THE STORY OF THE SOIL
From the Basis Of Absolute Science and Real Life
BY CYRIL G. HOPKINS
Author of "Soil Fertility and Permanent Agriculture"
TO MY WIFE
Truth is better than fiction; and this true story of the soil is written in co-operation with the Press of America and in competition with popular fiction.
The scenes described exist; the references given can all be found and verified; and the data quoted are exact, although some of the story dates antedate the scientific data.
As a rule the names employed are substitutes, but the general localities are as specified.
If the Story of the Soil should ever fall into the hands of any individual who suspects that he has contributed to its information, the author begs that he will accept as belonging to himself every gracious attribute and take it for granted that anything of opposite savor was due to autosuggestion.
CYRIL G. HOPKINS.
University of Illinois, Urbana.
THE OLD SOUTH
PERCY JOHNSTON stood waiting on the broad veranda of an old-style Southern home, on a bright November day in 1903. He had just come from Blue Mound Station, three miles away, with suit-case in hand.
"Would it be possible for me to secure room and board here for a few days?" he inquired of the elderly woman who answered his knock.
"Would it be possible?" she repeated, apparently asking herself the question, while she scanned the face of her visitor with kindly eyes that seemed to look beneath the surface.
"I beg your pardon, my name is Johnston,—Percy Johnston—" he said with some embarrassment and hesitation, realizing from her speech and manner that he was not addressing a servant.
"No pardon is needed for that name," she interrupted; "Johnston is a name we're mighty proud of here in the South."
"But I am from the West," he said.
"We're proud of the West, too; and you should feel right welcome here, for this is 'Westover,'" waving her hand toward the inroad fields surrounding the old mansion house. "I am Mrs. West, or at least I used to be. Perhaps the title better belongs to my son's wife at the present time; while I am mother, grandma, and great-grandmother.
"Yes, Sir, you will be very welcome to share our home for a few days if you wish; and we'll take you as a boarder. We used to entertain my husband's friends from Richmond,—and from Washington, too, before the sixties; but since then we have grown poor, and of late years we take some summer boarders. They have all returned to the city, however, the last of them having left only yesterday; so you can have as many rooms as you like.
"Adelaide!" she called.
A rugged girl of seventeen entered the hall from a rear room.
"This is my granddaughter, Adelaide, Mr. Johnston."
Percy looked into her eyes for an instant; then her lashes dropped. He remembered afterward that they were like her grandmother's, and he found himself repeating, "The eye is the window of the soul."
"My Dear, will you ask Wilkes to show Mr. Johnston to the southwest room, and to put a fire in the grate and warm water in the pitcher?"
"Thank you, that will not be necessary," said Percy. "I wish to see and learn as much as possible of the country hereabout, and particularly of the farm lands; and, if I may leave my suit-case to be sent to my room when convenient, I shall take a walk,—perhaps a long walk. When should I be back to supper."
"At six or half past. My son Charles has gone to Montplain, but he will be home for dinner. He knows the lands all about here and will be glad, I am sure, to give you any information possible."
With rapid strides Percy followed the private lane to the open fields of Westover.
"Is he a cowboy, Grandma?" asked Adelaide, in a tone which did not suggest a very high regard for cowboys. "Anyway," she continued, detecting a shade of disapproval in the grandmother's face, "he has a cowboy's hat, but he doesn't wear buckskin trousers or spurs."
Percy's hat was a relic of college life. Two years before he had completed the agricultural course at one of the state universities in the corn belt. Somewhat above the average in size, well proportioned, accustomed to the heaviest farm work, and trained in football at college, he was a sturdy young giant,—" strong as an ox and quick as lightning," in the exaggerated language of his football admirers
FORTY ACRES IN THE CORN BELT
PERCY JOHNSTON'S grandfather had gone west from "York State" and secured from the federal government a 160-acre "Claim" of the rich corn belt land. His father had received through inheritance only 40 acres of this; and, marrying his choice from the choir of the local Lutheran congregation, he had farmed his forty and an adjoining eighty acres, "rented on shares," for only three years, when he was taken with pneumonia from exposure and overwork, and died within a week.
Percy was scarcely a year old when his father was laid in the grave; but to the sorrowing mother he was all that life held dear. Existence seemed possible to her only because she could bestow upon him her double affection, and because the double duties which she took upon herself completely occupied her time.
She was not in immediate financial need, for her husband had been able to put some money in the bank during the last year, after having paid for his "outfit;" the forty-acre farm was free from debt, but under the law it must remain the joint property of mother and child for twenty years.
Wisely or unwisely she rejected every opportunity presented that would have given Percy a stepfather. As daughter and wife she had learned much of the art of agriculture, and, after some consultation with a neighbor who seemed to be successful, she made her own plans.
In her make up, sentiment was balanced with sense. Even as a young wife she had sometimes driven the mower or the self-binder to "help-out," and she had found pleasure and health in such hours of out-door life. "I can work and not overwork," she said to her friends; and in any case the crops seemed to grow better under the eye of the mistress.
Some years she employed a neighbor boy or girl, and always hired such other help as she needed. Prices were sometimes low and crops were not always good; and only widowed mothers can know the full story of her labor, love and sacrifice. With Percy's help he was sent to school and finally to the university, choosing for himself the agricultural college, much to the surprise and disappointment of his devoted mother.
"Why," she asked, "why should my son go to college to study agriculture? Have you not studied farming in the practical school of experience all your life? Surely we have done as much as could be done on our own little farm; and you have also had the benefit of the longer experience of our best farmers hereabout, and of the accumulated wisdom of our ancestors. Oh, I had hoped and truly believed that you would become interested in engineering, or in medicine, or may be in the law. I cannot understand why you should think of going to college to study farming. Surely you already know more than the college professors do about agriculture."
Percy's mother had too much good sense to have raised a spoiled boy. He had been taught to work and to think for himself. She loved her boy far better than her own life,—loved as only a widowed mother can who has risked her life for him, and who has given to him all her thought and all her energy from the best twenty years of her own life; but she had never let herself enjoy that kind of selfishness which prompts a mother to do for her child what he should be taught to do for himself. Despite his natural love of sport and the severe trials he had often brought to her patience and perseverance during his boyhood days, he had reached a development with the advance of youth that satisfied her high ideal. His love and appreciation and tender care for her repaid her every day, she told herself, for all the years of watching, working, waiting. Never before had he withstood her positive wish and final judgment.
And yet it was she who had told him that he alone must choose his life work and his college course in preparation for that work; but, after the years of toil, she had not dreamed that he would choose the farm life.
"My darling boy," she continued, "it leads to nothing. This little farm is poorer to-day than it was when your dear father and I came here to live and labor. To be sure, the lower field still grows as good or better crops than ever; but I can remember when that field was so wet and swampy that it could not be cultivated, and it was in the work of ditching and tiling that field," she sobbed, "that your father took the sickness that caused his death."
Tears were in Percy's eyes as he put his arm about his mother and wiped her tears away.
"But I must tell you what I know to be the truth," she went on quickly. "The older fields that your grandfather cultivated are less productive now than when he received them from our generous government. Indeed, it was your father's plan to continue to farm here only for a few years longer until he could save enough to enable him, with what we could have gotten from the sale of our own forty, to go farther west and purchase a large farm of virgin soil. He realized, my Son, that even that part of his father's farm that was first put under cultivation was becoming distinctly reduced in productiveness. He remembered, too, the stories often repeated by your grandfather of the run-down condition of the once exceedingly fertile soils of the Mohawk Valley and other parts of New York State.
"And you know, Percy, there were many Dutch farmers settled in New York. They were probably the best farmers among all who came to America from the Old World. I have heard your grandfather explain their use of crop rotation, and they understood well the value of clover and farm fertilizers. But with all of their skill and knowledge, the land grew poor, and now the very farm upon which Grandpa was born is not worth as much as the actual cost of the farm buildings. I hope you will consider all of this. The farm life is so unpromising for you, and there are such great opportunities for success in other lines. Still I feel that you must decide this question for yourself my Son, but tell me why you would choose the life and work of a farmer?"
LINCOLN S VIEW OF AGRICULTURE
PERCY had listened without interrupting, grieved at her disappointment, and open to any reasoning that might change his mind.
"Mother dearest," he said, "it was a year ago that you said I would have only till this fail to decide upon my college course and that it should be a special preparation for my life work. I have given much thought to it. You said that I should choose for myself, and I have not consulted much with others, but I have tried to consider the matter from different points of view.
"You know the Christmas present you gave me of the Lincoln books?"
"Yes, I know, and you have read them so much. I could not get you many books, but I knew there could be nothing better for my boy to read than the thoughts of that noble man. But, Percy dear, Lincoln was a lawyer, and he rose from the lowest walk in life to the highest position in the country, and with much less preparation than my own boy will have. Suppose he had remained a farmer! Surely no such success could ever have been reached. I am not so foolish as to have any such high hopes for you. Percy; but if you can only put yourself in the way of opportunity; and make such preparation as you can to fill with credit some position of responsibility that may be offered you! I had truly hoped that your study of Lincoln's life would influence yours. To me Lincoln was the noblest of all the noble men of our history, and I doubt not of all history, save Him who came to redeem the world."
