Gateway to the Classics: Rollo at Work by Jacob Abbott
Rollo at Work by  Jacob Abbott



NEXT to little wooden blocks, I think that good, clean sand is an excellent thing for children to play with. When it is a little damp, it will remain in any shape you put it in, and you can build houses and cities, and make roads and canals in it. At any rate, Rollo and his cousin James used to be very fond of going down to a certain place in the brook, where there was plenty of sand, and playing in it. It was of a gray color, and somewhat mixed with pebble-stones; but then they used to like the pebble-stones very much to make walls with, and to stone up the little wells which they made in the sand.

One Wednesday afternoon, they were there playing very pleasantly with the sand. They had been building a famous city, and, after amusing themselves with it some time, they had knocked down the houses, and trampled the sand all about again. James then said he meant to go to the barn and get his horse-cart, and haul a load of sand to market.

Now there was a place around behind a large rock near there, which the boys called their barn; and Rollo and James went to it, and pulled out their two little wheelbarrows, which they called their horse-carts. They wheeled them down to the edge of the water, and began to take up the sand by double handfuls, and put it in.

When they had got their carts loaded, they began to wheel them around to the trees, and stones, and bushes, saying,

"Who'll buy my sand?"

"Who'll buy my white sand?"

"Who'll buy my gray sand?"

"Who'll buy my black sand?"

But they did not seem to find any purchaser; and at last Rollo said, suddenly,

"O, I know who will buy our sand."

"Who?" said James.


"So she will," said James. "We will wheel it up to the house."

So they set off, and began wheeling their loads of sand up the pathway among the trees. They went on a little way, and presently stopped, and sat down on a bank to rest. Here they found a number of flowers, which they gathered and stuck up in the sand, so that their loads soon made a very gay appearance.

Just as they were going to set out again, Rollo said,

"But, James, how are we going to get through the quagmire?"

"O," said James, "we can step along on the bank by the side of the path."

"No," said Rollo; "for we cannot get our wheelbarrows along there."

"Why, yes,—we got them along there when we came down."

"But they were empty and light then; now they are loaded and heavy."

"So they are; but I think we can get along; it is not very muddy there now."

The place which the boys called the quagmire, was a low place in the pathway, where it was almost always muddy. This pathway was made by the cows, going up and down to drink; and it was a good, dry, and hard path in all places but one. This, in the spring of the year, was very wet and miry; and, during the whole summer, it was seldom perfectly dry. The boys called it the quagmire, and they used to get by on one side, in among the bushes.

They found that it was not very muddy at this time, and they contrived to get through with their loads of sand, and soon got to the house. They trundled their wheelbarrows up to the door leading out to the garden; and Rollo knocked at the door.

Now Rollo's mother happened, at this time, to be sitting at the back-parlor window, and she heard their voices as they came along the yard. So, supposing the knocking was some of their play, she just looked out of the window, and called out,

"Who's there?"

"Some sand-men," Rollo answered, "who have got some sand to sell."

His mother looked out of the window, and had quite a talk with them about their sand; she asked them where it came from, what color it was, and whether it was free from pebble-stones. The boys had to admit that there were a good many pebble-stones in it, and that pebble-stones were not very good to scour floors with.

The Gray Garden

At last, Rollo's mother recommended that they should carry the sand out to a corner of the yard, where the chips used to be, and spread it out there, and stick their flowers up in it for a garden.

The boys liked this plan very much. "We can make walks and beds, beautifully, in the sand," said Rollo. "But, mother, do you think the flowers will grow?"

"No," said his mother, "flowers will not grow in sand; but, as it is rather a shady place, and you can water them occasionally, they will keep green and bright a good many days, and then, you know, you can get some more."

So the boys wheeled the sand out to the corner of the yard, took the flowers out carefully, and then tipped the sand down and spread it out. They tried to make walks and beds, but they found they had not got as much sand as they wanted. So they concluded to go back and get some more.

In fact, they found that, by getting a great many wheelbarrow loads of sand, they could cover over the whole corner, and make a noble large place for a sand-garden. And then, besides, as James said, when they were tired of it for a garden, they could build cities there, instead of having to go away down to the brook.

So they went on wheeling their loads of sand, for an hour or two. James had not learned to work as well as Rollo had, and he was constantly wanting to stop, and run into the woods, or play in the water; but Rollo told him it would be better to get all the sand up, first. They at last got quite a great heap, and then went and got a rake and hoe to level it down smooth.

