Now Colin and I, on the occasion of our ride with the apple-farmer, awhile back, had held subtle casuistical debate on the legitimacy of men ostensibly, not to say ostentatiously, on foot to New York picking up chance rides in this way. The argument had gone into pursuit of very fine distinctions, and almost rivalled in its casuistry the famous old Duns Scotus—or was it Thomas Aquinas?—debate as to how many angels can dance on the point of a needle. Once we had come to a deadlock as to the kind of vehicle from which it was proper to accept such hospitality. Perhaps it was a Puritan scrupulousness in my blood that had made me take the stand that four-wheeled vehicles, such as wagons, hay-carts and the like, being slow-moving, were permissible, but that buggies, or any form of rapid two-wheeled vehicle, were not. To this Colin had retorted that, on that basis, a tally-ho would be all right, or even an automobile. So the argument had wrestled from side to side, and finally we had compromised.
We agreed that an occasional buggy would be within the vagabond law and that any vehicle, other, of course, than an automobile, which was not plying for hire—such as a trolley or a local train—might on occasion be gratefully climbed into.
Thus it was that we hesitated a moment at the offer of our friend, a hesitancy we amused him by explaining as, presently, conscience-clear, we rattled with him through the hills. He was an interesting talker, a human-hearted, keen-minded man, and he had many more topics as well as potatoes. Besides, he was not in the potato business, but, as with our former friend, his beautiful business was apples. Still, he talked very entertainingly about potatoes; telling us, among other things, that, so friendly was the soil toward that particular vegetable that it yielded as much as a hundred to a hundred and fifty bushels to the acre, and that a fair-sized potato farm thereabouts, properly handled, would pay for itself in a year. I transcribe this information, not merely because I think that, among so many words, the reader is fairly entitled to expect some little information, but chiefly for the benefit of a friend of mine, the like of whom, no doubt, the reader counts among his acquaintances. The friend I mean has a mind so quaintly voracious of facts that, often when we have been dining together at one of the great hotels, he would speculate, say, looking round the room filled with eager diners, on how many clams are nightly consumed in New York City, or how many millions of fresh eggs New York requires each morning for breakfast. So when next I dine with him I will say, as he asks me about my trip:
“Do you know that in the Cohocton Valley they raise as much as one hundred to one hundred and fifty bushels of potatoes to the acre?” And he will say:
“You don’t really mean to say so?”
I have in my private note-book much more such tabulated information which I picked up and hoarded for his entertainment, just as whenever a letter comes to me from abroad, I tear off the stamp and save it for a little girl I love.