The Sandman: His House Stories  by Willliam J. Hopkins

The Digging‑Men Story

O NCE upon a time there was a little boy who was almost five years old. And his mother used to let him wander about the garden and in the road near the house, for there weren't many horses going by, and the men who drove the horses that did go by knew the little boy and they were careful.

So this boy wandered about and played happily by himself.

He had his cat and his cart and his shovel and his hoe, and he always wore his overalls. And wherever he went his cat went too.

One morning he saw some men come with a big cart and two horses, and they stopped in a field near his house where there were some queer boards nailed on sticks that were stuck in the ground; and the boards turned corners, and there were strings across from one board to another.

And the men got out of the big cart and unhitched the horses from the cart, and the little boy thought he had better go there and see what they were going to do.

So he went, dragging his cart behind him, with his shovel and his hoe rattling in the bottom of it.

And his cat saw him going, and she ran on ahead with her bushy tail sticking straight up in the air.

And the little boy came to the men and the horses and he stopped and stood still.

And his cat stopped too, but she didn't stand still; she rolled over on her back on the ground and wanted to play, but nobody would pay any attention to her.

Pretty soon one of the men looked down and saw the little boy.

"Hello!" he said.

"Hello," said the little boy. "What are you going to do?"

"Why," said the man, "we're going to dig dirt."

"Are you going to dig a hole?" the little boy asked.

"Yes," said the man; "a great big hole."

"And what is the hole for?" the little boy asked. "Is it to plant something in?"

"No," said the man, "it's going to be the cellar of a house."

"Oh," said the little boy, "is it? And do you think I could help you dig? I've got my shovel and my cart."

"I'm afraid," said the man, "that it wouldn't do. You see that great scoop?"

He pointed to a big iron scoop that was in the cart.

The little boy looked and nodded.

"Is that a scoop? What is it for?"

"The horses drag it, and a man takes hold of those two handles like plough-handles, and it scoops the dirt right up."

The little boy nodded again.

"You can watch us if you want to," the man said then. "But you must be careful not to get in the way of the horses."

"And can my kitty watch too?"

The man laughed and said his kitty could watch if she wanted to.

And the other men took pickaxes out of the cart, the handles of the pickaxes and their iron heads, and each man slipped the head of his pickaxe over the handle and gave it a tap on the ground to drive the head on.

And they walked slowly in under the strings between the boards and they got in a line.

And the little boy sat down on a stone that was just the right size and watched them. His cat came and got right between his feet.

Then the man at the end of the line raised his pickaxe high above his head, and the next man did the same, and then the third man, and so on to the other end of the line.

And the first man struck his pickaxe down hard into the ground, and it made the ground grunt, Mnh!

And the second man did the same, and the ground gave another grunt, Mnh!

And then the third man did the same thing, and so on to the other end of the line.

Then the first man was ready again, so that the sound of the pickaxes was as regular as the ticking of the tall clock.

When the pickaxe was in the ground, each man gave a kind of a pry that loosened the dirt.

And when they had picked, the men went ahead a little short step and picked a new place and left the loosened dirt behind, so that, pretty soon, they were walking on the dirt that they had loosened.

The cat had got tired of lying between the little boy's feet and having no attention paid to her, so she got up and ran off a little way, and stopped and looked back, but the little boy wouldn't look.

So she walked back, with her bushy tail straight up in the air, and rubbed against the little boy's legs.

Still the little boy didn't notice her. And the reason why he didn't notice her was that the horses were being hitched to the big iron scoop.

As soon as the horses were hitched to the scoop, they started walking along; and the scoop turned right over on its face, upside down, because the man didn't have hold of the handles.

And the horses dragged the scoop, upside down, and it bumped over the stones and made a ringing kind of noise, and they dragged it in between the boards and over the dirt that had been loosened by the pickaxes, and when they got to the end of the loosened dirt, they stopped.

Then the man turned the horses around, and he took hold of the handles of the scoop and turned it over; and he kept hold of the handles, and the horses started, and the scoop dug into the loose dirt and scooped it right up and carried it along.


The Dirt-Scoop

Now the field, where they were digging the cellar, sloped down behind where the cellar was to be, so that, when the horses came to that part, they were walking down-hill.

And the man let go of the handles of the scoop, and it turned over and dumped its load of dirt.

And when the horses heard the scoop bumping and banging on the ground, they turned around of their own accord and walked back to get a new load.

And so they did until they had scooped out all the dirt that had been loosened.

Then the pickaxe men went back and began again on the part that had been scooped, but the horses had to wait for the dirt to be loosened, and they stood outside of the cellar.

It was beginning to look a little bit like a cellar now, but a very shallow one.

And the little boy was getting tired of watching the pickaxes rise and fall and of listening to the noise the ground made. So he got up.

And his cat saw him getting up, and she ran to him, and she saw that he was going to the man with the horses, so she ran ahead, with her bushy tail sticking straight up in the air.

The man saw them coming, and he looked at the little boy and smiled.

"I've got to go now," the little boy said, when he had come to the man.

"So soon?" asked the man. "I hope you aren't tired."

"I think I'd better go home," the little boy said. "P'r'aps my mother would like to see me."

"I shouldn't wonder if she'd like to see you pretty often," the man said. "You tell her that you'll be safe here. I'll keep my eye on you."

"How will you get your eye on me?" the little boy asked.

The man laughed. "Will you come again?"

"I'll come to-morrow," the little boy said. "P'r'aps I'll come this afternoon. Good-bye."

"Good-bye," said the man.

And he watched the little boy as he trudged away, dragging his cart, with his hoe and his shovel rattling in the bottom of it, and with his cat walking beside him and looking up into his face.

And that's all of this story.