Left to Mind the Baby – Wednesday October 1908

At waking time, another tempestuous sky and a “blatter of a shoo’er.” Our thoughts flew to the ungathered barley but a strong breeze soon scattered the clouds and we had the most splendid harvest day of the season.

A rather broad hint, at nine o’clock coffee, that one or two extra hands would be welcome at throwing down the barley-stooks (“Mind you spread their butts to the wind!”) resulted in three women lightly climbing the hill to the barley field leaving me alone to mind baby.

I would fain have gone, too, to try my hand at a fresh job — for a cool half hour — the three volunteers didn’t count on any longer — but that stubble is cruel to the tender skin of a little toddler that won’t sit still. One hour, two hours passed before the first of the “extra” harvesters returned with a face like a red September moon, and sank blowing and puffing upon a cool stone sconce in the shade. Ten minutes later, a still redder face appeared round the corner, and yet wearier limbs sought comfort on some stone stairs.

The pair, after recovering from their perspiring exhaustion, examined their hands for thistles, compared notes on the size and weight of the sheaves and condoled with each other on stiffness in their shoulders and pains in their backs. One looked ruefully at red, scratched fore-arms and said she never thought of pulling down her blouse sleeves to protect her arms.

Then they returned to exclamations upon the intense heat and the formidable weight of those barley sheaves! None but the boss came in to dinner, and sandwiches, cake, and coffee were sent out. We heard of a neighbour who had been sending out sandwiches every noon that harvesting was in progress.

When a woman is left single-handed, or with insufficient help, this is certainly easier than a hot meat-and-potato dinner — not merely in preparation but mugs only are required. Plates, forks and knives for eight or nine men are very heavy and some are sure to get lost or broken. Then there is the gathering of them up and washing later in the afternoon than usual.

At the dinner-table, the barley-stooks came under discussion again. The boss appeared to complain that some of them were not thrown out far enough from the dyke. “Well, if you’re not satisfied with our work, we needn’t go again!” “Well, I won’t ask you again this year!”

The volunteers made complaint of three things, viz: that the outside stooks had been set too near the dyke and were therefore difficult to throw out into the open, apart from the fact that there they had taken firmer hold of the ground than those more exposed to what drying winds there had been; secondly, the sheaves were such enormous size that they could hardly lift them; thirdly, some of the stooks contained as many as 12 sheaves!

The boss admitted that there was always difficulty with the “opening-out” line of grain. Whatever warning he might give, the men would always make the sheaves too large. One of the volunteer workers gave it as her opinion that each of these sheaves would have made a stook by itself if it had been “gytit” (single sheaf tied near the top) — a word which will be better understood by some of my readers than myself.

We, further, heard the opinion of an ancient authority (possibly Margarets mother) — whether our grandfather or great-grandfather, I was not clear — that four sheaves in a stook was the best number to let the wind through. In olden times, when grain ripened later on imperfectly drained lands, the farmers learned how to give their “pickle shaifes” the best chance. There will be a good many farmers this year learning lessons among the sprouting stooks, the back o’the dyke.

Surely there has not been this year a more melting day! A big fire for the boiling of brambles, and the baking of scones, the sun pouring in at a window and door both facing south-west, and the workers inside are beside themselves with heat.

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