|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
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
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
“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
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
“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.”