Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Broken Chain-- a story (iv)

The cold October air seeped through his jacket like water, but the frigid hour's walk was forgotten in a moment when he saw his employer. He'd decided that no one should be subject to another man's cheating him, that what DeRegt was doing was simply trying to make more money than he should by not paying his help what he deserved. All night, it had eaten away at his guard. He didn't care what his father would say because what was happening there on that 80 wasn't right. It simply wasn't right.

The man smiled at him as if there was nothing amiss. 
"Let's get started," DeRegt said. 

The morning was bright with promise. It could be another good day, John thought, if said nothing.  

"Two more days like yesterday and we might have it all in," DeRegt said, almost as if he were telling the horses.

John walked slowly to the wagon and glanced over the side and saw exactly what he thought he would all night long in his dreams: the chain was still broken, buried beneath the foot of corn picked late last night.

He wasn't going to let it go now, not again. "And what about the chain, Mr. DeRegt?" 

Henry DeRegt winced as if he'd not heard the question. 

"I said, what about the chain?"

It caught him off guard. "Ach, ja, ja. I forgot about it." He snapped his fingers, then waved away the concern. "I will get at it today, sure."

"Now, Henry." John stood, looking straight at the boss, who was taller. "You'll fix it now."

"What is that?" DeRegt feigned deafness.

"I said, you will fix it now, or I don't work." What he felt was a boldness that he'd never before gauged inside him. In a moment, he knew, he could have belted Henry DeRegt with his fists.

The wind rushed through the corn while, for the first time, John Van der Wall looked into Henry's eyes.

"No, you won't, John. You'll get to work now, just like I said." De Regt's eyes blazed as if his hired man for harvest was nothing more than a child.

His words came more easily in a burst of confidence that he was doing the right thing. "I will not work until the wagon is fixed," he said, slowly, each word departing as if DeRegt understood no English. "If you want me to pick corn, I'll be happy to do it," he said. "But you are going to fix the wagon."

"Why, your father, John-"

"My father isn't working here," John said. "I'm the hired man. And it's just this easy for you to understand. I'm not picking another ear of your corn if you don't fix the wagon." Still, there was nothing in the man's face to make John think he'd changed him.  "I picked much more than 75 bushels yesterday, much more. You are not being fair."

De Regt rubbed his eyes anxiously, saying nothing, then looked back at the morning sky and surveyed the remainder of his standing corn. "And I say you will work, Johannes." He was in no way backing down, and John knew that it meant that chain would stay broken. "I say you will go to work now, Johannes Van der Wall." De Regt lightened his tone, conscious of his boy at his side. "I'm the boss here." Henry DeRegt put his hands on his waist. "You are here because I hired you, and I will determine what is fair and what is just. How dare you tell me what to do?"

Henry stepped over to the inside row, dry corn stalks cracking beneath his feet.

"You are working for me, John, and I say, now it's time for you to get to work!"

"When you fix the wagon," John said. He wouldn't have moved for a team of horses.

De Regt leaned over and jerked at a broken stalk, then peeled leaves slowly away. He glanced at his son.

"Very well--go. I will find others in your place."

So he did. He simply walked off, unflinching, aimed back across the field and towards home.

"There are many others who need the work, Johannes," De Regt yelled. "You think your father is made of money, maybe? I won't have problems getting some other boys from Ireton, no problem, boys whose families need the money. Your father knows that."

John Van der Wall heard each word clearly as he marched down the row toward the gate, but he never once turned back.
Tomorrow:  Home with the news.

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