Cyril G. Hopkins.

The Story of the Soil; from the Basis of Absolute Science and Real Life, online

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trimmings revealed the beauty and wealth of former days. Rare shrubs
still grew in the spacious front yard, and gnarled remnants of
orchard trees were to be seen in the rear. A dozen other buildings,
large and small, occupied the background, some with the roofs partly
fallen, others evidently still in use.

"How old do you suppose these buildings are?" asked Percy of the

"About a hundred years," he replied, "and I reckon they've had no
paint nor fixin' since they was built, 'cept they have to give some
of 'em new shingles now and then or they'd all fall to pieces like
the old barns back yonder."

Percy examined the soil in several places on the Jones farm and on
other farms in the neighborhood. They lunched on crackers and canned
beans at a country store and made a more extended drive in the

"It is a fine soil," Percy said to the driver, as they started for
Leonardtown. "It contains enough sand for easy tillage and quick
drainage, and enough clay to hold anything that might be applied to

"That's right," said the driver. "Where they put plenty of manure
and fertilizer they raise tobacco three foot high and fifteen
hundred pounds to the acre, but where they run the tobacco rows
beyond the manured land so's to be sure and not lose any manure, why
the stuff won't grow six inches high and it just turns yellow and
seems to dry up, no matter if it rains every day. Say, Mister, would
you mind telling me if you're a preacher?"

"Oh, no," replied Percy, " - I am not a preacher, any more than every
Christian must be loyal to the name."

"Well, anyway, I've learned a lesson I'll try to remember. I never
thought before about how it might hurt other people when I swear. I
don't mean nothing by it. It's just a habit; but your saying Christ
is your friend makes me feel that I have no business talking about
anybody's friend, any more than I'd like to hear anybody else use my
mother's name as a by-word. I reckon nobody has any right to use
Christ's name 'cept Christians or them as wants to be Christians. I
reckon we'd never heard the name if it hadn't a been for the

"But I don't have so many bad habits. I don't drink, nor smoke, nor
chew; and I don't want to. My father smoked some and chewed a lot,
and I know the smell of tobacco used to make my mother about as sick
as she could be; but she had to stand it, or at least she did stand
it till father died; and now she lives with me, and I'm mighty glad
she don't have to smell no more tobacco

"She often speaks of it - mother does; and she says she's so thankful
she's got a boy that don't use tobacco. She says men that use
tobacco don't know how bad it is for other folks to smell 'em. Why,
sometimes I come home when I've just been driving a man some place
in the country, riding along like you and I are now, and he a
smoking or chewing, or at least his clothes soaked full of the vile
odor; and when I get home mother says, 'My! but you must have had an
old stink pot along with you to-day.' She can smell it on my
clothes, and I just hang my coat out in the shed till the scent gets
off from it.

"No, Sir, I don't want any tobacco for me, and I don't know as I'd
care to raise the stuff for other folks to saturate themselves with
either; and every kid is allowed to use it nowadays, or at least
most of them get it. It's easy enough to get it. Why, a kid can't
keep away from getting these cigarettes, if he tries. They're
everywhere. Every kid has hip pockets full; and I know blamed well
that some smoke so many cigarettes they get so they aren't more than
half bright. It's a fact, Sir, - plenty of 'em too; and some old men,
like Al Jones, are just so soaked in tobacco they seem about half
dead. Course it ain't like whiskey, but I think it's worse than beer
if beer didn't make one want whiskey later.

"But as I was saying, I feel that I have no business saying things
about, - about anybody you call your friend, and I think I'll just
swear off swearing, if I can."

"You can if you will just let Him be your friend."

"Well, I don't know much about that," was the slow reply. "That
takes faith, and I don't have much faith in some of the church
members I know."

"That used to trouble me also," said Percy, "until one time the
thought impressed itself upon me that even Christ himself did all
His great work with one of the twelve a traitor; and this thought
always comes to me now when self-respecting men object to uniting
with organized Christianity because of those who may be regarded as
traitors or hypocrites, but not of such flagrant character as to
insure expulsion from the Church?"

"Do you believe in miracles?" asked the driver.

"Oh, yes," said Percy, "in such miracles as the growth of the corn

"Why, that isn't any miracle. Everybody understands all about that."

