“Jody!” Oliver called hoarsely. He was torn between the desire to be heard by his little blond friend, and his need not to be heard by his huge, mostly blackbearded enemies. He regretted mightily having fallen asleep in the warm sunshine at the Glen next to the flutter-mill that they’d built, and he wondered frantically why Jody had wandered off while he’d dozed.
Meanwhile, Jody regarded Lem skittishly, and hovered fearfully on the opposite side of the cave from the dangerous big man. He mightily regretted having wandered away from Oliver to investigate some peculiar sounds that he’d heard, and having pursued those sounds into this cave. He would never have dreamed that a cave would turn out to be the long-mysterious site of the Forresters’ still, or that it would choose this moment to cave-in, trapping him alone in here with Lem.
“We’ll never git outen here,” Lem muttered gloomily. “Oh well. Leastways I got plenty o’ liquor. I’ll not hafta die sober.” So saying, he tipped up a newly-filled demi-john and swallowed deeply.
“Lem?” Jody ventured in a small voice.
“What?” Lem wiped his mouth.
“Did you mean that?”
“What?” he asked again.
“That we’ll never git outen here.”
“I cain’t do nothin’ ‘bout that.”
“You could,” Jody suggested hesitantly.
“How?” Lem smirked. “You want I should git you drunk? Come ‘ere!”
“No, that ain’t it.”
“I don’t wanta die and you hatin’ me.”
Lem turned away from him. “I don’t hate you.”
“You don’t?” Jody’s eyes widened. “Sure ‘nough?”
“I said so, ain’t I?” Lem barked impatiently.
“But you’re riled at me. On account of Oliver.”
“Hit don’t matter.”
“Hit matters to me.”
“Well what you want I should do ‘bout it?”
“Kin I come over there? And you’ll not hit me or nothin’?”
“Yeah, sure,” he responded carelessly.
Struggling to overcome a healthy case of fearful reluctance, Jody took slow steps over to Lem, slipped tiny arms around the man’s waist, and rested his trembling head on Lem’s massive chest.
“Oh here now!” Lem was startled and discomfited, and clearly wanted to push away the child. But he relented when he heard sobbing. “Oh all right!” He awkwardly patted the little one’s back.
By the time that Oliver was anywhere near the vicinity of the cave, Lem was sitting tranquilly on the cavern floor, with tiny Jody cuddled in his powerful arms.
“Jody!” came the frantic call from outside of the cave.
The child’s head rose abruptly from Lem’s chest. One look into the large man’s black eyes instantly confirmed Lem’s recognition of the voice.
“I…I forgot to tell you,” Jody stammered. “He’s back. Visitin’.” Obviously ignoring the fact that he would never have volunteered such information to Lem, Jody was trying hard to stay out of trouble.
Murderous fury rose in Lem’s dark face, to be immediately replaced by hope. “He kin he’p us. Answer him!”
Jody eyed Lem fearfully, but obediently called, “Oliver!” in a quavering voice. Jody’s eyes never wavered from Lem’s face, as if he were afraid to even mention let alone shout the name “Oliver” in Lem’s presence.
Lem was either oblivious to Jody’s insecurity in the matter, or else he just didn’t care about it. “Louder!” Lem insisted. “He’ll never hear you that-a-way!”
Jody took strength from the encouragement. “Oliver!!!” he bellowed.
“Jody!!!” was the instant response, and Oliver was outside the pile of rubble, scrabbling at it.
Within minutes, the peril was plain. Most of the stones and pebbles would be easily removed, but one huge boulder had fallen into place, neatly blocking the entrance.
Oliver struggled and strained, to no avail. “Jody,” he called. “Iffen only you could push a mite from inside whilst I pull. I know you’re jest a young un, but….”
“Oliver.” Jody decided to tell him. “I ain’t alone in here.”
“Hush!” Lem urged Jody. “He’ll not he’p! He’ll go ‘way!”
“He’ll not leave me,” Jody answered with more confidence than he felt.
“What you mean?” was Oliver’s question from the other side of the boulder.
Jody looked at Lem. Lem nodded resignedly.
Jody raised his voice. “Oliver, Lem’s in here with me.”
“He kin push,” Jody added hopefully.
“Ohmigawd,” was Oliver’s murmur.
“Oliver, listen to me,” Lem tried. “Iffen you save us, I promise I’ll not hurt you. But you cain’t leave us; Jody’ll die, too. I know you don’t keer ‘bout me, but….”
“You sure ‘nough promise?”
“I give you my word.”
“Jody? He ain’t hurted you?”
“No, Oliver, jest the opposite, we made friends agin.”
Oliver was clearly moved by that. “All right, Lem, you push and I’ll pull. Ready? Go!”
Both men strained uselessly.
“Ain’t no use!” Oliver was frustrated.
“Oliver, listen. You got to git my brothers. They kin move it,” Lem told him.
“You ain’t serious!”
“It’s the only way.”
“They’ll kill me!”
“No, no, I’ll speak to ‘em. I’ll tell ‘em to leave off. You got my word on it.”
“You’ll not have a chance to speak to ‘em! They’ll kill me soon’s I show my face! I’d hafta go to your place, jest walk right in alone! I cain’t!”
“Oliver, please!” Jody begged. “I’m afeered! I don’t wanta die in here! You got to try! Jest tell ‘em quick, afore they kin do anythin’ to you! It ain’t that diff’rent from when I had to go to ‘em when Pa was snake-bit. Even iffen one of ‘em hits you once, you’ll still have time to say it! Please, Oliver!”
Jody’s comforting came from both within and without the cave. Lem put surprisingly gentle arms around the boy and held him close, and Oliver shakily consented to try.
Heart pounding hard in his chest,
Oliver stepped out from behind the bushes into open view at Forresters’
“Wait, please!” Oliver raised defensive, open-palmed hands in front of his face. “Lem’s in trouble! He needs he’p! Jody, too! They’ll die iffen you-all don’t go save ‘em! I tried to he’p ‘em, but I cain’t do it alone! You got to go with me! Lem sent me to fetch you! He needs you!”
Buck nodded once. He addressed the others, “Come on!” To Oliver, he added, “Lead the way.”
Oliver made desperate conversation as they went. “I knowed I was takin’ a terrible chance goin’ to you, but Lem promised he’d speak to you-all not to do nothin’ to me….”
“He don’t have to,” Buck assured him. “Iffen you’re really he’pin’ us save our brother, I’ll give you my own word. Nothin’ll happen to you.”
“Ne’ mind; that’s all right.”
“This it?” Mill-wheel strode up to the blocked cave entrance. “Well, I kin believe Lem was sure ‘nough in here, ‘cause I know right ‘nough what this place is. So looks like you was tellin’ the truth, Oliver. Jest you stay back now and relax; we’ll handle it.”
With one Forrester pushing and five Forresters pulling, the boulder came away promptly. Oliver found himself thinking ruefully that it wouldn’t dare resist. Lem handed Jody out to Buck, who passed the child on to Oliver to hold and comfort. Then Lem was helped out by his brothers.
After much back-slapping, the six Forrester men turned to look where Oliver sat in the grass, cuddling Jody in his lap. At their scrutiny, Oliver instinctively clutched Jody closer to him.
Lem walked to them and stuck out his hand. “Thank you, Oliver.”
Oliver accepted it. They shook…and smiled.
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