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

Rollo's Garden

Farmer Cropwell

ONE warm morning, early in the spring, just after the snow was melted off from the ground, Rollo and his father went to take a walk. The ground by the side of the road was dry and settled, and they walked along very pleasantly; and at length they came to a fine-looking farm. The house was not very large, but there were great sheds and barns, and spacious yards, and high wood-piles, and flocks of geese, and hens and turkeys, and cattle and sheep, sunning themselves around the barns.

Rollo and his father walked into the yard, and went up to the end door, a large pig running away with a grunt when they came up. The door was open, and Rollo's father knocked at it with the head of his cane. A pleasant-looking young woman came to the door.

"Is Farmer Cropwell at home?" said Rollo's father.

"Yes, sir," said she, "he is out in the long barn, I believe."

"Shall I go there and look for him?" said he.

"If you please, sir."

So Rollo's father walked along to the barn.

It was a long barn indeed. Rollo thought he had never seen so large a building. On each side was a long range of stalls for cattle, facing towards the middle, and great scaffolds overhead, partly filled with hay and with bundles of straw. They walked down the barn floor, and in one place Rollo passed a large bull chained by the nose in one of the stalls. The bull uttered a sort of low growl or roar, as Rollo and his father passed, which made him a little afraid; but his attention was soon attracted to some hens, a little farther along, which were standing on the edge of the scaffolding over his head, and cackling with noise enough to fill the whole barn.


Farmer Cropwell's

When they got to the other end of the barn, they found a door leading out into a shed; and there was Farmer Cropwell, with one of his men and a pretty large boy, getting out some ploughs.

"Good morning, Mr. Cropwell," said Rollo's father; "what! are you going to ploughing?"

"Why, it is about time to overhaul the ploughs, and see that they are in order. I think we shall have an early season."

"Yes, I find my garden is getting settled, and I came to talk with you a little about some garden seeds."

The truth was, that Rollo's father was accustomed to come every spring, and purchase his garden seeds at this farm; and so, after a few minutes, they went into the house, taking Rollo with them, to get the seeds that were wanted, out of the seed-room.

What they called the seed-room was a large closet in the house, with shelves all around it; and Rollo waited there a little while, until the seeds were selected, put up in papers, and given to his father.

When this was all done, and they were just coming out, the farmer said, "Well, my little boy, you have been very still and patient. Should not you like some seeds too? Have you got any garden?"

"No, sir," said Rollo; "but perhaps my father will give me some ground for one."

"Well, I will give you a few seeds, at any rate." So he opened a little drawer, and took out some seeds, and put them in a piece of paper, and wrote something on the outside. Then he did so again and again, until he had four little papers, which he handed to Rollo, and told him to plant them in his garden.

Rollo thanked him, and took his seeds, and they returned home.

Work and Play

ON the way, Rollo thought it would be an excellent plan for him to have a garden, and he told his father so.

"I think it would be an excellent plan myself," said his father. "But do you intend to make work or play of it?"

"Why, I must make work of it, must not I, if I have a real garden?"

"No," said his father; "you may make play of it if you choose."

"How?" said Rollo.

"Why, you can take a hoe, and hoe about in the ground as long as it amuses you to hoe; and then you can plant your seeds, and water and weed them just as long as you find any amusement in it. Then, if you have any thing else to play with, you can neglect your garden a long time, and let the weeds grow, and not come and pull them up until you get tired of other play, and happen to feel like working in your garden."

"I should not think that that would be a very good plan," said Rollo.

"Why, yes," replied his father; "I do not know but that it is a good plan enough,—that is, for play. It is right for you to play sometimes; and I do not know why you might not play with a piece of ground, and seeds, as well as with any thing else."

"Well, father, how should I manage my garden if I was going to make work  of it?"

"O, then you would not do it for amusement, but for the useful results. You would consider what you could raise to best advantage, and then lay out your garden; not as you might happen to fancy  doing it, but so as to get the most produce from it. When you come to dig it over, you would not consider how long you could find amusement in digging, but how much digging is necessary to make the ground productive; and so in all your operations."

"Well, father, which do you think would be the best plan for me?"

"Why, I hardly know. By making play of it, you will have the greatest pleasure as you go along. But, in the other plan, you will have some good crops of vegetables, fruits, and flowers."

"And shouldn't I have any crops if I made play of my garden?"

"Yes; I think you might, perhaps, have some flowers, and, perhaps, some beans and peas."

