Cyril G. Hopkins.

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

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am greatly interested to know the meaning of these tests you are
making here on our own farm under my own eyes. You may take it for
granted that I know absolutely nothing of such use of chemistry as
you are evidently turning to some practical value."

"Any other farmer can make these tests as well as I can," said
Percy. "This bottle of acid cost me fifteen cents and it can be
duplicated for the same price at almost any drug store. The acid is
very concentrated, in fact about as strong as can easily be
produced, but it need not be especially pure. Some care should be
taken not to get it on the clothing or on the fingers, although it
is not at all dangerous to handle, but it tends to burn the fingers
unless soon removed, either by washing with water or by rubbing it
off with the moist soil."

"I use this acid to test the soil for the presence or absence of
limestone. Ordinary limestone consists of calcium carbonate. Here,
again the chemical name alone is sufficient to indicate the elements
that compose this compound. It is only necessary to keep in mind the
fact that the ending _-ate_ on the common chemical names signifies
the presence of oxygen Thus calcium carbon_ate_ is composed of the
three primary elements, calcium, carbon and oxygen.

"Of course the chemical element is the simplest form of matter. An
element is a primary substance which cannot be divided into two or
more substances All known matter consists of about eighty of these
primary elements; and, as a matter of fact, most of these are of
rare occurence - many of them much more rare than the element gold.

"About ninety-eight per cent. of the soil consists of eight elements
united in various compounds or combinations; and only ten elements
are essential for the growth and full development of corn or other
plants. If any one of these ten elements is lacking, it is
impossible to produce a kernel of corn, a grain of wheat, or a leaf
of clover; and in the main the supply is under the farmer's own
control. But we can discuss this matter more fully later. Let us see
what we have here."

Percy poured a few drops of the hydrochloric acid into the hollow of
the cake of soil.

"What should it do?" asked Mr. West.

"If the soil contains any limestone, the acid should produce
foaming, or effervescence," replied Percy; "but it is very evident
that this soil contains no limestone. You see the hydrochloric acid
has power to decompose calcium carbonate with the formation of
carbonic acid and calcium chlorid, a kind of salt that is used to
make a brine that won't freeze in the artificial ice plants. The
carbonic acid, if produced at once decomposes into water and carbon
dioxid. Now, the liberated carbon dioxid is a gas and the rapid
generation or evolution of this gas constitutes the bubbling or
foaming we are looking for; but since there is no appearance of
foaming we know that this soil contains no limestone."

"Then you have already found that those three elements, - calcium,
carbon, and oxygen, you called them, I think - you find that those
elements are all lacking in this soil."

"No, this test does not prove that," said Percy. "It only proves
that they are not present as limestone. Calcium may be present in
other compounds, especially in silicates, which are the most
abundant compounds in the soil and in the earth's crust; and, as
indicated by the ending _-ate, _oxygen is contained in calcium
silicate as well as in calcium carbonate."

"I see; the subject is much more complicated than I thought."

"Somewhat, perhaps," Percy replied; "but yet it is quite simple and
very easily understood, if we only keep in mind a few well
established facts. Certainly the essential science of soil fertility
is much less complicated than many of the political questions of the
day, such as the gold standard or free-silver basis, the tariff
issues, and reciprocity advantages, regarding which most farmers are
fairly well informed, - at least to such an extent that they can
argue these questions for hours."

"I think you are quite right in that," said Mr. West. "Of course, it
is important that every citizen entitled to the privilege of voting
in a democracy like ours should be able to exercise his franchise
intelligently; but the citizen who is responsible for the management
of farm lands ought surely to be at least as well informed
concerning the principles which underlie the maintenance of soil
fertility; provided, of course, that such knowledge is within his
reach; and from what you say I am beginning to believe that such is
the case. At any rate this simple test seems to show conclusively
that this soil contains no limestone, and it is common knowledge
that limestone soils are good soils."

Percy took up the ball of soil containing the slip of blue paper,
broke it in two again, and it was seen that the paper had changed in
color from blue to red

"There's a change, for certain," said Mr. West, "that has some
meaning to you I suppose."

