"Wait, Johnny! Johnny McGregor, wait
for me!" The blur of arms and legs, white dotted dress, and red hair
turned out to be Katie Ryan, and it appeared that she wanted a ride. John
hauled up the team and reached down to give the twelve-year-old a boost.
"Never mind, John, I can make it.
Mind your horses." Katie and her lunch pail arrived aboard with
considerable clatter, and the tempo of the afternoon suddenly picked up.
"How come you're all alone, Katie?
Where are all the other kids?"
"All home by now, I guess. Old
Henderson kept me in. I didn't have my spelling done. She's a mean old
The old party referred to couldn't
have been more than twenty-five, as John well knew, for he had been
casting bashful eyes in that direction himself.
"Come on, Katie, that's not fair.
Someone has to teach you spelling and maybe a few other things."
The green eyes looked at him
shrewdly from under the red mop. "Huh, I guess you think she's pretty
nice; but you should hear her when she gets mad. She squawks. And she's
mad most of the time."
"If all the children are like you,
Katie, maybe there's good reason. Stop bouncing up and down on the seat or
you'll scare the horses."
"Who cares; they're pretty pokey
aren't they? Can't they go any faster than this?"
She reached down and picked up the
end of a rein which dangled over the seat and swung it high. The startled
team broke into a brief trot, but the load was too heavy and they settled
"Look here, young lady, put that
line down or I'll warm your little backside with it. Now sit quiet and be
a lady, here comes Mr. McFadyen. You don't want a church elder to see you
carrying on like this."
Katie subsided momentarily. The
buggy approached silently, the clatter of wheels muffled by russet tires.
The clip-clop of the horses' feet was musical without the usual
accompaniment. The outfit slid by, ghostlike, as Elder McFadyen bowed
stiffly. Katie did not stick out her tongue until after the buggy had
"I'll bet he stops to see old
Henderson. He's always shying around the school. Pa says he's looking for
a new wife, and the old one not cold in her grave yet." John tried to hide
his amusement and speak sternly to the saucy wench on the seat beside him.
"You little devil, have you no
respect for anyone? Mr. McFadyen is a trustee and has three children in
the school. He may have very good reason to stop there and you should say
Miss Henderson and she's not old at all." But Katie was too quick for him.
"Why is she making eyes at old
Fish-Face McFadyen, then? Pa says she's smart enough; she's ready to take
the pig to get the sty, Pa says."
"Your pa says a lot too much, and so
do you. If you were my little girl I'd tan your hide."
She grinned at him, and with the sly
glint in the green eyes it was attractive, a hint of what was to come.
"No you wouldn't, Johnny, because
you like me and I like you. I wouldn't be nasty with you. Can I please
drive the team now? There isn't much further to go. They're the team that
took the prize at the fair, aren't they? I saw you then; you were pretty
proud, weren't you?"
John handed over the reins and
showed her how to grasp them, palms held straight, a line in each hand.
The small, freckled face was tense with concentration and she held the
lines carefully. It made little difference, the horses plodded on as
before. The Ryan house came in view.
"Oh, I just remembered Ma was going
to make ice cream for supper, ice cream with strawberries in it. Oh, it
will be gone if I don't get there quick. Oh, John, let me off please."
He had barely slowed the team when
she leaped to the wagon wheel and from there to the ground. She was over a
fence in a second, dashing madly in a short cut to the house.
John eyed the flying figure
reflectively. "That's a Tartar for sure," he said to himself. "The man who
gets her will have his hands full." He felt uneasy as the thought went
through his mind, but he pushed it away to think of other things.
At the home gate the team stopped.
They walked through the gate that John opened for them and stopped
dutifully without being told, waiting for John to take command again. When
the grain was unloaded, the horses were stabled. They munched their hay
contentedly while John rubbed them down. He spent more time than was
necessary caring for the team, for he loved horses, their dependence and
their trust in human beings.
John's footsteps echoed as he walked
the length of the empty stable. It was modern for its time and he was very
proud of it. Across one end were the horses' stalls, six of them plus a
box stall for a mare and colt. All the length of one side was taken up by
a long row of double cattle-stalls. The mangers and the divisions were of
wood, the floor was cement, and the cattle were tied loosely by iron
chains. Running on an overhead track above the gutter was a large bucket;
this was the litter carrier, and the very latest in stable equipment for
the time. It did away with much of the back-breaking wheelbarrow work, but
in spite of this was not universally accepted. Many objected that it was
the lazy man's way.
John went up the set of steps to the
huge new barn above. It stretched for eighty feet and crossed the old
barn, which made a small leg of the "T". The new barn, like the stable,
was virtually empty. The cattle were in the pastures, and the mows and
granary were waiting for the new crops to be harvested. Bars of sunlight
slanted through cracks between the sliding boards, and dust motes rode
through them as pigeons flew up to roost on the wooden track at the peak.
The track carried bundles at harvest time, high over the beams, to be
dumped in the mows. This idea was also new, and while some still insisted
on "pitching off" the grain sheaf by sheaf and the hay by the forkful, the
benefits of the track and the fork and slings were so evident that they
were adopted very quickly. John put some hay down a chute in front of the
horses. Then he went down again and dipped some oats into a pail from a
box where the grain slid down a pipe from the granary above. Casting his
eye about to make sure that all was well, he walked to the door of the
barn, accompanied by the shuffling and munching of the horses. He closed
the door carefully and began walking to the house, aware suddenly that he