Making the Most of Things

Mr. Hayward in his youth, so it was said, had looked forward to a professorship or something of that nature, but coming to the West when a young man, and there being no call for anything of the kind, he had ended by becoming a ferry-man and small farmer. Of his business I knew little, but my presence affording him some leisure, it was not long before he began to extend his affairs, and in directions not before thought of, or at best only vaguely. In this his energy and fertility of mind never ceased to be a matter of wonder and instruction to me, and never will.
“Learn something every day, Gilbert,” he would say, “if it is only the fraction of an idea. You can’t make headway else, for it is as necessary to fertilize the mind as it is a cabbage-patch. If you don’t thus burnish your wares, they will rust, for there is no standing still. Besides, new ideas are needed to encourage you to keep on in what you are doing, to say nothing of attempting other things.”
“How can one learn anything here?” I asked one day, looking about on the still landscape.
“In many ways. You see, you hear, you think; and while the people who use the ferry don’t impart much knowledge, the Lord knows it is what their idle chatter suggests that is valuable.” And truth to tell, he never failed himself to profit by the advice he gave; for however small the hint conveyed in what he heard or saw, it was enough to set his mind in motion, and so bring forth fruit of some kind.[*]
[*] Gilbert Holmes, on reviewing this chapter of his life, thought it should be omitted. It was apparent, however, that he was influenced in this by the fear that it would in some way reflect on his dear friend Hayward. I could not share in this opinion, believing it greatly to the latter’s honor, and for this reason have disregarded his expressions in the matter, feeling that Mr. Hayward was beyond most men, and what he did and said worthy of regard. Moreover, it serves to make us better acquainted with Gilbert Holmes himself, and his sweet charity and gentle ways and belief and trust in those about him: and for these reasons, if for no others, I have thought it should not be omitted.—THE AUTHOR.
As the ferry was not much used, Mr. Hayward early conceived the idea that other things might be sandwiched in to occupy our spare time. For of idleness he was the sworn enemy, and because of it rainy days and other unprofitable moments fretted him beyond endurance. Rest, as most people understand it, he looked upon as idleness.
“You can rest best by changing from one kind of work to another,” he would insist, “not by whittling a stick or going to the circus.”
It was in pursuance of such ideas that we hit upon the scheme of manufacturing shingles in the intervals of our other duties, and this to our great advantage, as it appeared.
“People must have roofs over their heads, and many have none, or at best only poor ones,” he explained. “They need shingles for this, and their manufacture will open a new field for us, and one that will dovetail with our work at the ferry.”
For him to conceive an idea was to put it in execution, and so we at once set out to build a machine, and this so near the landing that both industries could be carried on at the same time. The blocks for making the shingles we cut in winter and brought to the mill when other work was not pressing, and in order that bad weather might not hinder us we inclosed the machine in a rough shed. At one side we built a vat, and filling this with blocks of the needed length, we let in the water, and now starting a brisk fire in the furnace, the steam and heated water soon softened the material ready for cutting. I being the smaller of the two, and yet sufficient, held the blocks while Mr. Hayward worked the lever by which the knife was raised and lowered. Black walnut being plentiful, we used it, but sparingly, exacting a higher price. Being tenacious of fiber, the labor of cutting this wood was great, and so taxed Mr. Hayward’s muscles that they sometimes fairly snapped under the strain. With cottonwood, of which there was no end, it was different; for if steamed to a proper consistency, you could cut it as you would clip a sausage. Of the two kinds of shingles our preference inclined strongly to cottonwood; on Mr. Hayward’s part because the labor was less, and on mine because it did not discolor my hands, black walnut staining them so that they were of every shade from light brown to a deep black. This mortified me at first, but afterward, Constance not speaking of it or appearing to notice anything unusual, I became more reconciled to the disfigurement. Indeed, the dear girl regarded it so little that when visiting us at the mill, if I happened to be packing the shingles, she would sit by my side and pass them to me, one by one, for an hour at a time. Or, if I was holding the blocks in the machine, she would seat herself in my place, and do the work, or make pretense of doing it. At such times I watched her from the platform where I stood, and this not always discreetly; for one day, when observing her instead of attending to the business in hand, I came near to losing my arm under the great knife. After that I determined to be more circumspect, but nevertheless took many desperate chances that I might speak to her or gaze upon her dear form while occupied with my work.
Of the two kinds of shingles, buyers were averse to cottonwood, on the ground that it would warp and, being soft, the more quickly decay. Neither of these things, however, would Mr. Hayward fully admit.
“If properly seasoned, as in our case, and cut with reference to the grain, and afterward laid with sufficient lap and due regard to security of joints, a cottonwood shingle will afford protection that any man may be proud of—for the price,” he would say, and truly enough.
