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SHEEP-WASHING — ADDISON'S NOVEL WATER-WARMER
"To-morrow we must wash the sheep," the Old Squire remarked at the breakfast table next day. "We will try your water-warming apparatus, Addison," he continued. "Do you think that you can get the pipes together again?"
"I am sure of it, sir," Addison replied. "But I shall have to go borrow the blacksmith's wrench and pipe-tongs."
"Ad thinks that patent warmer of his is something great," Halstead remarked ironically.
"I think it is nice to warm the water, and not put the poor sheep into stone-cold water when they are heated from running, in their heavy, hot fleeces," said Theodora.
"It seemed to prevent them from taking cold last year," observed the Old Squire. "Sheep often take cold when washed and sheared," he continued.
"If you girls go with us, you shall help fetch wood and tend fire," said Halstead. "It is a hard job to keep the fire up under the pipe."
"O we will help," cried Ellen. "It's fun, I think, to fetch dry stuff and make a big blaze."
"How are you off for soap, Ruth?" the Old Squire asked. "We shall want two bucketfuls of soft soap for the first washings."
"Well, sir, I don't know about that," replied Gram, not well pleased. "My soap barrel is getting low; and I have not been able to have Olive Witham come to make soap yet, nor clean house. I think that a bucketful will be all I can spare you."
"That will be small soap for seventy-six sheep," remarked Addison. "There ought to be a pint to every sheep, half a pint at least. You may work and work, and squeeze and squeeze, but you cannot get their thick fleeces clean unless you put on plenty of soap."
"Murches' folks never use soap," said Halstead. "The boys just fling the sheep into the pond and souse them round a few times, then let them crawl out. They don't bother with warm water and soap. Willis catches the sheep and pitches them in; and his father and Ben souse them. They stand in the water up to their waists all the time; but I saw Murch take a sly pull at a little bottle which he had set behind a stump on the shore."
"Murch does not half wash his sheep," Addison remarked. "When they carried their wool to market last year, it all had to go at twenty-eight cents per pound, as unwashed wool, when clean-washed brought forty cents. I don't like to stand in cold water two hours at a time, either. A man who takes a drink of liquor every half hour can stand it, maybe; but all people don't think it best to drink liquor."
"I suppose you would stand and chatter your teeth two hours before you would take a swallow of whiskey," said Halstead with a laugh.
"I would warm the water," retorted Addison. "Certain people we know would stand in cold water just for an excuse to get a drink."
It was manifest that Addison had the best of the argument, and that the Old Squire agreed with him.
"Let's get an early start with our housework," Theodora made haste to say, "so that we can all go. You must go, too, Gram. It is fun to see the long fires under the pipe."
"Yes, Gram, I want you to go and see how finely my new water-warmer works," said Addison. "The Edwardses are going to drive their flock over here and wash them at the 'Little Sea' this year, so as to try the warm-water plan. They will come after we finish, in the afternoon."
I now asked Addison whether he really had a patent on his water-warmer. "O no," replied he, laughing. "You cannot take a patent right for warming water. Still, it is a rather new idea hereabouts. I use the iron pipe which we took out of a pump aqueduct a year ago. But you will see how we do it to-morrow."
We worked putting stove-wood into the wood-house that day; and after what seemed a remarkably short night, I waked to find Halstead dressing in haste.
"Ad's up, and gone after the tools," he said. "Ordered us to get up and help the old gent milk."
"Did he 'order' us to do it?" I asked, a little surprised.
"'Bout's good as that," grumbled Halstead. "Stuck his head in at the door and hollered, 'Hurry up now and help milk.' O he is dandy-high-jinks 'round this farm, I tell ye. Everything goes as he says. The old gent thinks he's a regular little George Washington."
I did not quite know what to think of this talk; it was evident that my two cousins did not altogether admire each other.
Meantime, Halstead had set off for the barn; but I lingered about the kitchen, where I was presently impressed into the service of Theodora and Ellen, who were kindling a fire and making preparations for breakfast.
"Now, cousin, do please split a few sticks of this wood," the latter besought me. "It's so large I cannot make it burn; and I am in no end of a hurry. Here is the axe. But look out sharp now, or you will chop your toes off. Take care now." She seemed half sorry, I thought, that she had asked me, after watching my first strokes. For I laid about me with might and main, causing the splinters to fly, from a boy's natural instinct to show off before girls.
