THE OBJECT OF THE QUARREL
I’ve always loved to write “what-ifs,” such that what if the situation had gone very differently than it did in the novel (or short story or TV show). Based upon Ms. Rawlings’ original novel, “The Yearling,” this is one such story.
“Who was it, now, wishin’ for sich as this?”
Penny’s words came back to him, haunting him, as Jody pawed desperately through the rubble of what had once been their cabin, now flattened by the hurricane. If Jody had not been in the barn at the moment that the house had collapsed, he knew that he would have been crushed, too.
“They ain’t crushed,” Jody argued savagely with his own thoughts. “They cain’t be.”
Jody heard the sound of hoof-beats approaching from behind him. He turned his dirt-streaked face toward Buck and Mill-wheel as they rode in, doubtless to check on how the Baxters had fared during the storm. Their eyes grew wide with alarm at the sight of the ruined cabin. The two men dismounted hastily and rushed to his side. Buck snatched Jody up and pulled him away from the debris.
“No!” Jody sobbed. “I got to find ‘em!”
“We’ll find ‘em,” Mill-wheel insisted, already flinging fragments out of his way.
They made Jody sit under a tree as they labored. He cried softly to himself, feeling that the task of waiting was more difficult than if they had simply allowed him to help.
Suddenly, Mill-wheel stopped and straightened abruptly. He reached wordlessly to Buck and nudged him. Buck followed his gaze. They exchanged an ominous glance, and then they both looked at Jody.
“What??” Jody cried in alarm.
Buck and Mill-wheel seemed undecided about something. “We kin come back later,” Buck murmured to his brother. “First, the boy….”
Mill-wheel nodded, and they approached him.
“What?!” Jody screamed in panic.
Buck picked up Jody, and the men kept walking toward their horses.
“No!!!” Jody kicked. “We cain’t leave!!”
“Hit’s too late, Jody,” Buck said softly. He restrained Jody’s legs with obviously no thought of punishing him for the kicks.
“I’m sorry, boy,” Mill-wheel told him. “He cain’t hear you.”
Jody was hardly aware of the ride
When the men dismounted at home, they walked briskly into their own cabin, Buck still carrying Jody. As their brothers stared, Buck continued on into what had been Fodder-wing’s room to put Jody to bed, and Mill-wheel paused to whisper to their mother. Her eyes grew wide; she drew in a breath sharply, and quickly followed Buck into the bedroom.
Jody’s unseeing eyes stared through Mrs. Forrester as she sat and stroked his hair. He was dimly aware of an argument in progress in the main room, to which Buck had returned after gently laying him down upon the bed.
“So what’d you tote him here for?” Lem demanded.
“What’d you expect us to do with him?” Buck retorted. “He’s a orphan now.”
“Well, we ain’t keepin’ him.”
“Now why not?” Mill-wheel wanted to know. “We kin take keer of him, and at least he knows us. You want we should give him to strangers?”
Lem snorted. “Give him to the Huttos.”
Arch regarded him in disgust. “Now you know that ol’ woman ain’t gonna live long enough to raise another child this young. And Oliver ain’t never home.”
“Hmm! He’s home often enough,” Lem muttered sullenly.
“There’s somethin’ else you ain’t thought of,” Buck suggested quietly. “Has it occurred to ary one o’ you that mebbe Ma’d like to have Jody?”
Lem’s anger grew. “You mean, to replace Fodder-wing??? That leetle blond brat cain’t never replace Fodder-wing!”
Buck laid a sympathetic hand on Lem’s shoulder. “Course not, nobody kin. But could be, she’d like to have another young un anyways. Jody’s the same age as Fodder-wing, and he was Fodder-wing’s only friend. That’ll mean a heap to Ma. And Ma’s a’ready right fond o’ the boy. And hit don’t matter none that he ain’t dark like us.”
Lem shook his head, unconvinced.
“Whyn’t we ask her?” Mill-wheel recommended.
Jody wasn’t the only one overhearing the quarrel. Mrs. Forrester also heard. She crossed to the door and went out into the main room. All of her sons turned abruptly to look at her tear-streaked face.
“I want him,” she said simply.
They regarded her sympathetically.
Even Lem had nothing to say.
Weeks later, there came a day when the six Forrester men had errands to do in Volusia. Buck pulled Jody onto his lap. The boy had been so despondent; the men had been seeking something to arouse his interest.
“We’re goin’ to town, Jody. Mebbe you’d like to go with us?”
Jody started to say no, but then a sudden thought occurred to him. He regarded Buck uncertainly.
“What is it, young un?”
“Would…you allow me to visit Grandma? I ain’t seed her in so long. She likely don’t even know.” He dropped his gaze.
Buck shifted uncomfortably, but feigned cheerfulness. “Why sure! You kin go see her whilst we’re takin’ keer o’ business. Course….” He hesitated. “I don’t know as I should take you right to her place.”
“No,” Jody agreed promptly. “I kin go alone, from Boyles’ Store.”
They set out on their horses. None of the Forresters was comfortable with Jody’s project, but they couldn’t deny that the request was reasonable. Besides, they had been seeking a means to lift the boy’s spirits. They had mixed emotions, however, as to whether or not they wished this visit to be the solution.
