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

The Two Little Wheelbarrows


ROLLO often used to ride out with his father and mother. When he was quite a small boy, he did not know how to manage so as to get frequent rides. He used to keep talking, himself, a great deal, and interrupting his father and mother, when they wanted to talk; and if he was tired, he would complain, and ask them, again and again, when they should get home. Then he was often thirsty, and would tease his father and mother for water, in places where there was no water to be got, and then fret because he was obliged to wait a little while. In consequence of this, his father and mother did not take him very often. When they wanted a quiet, still, pleasant ride, they had to leave Rollo behind. A great many children act just as Rollo did, and thus deprive themselves of a great many very pleasant rides.

Rollo observed, however, that his uncle almost always took Lucy with him when he went to ride. And one day, when he was playing in the yard where Jonas was at work setting out trees, he saw his uncle riding by, with another person in the chaise, and Lucy sitting between them on a little low seat. Lucy smiled and nodded as she went by; and when she had gone, Rollo said,

"There goes Lucy, taking a ride. Uncle almost always takes her, when he goes any where. I wonder why father does not take me as often."

"I know why," said Jonas.

"What is the reason?" said Rollo.

"Because you are troublesome, and Lucy is not. If I was a boy like you, I should manage so as almost always to ride with my father."

"Why, what should you do?" said Rollo.

"Why, in the first place, I should never find fault with my seat. I should sit exactly where they put me, without any complaint. Then I should not talk much, and I should never  interrupt them when they were talking. If I saw any thing on the road that I wanted to ask about, I should wait until I had a good opportunity to do it without disturbing their conversation; and then, if I wanted any thing to eat or drink, I should not ask for it, unless I was in a place where they could easily get it for me. Thus I should not be any trouble to them, and so they would let me go almost always."

Rollo was silent. He began to recollect how much trouble he had given his parents, when riding with them, without thinking of it at the time. He did not say any thing to Jonas about it, but he secretly resolved to try Jonas's experiment the very next time he went to ride.

He did so, and in a very short time his father and mother both perceived that there was, some how or other, a great change in his manners. He had ceased to be troublesome, and had become quite a pleasant travelling companion. And the effect was exactly as Jonas had foretold. His father and mother liked very much to have such a still, pleasant little boy sitting between them; and at last they began almost to think they could not have a pleasant ride themselves, unless Rollo was with them.

They used to put a little cricket in, upon the bottom of the chaise, for Rollo to sit upon; but this was not very convenient, and so one day Rollo's father said that, now Rollo had become so pleasant a boy to ride with them, he would have a little seat made on purpose for him. "In fact," said he, "I will take the chaise down to the corporal's to-night, and see if he cannot do it for me."

"And may I go with you?" said Rollo.

"Yes," said his father, "you may."

Rollo was always very much pleased when his father let him go to the corporal's.

The Corporal's

BUT perhaps the reader will like to know who this corporal was that Rollo was so desirous of going to see. He was an old soldier, who had become disabled in the wars, so that he could not go out to do very hard work, but was very ingenious in making and mending things, and he had a little shop down by the mill, where he used to work.

Rollo often went there with Jonas, to carry a chair to be mended, or to get a lock or latch put in order; and sometimes to buy a basket, or a rake, or some simple thing that the corporal knew how to make. A corporal, you must know, is a kind of an officer in a company. This man had been such an officer; and so they always called him the corporal. I never knew what his other name was.

That evening Rollo and his father set off in the chaise to go to the corporal's. It was not very far. They rode along by some very pleasant farm-houses, and came at length to the house where Georgie lived. They then went down the hill; but, just before they came to the bridge, they turned off among the trees, into a secluded road, which led along the bank of the stream. After going on a short distance, they came out into a kind of opening among the trees, where a mill came into view, by the side of the stream; and opposite to it, across the road, under the trees, was the corporal's little shop.

The trees hung over the shop, and behind it there was a high rocky hill almost covered with forest trees. Between the shop and the mill they could see the road winding along a little way still farther up the stream, until it was lost in the woods.


As soon as Rollo came in sight of the shop, he saw a little wheelbarrow standing up by the side of the door. It was just large enough for him, and he called out for his father to look at it.

"It is a very pretty little wheelbarrow," said his father.

"I wish you would buy it for me. How much do you suppose the corporal asks for it?"

"We will talk with him about it," said his father.

So saying, they drove up to the side of the road near the mill, and fastened the horse at a post. Then Rollo clambered down out of the chaise, and he and his father walked into the shop.