Thus the afternoon passed away; and at last Mary told the boys that they must come and get ready for tea, for she was going to carry it in soon.

A Contract

SO Rollo and James brushed the loose sand from their clothes, and washed their faces and hands, and went in. As tea was not quite ready, they sat down on the front-door steps before Rollo's father, who was then sitting in his arm-chair in the entry, reading.

He shut up the book, and began to talk with the boys.

"Well, boys," said he, "what have you been doing all this afternoon?"

"O," said Rollo, "we have been hard at work."

"And what have you been doing?"

Rollo explained to his father that they had been making a sand-garden out in a corner of the yard, and they both asked him to go with them and see it.

They all three accordingly went out behind the house, the children running on before.

"But, boys," said Rollo's father, as they went on, "how came your feet so muddy?"

"O," said James, "they got muddy in the quagmire."

The boys explained how they could not go around the quagmire with their loaded wheelbarrows, and so had to pick their way through it the best way they could; and thus they got their shoes muddy a little; but they said they were as careful as they could be.

When they came to the sand-garden, Rollo's father smiled to see the beds and walks, and the rows of flowers stuck up in the sand. It made quite a gay appearance. After looking at it some time, they went slowly back again, and as they were walking across the yard,

"Father," said Rollo, "do you not think that is a pretty good garden?"

"Why, yes," said his father, "pretty good."

"Don't you think we have worked pretty well?"

"Why, I think I should call that play,  not work."

"Not work!" said Rollo. "Is it not work to wheel up such heavy loads of sand? You don't know how heavy they were."

"I dare say it was hard; but boys play  hard, sometimes, as well as work hard."

"But I should think ours, this afternoon, was work," said Rollo.

"Work," replied his father, "is when you are engaged in doing any thing in order to produce some useful result. When you are doing any thing only for the amusement of it, without any useful result, it is play. Still, in one sense, your wheeling the sand was work. But it was not very useful work; you will admit that."

"Yes, sir," said Rollo.

"Well, boys, how should you like to do some useful work for me, with your wheelbarrows? I will hire you."

"O, we should like that very much," said James. "How much should you pay us?"

"That would depend upon how much work you do. I should pay you what the work was fairly worth; as much as I should have to pay a man, if I were to hire a man to do it."

"What should you give us to do?" said Rollo.

"I don't know. I should think of some job. How should you like to fill up the quagmire?"

"Fill up the quagmire!" said Rollo. "How could we do that?"

"You might fill it up with stones. There are a great many small stones lying around there, which you might pick up and put into your wheelbarrows, and wheel them along, and tip them over into the quagmire; and when you have filled the path all up with stones, cover them over with gravel, and it will make a good causey."

"Causey?" said Rollo.

"Yes, causey," said his father; "such a hard, dry road, built along a muddy place, is called a causey."

They had got to the tea-table by this time; and while at tea, Rollo's father explained the plan to them more fully. He said he would pay them a cent for every two loads of stones or gravel which they should wheel in to make the causey.

They were going to ask some more questions about it, but he told them he could not talk any more about it then, but that they might go and ask Jonas how they should do it, after tea.


THEY went out into the kitchen, after tea, to find Jonas; but he was not there. They then went out into the yard; and presently James saw him over beyond the fence, walking along the lane. Rollo called out,

"Jonas! Jonas! where are you going?"

"I am going after the cows."

"We want you!" said Rollo, calling out loud.

"What for?" said Jonas.

"We want to talk with you about something."

Just then, Rollo's mother, hearing this hallooing, looked out of the window, and told the boys they must not make so much noise.

"Why, we want Jonas," said Rollo; "and he has gone to get the cows."

"Well, you may go with him," said she, "if you wish; and you can talk on the way."

So the boys took their hats and ran, and soon came to where Jonas was: for he had been standing still, waiting for them.

They walked along together, and the boys told Jonas what their father had said. Jonas said he should be very glad to have the quagmire filled up, but he was afraid it would not do any good for him to give them any directions.

"Why?" said James.

"Because," said Jonas, "little boys will never follow any directions. They always want to do the work their own way."

"O, but we will  obey the directions," said Rollo.

"Do you remember about the wood-pile?" said Jonas.

