THE GUNNS OF MONTAGUE
By Robert A. Hervey
Brandon, Vermont Summer 1841
It was the sixty-fifth summer of Independence. A magical time to be a five year old boy growing up in the Green Mountains of Vermont. A safe time. And it was a lucky boy who had a Grampa Moses.
"Come on, Virgie,” called back his great grandfather. "If I can make it up here, so can you."
"Grampa, my legs are broken,” he cried. "They are falling off!” He dropped to his knees in the middle of the trail, his eyes watering with frustration. He picked up a handful of pebbles and threw them down in front of him. The dust flew back in his face, stinging his eyes and sticking to his moist lashes. He rubbed them with the backs of his little fists, but that only made things worse. Moses walked back down the trail, bent over the boy and washed the dirt out of his eyes with water from his deerskin flask. "Can't we stop here?” he whimpered.
"Come on now, all your brothers and even your sisters could make it up this mountain at your age. Do you want them to call you a Sally Ann?” he cajoled.
A walk up the trail to fish the mountain lake was supposed to be fun. This was not fun. It was hot. Pesky little black flies swarmed about his face, getting in his mouth and eyes. No amount of arm swinging and brushing seemed to deter them. He didn't care if his sisters had made the trip before him, he wanted to drop his pole and forget the whole thing.
"My feet hurt," he complained. "How much longer is it?"
"Only a few more rods,” said his grandfather, secretly thankful as he too sat down to rest and catch his breath. Moses wiped his face and exposed arms with a mixture of balm he had concocted that was successful in repelling insects. “Would you like some, Virgie?” he asked. Moses offered the rag to the boy who sniffed it and retched.
"Phew!” he said, pushing it away. Moses chuckled. It was an awful smelling potion, but that's why it worked, he supposed.
"Come on, we’ve rested enough,” he coaxed, "we'll have plenty of time to relax on top.” Virgil was on his feet first. "Give Grampa a hand now,” Moses asked. Sitting down was easy at his age, getting up was a different story. The boy helped him to his feet and they continued their ascent.
The trail peaked and curved downward, leveling off in an open expanse of poplar that led into the meadow high over Otter Valley. A ruffed grouse suddenly darted across their path, dragging its wing and clucking excitedly.
"Look Grampa, a partridge, and its wing is broken."
Eighty-seven years had taught Moses something. "Do you think so, Virgie?” He put his hand on the boy's shoulder. "Hush now, and let’s just stand here quietly so we don't frighten her anymore than she already is.” The bird slowed and circled, flopping pathetically in the middle of the trail.
"Grampa, she's hurt," he said.
"Be patient, now, and don't talk so loud,” Moses whispered. "Did you see where she came from?"
"Over there in those bushes,” Virgil said, pointing off the trail at a cluster of mountain laurel.
“What do you see?” asked Moses.
“Nothing except bushes.” Beneath the laurel, amid many seasons of layered leaves, brown and mottled, a leaf moved, then another, and yet another. The boy’s eyes grew wide and his mouth dropped open in silent surprise. “Baby chicks!” he exclaimed excitedly.
Moses looked at him and smiled. "Well, well, well,” he whispered. "What do you know about that?" Virgil was silent.
The chicks picked their way cautiously through their camouflaged nest, but did not follow their mother.
"Why don’t they run away, Grampa?"
"Something in nature tells them to sit still while their mother tricks their enemy. Now, where is she?” Behind them the mother hen floundered on the trail.
"Poor thing, she’s in a state of panic. She knows we’ve discovered her babies. You see, that’s how she protects them. If we were a fox or bobcat, we would chase the mother thinking she was hurt, but she would always stay just a little bit ahead of us, until she had lured us a safe distance away from her brood. Then she would take off and circle back to the nest, leaving us without dinner."
"Can we catch them and bring them home, Grampa?"
"How would you feel if someone took you away from your mother? Wouldn’t you be lonely without her? And wouldn't she be heartbroken worrying about you?"
He thought about that. "I guess so," he admitted.
"Well then, let's just leave them be."
They moved away slowly, so as not to panic the birds any more than they already had. Virgil watched the hen over his shoulder as he walked. Sure enough, she retraced her steps back towards the nest. He felt good.
Go to Chapter Two.
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