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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesLittle Men - Chapter XVIII. CROPS
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Little Men - Chapter XVIII. CROPS Post by :rrm7777 Category :Long Stories Author :Louisa May Alcott Date :February 2011 Read :2930

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Little Men - Chapter XVIII. CROPS

The gardens did well that summer, and in September the little
crops were gathered in with much rejoicing. Jack and Ned joined
their farms and raised potatoes, those being a good salable article.
They got twelve bushels, counting little ones and all, and sold
them to Mr. Bhaer at a fair price, for potatoes went fast in that
house. Emil and Franz devoted themselves to corn, and had a jolly
little husking in the barn, after which they took their corn to the
mill, and came proudly home with meal enough to supply the
family with hasty-pudding and Johnny-cake for a lone time. They
would not take money for their crop; because, as Franz said, "We
never can pay Uncle for all he has done for us if we raised corn for
the rest of our days."

Nat had beans in such abundance that he despaired of ever shelling
them, till Mrs. Jo proposed a new way, which succeeded
admirably. The dry pods were spread upon the barn-floor, Nat
fiddled, and the boys danced quadrilles on them, till they were
thrashed out with much merriment and very little labor.

Tommy's six weeks' beans were a failure; for a dry spell early in
the season hurt them, because he gave them no water; and after
that he was so sure that they could take care of themselves, he let
the poor things struggle with bugs and weeds till they were
exhausted and died a lingering death. So Tommy had to dig his
farm over again, and plant peas. But they were late; the birds ate
many; the bushes, not being firmly planted, blew down, and when
the poor peas came at last, no one cared for them, as their day was
over, and spring-lamb had grown into mutton. Tommy consoled
himself with a charitable effort; for he transplanted all the thistles
he could find, and tended them carefully for Toby, who was fond
of the prickly delicacy, and had eaten all he could find on the
place. The boys had great fun over Tom's thistle bed; but he
insisted that it was better to care for poor Toby than for himself,
and declared that he would devote his entire farm next year to
thistles, worms, and snails, that Demi's turtles and Nat's pet owl
might have the food they loved, as well as the donkey. So like
shiftless, kind-hearted, happy-go-lucky Tommy!

Demi had supplied his grandmother with lettuce all summer, and
in the autumn sent his grandfather a basket of turnips, each one
scrubbed up till it looked like a great white egg. His Grandma was
fond of salad, and one of his Grandpa's favorite quotations was

"Lucullus, whom frugality could charm,

Ate roasted turnips at the Sabine farm."

Therefore these vegetable offerings to the dear domestic god and
goddess were affectionate, appropriate, and classical.

Daisy had nothing but flowers in her little plot, and it bloomed all
summer long with a succession of gay or fragrant posies. She was
very fond of her garden, and delved away in it at all hours,
watching over her roses, and pansies, sweet-peas, and mignonette,
as faithfully and tenderly as she did over her dolls or her friends.
Little nosegays were sent into town on all occasions, and certain
vases about the house were her especial care. She had all sorts of
pretty fancies about her flowers, and loved to tell the children the
story of the pansy, and show them how the step-mother-leaf sat up
in her green chair in purple and gold; how the two own children in
gay yellow had each its little seat, while the step children, in dull
colors, both sat on one small stool, and the poor little father in his
red nightcap, was kept out of sight in the middle of the flower; that
a monk's dark face looked out of the monk's-hood larkspur; that
the flowers of the canary-vine were so like dainty birds fluttering
their yellow wings, that one almost expected to see them fly away,
and the snapdragons that went off like little pistol-shots when you
cracked them. Splendid dollies did she make out of scarlet and
white poppies, with ruffled robes tied round the waist with grass
blade sashes, and astonishing hats of coreopsis on their green
heads. Pea-pod boats, with rose-leaf sails, received these
flower-people, and floated them about a placid pool in the most
charming style; for finding that there were no elves, Daisy made
her own, and loved the fanciful little friends who played their parts
in her summer-life.