"Not everybody," replied Percy. "There is only One who understands
it. There is only one great miracle, and that is the miracle of
life. It is said that men adulterate coffee, even to the extent of
making the bean or berry so nearly like the natural that it requires
an expert to detect the fraud; but do you think an imitation seed
would grow?"

"No, it wouldn't grow," said the driver.

"Not only that," said Percy, "but we may have a natural and perfect
grain of corn and it can never be made to grow by any or all of the
knowledge and skill of men, if for a single instant the life
principle has left the kernel, which may easily result by changing
its temperature a few degrees above or below the usual range. The
spark of life returns to God who gave it, and man is as helpless to
restore it as when he first walked the earth.

"What miracle do you find hard to accept?" asked Percy.

"How could Jesus know that Lazarus had died when he was on the other
side of the mountain?"

"I don't know," Percy replied; "perhaps by some sort of wireless
message which his soul could receive. I don't know how, but it was
no greater miracle than it would have been then to have done what I
did last week."

The driver turned to look squarely at Percy as though in doubt of
his sanity, but a kindly smile reassured him.

"Our train coming into Cincinnati ran in two sections," Percy
continued, "and the section behind us was wrecked, three travellers
being killed and about fifteen others wounded. I was sure my mother
would hear of the wreck before I could reach her with a letter, and
so I talked with her from Cincinnati over the long distance 'phone,
with which we have always had connection since I first went away to
college. Yes, I talked with her, and, though separated by a distance
three times the entire length of Palestine, I distinctly heard and
recognized my mother's voice. Oh, yes, I believe in miracles; but
that is a matter of small consequence. The important thing is that
we have faith in God and faith in Jesus Christ, his Son."

"Well, that's what troubles me," said the driver. "How's one to get

"There are two methods of receiving faith," replied Percy. "Faith
cometh by prayer." "Yes, Sir, I believe that." "And, faith cometh by
hearing." "Hearing what?" "Hearing by the Word of God; hearing those
who have studied His Word and who testify of Him; and hearing with
an ear ready to receive the truth."



TWO days later Percy was in Rhode Island visiting a farm owned by
Samuel Robbins, one of the most progressive and successful farmers
of that State.

Mr. Robbins' farm lay in what appeared to be an ancient valley,
several miles in width, although only a small stream now winds
through it to the sea seven miles away.

"So you are from Illinois," said Mr. Robbins, after Percy had
introduced himself and explained the nature of his visit. "The
papers have a good deal to say about the corn you grow in Illinois;
but have you noticed that the Government reports show our average
yield of corn in New England is higher than yours in Illinois?"

"Yes, Sir," Percy replied, "I have noticed that and I have come to
Rhode Island to learn how to raise more corn per acre. I have
noticed, however, that New England corn does not occupy a large

Well, now, we count corn as one of our big crops, next to hay.
You'll see plenty of corn fields right here in Rhode Island."

"Would you believe that we actually raise more corn on one farm in
Illinois than the total corn crop of Rhode Island?"

"You don't tell!"

"Yes," said Percy, "the Isaac Funk farm in McLean County grows more
corn on seven thousand acres a year, with an average yield certainly
above fifty bushels per acre, and surely making a total above
350,000 bushels; while the State of Rhode Island grows corn on
nearly ten thousand acres with an average yield of thirty-two
bushels, making a total yield of about 320,000 bushels."

"Well, I'll give it up; but I'd like to know how much corn you raise
in the whole State of Illinois."

"Our average production," said Percy, "is about equal to the total
production of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode
Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware,
Maryland, Virginia, North and South Carolina, Georgia, Florida,
Alabama, and Mississippi."

"Eighteen of us!" exclaimed Mr. Robbins, who had counted on his
fingers from New York to Mississippi. "And you come to Rhode Island
to learn how to raise corn?"