As there was a great deal of coarse wood in the shed, I continued to wield the axe, and split a large heap, for which those wily girls praised me without stint; but I am sure, none the less, that they were smiling on the sly. Gram, too, came out from the pantry and praised me, but she also laughed. It is exceedingly difficult for a boy to show off without exciting risibility. When Gramp came in with two milk-pails, presently, he also looked into the shed, to bid me good-morning, and went away smiling.
At length I heard the clang of iron on the doorstep, and looking out, saw that Addison had returned and thrown down the pipe-tongs. "You're a good one!" he exclaimed, catching sight of my woodpile. "Gram and those girls will make a saint of you right off. Splitting kindlings is the royal road to all their good graces. It means a doughnut, or a piece of pie, any time, at a moment's notice. All the same it is somewhat sweaty work," he added, noticing my perspiring brow. "I go a little easy on it myself; I never refuse when they ask me; but I don't try to make such a pile as that at one time."
Halse, who had been turning the cows to pasture, now came in; and breakfast being not quite ready, we went to the wagon-house and got down the lengths of iron pipe from the loft, preparatory to loading them into the cart, to be taken to the "Little Sea." It was what hardware dealers term inch and a quarter pipe, and it was in lengths or sections, each twelve feet long. These were somewhat heavy, and had screw threads cut at each end, so that the ten or twelve lengths could all be joined together by screwing them into couplings, and thus form one continuous pipe. The pipe-tongs and wrench were needed to turn the couplings.
Addison had called at the post-office, and the Old Squire at once became engrossed in the papers, containing further news of President Johnson's quarrel with Congress. He and Addison were discussing politics during breakfast. It made me feel uncomfortably ignorant, to hear how well Addison was informed upon such matters, and how much interested Theodora appeared to be in their conversation. Addison even undertook to say what was Constitutional and what wasn't.
Not to be utterly outstripped, I ventured to express my opinion that General Hancock ought to be the next President; but neither Addison nor grandfather agreed with me, and I was afraid Theodora did not, for I thought she looked at me compassionately, as if my opinion was immature.
Halstead did not say a word, but ate his breakfast with an air of supreme indifference. Afterwards, as we were going out through the wood-shed, he remarked to me that it made him sick to hear Republicans palaver. "I'm a Democrat," said he. "I'm a 'Secesh,' too. I would be a Democrat anyway, if Ad was a Republican."
I confess to feeling somewhat "mugwumpish" myself that morning, for it was pretty plain that I never could lead the Republican party in that house, as long as Addison was about. Still, I did not like the idea of being a "copperhead;" — for that was the unhandsome designation which Addison applied to all lukewarm or doubtful citizens. On the whole, I decided that I had better be a quiet, not very talkative Unionist, and not mix too freely in politics. I had some idea, however, of being a "War Democrat," for General Hancock was then the subject of my very great admiration. I ventured to intimate darkly to Theodora, a few days afterwards, that I leaned slightly toward the condition of a "War Democrat;" but although she admitted, very tolerantly, that a "War Democrat" might be a decent citizen, I found that she looked upon all such as a still not wholly regenerate order of beings, and that nothing less than a fully-fledged, unswerving Republican could command her respect and confidence. She took pains to let me know, however, that the fact of my being a "War Democrat" would not by any means constitute a bar to our future good-fellowship and cousinly acquaintance.
I remarked that Halstead appeared to be a "copperhead."
"Yes," she replied, with a heavy sigh.
"I don't know that I ought to tell you what he said the morning the dreadful news came, that President Lincoln was assassinated," she continued, after a pause and in a very saddened tone. "I would not speak of it if I did not have a reason."
"What did he say?" I asked, curiously.
"He and Addison were splitting stove-wood in the yard," continued Theodora. "They had been arguing and disputing. Ad does not argue with Halstead so much now; he has learned better. But that morning they had been talking pretty loud. Gramp had gone to the post-office, and when he came back and drove into the yard, he spoke in a low tone and said, 'Boys, there is a terrible rumor abroad.' 'What is it?' exclaimed Addison, turning around quickly.
"'News has come that the President and Secretary Seward have been assassinated,' said Gramp. Ad dropped his axe and stood looking at Gramp, as if spellbound. 'It cannot be!' he said. 'I am afraid it is too true,' replied grandfather.
"Then what do you think Halstead did but shout, 'Glad of it! Served 'em right!'
