you can delete this if you like, but it's a true story dad wrote some years back. I stuck a date on it when I originally posted it in 2000, but he wrote it about his father way back when.
Jamie was too young to hate. He was only eight years old. As he sat on the worn porch of the unpainted farmhouse and watched the wagon creak down the dusty lane, he hurt deeply; but he did not hate. He didn.t even hate Rupert. He kept his eyes glued to the wagon as it rattled between the walls of Jimson weed which lined the rutted lane. There was his Granpa Wilson sitting ramrod straight on the spring seat. His galluses made a distinct cross on his back and the dust was already beginning to turn his black Sunday felt hat into a furry dusty brown thing. Jamie could not see his face but knew that if he could he would see a stubby pipe strongly clinched between his teeth, The pipe was always there. It didn't seem to make much difference to Granpa Wilson whether it had tobacco in it or not. Jamie never just called him "Granpa" but was careful to always call him "Granpa Wilson" to remind himself that he was not a Wilson. He was Jamie Balfour. Jamie was not afraid of him any more; not even when he had to look into the cold grey eyes above the full mustache and knew he was going to get a licking with the harness strap which hung behind the kitchen door.
Beside Grandpa Wilson on the spring seat was the squat grey figure of his grandmother which he could only see though the dust when the weeds along the road were thin or short. As he watched through the stationary haze of dust Jamie realized that he never called his grandmother anything. She was referred to by Granpa Wilson as"your grandmother" or by Rupert as "my mother" with a lot of stress on the first word.She always looked at him with sad and almost tearful eyes that seemed to say that there was little , if any, hope for either of them. Jamie's grandmother never used the harness strap. She preferred instead to recite Jamie's endless faults in detail to Granpa Wilson, who would then remove the strap from the nail in the wall behind the kitchen door and silently punish the offender. Worse even than the beatings or the recountings of his sins were the things she said about him. They drummed inside him as he watched the wagon:
"Its easy to see the Balfour in him. He'll probably die drunk".
"If only our Nora hadn't been blinded by the Devil maybe she wouldn't have married Frank Balfour. Now she's dead and gone--and him buried beside her".
"There is no hope for the boy, Fred. I can see Frank Balfour all over him. Rupert says he broke a limb climbing in the biggest peach tree this morning"
It had been his grandmother who had told him how his parents had died. Jamie had remembered the fire , of course, It was only a year and a half ago. He remembered waking in his bed choking on smoke--too dazed and hurt to scream. He remembered his father groping through the strange glow with a cloth over his face He remembered the feel of his father's hands picking him up and carrying him to the window. There was one moment of hesitation before his father kicked the glass out of the window and threw the boy into the muddy garden below. All that he remembered. His grandmother rold him never to tell such fancy tales again; that Frank Balfour had dried drunk in bed as everyone in the county with any sense had known he would---and that he had taken her daughter with him. Jamie never told the story again, but he remembered.
The wagon had grown much smaller down the lane and he could no longer hear the harness clink or the rattle of the wheels, but he could still make out the dim figure of Rupert sitting at the back of the wagon watching him, Rupert was fourteen. He was the youngest of Fred and Ruby Wilson's seven children, and the only one left at home with them. It was Rupert for whom his grandmother made apple pies.She didn't do it often though for sugar was dear. It was Rupert who had a feather bed while Jamie slept on a mattress filled with corn shucks. It was Rupert who went to school every day while Jamie just went when he could be spared from work. Best of all, Rupert had a bicycle.
Jamie's toes plowed small furrows in the soft dust beneath where he sat on the porch as he swung his legs to and fro. It was Saturday morning and hot already despite the early hour. Saturdays had become his favorite time. On Saturdays his grandparents would hitch the mules to the wagon and go to Lancaster , six miles away. They would not be back until nearly sundown. Until then he could be alone. The first Saturday after he came to the farm he also had climbed on the wagon. They said nothing, just looked at him with disapproval until he climbed down off the wagon with tears running down his cheeks and sat on the porch. Then they drove away without a backward glance. Jamie had cried then for a long time. In only a week he had learned that he was not wanted. It was another month before he refused to cry about that or anything else.
