"Why not? He always goes with Jason."
"There's a kid over there that's scared of him. The Humphreys have to keep their dog tied up."
"Go back and stay with Jill and Joy, Sidney. You can't go to town." She waited until the dog had settled down by the porch step before she was on her way again.
Julie breathed in deeply; the air was tinged with fresh-cut, sweet-smelling hay. Buttercups and broom clover grew along the edge of the lane. Bees buzzed amid wild honeysuckle. Beams of bright sunlight slanted down through the trees. The grove was alive with the cheeps and chirps and rustlings of the birds. A mockingbird scolded her from the high branch of a towering oak tree.
The summer day was serene and beautiful.
A pompous rooster was picking and scratching in the lane ahead. The chickens were confined to the chicken house only in the winter. The rest of the year they were as free as the wild birds to roam the farm wherever they wished. They never ventured far, however, from the security of the farmyard, where from dawn to dusk they could be found picking up grain, undigested tidbits from animal manure, grass and all the insects they could catch.
Julie had to smile when a rooster, upon finding a choice morsel, called his harem of hens with a "Tut, tut, tut, tut." A couple of gullible fat hens came running, but there was nothing left for them. The rooster made a great show of being a good provider and strutted away. Having the fluffy white hens at his beck and call seemed to do great things for his ego.
Julie had been born on this farm in the room across the hall from the parlor. She had walked the mile to town and the additional quarter mile through town to school from the time she was six years old. Living on the edge of town, she had been considered a country girl and had not been invited to the socials held by her classmates, even though she had been a favorite of the teachers and was one of the prettiest girls in school.
Her school days had come to an abrupt end the summer she was fifteen. She tried hard not to think of that terrible summer or the following winter at home taking care of the family and her mother, who had never fully recovered from influenza. As she walked along the hard-packed road, Julie's mind roamed. Like all young girls, she had dreamed of a handsome man who would fall madly in love with her and take her away.
The dream was becoming dimmer and dimmer. Besides, the chance of finding such a man in Fertile, Missouri, was about as likely as waking up some morning and finding the sun coming up out of the west.
Was her lot to be the old-maid sister living out her life here on the farm? The boys would leave, marry and start families of their own. Jill was so pretty, she'd have no trouble finding a husband. Already the boys were eyeing her, even if Jack wouldn't tell her so. He'd told Julie he'd punched one boy in the nose for talking about Jill's bosom.
Julie walked the downhill road toward town and the river beyond. It was easy walking. Coming back up the road to the farm would require much more effort. She rounded a curve in the road and the town of Fertile, a huddle of buildings scattered along the bank of the Platte River, came into view.
Only the tall red-painted grain elevator and two white church steeples rose above the two-story brick shops and the wooden residences. The town sloped down to the river where the old mill stood. It had stopped operation several years before the Great War.
Julie crossed the railroad tracks. The train station was a one-room frame boxlike structure with a cattle pen on one side and the elevator on the other. The grass alongside the tracks was charred, deliberately burnt to keep the weeds from taking over. A lumber wagon, its long box filled with large rolls of barbed-wire fencing and oak posts, rumbled past her and continued on down Main Street after the driver had tipped his hat politely. A Ford, rattling as if it were going to shake to pieces, rolled past and came to a stop in front of the drugstore, a building of heavy limestone that dwarfed the tiny jewelry shop next to it. In front of the shop was a large wooden clock that for as long as Julie could remember hadn't run.
Copyright © 2001 by Dorothy Garlock
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