Temper, Temper
by Bruce Lansky

From Girls to the Rescue Book #4

After a cruel farmer swindles her brothers out of their wages, Francesca uses the farmer's own trick against him in order to collect the money her family rightfully earned.


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Characters in Order of Appearance
Papa Giovanni

*You may want to divide the narrator's longer passages among several readers.

Italian Words
Lira (pronounced "LEE-rah"): Italian money. One American dollar is worth about 1,500 lira.
Basta (pronounced "BA-stah"): means "enough."

Narrator: Papa Giovanni was tired. Very tired. A drought the previous summer had destroyed most of his crops, leaving very little to eat, let alone sell. Yet somehow his family had kept food on the table through the cold winter. Papa Giovanni and his eldest son, Marco, had worked odd jobs in town. His wife, Marcella, had awakened at five o'clock every morning to gather eggs and milk the cows. His second son, Nico, had delivered fresh milk and eggs to neighbors. His daughter, Francesca, had tutored children. Everyone had pitched in. Now it was spring. But the rolling hills of Tuscany were not covered with lush green grass and budding trees. They were brown. Looking at the parched earth and sniffing the dusty air, Papa Giovanni made a decision. That evening as the family ate a meager dinner of plain pasta, Papa Giovanni gazed sadly at their tired faces and said,

Papa Giovanni: We don't have enough money to buy seeds. And even if we did, we don't have enough water to grow weeds. I'm sorry to say that this farm can no longer support our family.

Narrator: He turned to Marco.

Papa Giovanni: Marco, you are my oldest son. I must ask you to leave home and make your way in the world. When you get a job, please send some money home until we get some rain. Good luck.

Marco: I'll do my best, Papa.

Narrator: Marco replied dutifully. The next morning Marco hugged his family good-bye and started off down the road with a spring in his step and hope in his heart.

Narrator: He was big and strong. He knew that his hardworking parents had done all they could for him. Now it was his turn to help them. He walked until he came to a green valley. A stream rushed beside fields green with sprouting corn and wheat. Marco noticed a large farmhouse. A sign at the gate read "Help Wanted."

Marco: This farm seems to be prosperous.

Narrator: thought Marco.

Marco: I'll try my luck here.

Narrator: He walked up the path to the front door and knocked. It wasn't long before a beady-eyed farmer opened the door.

Farmer: What do you want?

Narrator: he asked.

Marco: I'm looking for work.

Narrator: answered Marco.

Marco: Is the job still open?

Farmer: Yes. Our field hand just quit. It isn't easy finding reliable help.

Narrator: the farmer replied grimly.

Marco: You don't have to worry about me.

Narrator: said Marco.

Marco: I am strong as an ox and won't quit until the job is done.

Farmer: You look strong enough,

Narrator: replied the farmer,

Farmer: but you must prove you're not a quitter. If you leave before the crops are harvested, you won't get a single lira. If you stay, I'll give you ten million lira-more than most workers make in five years.

Narrator: To Marco this job seemed almost too good to be true. If he stayed on the job until harvest, he would make enough money to buy his family a new farm.

Marco: It's a deal!

Narrator: he said.

Narrator: Marco worked hard all summer weeding, watering, and fertilizing the crops and caring for the livestock. His room was comfortable, and he was given plenty of food and drink each day. He didn't see much of the farmer, but didn't think much of it. The only thing on Marco's mind was all the money he would receive after the crops were harvested.

But when harvest time came, things changed. Marco was served bread and water at breakfast, instead of ham and eggs. When Marco sat down in the field to eat lunch, the farmer rode up on a horse, cracked his whip, and shouted,

Farmer: Get back to work, you sluggard. I should have known better than to hire you.

Narrator: Marco was confused.

Marco: What are you talking about? I've worked hard all morning in the hot sun. I just stopped for lunch.

Narrator: The farmer cracked his whip again, knocking Marco's bread out of his hand.

Farmer: There's no time for lunch. Get back to work.

Narrator: Burning with silent anger, Marco brushed the breadcrumbs from his pants, wiped his brow, and went back to picking corn.

Narrator: That night no pasta and wine sat on Marco's dinner table-just a slice of bread and a glass of water. At four o'clock the next morning, a loud knocking at the door awakened Marco.

Farmer: Why are you still sleeping when you should be out in the field picking corn? If I'd known you were so lazy, I never would have hired you.

