Rudder Grange/Chapter 8
POMONA ONCE MORE
Sure enough it was Pomona. There stood our old servant-girl of the canal-boat, with a crooked straw bonnet on her head, a faded yellow parasol in her hand, a parcel done up in newspaper under her arm, and an expression of astonishment on her face.
"Well, truly!" she ejaculated.
"Into the house, quick!" I said. "We have a savage dog!"
"And here he is!" cried Euphemia. "Oh! she will be torn to atoms."
Straight at Pomona came the great black beast, barking furiously. But the girl did not move; she did not even turn her head to look at the dog, who stopped before he reached her, and began to rush wildly around her, barking terribly.
We held our breath. I tried to say "Get out!" or "Lie down!" but my tongue could not form the words.
"Can't you get up here?" gasped Euphemia.
"I don't want to," said the girl.
The dog now stopped barking, and stood looking at Pomona, occasionally glancing up at us. Pomona took not the slightest notice of him.
"Do you know, ma'am," said she to Euphemia, "that if I had come here yesterday, that dog would have had my life's blood?"
"And why don't he have it to-day?" said Euphemia, who, with myself, was utterly amazed at the behaviour of the dog.
"Because I know more to-day than I did yesterday," answered Pomona. "It is only this afternoon that I read something, as I was coming here on the cars. This is it," she continued, unwrapping her paper parcel, and taking from it one of the two books it contained. "I finished this part just as the cars stopped, and I put my scissors in the place; I'll read it to you."
Standing there with one book still under her arm, the newspaper half unwrapped from it, hanging down and flapping in the breeze, she opened the other volume at the scissors'-place, turned back a page or two, and began to read as follows:
"Lord Edward slowly san ter ed up the bro ad anc es tral walk, when sudden ly from out a cop se, there sprang a fur i ous hound. The marsh man, con ce al ed in a tree, expected to see the life's blood of the young nob le man stain the path. But no; Lord Edward did not stop nor turn his head. With a smile he strode stead i ly on. Well he knew that if by be traying no em otion he could show the dog that he was walking where he had a right, the bru te would re cog nize that right and let him pass un scathed. Thus in this moment of peril his nob le courage saved him. The hound, abashed, returned to his cov ert, and Lord Edward pass ed on.
"'Foi led again,' mutter ed the marsh man."
"Now, then," said Pomona, closing the book, "you see I remembered that, the minute I saw the dog coming, and I didn't betray any emotion. Yesterday, now, when I didn't know it, I'd 'a been sure to betray emotion, and he would have had my life's blood. Did he drive you up there?" "Yes," said Euphemia; and she hastily explained the situation.
"Then I guess I'd better chain him up," remarked Pomona; and advancing to the dog she took him boldly by the collar and pulled him toward the shed. The animal hung back at first, but soon followed her, and she chained him up securely.
"Now you can come down," said Pomona.
I assisted Euphemia to the ground, and Pomona persuaded the hired girl to descend.
"Will he grab me by the leg?" asked the girl.
"No; get down, gump," said Pomona, and down she scrambled.
We took Pomona into the house with us, and asked her news of herself.
"Well," said she, "there ain't much to tell. I stayed a while at the institution, but I didn't get much good there, only I learned to read to myself, because if I read out loud they came and took the book away. Then I left there and went to live out, but the woman was awful mean. She throwed away one of my books, and I was only half through it. It was a real good book, named 'The Bridal Corpse, or Montregor's Curse,' and I had to pay for it at the circulatin' library. So I left her quick enough, and then I went on the stage."
"On the stage!" cried Euphemia. "What did you do on the stage?"
"Scrub," replied Pomona. "You see that I thought if I could get anything to do at the theayter, I could work my way up, so I was glad to get scrubbin'. I asked the prompter, one morning, if he thought there was a chance for me to work up, and he said yes, I might scrub the galleries, and then I told him that I didn't want none of his lip, and I pretty soon left that place. I heard you was a-keepin' house out here, and so I thought I'd come along and see you, and if you hadn't no girl I'd like to live with you again, and I guess you might as well take me, for that other girl said, when she got down from the shed, that she was goin' away to-morrow; she wouldn't stay in no house where they kept such a dog, though I told her I guessed he was only cuttin' 'round because he was so glad to get loose."
