Alpha was our first bull-calf, named in anticipation of the large herd to follow. We had all gathered in the barn to witness his birth, and he had immediately become part of the family. Alpha had proved himself a true gentleman from the beginning, and so was allowed to roam free. Now he was two years old - a huge fellow with a massive head topped with great curving horns.
A party of surveyors was driving along the river trail one day in the early spring. Alpha saw them and decided to investigate. He ambled toward the carriage, head swinging rhythmically from side to side. In alarm the driver tried to beat a retreat. Alpha came closer, terrifying passengers and horses alike. In panic the driver lashed his frenzied team. Alpha became excited and began to paw the ground. The team bolted - straight for the river - hurtling passengers and carriage alike into the water. Alpha stood by, casually surveying the damage he had so unwittingly wrought. The furious driver collected his sodden passengers and mangled carriage and proceeded to limp to town where he reported our 'wild bull' to the authorities. The next day some men came and led Alpha off to the Saskatoon Pound.
Father was furious when he returned home that night and learned what had happened - furious with us for letting Alpha roam unchecked, and furious with the driver of the carriage for panicking when there had been no need. He presented himself at the Pound the following day and had to pay $25.00 to bail Alpha out! When they returned home that night, Father decreed that Alpha should never more be allowed his freedom to roam. And so he was tethered to a stake in the yard, a sad and pathetic creature who looked accusingly at each of us when we passed by.
One evening, Beauty arrived home, tethered behind Father's buggy. She was a blooded mare, and Father spoke proudly of her becoming champion show horse at the Annual Fair - a new event in Saskatoon. Alpha took one look at the beautiful new horse and decided that he hated her. In our pride of ownership of such a magnificent animal, none of us sensed Alpha's feelings, and Beauty was allowed her freedom in the large yard.
One day we all came running in response to loud bellowing from Alpha and terrified cries from Beauty. We stared in disbelief at the sight of a frenzied Beauty charging about as if demented, with a massive wound in her side. Alpha had gored her! Reg rode the fifteen miles to town at a gallop for Doc Sparrow.
"She'll never be a show horse now, Joe," he told Father.
"She's badly torn alright. My advice is to turn her loose and let Nature take her course - whatever it is." Heartbroken, we let Beauty go.
Mr. Evans was a neighbouring farmer who learned of Beauty's accident and came to call.
"The only way to control that bull of yours now that he has begun to gore is to saw off his horns and put a ring through his nose," he advised. Doc Sparrow's corroberation was sought, and so it was decreed.
Alpha's pitiful bellows reverberated throughout the valley. I rushed into the house in tears and buried my head under the bedcovers, while Mother tried to explain.
"Paying fines of $25.00 and having him gore other animals is no joke, Patty. You must accept the fact that it is for the best." But then she too went into her bedroom as the terrible cries continued, and shut herself in.
Alpha was never quite as rollicking after his manicure. The blunted horns were sealed with tar. He would stand complacently where he was tethered, his huge face topped with the stunted growths and the hated ring through his nose. I used to feel that his eyes reproached me for letting him come to such an ignominious end.
The boys sad I used to seek Beauty out every few days to see i f she were still alive. One afternoon we found her in a shady grove. She let us cone close, apparently glad to see us.
"Look at her flank!" cried Buzzy in disbelief, pointing to a swarming nest of maggots vibrating in the raw wound.
We tore home with the news, and the grownups just shook their heads. A few days later we found Beauty again. Her side was clean and the new flesh was perfect. Soon she was completely well and Father brought her back to the farm. Gradually she was retrained for riding and became Father's pride in spite of her scarred side....
Hailstones as large as hens' eggs fell from the sky that spring, destroying everything in their path. Father had an old felt hat which he wore in bad weather. The hail knocked holes clear through it. I had been given a hen for my very own and she was sitting on a nest of eggs. The sawlike hail sliced her head off and I was volubly inconsolable. Reg looked at the fields with their new s pring crop - flattened. Almost single-handed, that boy had ploughed, sowed and nurtured that beautiful crop that now lay destroyed before him. His grief turned to anger as he beheld Nature's vindictiveness. He picked up a clump of earth and threw it from him viciously.
"I'll never go through it again - for this!" he swore, and could not be found for the rest of the day.
Mr Prior had slaved and saved for his wife's visit back to En gland with their little daughter. From first light until dusk that little man had worked his land, day after day after day. This year's crop was to be the reward for all his labours and already packing preparations were under way for Mrs. Prior's visit home. After the storm had abated, they both walked exit into their fields. Devastation lay on all sides. Neither spoke. There was nothing to say. With no more outward display of her heartbreak than a clamping of her jaws together, Mrs. Prior turned back to her house and began to unpack....
I couldn't find Fred. No one seemed to know where he was. There was just one more place he was likely to be, off by himself this way, so I trudged off to the little lean-to behind the barn. There sat Fred, doing something to a badly bleeding hand.
"What are yon doing?" I gasped.
"Sewing up my hand," he replied cheerfully.
"What are you using?"
