On a very hot afternoon I suggested to Winkie (two or three-year-old Willie) that we ought to help father to get that meadow hay stacked, seeing it ws such a heavy crop. So we started bravely up the hill, a battered straw hat on his unaccustomed head.
The first gate we came to, he must climb to the top rail, and put a small leg over, heedless of the barbed wire protecting it. “Now,” I protested, “your legs are too short; you can’t go over there.”
“Ess! ‘Illie can! See!” and he made valiant efforts to hoist his body over the top. I rushed to clutch his pinafore, lest he whummle, (go head over heels), tear his legs open with the barbed wire and land on his head.
But having proved to me that he could do it, if only I would let him alone, he was satisfied with sitting astride and making a triumphant survey of the lower world; then he swiftly climbed down and crawled through the lowest gap in the gate. I sat down on the wayside, and asked as patiently as I could what he was going to do.
“Look for mushies,” was his reply, as he began to search among the close green turf at his feet. At that moment one of the cattle in the distance lowed and, casting an anxious look behind him, he cried, “Heffey! ‘Illey’s heffey! ‘Illie not frightened!” But, nevertheless, he scrambled through the gate once more into the road.
Perhaps we might now have resumed our way to the hayfield, had not another gate appeared on the other side of the road. I pretended that it was locked and could not be opened, but nothing would induce him to go on without an effort. He climbed up and climbed down, and it was when he was stuck fast half-way through the wire fence which bordered this field that I opened the gate.
He hauled himself backwards somehow and stalked with a great stride towards the turnip furrows: “‘Illie finned um!” (thinned them), he cried, waving his fat hands in the directions of the roots, sadly thinned by tinier creatures than himself. Having thus shown me the field of his labours, he came out and carefully closed the iron gate.
“Look at the stack, how big it is! We’ll have to hurry up!” for I was afraid he had forgotten the hay field.
Unfortunately, when he looked at the figures of the men on the big stack towering over the intervening hedges, he caught sight of a bit of railing filling a gap in the top of the opposite hedge. Off he went full speed again to climb this, pretending he was going to look for birds’ nests.
Once more I sat down to wait, and presently there was silence of baby chatter and I wondered where he was when a loud bellow startled me, and I ran to see whether it was a leg that was broken, expecting to find him suspended somewhere by a string of his pinafore. But he had merely lost his way crawled through the gate where a bend in the road hid me, and found himself deserted a hundred yards from his home.
This experience sobered him and he was willing to keep the road to the hayfield, there being no more gates to tempt him. “Cally ‘Illie’s hat! “ he commanded, as he bared his lint white locks which formed a startling contrast to the moist ruddy glow of his face, and the dark brown of his eyes. Hats he abhors but was induced to put one on, because hayworkers all covered their heads from the sun.
I sat down near the stack, and he began to rake up the loose hay with a walking stick; but, gaining experience, he was soon carrying loads which hid everything but part of his bare legs and presently had a respectable stack to bury himself in.
When he was at his hottest and the perspiration was making dirty runnels down his crimson cheeks, there appeared at the gate a party carrying baskets of eatables and cans of tea, and of this party was Babes Ailie (as he calls her), come among the others to have tea among the hay. But I am not sure that Ailie enjoys picnics.
Because, for one thing, there was no bottle! The tea was much too strong , so that she curled up her nose and her lip when she tasted it and there was no milk to make it pleasanter to her little mouth. Besides the hay made a rough seat for her tender skin and stamped the funniest lace patten on her soft limbs. Neither was the tea quite to ‘Illie’s liking. It was too strong, and so hot that it made him roar when he got hold of his mug.
But we enjoyed it all the same, and after milking he wanted to go back to the field for the men were going to work till it was dark. Tired? No, he wasn’t a bit tired, although he had missed his afternoon sleep. But when I said I couldn’t go back that night, he laid his head on the rug to sulk, and before you could count ten he was fast asleep.