In the original novel, “The Yearling,” Ms. Rawlings suggested a number of possible exciting plot twists that she then declined to pursue. I couldn’t resist writing them myself. Here is one such possibility.
“If Fodder-wing had been alive…the
two of them might have been taken along to
The two boys crouched on the floorboards beneath the men’s feet, and peered out excitedly at their first big city.
Suddenly, Lem yanked hard on the reins. “You see what I see?”
“Well, well,” Buck replied. “Looks like you called it, Lem.”
“You said we might find him,”
Mill-wheel agreed. “
Puzzled, Jody gazed out anxiously, wondering who was being discussed. Then he saw Oliver. Jody gasped and looked up at the men on the wagon seat. Their intentions were clear: Buck and Mill-wheel wore cold, hardened expressions, and Lem’s eyes were ablaze with eagerness and sadism. He was hungry for the kill. Panicked, Jody looked back toward Oliver. His friend was not even aware of their presence. His face was calm, untroubled. His ignorance of his own imminent demise made him seem all the more vulnerable, his situation all the more poignant. Jody turned to Fodder-wing, his other best friend. Fodder-wing had not missed a thing; he was fully aware of the dilemma. His eyes were gentle with sorrow for Jody. It was obvious to him that Jody was building up his nerve to take action. Fodder-wing laid a restraining hand on his shoulder. “You cain’t.”
“I have to.”
Fully aware of his own peril, Jody raised his head up from beneath the men’s feet and screamed, “Oliver! Look out! Run!”
Oliver turned in shock. A hand clamped over Jody’s mouth, and he was dragged up onto the seat. Oliver’s eyes widened as he took in the situation. After a second’s hesitation, he started forward to help Jody. But Jody continued trying to scream through the hand, and used his one free arm to frantically wave Oliver away for his own preservation. Oliver suffered a split second of indecision, turned away, and bolted.
“That done it!” Lem leaped from the seat. Mill-wheel was close behind him. Buck slammed Jody back down onto the floorboards, jumped down from the wagon, turned, and stuck a finger in Jody’s face.
“Now you’re gonna git it!”
“Soon’s we git back!” Lem agreed.
Jody looked quickly and apprehensively at each of the three. They wore expressions that he would not want to see twice. They charged off after Oliver.
Jody slumped on the floor.
“You hurted?” Fodder-wing asked.
“Not yit,” Jody answered glumly.
“I kin see why you figgered you had to do that. I jest hope hit do some good. But now you’re in trouble, Jody.”
“I know. What would you do iffen you was me?”
“I ain’t sure you got no answer to that.”
“How would you git home?”
“Don’t know. What you figger they’ll do to me?”
Fodder-wing appeared reluctant. “I’d not wanta try to say. For one thing, hit depends on iffen they git Oliver or not. Iffen they git him, could be they’d forgive you, or at least let you off easy. But iffen they don’t….”
“I know. They’ll be twice as riled. But I cain’t hope they’ll git him; I got to hope they’ll not. Even iffen hit mean….”
Jody sat staring at the floor. Fodder-wing slipped an arm around his shoulders. They sat that way for some time. Then, Fodder-wing said quietly, “They’s comin’, Jody.” Jody looked fearfully at him. He was unwilling to look out of the wagon and watch their approach. When they were close enough that he heard their footsteps, Jody panicked and dove down to the floor, making himself as small and inconspicuous as possible.
Wishing to distract them from Jody as well as hear the news, Fodder-wing asked, “What happened? Did you git him?”
“Nah,” Lem growled. “He got clean away. Hidin’ some’eres.”
Jody didn’t know whether to be relieved or more frightened.
“Has the other one run off, too?” Lem sneered.
“No,” Buck answered, peering into the wagon. “He’s on the floor.” He reached into the wagon, snagged Jody by the scruff of the neck, hauled him out, and set him on his feet.
Lem glared down at him. “Now we’ll give him what we was gonna give Oliver.”
“No!” Jody cried. That was significantly worse than he had anticipated.
“No,” Buck echoed. “That ain’t right. He’s jest a young un.”
“Now wait a minute,” Lem flared. “You told him he was gonna git it. Now you aim to let him off?”
“No, we ain’t lettin’ him off,” Mill-wheel assured his more volatile brother. “But we ain’t gonna beat him like as if he was all growed up, neither.”