Of the prevailing belief that pine made the most serviceable shingle, he professed to think lightly.
“You must not overlook the great difference in cost between cottonwood and pine,” he would say to customers; “that is always an important item with poor people. Black walnut is superior in wearing qualities, and we furnish it when wanted; but if utility and cheapness are considered, cottonwood is preferable to all others.”
Of the outcome of our sales I do not so well remember, but in new communities, where everything is being tried, buyers do not treasure malice, as they do in older societies, against a seller if they happen not to get the very best.
“Only idle men and fools can spare time to think of their grievances,” Mr. Hayward was in the habit of saying, and indeed he carried this out in his own life when he got the worst end of a bargain, as he often did. Moreover, if we had a margin of advantage in the sale of our shingles, it was offset by the difficulty we had in collecting our money afterward.
“Most men are like children,” Mr. Hayward used to remark, when looking over our list of bad debts; “they will buy anything if too much stress is not laid on payment, and this last one cannot do if his goods are in discredit, as in our case.”
Of the latitude allowed traders in respect to their goods, he was always tenacious, but never to the extent of taking undue advantage of any one.
“In ancient times, among trading people,” he once explained, referring to such matters, “gain of every kind was thought meritorious, no matter how acquired. In our day it is different, though we are allowed to put as good a face on matters as possible, and this holds true of cottonwood shingles as much as it does of poor calico or sanded sugar. Our shingles may curve a little now and then if not properly placed, but when Jake Kilp says a boy must sit on every shingle to keep it down, he goes to the other extreme.”
“Yes, Klip’s a liar,” Blott, who was standing by, spoke up. “Why, a willin’ boy could easily keep down two such shingles, or three, for that matter, if he was spry.”
“Nonsense!” Mr. Hayward answered; “there is nothing funny about it. If they will put enough nails in the shingle it will hold. It is with shingles as it is with trees; but men will plant a ten-dollar tree in a five-cent hole, and then blame the seller if it dies. There is nothing in such economy, though plenty of men practice it.”
When we were at work, if a team or horseman were to be sent across the river, Mr. Hayward would go, and that time might not be frittered away, I occupied myself meanwhile collecting and packing the loose shingles ready for delivery. This with great industry, be it said, if Constance and Setti did not happen to be by; but if they were, little was done, at which Mr. Hayward would stare on his return, but never in an angry way.
As the demand for our product was limited, it became necessary to devise other means of filling up the time, and accordingly Mr. Hayward hit upon the idea of manufacturing mattresses, great numbers being required by the people coming into the new country. Of hair and things of that sort generally resorted to by manufacturers we had none, but of corn-husks great quantities, and of much delicacy and firmness of texture. These Mr. Hayward conceived to be especially fit for making beds—not, indeed, in their raw state, but manufactured to meet needed conditions. The machinery we used for this was simple in the extreme. Taking pieces of wire, we heated the ends, and in that condition pressed them into a board of suitable width and thickness. The other ends we sharpened to a point, and thus had a strong comb of upright wires. Now taking the husk in our hands, we drew it across the sharpened prongs, and so split it into myriads of small threads. Afterward collecting these, we had the material for a bed.
“A couch fit for a prince,” Mr. Hayward maintained, “and the equal of the best in durability and restful qualities. Its healthfulness recommends it, too, because of freedom from vermin and the small particles noxious to the lungs and body known to attach themselves to feathers, no matter how carefully selected and steamed.”
Of these beds we manufactured many, and with fair profit so long as our husks held out. Afterward, buying in the market, our gains were lessened, but not perceptibly, as the material was not thought to have any value to speak of. The labor of production, while not great, was exacting in the extreme, for if by chance the eye wandered ever so little, your fingers becoming impaled on the sharp needles, ugly wounds would result.
“Such accidents,” Mr. Hayward would say, philosophically, “teach the necessity of close application in business if one would avoid mishaps,” but Mrs. Hayward, looking upon them in a less practical way, would often shed tears, as she busied herself binding up our torn hands.
To further our industry, we also made bolsters and pillows from husks and a species of lichen, which latter was found in great abundance in the neighborhood. Separating this with care, and afterward heating it, Mr. Hayward maintained that a pillow thus manufactured was the equal of the best.
“Not only that, but it will be found to possess aromatic qualities highly curative of influenzas and catarrhal afflictions prevalent here. As regards comfort nothing can excel it, unless it may be the selected feathers of tame geese, and these being rare and high-priced, none but the rich can afford them.”
However, notwithstanding the excellence of our goods, trade lagged, and this despite all that could be said.