Percy stepped to his little homemade bookcase and took a volume from the Lincoln set.
"May I read you some words of Lincoln?" he asked.
"Oh yes," she answered wonderingly.
"On September 30th, 1859," said Percy, "Lincoln gave an address at Milwaukee, before the State Agricultural Society of Wisconsin, and of all the addresses of Lincoln it seems to me that this is the greatest, because it deals with the greatest material problem of the United States. I think I have scarcely heard a public address in which the speaker has not dwelt upon the fact that the farmer must feed and clothe the world; and it seems to me that the missionaries always speak of the famines and starvation of so many people in India and other old countries. Do you remember the lecture by the medical missionary? Well, would it not he better to send agricultural missionaries to India and China to teach those people how to raise crops?
"I have read and reread this address more than any other in the Lincoln set. Let me read you some of the paragraphs I have marked.
"After making some introductory remarks about the value of agricultural fairs, Lincoln began his address as follows:
"'I presume I am not expected to employ the time assigned me in the mere flattery of the farmers as a class. My opinion of them is that, in proportion to numbers, they are neither better nor worse than other people. In the nature of things they are more numerous than any other class; and I believe there are really more attempts at flattering them than any other, the reason of which I cannot perceive, unless it be that they can cast more votes than any other. On reflection, I am not quite sure that there is not cause of suspicion against you in selecting me, in some sort a politician and in no sort a farmer, to address you.
"'But farmers being the most numerous class, it follows that their interest is the largest interest. It also follows that that interest is most worthy of all to be cherished and cultivated—that if there be inevitable conflict between that interest and any other, that other should yield.
"'Again, I suppose that it is not expected of me to impart to you much specific information on agriculture. You have no reason to believe, and do not believe, that I possess it; if that were what you seek in this address, any one of your own number or class would be more able to furnish it. You, perhaps, do expect me to give some general interest to the occasion, and to make some general suggestions on practical matters. I shall attempt nothing more. And in such suggestions by me, quite likely very little will be new to you, and a large part of the rest will be possibly already known to be erroneous.
"'My first suggestion is an inquiry as to the effect of greater thoroughness in all the departments of agriculture than now prevails in the Northwest—perhaps I might say in America. To speak entirely within bounds, it is known that fifty bushels of wheat, or one hundred bushels of Indian corn, can be produced from an acre.'"
Percy paused: "You know, Mother, that our corn has averaged some less than fifty bushels per acre for the last five years, and, as you say, the lower field has been much better than the old land, and I think you are quite right in your belief that as an average the land is growing poorer, although we cultivate better than we used to do, and our seed corn is of the best variety and saved with much care. But let me read further:
"'Less than a year ago I saw it stated that a man, by extraordinary care and labor, had produced of wheat what was equal to two hundred bushels from an acre. But take fifty of wheat, and one hundred of corn, to be the possibility, and compare it with the actual crops of the country. Many years ago I saw it stated, in a patent office report, that eighteen bushels was the average crop throughout the United States; and this year an intelligent farmer of Illinois assured me that he did not believe the land harvested in that State this season had yielded more than an average of eight bushels to the acre; much was cut, and then abandoned as not worth threshing, and much was abandoned as not worth cutting."'
"I know it is true," said the mother, "that wheat was once very much grown in Central and Northern Illinois, but 1859 must have been an unusually poor year, for it was grown for twenty years after that, although it finally failed so completely that its cultivation has been practically abandoned in those sections for nearly twenty years. However, the chinch bugs were a very important factor in discouraging wheat growing and the land has been very good for corn, especially since the tile-drainage was put in; but on the whole is it not as I told you?"
"But note these statements," said Percy, turning again to the book:
"'It is true that heretofore we have had better crops with no better cultivation, but I believe that it is also true that the soil has never been pushed up to one-half of its capacity.
"'What would be the effect upon the farming interest to push the soil up to something near its full capacity?'"
"But what can he mean," said the mother. "How can anyone do better than we have done? We change our crops, and sow clover with the oats, and return as much as we can to the land. But let me hear further what Lincoln said:"
"Yes, Mother, this is what he said:
"'Unquestionably it will take more labor to produce fifty bushels of wheat from an acre than it will to produce ten bushels from the same acre; but will it take more labor to produce fifty bushels from one acre than from five? Unquestionably thorough cultivation will require more labor to the acre; but will it require more to the bushel? If it should require just as much to the bushel, there are some probable, and several certain, advantages in favor of the thorough practice. It is probable it would develop those unknown causes which of late years have cut down our crops below their former average. It is almost certain, I think, that by deeper plowing, analysis of the soils, experiments with manures and varieties of seeds, observance of seasons, and the like, these causes would be discovered and remedied. It is certain that thorough cultivation would spare half, or more than half, the cost of land, simply because the same produce would be got from half, or from less than half, the quantity of land. This proposition is self-evident, and can be made no plainer by repetitions or illustrations. The cost of land is a great item, even in new countries, and it constantly grows greater and greater, in comparison with other items, as the country grows older.'"
Percy paused and said: "If I understand correctly these words of Lincoln, the land need not become poor. But I do not know why land becomes poor. I do not know what the soil contains, nor do I know what corn is made of. We plow the ground and plant the seed and cultivate and harvest the crop, but I do not know what the corn crop, or any crop, takes from the soil. I want to learn how to analyze the soil and crop and to find out, if possible, why soils become poor, in order, as Lincoln suggests, that the cause may be discovered and remedied."
"It may be that the college professors could teach you in that way," said the mother, "but you know the farm life is so full of work and so empty of mental culture."
"I used to think so too," said Percy, "but I fear we have worked too much with our hands and too little with our minds; that we have done much work in blindness as to the actual causes that control our crop yields; and that we have not found the mental culture that may be found in the farm life. Let me read again. These are Lincolns words:
"'No other human occupation opens so wide a field for the profitable and agreeable combination of labor with cultivated thought, as agriculture. I know nothing so pleasant to the mind as the discovery of anything that is at once new and valuable—nothing that so lightens and sweetens toil as the hopeful pursuit of such discovery. And how vast and how varied a field is agriculture for such discovery! The mind, already trained to thought in the country school, or higher school, cannot fail to find there an exhaustless source of enjoyment. Every blade of grass is a study; and to produce two where there was but one is both a profit and a pleasure. And not grass alone. but soils, seeds, and seasons—hedges, ditches, and fences—draining, droughts, and irrigation—plowing, hoeing, and harrowing—reaping, mowing, and threshing—saving crops, pests of crops, diseases of crops, and what will prevent or cure them—implements, utensils, and machines, their relative merits, and how to improve them—hogs, horses, and cattle—sheep, goats and poultry—trees, shrubs, fruits, plants, and flowers—the thousand things of which these are specimens—each a world of study within itself.
"'In all this book learning is available. A capacity and taste for reading gives access to whatever has already been discovered by others. It is the key, or one of the keys, to the already solved problems. And not only so; it gives a relish and facility for successfully pursuing the unsolved ones. The rudiments of science are available, and highly available. Some knowledge of botany assists in dealing with the vegetable world—with all growing crops. Chemistry assists in the analysis of soils, selection and application of manures, and in numerous other ways. The mechanical branches of natural philosophy are ready help in almost everything, but especially in reference to implements and machinery.
"'The thought recurs that education—cultivated thought—can best be combined with agricultural labor, on the principle of thorough work; that careless, half-performed, slovenly work makes no place for such combination; and thorough work, again, renders sufficient the smallest quantity of ground to each man; and this, again, conforms to what must occur in a world less inclined to wars and more devoted to the arts of peace than heretofore. Population must increase rapidly, more rapidly than in former times, and ere long the most valuable of all arts will be the art of deriving a comfortable subsistence from the smallest area of soil. No community whose every member possesses this art, can ever be the victim of oppression in any of its forms. Such community will be alike independent of crowned kings, money kings, and land kings.'"
PERCY read these words as though they were his own; and perhaps we may say they were his own, for, as Emerson says: "Thought is the property of him who can entertain it."
The mother listened, first with wonder; then with deepened interest, which changed to admiration for the language and for her son, who seemed to be filled with the spirit which had led Lincoln to see the problems and the possibilities of the farm life in a light that was wholly new.
"Surely those are noble thoughts," she said, "from a noble and wise man. I shall only hope that you will find some opportunity to make the best possible of your life. We have such a small farm, and the land hereabout is all so high in price that to enlarge the farm seems almost hopeless. In part because of this difficulty it had seemed to me that greater opportunities might be open for you in other lines. Don't you feel that you will be greatly handicapped in the beginning?"
