Will a new opportunity keep Waldo from going to school again? (Excerpt from Chapter Two of WIP)
The day was low now with only moments left of twilight as he passed his uncle’s farm with its neat stone and wood fence along the road and his prize winning English White cows ambling within the big stump fencing beyond. Waldo spotted his uncle standing tall and lean in his neatly tucked homespun shirt and pressed trousers. Waldo wondered how this man worked all day in mucky fields while maintaining his gentlemanly appearance. He hurried along with head down hoping not to be noticed, for the man intimidated him.
Once at a barn raising, years ago, Uncle Charles had organized a casual relay race around the acreage for the boys. He’d counted the boys off “One, two.” Uncle Charles’ son Lucian was sent to the opposing team. Albertus and James Cotton were first on their teams and bolted at the sounding of Charles’ booming, “Go!”
Cotton took the lead, but Albertus was a steadier distance runner and passed him behind the little house and chicken coop. Uncle Charles’ mustache could not conceal his disappointment at seeing Albertus pass off his stick baton to the next in line. Lucian and Waldo bantered back and forth as the boys took their turns, both being last on their teams, hardly paying attention to the comings and goings of the race.
“Lucian and Waldo. Switch teams to make it fair,” Charles had said, quietly so the adults in the distance might not hear. He glanced over at the spectators a few times, but they were only half paying attention. He clapped his hands together impatiently. “Now! For fairness sake!”
But it hadn’t been fair. Lucian’s team was being routed. Waldo discovered this now, as did Lucian who offered only a pained look Waldo’s way before obeying his stern father. Lucian got a good head start. Waldo hesitated at the starting line what was the point now? But Waldo’s older brother Dan had wandered up just then, having not perceived his uncle’s last-minute changes.
“Why are you just standing there, you lummox? Go!” he had shouted to Waldo.
At the farmhouse he could hear the boys cheering Lucian on and exploding into hearty cries of victory as he took a few more jogs forward. When he walked out from behind the coop the crowd of winners and losers had already scattered with only Dan there to meet him.
“Why’d you give up?” Dan had asked.
“Uncle cheated,” Waldo had said, his little boy’s tears of heartbreak streaming his dirty face.
“What I wouldn’t give to be able to run like you, Waldo,” Dan had said. “Don’t let me ever see you do that again.”
All these years later he held the stupid grudge.
“Waldo!” his uncle called now. “Come here.”
Waldo sighed, hesitating slightly, before obeying.
An appraising essence lurked behind his uncle’s faint smile and dark eyes. His hair was black and curly but slicked and neat. Waldo, instead of jumping the fence like he usually did when his cousin Lucian was about, took the few extra steps around to the drive.
“Where be Lucian and yer brother?”
“I dastn’t know. I been working in the hairy, I mean hoary, apples.”
Charles moved his cows along with a quiet voice as they moseyed toward the half-finished barn. “And how much be Pudney payin’ ye?”
“Mostly in apples and spuds, sir.”
Waldo blushed. “Fair.”
Charles leaned on his stick before the gate to the greener pasture as the cows milled about looking longingly at the late September grass littered with red leaves. “What of this winter when school starts?”
Waldo’s demeanor changed and he smiled. “Pa says I shall attend this time certain sure with Dan on the mend.”
Charles’ face soured a moment. “And I hope that be the case. Ye be a smart boy and ‘tis a shame for ye to go so little educated.”
Waldo’s buoyancy deflated at his uncle’s tone. “Pa says it’s certain … at least I hope it might be.”
Charles opened the gate and the cows hustled by.
“I should be off now, uncle,” Waldo said, admiring the herd.
Charles nodded and watched as Waldo picked up a stone and put it in its place on the cobble fence before hoisting his sacks over his shoulders.
Waldo stood holding the bags as Charles met him at the fence. Waldo glanced up the hill a little impatiently now, it was almost dark.
“I need a steady boy to help me and yer cousin work the place. I overheard John Loop say ye was a good man to work this summer making hay.”
Waldo’s gut churned.
“I will pay in more than apples.”
“But Pa’s bound me out already till school.”
Charles looked as though he had much to say but held his tongue. “Let yer mother know that I will pay ye in coin and whatever she needs most. Go and tell her and do what she says.”
Waldo shifted the heavy sacks on his back as if the weight of more than apples suddenly had fallen upon him.
Image: Crack the Whip by Winslow Homer (Public Domain)