"Cutting around!" exclaimed Euphemia. "It was nothing of the kind. If you had seen him you would have known better. But did you come now to stay? Where are your things?"
"On me," replied Pomona.
When Euphemia found that the Irish girl really intended to leave, we consulted together and concluded to engage Pomona, and I went so far as to agree to carry her books to and from the circulating library to which she subscribed, hoping thereby to be able to exercise some influence on her taste. And thus part of the old family of Rudder Grange had come together again. True, the boarder was away, but, as Pomona remarked, when she heard about him: "You couldn't always expect to ever regain the ties that had always bound everybody."
Our delight and interest in our little farm increased day by day. In a week or two after Pomona's arrival I bought a cow. Euphemia was very anxious to have an Alderney—they were such gentle, beautiful creatures—but I could not afford such a luxury. I might possibly compass an Alderney calf, but we would have to wait a couple of years for our milk, and Euphemia said it would be better to have a common cow than to do that.
Great was our inward satisfaction when the cow, our own cow, walked slowly and solemnly into our yard and began to crop the clover on our little lawn. Pomona and I gently drove her to the barn, while Euphemia endeavoured to quiet the violent demonstrations of the dog (fortunately chained) by assuring him that this was our cow, and that she was to live here, and that he was to take care of her and never bark at her. All this and much more, delivered in the earnest and confidential tone in which ladies talk to infants and dumb animals, made the dog think that he was to be let loose to kill the cow, and he bounded and leaped with delight, tugging at his chain so violently that Euphemia became a little frightened and left him. This dog had been named Lord Edward at the earnest solicitation of Pomona, and he was becoming somewhat reconciled to his life with us. He allowed me to unchain him at night, and I could generally chain him up in the morning without trouble if I had a good big plate of food with which to tempt him into the shed.
Before supper we all went down to the barn to see the milking. Pomona, who knew all about such things, having been on a farm in her first youth, was to be the milkmaid. But when she began operations, she did no more than begin. Milk as industriously as she might, she got no milk.
"This is a queer cow," said Pomona.
"Are you sure you know how to milk?" asked Euphemia anxiously.
"Can I milk?" said Pomona. "Why, of course, ma'am. I've seen 'em milk hundreds of times."
"But you never milked yourself?" I remarked.
"No; sir, but I know just how it's done."
That might be, but she couldn't do it, and at last we had to give up the matter in despair, and leave the poor cow until morning, when Pomona was to go for a man who occasionally worked on the place, and engage him to come and milk for us.
That night as we were going to bed, I looked out of the window at the barn which contained the cow, and was astonished to see that there was a light inside the building.
"What!" I exclaimed. "Can't we be left in peaceful possession of a cow for a single night?"
And, taking my revolver, I hurried downstairs and out-of-doors, forgetting my hat in my haste. Euphemia screamed after me to be careful and keep the pistol pointed away from me.
I whistled for the dog as I went out, but to my surprise he did not answer.
"Has he been killed?" I thought, and for a moment I wished that I was a large family of brothers—all armed.
But on my way to the barn I met a person approaching with a lantern and a dog. It was Pomona, and she had a milk-pail on her arm.
"See here, sir!" she said; "it's mor'n half-full. I just made up my mind that I'd learn to milk—if it took me all night. I didn't go to bed at all, and I've been at the barn for an hour. And there ain't no need of my goin' after no man in the mornin'," said she, hanging up the barn-key on its nail.
I simply mention this circumstance to show what kind of a girl Pomona had grown to be.