"Perhaps," said Percy, "in some ways; but not in other ways. We hear on every hand that this is an age of specialists, that the most successful man cannot take time to prepare himself well for many different lines of work; that he must make the best possible preparation in some one line for which he may have special talent or special interest; and then endeavor to go farther in that line than any one has gone before. When I first wrote to the State University I asked how long a time would likely be required for me to complete all the subjects that are taught there, and the registrar replied that, if I could carry heavy work every year, I might hope to take all the courses now offered in about seventy years. In considering this point of preparation for future work, it has seemed to me that if I leave the farm life and devote myself to law or to engineering, I must in large measure sacrifice about ten years of valuable experience in practical agriculture. I have learned enough about farming so that I can manage almost as well as the neighbors; and without this knowledge, gathered, as you say, in the school of experience, I can see that serious mistakes would often be made.
"You know that Doctor Miller bought the Bronson farm two years ago. Well, he has been giving some directions himself concerning its management. He has had no experience in farming, and last year, after he had the new barn built, he directed his men to put the sheaf oats in the barn so they would be safe from the weather. He did not understand that oats must stand in the shock for two or three weeks to become thoroughly "cured" before they can safely be even stacked out of doors; and the result was that his entire oat crop rotted in the barn.
"People who have lived always in the city sometimes express the most amusing opinions of farm conditions so well understood even by a ten-year-old country boy. I recently overheard two traveling men remarking about the differences which they could plainly observe between the corn crops in different fields as they rode past in the train.
"'Some fields have twice as good corn as other adjoining fields,' one remarked. 'How do you account for the difference,' asked the other. 'oh, I suppose the one farmer was too stingy of his seed,' was the reply.
"I am convinced that there are hundreds or perhaps thousands of valuable facts that have been acquired through experience and observation by the average farm boy of eighteen or twenty years that would be of little or no value to him in most other occupations; and in this respect I should be handicapped if I leave the farm life and begin wholly at the bottom in some other profession. Perhaps agriculture is not a profession, but I think it should be if the highest success is to be attained."
"I surely hope you will be successful, Percy, and your reasoning sounds all right; but other occupations seem to lead to greater wealth than farming."
"I very much doubt," replied Percy, "if there is any other occupation that is so uniformly successful as farming, in the truest sense. It provides constant employment, a good living, and a comfortable home for nearly all who engage in it; and as a rule they have made no such preparation as is required for most other lines of work.
"But there is still another side to the farm life, Mother dear, or to any life for that matter. Your own life has taught me that to work for the love of others is a motive which directs the noblest lives. If agricultural missionaries are needed in India, they are also needed in parts of our own country where farm lands that were once productive are now greatly depleted and in some cases even abandoned for farming; and. if the older lands of the corn belt are already showing a decrease in productive power, we need the missionary even here. If I can learn how to make land richer and richer and lead others to follow such a system, I should find much satisfaction in the effort."
WORN OUT FARMS
"WELL, you found some mighty poor land, I reckon," was the greeting Percy received from Grandma West as he returned from his walk over Westover and some neighboring farms.
"I found some land that produces very poor crops," he replied, "but I don't know yet whether I should say that the land is poor."
"Well, I know it's about as poor as poor can be; but it was not always poor, I can tell you. When I was a girl, if this farm did not produce five or six thousands bushels of wheat, we thought it a poor crop; but now, if we get five or six hundred bushels, we think we are doing pretty well. My husband's father paid sixty-eight dollars an acre for some of this land, and it was worth more than that a few years later and, mind you, in those days wheat was worth less and niggers a mighty sight more than they are nowadays; but, somehow, the land has just grown poor. We don't know how. We have worked hard, and we have kept as much stock as we could, but we could never produce enough fertilizer on the farm to go very far on a thousand acres.
"Yes, Sir, we have just about a thousand acres here and we still own it,—and with no mortgage on it, I'm mighty glad to say. But, laws, the land is poor, and you can get all the land you want about here for ten dollars an acre. There comes Charles, now. He can tell you all about this country for more than twenty miles, I reckon.
"Wilkes!" A negro servant answered the call, and took the horse as Charles West stopped at the side gate.
"Wilkes was born here in slave times, nigh sixty years ago," she continued. "He is three years older than my son Charles. He has remained with us ever since the war, except for a few months when he went away one time just to see for sure that he was free and could go. But he came back mighty homesick and he'll want to stay here till he dies, I reckon.
"Charles, this is Mr. Johnston, Percy Johnston, as he says; but he thinks he is no kin of General Joe or Albert Sidney. He's been looking at the land hereabout, but I don't think he'll want any of it after seeing the kind of crops we raise."
With this introduction, the mother disappeared within the house, and Charles took her seat on the vine-covered veranda.
"I feel that I owe an apology to you, Sir," said Percy, "for presenting myself here with bag and baggage, and asking to share the hospitality of your home, with no previous arrangements having been made; but by chance I met your friend, Doctor Goddard, on the train, and, in answer to my inquiry as to whom I could go to for correct information concerning the history and present condition and value of farm lands in this section of the country, he advised me to stop off at Blue Mound Station and consult with you. Had I known that you were to be in Montplain to-day, of course I should have gone directly there. Your mother very graciously consented to receive me as a belated summer boarder, a kindness which I greatly appreciate, I assure you.
"My mother and I have a small farm in Illinois,—so small that it would be lost in such an estate as Westover, but the price of land is very high in the West at the present time; and I am really considering the question of selling our little forty-acre farm and purchasing two or three hundred acres in the East or South. My thought is that I might secure a farm that was once good land, but that has been run down to such an extent that it can be bought for perhaps ten or twenty dollars an acre. I should want the land to be nearly level so that it would not be difficult to prevent damage from surface washing. I should prefer, of course, to purchase where there is a good road and not more than five miles from a railway station.
"If I secure such a farm, it would be my purpose to restore its fertility. If possible I should want to make the land at least as productive as it ever was, even in its virgin state."
"Well, Sir," said Mr. West, "if you could accomplish your purpose and ultimately show a balance on the right side of the ledger, it would be a work of very great value to this country. There will be no difficulty in securing such land as you want with location and price to suit you; but I think that you should know in advance that older men than you have purchased farms hereabout with very similar intentions, but with the ultimate result that they have lost more, financially, than we who are native to the soil; for, while we were once well-to-do and are now poor, we still own our land, impoverished as it is. However, the farm still furnishes us a comfortable living, supplemented, to be sure, with some income from other sources.
"I am very willing to give as much information as I can regarding our lands and the agricultural conditions and common practices, although I fear that this knowledge will discourage you from making any investments in our worn-out farms. If you still decide to make the trial, I surely hope you will be successful, for we need such an object lesson above all else.
"I assume that you will wish to locate near a town of considerable size, in order that you can haul manures from town, and perhaps some feed also; and have a good market for your milk and other products."
"No, Sir," said Percy, "I should prefer not to engage in dairying, and I do not wish to make use of fertilizer made from my neighbors' crops. We have some object lessons of that kind in my own state; and I have no doubt that some can be found in this state who feed all they produce on their own land and perhaps even larger amounts of feed purchased from their neighbors, or hauled from town, and who, in addition to using all of the farm fertilizer thus produced, haul considerable amounts of such materials from the livery stables in town. With much hard work, with a good market for the products of the dairy and truck garden, and with business skill in purchasing feed from their neighbors when prices are low, such men succeed as individuals; but do they furnish an object lesson which could be followed by the general farmer?"
"I had not looked at the matter from that point of view," said Mr. West, "but it is plain to see that on the whole there can be only a small percentage of such farmers; and in reality they are a detriment to their neighbors who permit their own hay and grain to be hauled off from their farms; but certainly these are the methods followed by our most successful farmers, and these are they who live on the fat of the land."
"Are they farmers or are they manufacturers?" asked Percy. "It seems to me that, in large measure, their business is to manufacture a finished product from the raw materials produced upon other farms, either in the immediate neighborhood or in the newer regions of the West. As you know, much of our surplus produce from the farms of the corn belt is shipped into the eastern and southern states, there to be used as food for man and beast, not only in the cities, but also to a considerable extent in the country. Instead of living on the fat of the land, such manufacturers live in the country at the expense of special city customers who may have fat jobs and are able to pay fancy prices for country produce made by the impoverishment of many farms. In most cases, if such a 'successful farmer' were compelled to pay average prices for what he buys and allowed to receive only average prices for what he sells, his fat would have plenty of lean streaks."
DINNER was served at the family table, with Mr. West at the head and his mother at the foot.
"The eye is the window of the soul," thought Percy, as he met the glance of Adelaide sitting opposite. Certain he was that he had never before looked into such alluring eyes.
Adelaide was neither a girl nor a woman and yet at times she was both. With the other children she was a child that still loved to romp and play with the rest, free as a bird. Her mother, a sweet-faced woman, some years her husband's junior, made sisters of all her daughters, the more naturally perhaps, because the grandmother was still so active and so interested in all phases of homemaking that she seemed mother to them all. Adelaide's two older sisters were married and her brother Charles, also older than herself, by three years, was a senior in college. Adelaide had just finished her course in the Academy where the long service of a maiden aunt as a teacher had secured certain appreciated privileges, without which it is doubtful if both Charles and Adelaide could have been sent away to school at the same time. A boy of fourteen and the eight-year old baby brother with two sisters between comprised the younger members of the family.