"This is litmus paper," said Percy. "It is prepared by moistening
specially prepared paper with a solution of a coloring matter called
litmus, and the paper is then dried. This coloring matter has the
property of turning blue in the presence of alkali and red in the
presence of acid. The blue paper is prepared with a trace of alkali,
and the red paper with a trace of acid. If more than a trace were
present the litmus paper would not be sufficiently sensitive for the

"This little bottle containing two dozen slips of paper cost me five
cents, and it can be obtained at most drug stores.

"Alkali and acid are exactly opposite terms, like hot and cold. The
one neutralizes the other. This test with litmus paper is a test for
soil acidity, and the fact that the moisture of the soil has turned
the litmus from blue to red shows that this soil is acid, or sour.
The soil moisture contained enough acid to neutralize the trace of
alkali contained in the blue paper and to change the paper to a
distinctly light red color; and the fact that the paper remains red
even after drying, shows that the soil contains fixed acids or acid
salts, and not merely carbonic acid, which if present would
completely volatilize as the paper dries.

"Now, these two tests are in harmony. The one shows the absence of
limestone, and the other shows the presence of acidity, and
consequently the need of limestone to correct or neutralize the
acidity, for limestone itself is an alkali."

"But limestone soils are not alkali soils, are they?" asked Mr.

"Not in the sense of containing injurious alkali, like sodium
carbonate, the compound which is found in the 'black alkali' lands
of the arid regions of the far West; but chemically considered
limestone is truly an alkali; and, as such, it has power to
neutralze this soil acidity."

"Is the acidity harmful to the crops?"

"It is not particularly harmful to the common crops of the grass
family, such as wheat, corn, oats, and timothy; but some of the most
valuable crops for soil improvement will not thrive on acid soils.
This is especially true of clover and alfalfa."

"That is certainly correct for clover so far as this kind of soil is
concerned," said Mr. West. "Clover never amounts to much on this
kind of land, except where heavily fertilized. When fertilized it
usually grows well. Does the farm fertilizer neutralize the acid?"

"Only to a small extent. It is true that farm manures contain very
appreciable amounts of lime and some other alkaline, or basic,
substances, but in addition to this, and perhaps of greater
importance, is the fact that such fertilizer has power to feed the
clover crop as well as other crops. In other words it furnishes the
essential materials of which these crops are made. In addition to
this the decaying organic matter has power to liberate some plant
food from the soil which would not otherwise be made available
although to that extent the farm manure serves as a soil stimulant,
this action tending not toward soil enrichment but toward the
further depletion of the store of fertility still remaining in the

"This seems a complicated problem," said Mr. West, "but may I now
show you some of our more productive land?"

"As soon as I collect a sample of this," replied Percy, and to Mr.
West's surprise he proceeded to bore about twenty holes in the space
of two or three acres. The borings were taken to a depth of about
seven inches, and after being thoroughly mixed together an average
sample of the lot was placed in a small bag bearing a number which
Percy recorded in his note book together with a description of the

"I wish to have an analysis made of this sample," remarked Percy, as
they resumed their walk.

"But I thought you had analyzed this soil," was the reply.

"Oh, I only tested for limestone and acidity," explained Percy. "I
wish to have exact determinations made of the nitrogen and
phosphorus, and perhaps of the potassium, magnesium, and calcium.
All of these are absolutely essential for the growth of every
agricultural plant; and any one of them may be deficient in the
soil, although" the last three are not so likely to be as the other

"How long will it take to make this analysis?" was asked.

"About a week or ten days. Perhaps I shall collect two or three
other samples and send them all together to an analytical chemist.
It is the only way to secure positive knowledge in advance as to
what these soils contain. In other words, by this means we can take
an absolute invoice of the stock of fertility in the soil, just as
truly as the merchant can take an invoice of the stock of goods
carried on his shelves."

"So far as we are concerned, this would not be an invoice in
advance," remarked Mr. West, with a shade of sadness in his voice.
"If we knew the contents of the crops that have been sold from this
farm during the two centuries past, we would have a fairly good
invoice, I fear, of what the virgin soil contained; but can you
compare the invoice of the soil with that of the merchant's goods?"

