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Translated by Rose Prokofieva
Illustrated by I.Semyonov
A day or two after we arrived at the Pioneer camp last summer, Vitya, our Pioneer leader, announced that we were going to plant our own vegetable garden. We got together to discuss how to organize the work and what vegetables to plant. It was decided to divide up the garden into small plots and assign teams of two Pioneers to each plot. There would be a competition for the best plot and the winner would get a prize. The leading teams would help the lagging ones so that the soil would be thoroughly cultivated and yield a good harvest.
Mishka 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 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 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.
The next morning we got up later than the others. Oh dear, how achy we felt! Our arms ached, our legs ached and our backs felt as if they were breaking!
"What's the matter with us?" said Mishka.
"Too much digging in one go," I said.
We felt a little better after we had moved about a bit, and at breakfast Mishka started boasting to everyone that we were going to win the banner for sure.
After breakfast we all went off to the garden. Mishka and I didn't hurry. We had plenty of time!
By the time we reached the plots all the others were busy digging away like beavers. We laughed at them as we strolled by.
"You needn't try so hard because you can't win the banner anyway!" we told them.
"You'd better get to work, you two!" they shouted back.
Just then Mishka said: "Look at this plot. I wonder whose it is. They've hardly dug anything yet. They must be at home fast asleep."
I looked at the marker. No.12. "Why, it's our plot!"
"It can't be," said Mishka. "We've done far more than that."
I thought we had too.
"Perhaps someone has gone and changed the markers for a lark."
"No. All the other numbers are right. Here's No.11 and there's No.13 on the other side."
We looked again and saw a tree-stump sticking up in the middle. We couldn't believe our eyes.
"Listen," I said. "If this is our plot what's that stump doing there? We pulled it out, didn't we?"
"Of course we did," said Mishka. "A new one couldn't have grown in its place overnight."
Just then we heard Vanya Lozhkin on the plot next to ours say:
"Look, fellows! A real miracle! There was a big stump here yesterday and now it's gone. Where could it be?"
Everyone ran to look at the miracle. Mishka and I went over too.
What had happened? Yesterday they had less than half of their plot dug and now there was only a small corner left.
"Mishka," I said. "You know what? It was their plot we dug up last night. And that stump we pulled out was theirs too."
"It can't be!"
"Well, it is."
"Oh, what donkeys we are!" groaned Mishka. "What shall we do now? By rights they ought to give us their plot and take ours. All that work done for nothing!"
"Shut up," I said. "You don't want us to be the laughing-stock of the whole camp, do you?"
"But what shall we do?"
"Dig," I said. "Dig like blazes."
We picked up our spades. But when we started to dig, our poor backs and arms and legs ached so much that we had to stop. We had worked so hard on our neighbours' plot that now we hadn't the strength to finish our own.
Before long Vanya Lozhkin and Senka Bobrov finished their plot. Vitya congratulated them and handed them the banner. They stuck it in the middle of their plot. All the others gathered round and clapped. Mishka couldn't stand it.
"It's not fair!" he said.
"Why isn't it fair?" said Vitya.
"Someone pulled that stump out for them. They said so themselves."
"It isn't our fault, is it?" said Vanya. "Suppose someone wanted it for fire-wood. That's their look-out, not ours."
"Maybe someone dug it up by mistake," said Mishka.
"If they had it would be lying about here somewhere."
"Maybe someone threw it into the river," Mishka went on.
"Maybe this, maybe that. What are you getting at?" But Mishka couldn't keep quiet.
"Someone did the digging for you last night," he said.
I kept nudging him to hold his tongue. Vanya said:
"Maybe they did. We didn't measure our plot."
We went back to our own plot and started digging. Vanya and Senka stood watching us and snickering.
"Look at them," said Senka. "They're as slow as turtles."
"We'll have to lend them a hand," said Vanya. "They're way behind everyone else with their digging."
So they lent us a hand. They helped us with the digging and they helped us to pull out the stump, but we finished last just the same.
Someone suggested putting the scarecrow on our plot since we were the last to finish. Everybody thought that was a wonderful idea and so the scarecrow came to our plot. Mishka and I felt very sore about it.
"Cheer up!" said the boys. "If you do your planting and weeding well we'll take the scarecrow off your plot."
Yura Kozlov made a proposal: "Let's award it to the team that makes the worst showing with the rest of the work."
"Yes, let's!" shouted the others.
"And in the autumn we'll present it to the team with the worst crop," said Senka Bobrov.
Mishka and I decided to work hard and get rid of that nasty scarecrow, but try as we did it stood on our plot all summer long. When planting time came Mishka got everything mixed up and planted beet-roots on top of the carrot seeds. And when we did the weeding he pulled up all the parsley instead of the weeds, and we had to plant radishes instead. I wanted to quit several times but I didn't have the heart to leave a. chum in the lurch. So I stayed with him to the end.
And would you believe it, Mishka and I got the banner after all. To everybody's surprise we got the biggest crop of cucumbers and tomatoes.
There was a fuss!
"It's not fair," said the others. "They were behind everybody else all the time and they got the biggest crop. How's that?"
But Vitya said: "It's perfectly fair. They may have been slower than all the rest of you but they worked the soil thoroughly and they tried hard."
Vanya Lozhkin said: "They had a good bit of land, that's what it is. Me and Senka got a bad plot. That's why we have a poor harvest although we worked hard too. And they can keep their old scarecrow. They had it all summer."
"We don't mind," said Mishka. "We'll take it with pleasure."
Everybody laughed. Mishka said: "If it wasn't for that scarecrow we wouldn't have won the banner!"
"How's that?" everyone asked.
"Because it drove the crows away from our plot and that's why we have the biggest harvest. Besides, it reminded us all the time that we had to work hard."
I said to Mishka: "What are we going to do with that silly old scarecrow?"
"Let's go and throw it in the river," said Mishka.
We took the scarecrow down to the river and threw it into the water. We watched it sail down the river with its arms spread out and we threw stones into the water to make it go faster. When it was gone we went back to the camp.
That day Lyosha Kurochkin photographed Mishka and me standing on our plot beside the Challenge Banner. So if you would like to have a picture of us we shall be glad to send you one.
Author: Nosov N.; illustrated by Semyonov I.
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