Incident at Raven’s Roost


Help me, dear Father, to freely forgive all who may seem unkind to me (Children’s Songbook, page 99).

Suddenly Jody’s muscles tightened. From out of the sky darted Sir Lancelot, his satiny black plumage glinting in the sun like a feathery jewel.

Sir Lancelot was the name Jody had given the big raven the first time he had seen it, nearly six months before. Any bird that could appear so regal had to have an important name, he’d decided.

He stood and hurried to the rock where he’d laid the brass button, picked it up, and sat on the rock with it in his open hand. This time the bird would have to come to him for his prize.

Jody had come up to Raven’s Roost nearly every week since he had moved with his family to Tucker Springs, and he’d gotten to know Sir Lancelot quite well, at least from a distance. “If you want this button to add to your collection of shiny things, you’ll have to take it from my hand!” he told the bird.

The huge bird alighted on a limb of the scrub oak. He cocked his glossy black head and eyed the lustrous object. “Come on,” Jody encouraged.

The raven cawed noisily, his high, harsh cry echoing off the red rocks. At length, he hopped to the ground, advanced a step or two, and came to a stop.

“That’s the best you can do?” Jody questioned. “All right, but next time it’s all the way or nothing, understand?” He tossed the button a few feet in front of him. The raven, cawing at Jody and eyeing the treasure, stretched forward and plucked the button up in his long bill. Then he flew back to the limb.

He regarded the boy a moment, as if saying thanks. Then, just as Sir Lancelot was about to fly off with the precious gift, Jody heard a whizzing sound, followed by a soft thud. The raven toppled lifeless to the ground, the brass button rolling from his slack bill and disappearing into a crevice in the rocks.

For an instant Jody just stared, disbelieving. “Sir Lancelot!” he choked out. Then his attention turned to the direction of the sound.

Hollis Fletcher stepped out of the brushwood about a hundred yards away, a rock flipper in his hands. “I told you I’d get even, Farnsworth,” he sneered. “You should have dropped out of that spelling contest, like I told you. Outside of the Fourth of July and the county fair, it’s the biggest thing that happens around here. And I would have won.

“I’ve lived in Tucker Springs all my life,” Hollis went on. “Every time I earned a hundred on spelling at school, I rewarded myself with getting a new marble for my collection. I probably have the best marble collection in the whole state, but there aren’t any trophies for that, like there is for the spelling contest. I worked hard to win it—it wasn’t right for some nobody from nowhere to come into town and take the trophy that should have been mine. Especially some kid two years younger than I am.”

“I won fair and square,” Jody retorted through his tears, dropping to his knees beside the dead bird and touching its blood-spattered plumage. “Besides, you won the trophy in last year’s contest.”

“I could have had two, Farnsworth!” Hollis growled. “Around here, two is better than one, especially at my house. With one, it can be just luck. Nobody questions or forgets a two-time winner—especially my father! He would have given me a horse, Farnsworth, just like he did my brother for his two-year win at the county fair for his Jersey cows!”

Hollis turned and started down the path, then paused and burned a look over his shoulder at Jody. “Maybe now you’ll know how it feels to lose something.”

Jody scooped up a rock, jumped to his feet, and hurled it at Hollis’s retreating shape. “I hate you!” he screamed, his face twisting with grief and rage. “I hate you!”

Hollis turned back toward the screaming youth and smiled. “That’s good, Farnsworth. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

At home, Jody poured out the story to his father. “He killed Sir Lancelot to get back at me!” he sobbed. “Sir Lancelot was just a good old bird who didn’t do anything except make music.” Jody wiped at the tears that burned his eyes. “It wasn’t the prettiest sound I’ve ever heard, but it was music to me. I hate Hollis for what he did.”

His father sighed. “It was wrong what he did, Son, no doubt about it. But you can’t go around with all that hate in your heart. For one thing, it isn’t healthy; for another, it’s—”

Jody pulled away from his father. “I hate Hollis Fletcher, Dad. I wish he’d move away!”

In the weeks that followed, the resentment and bitterness in Jody Farnsworth’s heart grew.

“You can’t tell me that you’re happy, Jody,” his father commented one day as they walked down the dirt road toward Hennesey Lake, their fishing poles over their shoulders.