“The trouble is,” Mr. Hayward was in the habit of saying, “a pillow being open to the view of visitors, something plump and fluffy must be exhibited by every good housewife. Because of that we must content ourselves with making pillows for rooms that the critical eyes of neighbors do not reach. Our mattresses being hid away, people buy them and save money, but they must have fat pillows made of feathers for the effect on visitors and other peepers. Pillows ought not to be used, anyway,” he always maintained, “for they give people stringy necks, like turkeys; but if used at all, they should be of moderate thickness, such as we make.”
The forms of industry I have enumerated, however productive, were only a part of Mr. Hayward’s means of piecing out our profit-and-loss account, and among other things a way of utilizing the forests that lay about our house soon suggested itself to his practical mind. There, if it were mild, our cattle found nourishment to carry them through the winter, with little of the help other and less provident farmers were required to furnish. Protected by the trees, the soft grasses grew far into the winter, and with the first disappearance of snow sprung again into luxuriant life. The cows, thus fed with little or no expense, afforded us butter and milk, and a margin for sale; but as this last required some measure of attention upon the part of Mrs. Hayward, he did not press it. For in all things he was very tender of her, shielding her in every way from the hardships he himself so unflinchingly faced. Of this I thought much and gratefully at the time and in after years, and the more because of his boundless ambition and great activity of life.
The care of the cattle, pastured in the way I have described, being a matter apart, was attended to when other business did not press. Thus, if at dark they had not come home, I went in search of them, and in this my knowledge of the woods and the wiles of these creatures stood me in good stead. Going this way and that, and stopping at intervals to listen, no sound would reach me save those peculiar to the forest at night. For of all cunning animals there are none, you must know, equal in wiliness to the leader of such a herd. She comes to know, and this with certainty, that the slightest movement means discovery, followed by other annoyances repugnant to her placid nature. Because of this she will maintain such steadiness of poise for hours at a time that no warning note of the bell she carries will disturb the stillness to mark her presence. Thus I would often wander about or sit listening on my horse far into the night, until some unlucky stroke betrayed her whereabouts. Because of these visits my face and hands were much disfigured by the stings of mosquitoes and other insects; but of the former Mr. Hayward maintained, and doctors there were who agreed with him, that it was preventive of malarial ailments, and in other ways of considerable sanitary benefit to men. This, I know, is now disputed, but certain it is that my wanderings never resulted in any harm to me. On the contrary, I each day grew more robust, and so straightened out that at sixteen I had attained my full height.

Processed with VSCO with a5 preset
Processed with VSCO with a5 preset
Of the many varied diseases then common to the new country, Mr. Hayward acquired a specific for fever and ague that was superior to all others then known. Not only would it stop the tremor of the chill and the fever that followed, but killed the disease utterly, so that no trace of it afterward reappeared. This, it is well known, quinine will not do; and it followed that our house came to be much frequented by those afflicted in the way I speak of. Indeed, it was no unusual thing when we arose in the morning to find a motley crowd, with sallow faces, standing about the door, their teeth chattering like castanets in the frosty air. Supplying ourselves, therefore, with great quantities of the specific, and selling it at a moderate profit and for cash, when we could, we derived much gain and the community a great and lasting benefit. For in this thing Mr. Hayward was admittedly a benefactor, as he was in many other matters not so apparent at the time. If it happened that an applicant was unable to pay, which was often the case, Mr. Hayward would refuse to accept anything; and as nearly every one was poor, Mrs. Hayward would often say:
“Why do you take pay for the medicine, William? Surely the cost is not enough to speak of.” But to this he would always answer:
“They would never touch the stuff if I gave it away, Helen. Medicine is like advice; if people have to pay, they will go miles to get it, even from a knave or fool. Why not charge something? My medicine is better than the doctor’s, and the cost not nearly so much. Besides, my dear, as I say, they would not come near us if we gave it away. It is the people who set great store on what they have that are most sought after.”
