July 30, 2008 -
Stories form Soviet Childhood: Garderners! (1)
Today we continue reading stories by Nikolai Nosov (Николай Носов) and start to read his next story Gardeners, 1938: about life and adventures in a pioneer camp.
Mishka [a boy's name] and I asked to be put in the same team. Before we came to camp we had agreed that we would work together and go fishing together and everything.
Vadik Zaitsev[a boy's name] proposed having a Challenge Banner to be awarded to the team that finished the digging first. Everybody agreed and it was decided to pass on the banner to the best planters and then to the best weeders. And the team that raised the biggest harvest would take the banner back to town.
Mishka and I made up our minds to win that banner.
“We’ll win it at the start and we won’t let go of it all summer and it’ll go back to town with us,” said Mishka.
We had been given a piece of land near the river. We measured it, marked off the plots and stuck in wooden markers with numbers on them. Mishka and I got plot No. 12. Mishka wasn’t satisfied. He ran off to Vitya to complain that we had been given the worst plot.
“Why is it the worst?” Vitya asked.
“There’s a hole in the middle!”
“What about it,” laughed Vitya. “Besides, that’s not a hole, it’s a hoof-print.”
“There’s a tree-stump on it,”grumbled Mishka.
“The other plots have tree-stumps too.”
But Mishka wouldn’t listen.
“It will have to be dug up,” he cried.
“Well, go ahead and dig it up. If you need help the others will lend you a hand.”
“Thanks, we’ll manage ourselves,” said Mishka huffily. “And help the others too.”
“That’s the spirit!” said Vitya.
Everyone started digging, Mishka and I as well. But every few minutes Mishka stopped digging to run and see how much the others had done.
“If you don’t get to work we’ll soon be way behind the others,” I told him.
“That’s all right,” he said. “I’ll catch up.”
He started catching up, but in a little while he was off again.
We didn’t get much done that day because pretty soon the dinner bell went. Mishka and I wanted to rush off to the plot after dinner, but Vitya stopped us.
“That will be enough for one day. We’ll only work in the mornings. After dinner we’ll rest. Otherwise some of you chaps will overdo it the first day and won’t be able to work the rest of the time.”
The next morning Mishka and I went off to our plot before the others and started digging. After a while Mishka asked Vitya for the tape-measure and began measuring to see how much we had dug and how much was left. After that he did a little more digging and then began measuring again. And each time he measured he found we hadn’t done enough.
“Of course we haven’t,” I said. “Because I’m doing the digging. All you do is measure.”
He threw down the tape-measure and started digging again. But he hadn’t done much when his spade struck a root and he stopped digging to pull the root up. He pulled and he pulled but it wouldn’t come up. He turned over the whole plot and part of the next one, trying to get it out.
“Leave it alone!” I said. “What are you bothering with it for?”
“How was I to know it was half a mile long?”
“Well, let it be.”
“But it has to end somewhere, hasn’t it?”
“What difference does it make to you?”
“I’m that kind of a person. If I start something I’ve got to see it through.”
And he grabbed the root again with both hands. I got angry, went over to the root and hacked it loose with my spade. Mishka took the tape-measure and measured it.
“Look at that,” he said. “Six and a half metres! Now if you hadn’t cut it off it might have been twenty metres!”
I said: “If I’d known you were going to dawdle about instead of working I’d never have hitched up with you.”
“Go ahead and work by yourself if you like. I’m not forcing you to work with me.”
“After I’ve dug up most of the plot already? Nothing doing. But we certainly won’t be the first to finish.”
“Who says we won’t? Look at Vanya Lozhkin and Senya Bobrov. They’ve dug even less than we have.”
He went over to Vanya Lozhkin’s [a boy's name] plot and began jeering at them:
“Some diggers! We’ll have to lend you .a hand pretty soon.”
But they drove him away. “You’d better get to work or we’ll be lending you a hand.”
I said: “You’re a fine one, making fun of others when you’ve done hardly anything yourself! I’m sorry I hitched up with you.”
“Don’t worry,” he said. “I’ve thought up a wonderful idea. Tomorrow we’ll have the banner on our plot, you’ll see.”
“You’re crazy,” I said. “There’s a good two days’ work to be done on this plot, and it’ll be four days if you carry on like this.”
“You’ll see. I’ll tell you my plan later on.”
“All right, but do get to work now. The ground won’t dig itself.”
He picked up his spade to start digging, but just then Vitya said it was time for dinner, so he threw his spade over his shoulder and led the way to the dining-room.
After dinner we all helped Vitya make the banner. We found a piece of wood for the staff, cut and sewed the cloth and painted the staff in gilt paint. Vitya wrote the inscription “Best Gardener” in silver letters on the banner. It looked very handsome.
“Let’s make a scarecrow as well,” said Mishka. “To keep the crows off our garden.”
Everyone liked the idea enormously. We got ,a pole, tied a stick across it for arms, got an old sack for a shirt, and stuck an earthenware pot on top for a head. Mishka drew eyes, a nose and a mouth on the pot with charcoal and our scarecrow was ready. It did look a fright! We stood it in the middle of the garden and had a good laugh at it.
Mishka took me aside and whispered in my ear: “Here’s my plan. Tonight when everyone is asleep we’ll go and dig up our whole plot, all except a little bit which we can easily finish tomorrow. We’re sure to win the banner then.”
“If you would only work,” I said. “But you keep fussing with all sorts of silly nonsense.”
“This time I’ll work like blazes, you’ll see.”
“All right. But if you don’t, I won’t either.”
That night Mishka and I went to bed with the others. But we only pretended to go to sleep. When everything was quiet Mishka gave me a dig in the ribs. I had just dozed off. “Wake up,” he said in a loud whisper. “We’d better get started or we’ll have to kiss that banner good-bye.”
We crept out of the dormitory, got our spades and hurried off to the plot. It was a bright moonlight night and everything stood out clearly and distinctly.
In a few minutes we had reached the plot.
“Here we are,” said Mishka. “This is our plot. I can tell by the stump sticking up in the middle.”
We set to work. This time Mishka really did work and before long we had dug all the way up to the stump. We decided to pull it up. We loosened the earth all around it and pulled at it as hard as we could, but it wouldn’t budge. We had to hack away the roots with our spades. It was hard work, but finally we got it out. Then we evened out the ground and Mishka tossed the stump over to the next plot.
“That’s not a nice thing to do,” I said.
“Where are we going to put it?”
“Not on our neighbour’s plot anyway.”
“All right, let’s throw it into the river.”
We picked it up and hauled it down to the river. It was very heavy and we had a nasty time with it. But finally we got it down to the bank and dropped it plonk into the water. It floated down the river looking like an octopus with the roots sticking out all over it. We watched until it was out of sight and then went home. We were too tired to do any more digging that night. Besides, we had only a little bit left to dig now.
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