Jamie learned to avoid most of the lickings. He learned the limits and learned to stay in them. He avoided Rupert and his extensive possessions at all costs. While he could not talk to his grandparents and had learned to expect no warmth from either of them, he could at least avoid their anger most of the time. When he did trespass either knowingly or by error he took his licking dry-eyed and in silence. He had resolved that no Wilson would ever see him cry again.
He saw that the wagon had reached the end of the long lane and was turning into the road that lead to the ford on Ten Mile Creek. He knew that as soon as the wagon turned he would be hidden from its occupants not only by the high weeds but also by the descent of the road to the creek. The wagon disappeared from view and Jamie jumped off the porch and ran across the dusty yard to the smokehouse. Beside the shacklike structure of the smokehouse which housed the Wilsons smoked meats and sausage was a great round oak stump with an anvil mounted on its flat surface. Leaning against this stump was Ruperts bicycle. It was fastened to the stump with a rather long piece of heavy rope and tied to the anvil with a complex knot. Rupert's bicycle was a thing of awesome beauty. It was red and gold.
Jaimie of course was forbidden to touch it. It belonged to Rupert. He had ridden it the first week that he had been left alone on Saturday and had been given a beating for it, but it had been worth it. Now. Rupert always inspected the bicycle as soon as he returned from town to see if it had been disturbed.
Jamie now approached the problem of the bicycle with professional care, He took a stick and marked the exact location of each tire and studied exactly where the bicycle leaned against the stump, Using a nail he had found he made a tiny scratch on the stump just where the bar of the bicycle leaned against it. Rupert must have been in a hurry this morning, the bicycle tying would be simple to duplicate.
He rode the bicycle all around the yard and even down the lane amost to the road. In the few places where the lane was smooth he could even ride for a short distance without holding the handlebars.
Jamie might have ridden longer had he not heard a faint sound of music which promised more excitement than even the fabulous bicycle. He was even more sure when he saw a thin wisp of smoke coming from the creek bottom. The Gypsies! He had heard Granpa Wilson tell his grandmother of them the night before. They were camped on Stovall land which adjoined the Wilson farm at the creek. Granpa Wilson remarked that George Stovall never did have much sense and must have lost what he had to let Gypsies camp on his land.
"There won"t be a fryin' chicken or a roastin' shoat that's safe around here till they move out. They're not Christian, Ruby, I won't have them around my farm. I'll see Stovall in town tomorrow and tell him he has to move them out"
Jamie knew that he had to see the Gypsies. But first he had to erase all trace of his having used the bicycle and tie it back to the stump. This took nearly an hour including removal of all the tire tracks. At last he was free to go. The music had stopped; or at least he couldn't hear it anymore as he ran across the cotton field toward the distant line of trees. The thin column of smoke was gone too, but he remembered where he had seen it. Jamie was careful to run down the furrow so that he wouldn't disturb the cotton plants. Clouds of small insects and some large grasshoppers rose before him as he ran, marking his progress through the field. He was breathless when he reached the three-stranded barbed wire fence which seperated the Wilson farm from their neighbors, the Stovalls. He paused there a moment to try to get his breathing slowed down. He was less than fifty yards from the creek bed. The woods along the creek had always seemed a little ominous, and seemed no less so because he could here an occasional shout from the Gypsy camp.
Ten Mile Creek cut sharply into the chalky white llimestone which underlay the black "cotton land"as it made this bend. Jamie knew from where he had seen the smoke and by where the shouts were coming from that the Gypsies were camped on the big gravel bar at the inside bend of the creek. He decided that he would creep up through the trees and brush and vines until he could peek through the bushes right on the edge of the bluff and see the Gypsy camp without being detected. On this side he knew that the creek bank dropped steeply off for about fifteen feet to the water and that trees and vines grew to the very edge of the drop.
The sounds of the Gypsy camp came plainly to Jamie as he forced his way through the tangle of vines. Not until he had reached the very edge of the little limestone cliff and slowly parted the last bushes could he see the camp. It was there before him in the shady little meadow across the creek. There were four wagons such as Jamie had never seen before. They were mostly white, but were trimmed in red and gold bands and swirls. Except for the hearse at Redford, Jamie didn't remember ever seing a painted wagon before. These wagons looked a little like the hearse but with the decorated cabin on their beds they looked taller and bigger--and they were painted so gaily.