Miss Bowman, the teacher of the district school, also occupied a place at the table. The evening meal was disposed of without delay, for there was something of greater importance to follow. A musicale in the near-by country church had been in preparation and Percy heartily accepted an invitation to accompany the family to the evening's entertainment. Or rather he accompanied Mr. and Mrs. West and the grandmother, for all the children had walked the distance before the carriage arrived.
Without having specialized in music, nevertheless Percy had improved the frequent opportunities he had had, especially while at the university, and he had learned to appreciate quality in the musical world. Consequently he was not a little surprised and greatly pleased to sit and listen to a class of music that he had never before heard rendered in country places; but, as he listened for Adelaide's singing in chorus, duet, and solo, he found himself wondering whether the eye or the voice more clearly revealed the soul.
"It seemed like the old times," said the grandmother, with something like a sigh, as she took her place in the carriage. "If our land was only like it used to be! but it's become so mighty poor our children can't have many advantages these days. The Harcourt's and Staunton's whom you met are descendants of ancestors once well known in this state."
"It seems to me that the land need not have grown poor," said Percy. "If the land was once productive, its fertility ought to be maintained by the return of the essential materials removed in crops or destroyed by cultivation. Surely land need not become poor; but of course I know too little about this land to suggest at the present time what method could best be adopted for its improvement."
"We can tell you what the best method is," she quickly replied. "Just put on plenty of ordinary farm fertilizer, but, laws, we don't have enough to cover fifty acres a year."
For a time each seemed lost in thought, or listening to the husband and wife who sat in the front seat quietly talking of the evening's performances. Percy recognized some of the names they mentioned as belonging to persons to whom he had been presented at the church. It gradually dawned upon him that he had spent the evening with the aristocracy of the Blue Mound neighborhood. Culture, refinement, and poverty were the chief characteristics of the people who had been assembled.
"It need not have been," he repeated to himself; "surely, it need not have been, "and then he wondered if these were not much sadder words than the oft repeated "it might have been."
"May I ask where your people came from, Mrs. West?" he questioned.
"Where we came from?" she repeated, "I don't quite understand."
"Excuse me," said Percy, "but in the West it is so common to ask people where they are from. You know the West is settled with people from all sections of the East, and many from Europe and from Canada, and I thought your ancestors may have moved here from some other state, as from Pennsylvania for example, where my mother's people once lived."
"Let me advise you, Young Man," said the grandmother briskly, and in a tone that reminded Percy of the twinkle he had at times noticed in her eyes when she seemed young again—"Let me advise you never to ask a Virginian if he was born in Pennsylvania. That's more than most Virginians can stand. Once a Virginian, always a Virginian,—both now, hereafter, and hitherto. It's mighty hard to find a Virginian who came from anywhere except from the royal blood of England; although some may condescend to acknowledge kinship to the Scottish royalty."
The grandmother's voice was raised to a pitch which commanded the attention of the other members in the carriage and a hearty laugh followed her jovial wit, to the full relief of Percy's temporary embarrassment.
"Well," she continued, "to answer your question: my husband and my children are direct descendants of Colonel Charles West, a brother of Lord Delaware, who was Sir Thomas West, whose ancestry goes back to Henry the Second, of England, and to David the First, of Scotland; and my granddaughter is the great-granddaughter of Patrick Henry. So now you know where we came from," and she laughed again like a girl. "Yes," she added, "we have a family tree six feet from branch to branch, but it is stored in a back room where I am sure it is covered with cobwebs, for we have no time to live with the past when the summer boarders are here."
As the carriage stopped at the side gate, the children's voices could be heard in the rear; for Mr. West had been living over again his younger days with his sweet-faced wife, and the farm team had taken its own time.
A BIT OF HISTORY
"NOW, I shall be at home to-day and glad to assist you in any way possible," announced Mr. West at the breakfast table.
"That is very kind of you," Percy replied. "I want especially to learn some of the things you know about the soils of Westover. Can you show me the best land and the poorest land on the estate?"
"I think I can." said Mr. West. "We have some land that has not grown a crop in fifty years, and we have other land that still produces a very fair crop if properly rotated."
"And what rotation do you practice?"
"Well, the system we have finally settled into and have followed for many years is to plow up the run-out pasture land and plant to corn. The second year we usually raise a crop of wheat or oats and seed down to clover and timothy. We then try to cut hay from the land for two years, and afterward we use the field for pasture for six or eight years, or until finally it produces only weeds and foul grass. Then we cover it with farm manure, so far as we can, and again plow the land for corn. Wheat and cattle are the principal products sold from the farm."
"In this way," said Percy, "you grow one crop of corn on the same field about once in ten or twelve years."
"Yes, about that, and also one, or sometimes two, crops of small grain. We usually have about seventy-five acres of corn, nearly a hundred acres of small grain, and we cut hay from somewhat more than hundred acres, thus leaving perhaps five hundred acres of pasture land, besides about two hundred acres of timber land which has not been cultivated for many years."
"Was the timber land that we see about here formerly cultivated?" asked Percy.
"Oh, yes, nearly all of it was under cultivation when I was a boy, although some had been allowed to go back to timber even before I was born. On our own farm we have some timber land that, so far as I have been able to learn, was never under cultivation; and the character of the trees is different on that land. There you will find original pine, but on the worn-out land the 'old-field' pine are found. They are practically worthless, while the original pine makes very valuable lumber.
"With our system of rotation we keep about all of our farm under control; but the smaller farms were necessarily cropped more continuously to support the family, and they became so unproductive that many of them have been completely abandoned for agricultural purposes; and even some of the large plantations were poorly managed, one part having been cropped continuously until too poor to pay for cropping, while the remainder was allowed to grow up in scrub brush and 'old-field' pine; and, of course, the expense of clearing such land is about as much as the net value of the crops that could be grown until it again becomes too poor for cropping."
"Then the recleared lands are not as productive as when they were first cleared from the virgin forest?"
"Oh, by no means. In the virgin state these lands grew bountiful crops almost continuously for a hundred years or more. Virginia was famed at home and abroad for her virgin fertility. Great crops of corn, wheat, and tobacco were grown. Tobacco was a valuable export crop, and there were many Virginians whose mothers came to America with passage paid for in tobacco. History records, you may remember, that it was the custom for a time to permit a young man to pay into a general store house a hundred pounds of tobacco,—and this was later increased to one hundred fifty pounds,—to be used in payment of passage for young women who were thus enabled to come to America; and there was a very distinct understanding that only those who had come forth with the tobacco were eligible as suitors for the hand of any 'imported' maiden. As a matter of fact some such arrangement as this was almost a necessity," said Mr. West, as he noted Adelaide's almost incredulous look. "Among the first settlers in Virginia, young men greatly predominated; and in the main the people in the home country were themselves in poverty. Under the hereditary laws of England the father's estate and title became the possession of his eldest son; and in large measure the other children of the family were thrown absolutely upon their own resources, so that many, even with royal blood in their veins, were very glad to embrace any opportunity offered to seek a new home in this land of virgin richness.
"Of course," he continued, smilingly and in direct answer to Adelaide's inquiring look, "those young women were in no sense bound to accept the attention or the offer of any man; but naturally most of them did become the wives of those who were able to offer them a husband's love and a home with more of life's comforts perhaps than they had ever known before. They were at perfect liberty, however, to remain in the enjoyment of single blessedness if they chose, and I doubt not," he added, with a twinkle in his eyes, "that some of them had no other choice."
WITH an auger in his hand, by means of which a hole could be quickly bored into the soil to a depth of three or four feet, Percy joined Mr. West for the tramp over the plantation.
In general the estate called Westover consists of undulating upland. A small stream crosses one corner of the farm bordered by some twenty acres of bottom land which is subject to frequent overflow, and used only for permanent pasture. Several draws or small valleys are tributary to the stream valley, thus furnishing excellent surface drainage for the entire farm. In some places the sides of these valleys are quite sloping and subject to moderate erosion when not protected by vegetation. Above and between these slopes the upland is nearly level. As they came upon one of these level areas, grown up with small forest trees, Mr. West stopped and said:
"Now right here is probably as poor a piece of land as there is on the farm. This land will positively not grow a crop worth harvesting unless it is well fertilized."
"If we were in the Illinois corn belt," replied Percy, "I should expect to find the land in this position to be the most productive on the farm. Our level uplands are now valued at from one hundred fifty to two hundred dollars an acre. A farm of one hundred eighty acres, five miles from town, sold for two hundred and fourteen dollars an acre a few days before I started east."
"Well," said Mr. West, "this may have been good land once, but if so it was before my time. Of course most of our uplands here have been cropped for upwards of two hundred years; and about all that has ever been done to keep up the fertility of the soil has been to rotate the crops. To be sure, the farm manure has always been used as far as it would go, but the supply is really very small compared to the need for it."
"Do you think that the proper rotation of crops would maintain the fertility of the soil?" asked Percy.
"No, I have tried too many rotations to think that, but I suppose it is a help in that direction, don't you?"
