WRITTEN BY HERSELF.
I HAVE already mentioned that the little holding of forty acres, which my progenitor took up when he came to Philadelphia, had in process of time been subdivided into many smaller ones. These had been successively improved as the new owners entered upon them, some very indifferently, some quite respectably, — many of them being devoted to gardening for the city markets. The occupants were not much of neighbors to us, though friendly enough in their way ; among them, however, was a family by the name of Tetchy who claimed to have some acquaintance with us. This name, Tetchy, always struck me as a singular one; and I have often thought it must have been a corruption of Touchy, as a constitutional tendency to the infirmity thereby signified was continually apparent in their conduct toward all who came in contact with them. The whole family, comprising the parents, two daughters, and a son, were a jealous, envious set, rarely saying a kind word to any one, and never, as my mother often remarked, doing a kind thing even to us, who were more sociable with them than any other of the neighbors. Of course they had abundance of ridiculous pride, though having nothing to be proud of; and one of the daughters, Miss Belinda, was remarkable for holding up her head as if she had been the finest lady in the land, besides having a curt, snappish way of speaking, that made me habitually afraid of her.
These people had a piece of ground of the same size as ours, which the father worked as a garden. He was very skilful at gardening, and kept everything in such complete order that I would many times have gone in to admire his fruits and flowers, had it not been for the crisp reception that one was sure to get from Bliss Belinda Tetchy and her mother. They never invited us inside the gate, and seemed jealous of our learning any particulars of what they were doing. The father had some grains of good-nature in his disposition, and would have been glad to have me come in occasionally : I am sure of this, as he often came into our garden and gave me very useful advice and instruction about what I was cultivating. But his wife’s temper was a bar to all hospitality, and our intercourse with the family was accordingly as limited as possible, except with the son, Arthur, who made himself quite intimate at our house, and was disposed to set up for a beau to my sister, though I never could discover that she had any particular liking for him. Even he, however, was habitually taciturn about what was done in their garden, as if he had been well drilled in the art of concealment.
We never could tell with certainty how this family contrived to live as well as they did. The father had no other employment than that afforded by his garden, at least that we ever knew. There was a sort of mystery about what he did with his most valuable fruit. We saw him taking it away in a wheelbarrow, but it was always carefully covered, and none but his family knew whether he took it to market, or disposed of it to the fruit stores in the city. The family never boasted of how much they raised ; and though we were often curious to know more than we did, myself especially, yet the fear of being snubbed by Miss Belinda prevented us from making any inquiries. The daughters did nothing, unless it were to dress well, a great deal better than any of us, and to be often in the street. It is true that Arthur was an apprentice, and was no expense to the family ; but beyond what he received from his employer we could not learn that they had any income but what was produced from the garden.
Still, all the neighborhood knew that old Tetchy had an immense bed of strawberries ; they could see that through the cracks in the fence. Then he had fixed up a large number of seats in different parts of the garden, and there, during the season, was a constant throng of visitors, who came to eat strawberries and cream. He had carried on this business for a great many years. I had never noticed these things very particularly, until my mother and I began debating how it was that the Tetchy family contrived to live and dress so well without apparently doing anything except looking after a garden no larger than our own. But when my curiosity had been awakened, I started out on a course of inquiry that resulted in throwing more light on the subject than the Tetchys supposed. I watched the crowd of visitors who entered the garden-gate every evening in June to eat strawberries, and found it so large that toward the last of the season I began to count them. The number was so great that it amazed us, and my mother was sure I must have been mistaken. I regretted not having begun the enumeration when the season first opened, as that would have given us some idea of what we had vainly tried to ascertain from the family, — the number of pints of strawberries they raised in a season. My sister had entered heartily into the spirit of inquiry which now moved me, and became extremely accessible to Arthur Tetchy, even consenting to walk out with him several evenings, in the hope of being invited into the garden, or of getting some information out of him, in aid of the common cause. But the fellow had been so well tutored on the subject that he proved a regular knownothing,— he had no idea what quantity they raised,-—in short, he refused to tell. But in addition to what was consumed in the garden, we saw, during the day, numerous callers with baskets, and we knew that their errand was to buy strawberries. Then old Tetchy was seen carrying away other baskets into the city, so that during the season the demand was evidently unintermitted.
We had often heard these strawberries spoken of as being of superior size and quality. Indeed, we one day read a notice of them in our penny paper, representing them as being nearly as large as eggs, and describing the garden. It also spoke in very extraordinary terms of the richness of the cream. But I never could understand how this could be, as we knew that old Tetchy kept only one cow, and it was impossible for one cow to make cream enough — real cream — for even a quarter of the people who came to eat his strawberries. I thought so strange of this piece that I ventured to show it to Miss Belinda, and inquired very innocently how they could get so much cream, and if it were not wrong in the newspapers to publish such mistakes. But, what was very unusual with her, she was wonderfully pleased with the matter, and said they had two cows, — one that they kept in the stable, and another in the kitchen.
“ How ?” I inquired, in amazement,— “keep a cow in the kitchen ? Why, is it not very inconvenient ? ”
“ Not at all,” she replied. “ The greatest convenience possible. But the kitchen cow has an iron tail! ”
“ But did the newspaper man know this ?” I asked, not being familiar with the tricks of trade, and utterly ignorant how such things were managed.