Jody didn’t look at his father. “Is it wrong for a kid not to be happy all the time?” he blurted, kicking at a pebble in the road. “Even Jesus got mad at the moneychangers in the temple. And when Lazarus died, He wept. Is it wrong to be like Him?”

“No,” his father returned, “but this is the first time we’ve gone fishing that you haven’t been happy.” After a long silence, his father continued. “You know, Jody, if harboring all that spite for Hollis was right and proper, you’d be feeling pretty good inside. But I’ve never seen you look so poorly.”

Jody’s eyes fired up like smoldering coals rekindled. “I’m just supposed to forget about what he did, is that it?”

“It would be hard to forget what happened,” Jody’s father admitted. “But you can forgive him for what he did.”

Jody’s eyes widened. “What? Forgive Hollis Fletcher for shooting Sir Lancelot? How am I supposed to do that?”

His father stopped and eyed the boy. “You have to want to. That makes it a whole lot easier.”

“Well, I don’t want to.”

Jody’s father set his fishing pole aside and squatted down to the boy’s level. “There are a lot of things in this life we don’t like doing that need doing. Your mother dreads wash day, especially in the middle of July. It’s a hot, exhausting, all-day job. But what do you think would happen if our clothes didn’t get cleaned on a regular basis? We’d go around looking and smelling like Amos Twigg’s cow barn. And last fall I dreaded having to shoot Jack. That old horse was in constant great pain, and nothing more could be done except put him out of his misery. It was the hardest thing I had to do in my life. But it needed doing. And that brings me to you, Jody.”

“Me?”

“For the past month you’ve been carrying around such poisonous thoughts that I worry about your soul.”

“I just can’t forgive him, Dad,” Jody said angrily.

Later that morning, as they sat fishing, Jody accidently snagged his finger on his hook while baiting his line. “Shall we leave that hook in your finger?” Jody’s father questioned.

“Of course not!” Jody winced, at the smart.

“Why not?”

“I want to get the hurt out so it will heal, of course.”

“It might be a good idea to let that other, bigger, hurt out, too, Jody.” His father helped dislodge the small hook from the boy’s finger, then dug in his fishing box for some ointment and applied it to Jody’s finger. “The best medicine for resentment is forgiveness. It lets out the poison so that the wound can heal.

“You know,” he added, “I was thinking about what you said earlier today about being like the Savior. There’s a lot to that. He loved everybody, didn’t He? Even His enemies. Don’t you suppose He was the best example of forgiveness, too, Jody?”

Jody’s eyes fell, then lifted. “You mean, while He hung suffering on the cross He forgave the soldiers who crucified Him?”

“Yes. And in Gethsemane He suffered for all our sins.”

Jody was silent a long spell. Then he stood up. “Can we go home now, Dad? There’s something I need to do. Something I want to do.”

Jody was halfway up the little rutted lane that led to the Fletcher farmhouse, when Hollis spotted him. Jody’s heart was pounding. He never imagined that something he wanted to do could be so hard.

Hollis met Jody a short distance from the house, his countenance as dark as a storm over the tablelands. “You came to tell my father what I did, didn’t you, Farnsworth?”

“No,” Jody answered. “I just came to tell you that I forgive you for what you did. I’m not saying it was right; I’m just saying that I don’t hate you.”

“What?”

“Staying mad isn’t going to change anything,” Jody said. “It just makes things worse.”

After an awkward silence, Hollis wondered aloud, “Why are you doing this?”

“It was just something that needed doing. Well,” Jody concluded after another uncomfortable silence, “I still have a few chores to finish up at home, so I guess I’d better be going. See you later.”

A few days later he returned to the mesa and searched the skies for another raven. “I know there are more of you up there somewhere,” he said out loud. “I don’t have any shiny stuff to give you—I’m all out—but—”

“I do,” a voice behind Jody said. Hollis stepped out of the brushwood. He pulled out a leather pouch he’d brought with him and displayed its contents to Jody. “Now we have a lot of shiny things to give those ravens!”

Jody stared at the multitude of shiny aggies, taws, glassies, cat’s eyes, and other bright-colored marbles. “Why are you doing this, Hollis?”

The older boy’s smile grew as big as Jody’s wonder. “It was just something that needed doing.”

Hollis set a bright yellow glassie on a rock, then sat next to Jody beneath the scrub oak, where the two boys waited and watched.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Mark Robison