"Gramp looked at Halse, astonished; he did not know what to think, and drove on into the wagon-house without saying a word. But Addison turned on Halse and said, 'Anybody that will say that ought to be strung up to the nearest tree!'
"With that Halse shouted again, 'Glad of it! Glad of it!' and then jumped on a log and, flapping his arms against his sides, crowed like a rooster. Addison was so disgusted that he did not speak to Halstead for more than a week.
"And now you see how it is," Theodora continued to me, in a confidential tone. "That is why I told you this. Halstead has a reckless temper. He feels and sees, I suppose, that Addison is more talented than he is, and that all of us naturally place more confidence in what he says and does. That provokes Halstead to do and say what he otherwise wouldn't. Instead of doing his best, he often does his worst. Ad is intelligent and conscientious; he despises anything that is mean, or tricky, and he has no patience with any one who does such things. So they don't get along very well; and I often think that it isn't a good thing for them to be together — not a good thing for Halse, I mean.
"Isn't that a strange thing," continued Theodora, thoughtfully, "that because one boy is good and manly and intelligent, another one in the same household may not do nearly as well as he would if the first one were only just stupid?"
Theodora had taken me into moral waters quite beyond my depth, observing which, I presume, she went on to say that she wanted me to see and realize just how it was with Halstead, and always try to bring out his best side, instead of his worst.
If I could only have seen the matter in as clear a light as she did and labored as hard as she did to bring out that "best side" of my youthful kinsman, the outcome might perhaps have been different.
Breakfast over, after a parting glance at the newspaper, Gramp came out to give directions for the sheep-washing. "I will go to the pasture and see to getting the sheep myself this spring," said he; for it appeared that on a previous occasion, Halse and Addison had difficulty, owing to the injudicious use of a dog, and finally arrived at the brook with the flock, as well as themselves, in a badly heated condition.
"I wish you would, sir," replied Addison. "I will yoke the oxen and haul the pipe to the brook while you are gone."
This plan being adopted, the oxen were yoked and attached to the cart; and under Addison's supervision, I took the goad-stick and received my first lesson in driving them. "Swing your stick with a rolling motion towards the nigh ox's head, and say, 'Back, Bright, get up, Broad,' when you want to call them towards you," he instructed me. "And when you want them to veer off, step to the head of the nigh ox and rap the off ox gently on the nose, then reversing your stick, touch up the nigh ox." He illustrated his teachings and I attempted to imitate him. Halstead stood at a little distance and laughed; no doubt it was laughable.
"What a teamster he will make!" I heard him saying to the girls. "He talks to old Bright as if he was afraid of hurting his feelings by swinging the goad-stick so near his head. Next thing he will say, 'Beg your pardon, Broad, but I really must rap your head and ask you to gee, if it will not be too much trouble.'"
They all laughed at Halse's joke, not unkindly, yet I can hardly describe how much it wounded my vanity and how incensed I felt with the joker. Slowly the oxen moved away out of hearing. Even my instructor, Addison, lagged a little behind to indulge in a broad smile. Glancing backward, I detected his amused expression and was almost minded to fling away the goad-stick; and I did not feel much reassured when he remarked that I did very well for a beginner.
"Don't mind what Halse says," Addison continued. "He cannot drive a cart through a gateway himself without tearing both gate-posts down."
There was solace in that statement. The oxen were very steady and well broken; and I contrived to drive the cart across the field and down through the pasture to the brook without much difficulty, although I noticed several times that old Bright rolled the white of his eye up to me, in a peculiar manner, as if something in my movements was puzzling to the bovine mind. I asked Addison whether he did not think that the oxen had very handsome eyes, for they seemed to me exceedingly soft and lustrous.
"Yes," replied he, "all cattle have just such large, fine eyes." But he appeared to be somewhat amused at the way I spoke of it; for the thought had struck me that it was strange and not quite clear why cattle should have eyes so much finer and more lustrous than human beings. I ventured to ask Ad's opinion on that subject, as we were taking out the pipe beside the brook. "Well," he replied, still laughing, "perhaps it is because their lives are simpler and they don't have so much evil in them as human beings do. But I recommend you to ask Elder Witham about that the next time he spends the night here."