"Yes, I came to learn how you raise more than thirty-five bushels of
corn per acre as an average for New England, while we raise less
than thirty-five bushels as an average in Illinois, and while
Georgia, a larger State than Illinois, raises only eleven bushels
per acre as a ten year average. Illinois is a new State, but I call
to mind that Roger Williams settled in Rhode Island in 1636 and that
he was joined by many others coming not only from Massachusetts but
also from other sections. I assume that much of the land in Rhode
Island has been farmed for 250 years, and the fact that you are
still producing more than thirty bushels of corn per acre, as an
average, is, it seems to me, a fact of great significance. I suppose
you use all the manure you can make from the crops you raise and
perhaps use some commercial fertilizer also. I should like to know
what yield of corn you produce without any manure or fertilizer?"

"We don't produce any," said Mr. Robbins; "at least we know we
wouldn't produce any corn without fertilizing the land in one way or
another. If you will walk over here a little ways you can see for
yourself. I didn't have quite enough manure to finish this field and
I had no more time to haul seaweed so I planted without getting any
manure on a few rods in one corner, and the corn there wouldn't make
three bushels from an acre. I didn't bother to try to cut it, but
the cows will get what little fodder there is as soon as I can get
the shocks out of the field and turn 'em in for a few days to pick
up what they can."

Percy examined the corn plants still standing in the corner of the
field. They had grown to a height of about two feet. Most of them
had tassels and many of them appeared to have little ears, but
really had only husks containing no ear. In a few places where the
hill contained only one plant a little nubbin of corn could be

"I don't mean to let any of my land get as poor as this field was,"
continued Mr. Robbins, "but I just couldn't get to it, and I left it
in hay about two years longer than I should have done. Last year was
first class for hay but this field had been down so long it was
hardly worth cutting."

"About what yield do you get from the manured land?" inquired Percy.

"In a fair year I get about forty bushels, and that's about what I
am getting this year from my best fields. You see there's lots of
corn in these shocks. There's about an average ear, and we get five
or six ears to the hill."

"Eight-row flint," said Percy, as he took the ear in his hand and
drew a celluloid paper knife from his vest pocket with a six-inch
scale marked on one side.

"Yes, Sir, our regular Rhode Island White Cap."

"Just five inches long. Weight about three ounces?"

"Perhaps. We count on about four hundred ears to the bushel. If we
get four thousand hills to the acre one ear to the hill would give
us ten bushels per acre, so you see we only have to have four ears
to the hill to make our forty bushels. A good many hills have five
to six ears, but then of course, some hills don't have much of any,
so I suppose my corn makes an average of four ears about like that."

"I suppose you feed all of the corn you raise in order to produce as
much manure as possible."

"Feed that corn! Not much we don't. Why, corn like that brings us
close on to a dollar a bushel. No, Sir, we don't feed this corn.
It's all used for meal. It makes the best kind of corn meal. No, we
buy corn for feed; western corn. Oh, we feed lots of corn; three
times as much as we raise; but we don't feed dollar corn, when we
can buy western corn for seventy-five or eighty cents.

"I sell corn and I sell potatoes; that's all except the milk. I keep
most of my land in meadow and pasture and feed everything I raise
except the corn and potatoes. And milk is a good product with us. We
average about sixty cents a pound for butter fat, and it's ready
money every month; and, of course, we need it every month to pay for

"Then you produce on the farm all the manure you use," suggested
Percy, "but I think you mentioned hauling seaweed."

"Yes, and I haul some manure, too, when I can get it; but usually
there are three or four farmers ready to take every load of town

"You get it from town for the hauling?"

"Well, I guess not," said Mr. Robbins emphatically and with apparent
astonishment at such a question. "I don't think I would haul seaweed
seven miles if I could get manure in town for nothing. Manure is
worth $1.50 a ton Iying in the livery stable, and there are plenty
to take it at that right along. I'd a little rather pay that than
haul seaweed; but the manure won't begin to go around, and so
there's nothing left for us but seaweed; and, if we couldn't get
that, the Lord only knows what we could do."

"How much seaweed can you haul to a load, and about how many loads
do you apply to the acre?"

"When the roads are good we haul a cord and a quarter, and we put
ten or twelve loads to the acre for corn and then use some
commercial fertilizer."

"Do you know how much a cord of the seaweed would weigh?"

"Yes, a cord weighs about a ton and a half."

"Then you apply about twenty tons of seaweed to the acre for corn?"