"Quite fairly so," Percy replied. "The plant food content of the
plowed soil of an acre of normal land means nearly, if not quite, as
much in the making of definite plans for a system of permanent
agriculture, as the merchant's invoice means in the future plans of
his business.

"It should not be assumed that the analysis of the soil will give
information the application of which will always assure an abundant
crop the following season. In comparison, it may also be said,
however, that the merchant's invoice of January the first may have
no relation to the sales from his store on January the second. Now,
the year with the farmer is as a day with the merchant. The farmer
harvests his crop but once a year; while the merchant plants and
harvests every day, or at least every week. But I would say that the
invoice of the soil is worth as much to the farmer for the next year
as the merchant's invoice is to him for the next month.

"It should be remembered, however, that both must look forward, and
plans must be made by the merchant for several months, and by the
farmer for several years. Your twelve-year rotation is a very good
example of the kind of future planning the successful farmer must
do. On the other hand, some of your neighbors, who have not
practiced some such system of rotation now have 'old-field' pine on
land long since abandoned, and soil too poor to cultivate on land
long cropped continuously."

"This is a kind soil," remarked Mr. West, as he paused on a gently
undulating part of the field.

"That is a new use of the word to me," said Percy. "Just what do you
mean by a 'kind' soil?"

"Well, if we apply manure here it will show in the crop for many
years. It is easy to build this soil up with manure; but, of course,
we have too little to treat it right."

"The soil is almost neutral," said Percy, testing with litmus and
acid. "Does clover grow on this soil?"

"Very little, except where we put manure."

Another composite sample of the soil was collected, and they walked

"Now, here," said Mr. West, "is about the most productive upland on
the farm."

"Is that possible?" asked Percy, the question being directed more to
himself than to his host.

"That is according to my observation for about fifty years," he
replied. "Where we spread the farm fertilizer over this old pasture
land and plow it under for corn, we often harvest a crop of eight
barrels to the acre, while the average of the field will not be more
than five barrels. - A barrel of corn with us is five bushels."

They had stopped on one of the steepest slopes in the field.

"These hillsides would be considered the poorest land on the farm if
we were in the corn belt," said Percy, "but I think I understand the
difference. Your level uplands when once depleted remain depleted,
because the soil that was plowed two hundred years ago is the same
soil that is plowed to-day; but these slopes lose surface soil by
erosion at least as rapidly as the mineral plant food is removed by
cropping; and to that extent they afford the conditions for a
permanent system of agriculture of low grade, unless, of course, the
erosion is more rapid than the disintegration of the underlying bed
rock, which I note is showing in some outcrops in the gullies.

"I want some samples here," he continued, and at once proceeded to
collect a composite sample of the surface soil and another of the

"In the main this soil is slightly acid," said Percy, after several
tests, with the hydrochloric acid and the litmus paper; "although
occasionally there are traces of limestone present. The mass of soil
seems to be faintly acid, but here and there are little pieces of
limestone which still produce some localized benefit, and probably
prevent the development of more marked acidity throughout the soil

"If I can get to an express office this afternoon," he continued, "I
shall be glad to forward these four composite samples to an

"If you wouldn't mind riding to Montplain with Adelaide when she
goes for her music lesson this afternoon, it would be very
convenient," said Mr. West.

"With your daughter's permission that would suit me very well," he
replied. "I shall be glad to spend one or two days more in this
vicinity, and then I wish to visit other sections for a week or two,
after which I would be glad to stop here again on my return trip and
probably I shall have the report of the chemist concerning these



AS Percy stepped out of the house in the early afternoon upon the
announcement from Wilkes that "De ca'age is ready," he noted that
the "ca'age" was the two-seated family carriage and that Adelaide
had already taken her place in the front seat, as driver, with her
music roll and another bundle tucked in by her side. Her glance at
Percy and at the rear seat was also sufficient to indicate his

"This does not seem right to me, Miss West," said Percy. "Unless you
prefer to drive I shall be very glad to do so and let you occupy
this more comfortable seat."