Rollo hung his head, and looked a little ashamed.

"What was it about the wood-pile?" said James.

"Why, I told Rollo," said Jonas, "that he ought to pile wood with the big ends in front, but he did not mind it; he thought it was better to have the big ends back, out of sight; and that made the pile lean forward; and presently it all fell over upon him."

"Did it?" said James. "Did it hurt you much, Rollo?"

"No, not much. But we will follow the directions now, Jonas, if you will tell us what to do."

"Very well," said Jonas, "I will try you.

"In the first place, you must get a few old pieces of board, and lay them along the quagmire to step upon, so as not to get your feet muddy. Then you must go and get a load of stones, in each wheelbarrow, and wheel them along. You must not tip them down at the beginning of the muddy place, for then they will be in your way when you come with the next load.

"You must go on with them, one of you right behind the other, both stepping carefully on the boards, till you get to the farther end, and there tip them over both together. Then you must turn round yourselves, but not turn your wheelbarrows round. You must face the other way, and draw  your wheelbarrows out."

"Why?" said James.

"Because," said Jonas, "it would be difficult to turn your wheelbarrows round there among the mud and stones, but you can draw them out very easily.

"Then, besides, you must not attempt to go by one another. You must both stop at the same time, but as near one another as you can, and go out just as you came in; that is, if Rollo came in first, and James after him, James must come up as near to Rollo as he can, and then, when the loads are tipped over, and you both turn round, James will be before Rollo, and will draw his wheelbarrow out first. Do you understand?"

"Yes," said James.

"Must we always go in together?" asked Rollo.

"Yes, that is better."


"Because, if you go in at different times, you will be in one another's way. One will be going out when the other is coming in, and so you will interfere with one another. Then, besides, if you fill the wheelbarrows together, and wheel together, you will always be in company,—which is pleasanter."

"Well, we will," said Rollo.

"After you have wheeled one load apiece in, you must go and get another, and wheel that in as far as you can. Tip them over on the top of the others, if you can, or as near as you can. Each time you will not go in quite so far as before, so that at last you will have covered the quagmire all over with stones once."

"And then must we put on the gravel?"

"O no. That will not be stones enough. They would sink down into the mud, and the water would come up over them. So you must wheel on more."

"But how can we?" said James. "We cannot wheel on the top of all those stones."

"No," said Jonas; "so you must go up to the house and get a pretty long, narrow board, as long as you and Rollo can carry, and bring it down and lay it along on the top of the stones. Perhaps you will have to move the stones a little, so as to make it steady; and then you can wheel on that. If one board is not long enough, you must go and get two. And you must put them down on one side of the path, so that the stones will go into the middle of the path and upon the other side, so as not to cover up the board.

"Then, when you have put loads of stones all along in this way, you must shift your boards over to the other side of the path, and then wheel on them again; and that will fill up the side where the boards lay at first. And so, after a while, you will get the whole pathway filled up with stones, as high as you please. I should think you had better fill it up nearly level with the bank on each side."

By this time the boys came to the bars that led into the pasture, and they went in and began to look about for the cows. Jonas did not see them any where near, and so he told the boys that they might stay there and pick some blackberries, while he went on and found them. He said he thought that they must be out by the boiling spring.

This boiling spring, as they called it, was a beautiful spring, from which fine cool water was always boiling up out of the sand. It was in a narrow glen, shaded by trees, and the water running down into a little sort of meadow, kept the grass green there, even in very dry times; so that the cows were very fond of this spot.

James and Rollo remained, according to Jonas's proposal, near the bars, while he went along the path towards the spring. Rollo and James had a fine time gathering blackberries, until, at last, they saw the cows coming, lowing along the path. Presently they saw Jonas's head among the bushes.


When he came up to the boys, he told them it was lucky that they did not go with him.

"Why?" said Rollo.

"I came upon an enormous hornet's nest, and you would very probably have got stung."

"Where was it?" said James.

"O, it was right over the path, just before you get to the spring."

The boys said they were very sorry to hear that, for now they could not go to the spring any more; but Jonas said he meant to destroy the nest.

"How shall you destroy it?" said Rollo.

"I shall burn it up."

"But how can you?" said Rollo.

Jonas then explained to them how he was going to burn the hornet's nest. He said he should take a long pole with two prongs at one end like a pitchfork, and with that fork up a bunch of hay. Then he should set the top of the hay on fire, and stand it up directly under the nest.