They Gypsies were there too.Jamie didn't actually count them but there must have been close to twenty there. They were dark like Mexicans; some even darker. They didn't dress like people Jamie knew either. The women were slim-waisted and wore great swinging skirts with brightly colored trim. They walked free-striding like a man and they laughed and talked like men. What caught Jamie's eye most was the jewelry. Every arm wore a load of gold or silver bracelets and many of the women wore rings. One boy about Jamie's age wore a gold earring. After careful study Jamie came to the conclusion that the ear had a hole punched through it and he winced at the thought. It was obvious that the Gypsies were breaking camp. Some of them were busy packing things away in the bright wagons.
It happened so quickly that Jamie could not tell how he fell into the creek.Perhaps he leaned too far out to see better. There was a sharp snap that may have been a rock falling or a branch breaking and then he was falling through the air with shreds of vines and briers on his clothes. Even though he fell into the water it was not deep enough to cushion his fall very much It was almost like falling on a table. It was not until the man came splashing through the water and scooped him up that Jamie knew the Gypsies had seen him fall. The man was big and strong and dark.He had a great black mustache and coal-black hair tied at the nape of his neck into a short pony tail. His arms were bare and he wore a wide black leather belt with with a huge silver buckle.The man tossed him in the air and caught him again as he fell toward the creek,
"Ho! Nagreb has caught a fish. Make ready the pot. Nagreb has caught a fish,"
Jamie felt icy fear. Could it be true? Granpa Wilson had said that the Gypsies were not Christian---and he was being carried toward the campfire which was still burning in a water worn pot hole on the great flat rock across the creek. As Nagreb splashed out of the creek and onto the rock Jamie felt sure that he would be cast into the glowing coals that came ever nearer. Nagreb set him down against the elm log which had been toppled by last springs floods and stepped back a pace to look at him. Jamie wondered if perhaps there were Gypsie rites or ceremonies that had to be said.
The Gypsies had gathered about him in a loose circle. Escape was impossible. They were talking among themselves in a language Jamie could not understand. Some of them were smiling and laughing too, but Jamie put no great stock of hope in it. He permitted his eyes to move enough to see if any of them were preparing a pot Nagreb squatted down until his face was near Jamie's and raised his hand. The talking ceased.
"What is your name, boy?", Nagreb roared. To Jamie his voice sounded like the sound of a hammer on an anvil.
Jamie willed his voice to answer but no sound came from his throat. He might have struggled to answer again , but just then the dog came. The dog was maybe ten weeks old. It was of indeterminent breed and at that big-footed , tail wagging, awkward stage common to most large dog breeds. It burst from the ring of silent Gypsies and bound across the white rock into Jamie's lap---all energy and joy. It's outsized tail thumped happily against his wet cotton pants as it licked his face, mouth and his eyes. The dog was happiness, friendship and allegiance. Then Jamie realized that Nagreb had retreated and his place before Jamie had been taken by an old woman. Her voice was thick with accent but there was no doubt about the kindness in it.
"Do not be afraid. That Nagreb is fool--we will not hurt you. Nagreb, he made a bad joke. You not a fish. You good boy. You big boy. Here, now , you no cry. You, Nagreb! You get this boy cup milk. Hey, boy, this dog he like you. How is your name?"
Jamie found that he could answer, "J--J--James Harris Balfour."
"You good boy, James. We Gypsies, you know? We live here four day--fix wagons--graze horses. We leave today. Soon. You good boy. Where you live?"
James managed despite the wriggling puppy to point up toward the Wilson farmhouse.
"So you live there. You good boy, James? Sure you hungry. All boys hungry all time. Here you have a bowl of good stew. Good stew--three squirrel, two rabbit maybe. Very good stew. Here all you go way. Here, you play music."
Jamie suddenly knew that he wasn"t going to be eaten. It had all been a bad dream. The dog was curled against him. The woman had brought him a metal plate heaped with stew and a cool stone mug of good, but very strange milk. Jamie had never tasted goat's milk. The circle of Gypsies had drifted away at the old ladies command and busied themselves with packing their wagons and harnessing the horses and oxen that pulled them. A few goats and one big cow were haltered to lead ropes tied to the wagons Two boys about Jamie's age watched him without expression while he ate. The dog pressed against his side as he ate, thumping the rock with his tail when Jamie looked down at him. Jamie thought it was the prettiest dog he had ever seen.
