I’ve always loved to write “what-ifs,” such that what if the situation had gone just a bit differently than it did in the novel (or short story or TV show). Based upon the original novel, “The Yearling,” this is one such story.
Jody could hardly believe the bold lie that Grandma Hutto had just told Oliver: that the Forresters had not set the house-fire, and that he, Jody, had merely wanted a ruckus. Apparently, Jody was not the only one who couldn’t believe it.
“Ma, I ain’t no fool,” Oliver informed her. “I see them horse-tracks. They’s plain as day in the light o’ this fire. Hit takened a large number o’ horses to make all them tracks. Enough horses to belong to a family as big as the Forresters.”
“And I kin see why you’d wanta lie to me, Ma, and protect me from the Forresters, but I sure cain’t see why Jody would wanta lie, and send me after ‘em. A ruckus? I know Jody better’n that. And you ain’t no-ways that careless with lamps. I ain’t fallin’ for it, Ma.”
She gave up the pretense and clasped his shoulders in earnest. “Please, Oliver, don’t go! I love you! You’ll git yourself kilt iffen you go after them devils!”
“No.” He pulled away from her and picked up his revolver from the wagon seat. “I’ll not leave one alive.”
“I ain’t gonna leave you go!”
“We’ll argue this out later.”
“Stay and argue with me now! Say anythin’! Jest stay!”
“Sorry, Ma.” Oliver turned back toward the Baxters’ wagon.
“No, Oliver,” Penny ordered firmly. “You ain’t gonna go git yourself kilt, and you ain’t gonna commit murder and git hanged. And I kin stop you.”
Oliver turned and looked at him, obviously seeing a man much older and smaller than he. “How?”
“By tellin’ you, you cain’t use our wagon to go kill yourself or the Forresters.”
“Fine.” Oliver nodded. “Hit’s too slow to suit me anyways.” He turned and ran madly, back toward the church.
“Oliver!” Jody cried, and ran after him.
“Jody!” Penny was exasperated. “Now how do that boy figger he’s gonna stop Oliver?” he muttered to the women.
Oliver raced pell-mell for the church. Jody trailed behind him. Jody suspected that he knew what Oliver would do.
There were many horses tethered outside of the church. They were owned by people celebrating Christmas at the doin’s. Sure enough, Oliver leaped onto the back of one, and turned it toward the ferry, and beyond that the scrub.
“Oliver!!” Jody yelled in frustration. He was too late. But he was not surprised at Oliver. One who contemplates murder does not hesitate at theft. And undoubtedly, Oliver merely saw his actions as returning one crime for another. The Forresters were now arsonists. After a moment of indecision, Jody yanked loose the reins of still another strange horse, and followed.
Meanwhile, Penny realized what Oliver would do. He hurried the three women into the wagon.
“Ezra, we cain’t take Twink to
“I know!” he countered impatiently. “We’ll drop her off at the doin’s. She’ll be safe there.”
After dropping off Twink, the Baxter wagon careened off after the others.
The Forresters had not been home all that long when their door crashed open suddenly. Oliver Hutto stood alone in the doorway, aiming a revolver directly at Lem’s head. The Forrester men tensed. Their eyes darted to the rifles hanging on the walls, but they dared not move as long as Lem was in such jeopardy. However, they remained alert for the slightest opportunity.
Oliver smiled and cocked the gun. He aimed right between Lem’s eyes, and declared, “This is for my ma’s house.”
Lem braced himself and continued to stare hatefully at Oliver. “You kin kill me. But you cain’t git all six of us. As soon as you shoot me, my brothers’ll be on you. And you’ll not die fast like I will.”
“Mebbe not,” Oliver agreed. “But mebbe I kin git a few more of ‘em first, and even iffen I cain’t, I aim to enjoy killin’ you.”
“Oliver!!!” came Jody’s unexpected scream from outside of the cabin.
Oliver almost allowed himself to turn automatically. Almost, but not quite. The gun might have moved an inch. Buck almost came out of his seat. Oliver instantly steadied his bead on Lem’s face, and ordered tersely, “Don’t!”
Jody entered behind Oliver. “Oliver, don’t! Please don’t kill ‘em!”
“Jody, git outen here!” Oliver hissed tensely.
“No! Oliver, stop! I keer ‘bout you, but I keer ‘bout them, too! Please don’t kill none of ‘em!”