The boys continued talking about the hornet's nest all the way home, and forgot to say any thing more about the causey until just as they were going into the yard. Then they told Jonas that he had not told them how to put on the gravel, on the top.

He said he could not tell them then, and, besides, they would have as much as they could do to put in stones for one day.

Besides, James said it was sundown, and time for him to go home; but he promised to come the next morning, if his mother would let him, as soon as he had finished his lessons.

Keeping Tally

ROLLO and James began their work the next day about the middle of the forenoon, determined to obey Jonas's directions exactly, and to work industriously for an hour. They put a number of small pieces of board upon their wheelbarrows, to put along the pathway at first, and just as they had got them placed, Jonas came down just to see whether they were beginning right.

He saw them wheel in one or two loads of stones, and told them he thought they were doing very well.

"We have earned one cent already," said Rollo.

"How," said Jonas; "is your father going to pay you for your work?"

"Yes," said Rollo, "a cent for every two loads we put in."

"Then you must keep tally," said Jonas.

"Tally,"  said Rollo, "what is tally?"

"Tally is the reckoning. How are you going to remember how many loads you wheel in?"

"O, we can remember easily enough," said Rollo: "we will count them as we go along."

"That will never do," said Jonas. "You must mark them down with a piece of chalk on your wheelbarrow."

So saying, Jonas fumbled in his pockets, and drew out a small, well-worn piece of chalk, and then tipped up Rollo's wheelbarrow, saying,

"How many loads do you say you have carried already?"

"Two," said Rollo.

"Two," repeated Jonas; and he made two white marks with his chalk on the side of the wheelbarrow.

"There!" said he.

"Mark mine," said James; "I have wheeled two loads."

Jonas marked them, and then laid the chalk down upon a flat stone by the side of the path, and told the boys that they must stop after every load, and make a mark, and that would keep the reckoning exact.

Jonas then left them, and the boys went on with their work. They wheeled ten loads of stones apiece, and by that time had the bottom of the path all covered, so that they could not wheel any more, without the long boards. They went up and got the boards, and laid them down as Jonas had described, and then went on with their wheeling.


Rollo and James at their Work

At first, James kept constantly stopping, either to play, or to hear Rollo talk; for they kept the wheelbarrows together all the time, as Jonas had recommended. At such times, Rollo would remind him of his work, for he had himself learned to work steadily. They were getting on very finely, when, at length, they heard a bell ringing at the house.

This bell was to call them home; for as Rollo and Jonas were often away at a little distance from the house, too far to be called very easily, there was a bell to ring to call them home; and Mary, the girl, had two ways of ringing it—one way for Jonas, and another for Rollo.

The bell was rung now for Rollo; and so he and James walked along towards home. When they had got about half way, they saw Rollo's father standing at the door, with a basket in his hand; and he called out to them to bring their wheelbarrows.

So the boys went back for their wheelbarrows.

When they came up a second time with their wheelbarrows before them, he asked how they had got along with their work.

"O, famously," said Rollo. "There is the tally," said he, turning up the side of the wheelbarrow towards his father, so that he could see all the marks.

"Why, have you wheeled as many loads as that?" said his father.

"Yes, sir," said Rollo, "and James just as many too."

"And were they all good loads?"

"Yes, all good, full loads."

"Well, you have done very well. Count them, and see how many there are."

The boys counted them, and found there were fifteen.

"That is enough to come to seven cents, and one load over," said Rollo's father; and he took out his purse, and gave the boys seven cents each, that is, a six-cent piece in silver, and one cent besides. He told them they might keep the money until they had finished their work, and then he would tell them about purchasing something with it.

"Now," said he, "you can rub out the tally—all but one mark. I have paid you for fourteen loads, and you have wheeled in fifteen; so you have one mark to go to the new tally. You can go round to the shed, and find a wet cloth, and wipe out your marks clean, and then make one again, and leave it there for to-morrow."

"But we are going right back now," said Rollo.

"No," said his father; "I don't want you to do any more to-day."

"Why not, father? We want to, very much."

"I cannot tell you why, now; but I choose you should not. And, now, here is a luncheon for you in this basket. You may go and eat it where you please."