They found the corporal busily at work mending a chair-bottom. Rollo stood by, much pleased to see him weave in the flags, while his father explained to the corporal that he wanted a small seat made in front, in his chaise.

"I do not know whether you can do it, or not," said he.

"What sort of a seat do you want?"

"I thought," said he, "that you might make a little seat, with two legs to it in front, and then fasten the back side of it to the front of the chaise-box."

"Yes," said the corporal, "that will do, I think; but I must have a little blacksmith work to fasten the seat properly behind, so that you can slip it out when you are not using it. Let us go and see."

So the corporal rose to go out and see the chaise, and as they passed by the wheelbarrow at the door, as they went out, Rollo asked him what was the price of that little wheelbarrow.

"That is not for sale, my little man. That is engaged. But I can make you one, if your father likes. I ask three quarters of a dollar for them."

Rollo looked at it very wishfully, and the corporal told him that he might try it if he chose. "Wheel it about," said he, "while your father and I are looking at the chaise."

So Rollo trundled the wheelbarrow up and down the road with great pleasure. It was light, and it moved easily. He wished he had such a one. It would not tip over, he said, like that great heavy one at home; he thought he could wheel it even if it was full of stones. He ran down with it to the shore of the stream, where there were plenty of stones lying, intending to load it up, and try it. But when he got there, he recollected that he had not had liberty to put any thing in it; and so he determined at once that he would not.

Just then his father called him. So he wheeled the wheelbarrow back to its place, and told the corporal that he liked it very much. He wanted his father to engage one for him then, but he did not ask him. He thought that, as he had already expressed a wish for one, it would be better not to say any thing about it again, but to wait and let his father do as he pleased.

As they were going home, his father said,

"That was a very pretty wheelbarrow, Rollo, I think myself."

"Yes, it was beautiful, father. It was so light, and went so easy! I wish you would buy me one, father."

"I would, my son, but I think a wheelbarrow will give you more pleasure at some future time, than it will now."

"When do you mean?"

"When you have learned to work."

"But I want the wheelbarrow to play  with."

"I know you do; but you would take a great deal more solid and permanent satisfaction in such a thing, if you were to use it for doing some useful work."

"When shall I learn to work, father?" said Rollo.

"I have been thinking that it is full time now. You are about six years old, and they say that a boy of seven  years old is able to earn his living."

"Well, father, I wish you would teach me to work. What should you do first?"

"The first lesson would be to teach you to do some common, easy work, steadily."

"Why, father, I can do that now, without being taught."

"I think you are mistaken about that. A boy works steadily when he goes directly forward in his work, without stopping to rest, or to contrive new ways of doing it, or to see other people, or to talk. Now, do you think you could work steadily an hour, without stopping for any of these reasons?"

"Why—yes," said Rollo.

"I will try you to-morrow," said his father.

The Old Nails

THE next morning, after breakfast, Rollo's father told him he was ready for him to go to his work. He took a small basket in his hand, and led Rollo out into the barn, and told him to wait there a few minutes, and he would bring him something to do.

Rollo sat down on a little bundle of straw, wondering what his work was going to be.

Presently his father came back, bringing in his hands a box full of old nails, which he got out of an old store-room, in a corner of the barn. He brought it along, and set it down on the barn floor.

"Why, father," said Rollo, "what am I going to do with those old nails?"

"You are going to sort  them. Here are a great many kinds, all together. I want them all picked over—those that are alike put by themselves. I will tell you exactly how to do it."

Rollo put his hand into the box, and began to pick up some of the nails, and look them over, while his father was speaking; but his father told him to put them down, and not begin until he had got all his directions.

"You must listen," said he, "and understand the directions now, for I cannot tell you twice."

He then took a little wisp of straw, and brushed away a clean place upon the barn floor, and then poured down the nails upon it.

"O, how many nails!" said Rollo.

His father then took up a handful of them, and showed Rollo that there were several different sizes; and he placed them down upon the floor in little heaps, each size by itself. Those that were crooked also he laid away in a separate pile.

"Now, Rollo," said he, "I want you to go to work sorting these nails, steadily and industriously, until they are all done. There are not more than three or four kinds of nails, and you can do them pretty fast if you work steadily,  and do not get to playing with them. If you find any pieces of iron, or any thing else that you do not know what to do with, lay them aside, and go on with the nails. Do you understand it all?"

Rollo said he did, and so his father left him, and went into the house. Rollo sat down upon the clean barn floor, and began his task.

"I don't think this is any great thing," said he; "I can do this easily enough;" and he took up some of the nails, and began to arrange them as his father had directed.

