How to sleep in the hayloft, 1859

December 30, 2017

Jacob Abbott tells us how to sleep in the hayloft, in this scene from Rainbow’s Journey, wherein two teenagers travel by stagecoach and find no room at the inn (and it’s quite charming that they stagger around in the hay, putting on their nightshirts, because that’s how you sleep; you certainly don’t just flop down in your clothes; that would just be uncivilized); note that you don’t carry around lanterns if the moon is bright enough to keep you from falling down a cliff:

cover for Stories of Rainbow and Lucky“The moon is so bright that you will not need any lantern, I suppose,” said Hitover.

“No,” replied Handie, “it will be light enough.”

The stairs leading to the loft were in an opposite corner of the barn from that in which Hitover’s little compartment had been built, and at the foot of them was a door, which opened out at one side of the barn. This door was open, and Rainbow stopped as he went by to look out. There was a sort of yard there, and a plank walk which led toward the road, and thence to the house. After looking out at this door for a moment to see the moon shining so full upon the trees and upon the roofs of the farm-yard buildings, Rainbow followed Handie up the stairs.

“Now, Rainbow,” said Handie, “we’ll begin our campaign by seeing what sort of a bed we can make out of hay. The hay is nice and fresh, at any rate. It must be new hay, though it is very early for new hay. So, you see, we’re in luck. You must not expect, in knocking about the world, that you will always get fresh hay in the barns that you will have to sleep in.”

In one corner of the barn-chamber there was a small space, open in front, but divided from the rest of the floor, on one side, by a partition. This place had been originally arranged for holding chests of grain, and it was called, accordingly, the grain-bin; but the grain had been removed to the room below, and now it was about half full of hay. The surface of the hay in it was about five feet above the floor. On the other side of the partition which formed the grain-bin was an open space, where the stairs came up. There was a narrow passage-way opening from the head of the stairs to the middle of the barn floor, and beyond the passage-way the floor of the open space was covered with great heaps of loose hay. The grain-bin, the passage-way, and the space covered with heaps of hay, made up the whole of one side of the barn-chamber. The other side was occupied wholly by a great loft, in which the hay was packed close, and piled up high, nearly to the eaves.

In the front part of the barn-chamber was a large square window, which was closed in stormy weather with a shutter and a hasp. This window was now open, and a flood of moonlight poured in through it which illuminated almost the whole interior of the chamber, excepting the grain-bin, which was somewhat in the shade. Still, it was light enough there for Handie and Rainbow to see to make their beds.

So they climbed up upon the top of the hay, which, as has already been said, was about five feet from the floor, and began to make their beds. Handie took his place on the farther side of the bin, next the side of the barn, … and Rainbow went to the other side, next to the partition, … and they both began to make their beds.

“Now, Rainbow,” said Handie, “do just as I do, and you will learn how to make up a bed on the hay.”

So Handie went to work on his side of the bin, Rainbow accompanying and imitating him exactly on his side, through all the successive steps of the process. First they smoothed out the hay for a space long enough for a bed, making it level and equally soft in every part. Then they rolled up good-sized wisps for pillows, and put them in the proper places. Then they spread down the sheets, taking care to use only one half of each sheet as a covering for the bed and for the pillow, reserving the other half to draw over them and cover themselves up with when they had lain down. They opened the blankets too, and placed them at hand on one side, where they could easily reach them, in order to cover themselves up with them after they should have got into bed.

These arrangements having all been made, they undressed themselves, staggering about while they did so on the hay, and, after putting on their night-gowns, each got into his bed. After lying down, they each drew first the spare half of the sheet over them and then the blanket.

“You must put your hand under and shape the hay of your pillow to your head a little,” said Handie, “and that will make it feel soft.”

So Rainbow put his hand under and pushed away the hay a little from the middle of his pillow, so as to make it fit better to his head, and then he said that it felt very soft indeed.

“So, then, you are now pretty comfortable?” said Handie.

“Yes, sir,” said Rainbow; “I am very comfortable indeed.”

Written in 1859 and 1860, “Stories of Rainbow and Lucky” is a series of five books about an African-American teenager living in New England before the Civil War. At age fourteen, Rainbow is hired to help a young man renovate farm buildings; by the end of the series, he’s planning his next career move and thinking about marriage.

The Rainbow and Lucky books were created by Jacob Abbott (1803-1879), an extremely popular 19th-century American writer for children. From 1828 to 1872, he published over 200 books, including dozens of novels for children.

All five books in the “Stories of Rainbow and Lucky” are available in ebook form, with the original illustrations, at amazon.


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