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IN THE PUMPKIN PATCH
JOE MILLER was a very busy boy. Too busy to notice that the sun was disappearing behind the hills; too busy to feel the chill evening breeze that swept through the cornfield, rustling the shocks and giving a hint of the passing of autumn and the coming of winter; so busy, in fact, that when little Pearl called to him from the edge of the pumpkin patch, and told him that supper was ready, he did not hear her, but kept right on at what he was doing.
He sat on the ground in the very middle of the pumpkin patch, carving a face on the empty shell of a big, golden pumpkin. In a half circle on the ground about him lay twenty other pumpkins, each with upturned grinning features, showing that Joe must have had a very busy day if he had carved and scooped them all out.
So thought Pearl, as she leaned over the stone wall and watched him cut a square piece from the other side of the pumpkin and scoop out the seeds with his chubby brown hand. Then he sealed the empty shell with the square piece and laid the finished product with the others.
But he was not through his labors as little Pearl supposed, for he rose and rummaged among the vines till he found another pumpkin And such a pumpkin it was. to be sure !
Resting in a bed of green, how much it was like the great sun now more than half hidden behind the green hills! It was as large as any four other pumpkins in the field; two children with hands clasped could not have surrounded it. A giant pumpkin! A monster pumpkin!
Although Joe tried with all his might to roll the big vegetable over, he could not budge it, and he grunted so (just like the hired man when anyone watched him at work), that Pearl laughed merrily, and the spell was broken.
The boy turned and saw her. He saw with surprise how dark it was, and he rubbed his eyes.
"Hello, Pearl," he said, "is that you?"
"Yes," replied the little girl, "and you must come right home. Supper's been ready a long while."
Joe laid his hand fondly on the big pumpkin.
" Can't I just fix this last one?" he asked. But the little girl shook her curls decidedly.
"No, you can't," she said. "You'll be late for the party."
"But I'm making Jack-lanterns for the party," the boy insisted, and he might have returned to the giant pumpkin had not Pearl clambered over the stone wall and put her hand on his sleeve. She was only seven and Joe Miller was a man of ten, but he nearly always did as she wished. So he laughed, took her hand, and helped her over the wall, and they trudged down the path toward the farmhouse.
"I suppose," he said, "if you say so I'll have to come, but after supper, before the party begins, I'll hurry out here and finish that big pumpkin."
"You wouldn't come out here all alone in the dark—and on Hallow E'en !"
Joe laughed bravely.
"Pshaw!" he replied, "Why not? I'm not afraid of the witches. If any come near me I'll just cross my fingers and stand near that big elm, and say,
"'Witches, witches, can't touch me. Cross my fingers and touch a tree!'
"Then I'd like to see one that dared do anything."
"Besides, the moon's full, and some of the other boys will be with me. Don't be scared, Pearly."
Of course, Pearl knew that Joe was very brave, but this was Hallow E'en. Besides, what could the pumpkins have to do with the party that was to be given in the barn?
Joe must have guessed what she was thinking about, for he said:
"We're going to have a lot of fun with those Jack-lanterns. We'll put candles in them, stick them on bean poles, and when it's good and dark we'll have a hobgoblin parade. But you mustn't tell anybody, and you mustn't be scared."
Pearl promised, and they walked on toward the farmhouse.
Pearl's father, who owned the farm, was called Farmer Pringle all through Vermont, for the fame of the wonderful things raised by him had made him well known. But he was not really a farmer. He was a city merchant who came each May day with his wife and little girl to the country and remained till November. But he took great pride in having his acres produce bigger potatoes, juicier melons and finer corn than those of his neighbors', and every year his cattle, fruits and vegetables took first prize at County Fair. As for the pumpkins raised on the Pringle farm, they were the best in the world, said everybody, and were sought by pie-makers and canned-preserves men from all over the country.
Some credit for this was due to Joe Miller, Farmer Pringle's nephew, for Joe, though only a boy, had taken care of the pumpkin patch all summer, and the pumpkins had never been so large or solid.
"I think Joe has some secret for making pumpkins grow," said Farmer Pringle one day. " I never saw anything like it."
Whether this was so or not, he had given Joe permission to use all the pumpkins he wanted for Jack-lanterns for Hallow E'en, and Joe had picked out twenty-one of the biggest for himself and his boy friends.
Every year Farmer Pringle gave a party in the big barn, and invited all the village folk. Hallow E'en was the date, and the family returned to the city next day. This year, as Pearl was such a big girl, the party was given in her name, and she was all expectation as she thought of her duties as hostess.
But one thing troubled her little head, and that was all the fault of Hiram, the farm boy, who had been her playmate till this summer, when Joe Miller came. Pearl liked Joe much better than she did Hiram, and this had put the country boy's nose out of joint, as they say, so that he often made fun of Joe, and called him a "city chap"—but always behind Joe's back. When Pearl told him that Joe was in the pumpkin patch this afternoon, Hiram laughed and said,
"Well, he'd better look out. The pumpkin patch and the cornfield are full of witches."