“No, indeed!” she replied, — adding, with what I considered great superciliousness, “we sent him a basket of strawberries, and invited him down last week to take some with cream, and when he came it was cream that he got,—our best. That was well done ; and ever since he published that piece we have been so crowded that the new cow in the kitchen supplies more milk than the old one in the stable.”
I had never known either her or any of the family to be so communicative before. It was an entirely new idea to me, and rather shook my confidence in the newspapers, not supposing they were ever deceived.
But Tetchy’s berries were unquestionably very superior ones. We had frequently seen them, and on one occasion my sister and I had gone in with the evening throng and called for saucers of them, merely to learn for ourselves how the business was carried on and what prices were obtained. I am sure that not near so much civility was shown to us as to the other customers. No doubt, as we were neighbors, and had been very inquisitive, they suspected our object in coming.
We both remarked on the deplorable weakness of the cream, and had a good laugh over the method of its manufacture. Jane thought of calling for a second saucer, and of asking the fair Tetchy who served us if she would not do us the favor to let the watery portion be put into a separate vessel. I was really frightened for fear she would do as she proposed, as I knew her fondness for pleasantries of this sort, and also, that so far from being taken as a joke, it would bring down upon us a storm of wrath. We were surprised at the smallness of the saucers containing the fruit. Certainly the contents of as many as four or five could have been put into a pint. Then the sugar was supplied in meagre quantity, though at that time cheaper than ever before known. There were common tin spoons, so valueless as to make it no object for a thief to steal them, and of no consequence if they were bent up or thrown away by roystering visitors. The supply of cheap sugar was not sufficient to overcome the sharp acid of the fruit, showing that the demand was so urgent as to compel the picking of the berries before the sun had imparted to them the luscious sweetness of complete ripeness. As at all popular summer resorts, the price charged was provokingly disproportioned to the fare ; but then we remembered that we had come in pursuit of knowledge, that knowledge always has in some way to be paid for, and that the strawberry-season is very short.
Though thus ascertaining the prices at which Tetchy disposed of the fruit in his popular strawberry-garden, we were unable to learn what he obtained for that which he carried away in little baskets to his private customers. But we supposed it must go to families who paid the highest figures, as the fruit was carefully selected, the smaller berries being served up to the evening customers, who, viewing them by an indifferent light, were unable to form a judgment as to their size and appearance, and with whom the mere strawberry-flavor was sufficient. My mother called our attention to one circumstance, — that all the fruit was sold at retail prices, and that, if there was any profit in the business, these people got the whole of it. At the rates they were selling, they must be receiving at least a dollar a quart, and that clear of the cost of the cream from their two cows. I suppose it might have been considered impertinent in us to be thus prying into our neighbors’ concerns, wondering how they contrived to live and how much money they made by their business. But we had no idea of doing them any injury; I was only desirous of doing something better for myself than working all my life on a sewing-machine. And besides, I have no doubt there were folks around us who were quite as inquisitive as to how we managed to get along, and that, too, from mere idle curiosity, without any view to bettering themselves by imitating us.
In addition to these little diplomatic efforts to obtain information as to how much money our neighbors were making, many others were tried. I had already suggested to my mother and sister the idea of my undertaking the business of raising strawberries ; and hence, as they both fell in with the project, our common effort to learn whether our neighbors really did support themselves by an employment so apparently insignificant, There was one point about which we were greatly perplexed. The strawberry-season lasted only fifteen to twenty days, and we could not understand how the Tetchys could make enough in that short period to keep them a whole year. It is true we knew that they could sell at enormous retail prices all that they were able to produce, and hence we became satisfied that it was simply a question of quantity. If they could produce enough, even within the short period of twenty days, they could do all that they appeared to be doing during the remainder of the year, — that is, comparatively nothing.
Now not one of us had any knowledge of the strawberry - culture. My father, strangely enough, had never introduced it into our garden, though he knew what our neighbors had for many years been doing. We had no agricultural publications to instruct us, and we could not form the remotest idea of how much fruit an acre could be made to yield. We did not even know the size of our neighbor’s strawberrybed. But one day, when the fruit season was over, my sister was bold enough to invite herself into Tetchy’s garden. She and Arthur had been taking a walk, and he was about parting with her at the garden-gate, when she pushed in with him, and obliged him to go all round the strawberry-ground. It lay in one piece, and, though quite large, she managed to count the number of steps as they strolled round it. Arthur had not the faintest idea of what she was after, but flattered himself that she was desirous of having a little more of his society. When Fred came home that evening, Jane reported to him the number of steps she had taken in her strawberry-circuit, and Fred ciphered it out for us that the plot contained exactly an acre. This was an important item of information for us. We knew that old Tetchy’s lot was of precisely the same size as ours, — an acre and a half,— and we felt that we could spare an acre for a strawberry-bed as well as he. We were firmly impressed with the belief that their acre of strawberries kept the whole family ; and I felt sure, that, if I could only learn the mode of culture, we could in some way find a market for all we could produce, — although I did not contemplate inviting customers to our house to eat sour strawberries and such terribly diluted cream as they were selling. I often saw the Tetchy girls hoeing and weeding, and have no doubt they performed a very large part of that important labor. It was light work, as well as home-work, such as I was extremely anxious to obtain. The wholesome out-door exercise, I was confident, would give robustness to my health, — and, if the summer sun did change me from a blonde into a brunette, the winter intermission would bring that all right again.