Nan went in for herbs, and had a fine display of useful plants,
which she tended with steadily increasing interest and care. Very
busy was she in September cutting, drying, and tying up her sweet
harvest, and writing down in a little book how the different herbs
are to be used. She had tried several experiments, and made
several mistakes; so she wished to be particular lest she should
give little Huz another fit by administering wormwood instead of
catnip.

Dick, Dolly, and Rob each grubbed away on his small farm, and
made more stir about it than all the rest put together. Parsnips and
carrots were the crops of the two D.'s; and they longed for it to be
late enough to pull up the precious vegetables. Dick did privately
examine his carrots, and plant them again, feeling that Silas was
right in saying it was too soon for them yet.

Rob's crop was four small squashes and one immense pumpkin. It
really was a "bouncer," as every one said; and I assure you that two
small persons could sit on it side by side. It seemed to have
absorbed all the goodness of the little garden, and all the sunshine
that shone down on it, and lay there a great round, golden ball, full
of rich suggestions of pumpkin-pies for weeks to come. Robby was
so proud of his mammoth vegetable that he took every one to see
it, and, when frosts began to nip, covered it up each night with an
old bedquilt, tucking it round as if the pumpkin was a well-beloved
baby. The day it was gathered he would let no one touch it but
himself, and nearly broke his back tugging it to the barn in his
little wheelbarrow, with Dick and Dolly harnessed in front to give
a heave up the path. His mother promised him that the
Thanksgiving-pies should be made from it, and hinted vaguely that
she had a plan in her head which would cover the prize pumpkin
and its owner with glory.

Poor Billy had planted cucumbers, but unfortunately hoed them up
and left the pig-weed. This mistake grieved him very much for tem
minutes, then he forgot all about it, and sowed a handful of bright
buttons which he had collected, evidently thinking in his feeble
mind that they were money, and would come up and multiply, so
that he might make many quarters, as Tommy did. No one
disturbed him, and he did what he liked with his plot, which soon
looked as if a series of small earthquakes had stirred it up. When
the general harvest-day came, he would have had nothing but
stones and weeds to show, if kind old Asia had not hung
half-a-dozen oranges on the dead tree he stuck up in the middle.
Billy was delighted with his crop; and no one spoiled his pleasure
in the little miracle which pity wrought for him, by making
withered branches bear strange fruit.

Stuffy had various trials with his melons; for, being impatient to
taste them, he had a solitary revel before they were ripe, and made
himself so ill, that for a day or two it seemed doubtful if he would
ever eat any more. But he pulled through it, and served up his first
cantaloupe without tasting a mouthful himself. They were
excellent melons, for he had a warm slope for them, and they
ripened fast. The last and best were lingering on the vines, and
Stuffy had announced that he should sell them to a neighbor. This
disappointed the boys, who had hoped to eat the melons
themselves, and they expressed their displeasure in a new and
striking manner. Going one morning to gaze upon the three fine
watermelons which he had kept for the market, Stuffy was
horrified to find the word "PIG" cut in white letters on the green
rind, staring at him from every one. He was in a great rage, and
flew to Mrs. Jo for redress. She listened, condoled with him, and
then said,

"If you want to turn the laugh, I'll tell you how, but you must give
up the melons."

"Well, I will; for I can't thrash all the boys, but I'd like to give them
something to remember, the mean sneaks," growled Stuff, still in a
fume.

Now Mrs. Jo was pretty sure who had done the trick, for she had
seen three heads suspiciously near to one another in the
sofa-corner the evening before; and when these heads had nodded
with chuckles and whispers, this experienced woman knew
mischief was afoot. A moonlight night, a rustling in the old
cherry-tree near Emil's window, a cut on Tommy's finger, all
helped to confirm her suspicions; and having cooled Stuffy's wrath
a little, she bade him bring his maltreated melons to her room, and
say not a word to any one of what had happened. He did so, and
the three wags were amazed to find their joke so quietly taken. It
spoilt the fun, and the entire disappearance of the melons made
them uneasy. So did Stuffy's good-nature, for he looked more
placid and plump than ever, and surveyed them with an air of calm
pity that perplexed them very much.

