The postman whistled, as he has an alluring way of doing when he brings the evening mail, always hoping that some one will come out for a bit of evening gossip, in which he is rarely disappointed.
Talk branched into divers pleasant ways, and we had almost forgotten her errand when she returned and, breaking abruptly into the conversation, said to Bart, "Sorry to interrupt, but the postman reports that there are three large crates of live stock down at the station, and the agent says will you please send for them tonight, as he doesn't dare leave them out, there are so many strangers about, and they will surely stifle if he crowds them into the office!"
"Live stock!" exclaimed Bart, "I'm sure I've bought nothing!" Then, as light broke in his brain, - "Maybe it's that setter pup that Truesdale promised me as soon as it was weaned, which would be about now!"
"Would a setter pup come in three crates?" inquired The Man, solemnly.
"It must belive plants and not live stock!" I said, coming to Bart's rescue, "for Aunt Lavinia Cortright wrote me last week that she was sending me some of her prize pink Dahlias, and some gladioli bulbs!"
"Possibly these might fill three large cases!" laughed Bart, in his turn.
"Why not see if any of those letters throw light upon the mystery, and then I'll help 'hook up,' as I suppose Barney has gone home, and we will bring up the crates even if they contain crocodiles!" said The Man, cheerfully. Complications always have an especially cheering effect upon him, I've often noticed.
The beams of a quarter moon were picturesque, but not a satisfactory light by which to read letters, especially when under excitement, so Bart brought out a carriage lantern with which we had equipped our camp, and proceeded to sort the mail, tossing the rejected letters into my lap.
Suddenly he paused at one, extra bulky and bearing the handwriting of his mother, weighed it on the palm of his hand, and opened it slowly. From it fell three of the yellow-brown papers upon which receipts for ex-pressage are commonly written; I picked them up while Bart read slowly -
"My dear Son,
"We were most glad to hear through daughter Mary of your eminently sensible and frugal plan for passing your summer vacation in the improvement of your land without the expense of travel.
"Wishing to give you some solid mark of ourapproval, as well as to contribute what must be a material aid to your income, father and I send you to-day, by express, three crates of Hens - one of White Leghorns, one of Plymouth Rocks, and one of Brown Dorkings, a male companion accompanying each crate, as I am told is usual. We did not select an incubator, thinking you might have some preference in the matter, but it will be forthcoming when your decision is made.
"Of course I know that you cannot usually spare the time for the care of these fowls, but it will be a good outdoor vocation for Mary, amusing and lucrative, besides being thoroughly feminine, for such poultry raising was considered even in my younger days.
"A book, The Complete Guide to Poultry Farming, which I sent Mary a year ago on her birthday, as a mere suggestion, will tell her all she need know in the beginning, and the responsibility and occupation itself will be a good corrective for giving too much time to the beauties of the flower garden, which are merely pleasurable.
"I need not remind you that the different breeds should be housed separately, but you who always had a gift for carpentry can easily arrange this. Indeed it was only yesterday that in opening a chest of drawers I came across a small lead saw bought for sixpence, with which you succeeded in quite cutting through the large Wisteria vine on Grandma Bartram's porch! I wished to punish you, but she said - 'No, Susanna, rather preserve the tool as a memento of his industry and patience.
"I wish that I could be near to witness your natural surprise on receiving this token of our approval, but I must trust Mary to write us of it.
"Susan Bartram Penrose."
With something between a groan and a laugh Bart dropped this letter into my lap, with the others.
"So, after a successful struggle all these five years of our country life against the fatal magnetism of Hens that has run epidemic up and down the population of commuting householders, bringing financial prostration to some and the purely nervous article to others; after avoiding 'The Wars of the Chickens, or Who scratched up those Early Peas,' - events as celebrated in local history as the Revolution or War of the Rebellion, - we are to be forced into the chicken business for the good of Bart's health and pocket, and my mental discipline, and also that a thrifty Pennsylvania air may be thrown about our altogether too delightful and altruistic summer arrangements! It's t-o-o bad!" I wailed.
Of course I know, Mrs. Evan, that I was in a temper, and that my "in-laws" mean well, but since comfortable setting hens have gone out of fashion, and incubators and brooders taken their place, there is no more pleasure or sentiment about raising poultry than in manufacturing any other article by rule. It's a business, and a very pernickety one to boot, and it's to keep Bart away from business that we are striving. Besides, that chicken book tells how many square feet per hen must be allowed for the exercising yards, and how the pens for the little chicks must be built on wheels and moved daily to fresh pasture. All the vegetable garden and flower beds and the bit of side lawn which I want for mother's rose garden would not be too much! But I seem to be leaving the track again.
Bart didn't say a word, except that "At any rate we must bring the fowls up from the station," and as the stable door was locked and the key in Barney's pocket, Bart and The Man started to walk down to the village to look him up in some of his haunts, or failing in this to get the express wagon from the stable.