About the Author
Kurt Wiese (1887-1974) illustrated over 300 children’s books and wrote and illustrated another 20 books. He received two Newbury Awards and two Caldecott Honor Book Awards.
Walter R. Brooks (1886-1958) is the beloved author of 26 books about Freddy the Pig. He edited for magazines, including The New Yorker. In addition to the Freddy books, Brooks created the character Mr. Ed the Talking Horse.
Read an Excerpt
Freddy and the Space Ship
By Walter R. Brooks, Kurt Wiese
The Overlook PressCopyright © 1953 Walter R. Brooks
All rights reserved.
Mrs. Bean turned another page in the photograph album. "This," she said, "is Uncle Ben when he was eight years old."
She was sitting in the rocking chair on the back porch. Jinx, the cat, was perched on the arm of the chair, and Freddy, the pig, was sitting beside it, where he could see the pictures.
"My goodness," said Freddy, "he certainly doesn't look as if he'd be smart enough to build space ships and things."
"I could wish he wasn't so smart," Mrs. Bean said. "That great rocket contraption he's been working on for the last six months in the upper pasture—probably blow us all to glory when he sets it off." She looked up and across the barnyard and the nearer fields to where the tall spire of the giant rocket stood out against the sky. Then she turned another page in the album. "This is Mr. Bean when he was three."
The picture showed a chubby little boy in a plaid dress. He had a frightened look, and his hair was cut in a sort of bang low on his forehead.
"Golly!" said Jinx. "Isn't it funny to see Mr. Bean without his whiskers!"
"Well, at three years old, what do you expect?" said Freddy.
"I don't know. I guess I thought he was born with them," the cat said. "I can't imagine seeing any expression on Mr. Bean's face, but he really has one in that picture."
Mrs. Bean chuckled. "He had those whiskers when we were married," she said, "so I've never seen any expression on his face either." She turned a page. "This is Cousin Matilda Cassowary. She's not really my cousin; she's a second cousin twice removed of Mr. Bean's Aunt Jennie's first husband's sister. Not very closely related, but I always think of her as a member of the family, I guess because she sends me a Christmas card every year." She lifted her head and sniffed the air. "I smell smoke."
"It's those people who moved into the Grimby house, up in the Big Woods, last fall—they're burning brush," Freddy said.
It was a clear day. Up beyond the tall finger of the rocket ship, they could see the dark line of the Bean woods, edging the upper pasture. These woods went on to a back road, and beyond the back road the Big Woods began. A thin bluish haze of smoke hung above them.
"I hope they'll be careful," Mrs. Bean said. "The woods are pretty dry; 'twouldn't take much to get 'em blazing."
"I don't like those people," said Jinx. "When they first moved in I went up to call—"
"Went up to inspect their garbage pail, most likely," Freddy put in.
"Nothing of the kind!" Jinx snapped. "When a new family moves into the neighborhood, it's the polite thing to go call on 'em. Us cats are pretty particular about things like that. Of course if a saucer of milk is put out—well, it wouldn't be good manners to just leave it standing there."
"Oh, sure," Freddy said. "Even if they threw you out an old fish head, you'd smack your lips over it, just to show how you appreciated their kind thought."
"A fish head ain't a kind thought; it's an insult," said the cat. "But look, do you want to hear about this or don't you?"
"I've heard it forty times," said Freddy, "but maybe Mrs. Bean hasn't, so go ahead."
"Well," said Jinx, "there was me, strolling up the path to the front porch, all licked and polished up for my call, and full of good will; and then—my gosh!—out came that Mrs. Bismuth and chased me off into the bushes with a nasty old wet mop! And I ask you—is that any way to treat a caller? Not in my etiquette book it isn't."
"Depends on the caller," Freddy said. "Some folks think cats just smooch up to you to see what they can get out of you. They—" He broke off. "Hey!" he said. "Look at that smoke now!"
The thin blue haze in the north had given place to billowing black smoke clouds, and as they stared, a long tongue of flame licked up towards the sky, and another, and then another.
Mr. Bean came running out of the barn. "Mrs. B.," he called, "call up the Centerboro fire house. Those consarned Bismuths have set the Big Woods on fire!" He grabbed a shovel and dashed off up the slope towards the woods.
Around him as he ran galloped the other farm animals: Hank, the old white horse, the three cows, Mrs. Wiggins, Mrs. Wurzburger and Mrs. Wogus, Robert and Georgie, the dogs, and Bill, the goat, with the smaller animals trailing along behind. Freddy and Jinx followed.
The Big Woods were really blazing now. Above the treetops flames fifty feet high roared and crackled. The animals set to work to help Mr. Bean dig a trench across the line of fire to protect the home woods. Pretty soon the Centerboro Fire Department arrived in its bright red trucks, and long hose lines sucked up water from the duck pond and poured it into the fire. Other helpers came, by twos and threes, carrying spades and hose and axes, and soon they had surrounded the fire and cleared inflammable stuff from its path so that it could no longer spread.