We were all the time at work in some way, improving our little place. "Some day we will buy it," said Euphemia. We intended to have some wheat put in in the fall, and next year we would make the place fairly crack with luxuriance. We would divide the duties of the farm, and, among other things, Euphemia would take charge of the chickens. She wished to do this entirely herself, so that there might be one thing that should be all her own, just as my work in town was all my own. As she wished to buy the chickens and defray all the necessary expenses out of her own private funds, I could make no objections, and indeed, I had no desire to do so. She bought a chicken-book, and made herself mistress of the subject. For a week there was a strong chicken flavour in all our conversation.
This was while the poultry-yard was building. There was a chicken-house on the place, but no yard, and Euphemia intended to have a good big one, because she was going into the business to make money.
"Perhaps my chickens may buy the place," she said; and I very much hoped they would.
Everything was to be done very systematically. She would have Leghorn, Brahmas, and common fowls. The first, because they laid so many eggs; the second, because they were such fine, big fowls; and the third, because they were such good mothers. "We will eat and sell the eggs of the first and third classes," she said, "and set the eggs of the second class, under the hens of the third class."
"There seems to be some injustice in that arrangement," I said, "for the first class will always be childless; the second class will have nothing to do with their offspring, while the third will be obliged to bring up and care for the children of others."
But I really had no voice in the matter. As soon as the carpenter had finished the yard, and had made some coops, and other necessary arrangements, Euphemia hired a carriage and went about the country to buy chickens. It was not easy to find just what she wanted, and she was gone all day.
However, she brought home an enormous Brahma cock and ten hens, which number was pretty equally divided into her three classes. She was very proud of her purchases, and indeed they were fine fowls. In the evening I made some allusion to the cost of all this carpenter work, carriage-hire, etc., besides the price of the chickens.
"Oh!" said she, "you don't look at the matter in a right light. You haven't studied it up as I have. Now, just let me show you how this thing will pay if carried on properly." Producing a piece of paper covered with figures, she continued: "I begin with ten hens—I got four common ones, because it would make it easier to calculate. After a while I set these ten hens on thirteen eggs each; three of these eggs will probably spoil—that leaves ten chickens hatched out. Of these I will say that half die, that will make five chickens for each hen; you see, I leave a large margin for loss. This makes fifty chickens, and when we add the ten hens, we have sixty fowls at the end of the first year. Next year I set these sixty, and they bring up five chickens each—I am sure there will be a larger proportion than this, but I want to be safe—and that is three hundred chickens; add the hens, and we have three hundred and sixty at the end of the second year. In the third year, calculating in the same safe way, we shall have twenty-one hundred and sixty chickens; in the fourth year there will be twelve thousand nine hundred and sixty, and at the end of the fifth year, which is as far as I need to calculate now, we shall have sixty-four thousand and eight hundred chickens. What do you think of that? At seventy-five cents apiece—a very low price—that would be forty-eight thousand and six hundred dollars. Now, what is the petty cost of a fence and a few coops by the side of a sum like that?"
"Nothing at all," I answered. "It is lost like a drop in the ocean. I hate, my dear, to interfere in any way with such a splendid calculation as that, but I would like to ask you one question."
"Oh, of course," she said, "I suppose you are going to say something about the cost of feeding all this poultry. That is to come out of the chickens supposed to die. They won't die. It is ridiculous to suppose that each hen will bring up but five chickens. The chickens that will live out of those I consider as dead, will more than pay for the feed."
"That is not what I was going to ask you, although, of course, it ought to be considered. But you know you are only going to set common hens, and you do not intend to raise any. Now, are those four hens to do all the setting and mother-work for five years, and eventually bring up over sixty-four thousand chickens?"
"Well, I did make a mistake there," she said, colouring a little. "I'll tell you what I'll do; I'll set every one of my hens every year."
"But all those chickens may not be hens. You have calculated that every one of them would set as soon as it was old enough."
She stopped a minute to think this over.
"Two heads are better than one, I see," she said directly. "I'll allow that one-half of all the chickens are roosters, and that will make the profit twenty-four thousand three hundred dollars— more than enough to buy this place."
"Ever so much more," I cried. "This Rudder Grange is ours!"