Some time ago, Alyson asked for 500 words on the topic of “food bravery.” I hope you enjoy this little tale.
“Here, Ward! Here, boy. You sit there by the stove and guard the house. I’ll be as quick as I can.” Huddling into his thickest jacket, Stanley went out to brave the weather.
For the past half-century, Stanley McGonagall’s daily life had looked pretty much the same: care for two or three milk cows and a hen house of layers, train up a collie to watch the cattle and chase away the foxes, and hitch the pony to the little cart once a week for the trip to the market village, six miles away.
Once or twice a month, when the eggs and milk were sold, Stanley would visit the village library for half an hour to read. Thirty minutes was as long as he felt he could leave the dog with the cart. The dog, who had voluntarily loped along beside the pony all the way to the village, would want to be getting back home.
Just the same, sometimes Stanley wished for a book of his own. He had never forgotten his thrill the day he discovered a volume of nursery rhymes. As the printed page refreshed his memory, he could hear his mother’s voice again. Since then, each Yuletide, Stanley would whisper a wish to Saint Nicholas: “If it isn’t too much trouble, could I have a book of rhymes?” There was no harm asking.
In Stanley’s sixty-third year, Christmas Eve was a market day. Although Ward could still round up the cows and sniff out stray eggs, he was too stiff to walk to town anymore. Stanley had been planning for weeks now to purchase a big, meaty bone as a Christmas gift for the old collie.
On this bitter Christmas Eve morning, sleet fell. Just outside the village, as Stanley was making room for an oncoming buggy, his cart slipped on the embankment. The heavy load and jarring movement combined to crack the axle, and some of the eggs were broken as they tumbled overboard.
Stanley McGonagall bit his lip. Now not only would he need to stay late while his cart was fixed, but there would be no surplus money for Ward’s Christmas gift. Stanley sighed. “Listen, Saint Nicholas,” he whispered, “forget about the book of rhymes. Forget about the big, meaty bone. Would it be too much trouble to see that Ward is comfortable till I get back? He’s not used to being in the house for eight hours.”
Stanley arrived home just after dark. From the stable, he noticed that a lamp was lit. As he opened the door of his little house, he was hit by warmth: the stove’s fire had been relaid. Ward looked up from a big, meaty bone and wagged a greeting. Stanley peeled off his wet coat and draped it over the back of a kitchen chair.
There on the table was a thick, leatherbound volume entitled Mother Goose. Tucked into the front cover was a parchment bookmark. Pulling out the bookmark, Stanley grinned as he made out the elfin writing:
- Nick knocked,
- And gave the dog a bone
- Before his old man
- Came rolling home.