When the old lady came to get the cup and plate Jamie saw that the Gypsies were ready to leave. All of them except Nagreb and one other man had mounted the wagons and all were obviously waiting for the old lady to come join them.
"Hey, James, you eat good. See all gone. Why you say you not hungry?"
"It was good." Jamie dodged the question.
"Sure good. Good Gypsy stew. Good squirrel. Hey, James, you got dog?"
Jamie looked down at the dog beside him and shook his head. "How you like this black dog?"
"He's a beautiful dog, ma'am, and he's a smart dog too."
"OK. He is your dog now. You take good care this dog. He is your dog. We go now! Very late. Far to go. Goodby James."
The old woman climbed the wheel of the lead wagon onto the high front seat. Jamie watched as the wagons groaned up the sharp rise out of the creek bed and almost instantly disappeared in the surrounding woodlands. He placed a restraining hand on the puppy to keep it from following the wagons , but it did not try to follow them. The dog seemed happy to lie beside him in the sun.
As Jamie ran back across the cotton field toward the Wilson farmhouse he was happier than ever before. Gone were all the hurts. He had a friend! The dog gamboled and jumped excitedly at his heels as he ran. Once in a burst of speed the dog tripped over his own great paws and rolled happily in the soft black earth between the rows of cotton. Jamie laughed and stopped to rub the soft fur behind the dog's ears.
As he reached the yard he realized he had not asked the dog's name. He dropped to his knees and cupped the dog's face in his hands.
"I'll call you 'Gypsy'. The Gypsies gave you to me and I will name you after them. Gypsy! You learn that name. You are my friend! and I'll take care of you and feed you. We can be together all the time and I'll have someone with me when everyone goes away on Saturdays." He hugged the dog to him.
The Wilsons came home earlier than usual that Saturday. As the wagon turned into the lane from the road Jamie glanced around to be sure that he had not missed any bicycle tracks.As the wagon neared the yard he was sitting on the porch as if he had not moved since the wagon left. Gypsy lay beside him with his chin resting on Jamie's leg. Grandpa Wilson stopped the team in the yard and strode directly to Jamie, "Where'd you get that dog?"
"The Gypsies gave him to me, sir." Jamie instantly knew that he should have lied. The Old man's face was set and hard.
"You been havin' truck with them Gypsies , boy? They're heathens--and thieves. I talked to George Stovall this morning and he is going to throw them off that land."
"They are gone . sir" They left about noon."
"Probably took half my chickens off with them while you were off down there at their camp. Rupert you go look at the chickens ."
Rupert made no move to go as he helped his mother down off the wagon seat. He stared at the dog fascinated. Grandma Wilson made her way over to Jamie and stood before him with her hands on her hips.
"Gypsies indeed! Look at you! Your clothes are all muddy and it"ll take a dear amount of soap to get them clean. Soap makin's two months off anyhow. Gypsies! Just like your father. It's coming out in you too. He always flirted with the Devil. Some say he spoke French, too. You'll come to no good end , James Harris. Frank Balfour's sins are being visited on his son and will be visited on his son's son even to the third generation. It says that in The Book, James Harris. You will not escape it! Do you hear me?"
"Well you just remember it. I'll not have that dog in my house nor eaten my cookin'. It's a heathen dog. Do you hear me?"
"Yes'um. I'll feed him out o' my food--outside of course."
"Your food? Where you get any food? James Harris , you don't have anything you didn't come into this world with. It is only through the goodness of me and your grandpa that you ever put a bite in your mouth and you remember it."
Jamies Grandmother stomped scowling into the house to see if she could find a trace of the dog having already been there. Fred Wilson and Rupert returned from the chicken house and the barn where they had surveyed the livestock. Rupert ran up and addressed Jamie.
Rupert said, "Pa says we can take the shotgun and take him down to the woods to see if we think he'll make a hunter. He'll be more apt to let you keep him if he looks like he might make a hunter."
"Oh he will, Rupert. You'll see. The old Gypsy woman said that he would make a great hunter."
Rupert vanished into the house and returned with Fred Wilson"s long double-barrelled shotgun and three shells. He broke the shotgun and put a shell in each chamber and put the third shell in his pocket. He left the shotgun broken and strode off toward the creek. Jamie and Gypsy followed.