At dinner-time they discovered why; for then Stuffy's vengeance
fell upon them, and the laugh was turned against them. When the
pudding was eaten, and the fruit was put on, Mary Ann
re-appeared in a high state of giggle, bearing a large watermelon;
Silas followed with another; and Dan brought up the rear with a
third. One was placed before each of the three guilty lads; and they
read on the smooth green skins this addition to their own work,
"With the compliments of the PIG." Every one else read it also,
and the whole table was in a roar, for the trick had been whispered
about; so every one understood the sequel. Emil, Ned, and Tommy
did not know where to look, and had not a word to say for
themselves; so they wisely joined in the laugh, cut up the melons,
and handed them round, saying, what all the rest agreed to, that
Stuffy had taken a wise and merry way to return good for evil.

Dan had no garden, for he was away or lame the greater part of the
summer; so he had helped Silas wherever he could, chopped wood
for Asia, and taken care of the lawn so well, that Mrs. Jo always
had smooth paths and nicely shaven turf before her door.

When the others got in their crops, he looked sorry that he had so
little to show; but as autumn went on, he bethought himself of a
woodland harvest which no one would dispute with him, and
which was peculiarly his own. Every Saturday he was away alone
to the forests, fields, and hills, and always came back loaded with
spoils; for he seemed to know the meadows where the best
flag-root grew, the thicket where the sassafras was spiciest, the
haunts where the squirrels went for nuts, the white oak whose bark
was most valuable, and the little gold-thread vine that Nursey liked
to cure the canker with. All sorts of splendid red and yellow leaves
did Dan bring home for Mrs. Jo to dress her parlor with,
graceful-seeded grasses, clematis tassels, downy, soft, yellow
wax-work berries, and mosses, red-brimmed, white, or emerald
green.

"I need not sigh for the woods now, because Dan brings the woods
to me," Mrs. Jo used to say, as she glorified the walls with yellow
maple boughs and scarlet woodbine wreaths, or filled her vases
with russet ferns, hemlock sprays full of delicate cones, and hardy
autumn flowers; for Dan's crop suited her well.

The great garret was full of the children's little stores and for a
time was one of the sights of the house. Daisy's flower seeds in
neat little paper bags, all labelled, lay in a drawer of a three-legged
table. Nan's herbs hung in bunches against the wall, filling the air
with their aromatic breath. Tommy had a basket of thistle-down
with the tiny seeds attached, for he meant to plant them next year,
if they did not all fly away before that time. Emil had bunches of
pop-corn hanging there to dry, and Demi laid up acorns and
different sorts of grain for the pets. But Dan's crop made the best
show, for fully one half of the floor was covered with the nuts he
brought. All kinds were there, for he ranged the woods for miles
round, climbed the tallest trees, and forced his way into the
thickest hedges for his plunder. Walnuts, chestnuts, hazelnuts, and
beechnuts lay in separate compartments, getting brown, and dry,
and sweet, ready for winter revels.

There was one butternut-tree on the place, and Rob and Teddy
called it theirs. It bore well this year, and the great dingy nuts came
dropping down to hide among the dead leaves, where the busy
squirrels found them better than the lazy Bhaers. Their father had
told them (the boys, not the squirrels) they should have the nuts if
they would pick them up, but no one was to help. It was easy work,
and Teddy liked it, only he soon got tired, and left his little basket
half full for another day. But the other day was slow to arrive, and,
meantime, the sly squirrels were hard at work, scampering up and
down the old elm-trees stowing the nuts away till their holes were
full, then all about the crotches of the boughs, to be removed at
their leisure. Their funny little ways amused the boys, till one day
Silas said,

"Hev you sold them nuts to the squirrels?"

"No," answered Rob, wondering what Silas meant.

"Wal, then, you'd better fly round, or them spry little fellers won't
leave you none."

"Oh, we can beat them when we begin. There are such lots of nuts
we shall have a plenty."

"There ain't many more to come down, and they have cleared the
ground pretty well, see if they hain't."

Robby ran to look, and was alarmed to find how few remained. He
called Teddy, and they worked hard all one afternoon, while the
squirrels sat on the fence and scolded.