But Rollo did not perceive what the real difficulty in his task was. It was, indeed, very easy to see what nails were large, and what were small, and what were of middle size, and to put them in their proper heaps. There was nothing very hard in that. The difficulty was, that, after having sorted a few, it would become tedious and tiresome work, doing it there all alone in the barn,—picking out old nails, with nobody to help him, and nobody to talk to, and nothing to see, but those little heaps of rusty iron on the floor.

This, I say, was the real trouble; and Rollo's father knew, when he set his little boy about it, that he would soon get very tired of it, and, not being accustomed to any thing but play, would not persevere.

And so it was. Rollo sorted out a few, and then he began to think that it was rather tiresome to be there all alone; and he thought it would be a good plan for him to go and ask his father to let him go and get his cousin James to come and help him.

He accordingly laid down the nails he had in his hand, and went into the house, and found his father writing at a table.

"What is the matter now?" said his father.

"Why, father," said Rollo, "I thought I should like to have James come and help me, if you are willing;—we can get them done so much quicker if there are two."

"But my great object is, not to get the nails sorted very quick, but to teach you patient industry. I know it is tiresome for you to be alone, but that is the very reason why I wish you to be alone. I want you to learn to persevere patiently in doing any thing, even if it is tiresome. What I want to teach you is, to work,  not to play."

Rollo felt disappointed, but he saw that his father was right, and he went slowly back to his task. He sorted out two or three handfuls more, but he found there was no pleasure in it, and he began to be very sorry his father had set him at it.

Having no heart for his work, he did not go on with alacrity, and of course made very slow progress. He ought to have gone rapidly forward, and not thought any thing about the pleasantness or unpleasantness of it, but only been anxious to finish the work, and please his father. Instead of that, he only lounged over it—looked at the heap of nails, and sighed to think how large it was. He could not sort all those, possibly, he said. He knew he could not. It would take him forever.

Still he could not think of any excuse for leaving his work again, until, after a little while, he came upon a couple of screws. "And now what shall I do with these?" said he.

He took the screws, and laid them side by side, to measure them, so as to see which was the largest. Then he rolled them about a little, and after playing with them for a little time, during which, of course, his work was entirely neglected, he concluded he would go and ask his father what he was to do with screws.

He accordingly walked slowly along to the house, stopping to look at the grasshoppers and butterflies by the way. After wasting some time in this manner, he appeared again at his father's table, and wanted to know what he should do with the screws  that he found among the nails.

"You ought not to have left your work to come and ask that question," said his father. "I am afraid you are not doing very well. I gave you all the necessary instructions. Go back to your work."

"But, father," said Rollo, "as he went out, I do not know what I am to do with the screws. You did not say any thing about screws."

"Then why do you leave your work to ask me any thing about them?"

"Why,—because,—" said Rollo, hesitating. He did not know what to say.

"Your work is to sort out the nails,  and I expect, by your coming to me for such frivolous reasons, that you are not going on with it very well."

Rollo went slowly out of the room, and sauntered along back to his work. He put the screws aside, and went on with the nails, but he did very little. When the heart is not in the work, it always goes on very slowly.

Thus an hour or two of the forenoon passed away, and Rollo made very little progress. At last his father came out to see what he had done; and it was very plain that he had been idling away his time, and had accomplished very little indeed.

His father then said that he might leave his work and come in. Rollo walked along by the side of his father, and he said to him—

"I see, Rollo, that I shall not succeed in teaching you to work industriously, without something more than kind words."

Rollo knew not what to say, and so he was silent. He felt guilty and ashamed.

"I gave you work to do which was very easy and plain, but you have been leaving it repeatedly for frivolous reasons; and even while you were over your work, you have not been industrious. Thus you have wasted your morning entirely; you have neither done work nor enjoyed play.

"I was afraid it would be so," he continued. "Very few boys can be taught to work industriously, without being compelled; though I hoped that my little Rollo could have been. But as it is, as I find that persuasion will not do, I must do something more decided. I should do very wrong to let you grow up an idle boy; and it is time for you to begin to learn to do something besides play."

He said this in a kind, but very serious tone, and it was plain he was much displeased. He told Rollo, a minute or two after, that he might go, then, where he pleased, and that he would consider what he should do, and tell him some other time.

A Conversation

THAT evening, when Rollo was just going to bed, his father took him up in his lap, and told him he had concluded what to do.