About halfway across the cotton field Rupert stopped and said to Jamie,"You go on ahead - you and the dog. You know the best places. I'll stay back so's not to make quite as much noise."
Jamie pushed past his uncle and strode on toward the Stovall's fence . He thought Gypsy was really too young for a hunter, but he just had to hunt. He had to prove to Wilson that Gypsy was a good dog. Gypsy was chasing grasshoppers two rows over. Jamie wondered about the Bible and if Gypsy really was "heathen"--and what did "heathen" really mean. He heard the shotgun snap closed and suddenly knew what was happening before he ever heard the roar of the old gun. Jamie screamed in concert with the blast. Rupert had shot the dog when it was about ten feet from Jamie where it had stopped to try to find a lizard that had darted out of the cotton stalk forest.
Like any farm boy Jamie had seen death before and when he dropped and gathered the limp body of the puppy into his arms he knew the dog was dead already. He had never made a sound.l He was on his knees with the dog clutched to him when he looked up to see Rupert . Rupert stood with his feet apart and the shotgun held across his body silhouetted against the cloudless sky. He grinned.
"Pa said I could shoot him. He ain't got no right here".
It was only after Rupert turned back toward the house that Jamie cried. He sat cross-legged between the cotton rows and hugged the dead dog oblivious of the blood that streaked his clothes , his face even his hair.
It might have been an hour or even only half an hour that Jamie sat there before he moved. The tears had stopped ,but still he cried. As he walked he carried the dog clutched to his chest. Jamie didn't know where he was going; he just walked. He walked away from the house, away from Rupert and the gun, away from his grandmother, away from the Bible and his father's sins. He crossed the creek and up the road the Gypsies had taken that morning. He walked slowly as people do when they are not going anywhere.
There is no way to know where Jamie might have gone or what he might have done if he had not met Nate Stone. Really Jamie didn't meet Nate as much as Nate met Jamie. Nate was stopped by the road just a few yards beyond the ford of the creek. The wagon that he had bought just that morning was already showing the wisdom of its sale and the folly of its purchase.The tongue pin had worked loose in the five mile trip and Nate had spent an hour fixing it. He was a big man with the huge arms and shoulders that a lifetime of blacksmithing will give to a man. He dripped sweat in big splatters on the inch thick carpet of loose dust on the road as he turned to see the boy walking up the sope from the creek toward him.
Jamie did not see Nate Stone nor hear the swish of the horses' tails as they tried to discourage the flies. He was not even aware of Nate's presence until an iron grip descended on his shoulders and he found himself face to face with the big red faced dripping blacksmith.
" I say boy, I be talkin" to you. What ails you?"
Jamie did not answer but stared at the smith in terror and clutched the dead Gypsy to his chest.
"You do look a sight . boy. You got blood on you from head to foot. What ain't covered with blood is covered with dirt. Yes siree,boy, you sure do look like you got problems. Come on over here in this shade and let's see what can be done about this. Who's boy you be?"
Jamie found that he could talk. "I'm James Harris Balfour."
Nate"s brow wrinkled up as he pondered this information. "Then most likely you'd be Frank and Nora Balfour's boy.I don't know of no others by that name in these parts. Frank was from Tennessee and had no other people in this country. And I guess that you'd be comin' from Fred Wilson's farm 'bout now; him being Nora's pa. I knew your pa real well, son. He was one of the finest men I ever knew".
Jamie's head jerked up as he looked at the blacksmith. "You knew my father? Was he-----I mean---was he a sinner?"
Nate frowned. "I expect he was, son. I guess all men are. What is it the book says, 'We all sin and fall short of the glory of God', suthin' like that anyway. But he sinned no more than any other man, son, and there is many an orphan and widow in this county has ate his bread. I be debtor to him for sure. Now let me take that dog for a minute, son. I got a gunny sack here in the wagon as can be used to shroud him with and there is a mattock in the wagon that we can use to dig him a grave--ground bein' soft here. Some people don't hold with saying words over animals, but I never saw no harm in it. Sure an' God's got enough mercy to go round an' if he don't the words we say over people ain't gonna do much good anyhow."