"I would say that crop rotation may help to maintain the supply of some important constituents of a fertile soil, but it will certainly hasten the depletion of some other equally essential constituents."
"Well, that's a new idea to me. I may not quite grasp your meaning; but first tell me about these tests you are making."
When they stopped on the area of poor land as designated by Mr. West, Percy had turned his auger into the earth and drawn out a sample of moist soil, which he molded into the form of a ball. He broke this in two, inserted a piece of blue paper, and pressed it firmly together. He then laid the ball of soil aside, secured another sample with the auger, and formed it into a cake with a hollow in the upper surface. He took from his pocket a slender box or tube of light wood, removed the screw cap, and drew out a glass-stoppered bottle.
"This bottle contains hydrochloric acid," said Percy. "It is often incorrectly called 'muriatic acid.' It consists of two elements, hydrogen and chlorin, from which its name is derived. But you are perhaps already familiar with the chemical elements."
"Well, I heard lectures at William and Mary for four years, and they included some chemistry as it was then taught; but they certainly did not include the application of chemistry to agriculture, and I am greatly interested to know the meaning of these tests you are making here on our own farm under my own eyes. You may take it for granted that I know absolutely nothing of such use of chemistry as you are evidently turning to some practical value."
"Any other farmer can make these tests as well as I can," said Percy. "This bottle of acid cost me fifteen cents and it can be duplicated for the same price at almost any drug store. The acid is very concentrated, in fact about as strong as can easily be produced, but it need not be especially pure. Some care should be taken not to get it on the clothing or on the fingers, although it is not at all dangerous to handle, but it tends to burn the fingers unless soon removed, either by washing with water or by rubbing it off with the moist soil."
"I use this acid to test the soil for the presence or absence of limestone. Ordinary limestone consists of calcium carbonate. Here, again the chemical name alone is sufficient to indicate the elements that compose this compound. It is only necessary to keep in mind the fact that the ending -ate on the common chemical names signifies the presence of oxygen Thus calcium carbonate is composed of the three primary elements, calcium, carbon and oxygen.
"Of course the chemical element is the simplest form of matter. An element is a primary substance which cannot be divided into two or more substances All known matter consists of about eighty of these primary elements; and, as a matter of fact, most of these are of rare occurence—many of them much more rare than the element gold.
"About ninety-eight per cent. of the soil consists of eight elements united in various compounds or combinations; and only ten elements are essential for the growth and full development of corn or other plants. If any one of these ten elements is lacking, it is impossible to produce a kernel of corn, a grain of wheat, or a leaf of clover; and in the main the supply is under the farmer's own control. But we can discuss this matter more fully later. Let us see what we have here."
Percy poured a few drops of the hydrochloric acid into the hollow of the cake of soil.
"What should it do?" asked Mr. West.
"If the soil contains any limestone, the acid should produce foaming, or effervescence," replied Percy; "but it is very evident that this soil contains no limestone. You see the hydrochloric acid has power to decompose calcium carbonate with the formation of carbonic acid and calcium chlorid, a kind of salt that is used to make a brine that won't freeze in the artificial ice plants. The carbonic acid, if produced at once decomposes into water and carbon dioxid. Now, the liberated carbon dioxid is a gas and the rapid generation or evolution of this gas constitutes the bubbling or foaming we are looking for; but since there is no appearance of foaming we know that this soil contains no limestone."
"Then you have already found that those three elements,—calcium, carbon, and oxygen, you called them, I think—you find that those elements are all lacking in this soil."
"No, this test does not prove that," said Percy. "It only proves that they are not present as limestone. Calcium may be present in other compounds, especially in silicates, which are the most abundant compounds in the soil and in the earth's crust; and, as indicated by the ending -ate, oxygen is contained in calcium silicate as well as in calcium carbonate."
"I see; the subject is much more complicated than I thought."
"Somewhat, perhaps," Percy replied; "but yet it is quite simple and very easily understood, if we only keep in mind a few well established facts. Certainly the essential science of soil fertility is much less complicated than many of the political questions of the day, such as the gold standard or free-silver basis, the tariff issues, and reciprocity advantages, regarding which most farmers are fairly well informed,—at least to such an extent that they can argue these questions for hours."
"I think you are quite right in that," said Mr. West. "Of course, it is important that every citizen entitled to the privilege of voting in a democracy like ours should be able to exercise his franchise intelligently; but the citizen who is responsible for the management of farm lands ought surely to be at least as well informed concerning the principles which underlie the maintenance of soil fertility; provided, of course, that such knowledge is within his reach; and from what you say I am beginning to believe that such is the case. At any rate this simple test seems to show conclusively that this soil contains no limestone, and it is common knowledge that limestone soils are good soils."
Percy took up the ball of soil containing the slip of blue paper, broke it in two again, and it was seen that the paper had changed in color from blue to red
"There's a change, for certain," said Mr. West, "that has some meaning to you I suppose."
"This is litmus paper," said Percy. "It is prepared by moistening specially prepared paper with a solution of a coloring matter called litmus, and the paper is then dried. This coloring matter has the property of turning blue in the presence of alkali and red in the presence of acid. The blue paper is prepared with a trace of alkali, and the red paper with a trace of acid. If more than a trace were present the litmus paper would not be sufficiently sensitive for the test.
"This little bottle containing two dozen slips of paper cost me five cents, and it can be obtained at most drug stores.
"Alkali and acid are exactly opposite terms, like hot and cold. The one neutralizes the other. This test with litmus paper is a test for soil acidity, and the fact that the moisture of the soil has turned the litmus from blue to red shows that this soil is acid, or sour. The soil moisture contained enough acid to neutralize the trace of alkali contained in the blue paper and to change the paper to a distinctly light red color; and the fact that the paper remains red even after drying, shows that the soil contains fixed acids or acid salts, and not merely carbonic acid, which if present would completely volatilize as the paper dries.
"Now, these two tests are in harmony. The one shows the absence of limestone, and the other shows the presence of acidity, and consequently the need of limestone to correct or neutralize the acidity, for limestone itself is an alkali."
"But limestone soils are not alkali soils, are they?" asked Mr. West.
"Not in the sense of containing injurious alkali, like sodium carbonate, the compound which is found in the 'black alkali' lands of the arid regions of the far West; but chemically considered limestone is truly an alkali; and, as such, it has power to neutralze this soil acidity."
"Is the acidity harmful to the crops?"
"It is not particularly harmful to the common crops of the grass family, such as wheat, corn, oats, and timothy; but some of the most valuable crops for soil improvement will not thrive on acid soils. This is especially true of clover and alfalfa."
"That is certainly correct for clover so far as this kind of soil is concerned," said Mr. West. "Clover never amounts to much on this kind of land, except where heavily fertilized. When fertilized it usually grows well. Does the farm fertilizer neutralize the acid?"
"Only to a small extent. It is true that farm manures contain very appreciable amounts of lime and some other alkaline, or basic, substances, but in addition to this, and perhaps of greater importance, is the fact that such fertilizer has power to feed the clover crop as well as other crops. In other words it furnishes the essential materials of which these crops are made. In addition to this the decaying organic matter has power to liberate some plant food from the soil which would not otherwise be made available although to that extent the farm manure serves as a soil stimulant, this action tending not toward soil enrichment but toward the further depletion of the store of fertility still remaining in the soil."
"This seems a complicated problem," said Mr. West, "but may I now show you some of our more productive land?"
"As soon as I collect a sample of this," replied Percy, and to Mr. West's surprise he proceeded to bore about twenty holes in the space of two or three acres. The borings were taken to a depth of about seven inches, and after being thoroughly mixed together an average sample of the lot was placed in a small bag bearing a number which Percy recorded in his note book together with a description of the land.
"I wish to have an analysis made of this sample," remarked Percy, as they resumed their walk.
"But I thought you had analyzed this soil," was the reply.
"Oh, I only tested for limestone and acidity," explained Percy. "I wish to have exact determinations made of the nitrogen and phosphorus, and perhaps of the potassium, magnesium, and calcium. All of these are absolutely essential for the growth of every agricultural plant; and any one of them may be deficient in the soil, although" the last three are not so likely to be as the other two."
"How long will it take to make this analysis?" was asked.
"About a week or ten days. Perhaps I shall collect two or three other samples and send them all together to an analytical chemist. It is the only way to secure positive knowledge in advance as to what these soils contain. In other words, by this means we can take an absolute invoice of the stock of fertility in the soil, just as truly as the merchant can take an invoice of the stock of goods carried on his shelves."
"So far as we are concerned, this would not be an invoice in advance," remarked Mr. West, with a shade of sadness in his voice. "If we knew the contents of the crops that have been sold from this farm during the two centuries past, we would have a fairly good invoice, I fear, of what the virgin soil contained; but can you compare the invoice of the soil with that of the merchant's goods?"
"Quite fairly so," Percy replied. "The plant food content of the plowed soil of an acre of normal land means nearly, if not quite, as much in the making of definite plans for a system of permanent agriculture, as the merchant's invoice means in the future plans of his business.