"You see it is very necessary," said he, "that you should have the power of confining yourself steadily and patiently to a single employment, even if it does not amuse you. I have to do that, and all people have to do it, and you must learn to do it, or you will grow up indolent and useless. You cannot do it now, it is very plain. If I set you to doing any thing, you go on as long as the novelty and the amusement last, and then your patience is gone, and you contrive every possible excuse for getting away from your task. Now, I am going to give you one hour's work to do, every forenoon and afternoon. I shall give you such things to do, as are perfectly plain and easy, so that you will have no excuse for neglecting your work or leaving it. But yet I shall choose such things as will afford you no amusement; for I want you to learn to work,  not play."

"But, father," said Rollo, "you told me there was pleasure in work, the other day. But how can there be any pleasure in it, if you choose such things as have no amusement in them, at all?"

"The pleasure of working," said his father, "is not the fun of doing amusing things, but the satisfaction and solid happiness of being faithful in duty, and accomplishing some useful purpose. For example, if I were to lose my pocket-book on the road, and should tell you to walk back a mile, and look carefully all the way until you found it, and if you did it faithfully and carefully, you would find a kind of satisfaction in doing it; and when you found the pocket-book, and brought it back to me, you would enjoy a high degree of happiness. Should not you?"

"Why, yes, sir, I should," said Rollo.

"And yet there would be no amusement  in it. You might, perhaps, the next day, go over the same road, catching butterflies: that would be amusement. Now, the pleasure you would enjoy in looking for the pocket-book, would be the solid satisfaction of useful work. The pleasure of catching butterflies would be the amusement of play. Now, the difficulty is, with you, that you have scarcely any idea, yet, of the first. You are all the time looking for the other, that is, the amusement. You begin to work when I give you any thing to do, but if you do not find amusement  in it, you soon give it up. But if you would only persevere, you would find, at length, a solid satisfaction, that would be worth a great deal more."

Rollo sat still, and listened, but his father saw, from his looks, that he was not much interested in what he was saying; and he perceived that it was not at all probable that so small a boy could be reasoned  into liking work. In fact, it was rather hard for Rollo to understand all that his father said,—and still harder for him to feel the force of it. He began to grow sleepy, and so his father let him go to bed.

Rollo Learns to Work at Last

THE next day his father gave him his work. He was to begin at ten o'clock, and work till eleven, gathering beans in the garden. His father went out with him, and waited to see how long it took him to gather half a pint, and then calculated how many he could gather in an hour, if he was industrious. Rollo knew that if he failed now, he should be punished in some way, although his father did not say any thing about punishment. When he was set at work the day before, about the nails, he was making an experiment, as it were, and he did not expect to be actually punished if he failed; but now he knew that he was under orders, and must obey.

So he worked very diligently, and when his father came out at the end of the hour, he found that Rollo had got rather more beans than he had expected. Rollo was much gratified to see his father pleased; and he carried in his large basket full of beans to show his mother, with great pleasure. Then he went to play, and enjoyed himself very highly.

The next morning, his father said to him,

"Well, Rollo, you did very well yesterday; but doing right once is a very different thing from forming a habit of doing right. I can hardly expect you will succeed as well to-day; or, if you should to-day, that you will to-morrow."

Rollo thought he should. His work was to pick up all the loose stones in the road, and carry them, in a basket, to a great heap of stones behind the barn. But he was not quite faithful. His father observed him playing several times. He did not speak to him, however, until the hour was over, and then he called him in.

"Rollo," said he, "you have failed to-day. You have not been very idle, but have not been industrious; and the punishment which I have concluded to try first, is, to give you only bread and water for dinner."

So, when dinner time came, and the family sat down to the good beefsteak and apple-pie which was upon the table, Rollo knew that he was not to come. He felt very unhappy, but he did not cry. His father called him, and cut off a good slice of bread, and put into his hands, and told him he might go and eat it on the steps of the back door. "If you should be thirsty," he added, "you may ask Mary to give you some water."

Rollo took the bread, and went out, and took his solitary seat on the stone step leading into the back yard, and, in spite of all his efforts to prevent it, the tears would come into his eyes. He thought of his guilt in disobeying his father, and he felt unhappy to think that his father and mother were seated together at their pleasant table, and that he could not come because he had been an undutiful son. He determined that he would never be unfaithful in his work again.

He went on, after this, several days, very well. His father gave him various kinds of work to do, and he began at last to find a considerable degree of satisfaction in doing it. He found, particularly, that he enjoyed himself a great deal more after his work than before, and whenever he saw what he had done, it gave him pleasure. After he had picked up the loose stones before the house, for instance, he drove his hoop about there, with unusual satisfaction; enjoying the neat and tidy appearance of the road much more than he would have done if Jonas had cleared it. In fact, in the course of a month, Rollo became quite a faithful and efficient little workman.