Pearl was thinking of what Hiram had said as she and Joe walked on in the gathering darkness.
"Joe," she pleaded, "you're not really going out to the pumpkin patch after supper, are you? You—you just said it to tease me, didn't you?"
"Scared cat!" laughed Joe. "Didn't I tell you how I could keep the witches away? Besides, if you're so afraid, you can stand in the doorway and watch me. You can see the pumpkin patch from the house. Look."
They had reached the gravel path that led to the front door. Behind them on the hill was the pumpkin patch. The full moon was just rising beyond the hill, and as the children turned to look they saw outlined against its silvery surface two figures.
One was tall and thin, the other short and fat, and both were waving their arms excitedly and jumping about.
Pearl and Joe were held spellbound for a moment. Then they turned and rushed into the house with such frightened faces that the family arose from the supper table in alarm, and Farmer Pringle cried,
"Whatever is the matter?"
"Witches in the cornfield!" shouted the children together.CHAPTER 2
THE PIEMAN AND THE CANNER.
WITCHES! If Pearl and Joe had given the two figures a second look how they would have laughed at themselves for being so silly! For in the short one they would surely have recognized an old friend, Mr. John Doe, the village pieman. Many a ginger cookie and jelly roll had John Doe left at the Pringle farmhouse, taking in pay pumpkins, rhubarb, currants and peaches with which to make pies. If he was a witch it was in the matter of making pies. John Doe's apple pies, John Doe's pumpkin pies—but let's not talk about them. It makes us too hungry!
He was usually the jolliest of men; but as he stood by the edge of the pumpkin patch looking at the empty shells with their grinning faces, he seemed angry and excited. Over and over and over again he said, in a tearful voice,
"Think of it I The makings of a hundred pies! A hundred pies!" And every time he said this, the other man nodded his head and said,
"And pumpkins scarcer than hens' teeth, too!"
This person the children would not have recognized; but John Doe seemed to know him. He was tall and stylishly dressed. His silk hat, gloved hands and patent-leather shoes were out of place in a pumpkin patch. But he did not seem to care, and kicked a pumpkin now and then with the toe of his boot.
It is always well to learn the names of people of whom we are going to see much, so we will imagine that the stranger has just given us his card, which reads:
"It's an outrage," exclaimed John Doe. "My customers saying they won't buy pies unless they're made of Pringle's pumpkins, and he allowing that Joe Miller to use them for Jack-lanterns!"
"My case is worse," said Mr. Cannem. "I've come all the way from my canning factory in Bermuda to get a sample of this particular brand of pumpkin, which is the only kind that will grow down there. And not one left!"
"I offered Pringle five times what I ever paid for pumpkins before," continued the Pieman, "and when I found he had given them all to that pesky boy for Hallow E'en foolishness I was so mad I let a whole ovenful of peach tarts burn to a crisp."
While John Doe was speaking, Cannem had stepped further into the patch, and suddenly caught sight of the giant pumpkin that Joe had failed to hollow out. He tapped it with his boot, and from the sound knew that it was solid.
"Hello," he exclaimed, "here's one the boy hasn't touched."
"No!" said John Doe, "Really?"
"He must have forgotten it," said Cannem. "And if he has it's ours. Let's roll it down the hill to your wagon, take it to your bakeshop and divide it. It isn't much, but it's better than nothing."
"No," said the Pieman, shaking his head, " I wouldn't dare to. That boy never forgot a whopper like this, and if he told Farmer Pringle it was gone, and the farmer found I'd taken it he'd never sell me as much as a pint of gooseberries again."
"What shall we do then?'
"Leave the pumpkin here, and ask Pringle to sell it to us. Seeing as it's the last one, I guess he will."
"Very well. But first let's have supper."
So the Pieman and the Canner, with a last fond look at the great, glistening pumpkin, crept down the road to where John Doe's pie-wagon was standing, and drove off in the direction of the village.
As the wagon started, Cannem turned to Doe, saying,
"Did you hear that?"
"What?" asked the Pieman.
They listened. From the cornfield, which was right beside the pumpkin patch, came the sound of chuckling, and in the pale moonlight they saw the piled-up corn shocks waving their loose ends like arms. What they did not see was the giant pumpkin freeing itself from the stem by a wriggle, and rolling toward the stone wall at the edge of the patch, against which it bumped and lay still again.
"What is it?" asked Cannem, in a whisper.
"Oh, just some of the village people coming to Farmer Pringle's party," said the Pieman. And they drove off. But in the cornfield the chuckling grew louder, and from the biggest shock in the middle of the field came a long, rippling laugh.
A very peculiar cornfield! An extremely odd cornfield!
But then, this was Hallow E'en, you know.CHAPTER 3
THE HALLOW E'EN PARTY.
DRESSED in her prettiest frock, Pearl received the village people in the big barn, which was decorated with autumn leaves, sumac and golden rod for the great occasion. To the grown people she managed to appear very dignified and quite like a lady, saying "How do you do? " and "So glad to see you," in just the tone of voice her mother used at her receptions in the city. But when the children came Pearl gave up trying to be stiff and formal, and was soon romping with the merriest of them.