"It should not be assumed that the analysis of the soil will give information the application of which will always assure an abundant crop the following season. In comparison, it may also be said, however, that the merchant's invoice of January the first may have no relation to the sales from his store on January the second. Now, the year with the farmer is as a day with the merchant. The farmer harvests his crop but once a year; while the merchant plants and harvests every day, or at least every week. But I would say that the invoice of the soil is worth as much to the farmer for the next year as the merchant's invoice is to him for the next month.
"It should be remembered, however, that both must look forward, and plans must be made by the merchant for several months, and by the farmer for several years. Your twelve-year rotation is a very good example of the kind of future planning the successful farmer must do. On the other hand, some of your neighbors, who have not practiced some such system of rotation now have 'old-field' pine on land long since abandoned, and soil too poor to cultivate on land long cropped continuously."
"This is a kind soil," remarked Mr. West, as he paused on a gently undulating part of the field.
"That is a new use of the word to me," said Percy. "Just what do you mean by a 'kind' soil?"
"Well, if we apply manure here it will show in the crop for many years. It is easy to build this soil up with manure; but, of course, we have too little to treat it right."
"The soil is almost neutral," said Percy, testing with litmus and acid. "Does clover grow on this soil?"
"Very little, except where we put manure."
Another composite sample of the soil was collected, and they walked on.
"Now, here," said Mr. West, "is about the most productive upland on the farm."
"Is that possible?" asked Percy, the question being directed more to himself than to his host.
"That is according to my observation for about fifty years," he replied. "Where we spread the farm fertilizer over this old pasture land and plow it under for corn, we often harvest a crop of eight barrels to the acre, while the average of the field will not be more than five barrels.—A barrel of corn with us is five bushels."
They had stopped on one of the steepest slopes in the field.
"These hillsides would be considered the poorest land on the farm if we were in the corn belt," said Percy, "but I think I understand the difference. Your level uplands when once depleted remain depleted, because the soil that was plowed two hundred years ago is the same soil that is plowed to-day; but these slopes lose surface soil by erosion at least as rapidly as the mineral plant food is removed by cropping; and to that extent they afford the conditions for a permanent system of agriculture of low grade, unless, of course, the erosion is more rapid than the disintegration of the underlying bed rock, which I note is showing in some outcrops in the gullies.
"I want some samples here," he continued, and at once proceeded to collect a composite sample of the surface soil and another of the sub-soil.
"In the main this soil is slightly acid," said Percy, after several tests, with the hydrochloric acid and the litmus paper; "although occasionally there are traces of limestone present. The mass of soil seems to be faintly acid, but here and there are little pieces of limestone which still produce some localized benefit, and probably prevent the development of more marked acidity throughout the soil mass.
"If I can get to an express office this afternoon," he continued, "I shall be glad to forward these four composite samples to an analyst."
"If you wouldn't mind riding to Montplain with Adelaide when she goes for her music lesson this afternoon, it would be very convenient," said Mr. West.
"With your daughter's permission that would suit me very well," he replied. "I shall be glad to spend one or two days more in this vicinity, and then I wish to visit other sections for a week or two, after which I would be glad to stop here again on my return trip and probably I shall have the report of the chemist concerning these samples."
THE BLACK PERIL
AS Percy stepped out of the house in the early afternoon upon the announcement from Wilkes that "De ca'age is ready," he noted that the "ca'age" was the two-seated family carriage and that Adelaide had already taken her place in the front seat, as driver, with her music roll and another bundle tucked in by her side. Her glance at Percy and at the rear seat was also sufficient to indicate his place.
"This does not seem right to me, Miss West," said Percy. "Unless you prefer to drive I shall be very glad to do so and let you occupy this more comfortable seat."
"No thank you," she replied, in a tone that left no room for argument. "I often drive our guests to and from the station, and I much prefer this seat."
The rear seat was roomy and low, so that Percy could scarcely see the road ahead even by sitting on the opposite side from the driver.
Aside from an occasional commonplace remark both the driver and the passenger were allowed to use the time for meditation.
While Adelaide was already an experienced horsewoman, she was rarely permitted to drive the colts to the village, although she enjoyed riding the more spirited horses, or driving with her brother in the "buck board."
A mile from the village the road wound through a wooded valley, and then climbed the opposite slope, passing the railway station a quarter of a mile from town and the "depot hotel" near by. Here Percy left the carriage with the bags of soil, it being arranged that he would be waiting at the hotel when Adelaide returned from the village.
Adelaide's "hour" was from four to five, and being the last pupil for the day, the teacher was not prompt to close.
"I did not realize the days were becoming so short," said Miss Konster as she opened the door. "I'm sorry you have so far to drive."
"Oh, I don't mind," said Adelaide, "I know the way home well enough. You see I have the double carriage, for I brought a guest to the depot as usual, although he is to return with me, and is probably very tired of waiting at the 'depot hotel.'"
It was nearly dark as Percy took his place in the rear seat, Adelaide having again declined to yield her position as driver, and now she had more packages nearly filling the seat beside her.
The team leisurely took the homeward way and nothing more was said except an occasional word of encouragement to the horses. They passed the lowest point in the valley and began to ascend the gentle slope, when the carriage suddenly stopped, and Adelaide uttered a muffled scream. "Come, Honey, said a masculine voice."
As Percy half rose to his feet, he saw that a negro had grasped Adelaide in an effort to drag her from the carriage. A blow from Percy staggered the brute and he released his hold of Adelaide, but, as he saw Percy jump from the carriage on the opposite side, he paused.
"De's a man heah. Knock him, Geo'ge," he yelled, as he turned to again grapple with Adelaide
"Coward," cried Adelaide, as she saw Percy jump from the carriage and dart up the road. Facing this black brute, she was standing alone now with one hand on the back of the seat. As the negro sprang at her the second time he uttered a scream like the cry of a beast and fell sprawling on his face. Almost at the same moment his companion was fairly lifted from his feet and came down headlong beside the carriage.
"Look out for the horses," called Percy, as he drove the heels of his heavy shoes into the moaning mass on the ground.
"Lie there, you brute," he cried, "don't you dare to move."
"I have the lines," said Adelaide hoarsely, "but can't I do something more?"
"No. they're both down," he answered. "Wait a minute."
He found himself between the negroes lying with their faces to the ground. Instantly he grasped each by the wrist and with an inward twist he brought forth cried for mercy. It was a trick he had learned in college, that, by drawing the arm behind the back and twisting, a boy could control a strong man.
"Can't I help you?" Adelaide called again, and Percy saw that she was out of the carriage and standing near.
"Will the horses stand?" he asked.
"Oh, yes, they're quiet now."
"Then take the tie rope and tie their feet together. Use the slip knot just as you do for the hitching post," he directed. "If they dare to move I can wrench their arms out in this position. Right there at the ankles. Tie them tight and as closely together as you can. Wrap it twice around if it's long enough."
Adelaide tied one end of the rope around the ankle of one negro and wrapped the other end around the ankle of the other, drawing their feet together and fastening the ends of the rope with a double hitch, which she knew well how to make.
Percy gave the rope a kick to tighten it.
"Now get onto your feet and I'll march you to town," he ordered, adding pressure to the twist upon their wrists and drawing them back upon their knees Thus assisted, they struggled to their feet.
"I am afraid you will have to drive home alone, Miss West," began Percy, when Adelaide interrupted with:
"No, no, if you are going back to town, I will follow you. I can easily turn the team and I will keep close behind."
Thus tied together, Percy almost ran his prisoners toward the village, still holding each firmly by the wrist. As they reached the "depot hotel," he called for assistance, and several men quickly appeared.
Percy made a brief report of the attack as they moved on to the town house, where the villians were placed in shackles and left in charge of the marshall.
"Will you drive, please, Mr. Johnston?" asked Adelaide as he stepped to the carriage; for Adelaide had followed almost to the door of the jail house.
"Yes, please," he replied, taking the seat beside her.
"I hope you will pardon my calling you a coward, I felt so desperate, and it seemed to me for the moment that you were leaving me." Adelaide's voice still had an excited tremor to it.
"I heard you say 'coward,'" said Percy, "but I didn't realize that you referred to me. I saw the two brutes almost at the same time, the one who attacked you and the other on the same side near the horses' heads. I struck the one as best I could from my position, and as he yelled and the horses reared, I ran up the slope ahead of the team and came down at the other brute with a blow in the neck, but I was surprised to find them both sprawling on the ground; and under the street lights I saw that one of them had an eye frightfully jammed. I am sure I struck neither of them in the eye."
Adelaide made no reply, but she knew now that the piercing, beastly cry from the negro reaching for her was brought forth because the heel of her shoe had entered the socket of the brute's eye.
"You're mighty nigh too late for supper, said grandma West, as they stopped at the side gate. Adelaide hurried to her father who took her in his arms as he saw how she trembled.
"My child!" he said.
Yes, child she was as she relaxed from the tension of the last hour and related the experience of the evening.
"I cannot express our gratitude to you, Sir," said Mr. West: "I am glad you landed the devils in jail."