We saw there were difficulties in the way of making a beginning, because of our total ignorance of the business. But among us there was a good deal of resolution. There was also a strong desire to learn ; and a willingness to do so, coupled with persevering energy of purpose, rarely fails of its object. We were also prompt to act, whenever we found action desirable. While others would be deliberating, we would be pushing on ; and I have always found that going forward with spirit and confidence is one of the surest pledges of success ; for it is he who hesitates and doubts, and so does nothing, that unfits himself for doing anything.
Success in one thing stimulates to exertion in another. We had already borne up under calamity, and been quite as fortunate as others, even when the horizon was overcast by heavy clouds. But now we were comparatively comfortable ; the sky above us was serene, and our hopes were buoyant; the venture I was proposing to make would cost but a trifling sum, and, if failure came, the loss could not be great. It was not farming that I was to undertake. There was no land to be bought; it was merely the better cultivation of what we already had. There was not even a tool to be purchased. Now no one would be surprised at the conversion of our whole garden into a cabbage-field ; yet many would wonder at our turning it into a strawberry-patch. It would be a novelty for women to undertake ; and, alas ! while even vicious novelties are tolerated in men, those most innocent are frowned upon when indulged in by women. But we cared not for what others might say or think. My assurance of success was so strong that it overbore every other consideration. Besides, I was strengthened by the encouragement of every member of our little family.
I am not about to write an apology for women’s undertaking even a large horticultural establishment. Of ordinary rough farming I will not speak, as that is confessedly beyond the domain of female strength. But there are individuals of the sex who have large flower-gardens, even fruit-gardens, in which everything is made to bloom and bear luxuriantly. They neither dig nor hoe, but they frequently plant and train and trim, overseeing and directing where and When the spade, the hoe, and the watering-pot shall be applied. Their cultivated taste gives symmetry and grace to borders, trellises, and walks, — decking the first with floral gorgeousness, hanging the second with festoons whose perfumes load the atmosphere, and lining the third with edgings that wear an ever - flashing greenness even under the frigid temperature of a wintry sky. It is not by their own hands that these marvels are wrought. It is of their passionate fondness for tree and fruit and flower that such humanizing results are born. They spring from the mind, the heart, the understanding, not from the manual labor of their fair authors. Too few of my sex have sufficiently informed themselves of these simple affairs of the garden : their inheritance has been the needle only. But it was nothing of this ornate description that I was about to undertake. I was to have neither arbor nor trellis, — no sweet-scented honeysuckle clustering over an elaborate framework, — no parterre of beautiful flowers, glorious to behold, but producing no profit, — not even marigold or lady’s-slipper. There was to be no fancy-work, but everything was to be practical. I was now in search of profit, trusting that the future would enable me to indulge in the ornamental.
The first thing was to procure the strawberry-plants. I knew of none who had them but the Tetchy family, and they guarded all their doings so closely that I half despaired of obtaining any from them. Why they did so we could not exactly tell, but our conclusion was that they must be unwilling to have competitors in their business. But though never admiring the manners of any of the family, I resolved to make a trial with them. There were reasons for hoping I might succeed. Miss Belinda Tetchy, notwithstanding her odd name, was quite a belle. She had been immensely popular with the young gentlemen who came to the strawberrygarden. My sister Jane had once very ill-naturedly insinuated that they came there as much to flirt with her as to indulge in strawberries, and that one could readily eat his way into the affections of the whole family. I did not like the remark, although probably there might be some truth in it. But one of these admirers continued to visit at old Tetchy’s even when the excuse of coming for strawberries could no longer be given, and very soon our little neighborhood learned the interesting news that one of the Tetchy girls was about to change her name. My sister said she pitied the young man. Indeed, she went so far as to say that it was astonishing what risks were run by ail such when looking round for a wife. As to Belinda, she was sure, that, though there might be a change of name, there would be no change of temper, as the latter was something she got by Nature, while the former came by accident. But Jane had a little dash of tartness in her own disposition, which was very apt to break out when topics of this kind came up for discussion. Though I could not help agreeing with her in the main, yet I considered it no more than fair to remind her that the choosing of a husband was quite as risky a business for the girls.
These things occurred towards the close of summer. Miss Belinda's wedding-day had been fixed for early in September. Of course there was considerable fluttering among the young people of the neighborhood, — the girls, candor obliges me to say, being much more intensely affected than the young men. It was understood that Mrs. Tetchy intended to have a grand wedding for her daughter, by way, as my sister said, of showing her new son that her daughter was somebody, a fact of which Jane thought he would have a realizing experience much sooner than he expected. Now it was desirable for us to conciliate the Tetchys, and we thought the occasion of a wedding a good opportunity to do so. Accordingly, when the eventful day arrived, I carried to the house a really magnificent vase of flowers which we had gathered from our garden, and presented it to the bride. Both she and her mother received it with a profusion of thanks that was remarkable for them to indulge in, adding that they would be sure and have it placed in the centre of the great table at the wedding. I had also contemplated accompanying it with a few complimentary verses, — not that I was at all poetically inclined, but my idea was that they would feel a little grand at having some poetry about on the occasion. Indeed, I did write something, but it was so much of an effort that I have never made a second attempt. When I read the lines to Jane, she went off into a strain of merriment over what she called my folly, and said, in her usual sharp way, that that was not what the Tetchys cared for, — they had no faith in any kind of jingle but that of money.