As our little farm had to be tilled, this required horses, and as the best were high-priced, and we did not have much money, Mr. Hayward contented himself with such as he could get at a moderate figure. It resulted from this, our selection being limited, that we were often scurvily dealt with by those having these animals to sell. Often by patience we could bring the unruly beast under subjection, but at best only partially; for of all things in the world a horse is the most difficult to break of a bad habit. In this way we came in time to own a great variety of animals, some of which, notwithstanding Mr. Hayward’s skill as a trader, he found it impossible to dispose of except at a loss. One animal of great stature that we acquired in the way I speak of had a trouble in breathing, but this we did not discover until too late, some soothing lotion having been used to deceive us for the moment. Indeed, so choked would the animal become with undue exercise that coming suddenly upon a croupy child could not startle you more. There were those who maintained that the Raven, for so Mrs. Hayward named him, was broken in wind, but this Mr. Hayward would not admit, ascribing the trouble mainly to irritation of the larynx, such as singers and public speakers are often afflicted with. With a moderate gait, however, the Raven would go from sunrise to sunset without show of weariness; and of all the horses I have ever known there was never one with a better disposition. So true was this that in the excursions Mrs. Hayward and Constance and I sometimes took at odd moments and in the way of indulgence, we always chose the Raven by preference. Fastening him beside the pole, he would haul a wagon with ease, and because of his great docility could be safely left beside the road or wherever we might wish to stop. For gossiping and idling by the way, no horse in the world could equal him. Indeed, from the manner in which he pricked up his ears, and a habit he had of changing from one foot to another, we came in time to think he understood much, if not all, we said. He must be driven quietly, however, and within limits. For if you but urged him beyond this, the women would hurry from their homes as we passed, to see if by chance some child had not been stricken with croup or other ailment of the throat, so loud and hoarse was his croaking. NORFLOXACIN LACTATE
Of the end of this valuable animal I do not know, for in an unfortunate hour and through eagerness of trade Mr. Hayward swapped him for a cholera specific he thought we could use to advantage. This trade caused us all much sorrow, for of the Raven we never heard more. Of the cholera medicine, however, we came to know a great deal, for about this time, the dreadful scourge being prevalent in the neighborhood, and the people being frightened, every ail that afflicted them they ascribed to its presence. In these emergencies Mr. Hayward had recourse to our specific, and this not always advisedly; for it was very hot and scalding to the mouth, so that the lips of those who used it were in a constant state of irritation, as if they had eaten cranberries or something of that nature, and this without the use of napkin or similar device.
From this medicine Mr. Hayward derived great profit; for coming down shortly with the disease, he would take nothing else, and happily recovering and the people hearing of it, they came from far and near to supply themselves with the remedy. Indeed, the sale of it came nigh to making him rich, had not losses in other directions about that time offset his gains from this source. Being of an experimental turn of mind, he thought to try the specific on our horses and cattle in cases of colic, and this with great success, as it turned out, so that from that time on we were saved the expense of veterinary surgeons and cow doctors in respect of this particular malady. When the great merit of the medicine became apparent, Mr. Hayward told me how he acquired it, and this for my benefit, I thought.
“The man was not much inclined to dicker, but when I told him he must give boot, he began to prick up his ears. Never trade even, Gilbert, though it is only a jackknife. The bargain looks more attractive to the other if you claim your goods are worth the most. I let him do all the talking, too, for I once heard of a man who grew rich, and all because he stuttered. Those with whom he dealt, out of pity, would talk for both sides, and when they reached a point that made the trade attractive, the stutterer would close the deal. Nor is stuttering so much of an affliction otherwise as people think. It is a great pity it is so easy to talk, for in the main it doesn’t amount to anything. If you are not inclined to believe me, watch the first two men you see together. Neither listens to the other, unless it be a bit of gossip, but each waits his turn to speak, and not always patiently, either. Talking is a disease with many, and results in much harm, and for that reason it would be better, I think, if it required some effort to use the voice.”
Thus by trade and harmless dicker, such as I have described, Mr. Hayward added to the earnings of the ferry and our little farm. Of the last the soil was rich beyond belief from the overflow of the river, but in dickering for the land, this drainage, Mr. Hayward pointed out to the seller, might lessen its value, because of the baleful effect on the health of those who worked it. Having, however, obtained possession of the farm at a fair price, it turned out different from what he had thought.
“The overflow,” he was in the habit of saying afterward, “far from proving injurious, is really beneficial in this, that it purifies and sweetens the earth, which would otherwise become clogged with malarial germs. This in addition to greatly enriching the soil.” Thus his fears, as it often happens in trade, proved groundless once the bargain was struck and resultant benefits clearly seen.
This farm Mr. Hayward and I looked after unaided, save in the middle summer, when possibly some patch of grain was to be gathered and threshed. Mostly we cultivated corn, as being a sure crop, and afterward affording fodder for the cattle and much choice material for mattresses, as I have explained. As our work took us some distance from the landing, where we could not hear the bell on the farther side of the river, Mrs. Hayward contrived a way out of the difficulty, and very cunningly, we thought. To do this, she caused a flagstaff to be erected near the house, and here, when there was a call for the ferry, she gave us notice by hoisting a signal. If a foot passenger, meaning me, the flag was white; if a team or horseman, and requiring the big boat and Mr. Hayward’s presence, red was used. Supplementary to these, she raised a black flag to tell us it was time for dinner or supper. Black, she would say, was most appropriate for this, because of our great appetites, and indeed we were never lacking in this respect. Going to and from the ferry when working in the field we considered a rest, so that we came in time to look forward with considerable strife to see which flag, the red or the white, was raised by the sweet lady, our mistress, at the house.