"A needle from Mother's sewing box and a hair from Beauty's tail."
"How did you cut yourself?"
"With my knife," and he nodded toward the bloody tool beside on the ground*
"You don't mean to say you cut yourself on purpose?" I asked in disbelief.
"Yep! I'm going to be a doctor, you know, so I might as well start now to practice."
I watched, fascinated, as Fred plunged the needle into raw flesh and pulled it through, aided at times by his teeth.
"Doesn't it hurt dreadfully?"
"What will Mother say?"
"I'll just tell her I scratched ay hand and bandaged it myself," he said with all the confidence of a thirteen year old.
I eyed the bandaged hand for days, mentally envisioning a midnight ride to town, racing the blood-poisioning already running up Fred's arm!
"How is it healing?" I asked in a hoarse whisper as we found ourselves alone for a minute.
"Fine! Want to see?" and he unwrapped the bandage to display a perfectly healing cut, drawn together neatly with the coarse hair. "I'll be cutting the stitches out in a day or two now," he stated. "Want to watch?"
Fred told me to meet him behind the barn one evening after chores. With a pair of Mother's scissors in his pocket, he came from the house, whistling. The bandage was removed and a clean, pink line about three inches long lay exposed. With great concentration Fred snipped the first small loop precisely, then the next, and the next. He drew each stitch out carefully through the healthy flesh. I could not believe that there was not the least sign of infection.
"There," said Fred with great satisfaction. "Now I can sew up anyone!"
Reg had not been his usual carefree self since the hailstorm. I noticed him standing in the barn alone, lost in thought. He turned and saw me standing there watching him.
"What is it, Reg?" I asked.
"I've been doing a lot of thinking, Patty. We all work like dogs around here. Father keeps driving everyone to the limit with never a word of praise. Then when you've worked your guts out ploughing and seeding, along comes a hailstorm and wipes out everything you've done. Just like that!" and with palm downwards, he sliced his hand through the air with a swift sideways motion.
We let the silence come down then and settle over us. Finally Reg said slowly, "I think I'll go to Alberta on the big spreads like Joe. He says you are paid well and your time is your own after work. Then if something like a prairie fire or a hailstorm comes along, it's not YOUR loss!"
"Have you told Mother and Father yet?" I asked in a small voice, already feeling bereft.
"No, but I'm going to ....tonight."
"When will you leave?"
And he did.
With Reg gone, it was not Fred's turn to herd the cattle. He liked to ride Beauty, and probably wove romantic poetry about knights in shining armour, with himself as Sir Lancelot, as he rode along. One day he rode Beauty so hard that she was lathered. Knowing little about horses yet, since this had always been Reg's job, Fred let her drink her fill when she got home. It was not long before the poor horse was in agony. Fred took another horse and rode off to town for Doc Sparrow, who administered by explanation as well as by demonstration. "You must never let a lathered horse drink her fill," he cautioned as he worked over Beauty. "You must bring her into the barn, take off her harness, and rub her down. Then when she is cooled off, you can give her a pail of water." Doc Sparrow showed Fred where the harness had galled the horse, and applied a special salve.
"You must not ride her again until these sores have healed," he stated.
Fred, the Future Healer, was mortified! He was also realistic enough to dread the thrashing he knew would be his when Father returned from town that night and learned of the incident...
A coyote was killing our hens. Each evening, Father, Fred and Buzzy went out looking for it. We could see it outlined against the sky briefly before it would melt into the landscape. Each night he claimed another victim. He was so silent and stealthy that the hens themselves were not disturbed. The feathered evidence of his success lay before us with each dawn.
Fred's immediate mission in life was clear. He was going to get rid of that coyote! It became an obsession with him.
He rode into town and bought a shotgun with his own money, then, telling no one, he sat up all night near the barn, waiting. Eventually the marauder appeared, slinking from tree to tree. Fred waited. Nearer and nearer he came out of the night. Suddenly the beast stopped, sniffed the wind, and retreated. Again Fred waited. Back came the shadowy body. He was a big brute!
Right up to the barn he came now, confident that the imagined danger was past. Fred deliberately took a bead on the animal's head, and fired. The coyote jumped high into the air and fell dead on the ground. Fred cleaned his gun, and went to bed.
Early in the morning, Ray came running back upstairs screaming, "There's a wolf in the house!"
Everyone - except Fred - jumped out of bed and raced down stairs. There lay the coyote draped across the lintel, himself a victim of the hunt in the end....
Mrs. Lang's beautiful daughter and their English hired man had fallen in love. I had come upon them more than once, waiving hand-in-hand along the riverbank. I was transported when he took Mildred in his arms and kissed her. I crept away then, unwilling to break the spell by having them know anyone was near. Their courtship progressed throughout the spring.
It was a warm, sunny Sunday afternoon. Suddenly a cloud of dust encircling a racing horse and rider appeared on the trail coining from the direction of the Langs 1 . Mildred, her hour-glass figure bent over her galloping horse, ringlets flying behind her in the wind, cams pelting up to our door.