Everybody in the neighborhood, as a matter of course, knew all that transpired at the wedding,—how many people were there, how the bride was dressed, what presents she received, how she looked and behaved, and what she said, as well as what sort of a dinner they had. We learned, also, that there was a profusion of bride-cake, in nice little white boxes tied with sky-blue ribbon, sent to friends and acquaintances in token of friendly remembrance. As we were living close by, and felt that we had strong claims, we expected ours would be received the next day at least. But the day passed, and the next and the next, and still no bride-cake came. A week longer proved that we bad been either overlooked by accident or positively cut by design. Jane became indignant at the apparent slight; I was only alarmed lest my diplomacy had failed. I cared nothing for the bridecake, but only for the strawberry-plants. So, when we thought the family had recovered from the confusion and really hard work which are always incident to a grand wedding, I summoned up courage to go and see Mrs. Tetchy and ask her to sell me some plants. I had great misgivings as to my success ; and in addition, the fear of her sharp temper and language made me nervous. I could stand up and face and argue with a man without flinching ; but somehow the rasping savagery of a termagant woman always overcame me.
It happened, when I went into the garden, that both she and her husband were engaged in taking up what appeared to me to be the runners which had grown that summer, and were setting them out in new rows, by a line that extended across the entire bed. I observed also that they were throwing away many plants, probably because the ground was too crowded. But there was scarcely a moment allowed me for observation ; for I had no sooner walked up to where they were at work than Mrs. Tetchy rose up quickly, and saluted me with, —
“ How did you get in? Was n’t the gate bolted ? ”
I replied, that, as no one had answered my call at the front door, I supposed they must be in the garden, and so had taken the liberty of coming in. I could have feigned some apology inconsistent with sincerity, but that was not my way. Besides, her manner was so unexpectedly abrupt as to confuse me. There she stood, with a garden-trowel in her hand, in working dishabille, and presenting altogether a needlessly unattractive picture of a female horticulturist ; for, though operating in a garden is really working in the dirt, yet it does not follow that one must of necessity be dirty herself.
" Do you want anything ? ” she again asked, in the same snappish tone.
“Yes, Ma’am,” I replied,—“I came to see if I could buy a few strawberryplants.”
“ I thought that 's what you were going at,” she answered, even more sharply. “That 's what your pimping about us comes to. Want to ruin our business, do you, and have strawberries of your own to sell to our customers ? You can't get any here : we don t sell plants.”
The woman’s manner forbade all persuasion or argument. Her husband kept on with his work, saying nothing ; she was evidently the master-spirit of garden as well as household, and I turned away so vexed and indignant as not even to bid the churl a good-morning. I could hear the mutterings of her anger to her husband as I walked quickly away, and am half ashamed to confess, that, as I passed through the gate, I slammed it to with all the energy of a real spitefulness. Not one of us has ever stepped foot upon the inhospitable premises of these people since. And Jane so persistently snubbed the son, that he very soon discovered, that, instead of being desirous of assuming the name of Tetchy, she would prefer never to hear it even mentioned.
I have somewhere read of two charming women being once engaged in discussing the question of what it is that constitutes the beauty of the human hand. There was difference of opinion, of course, and no really definite idea of the true elements of beauty. Unable to decide themselves, they referred it to a gentleman present. His mind went back to, and wandered over, the classics, exhausting the heathen mythology for examples and parallels, but he could come to no conclusion until the shining illustrations of the Christian faith rose up before him. Taking the white hand of each fair disputant in his own, he said, —
“ The question is too hard for me to answer ; but ask the poor, those who in any way solicit from us a favor, and they will tell you that the most beautiful hand in the world is the hand that gives”
I could have discovered beauty even in that of our neighbor, coarse and soiled as it was, had it been open and generous. But the nerves by whose agency the human hand is opened freely or as tightly closed must have their source in the human heart. If there be sympathy for others there, a politeness of the heart, the kindly impulses thus living and moving within it will vibrate through every cord of one’s being, and, struggling for outward expression, will manifest their presence by the warm grasp of the hand, the cordial smile, the gently modulated voice, the unflagging effort to promote the happiness of all around. I had not asked a gift; it was the jealous indisposition to oblige that so grieved and confounded me.
I had always supposed that horticulture was one of the ennobling arts,— that it enlarged the affections and refined the manners of all who pursued it, even when they did so as a matter of pecuniary gain. Here was evidence that in one instance I was mistaken. But it was the single exception to what may be regarded as the general rule ; for in other cases I have found humble cultivators of both fruit and flowers, to whose genial hearts all selfish unwillingness to communicate a knowledge of the art, or to supply me with plants, was a total stranger. There are thousands of pioneers such as I was. It is well for them that the light they need is not hidden under the bushel of any one churlish individual. But there were ample expedients remaining, and it required more than one discouragement to divert me from the object we were seeking to accomplish.