Narrator: Marco grumbled as he dressed in the dark. No bread waited on the breakfast table-just a pitcher of water. He drank some and splashed the rest on his face to wake himself up. Then, tired and hungry, he walked slowly out to the fields. Marco worked hard all morning. When the sun was directly overhead, he started walking back to the farmhouse for lunch. Up rode the farmer on his horse, cracking his whip in the air.

Farmer: Get back to work, you weakling!

Narrator: shouted the farmer. Marco held his temper.

Marco: Don't worry; I'll go back to work as soon as I've had some lunch.

Narrator: But the farmer kept goading him.

Farmer: What kind of terrible parents would raise a good-for-nothing like you?

Marco: That does it!

Narrator: flashed Marco.

Marco: When you insult my family, you go too far. I've put up with a lot of abuse, but I won't stand for it any longer. I quit!

Narrator: The farmer started to laugh.

Farmer: I knew you were a quitter the moment I laid eyes on you. Since you've quit before the crops are harvested, you won't get paid. Pick up your belongings and get off my property.

Narrator: Marco trudged homeward with the farmer's cruel laughter ringing in his ears. He kept thinking about all the money he would have earned if he had finished harvesting the crops. He had left home with hope in his heart, but now he only had tears in his eyes.

Papa Giovanni was looking out the window when Marco turned up the path. He noticed Marco's stooped shoulders and slow stride. He greeted his son with an embrace. Marco sobbed softly as he sank into his father's welcoming arms. After supper the family crowded around Marco, and he told his sad story. Francesca was the first to comment.

Francesca: You almost made it, Marco. Don't feel bad. That stingy crook took advantage of you. He worked you hard all summer, then tricked you into quitting.

Papa Giovanni: I'm proud of you.

Narrator: said Papa Giovanni.

Papa Giovanni: You showed great restraint and only lost your temper when the farmer insulted your family. Now we know where ten million lira may be earned. Next year Nico can go back there and get it for us.

Nico: I can't wait until spring, Papa.

Narrator: agreed Nico. Papa Giovanni's family survived the winter as they had the previous year. By early spring, Nico was itching to get even with the cruel farmer. As Nico set off down the road one morning, Marco yelled,

Marco: Remember, Nico, don't lose your temper-no matter what the buzzard says.

Nico: Don't worry, Marco. I'll be back with the money this fall.

Narrator: Nico yelled back cheerfully. Although Nico was not as big as his brother Marco, he was a very hard worker. Walking briskly down the road, Nico arrived at the stingy farmer's door before dark. The farmer told Nico he needed a reliable worker who would not quit before the crops were harvested. He offered Nico ten million lira if he would work all summer, but no pay if he quit.

Nico: It's a deal.

Narrator: said Nico with a smile. He knew what to expect. He would hold his temper no matter what. Summer went smoothly for Nico, as it had for Marco. He worked hard, ate well, and was left alone. But when harvest time drew near, the cruel farmer began to harass Nico. On the first harvest day, he rapped on Nico's door at four in the morning.

Farmer: There's no time for breakfast today. So get going, you worthless mutt.

Narrator: Nico grumbled, but controlled his temper. He knew that the war of nerves had begun. The farmer said,

Farmer: Don't bother coming in for lunch. I'll bring you something to eat.

Narrator: But when the sun was directly overhead, the farmer did not show up. In fact, he didn't show up until five in the afternoon. He carried a bucket of dirty water.

Farmer: Here's your lunch, you louse.

Narrator: Nico stared at the cruel farmer but didn't say a word. He just kept working. The farmer went back to the farmhouse. The next morning Nico awoke with a cold shock. The farmer had dumped a bucket of icy water on him.

Farmer: You forgot your lunch.

Narrator: he sneered.

Farmer: Today I want you to get an early start. I won't have you dawdling like the lazy bum who worked here last summer.

Narrator: Still half asleep, Nico spoke without thinking.

Nico: How dare you talk about my brother that way? He was the best worker you ever had, you miserable miser.

Narrator: The farmer just sneered.

Farmer: You take after your lazy brother and your stupid parents.

Narrator: Lying in bed drenched with cold water, Nico lost his temper.

Nico: That does it! You are more cruel and stingy than I ever thought possible. I quit!

Narrator: Realizing what he had said, Nico came to his senses.

