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HOME > Classical Novels > Being a Boy > II THE BOY AS A FARMER AT THE PASTURE BARS
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Boys in general would be very good farmers if the current notions about farming were not so very different from those they entertain. What passes for laziness is very often an unwillingness to farm in a particular way. For instance, some morning in early summer John is told to catch the sorrel mare, harness her into the spring wagon, and put in the buffalo and the best whip, for father is obliged to drive over to the "Corners, to see a man" about some cattle, or talk with the road commissioner, or go to the store for the "women folks," and to attend to other important business; and very likely he will not be back till sundown. It must be very pressing business, for the old gentleman drives off in this way somewhere almost every pleasant day, and appears to have a great deal on his mind. [Pg 9] Meantime, he tells John that he can play ball after he has done up the chores. As if the chores could ever be "done up" on a farm. He is first to clean out the horse-stable; then to take a bill-hook and cut down the thistles and weeds from the fence-corners in the home mowing-lot and along the road towards the village; to dig up the docks round the garden patch; to weed out the beet-bed; to hoe the early potatoes; to rake the sticks and leaves out of the front yard; in short, there is work enough laid out for John to keep him busy, it seems to him, till he comes of age; and at half an hour to sundown he is to go for the cows, and, mind he don't run 'em!

"Yes, sir," says John, "is that all?"

"Well, if you get through in good season, you might pick over those potatoes in the cellar: they are sprouting; they ain't fit to eat."

John is obliged to his father, for if there is any sort of chore more cheerful to a boy than another, on a pleasant day, it is rubbing the sprouts off potatoes in a dark cellar. And the old gentleman mounts his [Pg 10] wagon and drives away down the enticing road, with the dog bounding along beside the wagon, and refusing to come back at John's call. John half wishes he were the dog. The dog knows the part of farming that suits him. He likes to run along the road and see all the dogs and other people, and he likes best of all to lie on the store steps at the Corners—while his master's horse is dozing at the post and his master is talking politics in the store—with the other dogs of his acquaintance, snapping at mutually annoying flies and indulging in that delightful dog gossip which is expressed by a wag of the tail and a sniff of the nose. Nobody knows how many dogs' characters are destroyed in this gossip; or how a dog may be able to insinuate suspicion by a wag of the tail as a man can by a shrug of the shoulders, or sniff a slander as a man can suggest one by raising his eyebrows.

John looks after the old gentleman driving off in state, with the odorous buffalo-robe and the new whip, and he thinks that is the sort of farming he would like to [Pg 11] do. And he cries after his departing parent,—

"Say, father, can't I go over to the farther pasture and salt the cattle?" John knows that he could spend half a day very pleasantly in going over to that pasture, looking for bird's-nests and shying at red squirrels on the way, and who knows but he might "see" a sucker in the meadow brook, and perhaps get a "jab" at him with a sharp stick. He knows a hole where there is a whopper; and one of his plans in life is to go some day and snare him, and bring him home in triumph. It therefore is strongly impressed upon his mind that the cattle want salting. But his father, without turning his head, replies,—

"No, they don't need salting any more'n you do!" And the old equipage goes rattling down the road, and John whistles his disappointment. When I was a boy on a farm, and I suppose it is so now, cattle were never salted half enough.

John goes to his chores, and gets through the stable as soon as he can, for that must be done; but when it comes to the outdoor [Pg 12] work, that rather drags. There are so many things to distract the attention,—a chipmunk in the fence, a bird on a near tree, and a hen-hawk circling high in the air over the barn-yard. John loses a little time in stoning the chipmunk, which rather likes the sport, and in watching the bird to find where its nest is; and he convinces himself that he ought to watch the hawk, lest it pounce upon the chickens, and, therefore, with an easy conscience, he spends fifteen minutes in hallooing to that distant bird, and follows it away out of sight over the woods, and then wishes it would come back again. And then a carriage with two horses, and a trunk on behind, goes along the road; and there is a girl in the carriage who looks out at John, who is suddenly aware that his trousers are patched on each knee and in two places behind; and he wonders if she is rich, and whose name is on the trunk, and how much the horses cost, and whether that nice-looking man is the girl's father, and if that boy on the seat with the driver is her brother, and if he has to do chores; and as the gay sight [Pg 13] disappears John falls to thinking about the great world beyond the farm, of cities, and people who are always dressed up, and a great many other things of which he has a very dim notion. And then a boy, whom John knows, rides by in a wagon with his father, and the boy makes a face at John, and John returns the greeting with a twist of his own visage and some symbolic gestures. All these things take time. The work of cutting down the big weeds gets on slowly, although it is not very disagreeable, or would not be if it were play. John imagines that yonder big thistle is some whiskered villain, of whom he has read in a fairy book, and he advances on him with "Die, ruffian!" and slashes off his head with the bill-hook; or he charges upon the rows of mullein-stalks as if they were rebels in regimental ranks, and hews them down without mercy. What fun it might be if there were only another boy there to help. But even war, single-handed, gets to be tiresome. It is dinner-time before John finishes the weeds, and it is cow-time before John has made much impression on the garden.

This garden John has no fondness for. He would rather hoe corn all day than work in it. Father seems to think that it is easy work that John can do, because it is near the house! John's continual plan in this life is to go fishing. When there comes a rainy day, he attempts to carry it out. But ten chances to one his father has different views. As it rains so that work cannot be done outdoors, it is a good time to work in the garden. He can run into the house during the heavy showers. John accordingly detests the garden; and the only time he works briskly in it is when he has a stent set, to do so much weeding before the Fourth of July. If he is spry he can make an extra holiday the Fourth and the day after. Two days of gunpowder and ballplaying! When I was a boy, I supposed there was some connection between such and such an amount of work done on the farm and our national freedom. I doubted if there could be any Fourth of July if my stent was not done. I, at least, worked for my Independence.

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