from the kitchen he heard her bitter declaration:  "I don't care, it was real mean of you, and I'll pay you for it yet, Mr. Perkins--before a stranger, too."  Mandy's voice suggested tears.

"Oh, pshaw, Mandy!" remonstrated Perkins, "it was all a joke, and who cares for him anyway, unless it's yourself?"

But Mandy, catching sight of Cameron, fled with fiery face behind the kitchen, leaving Perkins gazing after her with an apologetic grin upon his countenance.

"She's rather hot under the collar," he confided to Cameron, "but she needn't get so, I didn't mean nothin'."

Cameron ignored him.  He was conscious mainly of a resolute determination that at all costs he must not yield to his almost uncontrollable desire to wipe off the apologetic smile with a well directed blow.  Mr. Denman's parting advice was in his mind and he was devoting all his powers to the business of adjusting himself to his present environment.  But to his fastidious nature the experiences of the morning made it somewhat doubtful if he should be able to carry out the policy of adjustment to the extreme of schooling himself to bear with equal mind the daily contact with the dirt and disorder which held so large a place in the domestic economy of the Haley household.  One thing he was firmly resolved upon, he would henceforth perform his toilet in his own room, and thereby save himself the horror of the family roller towel and the family comb.

Breakfast over, the men stood waiting orders for the day.

"We'll have to crowd them turnips through, Tim," said his father, who seemed to avoid as far as possible giving direct orders to his men.  "Next week we'll have to git at the hay."  So to the turnip field they went.

It is one of the many limitations of a city-bred boy that he knows nothing of the life history and the culture of the things that grow upon a farm.  Apples and potatoes he recognises when they appear as articles of diet upon the table; oats and wheat he vaguely associates in some mysterious and remote way with porridge and bread, but whether potatoes grow on trees or oats in pods he has no certain knowledge.  Blessed is the country boy for many reasons, but for none more than this, that the world of living and growing things, animate and inanimate, is one which he has explored and which he intimately knows; and blessed is the city boy for whom his wise parents provide means of acquaintance with this wonder workshop of old mother Nature, God's own open country.

Turnip-hoeing is an art, a fine art, demanding all the talents of high genius, a true eye, a sure hand, a sensitive conscience, industry, courage, endurance, and pride in achievement.  These and other gifts are necessary to high success.  Not to every man is it given to become a turnip-hoer in the truest sense of that word. The art is achieved only after long and patient devotion, and, indeed, many never attain high excellence.  Of course, therefore, there are grades of artists in this as in other departments.  There are turnip-hoers and turnip-hoers, just as there are painters and painters.  It was Tim's ambition to be the first turnip-hoer of his district, and toward this end he had striven both last season and this with a devotion that deserved, if it did not achieve, success. Quietly he had been patterning himself upon that master artist, Perkins, who for some years had easily held the championship for the district.  Keenly Tim had been observing Perkins' excellencies and also his defects; secretly he had been developing a style of his own, and, all unnoted, he had tested his speed by that of Perkins by adopting the method of lazily loafing along and then catching up by a few minutes of whirlwind work.  Tim felt in his soul the day of battle could not be delayed past this season; indeed, it might come any day.  The very thought of it made his slight body quiver and his heart beat so quickly as almost to choke him.

To the turnip field hied Haley's men, Perkins and Webster leading the way, Tim and Cameron bringing up the rear.

"You promised to show me how to do it, Tim," said Cameron. "Remember I shall be very slow."

"Oh, shucks!" replied Tim, "turnip-hoeing is as easy as rollin' off a log if yeh know how to do it."

"Exactly!" cried Cameron, "but that is what I don't.  You might give me some pointers."

"Well, you must be able to hit what yeh aim at."

"Ah! that means a good eye and steady hand," said Cameron.  "Well, I can do billiards some and golf.  What else?"

"Well, you mustn't be too careful, slash right in and don't give a rip."

"Ah! nerve, eh!" said Cameron.  "Well, I have done some Rugby in my day--I know something of that.  What else?  This sounds good."

"Then you've got to leave only one turnip in one place and not a weed; and you mustn't leave any blanks.  Dad gets hot over that."

"Indeed, one turnip in each place and not a weed," echoed Cameron. "Say! this business grows interesting.  No blanks!  Anything else?" he demanded.

"No, I guess not, only if yeh ever git into a race ye've got to keep goin' after you're clear tuckered out and never let on.  You see the other chap may be feelin' worse than you."