Rollo hesitated for some time which plan he should adopt. He had worked enough to know that it was often very tiresome to keep on with his work when he wanted to go and play; but then he knew that after it was over, there was great satisfaction in thinking of useful employment, and in seeing what had been done.

That afternoon he went out into the garden to consider what he should do, and he found his father there, staking out some ground.

"Father," said he, "whereabouts should you give me the ground for my garden?"

"Why, that depends," said his father, "on the plan you determine upon. If you are going to make play of it, I must give you ground in a back corner, where the irregularity, and the weeds, will be out of sight. But if you conclude to have a real garden, and to work industriously a little while every day upon it, I should give it to you there, just beyond the pear-tree."

Rollo looked at the two places, but he could not make up his mind. That evening he asked Jonas about it, and Jonas advised him to ask his father to let him have both. "Then," said he, "you can work on your real garden as long as there is any necessary work to be done, and then you could go and play about the other with James or Lucy, when they are here."

Rollo went off immediately, and asked his father. His father said there would be some difficulties about that; but he would think of it, and see if there was any way to avoid them.

The next morning, when he came in to breakfast, he had a paper in his hand, and he told Rollo he had concluded to let him have the two gardens, on certain conditions, which he had written down. He opened the paper, and read as follows:—

* * * * * *

"Conditions on which I let Rollo have two pieces of land to cultivate; the one to be called his working-garden, and the other his playing-garden.

"1. In cultivating his working-garden, he is to take Jonas's advice, and to follow it faithfully in every respect.

"2. He is not to go and work upon his playing-garden, at any time, when there is any work that ought to be done on his working-garden.

"3. If he lets his working-garden get out of order, and I give him notice of it; then, if it is not put perfectly in order again within three days after receiving the notice, he is to forfeit the garden, and all that is growing upon it.

"4. Whatever he raises, he may sell to me, at fair prices, at the end of the season."


ROLLO accepted the conditions, and asked his father to stake out the two pieces of ground for him, as soon as he could; and his father did so that day. The piece for the working-garden was much the largest. There was a row of currant-bushes near it, and his father said he might consider all those opposite his piece of ground as included in it, and belonging to him.

So Rollo asked Jonas what he had better do first, and Jonas told him that the first thing was to dig his ground all over, pretty deep; and, as it was difficult to begin it, Jonas said he would begin it for him. So Jonas began, and dug along one side, and instructed Rollo how to throw up the spadefuls of earth out of the way, so that the next spadeful would come up easier.

Jonas, in this way, made a kind of a trench all along the side of Rollo's ground; and he told Rollo to be careful to throw every spadeful well forward, so as to keep the trench open and free, and then it would be easy for him to dig.

Jonas then left him, and told him that there was work enough for him for three or four days, to dig up his ground well.

Rollo went to work, very patiently, for the first day, and persevered an hour in digging up his ground. Then he left his work for that day; and the next morning, when the regular hour which he had allotted to work arrived, he found he had not much inclination to return to it. He accordingly asked his father whether it would not be a good plan to plant what he had already dug, before he dug any more.

"What is Jonas's advice?" said his father.

"Why, he told me I had better dig it all up first; but I thought that, if I planted part first, those things would be growing while I am digging up the rest of the ground."

"But you must do, you know, as Jonas advises; that is the condition. Next year, perhaps, you will be old enough to act according to your own judgment; but this year you must follow guidance."

Rollo recollected the condition, and he had nothing to say against it; but he looked dissatisfied.

"Don't you think that is reasonable, Rollo?" said his father.

"Why; I don't know," said Rollo.

"This very case shows that it is reasonable. Here you want to plant a part before you have got the ground prepared. The real reason is because you are tired of digging; not because you are really of opinion that that would be a better plan. You have not the means of judging whether it is, or is not, now, time to begin to put in seeds."

Rollo could not help seeing that that was his real motive; and he promised his father that he would go on, though it was tiresome. It was not the hard labor of the digging that fatigued him, for, by following Jonas's directions, he found it easy work; but it was the sameness of it. He longed for something new.

He persevered, however, and it was a valuable lesson to him; for when he had got it all done, he was so satisfied with thinking that it was fairly completed, and in thinking that now it was all ready together, and that he could form a plan for the whole at once, that he determined that forever after, when he had any unpleasant piece of work to do, he would go on patiently through it, even if it was tiresome.

