Crisp air was painting the ends of the maple leaves, turning them red, reminding everyone that summer is a trickster. She dallies all through June , July and August skipping around in the gentle rain, the summer sun, the soft winds, shinning down her long golden arms, only to take them away, leaving an early morning frost ice the tender lettuce, late tomatoes and pound the fragile flowers.
Gramp dropped small logs into the wood stove, heating the house and boiling the coffee. He was glad Shirley was still asleep because it had been a hard frost and cold air was crackling in the house. He was a bit worried, also. He poured pancake batter on the hot grill, sprinkling wild blueberries into a smiling face for Shirley, while wondering who could stay with her while he was on the next farm, helping Amos put up his hay for the winter. He had been listening to Mr. Bank’s prize bull a field and a half away, bellowing since his wife had been taken away the day before. He knew Shirley was a capable child but he didn’t know if she would be a little scared listening to the booming voice of an enraged bull. He had never left her alone for a whole afternoon and was reluctant to do so now.
He put on a happy face when he heard her footsteps coming down the stairs.
“Cold morning. I guess by noon things should be warming up a bit.”
Shirley loved how Gramp said something about the weather and it was always true. Most things he said were true. If he found out something he said wasn’t true he would apologize. He was just that way.
“I have to help Amos with the haying today. He’s been poorly and this is about his last chance.” Gramp cleared his throat.
“Maybe I can drop you off at Mrs. Hastings till I’m done?”
“Oh no, Gramp! Not her! She makes me sit in one place till she’s done with her chores. She doesn’t talk, and she sighs all the time and the big clock on her wall just ticks as loud as drum! She even keeps the dear sun out so as not to fade her couch.”
Shirley’s voice cracked and Gramp crumbled under the weight of her despair.
He gently put his hand on her dark, shiny curls. “There, there, now. No need to fret. I think you could take you’re dolls and coloring book and sewing basket to the hill. I’ll bring the horse blanket and a feather pillow and you might just have a nice day to yourself. Let’s pack up a sandwich or two, a nice bottle of well water and I’ll be home in no time.”
Shirley’s eyes shone with delight. Gramp carried everything she might need for the morning and afternoon, then started off towards Amos’s barn on the next hill. He kept turning to watch as she got smaller and smaller until he had walked over the pasture and up to Amos’s barn. He was determined to work hard and fast, sending out a little prayer for her protection.
Meanwhile, Shirley was quite satisfied with her first time being alone. She felt very grown up and independent.
She got out her tablet of paper to draw on, spilling her colored pencils onto the blanket, deciding to draw and color the scene before her.
Gramp’s house sat on top of a hill, which sloped down towards majestic green pines edging the fields, waving and bouncing their boughs. The eye could sweep from the maple woods, to the far tier of pines, almost mountainous, to the western field of corn to the lower field of golden wheat, swaying to the tune of the wind, beautiful to behold. Morning mist still hung above the trees like smoke. Up on the hill the horse barn was nestled back into the apple orchard, Maud, the chestnut workhorse, nibbled grass and hollyhock leaves in her pasture.
The day bloomed into a blue sky and white-clouded beauty, wind soft enough to kiss a baby’s cheek. Shirley felt like a princess.
The morning flew by without a moment of angst, having discussed many things with her dolls, played in the sandbox and swung on the swing that Gramp had made her in the giant oak tree. She ate half a sandwich and loved drinking out of the thermos of cold water. She went in the house just once because without Gramp, it was very silent and lonely. The afternoon was starting to drag. The sun wasn’t as hot now so Shirley pulled on her red jacket and snuggled into her pillow, watching the clouds and drifting off to sleep.
The sun had slanted even more when Shirley woke with a start. Something was wrong but she didn’t know what it was. The wind had picked up, trumpeting thru the trees but there was another sound more frightening then the wind. She listened, not being able to make out where the sound was coming from but also didn’t want to go back in the house until Gramp came home.
The sound became louder, still Shirley saw nothing out of order. Meanwhile, Gramp, being on a higher hill where the sound travels well, took notice. He threw his pitchfork down and ran. He ran so hard and so fast he might as well have had wings on his boots. He started to call to Shirley but she couldn’t hear from that distance. Gramp saw the bull cresting the hill, straight for the child with the red coat. He yelled and yelled and finally she heard his voice, turning in joy for his return. “Run to the house! Run! Run!” Gramp was almost crying as Shirley jumped up and started to run towards him still not aware of her danger, until she heard that frightening sound getting very close and very loud. The bull gained the hill, Gramp still yelling, “To the house, go to the house!” She ran in fear now, straight to the house and up the steps, knowing something was very close behind her and indeed wanted to hurt her.
Gramp was now on the edge of the yard, behind a white pine. The bull was angry and bellowing like a wild thing, running around the house, making jabs at the door and the sides of the house. Gramp called to Shirley, “When the bull gets to the other side of the house, I’m going to run, so don’t open the door until I get there but make sure you open it when I reach the porch.” Shirley didn’t have time to think, she only did what Gramp said. She had her hand on the doorknob, looking thru the window, which her eyes just reached, watching for him. She waited a lifetime, until all of a sudden Gramp made a run for it. He bolted across the yard as the bull rounded the building. “Open the door, Shirley! Open the door!” He dove through the opened door, slamming it just as the bull rammed into it. “Get up stairs, under the bed and stay there,” Gramp grabbed his 22 rifle, stuffing bullets into it and running to the back door, rounding the corner, and opened fire. He shot six times. The bull lay dead.
Gramp went back into the house, taking the stairs two at a time, finding Shirley peeking out from under her bed. She ran to him, he holding her, patting her back until her breath slowed and she stopped shaking.
“You were the bravest girl I’ve ever seen!’
By golly, you saved my life!”
Shirley was recovering from the excitement and gave Gramp the biggest smile. “I opened the door right on time, didn’t I?”
“You did, indeed! Do you want to wait up here till I see about the bull?” Gramp was still anxious for her.
“Oh, no! I want to see the bull. He was a big as a barn, wasn’t he?
Gramp laughed. “At least that big.”
As Shirley and Gramp were inspecting the bull, Mr. Banks drove up in his Ford truck. He jumped out, striding towards the bull with horror on his face.
“James! You shot my prize bull! You’ll have to pay for it and pay dearly!”
Gramp said, “He nearly punched a hole in both of us. As it is, he splintered our front door and would have paid us a visit except for my twenty-two.”
Mr. Banks was in a fury. “That there is my fall, winter and spring living wage! You’ll pay for it if I have to bring the sheriff into it.”
Gramp stayed calm, seeing the poor man was in a temper. “I’m willing to help you mend your fence. That bull’s been tearing it up for two days.”
“I’ll be back with the tractor to haul him away but you better start thinking about how many sheep you need to sell to pay for this!” He jumped back into his car and sped off, leaving a trail of smoky dust covering the road.
Gramp and Shirley watched for a moment then went into their cozy house.