It was nearly dark before the fire was at last under control. More than half of the Big Woods had been burned. The Grimby house was of course nothing but a smoking ruin, and when the animals at last came back down to the barnyard, grimy with soot and ashes, they found the Bismuth family, surrounded by what few things they had been able to save from the fire, sitting on the back porch of the farmhouse. Mrs. Bismuth was a weak, whiny sort of woman, and she was crying, and the two children, Carl and Bella, were sitting one on each side of her and looking miserable, and Mr. Bismuth, who was a tall thin man with small eyes set close to a long sharp nose that was twisted to the left, was talking. All four were eating cookies and drinking milk faster than Freddy had ever seen anybody eat before. And Mr. Bismuth, though he was talking all the time, was eating faster than all the other three put together.
"Nothing to worry about," he was saying. "Nothing at all! Ha, ha; I should say not! Oh sure, burned up the house, burned up the furniture—but it didn't burn up the Bismuths. Buy another house, buy more furniture—ha ha!—Bismuth's in business again!"
Mr. Bismuth's little laugh seemed to irritate Mr. Bean. "Maybe it's ha, ha, and maybe it ain't," he remarked. "What you going to use for money?"
Mr. Bismuth crammed two more molasses cookies into his mouth. "A Bismuth never worries about money. Ha, ha, I guess not! You can't keep a Bismuth down. Any more cookies in the house?" he asked, peering into the now empty crock. "Real good cookies, they are, but not very filling."
"They filled that crock when it was brought out here," Mr. Bean said drily, but Mrs. Bean said: "Tut, tut, Mr. B., mind your manners!" For she wasn't merely sorry for the Bismuths because they had lost everything they possessed in the fire. She felt responsible for them. It was she who had got them to come live in the Grimby house in the first place. For she and Mrs. Bismuth were cousins; they had been brought up together; but when Mrs. Bismuth had married and moved to Cleveland they hadn't seen much of each other. It was only last fall that, having learned that Mr. Bismuth had been out of work for months, she had written suggesting that Mrs. Bismuth and the children come stay in the Grimby house until Mr. Bismuth could get on his feet again.
So the Bismuths came. The Beans were surprised that Mr. Bismuth came too; they had expected that he would stay in Cleveland and look for a job. But he said it was just as easy to look for a job in Centerboro, and indeed at first he did look, and with Mr. Bean's help he worked on the Grimby house to make it livable. But he didn't get a job. There always seemed to be something he didn't like about those that were offered him. "But Ed'll get a job; don't you worry," Mrs. Bismuth said.
Mrs. Bean said she certainly hoped so.
Then came the fire. And when the Bismuths came wandering down from the woods, grimy with smoke and looking very woe-begone indeed, she had of course told them that they must come and stay at the farm until they could find another house to move into.
So when the cookies were gone, Mrs. Bean went into the kitchen and made up a big platter of ham sandwiches and brought them out, and the Bismuths ate them all up in three minutes.
Well that was just the beginning. The Bismuths settled down on the Bean farm like a flock of grasshoppers, and they ate and ate and ate. They ate three big meals a day and they also ate before breakfast and before dinner and all afternoon and they took stuff to bed with them and ate it before they went to sleep. At the table there was such a flickering of knives and forks and such a chomping of jaws that the Beans got up almost as hungry as when they had sat down. Mr. Bean would reach out with his fork to take another chop, and two or three Bismuth forks would dart in under his and spear the last ones, leaving for him nothing but a little spot of grease on the platter. Mr. Bean didn't like this much, but there wasn't anything he could do about it, because, as Mrs. Bean said, after all they had invited the Bismuths to stay.
"Until they find a new place to live," she said, "we'll just have to put up with them. And Mrs. Bismuth does try to help with the housework."
"Help!" Mr. Bean exclaimed disgustedly. "Try to pick up a fork that woman has washed and it's so sticky you have to pry it off the tablecloth. Give her an egg to fry and it's so tough you could use it to nail over a mouse hole. I don't know how she does it. And that Ed Bismuth! Been down helping Uncle Ben work on his space ship. I never saw a man could do so much damage just with a little pair of pliers. Knocked three holes in the side of the ship, broke the pliers, and hit Ben in the eye with his elbow—all just tightening one little nut on the instrument panel. I bet if he tries to fix that broken windowpane for you he'll tear out the side of the house."
"Oh well, it won't be long," said Mrs. Bean. "Poor things, we can't just put them out when they have no place to go."
But before long it was pretty clear that the Bismuths had no intention of trying to find another house to move into. They read the "Houses to Let" ads in the Centerboro Guardian, and then Mr. Bismuth would go into town and look at the houses. But when he got back it was always the same story: something the matter with the house. Either the roof leaked or the furnace didn't work or the stairs were shaky. One place he turned down because he said there were mice.
"I'm deathly afraid of mice!" said Mrs. Bismuth. "Deathly!" And she began to cry.
"Mice!" said Mr. Bean. "There's mice in this house." And he gave a little whistle and the four Bean mice—Eek and Quik and Eeny and Cousin Augustus—trooped out from under the stove and stood at attention.