With Jonas's help, Rollo planned his garden beautifully. He put double rows of peas and beans all around, so that when they should grow up, they would enclose his garden like a fence or hedge, and make it look snug and pleasant within. Then, he had a row of corn, for he thought he should like some green corn himself to roast. Then, he had one bed of beets and some hills of muskmelons, and in one corner he planted some flower seeds, so that he could have some flowers to put into his mother's glasses, for the mantel-piece.

Rollo took great interest in laying out and planting his ground, and in watching the garden when the seeds first came up; for all this was easy and pleasant work. In the intervals, he used to play on his pleasure-ground, planting and digging, and setting out, just as he pleased.

Sometimes he, and James, and Lucy, would go out in the woods with his little wheelbarrow, and dig up roots of flowers and little trees there, and bring them in, and set them out here and there. But he did not proceed regularly with this ground. He did not dig it all up first, and then form a regular plan for the whole; and the consequence was, that it soon became very irregular. He would want to make a path one day where he had set out a little tree, perhaps, a few days before; and it often happened that, when he was making a little trench to sow one kind of seeds, out came a whole parcel of others that he had put in before, and forgotten.

Then, when the seeds came up in his playing-garden, they came up here and there, irregularly; but, in his working-garden, all looked orderly and beautiful.

One evening, just before sundown, Rollo brought out his father and mother to look at his two gardens. The difference between them was very great; and Rollo, as he ran along before his father, said that he thought the working plan of making a garden was a great deal better than the playing plan.

"That depends upon what your object is."

"How so?" said Rollo.

"Why, which do you think you have had the most amusement from, thus far?"

"Why, I have had most amusement, I suppose, in the little garden in the corner."

"Yes," said his father, "undoubtedly. But the other appears altogether the best now, and will produce altogether more in the end. So, if your object is useful results, you must manage systematically, regularly, and patiently; but if you only want amusement as you go along, you had better do every day just as you happen to feel inclined."

"Well, father, which do you think is best for a boy?"

"For quite small boys, a garden for play is best. They have not patience or industry enough for any other."

"Do you think I have patience or industry enough?"

"You have done very well, so far; but the trying time is to come."

"Why, father?"

"Because the novelty of the beginning is over, and now you will have a good deal of hoeing and weeding to do for a month to come. I am not sure but that you will forfeit your land yet."

"But you are to give me three days' notice, you know."

"That is true; but we shall see."

The Trying Time

THE trying time did come, true enough; for, in June and July, Rollo found it hard to take proper care of his garden. If he had worked resolutely an hour, once or twice a week, it would have been enough; but he became interested in other plays, and, when Jonas reminded him that the weeds were growing, he would go in and hoe a few minutes, and then go away to play.

At last, one day his father gave him notice that his garden was getting out of order, and, unless it was entirely restored in three days, it must be forfeited.

Rollo was not much alarmed, for he thought he should have ample time to do it before the three days should have expired.

It was just at night that Rollo received his notice. He worked a little the next morning; but his heart was not in it much, and he left it before he had made much progress. The weeds were well rooted and strong, and he found it much harder to get them up than he expected. The next day, he did a little more, and, near the latter part of the afternoon, Jonas saw him running about after butterflies in the yard, and asked him if he had got his work all done.

"No," said he; "but I think I have got more than half done, and I can finish it very early to-morrow."

"To-morrow!" said Jonas. "to-morrow is Sunday, and you cannot work then."

"Is it?" said Rollo, with much surprise and alarm; "I didn't know that. What shall I do? Do you suppose my father will count Sunday?"

"Yes," said Jonas, "I presume he will. He said, three days,  without mentioning any thing about Sunday."

Rollo ran for his hoe. He had become much attached to his ground, and was very unwilling to lose it; but he knew that his father would rigorously insist on his forfeiting it, if he failed to keep the conditions. So he went to work as hard as he could.

It was then almost sundown. He hoed away, and pulled up the weeds, as industriously as possible, until the sun went down. He then kept on until it was so dark that he could not see any longer, and then, finding that there was considerable more to be done, and that he could not work any longer, he sat down on the side of his little wheelbarrow, and burst into tears.

He knew, however, that it would do no good to cry, and so, after a time, he dried his eyes, and went in. He could not help hoping that his father would not count the Sunday; and "If I can only have Monday," said he to himself, "it will all be well."

