That Which Wills Thee

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The Country

It was the beginning of summer. The air was fresh, and trees were allowed to grow, and untamed grasses and low plants flourished in all shades of green and brown, and the wind blew clean and free of contaminates. The horses clopped along the dirt road, seeming also to be intrigued by the change of scenery outside the busy streets of Manchester. They pulled a fine carriage, holding the family and their driver, their use a gift of Mr. Flint for the weekend. Jane had not told her father of the desire to depart from the city in permanence, only that they wished to see the country for several days.

James, five years old at the time, scooted back and forth between the right and left sets of windows, peering out at the fields and stacked stone walls and neat rows of trees and unknown herds of animals grazing. “What are those?”

“Sheep, they make wool for our clothing in the cold months,” William responded.

“An’ those?”

“Dairy cows, they produce the milk that ends up at our front door in the mornings.”

“What’re they doin’ to the dirt there?”

“Tilling it, making the dirt soft so that they can plant the crops soon.”

“Plant crops?”

“What, maybe oats. Things that make our bread.”

“Why?” The young boy asked.

“Why?” William responded with a laugh. “Well, we have to eat, huh?”

Jane sighed a gentle sigh, peering out the window at the view the boy was taking in. “You know, your father used to do work like that. Tilling fields and cutting the wool from sheep and milking cows.”

William clicked his tongue. “Well, we grew potatoes and beans. We didn’t have any sheep near us, but the neighbors did have a few cows. Didn’t milk them often, myself, but we did get our share of milk a good many times. The stuff straight from the cows beats any you can get from any milkman on any day.”

James stuck his face to the window, leaving finger and nose-prints along his eye level. Jane shook her head and looked down at the bundle sitting on her lap. Marie was breathing gently, the normal rasp and snoring almost inaudible against the rumbling of the wheels of the cart.

“James?” She asked suddenly.

The boy pulled himself away from the window and look to his mother in the seat. “Yeah, momma?” He responded, leaning into her lap and poking his fingers as his baby sister’s tiny hands at the edges of the blankets.

William looked at her as she began to ask, “Your father was your age when he started working the fields and things like that. Would you ever want to live out here, do that sort of thing?”

“Mmm-“ James hummed, fingers dragging at his mouth in thought. “Do I get paid?”

William grinned. “No pay, but everything you pull out of the ground is yours to eat or barter for other stuff.”

“Like milk straight from the cows?”

“Just like that,” William winked and raised his eyebrows at his wife.

“I think—“ James continued for a long while. “I think Mar would like to drink that too. Oh! Maybe we call pull over and get some right here! What part’s the milk come out from?”

William chuckled into his hand. “Well, these belong to someone.”

“The whole lot?” James said with a tilt of his head.

“The whole lot. We’re still close to the city, the big fields are all worked by the estate owners and their workers, they can work a lot more efficiently than a whole lot of little farmers. But if we wanted to, like your mother says, we could live off the land, just the four of us.”

“I think that would be fine.” James shrugged, losing interest in the conversation in favor of more sights out the window.

William and Jane looked into each other’s eyes across the benches of the wagon. “Our answer is becoming easier to make, love,” the husband concluded.

Jane looked down at the bundle in her arms, then out the window to the expanses of greenery and animals. “When we return… I’ll talk to him earnestly.”

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