"Yes, but some use less and some more; probably that's about an
average. Hauling seaweed's a big job and a bad job. We have to start
from home long before daylight so as to get there and get the weed
while the tide is out, and then we get back with our load about two
o'clock in the afternoon; and, by the time we eat and feed the team,
and get the load to the field and spread, there isn't much time left
that day, especially when you've got to pile out of bed about two
o'clock the next morning and hike off for another load."

"Then you use some fertilizer in addition to the seaweed? May I ask
how much fertilizer you apply to the acre and about how much it
costs per ton?"

"Where we spread seaweed for corn, we add about four hundred and
fifty pounds per acre of fertilizer that costs me $26 a ton, but I
have the agency and get it some cheaper than most have to pay. Then
for potatoes we apply about 1500 pounds of a special potato
fertilizer that costs me $34 a ton."

"The fertilizer costs you about $6 an acre for the corn crop and $25
for potatoes," said Percy; "and then you have the cost of the
seaweed. I should think you would need to count about $25 or $30 an
acre for the expense of hauling seaweed."

"Yes, all of that if we had to pay for the work, but of course we
can haul seaweed more or less when the farm work isn't crowding, and
we don't count so much on the expense. It doesn't take the cash,
except may be a little for a boy to drive one team when we haul two
loads at a time; and we don't use seaweed for potatoes. The corn
crop will generally more'n pay for it and the fertilizer too; and
the seaweed helps for three or four years, especially for grass.
There's good profit in potatoes, too, when we get a crop, but
they're risky, considering the money we have to pay for fertilizer."



AFTER leaving Rhode Island, Percy spent two days in and about
Boston, and then returned to Connecticut for a day. The weather had
turned cold; the ground had frozen and the falling snow reminded him
that it was the day before Thanksgiving.

From New London he took a night boat to New York, and then took
passage on a Coast Line vessel from New York to Norfolk.

The weather had cleared and the wind decreased until it was scarcely
greater than the speed of the ship.

Whether or not the dining room service was extraordinary because of
the day, Percy was soon convinced that the only way to travel was by
boat. He regretted only that his mother was not with him to enjoy
that day. For hours they coasted southward within easy view of the
New Jersey shore, dotted here and there with cities, towns, and
villages. Light houses marked the rocky points where danger once
lurked for the men of the sea.

The sea itself was of constant interest; and hundreds of craft were
passed or met. Here a full-rigged sailing vessel lazily drifting
with the wind; there a giant little tug puffing in the opposite
direction with a string of barges in tow loaded almost to the
water's edge.

Norfolk was reached early the next morning, and before noon Percy
passed through Petersburg on his way to Montplain. He changed cars
at Lynchburg and arrived at Montplain before dark. In accordance
with a promise to Mr. West he had notified him of his plans.

Would Adelaide met him, and if so would she have the family carriage
and again insist upon his riding in the rear seat? He had found
these questions in his mind repeatedly since he left New London,
with no very definite purpose before him except to arrive at
Montplain at the appointed time.

Yes, it was the family carriage. He saw the farm team tied across
the street from the depot. As he left the train he caught a glimpse
of Adelaide standing with the group of people who were waiting to
board the train. She extended her hand as he reached her side.

"Mr. Johnston, meet my cousin, Professor Barstow."

"I am glad to meet you, Professor," said Percy, as he shook hands
with a tall young man about his own age. Percy noted his handsome
face and gentlemanly bearing.

"Miss Adelaide calls me cousin," said Barstow, "because my aunt
married her uncle."

"Well, Sir, if we're not cousins, then I'm Miss West and not Miss
Adelaide. Is that too much for an absent-minded professor to

"I am afraid it is," said Barstow, "and I am sure I would rather be

"Professor Barstow leaves on this train," Adelaide explained to
Percy; "excuse me, please."

Percy raised his hat as he stepped back from the crowd and waited
for the parting of the two. He was sure that Barstow held her hand
longer than was necessary, and he also noticed that her face flushed
as she rejoined him after the train started.

"Will you take the rear seat?" she asked. as they reached the

"If you so prefer."

"That seat is for our guests, so I don't prefer," came her reply,
which left Percy wholly in the dark as to her wishes.