Once in front of the store, the Forresters bade Jody be careful, and emphasized again what time they required him to be back to meet them. Jody agreed, and set out for Grandma Hutto’s cottage. Memories flooded through him of the last time that he had come here. Penny had been with him. Jody had raced to the door, yelling, “Grandma!” He remembered her gleeful greeting and his father’s gentle admonition, “Don’t knock her down, boy.” It seemed so long ago. He did not run or call out this time. He knocked on the door solemnly. Grandma opened the door, and her eyes lit up at the sight of him. Then she looked beyond him, and back again, her eyes filling with questions.
“Where’s your pa?”
Jody told her. She gave a little cry and gathered him into her arms. Her eyes brimmed with tears as she held him. Jody looked over her shoulder at Oliver, standing at the other end of the living room. It was obvious from his expression that he’d heard. He went close then, and laid a hand on Jody’s head.
At last they separated, and sat in the chairs. The Huttos had many awkward but necessary questions for Jody, concerning how, how long ago, and so on in that vein. Then they came to the crucial question.
“Where you been stayin’ since?”
Jody hesitated. “With the Forresters.”
It was difficult to discern which of his two listeners gasped louder.
“Oh, Jody, no!” Grandma was horrified. “Well, hit’s a’right now, Punkin; you kin stay here.”
It was clear that she had totally misunderstood.
“No, Grandma, I don’t mind. They want to keep me. And they’s good to me.”
“But…!” Oliver sputtered. “You ain’t safe there! After what them blackbeards done to us in front o’ Boyles’ Store…!”
“Oliver, they ain’t gonna hurt me no more. Even Lem is nice to me now. He wa’n’t at first, but he is now.”
Grandma was shaking her head vigorously. “That family ain’t fitten to raise you.”
Jody said, “Grandma, I love you, but I love them, too….” At Oliver’s expression, he insisted, “I do! And they’s bein’ good to me. Besides, I belong there, in the scrub I mean. I ain’t used to livin’ in town no more. I’m used to farmin’ and huntin’, and the Forresters kin finish learnin’ me sich as that. I cain’t do that here. Hit’s what I wanta do when I’m growed up. I’ll go back to our place, and….” He trailed off for an instant. “Anyways, also, their boy my age, Fodder-wing, died….”
“And Mrs. Forrester needs me. I ain’t him, and I cain’t be, but….”
Grandma nodded that she understood. “As long as you’re sure they ain’t hurtin’ you….”
“Not so far!” Oliver exploded. “But one night they’ll git drunk, and….”
“How kin you be so sure after what they done to us?”
“I’m sure. They keer for me.”
“You could be wrong. And that mistake could be fatal.”
“Even iffen you was right, Mrs. Forrester’d not allow it. She’d protect me.”
“I’m sorry, Jody.” Oliver shook his head. “I’ll not risk it. We’re keepin’ you. You ain’t goin’ back to them. Iffen I got to fight ‘em for you….”
“No.” Jody rose from his chair. “You ain’t gonna make me the next Twink. And unlike Twink, I have the guts to say, before a fight, where I wanta go.”
“No, Oliver. And jest think o’ this: the Forresters allowed me to come here and visit you today. Even though they was afeered you’d try somethin’ like this, I could tell; they ain’t wanted to fetch me to you. They done it for me. Would you’ve takened me to go visit them, iffen ‘twas you I was stayin’ with?”
Grandma regarded Oliver with raised eyebrows.
Oliver was frustrated. He couldn’t bring himself to admit the truth that Jody was implying, that he would not have permitted such a visit, but neither could he deny it.
“One more thing, Oliver. Iffen you don’t make a fuss ‘bout me livin’ with them, they’ll likely allow me to visit with you-all agin, mebbe often. But iffen you do….” He left the thought unfinished.
Oliver nodded briefly. He was not happy, but he accepted it.
Jody went, then, to hug both of them. Their embraces were urgent and their faces strained.
After they separated, Jody said, “I best go now. Hit’s soon time to meet ‘em. I best not be late.”
“They’ll punish you?” Oliver asked tightly.
“No.” Jody regarded him with exaggerated patience. “They’ll wonder ‘bout you.”
“Come back, Jody.” Grandma squeezed his hand. “Come as often as they’ll let you.”
“Thank you, Grandma.” He nodded.
“Jody….” Oliver clearly wished to make amends; he obviously didn’t want to leave it like this. But all that he could think of to say was a heartfelt, “Be keerful.”
Jody understood it, though, for what it was. He smiled faintly in gratitude. “I will.”
The Huttos clung to each other in the doorway, watching him go. He looked so small and helpless.
The Forresters smiled at Jody as he approached.
“You okay?” Buck asked.
“Uh huh.” Jody managed a weak smile.
Lem voiced all of their thoughts. “Oliver ain’t tried nothin’?”
“Well….” Jody hesitated. He looked from one to another of them. They all regarded him expectantly. “I talked him outen it,” he admitted wryly.
They exchanged looks, clearly uncertain whether to be angry with Oliver or proud of Jody. Pride won out ultimately. Buck tousled Jody’s hair, mounted his horse, and put down a hand to pull the boy up behind him. They set out for home.
to the Yearling site...