Saturday, July 11, 2020

And the excerpts keep coming -- #4, Tom rediscovers an art form

What Frees the Heart (Cowbird Creek 2 -- which can be read as a stand-alone) comes out in five days! Here's a fourth excerpt, from the beginning of Chapter 5. For the immediate context, see the previous excerpt.

I'll post the pre-order links afterward.


Tom might just as well have floated home on a cloud, fine as he was feeling. It did bring him some way back down, just for a minute, when he went to bounce on his toes and almost fell over, but he shook it off. That sort of thing happened often enough, and an evening like this one surely didn’t. And the stars were shining bright above, like they were celebrating along with him.
Jenny had managed things so well that his stump didn’t hurt more’n usual. And what pain he was used to didn’t seem to matter tonight.
Only thing was, he could’ve turned right around and laid with Jenny one more time and been that much the happier.
How soon could he manage another visit? He’d a deal of thinking to do about what he was going to do with his wages from now on. How often they’d go into Madam Mamie’s pocket rather’n Pa’s, and whether he should be saving up for something, though he’d no clue for what.

Remembering and wanting kept him restless overnight, but he still couldn’t help grinning now and again over his breakfast. Ma and Pa kept sneaking looks at each other when they thought he wasn’t watching. Pa, at least, must have known something was up when Tom didn’t turn in his wages. He’d just as soon not know if Pa guessed why.
Walking to town went easier when he had more to think of than his leg and his day of work to come. First he pictured Jenny’s pretty face, and then her hair laying on her shoulders, and then her round squeezable bosom and even rounder backside, and every minute he could remember of what they’d done together. It seemed to take considerable shorter’n usual before he made it to the door of the shop.
Finch, now, after everything that cowboy had said, would be sure to figure things out if Tom came in all cheerful. He could act extra glum, but then Finch might think he’d gone to Mamie’s and made a mess of it. So he kept things businesslike, not chatting but not sulking neither, and Finch didn’t make any show of drawing conclusions.
Speaking of drawing. That’s just what Tom would’ve liked to do, draw a picture of Jenny, head and shoulders and just a little of what came below. It’d been a while since he got a hankering to draw. He used to do a lot of it, with a stick in the dirt or on his slate at school. Got a licking one of those times, drawing when he was supposed to do arithmetic. And then when he was maybe ten, he’d used his pocket knife to draw on a bit of leather he didn’t think anyone cared about. Turned out he was wrong, and he got a licking from Pa that time.
Wasn’t the lickings that stopped him, so much as not having the time once he got big enough to do more farm work. And since that plowshare took some of his leg and more of his use on the farm, he hadn’t thought about it, or about much else that he might do just from wanting to.
Today, though . . . when Finch finished cutting out a pair of boots, Tom asked, as casual as he could, “You have any use for what’s left of that piece? Because I might if you don’t.”
Finch looked at him kind of sideways, but he shrugged and tossed it Tom’s way. Mrs. Finch came in not long after, and that gave Tom his chance. Finch cared a deal about his dinner and never paid attention to much else while he was eating it. As soon as Mrs. Finch left and Finch dug in, Tom moved off to the farthest corner of the shop and laid the scrap of leather on the edge of a table Finch used for storage of this and that.
The biggest piece was about a foot by eight inches. Tom trimmed away the rest and looked at his knife, considering. It was just fine for cutting through leather, but not so good for just scraping away one thin line at a time. What he needed for that was . . . Where was that tool Finch had used for the cowboy’s initials on the saddle, the one Finch called a swivel knife?
But Finch had gobbled his dinner already, and Tom hadn’t taken but a bite or two. He quickly tore away at the chicken leg and wiped his hands on his trousers.
He’d hardly be able to get at that tool without Finch knowing, even if it were right to do it. He’d have to fess up.
“Mr. Finch, when you close up for the day, could I borrow what you used to carve that cowboy’s initials? I’d treat it real careful and have it back in the morning. And I wouldn’t touch nothing but leather with it, the leather you let me have earlier.”
Finch wrinkled his forehead to make his eyebrows stick out even more than they did by nature. “What’ve you got to be carving? You wouldn’t be making one of them pictures that make fun of folks, carry-whatsits, of me, would you?” Clearly, that’d be as much as Tom’s job was worth.
“Oh, no, sir, I’ve no such intention. Just — just a drawing I’ve been wanting to do, on something that won’t wash away or rub out.”
Finch stroked his scraggly beard. “Well, all right then. You take good care of it, and if you lose it, you’ll be working to pay it back and not for whatever else you use your pay on. And you clean it like I showed you.” He fetched the tool and handed it over.
Finch might be grumpy and suspicious, and he watched his coin, but he wasn’t that bad. Not altogether. Or at least, not always.

By the time Tom made the walk home, ate supper, and did what chores he still could, it was full dark and he’d have been about ready for bed, but for the scrap of leather calling to him. He filled a lamp, lit it, and laid the leather out on the kitchen table. Pa, wandering out in his nightshirt and cap, saw what Tom was doing and hoisted an eyebrow. “Hope you came by that leather some way that won’t get you in trouble.”
“Mr. Finch gave it to me when I asked for it.” What a memory Pa had! He’d hardly’ve thought being on the other end of that strap would stick in the memory as well as Tom’s end of it. Was that part of what being a father meant? He’d have to ponder that some time.
Seeing as he’d never used the swivel knife before, he should’ve kept another scrap to practice on. Thinking ahead maybe wasn’t his strong suit. With a sigh, he cut a long thin strip off his piece of leather and started teaching himself. At first even his straight lines wouldn’t stay straight, let alone an even thickness, but it didn’t take too long for him to get that right. Next came curves — he’d need plenty of curvy lines for Jenny! That thought got him remembering, which heated him up to where it got distracting. He went out to the pump and splashed cool water on his face, then got back to work.
When he’d used up most of the strip and figured he was as good at this as he’d be getting, he smoothed out his main piece of leather again. He maybe shouldn’t draw lower’n her shoulders after all, seeing as her dress had showed more than a regular girl’s would. Or he could draw the dress different, but that’d be a sort of lying.
He drew her face first, heart-shaped even to the bit of a point to her chin, with the dimple he’d noticed every time she smiled. He puzzled over how to show her nose with its tilted-up end, all too aware that once he set tool to leather for it, there’d be no rubbing out any wrong moves. But it was getting late, and him getting tired, so he finally made a few thin lines suggesting it and moved on to her eyes. There was no chance of drawing them pretty enough, but he showed them big and wide open, with the long lashes that might get help from some sort of paint. He tried to use a light touch on the eyebrows — better to have them a little thinner’n life than to make them too thick and frowny.
Jenny’s smile was another tricky task. Better to give her upper lip more of a Cupid’s bow than make it too flat. Then shape the lower lip to match, kind of plump, like she was ready to kiss someone.
He had the most fun drawing her hair, which didn’t have to be exactly the way she wore it so long as it was long and full and wavy. That left only her neck and the top line of her shoulders. And then, finally, he was done and could fall into bed.


If I've managed to intrigue you, or even get you hooked on this story, you can pre-order the Kindle edition here, or the paperback here (Amazon) or here (Barnes & Noble).

Next time: Jenny tries to write a letter to her family.

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