"No thank you," she replied, in a tone that left no room for
argument. "I often drive our guests to and from the station, and I
much prefer this seat."

The rear seat was roomy and low, so that Percy could scarcely see
the road ahead even by sitting on the opposite side from the driver.

Aside from an occasional commonplace remark both the driver and the
passenger were allowed to use the time for meditation.

While Adelaide was already an experienced horsewoman, she was rarely
permitted to drive the colts to the village, although she enjoyed
riding the more spirited horses, or driving with her brother in the
"buck board."

A mile from the village the road wound through a wooded valley, and
then climbed the opposite slope, passing the railway station a
quarter of a mile from town and the "depot hotel" near by. Here
Percy left the carriage with the bags of soil, it being arranged
that he would be waiting at the hotel when Adelaide returned from
the village.

Adelaide's "hour" was from four to five, and being the last pupil
for the day, the teacher was not prompt to close.

"I did not realize the days were becoming so short," said Miss
Konster as she opened the door. "I'm sorry you have so far to

"Oh, I don't mind," said Adelaide, "I know the way home well enough.
You see I have the double carriage, for I brought a guest to the
depot as usual, although he is to return with me, and is probably
very tired of waiting at the 'depot hotel.'"

It was nearly dark as Percy took his place in the rear seat,
Adelaide having again declined to yield her position as driver, and
now she had more packages nearly filling the seat beside her.

The team leisurely took the homeward way and nothing more was said
except an occasional word of encouragement to the horses. They
passed the lowest point in the valley and began to ascend the gentle
slope, when the carriage suddenly stopped, and Adelaide uttered a
muffled scream. "Come, Honey, said a masculine voice."

As Percy half rose to his feet, he saw that a negro had grasped
Adelaide in an effort to drag her from the carriage. A blow from
Percy staggered the brute and he released his hold of Adelaide, but,
as he saw Percy jump from the carriage on the opposite side, he

"De's a man heah. Knock him, Geo'ge," he yelled, as he turned to
again grapple with Adelaide

"Coward," cried Adelaide, as she saw Percy jump from the carriage
and dart up the road. Facing this black brute, she was standing
alone now with one hand on the back of the seat. As the negro sprang
at her the second time he uttered a scream like the cry of a beast
and fell sprawling on his face. Almost at the same moment his
companion was fairly lifted from his feet and came down headlong
beside the carriage.

"Look out for the horses," called Percy, as he drove the heels of
his heavy shoes into the moaning mass on the ground.

"Lie there, you brute," he cried, "don't you dare to move."

"I have the lines," said Adelaide hoarsely, "but can't I do
something more?"

"No. they're both down," he answered. "Wait a minute."

He found himself between the negroes lying with their faces to the
ground. Instantly he grasped each by the wrist and with an inward
twist he brought forth cried for mercy. It was a trick he had
learned in college, that, by drawing the arm behind the back and
twisting, a boy could control a strong man.

"Can't I help you?" Adelaide called again, and Percy saw that she
was out of the carriage and standing near.

"Will the horses stand?" he asked.

"Oh, yes, they're quiet now."

"Then take the tie rope and tie their feet together. Use the slip
knot just as you do for the hitching post," he directed. "If they
dare to move I can wrench their arms out in this position. Right
there at the ankles. Tie them tight and as closely together as you
can. Wrap it twice around if it's long enough."

Adelaide tied one end of the rope around the ankle of one negro and
wrapped the other end around the ankle of the other, drawing their
feet together and fastening the ends of the rope with a double
hitch, which she knew well how to make.

Percy gave the rope a kick to tighten it.

"Now get onto your feet and I'll march you to town," he ordered,
adding pressure to the twist upon their wrists and drawing them back
upon their knees Thus assisted, they struggled to their feet.

"I am afraid you will have to drive home alone, Miss West," began
Percy, when Adelaide interrupted with:

"No, no, if you are going back to town, I will follow you. I can
easily turn the team and I will keep close behind."

