Thursday, June 2, 2011

And so here is episode 2 of Janet's attempt to find The Yearlings.

She decided it would be best to wait for daylight. The temperature was close to freezing, but her long coat and blanket should keep her warm enough to survive. The slight southwest wind still blew and the sky was overcast so perhaps the temperature would not drop too much during the night. Spring had been a long drawn-out affair, though pleasant and not too cold, and it was long past time for warmer weather.
She saw a large dark shape uphill to her right and approached it. It was a big spruce, its branches sweeping the snow. She crawled under and next to the trunk. The needles under the tree were dry, and the tree itself protected her from the wind.
Returning to the snow she took some in her mouth, sucking on it while she washed her face and hands. Removing the bandana from around her ears she used it to dry her self, then crawled back into her haven. She leaned the rifle against a limb close to hand, wrapped herself in the blanket, and leaned back against the trunk.
She worried about the rustlers, as anyone should worry about people who would shoot someone from ambush. But she worried also about her mother and son, Mark, waiting at the ranch house for her return. Neither of them knew that rustlers were involved, but they knew it was dangerous for anyone alone in the mountains, particularly during questionable weather conditions. Mark was only three and needed his mother around, and Janet's mother was not comfortable in anything but a city.
Margaret Lawrence had been raised in New Westminster. Her husband, Janet's father, had been Area Supervisor for the Transcontinental Railroad, and later the Canadian Pacific Railway. Margaret had been used to social events, shopping when she felt like it, and being in a financial position to feel like it often.
Janet, on the other hand, had found the life boring. When her father was transferred to Calgary, she could not have been happier.
At the age of sixteen, Janet was forced by her mother to go to one of Calgary's social gatherings. Not only did Janet not like such events, but she knew she would have to listen to her mother complain about how it was not "up to proper standards" and would "never be tolerated on the coast." But her mother insisted that she was now a young woman and it was time for her to make her place in social circles.
It was at that social that she met her knight in shining armor. It did not matter that his armor was a pair of freshly washed work jeans and an old suit jacket, or that his helmet was a wide-brimmed, high-crowned hat - not new but freshly brushed. It also didn't matter that none of his horses were white chargers. She had seen her dream and its name was Mathew Kingsley.
Matt and Janet had been married almost a year when her father died. On their small ranch northwest of Red Deer they didn't get the news in time to make the funeral, but they did go down to Calgary.
Learning that Janet was pregnant, Margaret insisted on returning to the ranch to help with the birth. Actually, it was the only course open for her since she could not afford to live in the city. During his life she had lived to the fullest extent of her husband’s income. Now that he was gone she could not afford even the essentials, and would rather run and hide than allow her friends to see her predicament.
Matt was pleased to accept his mother-in-law's offer. He had helped in the delivery of countless calves and foals, but was more than concerned about the arrival of his own offspring. True, Janet could spend a few weeks at neighbors twelve miles east, but what if something unexpected should happen?
Janet was not pleased with the arrangement. She had reluctantly followed her mother's directions for life in the past, did not want to hear any more of them, and certainly wouldn't follow them again. She also knew that with no place to go, her mother would be with them for far longer than it would take to have the child.
Mark was now three, and Margaret was still part of the Slash K.
"Janet, dear, I don't know why you insist on wearing men's clothing. It will give Markus an improper perception of how things should be." It was one of Margaret's favorite topics. She sat in the rocking chair doing needlepoint while Mark spun a small top on the floor.
"Because it's impractical to feed cattle in a dress, particularly in the winter time," Janet responded calmly and with little thought as she ate her soup. She had responded the same way to the same subject a thousand times.
"Well, I don't see why your husband isn't here to feed those filthy animals. That is a man's job, after all. Besides, Markus needs his father."
Janet sighed. "Matt isn't here because we are trying to make a life for ourselves. He's trapping."
"I still don't understand why he can't trap closer to home," Margaret continued with her usual line.
"Because someone else had this area already and we can't afford to buy it. Besides, Matt would still have to go up in the mountains and he wouldn't be home much anyway." Janet stopped a spoonful of soup half way to her mouth. Why did she continue to repeat the same things over and over? Her mother had been there the autumn Matt first rode away and for every trapping season since.
"If you need money, why not sell some of those beasts out there," Margaret advised. Janet was sorry she had paused, giving her mother an opening. "I mean, if you can't make any money from them, why have them?"
"We borrowed money to buy them and we have to pay that off before we can make any money from them," Janet responded, her anger rising. "You see, Mother, unlike some people, Matt and I pay our debts. And we don't spend money we don't have." She dropped her spoon in the bowl and stood.
Going to the door she sat on the bench and donned her mukluks. Now, in addition to frustration, she also felt guilty for having made such a remark to her mother.
"Janet, you've not finished your lunch," Margaret noticed, with more than a little disapproval.
"I have two more cows that still haven't calved," Janet responded. "I'll finish later." At the same time she thought, "Why do I feel guilty? I can't even insult her!"
"I would have thought it was warm enough for them to look after themselves," Margaret noted. "Your lunch will be cold. Besides, I would think a mother would want to spend more time with her son than with a group of cows."
"That was what I planned when I came in," Janet said. "And it's a herd of cows, not a group." She pointed across the room at her son who appeared to be paying no attention to the usual prattling of the two women. "And that is Mark. Not Markus, just Mark." Actually the boy's name was Markham - after his paternal grandfather - but that was another argument Janet didn't want to start with her mother.
Intent on the spinning top, his back to his grandmother, Mark almost allowed a smile to slip out.
One of the cows had already dropped its calf and the other was about to. Before going in for lunch, Janet had put fresh straw in what she called her 'baby pen', so she only needed to gently herd the cow and new calf into it.
The second cow stood with its back arched, tail raised, and a far-away look in her eyes. Janet expected it would not be too much longer, but was slightly fearful of expecting too much. From sixty cows she had sixty-one calves - two sets of twins - with nothing more serious than some frostbite to two sets of young ears. Things had gone especially well so far and she didn't want to jinx anything on this last calf.
After several minutes the cow relieved herself. She looked around at Janet then walked over near the horse corral, lay down and began to chew her cud. Margaret would have been impressed by the string of verbal abuse her daughter aimed at the cow – but not favorably.
Janet had no desire to return to the house, and another argument with her mother, so she decided to take a turn around the small pasture holding the twenty yearling steers. Perhaps by the time she had checked the fence the tardy cow would be ready to begin a birthing.
The small pasture was empty! The wire gate lay flat beside the trail of hoof prints in the mud. For different reasons Janet and her husband shared a dream of future independence. It was a dream she could see and touch every day in the small herd of steers. Now the dream – and the herd – had evaporated.
Immediately, Janet blamed herself. She had brought a wagonload of hay to them that morning on the still frozen ground and must have left the gate open when she left. As she hurried back to the buildings, she tried to remember the events surrounding her leaving the yearling pasture and going through the gate.

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