The Corporal's Again

"NOW," said his father to him one day, after he had been doing a fine job of wood-piling,—"now we will go and talk with the corporal about a wheelbarrow. Or do you think you could find the way yourself?"

Rollo said he thought he could.

"Very well, you may go; I believe I shall let you have a wheelbarrow now, and you can ask him how soon he can have it done."

Rollo clapped his hands, and capered about, and asked his father how long he thought it would be before he could have it.

"O, you will learn," said he, "when you come to talk with the corporal."

"Do you think it will be a week?"

"I think it probable that he could make one in less than a week," said his father, smiling.

"Well, how soon?" said Rollo.

"O, I cannot tell you: wait till you get to his shop, and then you will see."

Rollo saw that, for some reason or other, his father was not inclined to talk about the time when he should have his wheelbarrow, but he could not think why; however, he determined to get the corporal to make it as quick as he could, at any rate.

It was about the middle of the afternoon that Rollo set off to go for his wheelbarrow. His mother told him he might go and get his cousin James to go with him if he chose. So he walked along towards the bridge, and, instead of turning at once off there to go towards the mill, he went on over the bridge towards the house where James lived. James came with him, and they walked back very pleasantly together.

When they got back across the bridge again, they turned off towards the mill, talking about the wheelbarrow. Rollo told James about his learning to work, and about his having seen the wheelbarrow at the corporal's, and how he trundled it about, and liked it very much.

"I should like to see it very much," said James. "I suppose I can, when we get to the corporal's shop."

"No," said Rollo, "he said that that wheelbarrow was engaged; and I suppose it has been taken away before this time."

Just then the corner of the corporal's shop began to come into view, and presently the door came in sight, and James called out,

"Yes, yes, there it is. I see it standing up by the side of the door."

"No," said Rollo, "that is not it. That is a green one."

"What color was the wheelbarrow that you saw?" asked James.

"It was not any color; it was not painted," said Rollo. "I wonder whose that wheelbarrow can be?"

The boys walked along, and presently came to the door of the shop. They opened the door, and went in. There was nobody there.

Various articles were around the room. There was a bench at one side, near a window; and there were a great many tools upon it, and upon shelves over it. On another side of the shop was a lathe, a curious sort of a machine, that the corporal used a great deal, in some of his nicest work. Then there were a good many things there, which were sent in to be mended, such as chairs, a spinning-wheel, boys' sleds, and one or two large wheelbarrows.

The boys walked around the room a few minutes, looking at the various things; and at last Rollo spied another little wheelbarrow, on a shelf. It was very much like the one at the door, only it was painted green.

Rollo said that that one looked exactly like the one he trundled when he was there before, only it was green.

"Perhaps he has painted it since," said James; "let us go to the door, and look at the other one, and see which is the biggest."

So they went to the door, and found that the blue one was a little the biggest.

Just then they saw the corporal coming across the road, with a hatchet in his hand. He had been to grind it at the mill, where there was a grindstone, that went round by water.

"Ah, boys," said he, "how do you do? Have you come for your wheelbarrow, Rollo."

"Yes, sir," said Rollo; "how soon can you get it done?"

"Done? it is done now," said he; "there it is." And he took the blue wheelbarrow, which was at the door, and set it down in the path.

"That is not mine," said Rollo, "is it?"

"Yes," said the corporal; "your father spoke for it a week ago."

Rollo took hold of his wheelbarrow, and began to wheel it along. He liked it very much.


Rollo took hold of his wheelbarrow.

James said he wished he could have one too, and while Rollo was talking with the corporal, he could not help looking at the green one on the shelf, which he thought was just about as big as he should like.

The corporal asked him if he wanted to see that one, and he took it down for him. James took hold of the handles, and tried it a little, back and forth on the floor, and then he said it was just about big enough for him.

"Who is this for?" said he to the corporal.

"I do not know," said the corporal; "a gentleman bespoke it some time ago. I do not know what his name is."

Just then he seemed to see somebody out of the window.

"Ah! here he comes now!" he exclaimed suddenly.

Just then the door opened, and whom should the boys see coming in, but their uncle George!

"Why, James," said he, "have you got hold of your wheelbarrow already?"

"My  wheelbarrow!" said James. "Is this mine?"

"Yes," said his uncle, "I got it made to give to you. But when I found that Rollo was having one made, I waited for his to be done, so that you might have them both together. So trundle them home."

So the boys set off on the run down the road, in fine style, with their wheelbarrows trundling beautifully before them.

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