No one could ask for a finer day, Josiah Kimball thought, so clean and sparkling and smelling of summer that it makes me want to stop everything and hold tight to this minute, never to let it slip away.
Josiah smiled at the idea. He tipped his head back and mimicked a meadowlark hidden in the grass.
“Was that you, ’Siah?” Emily Jane exclaimed. “Sometimes you sound more like birds than birds do.”
Josiah laughed at her praise, then tried walking backward on the rocks across the shallow stream. But two of them were too far apart for backward stepping. He had to turn for that space. Tillman Reid dropped down from a tree to try walking the rocks. He couldn’t do even as well as Josiah had, and he fell in the water.
At last Josiah sighed. “I guess we have to get on home to help with chores.”
“I have to pick peas for Mama before dark.” Emily Jane sounded as reluctant as Josiah felt.
“Come play again soon,” Tillman invited.
“We stayed too long, didn’t we, ’Siah?” Emily Jane asked hesitantly.
“Yes, but we can hurry. And the sun’s just about down.”
His sister nodded her head in agreement. When they came to their pasture fence, Josiah suddenly stopped.
“Emie, we could cut through the pasture this once,” he suggested, “and save all that way around by the lane.”
“But ’Siah,” Emily Jane took a quick breath, “Papa wouldn’t like it. He’s told us—”
“I don’t see that old Jersey bull anywhere,” Josiah persisted. “He’s probably grazed his fill and is lying down under the cottonwoods. Come on, Emie, it’s getting late. We can run.”
After a moment Emily Jane followed Josiah under the fence.
Once on the pasture side of the wire strands, they stood without moving. “I don’t see that bull anywhere,” Josiah whispered. The shadows were growing long and heavy but no movement was seen.
“Stay close behind,” Josiah instructed.
He set off at a quick trot, Emily Jane at his heels.
“ ’Siah!” Emily Jane’s voice made no more sound than the whispering of their feet in the grass, but he heard.
At the same moment, Josiah saw a dark shadow move in the cluster of pinon pines. A streak of light glinted from curved horns as the bull gave a menacing toss of his head.
“Run, Emie!” Josiah commanded. “Go back!”
Emily Jane could run fast when she needed to, and Josiah kept right behind her.
They could hear the outraged bellow and the thump of hoofbeats of the bull following them, growing closer.
Almost side by side they dropped to the ground to squeeze under the bottom strand of wire. Josiah’s hip pocket snagged on a barb.
Catching his breath, Josiah turned to his sister. “You all right, Emie?”
She nodded, “Th-that’s why Papa said never to go in the pasture. He knew. And—and—”
They stared at the bull through the wires. The immense animal, knowing they were out of reach, had stopped and was pawing the ground and throwing sand and dirt every which way.
“We’ve got to run, Emie. All that time wasted, and now we still have to go the long way.”
“I can’t, ’Siah. Even if Papa and Mama are cross, I can’t run any more—not for a little while.”
Partway up the lane, Josiah paused. “Emie—” He looked away, then glanced back. “Let’s not mention the pasture. We can just say we were late leaving the Reids.”
“I guess,” Emily Jane agreed.
Mama’s face was set in straight lines as they hurried up to the house and stammered out their excuse.
“Well, you’ll be till dark finishing your work,” she said. And then she smiled. “It has been a lovely day and hard to think of work. But get busy now, or you’ll not finish. Your father’s waiting, ’Siah.”
Papa had more questions than Mama had, but at last he said, “I guess there’s been no harm done this time, son. But you must learn to do as you’re told.”
At supper Josiah had trouble looking straight at Papa or Mama. Twice he glanced at Emily Jane, but she wouldn’t look at him. When the supper dishes were finished, they all went to the front porch to cool off.
“You two are certainly quiet,” Mama laughed. “You must have worn yourselves out with play.”
Papa said, “They act wearier than during haying season. We’d better keep them busy at work from now on.”
Josiah made a laughing sound, but he didn’t feel like laughing. Deep inside of him was a shamed feeling that wouldn’t let go.
“ ’Siah, you tell.” Emily Jane’s voice came out of the darkness.
As if he had been waiting for those words, Josiah started to talk. Papa and Mama didn’t say a word, though the swing had stopped moving.
“At chores, you said no harm had been done. But it had, by our not telling.” Josiah hesitated. There was heavy silence.
After a moment Emily Jane continued. “That bull sounded so close! I’m still scared.”
“It’s been a harsh lesson,” Papa said. “Be sure you’ve learned well.” His voice dropped lower, sounding more like Papa. “And by telling, you’ve made a beginning.”
The swish-away of the swing started up again.
Josiah took a deep gulp of fresh air. It smelled of Mama’s flower garden. This minute was too good to let slip away and be past. He held it for as long as it would stay.