We now took the pipe out of the cart and chained up the oxen to the nigh cart-wheel. Addison then explained to me his method of warming the water for washing the sheep. From the dam which formed the Little Sea, there was a considerable descent in the brook for some distance; and Addison's device consisted in laying the pipe from the pond above the dam, so as to carry water to two half-hogshead tubs, ninety or a hundred feet farther down the bed of the brook. The pipe rested on heaps of stones placed eight or ten feet apart and was thus elevated a foot and a half from the ground; and directly beneath it a fire was kindled and kept burning briskly all the time the washing was going on. The pipe was thus exposed to the fire along its whole length; and it was found that the water running through it was rendered very comfortably warm where it ran out into the first tub. A short spout connected the first tub with the other, set a little lower down, so that the warm water ran on into that one. The sheep were first put into the lower tub and there soaped and scrubbed, then taken to the upper tub and rinsed thoroughly.
"Now get out the wrench and pipe-tongs," said Addison. "The first thing to do is to screw the pipe together."
This proved a task requiring some little muscular strength; and even when we had done our best, several of the couplings leaked a little. We put it together after awhile, however, and set the water running through it to the two half-hogshead tubs, which had also to be lifted from the cart and placed on a good foundation. Next, the sheep-yard, close beside the tubs, had to be repaired, for the brush fence had sunk low during the previous winter. Fresh bushes needed to be brought and a little green spruce shrub with which to block up the hole that served as a gate.
An hour or more elapsed while we were thus employed; and then, as we were about ready to attend to the fire, we heard the voices of the girls; and lo, besides Theodora and Ellen there was Gram herself, coming down the pasture side.
"Good," said Addison. "They will help us drag brush and dry stuff from the woods. It takes a lot of it to keep a good fire going. But the girls like that. Nothing suits girls half so well as a fire out of doors. You will see Gram herself fetching brush pretty soon.
"Just in time!" Addison shouted to them. "We were wishing for some help. Now for a brush-bee!" — and he led the way to the edge of the woods, at a little distance. "Gather up anything that will burn and carry it to the pipe."
Soon we were all running to and fro with armfuls of it, and collected a large heap, alongside the pipe, which was presently set blazing at one end. From that point, the fire ran along beneath the whole line of pipe, and very soon the water came out steaming into the half-hogsheads.
Erelong the bleating of the sheep and lambs was heard. "They're coming!" Ellen cried. "I can see Wealthy running beside them, and Halse ahead of the flock with the salt dish. Gramp is behind."
"Now we must form a line down here and guide them into the sheep-yard," Addison exclaimed. "The old and cunning ones will not like to go in."
"They have been there before; they know what is in store for them, and they don't like it," said Gram, laughing. "They are like a little boy whom I took off the town farm one spring. He had not been washed since the previous summer. The sight of the tub frightened him dreadfully; he bleated louder than the sheep do when I put him into it."
The flock came on with a rush, Halstead and Wealthy at the sides and the Old Squire in the wake. By an adroit distribution of our forces, we headed them into the yard, although three or four old sheep made strenuous efforts to escape to one side and gain the woods, particularly one called "old Mag." This venerable ewe was in great trouble about her twin lambs that strayed continually in the press. The old hussy found opportunity, however, to dart out betwixt Addison and myself, and reached cover of a little hemlock thicket, with one of her lambs. But anxiety for the other one caused her to emerge again, bleating, when she was surrounded and ignominiously driven into the pen.
By this time the water was running as warm as fresh milk; and after taking breath, the Old Squire and Addison removed their coats, rolled up their sleeves and took their stations at the two tubs. Halstead, too, prepared to assist.
"Now," said Addison, "let's each one have his or her particular part to do. I will name you, sir" (addressing Gramp), "Chief Washer, if you please. You may stand at the first, or lower, tub and take each sheep as it comes from the yard. I will name Halse your Assistant Washer. I will be Rinser and stand at the second, or upper tub. Our new cousin here, I shall name Catcher. It is to be his business to catch the sheep in the yard and bring them, one by one, to the Chief Washer, and also take them back from the Rinser to the yard; and he will have to look out sharp, or some of those strong, young sheep will throw him. Fact, I think I will name Nell, who is pretty nimble and strong, Assistant Catcher. She is to help hold and pull them along to the tub — and pick Catcher up, if he gets thrown. Wealthy may be Sheep-Hole-Tender; she must guard the sheep-hole and open and close it with the spruce bush, as ordered by the Catcher and Assistant Catcher.
"I shall name Gram, if she has no objection, Chief Fireman, and Doad her assistant. It is to be their business to put the wood and dry stuff which we have gathered under the pipe and keep a good fire going.
