When the two big stacks were completed and the Dutch barn filled, the carts began to make a noise like thunder in the big barn adjoining the house. John say it’s a very ticklish corner into the door of the barn, and he struck the post once and had to back.
Poor nine-year-old wept when he touched a post of the Dutch barn, and the big 14-year-old brother on the “moo” (heap) laughed at him. But here there was nobody to laugh or to notice — so he learned to negotiate that corner with skill beyond his years.
How his father could trust him to do it, I don’t know. Farm buildings, built in various decades, have extraordinary approaches sometimes, and this is one of them.
You come up a steep slope ( in the turnip field) along the back side of the stables and cartsheds, then at the end of the building turn at right angles into — the front garden! — or an outlying part of it.
The barn door is there gaping wide to the left, and that laden cart has got to be turned at another abrupt right angle in order to get in. There is not much room to manoeuvre either for the level of space is only a few yards square. No other possible place for that barn door, for only on this spot is the ground at the proper level.
From the dining-room window it looks alarming to watch that small speck —John is smallish for his age, with “spurtles” of arms and legs — turning the huge overshadowing load safely into the wide door.
We conclude that nine years is a good age to begin farm work in earnest. Between eight and nine o’clock at night, when we are pitying his poor tired legs, he comes in brave and smiling with the other late workers to astonish us with the huge supper he consumes.
Willie’s interest was re-awakened seeing a “moo” so near at hand, and he spent a whole day treading down the hay, and carrying armfuls from his father’s forkin. Very proud he was when his tea was carried out, and he gave us a demonstration of how he worked: “I can do better nor Mary Black. She just stands a’ that way. I do like this” and he stamped in the fragrant hay, his white head almost disappearing from view. “I do everything right. Me!”
And he added other two black streaks to his glowing face before he sat down to drink four mugs of tea.
Next morning finished the lea hay — the first -cut last because least valuable, and this was put in a loft by itself to be used first, possibly some of it for bedding. Here, after the last cart had been unloaded, the two youngest workers, left at a loose end, took to practising “moo” building.
Here, I found them taking turns at the fork. It was a low loft over the byre, and a low “moo” with a quantity of loose hay, and nine-year-old was forking to four-year-old. Then the older one thought he’d better go up and build the “moo” squarely in front while he shouted down directions to his little brother below.
It was astonishing to see how much Willie could lift, and how skilfully he gathered it on his fork. The difficulty came when he had to hold it upright against the side of the “moo.” Several times, it nearly overbalanced him, and he was in danger of falling, fork first, out of the door into the yard below.
John instructed him how to lift heavy forkfuls, keeping the fork vertical but I interposed that he was only a wee, wee chap and mustn’t try to lift too much. Eventually, by their united efforts, they got it all up and, as I left to attend to my own affairs, through the open door, high up, I could see them each with a fork trimming in front of their “moo” and making it neat and straight and square.
Thereupon, I corrected my previous notion that nine years is a good age to begin learning farm work. Four years, with good material, is better.
The griminess of them that night was fearful, and they had to have a bath. When I was telling them a story before they went to sleep, and admiring the fresh rosiness of their skin, I was startled by the sight of a coal black speck in the inner corner of each of John’s eyes, and as Willie, sitting on the floor, lifted his head to listen, two black pease indicated his nostrils. The grime of that first-cut hay — the clover that got too much rain.
Next day, thrown out of occupation, they grew mopy, very early in the forenoon: “Mother, what can we do?” It was John’s weepy voice. Difficult to believe that it belonged to the brave, hard boy that carted from seven in the morning till eight at night.
Mother thought she had quite enough on hand without inventing occupations for them, but she suggested turnips; there were still a few patches that hadn’t been thinned. So at the moment they are getting their bits of sack tied round their knees with string.