"By Jove, Tim! you're a born general!" exclaimed Cameron.  "You will go some distance if you keep on in that line.  Now as to racing let me venture a word, for I have done a little in my time. Don't spurt too soon."

"Eh!" said Tim, all eagerness.

"Don't get into your racing stride too early in the day, especially if you are up against a stronger man.  Wait till you know you can stay till the end and then put your best licks in at the finish."

Tim pondered.

"By Jimminy! you're right," he cried, a glad light in his eye, and a touch of colour in his pale cheek, and Cameron knew he was studying war.

The turnip field, let it be said for the enlightening of the benighted and unfortunate city-bred folk, is laid out in a series of drills, a drill being a long ridge of earth some six inches in height, some eight inches broad on the top and twelve at the base. Upon each drill the seed has been sown in one continuous line from end to end of the field.  When this seed has grown each drill will discover a line of delicate green, this line being nothing less than a compact growth of young turnip plants with weeds more or less thickly interspersed.  The operation of hoeing consists in the eliminating of the weeds and the superfluous turnip plants in order that single plants, free from weeds, may be left some eight inches apart in unbroken line, extending the whole length of the drill. The artistic hoer, however, is not content with this.  His artistic soul demands not only that single plants should stand in unbroken row from end to end along the drill top, but that the drill itself should be pared down on each side to the likeness of a house roof with a perfectly even ridge.

"Ever hoe turnips?" enquired Perkins.

"Never," said Cameron, "and I am afraid I won't make much of a fist at it."

"Well, you've come to a good place to learn, eh, Tim!  We'll show him, won't we?"

Tim made no reply, but simply handed Cameron a hoe and picked up his own.

"Now, show me, Tim," said Cameron in a low voice, as Perkins and Webster set off on their drills.

"This is how you do it," replied Tim.  "Click-click," forward and back went Tim's sharp shining instrument, leaving a single plant standing shyly alone where had boldly bunched a score or more a moment before.  "Click-click-click," and the flat-topped drill stood free of weeds and superfluous turnip plants and trimmed to its proper roof-like appearance.

"I say!" exclaimed Cameron, "this is high art.  I shall never reach your class, though, Tim."

"Oh, shucks!" said Tim, "slash in, don't be afraid."  Cameron slashed in.  "Click-click," "Click-click-click," when lo! a long blank space of drill looked up reproachfully at him.

"Oh, Tim! look at this mess," he said in disgust.

"Never mind!" said Tim, "let her rip.  Better stick one in though. Blanks look bad at the END of the drill."  So saying, he made a hole in Cameron's drill and with his hoe dug up a bunch of plants from another drill and patted them firmly into place, and, weeding out the unnecessary plants, left a single turnip in its proper place.

"Oh, come, that isn't so bad," said Cameron.  "We can always fill up the blanks."

"Yes, but it takes time," replied Tim, evidently with the racing fever in his blood.  Patiently Tim schooled his pupil throughout the forenoon, and before the dinner hour had come Cameron was making what to Tim appeared satisfactory progress.  It was greatly in Cameron's favor that he possessed a trained and true eye and a steady hand and that he was quick in all his movements.

"You're doin' splendid," cried Tim, full of admiration.

"I say, Scotty!" said Perkins, coming up and casting a critical eye along Cameron's last drill, "you're going to make a turnip-hoer all right."

"I've got a good teacher, you see," cried Cameron.

"You bet you have," said Perkins.  "I taught Tim myself, and in two or three years he'll be almost as good as I am, eh, Tim!"

"Huh!" grunted Tim, contemptuously, but let it go at that.

"Perhaps you think you're that now, eh, Tim?" said Perkins, seizing the boy by the back of the neck and rubbing his hand over his hair in a manner perfectly maddening.  "Don't you get too perky, young feller, or I'll hang your shirt on the fence before the day's done."

Tim wriggled out of his grasp and kept silent.  He was not yet ready with his challenge.  All through the afternoon he stayed behind with Cameron, allowing the other two to help them out at the end of each drill, but as the day wore on there was less and less need of assistance for Cameron, for he was making rapid progress with his work and Tim was able to do, not only his own drill, but almost half of Cameron's as well.  By supper time Cameron was thoroughly done out.  Never had a day seemed so long, never had he known that he possessed so many muscles in his back.  The continuous stooping and the steady click-click of the hoe, together with the unceasing strain of hand and eye, and all this under the hot burning rays of a June sun, so exhausted his vitality that when the cow bell rang for supper it seemed to him a sound more delightful than the strains of a Richter orchestra in a Beethoven symphony.