Nico: I'm sorry I said that, sir. I lost my temper. Please, let me keep my job.

Narrator: But the cruel farmer was laughing so loudly, he didn't hear Nico's apology.

Farmer: I knew you were a quitter from the moment I met you. Now get off my property. And don't expect any pay for your work.

Narrator: Nico got dressed in the dark and left, grieving because the stingy farmer had outsmarted him just as he had outsmarted Marco. On the long walk home, he kept thinking of how close he had come to earning ten million lira for his needy family. That night, his sister Francesca comforted him.

Francesca: Don't torture yourself, Nico. You almost pulled it off. Now, if I can learn from your experience, I think we'll have that ten million lira in our hands by next fall.

Narrator: Papa Giovanni couldn't believe his ears.

Papa Giovanni: Forget it, Francesca. Your brothers worked hard for two summers and didn't make a single lira. That farmer is a smart crook. Try your luck elsewhere.

Francesca: But Papa, I won't make the same mistakes my brothers made. I'll figure out a new way to separate that crook from his cash.

Narrator: Francesca had made up her mind and no one could change it. All winter she thought about how to outwit the farmer. When the first buds of spring appeared on the trees, she said good-bye to her family and walked down the road to seek her fortune.

Nico: Remember to keep your temper.

Narrator: yelled Nico.

Francesca: Don't worry about me, Nico.

Narrator: Francesca called out.

Francesca: I can handle that old buzzard.

Narrator: When she saw a "Help Wanted" sign in front of a prosperous-looking farmhouse, she knew she had come to the right place. She was all smiles as the farmer told her how hard it was to find reliable workers. She said,

Francesca: Don't worry about me; I won't quit. In fact, if I lose my temper, you don't have to pay me.

Narrator: The stingy farmer could not believe his good fortune. Another goose had landed in his pond, and she was making it easy for him to pluck her feathers.

Francesca: Of course,

Narrator: continued Francesca,

Francesca: If I stay until crops are harvested, I'll expect a big reward.

Farmer: Agreed.

Narrator: said the farmer.

Farmer: If you don't quit, I will pay you ten million lira.

Francesca: And if you lose your temper…,

Narrator: continued Francesca.

Farmer: I won't lose my temper.

Narrator: snapped the farmer.

Francesca: But if you should,

Narrator: Francesca persisted,

Francesca: then the money would be mine. Do you agree?

Farmer: Of course.

Narrator: said the farmer. He showed her to her room and said,

Farmer: I want to see you bright and early tomorrow. There is lots of work to do.

Narrator: Francesca smiled.

Francesca: Whatever you say boss!

Narrator: At daybreak the next morning, Francesca knocked on the farmer's bedroom door.

Francesca: You said you wanted to see me bright and early. Well, here I am. What would you like me to do?

Narrator: The farmer cursed under his breath.

Farmer: Clean out the stables.

Narrator: he barked.

Farmer: And when you're done, mow and water the lawn.

Francesca: Whatever you say boss!

Narrator: Francesca sang out as the farmer pulled the covers over his head. Soon he awakened again by a terrible noise. He jumped out of bed, pulled on his clothes, and ran out into the yard. All the horses and cows were on the lawn just outside the farmer's bedroom window.

Farmer: What's the meaning of this?

Narrator: he demanded.

Francesca: I did just what you said, boss. I cleaned all the horses and cows out of the stables. They are now mowing and watering the lawn.

Farmer: That's not what I meant, you nincompoop!

Narrator: he sputtered.

Francesca: Temper, temper.

Narrator: warned Francesca. Remembering the agreement, the stingy farmer barked,

Farmer: Go to the chicken coop and collect the eggs. Then feed the pigs.

Francesca: Whatever you say boss.

Narrator: Francesca sang out as she picked up a basket and headed for the chicken coop. Later the farmer dropped by the chicken coop and the pigpen to see how Francesca was doing. But he couldn't find her. Then he heard a ruckus in the farmhouse. He couldn't believe his eyes when he looked into the dining room. Francesca had put plates on the floor for the pigs and was serving them savory omelets.

Farmer: What are you doing?

Narrator: blustered the farmer.

Francesca: I'm doing exactly what you told me, boss. I gathered the eggs and now I'm feeding the pigs.

Farmer: You're crazy!

Narrator: he shrieked.