But if he had hoped to scare Mrs. Bismuth into leaving, he failed. She sat up and wiped away her tears quickly and said: "My, my! Aren't they cute!"
"Thought you was afraid of mice, ma'am," said Mr. Bean.
"Oh, not mice like these!" Mr. Bismuth said quickly. "It's those big mice with the long teeth and the blue spots all over 'em—that Centerboro house was swarmin' with 'em. 'Fraid of them myself. Yes sir, a Bismuth ain't afraid of much, but those big blue-spotted mice—oh boy! Big as lions, some of 'em. Ha, ha! Small lions, of course."
The mice went back under the stove and had a conference, and later told Freddy. "How'd it be," they said, "if we dressed some of the rabbits up as mice—pinned long tails on 'em and painted blue spots on 'em—and then—"
"No," said Freddy. "Don't you see?—that's just a story Mr. Bismuth made up. If the Beans had lions and tigers in the cellar, the Bismuths would stay just the same. They aren't afraid of anything except having to pay for their meals."
In the meantime Uncle Ben was putting the finishing touches on the Benjamin Bean Space Ship. He had done all the work himself, having made enough from the sale of the Benjamin Bean Improved Self-Filling Piggy Bank—the story of which is told elsewhere—to pay for all his materials. The day before the fire he had taken the smaller animals through the ship and shown them the control room in the nose, the living quarters on the level below, and the storage space for fuel on the lower level. He had explained how the ship worked, but it is doubtful if any of the animals understood the explanation, for Uncle Ben was not a talkative man. It is all very well to explain things in words of one syllable, but to explain them in sentences of one syllable is not very easy. Indeed sometimes Uncle Ben didn't even use one complete syllable-he just grunted.
Of course Freddy was able to help Uncle Ben out in his explanations, for he had read a lot of books about space travel, and so understood how the ship could be fired like a rocket up through the earth's atmosphere, and could cruise along through empty space until it came close to the planet at which it was aimed. Then he knew that the tremendous speed had to be cut down so that the ship wouldn't be smashed when it landed. This would be done by turning the ship around so that the rocket could be fired again at the planet, acting as a brake as they approached.
After the animals had been shown through the ship, Uncle Ben said: "Mars, next stop. Who wants to go?"
Of course they all wanted to go. "I want to go!" "Take me!" "Please take me!" they yelled, and they crowded around him and jumped up and down until at last he held up his hand. "Four animals," he said. "You." He pointed at Freddy. "You," at Jinx. "You and you," at Charles, the rooster, and Georgie, the little brown dog. He took out a notebook and wrote down some figures in it, looked at them a minute, then snapped the book shut. "Week from Friday, eight twenty-one A.M. sharp. You four be here." Then he turned and climbed back into the ship and shut the door.
There was no arguing with one of Uncle Ben's decisions. The animals who had not been chosen wandered dejectedly away, but the four who were to go went down to the pig pen to decide what they had better take along.CHAPTER 2
A day or two after the fire, Freddy was sitting in his study in the pig pen, writing a short farewell poem which he intended to recite to the assembled animals just before taking off for Mars.
Farewell my friends, farewell my foes;
To distant planets Freddy goes;
To face grave perils he intends.
Farewell my foes, goodbye my friends.
He had written this much when there was a tap on the door.
When interrupted in the middle of a poetic composition, Freddy sometimes found it difficult to speak in plain prose. So instead of just saying: "Come in," he said:
"Turn the knob and open the door.
What on earth are you waiting for?"
But the door didn't open. Instead, the tapping went on.
Freddy said irritably: "Open the door! Take just one more step
And come inside off my front doorstep."
And then as the tapping continued—"Oh, gosh," he said (in prose) and got up and threw the door open. A very plump and pompous middle-aged duck waddled importantly in.
"Oh, it's you, Wes," said Freddy. "Sorry; I didn't realize you couldn't reach the knob. What's poisoning your mind this morning?"
Uncle Wesley lived up by the duck pond with his two nieces, Alice and Emma. He was rather tiresome, even for a duck, but Alice and Emma were so fond of him that the farm animals put up with his nonsense.
"I wish to put a letter in the next number of the Bean Home News," said Uncle Wesley. This was the weekly newspaper which Freddy published for the animals on the farm. He handed Freddy a rumpled brown paper bag on which the letter had been written with a very hard pencil.
Freddy took it over close to the window and squinted at it. This was really not much help, for the window was so dirty that, as Jinx had once remarked, it was really harder to see anything there than it was in the darkest corners of the room.
"H'm, let's see," said Freddy, and started reading the letter. "'A crocodile exists up at the duck pond which I wish to sing to this afternoon—' What on earth, Wes!"
"It's not 'sing,' it's 'bring,'" said Uncle Wesley testily. "And the word isn't 'crocodile,' it's 'condition.' Can't you read plain English? 'A condition exists up at the duck pond which I wish to bring to your attention.'"
Excerpted from Freddy and the Space Ship by Walter R. Brooks, Kurt Wiese. Copyright © 1953 Walter R. Brooks. Excerpted by permission of The Overlook Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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