Nate had spoken softly and had gently taken the dog from Jamie's arms and had wrapped it with great care in the big sack from under the wagon seat. Nate then dug an adequate grave with a very few strokes of the mattock and laid the bundle in the bottom of the grave. He looked at Jamie sitting under the tree with his head in his hands.
"Stand up, Jamie. It ain't fittin' to say words when your sittin' down." Nate waited for Jamie to stand and bow his head then continued, "Lord, this here grave holds James Balfour's dog. From the look of him he was a good dog and I think he was killed by a shotgun.We all know you work in mysterious ways Lord, an' it ain't up to us to understand. But Lord, it is hard on a boy to lose his dog and we are hoping you'll give James the strength to accept this work of thy hand. And Lord, we ain't too sure what happens to critters, but dogs is somewhat different from other critters and we're hopin' you'll find a place up there for this one."
Nate raised his head and Jamie knew the ceremony was over.
"I didn't rightly know what to say, son. Seein' as how I never said words for a dog before, and how as I never really knew this dog. You never told me his name, but thats all right I said he was your dog. Now lets walk down there to the creek and you take off all the clothes you got on and wash the blood and dirt off you and tell me what has happened to you. You do look a sight"
Jamie had never found it so easy to talk. This man who prayed for his dog, who knew his father and said good things about him seemed to pull two years of pent up misery out of Jamie. He talked about the fire, about the lickings, about his grandmother's predictions, about Rupert and about Rupert's bicycle. The smith's brow furrowed ever deeper as Jamie talked. After Jamie had dressed again they walked hand in hand back up to the wagon.
Then Nate said, "Jamie I want to go talk to your Granpa .. Now don't fret about it This here's a nervous team and I can't leave it alone so I want you to sit with them here till I come back. Now don't go off cause this team would bolt for sure and I'd be out a brace of horses and a no-good wagon I got beat on today. I'll be back shortly."
Before Jamie could protest Nate had turned and was walking briskly toward the Wilson house. It seemed like a long time before Nate came back. Jamie had time to think about all that had happened.That morning he had been too young to hate--it was different now. Rupert had changed all that in the cottonfield. It wasn't just hurt now. He had grown used to being hurt.It was a new emotion that filled him as he pictured Rupert standing above him with the black shotgun outlined against the sky. And Rupert had said, "Pa said I could shoot him". He could never forget that. And all those things his grandmother had said about his father.
The man who owned this wagon didn't believe them--so why did Jamie have to believe them now? Jamie didn't know what to do , but he knew he could never go back to the Wilson farm. He was still thinking of these things when Nate Stone came walking up the road. The blacksmith was red-faced and hot.
"I tell you , Jamie, this place is not fit for man nor beast in August."
"Well, Jamie, here's what happened., I went to see your Grandpa. I won't say we see eye to eye, your Grandpa and me. Fact is I'd say we differed considerable. But just to show you that you can do business with people you don't agree with we came to some agreements. Course all this depends on you ,Jamie, on what you want to do."
He paused to mop his head then went on, "Your Grandpa was some ired at you. Before it was over I was some ired at him. Soon as he found out I was a friend of Frank Balfour he was even more ired at me , so I guess we was all mad. Now when people get mad they seldom come to agreements so I consider it passin' strange that we did. He first of all wanted you to come straight back right then. He said that you were due a lickin' and he was goin' to see that you got it. Now I ain't agin boys getting a lickin' when its due and there never was a boy who didn't need one sometime. But what with Rupert chimin' in frequent about what all bad you did and how his Pa said he could shoot your dog and what with your Grandma sayin' this was all Frank Balfour's fault, I just plain got ired. Now,Jamie, here is the part you need to listen close. I be a blacksmith with my forge in Red Elm on yonder side of the county--good four hour wagon ride from here. I need a 'prentice real bad. Now don't answer straight off--let me tell you about it. While I was talkin to your Grandpa and Rupert puttin' in and Ruby Wilson sayin' Frank killed her daughter it came to me in a flash that you might want to come be my 'prentice blacksmith. Now i know you are only eight and that you'd have to feed out at my house for a few years before you could work in the shop. And seein' as how you'd need to reckon pay and things like that I guess we'd just have to put you at school there at Red Elm, which is a considerable walk from where we live. And I don't hold with idleness .Jamie, so there would be chores to do after school and on Saturdays. Now we didn't come to 'greement right off but finally we did. I agreed to pay your Grandpa one dollar a month till your twelfth birthday for your service. So if you come, we between us got to shoe two more horses a month or beat four more plow shares to make things come out---I guess we can do that. Now you think on that while I get this team ready. It is a good long ride to Red Elm."