Francesca: You'd better watch your fiery temper.

Narrator: she warned.

Francesca: One day it will get you in trouble.

Narrator: Smiling, she continued to feed the pigs. The angry farmer stomped out of the dining room, afraid that he would lose all control. Francesca followed him.

Francesca: The pigs have finished their meal, boss. Now what do you want me to do?

Narrator: she asked.

Farmer: Get those confounded pigs out of the dining room and sell them before I lose my temper.

Narrator: barked the angry farmer, trying to get rid of the nettlesome girl for a while.

Francesca: Whatever you say, boss.

Narrator: Francesca sang out as she headed for the dining room. The farm was an hour from town by foot, so the farmer was surprised to see Francesca back in fifteen minutes without the pigs.

Farmer: Have you sold the pigs already?

Narrator: he inquired.

Francesca: You told me to sell the pigs before you lost your temper. I figured you were going to lose your temper any minute, so I sold them as fast as I could.

Narrator: she explained.

Farmer: And what did get for them?

Francesca: Well, on the road I met a man who asked me where I was going with the pigs. When I said I was taking them to market, he offered to buy them. 'How much will you pay?' I asked.

Jack: I have something worth far more than money.

Francesca: he said. 'What?' I asked.

Jack: Magic beans.

Francesca: he answered.

Jack: You may have heard of me. My name is Jack.

Francesca: Well, of course I'd heard of Jack and his magic beans. You've heard of Jack, haven't you?

Farmer: Enough of this nonsense.

Narrator: said the farmer.

Farmer: How much money did he pay you for the pigs?

Francesca: Money? He gave me five magic beans, which are worth a lot more than money. See? Here they are. Now I'll just plant them in your garden, and soon they'll grow as high as the sky.

Farmer: Magic beans! You sold my pigs for five beans?

Francesca: Not only beans. Do you think I'm a fool? Your pigs are worth more than that.

Narrator: The farmer, whose face had turned red with anger, breathed a sigh of relief.

Farmer: How much did he pay you?

Francesca: Well, he didn't exactly pay me any money. You see, in addition to the five beans, Jack also sang a song-

Farmer: Wait a minute!

Narrator: exploded the farmer.

Farmer: Are you telling me that you sold my pigs to this fellow Jack for five magic beans and a song?

Francesca: Yes, but it's not just any song. It's a special song about pigs. Here's how it goes:

This little piggy went to market.
This little piggy stayed home.
This little piggy had roast beef.
This little piggy had none.
And this little piggy-

Narrator: Francesca never did finish her song. The angry farmer screamed,

Farmer: Basta! Basta! Basta! Enough already. You're driving me crazy. I want you to leave this farm and never come back again.

Francesca: I'm going to miss you and your fiery temper.

Narrator: Francesca said sweetly.

Francesca: However, the ten million lira you promised me will ease my sorrow.

Narrator: The farmer ran into his house and soon returned with the money.

Farmer: Take the money, but leave at once!

Narrator: he said bitterly.

Francesca: Thank you.

Narrator: she said politely.

Francesca: In just a few days I have earned the money it took you years to accumulate by cheating my brothers and who knows how many others. When people hear about this, you won't be able to find any more free labor. You'll soon find out what it's like to do an honest day's work-and I don't think you'll like it. I think you are a quitter. And when you decide to quit farming, get in touch with me. Now I've got the money to buy this farm, and a hardworking family to make it prosper.

Narrator: Francesca returned home with a smile on her face and joy in her heart. Her entire family met her at the gate, and they all burst into cheers when they saw how much money she had in her purse.

Marco and Nico: Now we can start over!

Narrator: shouted Marco and Nico.

Papa Giovanni: We can buy a new farm where the corn grows as high as a horse's ears; a farm with a deep well and plenty of water.

Narrator: said Papa Giovanni.

Francesca: I know of a beautiful farm that just might be for sale.

Narrator: said Francesca.


© 1998 by Bruce Lansky. Adapted from the story "Temper Temper" in Girls to the Rescue, Book #4, published by Meadowbrook Press. This Classroom Theater version of "Temper Temper" is © 2000 by Meadowbrook Press.

Permission is given for individual school classes to perform this play and to make as many copies of the play as are needed for the students' use. All other reproduction and performance is prohibited under penalty of law.

Click here to learn more about Bruce Lansky.