"Now, Ted, we must keep watch, and pick up just as fast as they
fall, or we shan't have more than a bushel, and every one will
laugh at us if we don't."

"The naughty quillies tarn't have 'em. I'll pick fast and run and put
'em in the barn twick," said Teddy, frowning at little Frisky, who
chattered and whisked his tail indignantly.

That night a high wind blew down hundreds of nuts, and when
Mrs. Jo came to wake her little sons, she said, briskly,

"Come, my laddies, the squirrels are hard at it, and you will have
to work well to-day, or they will have every nut on the ground."

"No, they won't," and Robby tumbled up in a great hurry, gobbled
his breakfast, and rushed out to save his property.

Teddy went too, and worked like a little beaver, trotting to and fro
with full and empty baskets. Another bushel was soon put away in
the corn-barn, and they were scrambling among the leaves for
more nuts when the bell rang for school.

"O father! let me stay out and pick. Those horrid squirrels will
have my nuts if you don't. I'll do my lessons by and by," cried Rob,
running into the school-room, flushed and tousled by the fresh cold
wind and his eager work.

"If you had been up early and done a little every morning there
would be no hurry now. I told you that, Rob, and you never
minded. I cannot have the lessons neglected as the work has been.
The squirrels will get more than their share this year, and they
deserve it, for they have worked best. You may go an hour earlier,
but that is all," and Mr. Bhaer led Rob to his place where the little
man dashed at his books as if bent on making sure of the precious
hour promised him.

It was almost maddening to sit still and see the wind shaking down
the last nuts, and the lively thieves flying about, pausing now and
then to eat one in his face, and flirt their tails, as if they said,
saucily, "We'll have them in spite of you, lazy Rob." The only
thing that sustained the poor child in this trying moment was the
sight of Teddy working away all alone. It was really splendid the
pluck and perseverance of the little lad. He picked and picked till
his back ached; he trudged to and fro till his small legs were tired;
and he defied wind, weariness, and wicked "quillies," till his
mother left her work and did the carrying for him, full of
admiration for the kind little fellow who tried to help his brother.
When Rob was dismissed, he found Teddy reposing in the
bushel-basket quite used up, but unwilling to quit the field; for he
flapped his hat at the thieves with one grubby little hand, while he
refreshed himself with the big apple held in the other.

Rob fell to work and the ground was cleared before two o'clock,
the nuts safely in the corn-barn loft, and the weary workers exulted
in their success. But Frisky and his wife were not to be vanquished
so easily; and when Rob went up to look at his nuts a few days
later he was amazed to see how many had vanished. None of the
boys could have stolen them, because the door had been locked;
the doves could not have eaten them, and there were no rats about.
There was great lamentation among the young Bhaers till Dick
said

"I saw Frisky on the roof of the corn-barn, may be he took them."

"I know he did! I'll have a trap, and kill him dead," cried Rob,
disgusted with Frisky's grasping nature.

"Perhaps if you watch, you can find out where he puts them, and I
may be able to get them back for you," said Dan, who was much
amused by the fight between the boys and squirrels.

So Rob watched and saw Mr. and Mrs. Frisky drop from the
drooping elm boughs on to the roof of the corn-barn, dodge in at
one of the little doors, much to the disturbance of the doves, and
come out with a nut in each mouth. So laden they could not get
back the way they came, but ran down the low roof, along the wall,
and leaping off at a corner they vanished a minute and re-appeared
without their plunder. Rob ran to the place, and in a hollow under
the leaves he found a heap of the stolen property hidden away to
be carried off to the holes by and by.

"Oh, you little villains! I'll cheat you now, and not leave one," said
Rob. So he cleared the corner and the corn-barn, and put the
contested nuts in the garret, making sure that no broken
window-pane could anywhere let in the unprincipled squirrels.
They seemed to feel that the contest was over, and retired to their
hole, but now and then could not resist throwing down nut-shells
on Rob's head, and scolding violently as if they could not forgive
him nor forget that he had the best of the battle.

Father and Mother Bhaer's crop was of a different sort, and not so
easily described; but they were satisfied with it, felt that their
summer work had prospered well, and by and by had a harvest that
made them very happy.

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