"Then let me be your coachman rather than your guest."

"If you so prefer," she repeated, and without waiting for assistance
quickly mounted to the front seat, leaving him to occupy the
driver's seat beside her.

"Captain and Mrs. Stone of Montplain were with us for Thanksgiving
and I came with the carriage to take them home. Professor Barstow
has also been spending his Thanksgiving vacation visiting with

"Thank you," said Percy, as he took the lines and turned the horses
toward Westover.

"You are certainly welcome to drive this team if you enjoy it."

"I thank you for that also," said Percy. Adelaide noted the word
_also, _but she only remarked that she hoped he had enjoyed his
travels, though she could not understand what pleasure he could find
in visiting old worn-out farms.

"Of all things," she continued, "it seems to me that farming is the
last that anyone would want to undertake."

"It is both the first and the last," said Percy. "As you know, when
our ancestors came to America, agriculture was the first great
industry they were able to develop. Other industries and professions
follow agriculture and must be supported in large measure by the
agricultural industry. Merchants, lawyers, doctors and teachers are
in a sense agricultural parasites."

An hour before he would not have included teachers in this class;
for, next to the mother in the home, he felt that the teacher in the
school is the greatest necessity for the highest development of the
agricultural classes.

"Without agriculture," he continued, "America could never have been
developed, and, unless the prosperity of American agriculture can be
maintained, poverty is the only future for this great nation. The
soil is the greatest source of wealth, and it is the most permanent
form of wealth. The Secretary of Agriculture at Washington told me a
few days ago that eighty-six per cent. of the raw materials used in
all our manufacturing industry are produced from the soil.

"Yes, agriculture is certainly the first industry in this country;
and I am fully convinced that to restore the fertility of the
depleted soils of the East and South, and even to maintain the
productive power of the great agricultural regions of the West,
deserves and will require the best thought of the most influential
people of America.

"Throughout the length and breadth of this land, the almost
universal purpose of the farmers is to work the land for all they
can get with practically no thought of permanency. The most common
remark of the corn belt farmer is that his land doesn't show much
wear yet; and it is holding up pretty well, or as well as could be
expected; or that he thinks it will last as long as he does. All
recognize that the land cannot hold up under the systems of farming
that are being practiced, and these systems are essentially the same
as have been followed in America since 1607. What the Southern
farmer did with slave labor, the Western farmer is now doing with
the gang plow, the two-row cultivator, and the four-horse disks and
harrows. In addition he tile-drains his land which helps to insure
larger crops and more rapid soil depletion. He even uses clover as a
soil stimulant, and spreads the farm fertilizer as thinly as
possible with a machine made for the purpose in order to secure both
its plant food value and its stimulating effect. Positive soil
enrichment is practically unknown in the great corn belt.

"Robbery is a harsh word; and yet the farmers and landowners of
America are and always have been soil robbers; and they not only rob
the nation of the possibility of permanent prosperity, but they even
rob themselves of the very comforts of life in their old age and
their children and grandchildren of a rightful inheritance.

"Worse than all this, or at least more lamentable, is the fact that
it need not be. The soils of Virginia need not have become worn out
and abandoned; because the earth and the air are filled with the
elements of plant food that are essential to the restoration and
permanent maintenance of the high productive capacity of these
soils. Moreover there is more profit and greater prosperity for the
present landowner in a possible practicable system of positive soil
improvement than under any system which leads to ultimate depletion
and abandonment of the land.

"The profit in farming lies first of all in securing large crop
yields. It costs forty bushels of corn per acre in Illinois to raise
the crop and pay the rent for the land or interest and taxes on the
investment. With land worth $150 an acre, it will require $8 to pay
the interest and taxes. Another $8 will be required to raise the
crop and harvest and market it, even with very inadequate provision
made for maintaining the productive power of the soil, such as a
catch crop of clover, or a very light dressing of farm fertilizer. A
forty-bushel crop of corn at forty cents a bushel, which is about
the ten year average price for Illinois, would bring only $16 an
acre, and this would leave no profit whatever.

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Online LibraryCyril G. HopkinsThe Story of the Soil; from the Basis of Absolute Science and Real Life, → online text (page 12 of 23)