Lem watched the bearded two, trying to control his temper. Then, he said, “Fine. Then I say we leave him here.”
“Abandon him??” Buck was shocked. “He’d never git home.”
Lem snorted. “Leave him find Oliver. Leave Oliver take him home.” He grinned. “And that’d give us another crack at Oliver.”
“He might never find Oliver,” Mill-wheel protested. “We didn’t. Lem, we brung the boy here; we got to take him back.”
“I knowed it!” Lem was furious. “You two argue with ever’thin’ I say. You’ll let him off.”
“No,” Buck said quietly. “We’ll not let him off. We’ll do somethin’ fittin’.”
Jody wondered uncomfortably what that meant. It sounded ominous.
Buck mounted the wagon seat. “Come ‘ere, Jody.”
Jody hesitated. He certainly didn’t wish to surrender himself until he knew what he was getting into; he took a step backward.
Mill-wheel crossed quickly to him. Jody tried to escape, but he wasn’t fast enough. Mill-wheel seized him and carried him to Buck.
“What’s he gonna do?” Jody pleaded with Mill-wheel.
Mill-wheel made no reply, and simply handed Jody up to Buck.
“No!” Jody struggled hopelessly.
In one swift movement, Buck grabbed Jody, and turned him over his knee.
Jody looked over his shoulder, and flashed stunned eyes to Buck. “You ain’t serious!”
“You’re gonna spank me?”
“Jody,” Mill-wheel said, from directly below him.
Jody turned his disbelieving face to him.
“Would you prefer this?” He made a fist right in Jody’s face.
“No, sir.” Jody drooped in defeat.
Buck dealt the first blow.
Jody shrieked in shock. Apparently, the Forresters did not need fists in order to hit hard. He much preferred his father, whose strikes were feather-light by comparison.
When at last it was over, Buck picked Jody up by the waist and set him back down under the seat. Jody knelt, preferring not to sit. He sniffed.
Lem went close and grinned nastily at Jody.
“You satisfied?” Buck asked him.
“Oh yeah,” Lem confirmed.
A little later, the three men planned to separate, to go on three individual errands. Lem departed first. Before Buck and Mill-wheel left, they checked on the two boys. Jody glared back resentfully.
Buck asked, “You ain’t figgered it out yit, Jody?”
“What’s to figger out?” he demanded sullenly.
They shook their heads.
Mill-wheel hinted, “You don’t realize what Buck done for you?”
“I realize what he done to me!”
Mill-wheel visibly summoned his patience. “You don’t know what Buck saved you from?”
“You heered what Lem wanted to do to you,” Buck explained. “Now don’t you figger you got off light?”
“Oh.” Jody hadn’t thought of that. “I reckon. But you ain’t had to do nothin’ to me. You two coulda jest stopped him.”
“And how long you s’pose he woulda stayed stopped?”
“Huh?” he repeated.
“We knowed we all had separate errands today. Now what woulda stopped Lem from sneakin’ back here and doin’ what he wanted with you, whilst we was gone?”
Understanding dawned. “Oh. But ‘twasn’t jest Lem. You two was riled at me, too.”
“For awhiles. But the more we thought on it, the more we figgered out that what you’d done jest wa’n’t that big of a surprise.”
Jody struggled to comprehend. “So…when you hurted me, you wa’n’t even riled at me no more?”
“Not really.” Buck smiled gently. “’Sides, iffen I’d still been riled, I woulda hit you hard.”
“I kin hit more’n twice as hard as that, Jody.” Buck laughed good-naturedly.
“Which is why we grabbed you quick, to do it,” Mill-wheel added. “Afore Lem could think to do it hisself.”
“Oh. Uh, thanks.”
They grinned. Buck tousled his hair. They left.
Jody turned to Fodder-wing. “Did you know?”
“I wa’n’t sure. But I thought so. I could tell them two wa’n’t riled no more.”
“How could you tell?”
Fodder-wing made a face. “I cain’t explain it. I jest know ‘em good.”
“Pity you couldn’t tell me.”
“Lem woulda heered.”
Fodder-wing smiled and patted Jody on the back. “You got off light, and Oliver’s safe.”
“Yeah.” Jody managed a smile.
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