The Best British Short Stories of 1922 HTML version

The Reaper
(From The English Review)
Milgate is a rich farmer, owning his own machines; not like those poorer, smaller men
who hire an engine from a neighbour. He has his reaping machine, a red and yellow
"Walter Wood" Cleveland brand. Every morning now, as soon as it's dry enough, about
nine o'clock, the engine starts, and from the farmer's Manor House its heavy, drowsy
sounds are heard. For those on the machine the noise is harder. The only human sound
that penetrates it is the old conductor's "Ohoy!" to the driver if the canvas sticks, or if
weeds are making a "block." Then the young man in front slows his engine down, and
wipes his forehead with his hand. Reaping goes on until nine at night.
No strange workman sits on the reaper, but one of Milgate's best men, the most
trustworthy, most faithful--the waggoner; a man well over sixty, with side-whiskers, grey
eyes, a long nose, and forehead and chin carved out of granite. On his head a flat "wide-
awake" hat, on his bent back a white jacket. When he speaks, his mouth moves sideways
first; there's always a spot of dried blood on his lip; when he smiles a tooth-stump
appears like an ancient fossil. He talks slowly, stopping to spit now and then; every day
of his life he gets up at half-past three. Now, mounted on the high iron seat (a crumpled
sack for saddle), he rides like some old charioteer, a Hercules with great bowed back,
head jutting out, chin straight; a hard, weathered look about his face, and in his heart
disgust--this year, for the first time, they are using a motor engine to pull the reaper round
instead of horses. He lives for his horses; he's the "Waggoner," they are his "job;" if one
falls ill, he sleeps with it. He believes in horses; but, speaking of the motor, he says:
"She's arlraight--when she's arlraight!" with a look which ends the sentence for him! In
his youth he had reaped with a scythe.
This "Walter Wood" is a neat arrangement, you can't deny that; one bit of mechanism
works as a divider, while a big, light kind of wooden windmill arrangement, continually
revolving, beats the corn down into a flat pan from which it's carried, on a canvas slide,
up an incline, then shot over and down the other side in one continual long, flat stream
like yellow matting. And then the needle, the "threadle" as he calls it, nips in somewhere,
binding the flat mass into separate, neat, round sheaves, pitched out every few moments
with perfect precision by a three-pronged iron fork. Above the one big, heavy central
wheel the charioteer is shaken and jolted from nine till nine. In front, on another iron seat
by the boxlike engine, the driver works. Behind runs a red-faced labourer "clearing
corners." The motor has to run out the full length of its cogged iron wheel bands before it
can turn, and sheaves dropped on the last round get in the way; so at each corner they
have to be lifted and set back. The labourer "clears," then runs after the machine--now
half-way up the field--stops at the next corner, stoops once more to lift and shift three
sheaves, then runs again.