Thus tied together, Percy almost ran his prisoners toward the
village, still holding each firmly by the wrist. As they reached the
"depot hotel," he called for assistance, and several men quickly

Percy made a brief report of the attack as they moved on to the town
house, where the villians were placed in shackles and left in charge
of the marshall.

"Will you drive, please, Mr. Johnston?" asked Adelaide as he stepped
to the carriage; for Adelaide had followed almost to the door of the
jail house.

"Yes, please," he replied, taking the seat beside her.

"I hope you will pardon my calling you a coward, I felt so
desperate, and it seemed to me for the moment that you were leaving
me." Adelaide's voice still had an excited tremor to it.

"I heard you say 'coward,'" said Percy, "but I didn't realize that
you referred to me. I saw the two brutes almost at the same time,
the one who attacked you and the other on the same side near the
horses' heads. I struck the one as best I could from my position,
and as he yelled and the horses reared, I ran up the slope ahead of
the team and came down at the other brute with a blow in the neck,
but I was surprised to find them both sprawling on the ground; and
under the street lights I saw that one of them had an eye
frightfully jammed. I am sure I struck neither of them in the eye."

Adelaide made no reply, but she knew now that the piercing, beastly
cry from the negro reaching for her was brought forth because the
heel of her shoe had entered the socket of the brute's eye.

"You're mighty nigh too late for supper, said grandma West, as they
stopped at the side gate. Adelaide hurried to her father who took
her in his arms as he saw how she trembled.

"My child!" he said.

Yes, child she was as she relaxed from the tension of the last hour
and related the experience of the evening.

"I cannot express our gratitude to you, Sir," said Mr. West: "I am
glad you landed the devils in jail."

"I am only thankful I was there when it happened," replied Percy. "I
am sure no man could have done less. I have promised to return to
town in the morning to serve as legal witness in the case. I hope
your daughter need not be called upon for that."

"Probably that will not be necessary," Mr. West replied.



THE others had retired but Percy and his host continued their
conversation far into the night.

"There are almost as great variations among the negroes as among
white people," Mr. West was saying. "To a man like Wilkes who was
born and raised here on the farm, I would entrust the protection of
my wife and children as readily as to any white man. He has been
educated, so to speak, to a sense of duty and honor; and negroes of
his class have almost never been known to violate a trust. Of course
there are bad niggers, but as a rule such negroes have grown up
under conditions that would develop the evil in any race of men.

"During the Secession it was the most common thing for the men to go
to war and leave their defenseless women and children wholly in the
care of their slaves; and, even though the federal soldiers were
fighting to free the slaves and their masters to keep them in
slavery, rarely did a negro fail to remain faithful to his trust.
They hid from the northern soldiers the horses and mules, cotton and
corn, clothing and provisions, and all sorts of valuables; and in
most cases were ready to suffer themselves before they would reveal
the hidden property. To be sure there were masters who abused their
slaves, and some of these were naturally ready to desert at the
first opportunity; but in the main the slave owner was more kind to
his human property than the considerate soldier was to his horse,
and the negro as a race is appreciative of kindness."

"I suppose the depreciation in soil fertility and crop yields dates
largely from the freeing of the slaves does it not?" asked Percy.

"Well, that was one factor, but not the most potential factor. Much
land in the south had been abandoned agriculturally long before the
war, and much land in New York and New England has been abandoned
since the war. The freeing of the negroes produced much less effect
in the economic conditions of the south than many have supposed. The
great injury to the South from the war was due to the war itself and
not to the freeing of slaves. In the main it cost no more to hire
the negro after the war than it cost to feed and clothe him before;
and the humane slave owner had little difficulty in getting plenty
of negro help after the war. Very commonly his own slaves remained
with him and were treated as servants, not particularly differently
than they had been treated as slaves. Of course there were some
brutal slave holders, just as there are brutal horse owners, and
such men suffered very much from the loss of slave labor.

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Online LibraryCyril G. HopkinsThe Story of the Soil; from the Basis of Absolute Science and Real Life, → online text (page 3 of 23)