Our story today is called “Feathertop.” It was written by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Lawan Davis adapted it for VOA Learning English. Here is Shep O’Neal with the story.
The long cold winter was gone at last. At first the cold nights went away slowly. Then suddenly, the warm days of spring started to come. There was new life again in the earth. Things started to grow and come up. For the first time, green corn plants began to show. They pushed through the soil and could now be seen above the ground.
After the long winter months, the crows, the big black birds, were hungry. And when they saw the little green plants, they flew down to eat them. Old Mother Rigby tried to make the noisy and hungry birds go away. They made her very angry. She did not want the black birds to eat her corn. But the birds would not go away. So, early one morning, just as the sun started to rise, Mother Rigby jumped out of bed. She had a plan to stop those black birds from eating her corn.
Mother Rigby could do anything. She was a witch, a woman with strange powers. She could make water run uphill, or change a beautiful woman into a white horse. Many nights when the moon was full and bright, she could be seen flying over the tops of the houses in the village, sitting on a long wooden stick. It was a broomstick, and it helped her to do all sorts of strange tricks.
Mother Rigby ate a quick breakfast and then started to work on her broomstick. She was planning to make something that would look like a man. It would fill the birds with fear, and scare them from eating her corn, the way most farmers protect themselves from those black, pesky birds.
Mother Rigby worked quickly. She held her magic broomstick straight, and then tied another piece of wood across it. And already, it began to look like a man with arms.
Then she made the head. She put a pumpkin, a vegetable the size of a football, on top of the broomstick. She made two small holes in the pumpkin for eyes, and made another cut lower down that looked just like a mouth.
At last, there he was. He seemed ready to go to work for Mother Rigby and stop those old birds from eating her corn. But, Mother Rigby was not happy with what she made. She wanted to make her scarecrow look better and better, for she was a good worker. She made a purple coat and put it around her scarecrow, and dressed it in white silk stockings. She covered him with false hair and an old hat. And in that hat, she stuck the feather of a bird.
She examined him closely, and decided she liked him much better now, dressed up in a beautiful coat, with a fine feather on top of his hat. And, she named him Feathertop.
She looked at Feathertop and laughed with happiness. He is a beauty, she thought. “Now what?” she thought, feeling troubled again. She felt that Feathertop looked too good to be a scarecrow. “He can do something better,” she thought, “than just stand near the corn all summer and scare the crows.” And she decided on another plan for Feathertop.
She took the pipe of tobacco she was smoking and put it into the mouth of Feathertop. “Puff, darling, puff,” she said to Feathertop. “Puff away, my fine fellow.” It is your life.” Smoke started to rise from Feathertop’s mouth. At first, it was just a little smoke, but Feathertop worked hard, blowing and puffing. And, more and more smoke came out of him.
“Puff away, my pet,” Mother Rigby said, with happiness. “Puff away, my pretty one. Puff for your life, I tell you.” Mother Rigby then ordered Feathertop to walk. “Go forward,” she said. “You have a world before you.”
Feathertop put one hand out in front of him, trying to find something for support. At the same time he pushed one foot forward with great difficulty. But Mother Rigby shouted and ordered him on, and soon he began to go forward. Then she said, “you look like a man, and you walk like a man. Now I order you to talk like a man.”
Feathertop gasped, struggled, and at last said in a small whisper, “Mother, I want to speak, but I have no brain. What can I say?”
“Ah, you can speak,” Mother Rigby answered. “What shall you say? Have no fear. When you go out into the world, you will say a thousand things, and say them a thousand times…and saying them a thousand times again and again, you still will be saying nothing. So just talk, babble like a bird. Certainly you have enough of a brain for that.”
Mother Rigby gave Feathertop much money and said “Now you are as good as any of them and can hold your head high with importance.”
But she told Feathertop that he must never lose his pipe and must never let it stop smoking. She warned him that if his pipe ever stopped smoking, he would fall down and become just a bundle of sticks again.
“Have no fear, Mother,” Feathertop said in a big voice and blew a big cloud of smoke out of his mouth.
“On your way,” Mother Rigby said, pushing Feathertop out the door. “The world is yours. And if anybody asks you for your name, just say Feathertop. For you have a feather in your hat and a handful of feathers in your empty head.”
Feathertop found the streets in town, and many people started to look at him. They looked at his beautiful purple coat and his white silk stockings, and at the pipe he carried in his left hand, which he put back into his mouth every five steps he walked. They thought he was a visitor of great importance.
“What a fine, noble face” one man said. “He surely is somebody,” said another. “A great leader of men.”
As Feathertop walked along one of the quieter streets near the edge of town, he saw a very pretty girl standing in front of a small red brick house. A little boy was standing next to her. The pretty girl smiled at Feathertop, and love entered her heart. It made her whole face bright with sunlight.
Feathertop looked at her and had a feeling he never knew before. Suddenly, everything seemed a little different to him. The air was filled with a strange excitement. The sunlight glowed along the road, and people seemed to dance as they moved through the streets. Feathertop could not stop himself, and walked toward the pretty smiling young girl. As he got closer, the little boy at her side pointed his finger at Feathertop and said, “Look, Polly! The man has no face. It is a pumpkin.”
Feathertop moved no closer, but turned around and hurried through the streets of the town toward his home. When Mother Rigby opened the door, she saw Feathertop shaking with emotion. He was puffing on his pipe with great difficulty and making sounds like the clatter of sticks, or the rattling of bones.
“What’s wrong?” Mother Rigby asked.
“I am nothing, Mother. I am not a man. I am just a puff of smoke. I want to be something more than just a puff of smoke.” And Feathertop took his pipe, and with all his strength smashed it against the floor. He fell down and became a bundle of sticks as his pumpkin face rolled toward the wall.
“Poor Feathertop,” Mother Rigby said, looking at the heap on the floor. “He was too good to be a scarecrow. And he was too good to be a man. But he will be happier, standing near the corn all summer and protecting it from the birds. So I will make him a scarecrow again.”
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Words in This Story
broomstick - n. the handle of a broom
pesky - adj. making someone annoyed or irritated
pumpkin - n. a large, round, orange vegetable used as food and sometimes as a decoration — often used before another noun
scarecrow - n. an object that looks like a person and that is placed in a field to scare birds away from crops
puff - v. to breathe smoke from a cigarette, pipe, etc., in and out of the lungs