Lem raised his eyebrows, clearly impressed with Jody’s words and actions in spite of his own danger.
“After what they done to Ma?!” Oliver demanded.
“Oliver, I know hit’s powerful bad, but they ain’t kilt her! Now stop!”
“Go back, Jody. I’d ruther not shoot whilst you’re here. Once I do, things’ll git right rough, and I don’t want you should git caught up in it.”
“They’d not hurt me,” Jody declared with more confidence than he felt. “You’re the one in danger. Run, Oliver. I’ll stand in the door, and hold ‘em off, long as I kin.”
“That’ll be ‘bout two seconds. Sorry, Jody. Now git goin’.”
“No, Oliver.” Jody stepped around beside him. “I ain’t gonna leave you kill ‘em.”
“Jody!!” Oliver shouted sharply. “Don’t git betwixt Lem and me!! Then you will git me kilt!!”
The boy hadn’t gotten between them, but he was only slightly off to the side. “You ain’t gonna shoot Lem,” he stated flatly.
“Yes I am.” Something changed in Oliver’s eyes. Jody instinctively knew that this was the moment, and that he would have to move fast. He seized Oliver’s wrist and yanked downward with all of his might.
“Jody!!!” Oliver yelled.
They wrestled. The Forresters leaped to their feet. The gun fired. Jody crumpled.
Oliver collapsed to his knees and gathered the limp child in his arms. “Oh dear lord no.”
The Forresters stared in such astonishment and shock that no one even thought to make a move for the rifles on the wall or Oliver’s revolver on the floor.
Oliver raised his eyes to the Forresters; tears were streaming down his face. “Please,” he whispered. “Somebody git Doc Wilson.”
“I’ll go,” Gabby said immediately. He hurried to the door, stepping over Oliver on his way out of it.
The remaining five Forresters went and clustered around Oliver, where he sat on the floor holding Jody.
“How bad?” Buck’s face was gray with worry.
“I…I cain’t tell.” Oliver was blinded by tears.
“Here, let me.” Buck knelt beside him and examined Jody carefully. The bullet had lodged in the abdomen. “Mebbe he could make it,” Buck concluded.
“What’re you jaybirds doin’?!” Mrs. Forrester’s voice shrilled from her bedroom door. “I’m to where I kin ignore near ‘bout all your racket, but when you-all start shootin’ off guns in the house, I….” She saw Jody cradled in Oliver’s arms. “Oh my lord.” She went close.
“Hit was a accident, Ma,” Mill-wheel told her.
“Gabby goed for the doc,” Arch added.
“Put him in Fodder-wing’s old bed,” she instructed.
Buck gently extricated Jody from Oliver’s arms and carried him into the bedroom. Oliver sat unmoving on the floor.
A wagon clattered to a stop in front of the cabin. The Baxters and Mrs. Hutto rushed inside, and stared in confusion at Oliver, despondent on the floor, with the Forresters standing nonthreateningly around him.
“What’s goin’ on?” Penny demanded.
Mill-wheel stepped forward, put a hand on his shoulder, and told him.
Buck emerged from the bedroom and saw them. “He’s alive, Penny. I’m sure you three wanta go on in. Ma’s settin’ with him.”
Penny, Ory, and Grandma hurried in to join her. Gabby arrived with Doc Wilson. They ushered him into the room. After that, none of the men moved for a long time.
Then slowly, Buck approached Oliver and offered him a chair. Oliver accepted distractedly. The Forresters all sat down around him.
At length, Oliver spoke, “Iffen I’ve kilt that child….”
Hit was a accident,” Buck reminded him.
“He stood up for us,” Lem marveled.
“I’d give anythin’, if ‘twould save him,” Oliver despaired.
“We all would,” Buck agreed.
“Well,” Mill-wheel suggested, “iffen he live, whyn’t we give him what he wants most?”
Hours later, Doc Wilson announced that Jody was out of danger, and conscious.
Oliver and the Forresters entered the room together, and clustered around the bed. Buck took Jody’s hand in his, and Oliver stroked his hair.
Jody’s eyes grew wide. “Oliver, you’re all right. And you-all’re okay, too,” he addressed the Forresters.
“And we done made peace, Jody,” Oliver promised him.
“No more fightin’, ‘twixt Oliver and us, never agin,” Buck said softly.
Jody smiled adoringly at all of them. This triumph was worth the price that he had paid.
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