He went in to ask his father, but found that he had gone away, and would not come home until quite late. He begged his mother to let him sit up until he came home, so that he could ask him, and, as she saw that he was so anxious and unhappy about it, she consented. Rollo sat at the window watching, and, as soon as he heard his father drive up to the door, he went out, and, while he was getting out of the chaise, he said to him, in a trembling, faltering voice,

"Father, do you count Sunday as one of my three days?"

"No, my son."

Rollo clapped his hands, and said, "O, how glad!" and ran back. He told his mother that he was very much obliged to her for letting him sit up, and now he was ready to go to bed.

He went to his room, undressed himself, and, in a few minutes, his father came in to get his light.

"Father," said Rollo, "I am very much obliged to you for not counting Sunday."

"It is not out of any indulgence to you, Rollo; I have no right to count Sunday."

"No right, father? Why, you said three days."

"Yes; but in such agreements as that, three working days are always meant; so that, strictly, according to the agreement, I do not think I have any right to count Sunday. If I had, I should have felt obliged to count it."

"Why, father?"

"Because I want you, when you grow up to be a man, to be bound  by your agreements. Men will hold you to your agreements when you are a man, and I want you to be accustomed to it while you are a boy. I should rather give up twice as much land as your garden, than take yours away from you now; but I must do it if you do not get it in good order before the time is out."

"But, father, I shall, for I shall have time enough on Monday."

"True; but some accident may prevent it. Suppose you should be sick."

"If I was sick, should you count it?"

"Certainly. You ought not to let your garden get out of order; and, if you do it, you run the risk of all accidents that may prevent your working during the three days."

Rollo bade his father good night, and he went to sleep, thinking what a narrow escape he had had. He felt sure that he should save it now, for he did not think there was the least danger of his being sick on Monday.

A Narrow Escape

MONDAY morning came, and, when he awoke, his first movement was, to jump out of bed, exclaiming,

"Well, I am not sick this morning, am I?"

He had scarcely spoken the words, however, before his ear caught the sound of rain, and, looking out of the window, he saw, to his utter consternation, that it was pouring steadily down, and, from the wind and the gray uniformity of the clouds, there was every appearance of a settled storm.

"What shall I do?" said Rollo. "What shall I do? Why did I not finish it on Saturday?"

He dressed himself, went down stairs, and looked out at the clouds. There was no prospect of any thing but rain. He ate his breakfast, and then went out, and looked again. Rain, still. He studied and recited his morning lessons, and then again looked out. Rain, rain. He could not help hoping it would clear up before night; but, as it continued so steadily, he began to be seriously afraid that, after all, he should lose his garden.

He spent the day very anxiously and unhappily. He knew, from what his father had said, that he could not hope to have another day allowed, and that all would depend on his being able to do the work before night.

At last, about the middle of the afternoon, Rollo came into the room where his father and mother were sitting, and told his father that it did not rain a great deal then, and asked him if he might not go out and finish his weeding; he did not care, he said, if he did get wet.

"But your getting wet will not injure you alone—it will spoil your clothes."

"Besides, you will take cold," said his mother.

"Perhaps he would not take cold, if he were to put on dry clothes as soon as he leaves working," said his father; "but wetting his clothes would put you to a good deal of trouble. No; I'd rather you would not go, on the whole, Rollo."

Rollo turned away with tears in his eyes, and went out into the kitchen. He sat down on a bench in the shed where Jonas was working, and looked out towards the garden. Jonas pitied him, and would gladly have gone and done the work for him; but he knew that his father would not allow that. At last, a sudden thought struck him.

"Rollo," said he, "you might perhaps find some old clothes in the garret, which it would not hurt to get wet."

Rollo jumped up, and said, "Let us go and see."

They went up garret, and found, hanging up, quite a quantity of old clothes. Some belonged to Jonas, some to himself, and they selected the worst ones they could find, and carried them down into the shed.

Then Rollo went and called his mother to come out, and he asked her if she thought it would hurt those old clothes to get wet. She laughed, and said no; and said she would go and ask his father to let him go out with them.

In a few minutes, she came back, and said that his father consented, but that he must go himself, and put on the old clothes, without troubling his mother, and then, when he came back, he must rub himself dry with a towel, and put on his common dress, and put the wet ones somewhere in the shed to dry; and when they were dry, put them all back carefully in their places.


Rollo ran up to his room, and rigged himself out, as well as he could, putting one of Jonas's great coats over him, and wearing an old broad-brimmed straw hat on his head. Thus equipped, he took his hoe, and sallied forth in the rain.