Rights Defined

SO the boys took the basket, and, after they had rubbed out the tally, they went and sat down by their sand-garden, and began to eat the bread and cheese very happily together.

After they had finished their luncheon, they went and got a watering-pot, and began to water their sand-garden, and, while doing it, began to talk about what they should buy with their money. They talked of several things that they should like, and, at last, Rollo said he meant to buy a bow and arrow with his.

"A bow and arrow?" said James. "I do not believe your father will let you."

"Yes, he will let me," said Rollo. "Besides, it is our  money, and we can do what we have a mind to with it."

"I don't believe that," said James.

"Why, yes, we can," said Rollo.

"I don't believe we can," said James.

"Well, I mean to go and ask my father," said Rollo, "this minute."

So he laid down the watering-pot, and ran in, and James after him. When they got into the room where his father was, they came and stood by his side a minute, waiting for him to be ready to speak to them.

Presently, his father laid down his pen, and said,

"What, my boys!"

"Is not this money our own?" said Rollo.


"And can we not buy what we have a mind to with it?"

"That depends upon what you have a mind to buy."

"But, father, I should think that, if it was our own, we might do any thing  with it we please."

"No," said his father, "that does not follow, at all."

"Why, father," said Rollo, looking disappointed, "I thought every body could do what they pleased with their own things."

"Whose hat is that you have on? Is it James's?"

"No, sir, it is mine."

"Are you sure it is your own?"

"Why, yes, sir," said Rollo, taking off his hat and looking at it, and wondering what his father could mean.

"Well, do you suppose you have a right to go and sell it?"

"No, sir," said Rollo.

"Or go and burn it up?"

"No, sir."

"Or give it away?"

"No, sir."

"Then it seems that people cannot always do what they please with their own things."

"Why, father, it seems to me, that is a very different thing."

"I dare say it seems so to you; but it is not—it is just the same thing. No person can do any thing they please  with their property. There are limits and restrictions in all cases. And in all cases where children have property, whether it is money, hats, toys, or any thing, they are always limited and restricted to such a use of them as their parents approve. So, when I give you money, it becomes yours just as your clothes, or your wheelbarrow, or your books, are yours. They are all yours to use and to enjoy; but in the way of using them and enjoying them, you must be under my direction. Do you understand that?"

"Why, yes, sir," said Rollo.

"And does it not appear reasonable?"

"Yes, sir, I don't know but it is reasonable. But men  can do anything they please with their money, can they not?"

"No," said his father; "they are under various restrictions made by the laws of the land. But I cannot talk any more about it now. When you have finished your work, I will talk with you about expending your money."

The boys went on with their work the next day, and built the causey up high enough with stones. They then levelled them off, and began to wheel on the gravel. Jonas made each of them a little shovel out of a shingle; and, as the gravel was lying loose under a high bank, they could shovel it up easily, and fill their wheelbarrows. The third day they covered the stones entirely with gravel, and smoothed it all over with a rake and hoe, and, after it had become well trodden, it made a beautiful, hard causey; so that now there was a firm and dry road all the way from the house to the watering-place at the brook.


ON counting up the loads which it had taken to do this work, Rollo's father found that he owed Rollo twenty-three cents, and James twenty-one. The reason why Rollo had earned the most was because, at one time, James said he was tired, and must rest, and, while he was resting, Rollo went on wheeling.

James seemed rather sorry that he had not got as many cents as Rollo.

"I wish I had not stopped to rest," said he.

"I wish so too," said Rollo; "but I will give you two of my cents, and then I shall have only twenty-one, like you."

"Shall we be alike then?"

"Yes," said Rollo; "for, you see, two cents taken away from twenty-three, leaves twenty-one, which is just as many as you have."

"Yes, but then I shall have more. If you give me two, I  shall have twenty-three."

"So you will," said Rollo; "I did not think of that."

The boys paused at this unexpected difficulty; at last, Rollo said he might give his two cents back to his father, and then they should have both alike.

Just then the boys heard some one calling,


Rollo looked up, and saw his mother at the chamber window. She was sitting there at work, and had heard their conversation.

"What, mother?" said Rollo.

"You might give him one  of yours, and then you will both have twenty-two."

They thought that this would be a fine plan, and wondered why they had not thought of it before. A few days afterwards, they decided to buy two little shovels with their money, one for each, so that they might shovel sand and gravel easier than with the wooden shovels that Jonas made.

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