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Chapter 20

THE FOUR-ARMED MAN



Old dog Spot was driving the last cow down the lane when Jolly Robin and Mr. Crow met on the bridge near the farmhouse, as they had agreed.

“Now, then—” said Mr. Crow, even before his broad wings had settled smoothly along his back—“now, then, where’s the four-armed man?”

Jolly looked towards the barnyard.

“I don’t see him yet,” he said. “But he ought to appear any moment now. Let’s move over to the big oak, for we can get a better view of the barnyard from the top of it.”

Mr. Crow was more than willing. So they flew to the oak and waited for a time. They saw the cows file into the barn, each finding her own place in one of the two long rows of stanchions that faced each other across the wide aisle running the length of the barn. It was through that aisle that the men walked with great forkfuls of hay in the winter time, which they flung down before the cows, who munched it contentedly.

But it was summer now. And the cows found their own food in the pasture on the hillside. They came to the barn only to be milked.

“It’s milking-time right now,” Jolly Robin remarked. “And pretty soon you’ll see the four-armed man come out of the barn with some pails full of milk. He’ll carry them into the house, to set them in the buttery. We’ll have a good look at him without his knowing anything about it.”

And that was exactly what happened.

“Here he comes!” Jolly Robin exclaimed, as a figure stepped out of the barn and began walking toward the house. “Now, you’ll have to admit that I wasn’t joking when I told you the news of this strange being. You ought to be pretty glad I let you know about the four-armed man, Mr. Crow. I guess you never saw anything quite so queer as he is, even if you have seen a two-headed calf.” Jolly Robin said a great deal more to Mr. Crow. And he was so pleased that he started to sing a song.

But Mr. Crow quickly silenced him.

“Do keep still!” he whispered. “Do you want to get me into trouble? It’s bad enough to have a trick like this played on me, without your making such a noise. Farmer Green might shoot me if he saw me so near his house. I thought—” Mr. Crow added—“I thought you laughed a little too much when you told me about your four-armed man. It’s a hoax—a joke—a trick—and a very poor one, too.”

Jolly Robin was puzzled enough by Mr. Crow’s disagreeable remarks.

“I don’t understand how you can say those things,” he said.

Mr. Crow looked narrowly at his small companion before answering. And then he asked:

“Do you mean to say you never heard of a neck-yoke?”

“Never!” cried Jolly Robin.

“Well, well!” said Mr. Crow. “The ignorance of some people is more than I can understand.... That was no four-armed man. You said he looked like Farmer Green’s hired-man; and it is not surprising that he does, for he is the hired-man. He has found an old neck-yoke somewhere. It is just a piece of wood that fits about his shoulders and around his neck and sticks out on each side of him like an arm. And he hooks a pail of milk to each end of the yoke, carrying his load in that way. I supposed,” said Mr. Crow, “that people had stopped using neck-yokes fifty years ago. It’s certainly that long since I’ve seen one.”

“Then it’s no wonder that I made a mistake!” Jolly Robin cried. “For I’m too young ever to have heard of a neck-yoke, even.” And he laughed and chuckled merrily. “It’s a good joke on me!” he said.

But old Mr. Crow did not laugh.

“There you go, making a noise again!” he said crossly. “A person’s not safe in your company.” And he hurried off across the meadow. Mr. Crow was always very nervous when he was near the farmhouse.

But Jolly Robin stayed right there until the hired-man walked back to the barn. He saw then that what Mr. Crow had told him was really so. And he never stopped laughing until long after sunset.





Arthur Scott Bailey

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