At first he thought it was good fun; but, in about half an hour, he began to be tired, and to feel very uncomfortable. The rain spattered in his face, and leaked down the back of his neck; and then the ground was wet and slippery; and once or twice he almost gave up in despair.

He persevered, however, and before dark he got it done. He raked off all the weeds, and smoothed the ground over carefully, for he knew his father would come out to examine it as soon as the storm was over. Then he went in, rubbed himself dry, changed his clothes, and went and took his seat by the kitchen fire.

His father came out a few minutes after, and said, "Well, Rollo, have you got through?"

"Yes, sir," said Rollo.

"Well, I am very  glad of it. I was afraid you would have lost your garden. As it is, perhaps it will do you good."

"How?" said Rollo. "What good?"

"It will teach you, I hope, that it is dangerous to neglect or postpone doing one's duty. We cannot always depend on repairing the mischief. When the proper opportunity is once lost, it may never return."

Rollo said nothing, but he thought he should remember the lesson as long as he lived.

He remembered it for the rest of that summer, at any rate, and did not run any more risks. He kept his ground very neat, and his father did not have to give him notice again. His corn grew finely, and he had many a good roasting ear from it; and his flowers helped ornament the parlor mantel-piece all the summer; and the green peas, and the beans, and the muskmelons, and the other vegetables, which his father took and paid for, amounted to more than two dollars.


"WELL, Rollo," said his father, one evening, as he was sitting on his cricket before a bright, glowing fire, late in the autumn, after all his fruits were gathered in, "you have really done some work this summer, haven't you?"

"Yes, sir," said Rollo; and he began to reckon up the amount of peas, and beans, and corn, and other things, that he had raised.

"Yes," said his father, "you have had a pretty good garden; but the best of it is your own improvement. You are really beginning to get over some of the faults of boy work."

"What are the faults of boy work?" said Rollo.

"One of the first is, confounding work with play,—or rather expecting the pleasure of play, while they are doing work. There is great pleasure in doing work, as I have told you before, when it is well and properly done, but it is very different from the pleasure of play. It comes later; generally after the work is done. While you are doing your work, it requires exertion  and self-denial,  and sometimes the sameness is tiresome.

"It is so with men  when they work, but they expect it will be so, and persevere notwithstanding; but boys,  who have not learned this, expect their work will be play; and, when they find it is not so, they get tired, and want to leave it or to find some new way.

"You showed your wish to make play of your work, that day when you were getting in your chips, by insisting on having just such a basket as you happened to fancy; and then, when you got a little tired of that, going for the wheelbarrow; and then leaving the chips altogether, and going to piling the wood."

"Well, father," said Rollo, "do not men try to make their work as pleasant as they can?"

"Yes, but they do not continually change from one thing to another in hopes to make it amusing. They always expect that it will be laborious and tiresome, and they understand this beforehand, and go steadily forward notwithstanding. You are beginning to learn to do this.

"Another fault, which you boys are very apt to fall into, is impatience. This comes from the first fault; for you expect, when you go to work, the kind of pleasure you have in play, and when you find you do not obtain it, or meet with any difficulties, you grow impatient, and get tired of what you are doing.

"From this follows the third fault—changeableness,  or want of perseverance. Instead of steadily going forward in the way they commence, boys are very apt to abandon one thing after another, and to try this new way, and that new way, so as to accomplish very little in any thing."

"Do you think I have overcome all these?" said Rollo.

"In part," said his father; "you begin to understand something about them, and to be on your guard against them. But you have only made a beginning."

"Only a beginning?" said Rollo; "why, I thought I had learned to work pretty well."

"So you have, for a little boy; but it is only a beginning, after all. I don't think you would succeed in persevering steadily, so as to accomplish any serious undertaking now."

"Why, father, I  think I should."

"Suppose I should give you the Latin grammar to learn in three months, and tell you that, at the end of that time, I would hear you recite it all at once. Do you suppose you should be ready?"

"Why, father, that is not work."

"Yes," said his father, "that is one kind of work,—and just such a kind of work, so far as patience, steadiness, and perseverance, are needed, as you will have most to do, in future years. But if I were to give it to you to do, and then say nothing to you about it till you had time to have learned the whole, I have some doubts whether you would recite a tenth part of it."

Rollo was silent; he knew it would be just so.

"No, my little son," said his father, putting him down and patting his head, "you have got a great deal to learn before you become a man; but then you have got some years to learn it in; that is a comfort. But now it is time for you to go to bed; so good night."

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