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Farmer Eli’s Vacation
by [?]

“It don’t seem as if we’d really got round to it, does it, father?” asked Mrs. Pike.

The west was paling, and the August insects stirred the air with their crooning chirp. Eli and his wife sat together on the washing-bench outside the back door, waiting for the milk to cool before it should be strained. She was a large, comfortable woman, with an unlined face, and smooth, fine auburn hair; he was spare and somewhat bent, with curly iron-gray locks, growing thin, and crow’s-feet about his deep-set gray eyes. He had been smoking the pipe of twilight contentment, but now he took it out and laid it on the bench beside him, uncrossing his legs and straightening himself, with the air of a man to whom it falls, after long pondering, to take some decisive step.

“No; it don’t seem as if ’twas goin’ to happen,” he owned. “It looked pretty dark to me, all last week. It’s a good deal of an undertakin’, come to think it all over. I dunno’s I care about goin’.”

“Why, father! After you’ve thought about it so many years, an’ Sereno’s got the tents strapped up, an’ all! You must be crazy!”

“Well,” said the farmer, gently, as he rose and went to carry the milk-pails into the pantry, calling coaxingly, as he did so, “Kitty! kitty! You had your milk? Don’t you joggle, now!” For one eager tabby rose on her hind legs, in purring haste, and hit her nose against the foaming saucer.

Mrs. Pike came ponderously to her feet, and followed, with the heavy, swaying motion of one grown fleshy and rheumatic. She was not in the least concerned about Eli’s change of mood. He was a gentle soul, and she had always been able to guide him in paths of her own choosing. Moreover, the present undertaking was one involving his own good fortune, and she meant to tolerate no foolish scruples which might interfere with its result. For Eli, though he had lived all his life within easy driving distance of the ocean, had never seen it, and ever since his boyhood he had cherished one darling plan,–some day he would go to the shore, and camp out there for a week. This, in his starved imagination, was like a dream of the Acropolis to an artist stricken blind, or as mountain outlines to the dweller in a lonely plain. But the years had flitted past, and the dream never seemed nearer completion. There were always planting, haying, and harvesting to be considered; and though he was fairly prosperous, excursions were foreign to his simple habit of life. But at last, his wife had stepped into the van, and organized an expedition, with all the valor of a Francis Drake.

“Now, don’t you say one word, father,” she had said. “We’re goin’ down to the beach, Sereno, an’ Hattie, an’ you an’ me, an’ we’re goin’ to camp out. It’ll do us all good.”

For days before the date of the excursion, Eli had been solemn and tremulous, as with joy; but now, on the eve of the great event, he shrank back from it, with an undefined notion that it was like death, and that he was not prepared. Next morning, however, when they all rose and took their early breakfast, preparatory to starting at five, he showed no sign of indecision, and even went about his outdoor tasks with an alacrity calculated, as his wife approvingly remarked, to “for’ard the v’y’ge.” He had at last begun to see his way clear, and he looked well satisfied when his daughter Hattie and Sereno, her husband, drove into the yard, in a wagon cheerfully suggestive of a wandering life. The tents and a small hair-trunk were stored in the back, and the horse’s pail swung below.

“Well, father,” called Hattie, her rosy face like a flower under the large shade-hat she had trimmed for the occasion, “guess we’re goin’ to have a good day!”