"I am only thankful I was there when it happened," replied Percy. "I am sure no man could have done less. I have promised to return to town in the morning to serve as legal witness in the case. I hope your daughter need not be called upon for that."
"Probably that will not be necessary," Mr. West replied.
THE SLAVE AND THE FREEDMAN
THE others had retired but Percy and his host continued their conversation far into the night.
"There are almost as great variations among the negroes as among white people," Mr. West was saying. "To a man like Wilkes who was born and raised here on the farm, I would entrust the protection of my wife and children as readily as to any white man. He has been educated, so to speak, to a sense of duty and honor; and negroes of his class have almost never been known to violate a trust. Of course there are bad niggers, but as a rule such negroes have grown up under conditions that would develop the evil in any race of men.
"During the Secession it was the most common thing for the men to go to war and leave their defenseless women and children wholly in the care of their slaves; and, even though the federal soldiers were fighting to free the slaves and their masters to keep them in slavery, rarely did a negro fail to remain faithful to his trust. They hid from the northern soldiers the horses and mules, cotton and corn, clothing and provisions, and all sorts of valuables; and in most cases were ready to suffer themselves before they would reveal the hidden property. To be sure there were masters who abused their slaves, and some of these were naturally ready to desert at the first opportunity; but in the main the slave owner was more kind to his human property than the considerate soldier was to his horse, and the negro as a race is appreciative of kindness."
"I suppose the depreciation in soil fertility and crop yields dates largely from the freeing of the slaves does it not?" asked Percy.
"Well, that was one factor, but not the most potential factor. Much land in the south had been abandoned agriculturally long before the war, and much land in New York and New England has been abandoned since the war. The freeing of the negroes produced much less effect in the economic conditions of the south than many have supposed. The great injury to the South from the war was due to the war itself and not to the freeing of slaves. In the main it cost no more to hire the negro after the war than it cost to feed and clothe him before; and the humane slave owner had little difficulty in getting plenty of negro help after the war. Very commonly his own slaves remained with him and were treated as servants, not particularly differently than they had been treated as slaves. Of course there were some brutal slave holders, just as there are brutal horse owners, and such men suffered very much from the loss of slave labor.
"The southern people have no regrets for the freeing of the slaves. Probably it was the best thing that ever happened to us; and the South would have less regret for the war itself, except that our recovery from it was greatly delayed by the reconstruction policy which was followed after the war. The immediate enfranchisement of the negro, especially in those sections where this resulted in placing all the power of the local government in the hands of the negro, was a worse blow to the South than the war itself.
"It is believed that this would not have been done if Lincoln had lived. Lincoln was always the President of all the people of the United States, and his death was a far greater loss to the South than to the North. To place the power to govern the intelligent white of the South absolutely in the hands of their former ignorant slaves was undoubtedly the most abominable political blunder recorded in history; and even this was intensified by the unprincipled white-skinned vultures who came among us to fatten upon our dead or dying conditions. Those years of so-called reconstruction, constitute the blackest page in the history of modern civilization."
"I quite agree with you," said Percy, "and so far as I know them the soldiers of the northern armies also agree with you. Several of my own relatives fought to free the negro slave; but none of them fought to enslave their white brothers of the South by putting them absolutely under negro government. And yet there is one possible justification for that abominable reconstruction policy. It may have averted a subsequent war which might have lasted not for four years, but for forty years. Even if this be true, perhaps there is no credit in the policy for any man who helped to enforce it, but you will grant that there were two important results from those bitter years of reconstruction:
"First, the negro learned with certainty at once and forever that he was a free man.
"Second, he at once acquired a degree of independence effectually preventing the development of a situation throughout the South, in which the negro, though nominally free, would have remained virtually a slave, a situation which, if once established, might have required a subsequent war of many years for its complete eradication. Even under the conditions which have prevailed, there have been isolated instances of peonage in the southern states since the war; and if the education and gradual enfranchisement of the negro had been left wholly in the hands of their former masters, from the immediate close of the war, I can conceive of conditions under which slavery would essentially have been continued."
"Such a possibility is, of course, conceivable," said Mr. West, "and we must all admit that there were some slave holders who would have taken advantage of any such opportunity; but had Lincoln lived the terms made would probably have been such that the South would have felt in honor bound to enforce them. Probably the enfranchisement would have been based upon some sort of qualification such as the southern states have very generally adopted in subsequent years; but the idea of social equality of slave and master was so repulsive to the white people of the South that it could not be tolerated under any sort of government."
"This question of social equality," remarked Percy, "has probably been the cause of more misunderstanding between the North and the South than all other questions relating to the negro problem. I have rarely, if ever, talked with a southern man who did not have it firmly fixed in his mind that the common idea of the northern people is that the negro race should be made the social equal of the white race. This I have heard from southern lecturers; I have read it in southern newspapers; and I have found it in books written by southern authors; but, Mr. West, I have never yet heard that idea advanced by a man or woman of the North.
"Of course there have been visionary theorists or 'cranks' in all ages, and there must have been some basis for this almost universal erroneous opinion in the South that the people of the North advocated social equality or social intercourse between the white and colored races; and yet nothing could be farther from the truth. In all my life in the North, I think I have never seen a colored person dining with a white man. This does not prove that there are no such occurrences, but it certainly shows that they are extremely rare. On the other hand, in traveling through the South I have seen a white woman bring her colored maid or nurse, to the dining car and sit at the same table with herself and husband. Of course there is no suggestion of social equality or social intercourse in this, but there is a much closer relationship than is common or would be allowed in the North."
"That may be true," said Mr. West, "and there was in slave times a very intimate relationship between the negro nurses and the white children of the South. Some of our people are ready to take offense at the suggestion that we talk negro dialect, and perhaps we would all prefer to say that the negroes have learned to talk as we talk; but the truth is that the negroes were brought to America chiefly as adults; and, as is usually the case when adult people learn a new language, they modified ours because their own African language did not contain all of the sounds of the English tongue. Similarly we hear and recognize the other nationalities when they learn to speak English. Thus we have the Irish brogue, the German brogue, and the French brogue, or dialect.
"The negro children learned to speak the dialect as spoken by their own parents; and as a very general rule the white children learned to talk as their negro nurses talked. So far as there is a southern dialect it is due to the modification of our language by the negro."
"You have mentioned several things," said Percy, "that are much to the credit of the negro who has had a fair chance to be trained along right lines; and I think the modficaton of our language which his presence has brought about in the South is not without some credit. It is generally agreed that the most pleasing English we hear is that of the Southern orator.
"Referring to social conditions, the most marked difference which I have noticed between the North and South, and really, it seems to me, the only difference of importance, is that the South has separate schools for white and colored, whereas in the North the school is not looked upon as a social institution.
"As a rule no more objection is raised to white and colored children sitting on separate seats in the same school room than to their sitting on separate seats in the same street car. The school is regarded as a place for work, where each has his own work to do, much the same as in the shop or factory where both white and colored are employed. The expense of the single school system is, of course, much less than where separate schools are maintained; and perhaps an equally important point is that in the single system the same moral standards are held up by the teachers for both white and colored children."
"That point is worthy of consideration," said Mr. West. "It is very certain that a class of negroes has grown up in these more recent years that was practically unknown in slave times when white men were more largely responsible for their moral training. The vile wretches who made the attack this evening probably never received any moral training. It is conceivable that the moral influence of the white children over the negroes in the same school might exert a lasting benefit, even aside from the influence of the teacher; and the relationship of the school room could not be any real disadvantage to the white child. But this could only be brought about where white teachers were employed. Some such arrangement would doubtless have been made had the mind of Lincoln directed the general policy of reconstruction; but it is doubtful now if the negro teacher will ever be wholly replaced, although time has wrought greater changes in political lines since the black years of the reconstruction."
"Yes," said Percy, "and those changes which have been brought about in the South have the full sympathy and approval of the great majority of the Northern people. Indeed, it is extremely doubtful if the North will be able to completely banish such a source of vice and corruption as the open saloon until limitation is placed upon the franchise by an educational qualification."
JUDGMENT IS COME
THE goddess of sleep seemed to have deserted Westover. Adelaide lay in her mother's arms, either awake and restless or in fitful sleep from which she frequently awoke with a muffled scream or a physical contortion. Once, as she nestled closer, her mother heard her murmur: "You must pardon me."
Percy, from the southwest room, was sure he heard horses feet at the side gate. The murmur of low voices reached his ear, and then he recognized that horsemen were riding away.
The house was astir at early dawn; and as soon as breakfast was over Mr. West had the colts hitched to the "buckboard" and he drove with Percy to Montplain.
"I think your testimony will not be needed this morning," said Mr. West, "but it may be needed later, and it is well that you should report to the officers at any rate, since you promised to be there this morning."
Percy pointed out the place where the attack had been made, and he looked for a stump of a small tree or for any other object upon which the negro could have fallen with such force as to mash his eye; but he saw nothing.
As soon as they reached the village, Mr. West drove directly to the town house; and there two black bodies were seen hanging from the limb of an old tree in the courthouse yard. Percy noted that his companion showed no sign of surprise; and, after the first shock of his complete realization of the work of the night, he looked calmly upon the scene. They had stopped almost under the tree.