On the way back to the field after supper Cameron observed that Tim was in a state of suppressed excitement and it dawned upon him that the hour of his challenge of Perkins' supremacy as a turnip-hoer was at hand.

"I say, Tim, boy!" he said earnestly, "listen to me.  You are going to get after Perkins this evening, eh?"

"How did you know?" said Tim, in surprise.

"Never mind!  Now listen to me; I have raced myself some and I have trained men to race.  Are you not too tired with your day's work?"

"Tired!  Not a bit," said the gallant little soul scornfully.

"Well, all right.  It's nice and cool and you can't hurt yourself much.  Now, how many drills do you do after supper as a rule?"

"Down and up twice," said Tim.

"How many drills can you do at your top speed, your very top speed, remember?"

"About two drills, I guess," replied Tim, after a moment's thought.

"Now, listen to me!" said Cameron impressively.  "Go quietly for two and a half drills, then let yourself out and go your best. And, listen!  I have been watching you this afternoon.  You have easily done once and a half what Perkins has done and you are going to lick him out of his boots."

Tim gulped a moment or two, looked at his friend with glistening eyes, but said not a word.  For the first two and a half drills Cameron exerted to the highest degree his conversational powers with the two-fold purpose of holding back Perkins and Webster and also of so occupying Tim's mind that he might forget for a time the approaching conflict, the strain of waiting for which he knew would be exhausting for the lad.  But when the middle of the second last drill had been reached, Tim began unconsciously to quicken his speed.

"I say, Tim," called Cameron, "come here!  Am I getting these spaces too wide?"  Tim came over to his side.  "Now, Tim," said Cameron, in a low voice, "wait a little longer; you can never wear him out.  Your only chance is in speed.  Wait till the last drill."

But Tim was not to be held back.  Back he went to his place and with a rush brought his drill up even with Webster, passed him, and in a few moments like a whirlwind passed Perkins and took the lead.

"Hello, Timmy! where are you going?" asked Perkins, in surprise.

"Home," said Tim proudly, "and I'll tell 'em you're comin'."

"All right, Timmy, my son!" replied Perkins with a laugh, "tell them you won't need no hot bath; I'm after you."

"Click-click," "Click-click-click" was Tim's only answer.  It was a distinct challenge, and, while not openly breaking into racing speed, Perkins accepted it.

For some minutes Webster quickened his pace in an attempt to follow the leaders, but soon gave it up and fell back to help Cameron up with his drill, remarking, "I ain't no blamed fool.  I ain't going to bust myself for any man.  THEY'RE racing, not me."

"Will Tim win?" enquired Cameron.

"Naw!  Not this year!  Why, Perkins is the best man in the whole country at turnips.  He took the Agricultural Society's prize two years ago."

"I believe Tim will beat him," said Cameron confidently, with his eyes upon the two in front.

"Beat nothing!" said Webster.  "You just wait a bit, Perkins isn't letting himself out yet."

In a short time Tim finished his drill some distance ahead, and then, though it was quitting time, without a pause he swung into the next.

"Hello, Timmy!" cried Perkins good-naturedly, "going to work all night, eh?  Well, I'll just take a whirl out of you," and for the first time he frankly threw himself into his racing gait.

"Good boy, Tim!" called out Cameron, as Tim bore down upon them, still in the lead and going like a small steam engine.  "You're all right and going easy.  Don't worry!"

But Perkins, putting on a great spurt, drew up within a hoe-handle length of Tim and there held his place.

"All right, Tim, my boy, you can hold him," cried Cameron, as the racers came down upon him.

"He can, eh?" replied Perkins.  "I'll show him and you," and with an accession of speed he drew up on a level with Tim.

"Ah, ha! Timmy, my boy! we've got you where we want you, I guess," he exulted, and, with a whoop and still increasing his speed, he drew past the boy.

But Cameron, who was narrowly observing the combatants and their work, called out again:

"Don't worry, Tim, you're doing nice clean work and doing it easily."  The inference was obvious, and Perkins, who had been slashing wildly and leaving many blanks and weeds behind him where neither blanks nor weeds should be, steadied down somewhat, and, taking more pains with his work, began to lose ground, while Tim, whose work was without flaw, moved again to the front place.  There remained half a drill to be done and the issue was still uncertain. With half the length of a hoe handle between them the two clicked along at a furious pace.  Tim's hat had fallen off.  His face showed white and his breath was coming fast, but there was no slackening of speed, and the cleanness and ease with which he was doing his work showed that there was still some reserve in him. They were approaching the last quarter when, with a yell, Perkins threw himself again with a wild recklessness into his work, and again he gained upon Tim and passed him.

