The Young Trailers
The Young Trailers
CHAPTER XI THE FOREST SPELL
When the adventurers returned the rifle and ax were laid aside at Wareville, for the moment, because the supreme test was coming. The soil was now to respond to its trial, or to fail. This was the vital question to Wareville. The game, in the years to come, must disappear, the forest would be cut down, but the qualities of the earth would remain; if it produced well, it would form the basis of a nation, if not, it would be better to let all the work of the last year go and seek another home elsewhere.
But the settlers had little doubt. All their lives had been spent close to the soil, and they were not to be deceived, when they came over the mountains in search of a land richer than any that they had tilled before. They had seen its blackness, and, plowing down with the spade, they had tested its depth. They knew that for ages and ages leaf and bough, falling upon it, had decayed there and increased its fertility, and so they awaited the test with confidence.
The green young shoots of the wheat, sown before the winter, were the first to appear, and everyone in Wareville old enough to know the importance of such a manifestation went forth to examine them. Mr. Ware, Mr. Upton and Mr. Pennypacker held solemn conclave, and the final verdict was given by the schoolmaster, as became a man who might not be so strenuous in practice as the others, but who nevertheless was more nearly a master of theory.
"The stalks are at least a third heavier than those in Maryland or Virginia at the same age," he said, "and we can fairly infer from it that the grain will show the same proportion of increase. I take a third as a most conservative estimate; it is really nearer a half. Wareville can, with reason, count upon twenty-five bushels of wheat to the acre, and it is likely to go higher."
It was then no undue sense of elation that Wareville felt, and it was shared by Henry and Paul, and even young Lucy Upton.
"It will be a rich country some day when I'm an old, old woman," she said to Henry.
"It's a rich country now," replied he proudly, "and it will be a long, long time before you are an old woman."
They began now to plow the ground cleared the autumn before--"new ground" they called it--for the spring planting of maize. This, often termed "Indian corn" but more generally known by the simple name corn, was to be their chief crop, and the labor of preparation, in which Henry had his full share, was not light. Their plows were rude, made by themselves, and finished with a single iron point, and the ground, which had supported the forest so lately, was full of roots and stumps. So the passage of the plow back and forth was a trial to both the muscles and the spirit. Henry's body became sore from head to foot, and by and by, as the spring advanced and the sun grew hotter, he looked longingly at the shade of the forest which yet lay so near, and thought of the deep, cool pools and the silver fish leaping up, until their scales shone like gold in the sunshine, and of the stags with mighty antlers coming down to drink. He was sorry for the moment that he was so large and strong and was so useful with plow and hoe. Then he might be more readily excused and could take his rifle and seek the depths of the forest, where everything grew by nature's aid alone, and man need not work, unless the spirit moved him to do so.
They planted the space close around the fort in gardens and here after the ground was "broken up" or plowed, the women and the girls, all tall and strong, did the work.
The summer was splendid in its promise and prodigal in its favors. The rains fell just right, and all that the pioneers planted came up in abundance. The soil, so kind to the wheat, was not less so to the corn and t