There stands in the centre of Second Street, in Philadelphia, a market-house extending two squares below Pine Street, long famous for its overflowing supplies of fruits and vegetables. In passing through it on my daily walk to the factory, I now remembered having seen abundance of strawberries on the various stands ; but, having at that time no special interest in the subject, I had only noticed the beauty of their crimson pyramids, the abundant supply, and the throngs of buyers that gathered round them. I took no thought of price, nor of where or how they were produced, as that branch of horticulture had never engaged my attention. But now the case was diferent. I remembered that most of these stands had been attended by women, and that one in particular had been famous for the quantity of its daily supply of fruit, as well as for the crowd of customers that collected about it.
I lost no time in calling on the occupant. Though the strawberries had long since disappeared, yet she sat surrounded with a profusion of vegetables, — one kind succeeding another as the seasons changed. In all the public markets of Philadelphia, this business of retailing what is popularly known as “truck” has become an inheritance of the poor women ever abounding in a great city. It is a hard and exacting business. Whether well or ill, the earliest daybreak finds them at their posts. There they stand or sit until the evening shadows begin to lengthen. Through all weathers they observe the same compulsory routine. No morning rain is too drenching, no snow too blinding, no cold too bitter, to keep from their stands these heroic toilers for a bare subsistence. Multitudes of them are mothers of families, whom they are thus obliged to leave half-uncared-for at home. Many are poor widows, burdened also with the care of children. Every other avenue to employment being closed, they are forced into this public exposure of the open air, in many cases with a mere shed to shelter them from the inclement weather. But while thus dispensing food to others, they earn it honestly for themselves. They live, and sometimes accumulate money. The shrewd managing ones have been known to become independent. Some of them begin upon a capital of a few dollars wherewith to furnish their stands, but not succeeding, they retire from the crowd and drop out of sight. Talent is necessary even for the sale of truck: not possessing it, they are driven to some employment of a humbler description. These women are not producers of the fruits and vegetables they have to sell. Most of these are grown by truckers in the suburbs, who supply the market-stands with a daily assortment during the season. But the business of thus trafficking in the open thoroughfare is a hard one for females. Custom has reconciled the public eye to it, but necessity alone has made it tolerable for women.
When I called at the strawberrystand referred to, and entered into conversation with the occupant, I at once discovered that I was conversing with one infinitely above the situation she was filling. Indeed, if courteousness, gentleness, and the manifestation of a sincere desire to gratify the wishes of another are to be considered as characteristic of a lady, this woman was one. I did not notice how she dressed, but only how pleasantly she spoke. I know it will be deemed evidence of extreme simplicity in me to intimate the possibility of a lady being found among the occupants of a public market. I know that before one can be considered lady-like, in the common acceptation of the term, she must be shown to be perfectly useless. By this rule she must be devoid of everything that may entitle her to the love and protection which she claims of right, before she can receive either. It is fashionable with some ladies to be invalids and helpless, and some are nursed and coddled up because they take on accomplishments of this description. Of course no one will expect me to know how the domestic arrangements of Adam and Eve were conducted. But I may presume that Adam’s dinners were prepared with as much gastronomic skill as had up to that time been attained, and that if Eve had set up to be a fashionable invalid, wholly dependent on Adam, and not a help-meet, there would have been a domestic mutiny even in the Garden of Eden. Our primal mother could not have been less pleasing because she happened to be a capital cook. Thus the truly gentle heart will lose nothing of its native gentleness, though forced by misfortune into a humbler station. Such must have been the character of the woman I was addressing. There was something in her voice, moreover, that struck me as a familiar sound, and, long before our conversation had ended, I recognized her as the widow whom, years ago, I had seen made the victim of a heartless imposition at the counter of a slop-shop. She had gone through trial after trial, and now, lady though she certainly was, there she stood at a fruit-stand in the public market.
There was no difficulty in obtaining plants through her. Like some others in the market, she sold many things on commission, among which were strawberry-plants for the trucker who supplied her with fruit. I engaged all I should need for an acre of ground, not then knowing how many would be wanted. Then I went into a long course of inquiry touching the business of raising and selling strawberries, but more particularly in relation to the latter. When I suggested the possibility of not finding a market, she broke out into loud merriment.
“ Bring them to me, Miss,” she cried. “ I can sell all that you will be able to produce. I have never yet had a full supply for my customers. This market has never within my experience had too many strawberries, and I have been here three years.”
She gave me abundant information concerning the whole business of selling, which at that time I regarded as the most important, having, notwithstanding my new-born enthusiasm, felt considerable doubt as to whether we could dispose of our crop. But here, according to her account, the sale was sure. Then she went into quite a long explanation of how the fruit was to be made ready for market, just as if I had already produced it, telling me that the berries must be selected when they were picked, the large and fine ones being kept separate from the smaller ones. She said it would be tedious and troublesome, but it gave a good return, as there were those among her customers who would pay any price for fine berries. I observed, that it was probably the wealthy ones who thus insisted on having the best. But she replied, it was not always so ; there were quite poor people who would buy nothing but the very best in the market; though even the smallest had the genuine strawberry-flavor, yet persons who really could not afford it did not hesitate to take the largest, at the highest price : the appearance, not the flavor of the fruit, seemed to regulate this. She remarked, that the extravagance of some families in thus indulging themselves was to her very surprising. But among the several classes of consumers all kinds were readily disposed of, the result being that she never had an overstock,—and there need be no apprehension on my part, therefore, of not finding a market, and at good prices, for all I could raise, no matter what the times might be. She had long since learned, that, the more people there were who got a taste of good fruit, the more freely they would consume it. Her great regret was that the strawberry-season did not extend over the whole year. On my suggesting, that, if such a thing could be brought about, there would be danger of the public becoming tired of them, —
“What!” she exclaimed, with animation, “ tired of strawberries ? Don't distress yourself too soon. Strawberries are a thing of which the public have never yet had a surfeit.”