"Are these the brutes who made the attack and whom you captured and delivered to the officer?" asked Mr. West.
"They are," he replied.
"In your opinion have they received justice?"
"Yes, Sir," Percy replied, "but I fear without due process of law."
"Let me tell you, Sir, there is no law on the statutes under which justice could be meted out to these devils for the nameless crime which ends in death by murder or by suicide of the helpless victim, a crime which these wretches committed only in their black hearts—thanks to you, Sir."
As he spoke, the town marshall approached followed by the negro pastor of the local church and a few of his followers. Silently they lowered the bodies to the ground, placed them upon improvised stretchers, and carried them to the potters field outside the village, where rough coffins and graves were ready to receive them.
As Mr. West and Percy returned to Westover they discussed the lands which in the main were lying abandoned on either side of the road.
"Here," said Mr. West, as he paused on the brow of a sloping hillside, "was as near to Westover as the Union army came. The position of the breastworks may still be seen. The Southern army lay across the valley yonder. These two trees are sprouts from an old stump of a tree that was shot away. About seventeen hundred confederate dead were buried in trenches in the valley, but they were later removed. The federal dead were carried away as the Union army retreated. We never learned their number. For three days Westover was made headquarters of the confederate officers, and my mother worked day and night to prepare food for them."
They stopped at Westover for a few moments, Percy remaining in the "buckboard" while Mr. West reported to his family what they had seen in Montplain.
"Our report," said Mr. West, "hideous and horrible as it is, will help to restore the child to calm and quiet. To speak frankly, Sir, occurrences of this sort, sometimes with the worst results, are sufficiently frequent in the South so that we constantly feel the added weight or burden whenever the sister, wife, or daughter is left without adequate protection."
The remaining hours of the morning were devoted to a drive over the country surrounding Westover; and Mr. West consented to Adelaide's request that she be allowed to drive Percy to the station at Montplain, where he was to take the afternoon train for Richmond. She chose the "buckboard" but insisted upon driving.
They talked of their school and college days, of the books they had read, of anything in fact except of the experiences of the past twenty-four hours. Even when they entered the valley no shadow crossed Adelaide's face; but as they neared the station her voice changed, and as Percy looked into her winsome, frankly upturned face, she said:
"Have I truly been pardoned for my cruel words last evening? I am sure you were as manly and noble as any man could have been."
"And I am sure you were the bravest little woman I have ever known," replied Percy, "and I admire you the more for calling me a coward when you thought I was running away; so there is nothing to pardon I am sure."
She gave him her hand as a child at parting, but he thought as he looked into her eyes that he saw the soul of a woman.
PERCY carried with him a most interesting and attractive circular of information concerning the rapid restoration of the farm lands of the South. It also stated that further information could be secured from a certain real estate agent in Richmond, who was found to be still in his office when Percy arrived in the city late in the afternoon.
The agent was delighted to receive a call from the Western man, and assured him that he would gladly show him several plantations not far from the city which could be purchased at very reasonable prices. Indeed he could have his choice of these old southern homesteads for the very low price of forty dollars an acre. A map of an adjoining county showed the exact location of several such farms, some of which were of great historical interest. At what time in the morning could he be ready to be shown one of these rare bargains?
"What treatment do these lands require to restore their productiveness?" asked Percy.
"No treatment at all, Sir, except the adoption of your western methods of farming and your system of crop rotation. I tell you the results are marvelous when western farmers get hold of these famous old plantations. Just good farming and a change of crops, that's all they need."
"Does clover grow well?" asked Percy. "We grow that a good deal in the West."
"Oh, yes, clover will grow very well, indeed, but cowpeas is a much better crop than clover. Our best farmers prefer the cowpea; and after a crop of cowpeas, you can raise large crops of any kind."
"Of course you know of those who have been successful in restoring some of these old farms," Percy suggested.
"Oh, yes, Sir, many of them, and they are making money hand over fist, and their lands are increasing in value, and no doubt will continue to increase just as your western lands have done. Yes, Sir, the greatest opportunity for investment in land is right here and now, and these old plantations are being snapped up very rapidly."
"I shall be glad to know of some of these successful farmers who are using the improved methods. Will you name one, just as an example, and tell me about what he has done to restore his land?"
"Well," said the agent, "There's T. O. Thornton, for example. Mr. Thornton bought an old plantation of a thousand acres only six years ago at a cost of six dollars an acre. He has been growing cowpeas in rotation with other crops; and, as I say, he is making money hand over fist. A few months ago he refused to consider fifty dollars an acre for his land, but still there are some of these old plantations left that can be bought for forty dollars, because the people don't really know what they are worth. However, our lands are all much higher than they were a few years ago."
"Where does Mr. Thornton live?" asked Percy.
"Oh, he lives at Blairville, nearly a hundred miles from Richmond. Yes, he lives on his farm near Blairville. I tell you he's making good all right, but I don't know of any land for sale in that section."
"I think I will go out to Blairville to see Mr. Thornton's farm," said Percy. "Do you know when the trains run?"
"Well, I'm sorry to say that the train service is very poor to Blairvile. There is only one train a day that reaches Blairville in daylight, and that leaves Richmond very early in the morning."
"That is all right," said Percy, "it will probably get me there in time so that I shall be sure to find Mr. Thornton at home. I thank you very much, Sir. Perhaps I shall be able to see you again when I return from Blairville."
"When you return from Blairville is about the most uncertain thing in the world. As I said, the train service is mighty poor to Blairville, and it's still poorer, you'll find, when you want to leave Blairville. Why, a traveling man told me he had been on the road for fifteen years, and he swore he had spent seven of 'em at Blairville waiting for trains. Better take my advice and look over some of the fine old plantations right here in the next county and then you can take all the rest of the month if you wish getting in and out of Blairville."
About eight o'clock the following morning Percy might have been seen walking along the railroad which ran through Mr. Thornton's farm about two miles from Blairvile. He saw a well beaten path which led from the railroad to a nearby cottage and a knock brought to the door a negro woman followed by several children.
"Can you tell me where Mr. Thornton's farm is?" he inquired.
"Yes, Suh," she replied. "This is Mistah Tho'nton's place, right heah, Suh. Leastways, it was his place; but we done bought twenty acahs of it heah, wheah we live, 'cept tain all paid fo' yit. Mistah Tho'nton lives in the big house over theah 'bout half a mile."
"May I ask what you have to pay for land here?"
"Oh, we have to pay ten dollahs an acah, cause we can't pay cash. My ol' man he wo'ks on the railroad section and we just pay Mistah Tho'nton foh dollahs every month. My chil'n wo'k in the ga'den and tend that acah patch o' co'n."
"Do you fertilize the corn?"
"Yes, Suh. We can't grow nothin' heah without fe'tilizah. We got two hundred pounds fo' three dollahs last spring and planted it with the co'n."
As Percy turned in at Mr. Thornton's gate he saw a white man and two negroes working at the barn. "Pardon me, but is this Mr. Thornton?" asked Percy as he approached.
"That is my name."
"Well, my name is Johnston. I am especially interested in learning all I can about the farm lands in this section and the best methods of farming. I live in Illinois, and have thought some of selling our little farm out there and buying a larger one here in the East where the land is much cheaper than with us. A real estate agent in Richmond has told me something of the progress you are making in the improvement of your large farm. I hope you will not let me interfere with your work, Sir."
"Oh, this work is not much. I've had a little lumber sawed at a mill which is running just now over beyond my farm, and I am trying to put a shed up here over part of the barn yard so we can save more of the manure. I shall be very glad to give you any information I can either about my own farming or about the farm lands in this section."
"You have about a thousand acres in your farm I was told."
"Yes, we still have some over nine hundred acres in the place, but we are farming only about two hundred acres, including the meadow and pasture land. The other seven hundred acres are not fenced, and, as you will see, the land is mostly grown up to scrub trees."
"Your corn appears to be a very good crop. About how many acres of corn do you have this year?"
"I have only fourteen acres. That is all I could cover with manure, and it is hardly worth trying to raise corn without manure."
"Do you use any commercial fertilizer?"
"Well, I've been using some bone meal. I've no use for the ordinary complete commercial fertilizer. It sometimes helps a little for one year; but it seems to leave the land poorer than ever. Bone meal lasts longer and doesn't seem to hurt the land. I see from the agricultural papers that some of the experiment stations report good results from the use of fine-ground raw rock phosphate; but they advise using it in connection with organic matter, such as manure or clover plowed under. I am planning to get some and mix it with the manure here under this shed. Do you use commercial fertilizers in Illinois?"
"Not to speak of, but some of our farmers are beginning to use the raw phosphate. Our experiment station has found that our most extensive soil types are not rich in phosphorus, and has republished for our benefit the reports from the Maryland and Ohio experiment stations showing that the fine-ground natural rock phosphate appears to be the most economical form to be used and that it is likely to prove much more profitable in the long run, although it may not give very marked results the first year or two. May I ask what products you sell from your farm, Mr. Thornton?"