Red had insisted on operating on the lines that are laid down with railroad spikes in the Western communities; to patronise home industries as much as possible. Therefore the machinery orders went through Mr. Farrel, the blacksmith, initiating that worthy man into the mysteries of making money without doing anything for it, which seemed little less than a miracle to him. Everything that could be bought through local people was obtained in that way. It cost a trifle more, but it brought more money into the place, and enabled the villagers to partake of the enlivenment, without the feeling that it was a Barmecide feast. The post-mistress furnished the paint, and it is painful to add that she tried to furnish a number three paint for a number one price, arguing that she was a poor, lone woman, struggling through an uncharitable world and that the increased profit would do her considerable good—a view which Red did not share. He would willingly have made her a present of the difference, but he did not in the least intend to be choused out of it by man nor woman. They had a very funny debate in private, wherein the feminine tried to dominate the masculine principle by sheer volubility and found to its disgust that the method didn’t work. Red listened most respectfully and always replied, “Yes ma’am, but we don’t want that paint. Get us some good paint—bully old paint with stick’um in it—this stuff is like whitewash, only feebler. We’re going to put on a swell front up at the mill, and we’ve got to have the right thing.” And at last the post-mistress said that she would, her respect for the ex-cowpuncher having risen noticeably in the meantime.
The work on the mill was pushed, and in spite of the usual amount of unforeseen delays, it was ready for work by the latter part of September. The official opening was set for the twenty-seventh—Miss Mattie’s birthday—and the village of Fairfield was invited to a picnic to be held at the mill in honor of the occasion. It is needless to say that the Fairfield Strawboard Mfg. Co. did the thing up in shape. Waggons loaded with straw, and drawn by four-horse teams, went the rounds of the village, collecting the guests. It is doubtful if Fairfield was ever more surprised than at the realisation of how much there was of her—using the pronoun out of respect to the majority—“when she was bunched,” as Red said. You would not have believed that straggling, lonesome-looking place held so many people. As Red could discover no means in the town’s resources to provide a meal for three hundred people it was necessarily a basket party, which struck Mr. Saunders as being grievously like a Swede treat. He made up for it in a measure by having barrels of lemonade and cider on tap at the grounds—stronger beverages being barred—and by hiring a quartette of strings “clear from town.”
At half-past two on a resplendent but hot September afternoon the caravan started for the mill grounds, the women dressed in the most un-picnicky costumes imaginable, and the men ostentatiously at ease in their store clothes. Everyone was in the best of spirits, keen for the excitement and pleasure that was sure to mark the occasion.