Jamie didn't need to think. He knew what he wanted to do before Nate had told half of his story about what had gone on at the Wilson farm. He looked at Nate.
"I want to go with you--please take me with you"
"I thought you might seein' what you told me so I brought what they said was your things. Now you look at it careful and you tell me if anything of yours is missing--if it is I'll go right back in there and get it for you. "
There was something else. Jamie knew that the picture of his mother which sat on the Wilson's mantle was rightly his, but he instantly resolved to not risk his new wonderful future by having Nate go back.
"No, sir, that's all."
"All right, Jamie Balfour, let's shake hands on it. You're a might young for it but not too young to learn that when you 'gree on somethin' you shake hands on it and that's the way it is--you do it. And Jamie don't forget I said you'd have chores to do."
Jamie agreed that he remembered the chores and they shook hands. It was a long long way to Red Elm. At first Jamie reveled in every yard the journey put between himself and the Wilson Farm. Nate told him things about Frank Balfour--things he'd never heard; how Frank had broken the meanest horse in Wilford County,how he had made Fanny Stone a big skillet of plain metal to prove he was as good a smith as Nate Stone. how he was the first man in the county who knew how to graft pecan trees and how no man was more generous to the widow and orphan than Frank Balfour.
It was balm to Jamie's soul, but long before they turned into the lane of the Stone farm and its blacksmith shop he was sound asleep--jostling gently against the great mass of the blacksmith. He was only half awake when Nate led him to the lamp lit kitchen door and told his wife, "Fanny, I brought home Jamie Balfour. He is Frank and Nora Balfour's boy. He is 'prenticed to me now and we need to feed him and put him to bed as soon as he does a chore for me."
"Nate Stone are you out of your mind? Look at all that blood on his clothes. You talk chores to somebody else, I'll take care of this boy"
"You let him be, Fanny. Me and him has an agreement solemn made 'bout this chore. Don't fret about the blood either--taint his."
Nate shook the boy roughly awake. "Jaimie you remember 'bout that chore I had for you to do?"
"Well, you take this bucket and go to that door on the barn right there, thats the corn crib. Take this lantern with you and this bucket--don't spill it now. You feed the critters in that corn crib you hear--every day".
Jamie stumbled off toward the corn crib. Nate told Fanny they would go see about him after he unharnessed and fed the team. A half hour later Nate and Fanny went to the crib and softly opened the crib door. There was Jamie in the circle of lantern light with a squirming puppy clutched to his breast. Meg, the Stone's old dog, watched tolerantly as Jamie stroked its fur. Three more very similar puppies were busy between Meg and Jamie licking spilled milk off the crib floor.
Nate closed the crib door quietly and told Fanny as they walked away "I'll come get him in a little while. There are things a boy needs worse than he needs food and sleep--that's for certain sure."
I realize that this story drips with sentiment and is not the type of thing which is in vogue today, but I had a reason for writing it. The story up to a point is true. My father was Jamie. When my father was six his father disappeared on his way to the Panama Canal. The ship he was on burned and sank at sea. My father was put to live with his mother's parents who also had a son still remaining at home who was fourteen. The Gypsies were true and they did give my father a dog which my Uncle shot at his fathers bidding. From the point where Jamie meets Nate Stone the whole remainder is fiction. Why didn't I tell the rest like it really was--how my Dad dug a little grave in the cotton field, buried the dog, went back to the house on the hill and took his licking and lived under Ruperts eye until he left home at sixteen to go to Tennesee and one year of college? Because it was too drab, too pointless, too devoid of hope. Up to the point where Rupert shot the dog it all happened.
I have met all these people. Grandpa and Grandma Wilson were much as I have shown them. Rupert grew up to become a crooked bail bondsman and lawyer in Dallas who preyed on the young women he got out of jail.
Dad never forgot the bicycle. I had a bicycle all my life even though we had to tie it on the bumper of the Model A Ford we moved in. I always had a horse. And never one time in my life did I ever doubt that my parents loved me.
© Charles Turrentine 2000