Mr. Frost's farm was situated about three-quarters of a mile from the village. It comprised fifty acres, of which twenty were suitable for tillage, the remainder being about equally divided between woodland and pasture.
Mr. Frost had for some years before his marriage been a painter, and had managed to save up from his earnings not far from a thousand dollars. Thinking, however, that farming would be more favorable to health, he purchased his fifty-acre farm for twenty-eight hundred dollars, payable one thousand down, and the rest remaining on mortgage. At the date of our story he had succeeded in paying up the entire amount within eight hundred dollars, a mortgage for that amount being held by Squire Haynes. He had not been able to accomplish this without strict economy, in which his wife had cheerfully aided him.
But his family had grown larger and more expensive. Besides Frank, who was the oldest, there were now three younger children--Alice, twelve years of age; Maggie, ten; and Charlie, seven.
The farmhouse was small but comfortable, and the family had never been tempted to sigh for a more costly or luxurious home. They were happy and contented, and this made their home attractive.
On the evening succeeding that of the war meeting, Frank was seated in the common sitting-room with his father and mother. There was a well-worn carpet on the floor, a few plain chairs were scattered about the room, and in the corner ticked one of the old-fashioned clocks such as used to be the pride of our New England households. In the center of the room stood a round table, on which had been set a large kerosene-lamp, which diffused a cheerful light about the apartment.
On a little table, over which hung a small mirror, were several papers and magazines. Economical in most things, Mr. Frost was considered by many of his neighbors extravagant in this. He subscribed regularly for Harper's Magazine and Weekly, a weekly agricultural paper, a daily paper, and a child's magazine.
"I don't see how you can afford to buy so much reading-matter," said a neighbor, one day. "It must cost you a sight of money. As for me, I only take a weekly paper, and I think I shall have to give that up soon."
"All my papers and magazines cost me in a year, including postage, is less than twenty dollars," said Mr. Frost quietly. "A very slight additional economy in dress--say three dollars a year to each of us will pay that. I think my wife would rather make her bonnet wear doubly as long than give up a single one of our papers. When you think of the comparative amount of pleasure given by a paper that comes to you fifty-two times in a year, and a little extra extravagance in dress, I think you will decide in favor of the paper."
"But when you've read it, you haven't anything to show for your money."
"And when clothes are worn out you may say the same of them. But we value both for the good they have done, and the pleasure they have afforded. I have always observed that a family where papers and magazines are taken is much more intelligent and well informed than where their bodies are clothed at the expense of their minds. Our daily paper is the heaviest item; but I like to know what is passing in the world, and, besides, I think I more than defray the expense by the knowledge I obtain of the markets. At what price did you sell your apples last year?"
"At one dollar and seventy-five cents per barrel."
"And I sold forty barrels at two dollars per barrel. I found from my paper that there was reason to expect an increase in the price, and held on. By so doing I gained ten dollars, which more than paid the expense of my paper for the year. So even in a money way I was paid for my subscription. No, neighbor, though I have good reason to economize, I don't care to economize in that direction. I want my children to grow up intelligent citizens. Let me advise you, instead of stopping your only paper, to subscribe for two or three more."
"I don't know," was the irresolute reply. "It was pretty lucky about the apples; but it seems a good deal to pay. As for my children, they don't get much time to read. They've got to earn their livin', and that ain't done by settin' down and readin'."
"I am not so sure of that," said Mr. Frost. "Education often enables a man to make money."
The reader may have been surprised at the ease with which Mr. Frost expressed himself in his speech at the war meeting. No other explanation is required than that he was in the habit of reading, every day, well-selected newspapers. "A man is known by the company he keeps."
"So you gained the prize, Frank?" said his father approvingly. "I am very glad to hear it. It does you great credit. I hope none were envious of your success."
"Most of the boys seemed glad of it," was the reply; "but John Haynes was angry because he didn't get it himself. He declared that I succeeded only because I was a favorite with Mr. Rathburn."
"I am afraid he has not an amiable disposition. However, we must remember that his home influences haven't been the best. His mother's death was unfortunate for him."
"I heard at the store that you and Squire Haynes had a discussion at the war meeting," said Frank inquiringly. "How was it, father?"
"It was on the question of voting a bounty to our volunteers. I felt that such a course would be only just. The squire objected on the ground that our taxes would be considerably increased."
"And how did the town vote?"
"They sustained my proposition, much to the squire's indignation. He doesn't seem to feel that any sacrifices ought to be expected of him."
"What is the prospect of obtaining the men, father?"
"Four have already enlisted, but twenty-one are still required. I fear there will be some difficulty in obtaining the full number. In a farming town like ours the young men are apt to go off to other places as soon as they are old enough; so that the lot must fall upon some who have families."
Frank sat for some minutes gazing thoughtfully into the wood-fire that crackled in the fireplace.
"I wish I was old enough to go, father," he said, at length.
"I wish you were," said his father earnestly. "Not that it wouldn't be hard to send you out into the midst of perils; but our duty to our country ought to be paramount to our personal preferences."
"There's another reason," he said, after awhile, "why I wish you were older. You could take my place on the farm, and leave me free to enlist. I should have no hesitation in going. I have not forgotten that my grandfather fought at Bunker Hill."
"I know, father," said Frank, nodding; "and that's his musket that hangs up in your room, isn't it?"
"Yes; it was his faithful companion for three years. I often think with pride of his services. I have been trying to think all day whether I couldn't make some arrangement to have the farm carried on in my absence; but it is very hard to obtain a person in whom I could confide."
"If I were as good a manager as some," said Mrs. Frost, with a smile, "I would offer to be your farmer; but I am afraid that, though my intentions would be the best, things would go on badly under my administration."
"You have enough to do in the house, Mary," said her husband. "I should not wish you to undertake the additional responsibility, even if you were thoroughly competent. I am afraid I shall have to give up the idea of going."
Mr. Frost took up the evening paper. Frank continued to look thoughtfully into the fire, as if revolving something in his mind. Finally he rose, and lighting a candle went up to bed. But he did not go to sleep for some time. A plan had occurred to him, and he was considering its feasibility.
"I think I could do it," he said, at last, turning over and composing himself to sleep. "I'll speak to father the first thing to-morrow morning."
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