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   Chapter 4 THE GREAT STUMP

A Ticket to Adventure / A Mystery Story for Girls By Roy J. Snell Characters: 8370

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


There was one thing about their little farm that, from the first time she saw it, had seemed strange to Florence. Back of the house stood the stump of a forest giant. Fully three feet across it stood there, roots embedded deep, while all about it were pigmies of the tree world. There was not a tree on the farm that measured more than thirty feet tall. Why? Perhaps a fire had destroyed the primeval forest. Yet here was this great stump.

She tried to picture the tree towering above its fellows. She found herself wishing that it had not been felled by some woodsman's axe. Why had they cut it down? That they might build its logs into the house was a natural answer, yet the house contained no such logs. Well, here was a riddle.

On top of the stump the original dwellers in the cabin had placed a massive flower-box. Somehow, they had secured wild morning-glory seeds and planted them there. These must, from year to year, have replanted themselves, for, even in June, the vines were beginning to droop over the edge of the box. By autumn the great stump would be a mass of flowers. However others might regard wild morning-glories, Florence knew she would adore them.

She was standing staring at the stump and thinking of it with renewed wonder when Mark came in from his plowing.

"There! That's done," he exclaimed as he dropped down upon a bench. "Now for the planting." Then, to his cousin's renewed astonishment, he said. "Bushels and bushels of tomatoes."

"Mark!" exclaimed Florence. "Why do you keep on insisting that we can raise tomatoes here when Mrs. Swenson, who has lived here so long, says we can't?"

"Because we can," Mark grinned broadly.

"How?"

"Sit down and stop staring at that stump as if it hid some strange secret and I'll tell you."

Florence sat down.

"You know the way I have of poking about in all sorts of odd corners wherever I am," Mark began. "Well, while we were in Anchorage I got to prowling round and stumbled upon a small greenhouse set way back on a side street where very few people would see it.

"Well, you know you'll always find something interesting in a greenhouse. Some new vegetable or flower, a strange form of moss or fungus, or even a new species of plant pest. So I went in."

"And you-"

"I found tomato plants all in blossom, dozens and dozens of them in pots."

"But why-"

"That's what I asked the man-why? He said he'd raised them for some gardener in a town down south, half way to Seattle. Something had gone wrong with the man or his garden. He couldn't use them so-"

"There they were."

"Yes," Mark agreed with uncommon enthusiasm. "There they were, and there, I am quite sure, they are still. They can be bought cheap, probably four hundred plants in pots. Must be tomatoes big as marbles on them by now."

"And you know," he went on excitedly, "when you set out potted plants the blossoms and small tomatoes do not drop off, they just keep on growing. And here, where the sun will be shining almost twenty-four hours a day, they should just boom along. Have ripe tomatoes in six weeks. Then how those well-to-do people in Anchorage, Seward and Fairbanks will go after them! Tomatoes!" he exclaimed, spreading his arms wide. "Bushels and bushels of tomatoes; ripe, red gold!"

"But if there is a frost?"

"Yes," Mark said with a drop in his voice. "A June frost. That happens sometimes. It's a chance we'll have to take. I'm going to Anchorage for those plants tomorrow.

"You know," his voice dropped, "I can't see all this going in debt for the things you eat and wear, to say nothing of tools, machinery, and all that. It's got to be paid sometime and it's going to come hard.

"It's all right if you have to do it, better than getting no start at all. I'm not criticising anyone else. But, as for the Hughes family, we're going to pay as we go if we can, and who knows but those tomatoes will pay for our winter's supply of flour, sugar, and all the rest?"

"Who knows?" Florence echoed enthusiastically.

Six weeks had passed when once again Florence sat beside the lake. There was a moon tonight. It hung like a magic lantern above the snow-capped mountain.

The lake reflected both mountains and moon so perfectly that for one who looked too long, it became not a lake at all, but mountains and moon.

Florence had looked too long. She was dreaming of wandering among those jagged peaks in an exciting search. A search for gold. And why not? Had not the aged prospector appeared once more at their door? Had she not feasted him on hot-cakes and wild honey? Had he not repaid her with fresh tales of her grandfather's doings in the very far north?

"I shall go in search of him," she told herself now. "A search for a grandfather," she laughed. Well, why not? He had lost a rich gold mine. She was strong as a man, was Florence. No man, she was sure, could follow a dog team farther nor faster than she. She would find Tom Kennedy and together they would find that mine.

"But first this!" she sighed as on other occasions, flinging her arms wide to take in the claim, the lake, and the cabin.

"First what?" a voice close at hand said.

Startled, she sprang to her feet. "Oh! It's you, Mark." She made a place for him beside her on a broad flat rock.

"First your little farm," she said soberly. "Tomatoes and potatoes and all the rest. A shelter for old Boss, everything that will go to make this a home for you and Mary and your mother."

"And you," Mark's voice was low.

"No. Not for me, Mark. For you this is life. I understand that. I admire you for it. To have a home, and a small farm, to add to that year after year, to change the log cabin for a fine home, to have cattle and sheep and broad pasture and-" she hesitated, then went on, "and children, boys and girls, happy in their home. All this is your life and will be years on end. But for me, it is only-what should I say-an episode, one adventure among many, a grand and glorious experience."

"Yes," Mark said, and there was kindness in his voice. "Yes, I suppose that is it. Awfully good of you to share the hardest year with us."

"What do you mean hardest?" Florence demanded. "It's been glorious. And we are succeeding so well. Already the tomatoes are up to my shoulders. What a crop they will be!"

"Yes," Mark's voice was husky. "We've been lucky."

For a time there was silence. Then Mark spoke again. "There was a time, and not so long ago, when I thought to myself, 'Life's stream must grow darker and deeper as we go along.' But now-well-" he did not finish.

"Now," Florence laughed from sheer joy of living. "Now you must know that it grows lighter and brighter."

"Lighter and brighter," Mark laughed softly. "Those are fine words, mighty fine."

"They're grand words," the girl cried. "True words, too. It-why, life is like a summer morning! Only day before yesterday I went out to find old Boss before dawn. It was more than half dark. Clouds along the horizon were all black. They looked ominous, threatening. Soon, some power behind them began to set them on fire. Redder and redder they shone, then they began to fade. Salmon colored, deep pink, pale pink, they faded and faded until like a ghost's winding sheet they vanished. Lighter and brighter. Oh, Mark! how grand and beautiful life can be!" Leaping to her feet she did a wild dance, learned in some gypsy camp with her good friend, Petite Jeanne; then, dropping to her place beside the boy, she looked away into the night. For her, darkness held no terror, for well she knew there should be a brighter dawn.

Of a sudden, as they sat there, each busy with thoughts of days that were to come, they were startled by a sudden loud splash.

"Oh!" Florence jumped.

"Only some big old land-locked salmon," Mark chuckled.

"I didn't know-"

"That they were here? Oh, sure! I've heard them before."

"Mark, I love to fish. Couldn't we fix up something?"

"Sure. There's a line or two in the cabin and some three gang hooks. I'll cut the handle off a silver-plated spoon. It'll spin all right without the handle. That'll fool 'em. You'll see!"

She did see. The very next day she saw what Mark's inventive skill would do and, seeing, she found fresh adventure that might have ended badly had not some good angel guided one young man to an unusually happy landing.

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