All this was exceedingly encouraging to me, and I made a full report at home of what I had thus learned. I was rejoiced at being able to carry out my plan in spite of our ill-natured neighbors. Besides this, the conversation referred to showed us that their pretence of my wanting to ruin their business by raising strawberries was only a piece of mean and unreasonable jealousy, —that there was no real likelihood of such an event occurring, inasmuch as the demand was apparently unlimited. It is very probable, however, that it was from pure ill-temper that they refused to sell me any plants, an unwillingness to see us do well, not from any apprehension of an overstocking of the market; as long experience must have taught them, equally with the market-woman, that that was a comparative impossibility.
There were various impediments to be overcome, even after ascertaining that we were sure of selling all we could produce. Those who are experienced in horticulture will smile at my simplicity and ignorance, and wonder how so many difficulties beset me. But even they must have had some sort of probation, which they overlook when reading this history of mine. We are all, at some period, mere beginners in everything. There were hundreds of visitors to our neighbor’s garden who had never seen a strawberry-plant until then. When mine were fairly started, I witnessed the same display of ignorance in others who came to visit us. Some ladies, occasionally gentlemen even, supposed the vines ran up trees, and that the fruit was gathered like cherries. It is possible that this may be read by some gentle spirit, some anxious inquirer after a brighter pathway through a checkered life, some one of my own sex whose aspirations may be in harmony with mine, and whose fortunes may have been infinitely more unpropitious, in the hope of gathering from my humble experience sufficient light to guide her in a similar undertaking. I doubt not there are thousands in our country whose tastes would lead them in the same direction, did opportunity offer, and were the requisite knowledge at hand. I therefore record all the trials that impeded my progress. When difficulties are known beforehand, they may often be avoided.
I was unwilling to lose a day from the factory by walking several miles into the country to visit the man who Supplied my friendly market-woman with strawberries, and from whom the plants were to come. But while waiting for him to bring them in, together with the information I desired as to how and when to plant them, an incident occurred which gave me a complete knowledge of the whole theory of strawberry-culture. I had gone with my mother, one Saturday evening, to a neighboring grocery for certain articles we needed ; and while standing at the counter, awaiting our turn to he served, a boy came in with a large bundle of old newspapers for sale as wrappers, placing it on the counter directly beside me. Casting my eye upon it, I noticed that the outside paper bore the title of " The New England Farmer.” I then examined the bunble, untied it, and found that there were many numbers of the same journal, and underneath these a collection of “ The Country Gentleman.” I had never seen an agricultural paper before, though our little penny daily did occasionally contain extracts from some of them. I became immediately interested. The thought struck me that this bundle of old papers, now about to be used for such ignoble purposes as wrappers for groceries, must contain stores of the very information I was so laboriously seeking after. Hastily turning them over, my eye lighted on an article headed " Strawberries : how to plant and how to cultivate them.” I was fairly dipping into it, when my mother, giving me a nudge, told me she was ready to go. But it was far otherwise with me, and I began bargaining with the boy for his bundle. That matter was soon concluded, as the grocer declined buying ; so I took them at a few cents a pound. They came to nearly a dollar, but I had my week’s wages in my pocket, and am certain that I never made an investment so cheerfully, nor any, considering the amount, that was half so useful to me as this. Buying knowledge by the pound was quite a new idea with me.
I lugged the bundle home myself, and went into an examination of its contents with the utmost enthusiasm. Indeed, the whole family shared it with me, so that we were up till nearly midnight engaged in looking after articles treating of the subject then uppermost in our minds. The various numbers contained the collected experience of probably fifty different cultivators of the strawberry, with a mass of information on all matters pertaining to fruits and flowers. It took us a whole week to obtain any tolerable idea of the contents, as our evenings only could be spared for reading. The variety of experiences related was rather confusing, — one writer telling how he had failed altogether, though pursuing the very system under which another had had great success. There were all kinds of theories, and probably all kinds of practice. One grower declared that the ground must be made extremely rich, while another asserted positively that strawberries grew better and bore more abundantly on the poorest soil. One gentleman averred that the only profitable plan was to raise the plants in distinct hills, keeping them clear of runners ; some one in the next paper denied this, and vowed that he made more money by crowding his ground with all the plants that could find room upon it to take root. I remember one correspondent who said that letting the weeds grow would kill the strawberries ; but there was some one else who assured the editor, that, in his opinion, the strawberries rather liked the weeds, because they shaded the ground.
How was it possible for me to discriminate between these Contradictory statements, -— all made, moreover, by gentlemen who wrote as if each were in himself a complete horticultural encyclopædia ? Though utterly confused by them, and quite at a loss to know which plan of cultivation to adopt, yet one fact seemed very prominent, and that was that any person who was at all careful in keeping his ground mellow and reasonably clear of weeds would be sure to have good crops.