"He told Mother that he loved me and that we wanted to get married," sobbed the hysterical girl. "She had been drinking and swore at him. She said he would never marry me and get the farm!" And Mildred threw herself into Mother's arms.
Both my parents tried to calm Mildred. Mother made her a cup of tea and said reassuring things. Just when the poor girl showed signs of settling down, we heard a voice. It was coming nearer.
Mildred rushed to our kitchen window and began her hysterics all, over again.
"She's here! She's come for me! Oh, Mr. Sutton, save me!"
There, sure enough, was Mrs. Lang, tottering up our hill. A carving knife glittered wickedly in her hand. Her blouse was askew and her long black skirt dragged in the dust of the trail. Mildred rushed upstairs, her hysterical cries reaching a cresendo.
It was left to Father to go out and meet the irate mother who was obviously wall in her cups.
"Come along, Mrs. Lang," his firm voice came to us where Fred, Buzzy and I were hiding behind the haystack. "Get into the buggy now and I will take you home!"
"You keep yer 'hair on, H'old boy!" she howled, brandishing the carving knife.
Father just stood there and stared at her. We gasped. No one had ever spoken like this to Father before! We held our hands over our mouths in a paroxym of excitement.
Father was speaking now, but his voice was low and we were unable to hear, no matter how we strained. Fred was unable to contain his sense of the dramatic a moment longer. He began to stagger around behind the haystack holding up an imaginary skirt in his left hand and brandishing a stick-knife in his right.
"You keep yer 'air on, h'old boy!" mimicked Fred, jabbing at Buzzy with his stick. My younger brother and I rolled on the ground in laughter and Fred repeated the performance over and over, sometimes waving the Imagined knife in front of my nose.
Eventually, Father persuaded Mrs. Lang to get into our buggy and the two of them drove off down the hill. Suddenly I recalled her oft-repeated statement, "Oi've 'ad four 'usbands and oi've burled 'em all!" Since I had first heard this remark, I had been convinced that our neighbour had done away each husband in turn, and I began to fret for Father's safety. Perhaps he would be the fifth victim! I voiced my concerns to Fred.
"He's a match for any old woman with a carving knife - or even two!" scoffed Fred.
It took time for Mother to quiet Mildred, but eventually her sobbing ceased. Father returned to us - unharmed.
Mildred stayed a day or two at our farm, and our parents acted as go-betweens for mother and daughter. Mildred agreed to move back home, and we thought the crises was averted. But it was not so.
Mrs Lang, looking demented, hobbled into our yard within the week screaming, "She's done it! She's h 1 eloped with that no good rubbish. "Ere's the note she left! She's not h'only h'eloped with 'im, but she took me luvly parrot h'as well!"
At this juncture, tears coursed down her cheeks.
Weeks passed. Then one day, Mildred and her new husband came to call on Mrs. Lang formally. They drove up in a new horse and buggy, dressed in their Sunday best. Mildred wore her new marital status with dignity. The couple's mission proved to be not entirely social, however, for they returned the chatty bird. Apparently his nautical natterings had proved too coarse for the couple's new neighbours in town. ...
Buzzy was to be thrashed when Father got home. He had not cleaned the pig sty and had been saucy when taxed with his negligence. Father had been furious when he left for town that morning. He had told Buzzy in advance that he would be thrashed, and the six-year old had an entire day to worry about the coming ordeal. It would be his first real whipping. His large, doleful eyes were already filled with tears as he went through the day's chores, trying in vain to prolong each moment.
"Don't worry," Fred consoled. "I'll pad you so it won't hurt!"
Fred folded an old blanket and fit it into Buzzy's pants, meanwhile assuring that he had not suffered any real pain in spite of his howls when under similar circumstances.
"But you have to remember to yell bloody murder so he'll think he's half killed you," Fred cautioned. "Remember, Buzzy, our Bert went away to fight in the South African War where people REALLY got hurt. Father really isn't going to KILL you!" But Buzzy was not so sure.
When Father drove Beauty home that evening, he told Buzzy to go out on the back porch and wait for him. Fred, Ray and I hid around the corner of the house, waiting. Here came Father with the strap!
Hidden as we were, we could not see what was going on, but we heard the strap zing through the air. It met it's target with a resounding 'thud'. Buzzy yelled as if he were being murdered!
"Do you think it's working?" I asked Fred, anxiously, heart sick at the whole matter.
After it was all over, Buzzy was sent up to bed without his supper.
"Tour Father is so strong!" Mother said tearfully as she put the evening meal on the table.
We dared not tell her about the preventive measures in case she should let the secret slip sometime to Father. Later on, Fred, Ray and I all found reasons to go upstairs before bed-time.
"Good for you!" Fred praised. "We'll swipe something special from the kitchen for you," he promised.
Buzzy beamed at praise from his big brother.
"The children all work like grown men and women on this farm, and you are so severe!" I heard Mother say to Father later that night. "You will alienate them if you don't let up," she warned.
"Each one has to be responsible for his assigned tasks," Father replied with conviction. "There is no other way to survive in this land!"
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