Even Hiram, the farm boy, to whom the fickle little maid had scarcely spoken since he had begun to show his dislike for Joe so openly, found himself dancing and laughing with Pearl, and was quite overjoyed. Games were played, charms were tried, and no children ever had a better time, till, suddenly, Mrs. Pringle, in arranging a dance, discovered that several of the boys were missing.
"Why," she said, in surprise, "Where's Joe Miller?"
"He was here a moment ago," said Mr. Dudley, the village schoolmaster. " I was talking to him about his way of making pumpkins grow."
Then it was found that nearly all the boys had disappeared, no one seemed to know where. But Pearl knew, and so did Hiram.
The little girl recalled with dread Joe's intended return to the pumpkin patch, and Hiram was quick to notice her alarm. He had overheard Joe give the signal to several of the boys to follow him, and was quite angry at not having been included in the fun.
"Huh!" said he to Pearl, "I wouldn't want to be with them out there. The place is just full of witches and goblins, and they'll wish they hadn't gone. Why, I looked up on the hill, just a little while ago, and I saw——"
What Hiram had seen will never be known, for at that moment the big barn doors were thrown open from outside, and in the darkness appeared a crowd of grinning faces, jumping about in the air with no apparent support. Their eyes, noses and mouths gleamed like fire, and their strange antics were accompanied by shivery sounds that made the littlest children run to their mothers and hide their ears and eyes in their gowns.
Even Pearl, who for the moment forgot all that Joe had told her about the hobgoblin parade, began to be frightened, but before she could reach her mother's side Mr. Pringle and some of the men had rushed out and returned with the merry boys, each bearing a Jack-lantern on the end of a bean pole. Last of all came Joe Miller, laughing at the success of his little plan, but without any Jack-lantern of his own.
"Why, Joe," said Pearl, " I thought you were going to have the biggest pumpkin for yours? "
"Yes," said his uncle, "where is it, Joe?"
"It's the queerest thing I ever saw," said Joe. "But when I had fixed the other boys' lanterns, and went to get my big pumpkin off the vine I couldn't find it at first. Then I did, but it was away over against the stone wall, though I don't know how it got there. But I took out my knife and started to carve one eye on it, and it rolled away from me just as though it was alive. I chased it, but it rolled right through a hole in the stone wall into the cornfield, and though I followed as fast as I could I didn't find it."
"Witches!" cried Hiram to Pearl. "What did I tell you?"
"Pooh!" said Joe. "I'll go back there and find it bye and bye."
At this moment Mr. John Doe arrived, and with him our new friend, the Canner. The Pieman introduced Mr. Cannem to Farmer Pringle, and they soon found a chance to make an offer for the big pumpkin.
"You'll have to ask Joe about that," said he, "It belongs to him."
But when Joe was spoken to all he could do was to shake his head and tell how the big pumpkin had rolled away from him.
"It's probably just rolled in among the corn-shocks," said the Pieman, who did not believe in witches. "I think I could find it.'
"If we do," said the Canner, "will you sell it to us?"
"Perhaps," said Joe.
Without another word the Pieman and the Canner turned on their heels and hurried off to the pumpkin patch.
Farmer Pringle had saved the best game of the evening for the last. If you have ever bobbed for apples you know what fun it is. A big tub filled to the brim with water was pushed into the middle of the barn floor, and a dozen fine, red apples thrown on the surface of the water. Then Farmer Pringle explained the game for those who had never played it, and the fun began.
First to play was Johnny Farnum, the village fat boy. His hands were tied behind his back, and he was told that he would get a prize if he could take a bite from one of the floating apples in the big tub. Beaming with confidence, Johnny leaned over the tub and tried to set his teeth in the largest of the apples. But the moment his mouth touched its red cheek the apple sank, to bob up again a foot away. Nothing daunted, Johnny tried again and again, till, finally losing patience and growing provoked by the shouts of laughter of the other children, he bit savagely at the tantalizing apple and buried his face in the water. He emerged with his eyes closed, spluttering, while the barn rang with merriment. As he untied Johnny's hands Farmer Pringle said,
"I'm afraid that if you always waited to get apples that way, you'd go without!"
Finally it was Joe's turn.
"Now," said everyone, "we shall see exactly how it should be done."
For Joe was looked upon as being a very bright boy, and, besides, it was noticed that he had watched the efforts of the other boys very carefully, and was not liable to make the same mistakes.
Joe, with his hands tied behind his back, marched proudly to the tub. He leaned over and, selecting a splendid apple as his prey, bent his head till his mouth nearly touched it. But he did not bite at the apple sharply. He had seen that this would not do.
Slowly, carefully, he opened his mouth. Then he reached nearer to the apple, and began to close his teeth as carefully as he had opened them. They touched the sides of the apple.
Excerpted from The Pearl and the Pumpkin by Paul West, W. W. Denslow. Copyright © 2009 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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