What struck me as a little remarkable in this voluminous record of experience and opinion was the circumstance of there being very few female writers on the subject. There were many who wrote quite eloquently on the culture of flowers, but only two or three who appeared to have cultivated strawberries. Yet there were several accounts of wonderful coverlets which some ot them had made, containing many thousands of pieces, with probably one or two millions of stitches. I could not help concluding that this latter feat was only labor thrown away, and that elderly ladies who undertake to produce counterpanes and bedspreads with so much superfluous work upon them should be provided with a sewing-machine. It was not very encouraging to observe that so small a share of female attention had been directed to the strawberry - culture. The only recorded efforts of this kind had been made in gardens, where the beds, after being planted, were attended to by the women of the family. It appeared that they could readily keep everything in order, pull out the weeds, gather the fruit; and though the fact was not mentioned, yet I presume they were able to put in a full oar when it came upon the table. One or two cases were related of young girls having made quite a handsome sum from a small gardenbed. But the general testimony went to prove that strawberry - growing was so simple an art that any woman who had sufficient good sense to keep herself tidy could successfully practise it, more especially if she had a taste for horticultural occupations. I concluded, therefore, that the true reason why women had not engaged more extensively in this employment was because no one had taken pains to call their attention to it.
There was one branch of the subject which it was difficult to understand exactly. Almost every person who wrote about strawberries seemed to have the best variety that had ever been known or heard of. This was especially noticeable in the statements of those who had plants to sell. After reading one advertisement, I felt satisfied that the particular fruit therein described was what I ought to have. But on examining the next announcement, I was confounded at learning that there was a still better kind. So it ran through probably half a dozen : every one was best. Indeed, there appeared to be no inferior strawberry - plants for sale. I had no friend to consult with who could explain this remarkable state of things ; and being thus left in doubt as to whether there was really any merit in plants thus extravagantly praised, I came to the conclusion that the safer way would be to let them all go, and adopt some well-established kind, that was known to be a sure bearer, and which could be had at a moderate price, leaving the costly novelties to be patronized by those who had more money to spare. In two or three of these florid descriptions of new varieties I observed that great stress was laid on the enormous size of the fruit, as well as their unequalled productiveness ; but there was no mention of quality: what that was appeared to be studiously suppressed. An orange may be as large as a pumpkin ; but if it be proportionably coarse and flavorless, one would conclude, that, the greater the size, the less desirable the fruit. It was important for me to begin right; so, abandoning these new and costly varieties, I determined to have something nearer home, about whose value there could be no doubt. I was to produce fruit for the public, not for our own private use, and therefore must have a wellestablished market berry.
I do not mean to undervalue the great horticultural novelties of the day, merely because I was unable to purchase, or because others were evidently realizing great sums by first originating them, and then spreading their merits before the world, though sometimes in extravagant terms. The world must have been waiting for them, or they could not have become so suddenly popular. And the painstaking horticulturist would not have devoted years of patient care and watchfulness, exercising a consummate skill in stimulating Nature to the production of a better plant, a more gorgeous flower, or a more luscious fruit, had he not known that there was a waiting public, ever ready to reward his skill and perseverance by extensive purchases at liberal prices. It is to this certainty of generous remuneration that we are indebted for nearly all the great and truly valuable novelties with which the horticultural world has been supplied. A rose, with tints unknown a century ago, has proved a stepping-stone to the discoverer’s fortune. The skilful propagator of new or rare verbenas has grown rich from annual sales of these beautiful bedding plants. The tulip is an historical monument of floral enthusiasm. When Mexico was opened to Northern enterprise, it yielded of its boundless exuberance the cactus and the dahlia, sources of untold wealth to those florists who ministered to the popular taste for Nature’s richest productions. The originator of a new and valuable grape has found in it a fortune. Accident has sometimes been productive of equally remunerative results. A solitary berry, growing in the tangled hedge-row of an abandoned field, has been the foundation of an independence.
The history of horticulture abounds in instances akin to these. The enthusiasts who produced or discovered such novelties have conferred inestimable benefits on the world. The originator of the Albany seedling strawberry unquestionably added threefold to the quantity of that surpassingly delicious fruit. He devoted years of patient care and watchfulness to a nursery containing thousands of seedlings, of which one only was found to be worthy of cultivation. And if he had his reward, he was well entitled to it. He has given us a plant superior to all that Nature’s handiwork had previously produced, — superior in the elements of commercial value, particularly in a productiveness so far surpassing that of any of its predecessors as to establish it as the standard by which every subsequent competitor must be estimated. It has spread over every section of our vast country, taking kindly to every variety of soil and climate, covering with its robust foliage many thousands of acres, producing tens of thousands of bushels of fruit, crowding our markets with abundant supplies, and producing profits to its cultivators such as no other strawberry has ever yielded. As a market berry it was quickly recognized as being unsurpassed, nor have its numerous modern rivals been yet able to shake its strong hold upon the public favor. I know — at least my reading has taught me — that there are multitudes of recent candidates for popularity, claiming to be far superior to this, all struggling to displace the old-time favorite. I am unable — here at least — to discuss their several merits, and therefore dismiss the novelties I have never tried for the great standard which has been so long approved.
