Story type: Essay
During the past season I was considerably interested in agriculture. I met with some success, but not enough to madden me with joy. It takes a good deal of success to unscrew my reason and make it totter on its throne. I’ve had trouble with my liver, and various other abnormal conditions of the vital organs, but old reason sits there on his or her throne, as the case may be, through it all.
Agriculture has a charm about it which I can not adequately describe. Every product of the farm is furnished by nature with something that loves it, so that it will never be neglected. The grain crop is loved by the weevil, the Hessian fly, and the chinch bug; the watermelon, the squash and the cucumber are loved by the squash bug; the potato is loved by the potato bug; the sweet corn is loved by the ant, thou sluggard; the tomato is loved by the cut-worm; the plum is loved by the curculio, and so forth, and so forth, so that no plant that grows need be a wall-flower. [Early blooming and extremely dwarf joke for the table. Plant as soon as there is no danger of frosts, in drills four inches apart. When ripe, pull it, and eat raw with vinegar. The red ants may be added to taste.]
Well, I began early to spade up my angle-worms and other pets, to see if they had withstood the severe winter. I found they had. They were unusually bright and cheerful. The potato bugs were a little sluggish at first, but as the spring opened and the ground warmed up they pitched right in, and did first-rate. Every one of my bugs in May looked splendidly. I was most worried about my cut-worms. Away along in April I had not seen a cutworm, and I began to fear they had suffered, and perhaps perished, in the extreme cold of the previous winter.
One morning late in the month, however, I saw a cut-worm come out from behind a cabbage stump and take off his ear muff. He was a little stiff in the joints, but he had not lost hope. I saw at once now was the time to assist him if I had a spark of humanity left. I searched every work I could find on agriculture to find out what it was that farmers fed their blamed cut-worms, but all scientists seemed to be silent. I read the agricultural reports, the dictionary, and the encyclopedia, but they didn’t throw any light on the subject. I got wild. I feared that I had brought but one cut-worm through the winter, and I was liable to lose him unless I could find out what to feed him. I asked some of my neighbors, but they spoke jeeringly and sarcastically. I know now how it was. All their cut-worms had frozen down last winter, and they couldn’t bear to see me get ahead.
All at once, an idea struck me. I haven’t recovered from the concussion yet. It was this: the worm had wintered under a cabbage stalk; no doubt he was fond of the beverage. I acted upon this thought and bought him two dozen red cabbage plants, at fifty cents a dozen. I had hit it the first pop. He was passionately fond of these plants, and would eat three in one night. He also had several matinees and sauerkraut lawn festivals for his friends, and in a week I bought three dozen more cabbage plants. By this time I had collected a large group of common scrub cut-worms, early Swedish cut-worms, dwarf Hubbard cut-worms, and short-horn cut-worms, all doing well, but still, I thought, a little hide-bound and bilious. They acted languid and listless. As my squash bugs, currant worms, potato bugs, etc., were all doing well without care, I devoted myself almost exclusively to my cut-worms. They were all strong and well, but they seemed melancholy with nothing to eat, day after day, but cabbages.
I therefore bought five dozen tomato plants that were tender and large. These I fed to the cut-worms at the rate of eight or ten in one night. In a week the cut-worms had thrown off that air of ennui and languor that I had I formerly noticed, and were gay and light-hearted. I got them some more tomato plants, and then some more cabbage for change. On the whole I was as proud as any young farmer who has made a success of anything,
One morning I noticed that a cabbage plant was left standing unchanged. The next day it was still there. I was thunderstruck. I dug into the ground. My cut-worms were gone. I spaded up the whole patch, but there wasn’t one. Just as I had become attached to them, and they had learned to look forward each day to my coming, when they would almost come up and eat a tomato-plant out of my hand, some one had robbed me of them. I was almost wild with despair and grief. Suddenly something tumbled over my foot. It was mostly stomach, but it had feet on each corner. A neighbor said it was a warty toad. He had eaten up my summer’s work! He had swallowed my cunning little cut-worms. I tell you, gentle reader, unless some way is provided, whereby this warty toad scourge can be wiped out, I for one shall relinquish the joys of agricultural pursuits. When a common toad, with a sallow complexion and no intellect, can swallow up my summer’s work, it is time to pause.