The Code—Heroics

There were three in the meadow by the brook,
Gathering up windrows, piling haycocks up,
With an eye always lifted toward the west,
Where an irregular, sun-bordered cloud
Darkly advanced with a perpetual dagger
Flickering across its bosom. Suddenly
One helper, thrusting pitchfork in the ground,
Marched himself off the field and home. One stayed.
The town-bred farmer failed to understand.
What was there wrong?
               Something you mid just now.
What did I say?
               About our taking pains.
To cock the hay?—because it’s going to shower?
I said that nearly half an hour ago.
I said it to myself as much as you.
You didn’t know. But James is one big fool.
He thought you meant to find fault with his work.
That’s what the average farmer would have meant.
James had to take his time to chew it over
Before he acted; he’s just got round to act.
He is a fool if that’s the way he takes me.
Don’t let it bother you. You’ve found out something.
The hand that knows his business won’t be told
To do work faster or better—those two things.
I’m as particular as anyone:
Most likely I’d have served you just the same:
But I know you don’t understand our ways.
You were just talking what was in your mind,
What was in all our minds, and you weren’t hinting.
Tell you a story of what happened once.
I was up here in Salem, at a man’s
Named Sanders, with a gang of four or five,
Doing the haying. No one liked the boss.
He was one of the kind sports call a spider,
All wiry arms and legs that spread out wavy
From a humped body nigh as big as a biscuit.
But work!—that man could work, especially
If by so doing he could get more work
Out of his hired help. I’m not denying
He was hard on himself: I couldn’t find
That he kept any hours—not for himself.
Day-light and lantern-light were one to him:
I’ve heard him pounding in the barn all night.
But what he liked was someone to encourage.
Them that he couldn’t lead he’d get behind
And drive, the way you can, you know, in mowing—
Keep at their heels and threaten to mow their legs off.
I’d seen about enough of his bulling tricks—
We call that bulling. I’d been watching him.
So when he paired off with me in the hayfield
To load the load, thinks I, look out for trouble!
I built the load and topped it off; old Sanders
Combed it down with the rake and said, “O. K.”
Everything went right till we reached the barn
With a big take to empty in a bay.
You understand that meant the easy job
For the man up on top of throwing down
The hay and rolling it off wholesale,
Where, on a mow, it would have been slow lifting.
You wouldn’t think a fellow’d need much urging
Under those circumstances, would you now?
But the old fool seizes his fork in both hands,
And looking up bewhiskered out of the pit,
Shouts like an army captain, “Let her come!”
Thinks I, d’ye mean it? “What was that you said?”
I asked out loud so’s there’d be no mistake.
“Did you say, let her come?” “Yes, let her come.”
He said it over, but he said it softer.
Never you say a thing like that to a man,
Not if he values what he is. God, I’d as soon
Murdered him as left out his middle name.
I’d built the load and knew just where to find it.
Two or three forkfuls I picked lightly round for
Like meditating, and then I just dug in
And dumped the rackful on him in ten lots.
I looked over the side once in the dust
And caught sight of him treading-water-like,
Keeping his head above. “Damn ye,” I says,
“That gets ye!” He squeaked like a squeezed rat.
That was the last I saw or heard of him.
I cleaned the rack and drove out to cool off.
As I sat mopping the hayseed from my neck,
And sort of waiting to be asked about it,
One of the boys sings out, “Where’s the old man?”
“I left him in the barn, under the hay.
If you want him you can go and dig him out.”
They realized from the way I swobbed my neck
More than was needed, something must be up.
They headed for the barn—I stayed where I was.
They told me afterward: First they forked hay,
A lot of it, out into the barn floor.
Nothing! They listened for him. Not a rustle!
I guess they thought I’d spiked him in the temple
Before I buried him, else I couldn’t have managed.
They excavated more. “Go keep his wife
Out of the barn.”
               Some one looked in a window;
And curse me, if he wasn’t in the kitchen,
Slumped way down in a chair, with both his feet
Stuck in the oven, the hottest day that summer.
He looked so mad in back, and so disgusted
There was no one that dared to stir him up
Or let him know that he was being looked at.
Apparently I hadn’t buried him
(I may have knocked him down), but just my trying
To bury him had hurt his dignity.
He had gone to the house so’s not to face me.
He kept away from us all afternoon.
We tended to his hay. We saw him out
After a while picking peas in the garden:
He couldn’t keep away from doing something.
Weren’t you relieved to find he wasn’t dead?
No!—and yet I can’t say: it’s hard to tell.
I went about to kill him fair enough.
You took an awkward way. Did he discharge you?
Discharge me? No! He knew I did just right.
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