"Are you all satisfied with your parts?" he then asked.
We all expressed ourselves delighted, except Halse, who desired to be Catcher, instead of Assistant Washer. Thereupon I offered to resign in his favor; but for reasons which they did not explain fully, the Old Squire and Addison opposed my resignation. Halse grumbled a little, but at length acquiesced.
"Now then," continued Addison, "every one to his or her station, and the business of the day will open."
Still laughing a good deal, we took our places.
Elevating his voice, Addison then called out, "Catcher, do your duty!"
The Sheep-Hole-Tender hauled aside the bush and Catcher, followed by Assistant Catcher, entered the yard.
"Take a little one, to begin with," whispered Ellen, who apparently distrusted my competence for the office. That nettled me and, instead, I made a plunge for a big wether and fastened both hands into his wool. The animal gave a tremendous jump and then went round about that yard, into corners and over the backs of the other sheep, at a rate of speed that was simply distracting! But I held on. First, I was on my back, with the rest of the flock leaping overhead. The Assistant Catcher couldn't overtake us. At last, she turned and ran the other way and headed us into a corner, and there the wether fell down and I fell on top of him; and when the flock got done running by, I looked up and saw that the Chief Washer, Rinser, Chief Fireman and their Assistants had all left their posts and were peering over the fence into the yard, with faces wearing every appearance of excessive mirth.
But Addison cried out, "Hurrah for the Catcher!" and that relieved my embarrassment considerably.
My Assistant, however, looked coldly at me.
"What in the world possessed you to grab that biggest sheep first?" she commented, as we dragged the now nearly breathless beast out at the sheep-hole. "And you mustn't run at them in such a savage way. No wonder the poor thing was scared! Go toward them more calm and gentle-like."
It appeared to me highly unbecoming that my Assistant should take it upon herself to lecture her superior after that fashion; and I promptly informed her (my blood being pretty hot by this time) that I would thank her to obey orders and give advice when it was asked for. Much abashed at this unexpected blast of spunk, cousin Ellen asked my pardon. When I delivered the sheep into the hands of the Chief Washer, old gentleman gazed benignly at me and simply remarked, "Well, well, sir, you had a dusty time of it, didn't you? But you'll learn, you'll learn, my boy."
They proceeded to soap the animal by pouring strong suds into its wool, and then seizing it by the legs, threw it upon its side in the tub of water. Thereupon another struggle ensued, during which the Chief Washer and his Assistant were plentifully spattered; but the experienced calmness with which the former bore it, greatly excited my admiration. After perhaps three or four minutes of scrubbing and squeezing the wool, the now bedraggled and hopelessly patient creature was passed on to the Rinser, who in turn immersed and rinsed it in the cleaner water of the upper tub. Meantime another sheep had been required from the Catcher, who again entered the yard, followed by his Assistant. This time I was quite content to attempt the capture of a smaller one, and to approach the animal in a less precipitate manner; for much as I had spurned my cousin's advice at the moment of receiving it, I now recognized its value.
The Catcher and his Assistant were kept very busy during the remainder of the forenoon, for the Chief Washer was an experienced and rapid operator. Some of the young sheep proved wild and refractory; and I remember that both Ellen and I grew very tired by the time the last of the seventy had been caught, subdued, dragged to the tub, and then dragged back to the yard from the Rinser's tub. I for one had had quite enough of it, and was content to sit down and look on, while Halstead, Addison and Theodora caught several of the lambs, and ducked them in the tub, by way, as they said, of giving them an early lesson and a foretaste of what they would have to encounter the next spring, in the regular order of things.
The fire was now allowed to subside under the water-pipe; and the Chief Fireman declared that she and the girls must set off for the house at once, in order to prepare dinner, for by this time the sun was nearing the meridian and every one getting hungry.
It was an easy matter to drive the now docile and water-soaked flock back to pasture; and we left pipe and tubs at the brook for our neighbors. When we returned from the pasture, Gram and the girls had a hastily prepared meal in readiness, consisting of fried eggs, bacon, and a "five minute pudding" with cream. What a flavor it all had! My only fear for some minutes was, lest there would not be half enough of it! While at table, Rinser, Assistant Washer, Catcher and even Chief Washer and Chief Fireman laughed a great deal as the various incidents and mishaps of the morning were recounted. It is certain that work always passes off much more pleasantly when it is enlivened by some such play-plan as that which Addison had devised.