We knew it was by means of this prolific berry that our neighbors, so disagreeable to us, were making themselves so popular. It was the variety sold by my widow in the market. Its character as a fruit for the million being thus established, we adopted it without hesitation.
My agricultural journals told me how many plants were to be put upon an acre, what were to be the distances apart, when to set them, with other particulars as to the mode of cultivation. But one of the most important facts taught me by my little library was that I could set the plants in the fall as advantageously as in the spring. This would give me a great start. I learned that in the two last autumn months, the temperature of the earth being higher than that of the air, the former would act as a sort of forcing-house, stimulating the growth anti expansion of the roots, so that before winter set in they would become so firmly established as to be enabled to survive the severest weather, and be pretty sure to give me quite a handsome crop the succeeding summer. There was nothing to do, then, but to procure the plants and get them in. Fred undertook to have the ground broken up and put in complete order for me,—that is, half an acre. We were not able to spare money enough to buy more plants, but intended to fill up the other half-acre from the runners that would be thrown out the following summer. I knew that our ill-natured neighbors had thrown away more plants than I needed, which they could have given to me without being themselves any the poorer. But perhaps I ought not to indulge in reproachful reminiscences of this kind. Still, it is difficult for one who never feels a selfish wish to understand how others can be so differently constituted. If such people would only for once indulge in the luxury of doing a really kind action, I am inclined to think they would be tempted into many repetitions of it. But it will be seen that I succeeded in getting my pets into the ground by depending on myself, letting others pursue their own way.
The rows were struck out only three feet apart, and the plants were set a foot asunder in the rows. This was not too close for our little garden culture, though it may be much too crowded for large fields. I was anxious to have as much fruit as possible on a small surface, intending to keep the runners from overspreading the ground. This desire for a great crop is the common anxiety of most fruit-growers, especially of beginners, and I think is frequently the cause of those failures that so often happen to them. My sister and I took a holiday from the factory and went to planting. My mother also did her full share of the labor. With such novices, it was of course very slow work, and employed us two or three days.
Very soon the neighbors stopped, as they were passing the half-latticed garden-gate, and looked in to see what we were about. This neighborly curiosity is the most natural thing in the world. One always likes to know what is going on either next door or in the opposite house. I confess to a weakness of that sort myself. Hence we took no offence, even when there was quite a crowd looking in.
When it was ascertained that we were planting strawberries, great surprise was manifested, and all kinds of remarks were made. Had we been planting potatoes, it would have been all right, as every family that had a little patch of ground in that neighborhood raised potatoes, though they paid no profit, while only one — the Tetchys — cultivated strawberries, which afforded a very handsome profit. I think it must have been the novelty of seeing women thus occupied that occasioned much of the surprise.
Before noon of the first day the whole Tetchy family crowded up to the gate and stood there a long time observing our movements. Their quick ears had been among the first to catch the news. They tried the latch, but Jane had locked the gate, determined that not one of them should come in. Thus excluded, all they could do was to indulge in a variety of ill-natured remarks.
“ I knew that was what they were after ! ” said Mrs. Tetchy to her husband, in a voice that was intended for us to hear.
But we kept our backs to them, taking no notice of what they said.
“Another strawberry-garden, I suppose ! ” exclaimed the daughter, Miss Annabella Tetchy, who had not yet had the good luck to change her ugly name.
“ Cream, too, no doubt!” added Tetchy himself, in a tone so insulting that I thought it unworthy of one calling himself a man.
These provoking taunts continued until the spiteful family appeared to have either relieved themselves or grown tired of having the cold shoulder of a profound contempt all the time turned toward them. It was a very hard thing for me to bear this malicious insolence. I could have retorted keenly on them by some plain insinuation touching their iron-tailed cow, of which they probably thought that no one but themselves had any knowledge. But we preserved our self-respect by maintaining silence.
These little private vexations were about all that we encountered during the whole progress of our strawberryplanting. The neighbors, with the exception of the Tetchys, having no particular interest as to how we got along or whether we got along at all, very soon ceased to take any notice of what we were doing. The novelty of the new enterprise died away as speedily, for the season at least, as if we had been sowing turnips. Under the fine October weather, the plants quickly took root, and went on growing so vigorously that some of them even put out an occasional runner. But these were immediately clipped off, as sure to impair the vigor of the plant, which could now support no extraneous offshoots. There were some plants, however, that apparently stood still, refusing to grow, while others died out entirely. But casualties of this sort are always to be expected. They occur with old hands at strawberry-planting, and beginners must not think to escape them.
I felt inexpressibly proud of my achievement. I watched this work of my own hands so closely, being up and in tire garden long before breakfast, that I think the very shape and position of every plant came to be imprinted on my memory. I know that I could detect the changes that took place in the look of each particular pet. I thought of them when operating the treadle of my sewing-machine at the factory, and I hurried home more expeditiously than aforetime, to enjoy even the brief autumn twilight among my strawberries. I sometimes even dreamed of them on my pillow. Now my agricultural library became far more interesting and useful than before. I had had a touch of real, actual practice, and could already understand and appreciate many suggestions which had heretofore been of doubtful significancy. Thus the long winter came gradually in, closing up the great volume of vegetable life, but affording me abundant time for studying that other volume which had so singularly fallen in my way.