"Steady, Tim!" cried Cameron, who, with Webster, had given up their own work, it being, as the latter remarked, "quitting time anyway," and were following up the racers.  "Don't spoil your work, Tim!" continued Cameron, "don't worry."

His words caught the boy at a critical moment, for Perkins' yell and his fresh exhibition of speed had shaken the lad's nerve.  But Cameron's voice steadied him, and, quickly responding, Tim settled down again into his old style, while Perkins was still in the lead, but slashing wildly.

"Fine work, Tim," said Cameron quietly, "and you can do better yet."  For a few paces he walked behind the boy, steadying him now and then with a quiet word, then, recognising that the crisis of the struggle was at hand, and believing that the boy had still some reserve of speed and strength, he began to call on him.

"Come on, Tim!  Quicker, quicker; come on, boy, you can do better!" His words, and his tone more than his words, were like a spur to the boy.  From some secret source of supply he called up an unsuspected reserve of strength and speed and, still keeping up his clean cutting finished style, foot by foot he drew away from Perkins, who followed in the rear, slashing more wildly than ever. The race was practically won.  Tim was well in the lead, and apparently gaining speed with every click of his hoe.

"Here, you fellers, what are yeh hashin' them turnips for?"  It was Haley's voice, who, unperceived, had come into the field.  Tim's reply was a letting out of his last ounce of strength in a perfect fury of endeavour.

"There--ain't--no--hashin'--on this--drill--Dad!" he panted.

The sudden demand for careful work, however, at once lowered Perkins' rate of speed.  He fell rapidly behind and, after a few moments of further struggle, threw down his hoe with a whoop and called out, "Quitting time, I guess," and, striding after Tim, he caught him by the arms and swung him round clear off the ground.

"Here, let me go!" gasped the boy, kicking, squirming, and trying to strike his antagonist with his hoe.

"Let the boy go!" said Cameron.  The tone in his voice arrested Perkins' attention.

"What's your business?" he cried, with an oath, dropping the boy and turning fiercely upon Cameron.

"Oh, nothing very much, except that Tim's my candidate in this race and he mustn't be interfered with," replied Cameron in a voice still quiet and with a pleasant smile.

Perkins was white and panting; in a moment more he would have hurled himself at the man who stood smiling quietly in his face. At this critical moment Haley interposed.

"What's the row, boys?" he enquired, recognising that something serious was on.

"We have been having a little excitement, Sir, in the form of a race," replied Cameron, "and I've been backing Tim."

"Looks as if you've got him wound up so's he can't stop," replied Haley, pointing to the boy, who was still going at racing pace and was just finishing his drill.  "Oh, well, a boy's a boy and you've got to humour him now and then," continued Haley, making conversation with diplomatic skill.  Then turning to Perkins, as if dismissing a trivial subject, he added, "Looks to me as if that hay in the lower meadow is pretty nigh fit to cut.  Guess we'd better not wait till next week.  You best start Tim on that with the mower in the mornin'."  Then, taking a survey of the heavens, he added, "Looks as if it might be a spell of good weather."  His diplomacy was successful and the moment of danger was past.  Meantime Cameron had sauntered to the end of the drill where Tim stood leaning quietly on his hoe.

"Tim, you are a turnip-hoer!" he said, with warm admiration in his tone, "and what's more, Tim, you're a sport.  I'd like to handle you in something big.  You will make a man yet."

Tim's whole face flushed a warm red under the coat of freckles. For a time he stood silently contemplating the turnips, then with difficulty he found his voice.

"It was you done it," he said, choking over his words.  "I was beat there and was just quittin' when you came along and spoke.  My!" he continued, with a sharp intake of his breath, "I was awful near quittin'," and then, looking straight into Cameron's eyes, "It was you done it, and--I--won't forget."  His voice choked again, but, reading his eyes, Cameron knew that he had gained one of life's greatest treasures, a boy's adoring gratitude.

"This has been a great day, Tim," said Cameron.  "I have learned to hoe turnips, and," putting his hand on the boy's shoulder, "I believe I have made a friend."  Again the hot blood surged into Tim's face.  He stood voiceless, but he needed no words.  Cameron knew well the passionate emotion that thrilled his soul and shook the slight body, trembling under his hand.  For Tim, too, it had been a notable day.  He had achieved the greatest ambition of his life in beating the best turnip-hoer on the line, and he, too, had found what to a boy is a priceless treasure, a man upon whom he could lavish the hero worship of his soul.

Return to Book Index


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus