4. The Essay.

By Denise Craig and Calico

November 1860

Monday Afternoon

Miss Field looked over at her varied students. They were a good class by and large. The occasional troublemaker, but nothing she couldn’t handle. “Class, your attention please.”

The class fell silent, all eyes on her. She smiled. She really did enjoy them. “Class, I have a little writing assignment for you.”

There was some quiet groaning, but she still had their attention.

“I want you to write a short essay on what you are thankful for, you may choose the subject of your essay yourself.”

Murmuring. Everyone tried to decide what he or she was thankful for.

“Two or three of the best essays,” continued Miss Field, “will be read at the close of our Thanksgiving play, next week.”

This gained her a chorus of noise. Each child knew theirs would be amongst the best.

—oooOOOooo—

Jed was out the door before Hannibal could yell over to him. He had to run fast to catch up with his best friend.

“Why ya running?” Hannibal panted, as he raced, on Jed’s heels, along the rutted road that led to the Curry farm.

“I gotta write!” was the only reply.

Hannibal grabbed his arm, to stop his forward progress. “Whatcha gotta write?”

Jed just rolled his eyes. “The essay. I gotta write what I’m thankful for!”

“But you hate to write. Why are you so fired up about this essay?”

“I just am, is all. I gotta get home Han, see ya later.”

“Wait Jed, whatcha gonna write about?” Hannibal yelled after him.

But Jed was gone. Hannibal stood, glued to the spot. His mouth hung, ever so slightly, open. Jumbled thoughts ran through his head. Why was Jed in such a hurry to write this essay? And why hadn’t he told him what it was about? Jed always told him what he was doing. Always! Why wouldn’t he now?

Puzzled, and not a little hurt, though he would never admit that even to himself, Hannibal began a slow walk home. He kicked at the ground, as he mused on the problem. Jed and he were best friends, weren’t they? And best friends told each other everything, didn’t they? Jed always told him what he was doing anyway. And why didn’t he want his help? Jed never did school work without his help. Well, hardly ever. Well, they often did it together. Of course, if Jed did not want to tell him, fine. It was not as if he cared! If Jed didn’t want help…If Jed didn’t want his essay read out….Oh!

Hannibal paused, Ah ha! Maybe THAT was it. Maybe Jed didn’t want it read out. Still, Jed could still have told him what it was about. Maybe he would not tell Jed what he, Hannibal, was going to write about. That would teach him. Not that he WANTED to teach Jed a lesson. What he wanted was to know Jed’s plans! Why hadn’t Jed told him?

Hannibal thought back over the conversation. Maybe, Jed simply hadn’t heard him ask, being in such an all-fired hurry! That was it! He’d tell him tomorrow, Hannibal was sure.
Satisfied, Hannibal ran home to start on what was sure to be a winning essay.

—oooOOOooo—

After supper, the Curry children sat around the large kitchen table doing their homework.

“So how was school?” Nathanial asked of his brood.

“Zach is sweet on Grace,” smirked nine-year old Esther.

“Am not!” Zach answered back.

“I saw you! You were holding her hands by the well!” She followed this up with an impressive ‘smooching’ sound.

“She tripped and fell into me. What was I supposed to do, let her fall?”

Esther once again, mimicked the sound of a kiss. From her end of the table, exaggerated feminine lash fluttering and sappy simpering expressed disbelief of her brother’s denials.

“That’ll do, Esther,” warned her Ma.

“Makes you heave, huh?” muttered Esther, before bending once again to her books.

“I’m real proud of ya Zach,” said Nathanial. With a wink at his darling, Lizzie, he added, “A Curry is always a gentleman to the ladies. That’s why they love us!”

“I won the spelling bee,” announced Beth. “I beat Hannibal with the word synonym.” She proceeded to enlighten her family in the correct spelling of this very hard word.

“Sure and that’s a fine, useful, long word Beth!” praised her Pa.

“It means…means the same as,” Beth pronounced, informatively.

“Same as what?” joshed Nate.

“No,” Beth was patient, “The SAME as.”

“As WHAT?” the eldest brother, asked, keeping his face straight.

“What?” joined in Zach.

“Not as nothin’! Just the same as…anything,” Beth tried again.

“What’s the same?”

“Which?

“A synonym…it means…” Beth’s face creased in suspicion. She realized she was being teased. Blonde hair was tossed. “If’n you wasted less time bein’ silly an’ spent more time studyin’,” she scolded, “You would already know! You might even WIN an occasional bee!”

“Couldn’t spell much with just a ‘b’, huh, Zach?” frowned Nate.

“Never knew synonym HAD a ‘b’,” puzzled Zach. “Mind you, that’ll be ‘cos I don’t study.”

The orthographist, conscious of her own virtue, ignored them. Boys!

Jed, industriously working on his paper, neither listened to, nor joined in, the usual family banter. “Ma,” an earnest face, already carrying an inkblot on the chin, was raised, “How do you spell wonderful?”

“W.O.N.D.E.R.F.U.L.”

Jed wrote that and then dissatisfied with the mildness of the adjective, scratched it out. “Ma?”

“Yes Jedediah.”

“How do you spell spectacular?”

His mother turned from the pot she was drying and looked at her youngest son. Intense concentration made the small tongue protrude, as the pen, awkward in the youthful fist, scratched laboriously across the page.

“What are you doing?” she asked, coming over. She read the title on the top of his page and said, “I think you might need to use a dictionary for that paper, son. You are going to need some awfully big words alright.” She smiled at his upturned face. “It’s going to be a wonderful…spectacular… magnificent…essay, Jed.” He smiled back and continued.

—oooOOOooo—

Tuesday

Hannibal was eagerly early at the spot where he met up with the Curry children to walk to school. He and Jed had plenty to talk about this morning!

He greeted his friend cheerily and they talked over ‘plans’ for the weekend. Nonchalantly, this was one of Hannibal’s favorite words, internally, he repeated it. Nonchalantly, he brought the conversation around to the essay. Jed listened to his ideas, nodded happily, but said…nothing!

By the time they reached the schoolhouse, Hannibal was no wiser. He was frustrated, sure! Confused…yup! But, no wiser.

His brain busy, pondering why Jed had suddenly become so uncharacteristically uncommunicative, Hannibal found it difficult to concentrate. He even got an answer wrong! He NEVER, well NEARLY never, got stuff wrong in class! Face burning, Hannibal heard a satisfied snigger from Tommy Bauer. Scowling hard at Tommy, Jed lent back and whispered, “S’alright, Hannibal, you was caught off guard! S’all!”

Almost involuntarily, Hannibal scowled back, not at the smug Tommy, but at his would-be comforter. This was ALL Jed’s fault! The thought disappeared as quickly as it had come. Hannibal barely registered it.

Throughout the day, Jed continued to, unknowingly, frustrate his friend. At any mention of the essay, Jed said nothing, just grinned happily. Hannibal shied away from an outright question. Jed should just tell him! Hurt and hiding it, even from himself, Hannibal decided he did not care! It didn’t matter to him if Jed didn’t want his help! Nor if he didn’t want his essay read out! If Jed wanted to keep secrets…fine! And, if Jed didn’t want to be his best friend anymore…so be it! He wouldn’t care! After all, ignoring the sinking feeling in his tummy, Hannibal told himself firmly, he had other friends.

—oooOOOooo—

Hannibal sat at the supper table, sucking the end of his pen. He was thankful for a lot of things, but at the moment, he could not concentrate of any of them. It was NOT because he was curious about what Jed was writing. Not at all! Perish the thought! It was just that, every time he began to write, he would pause and think about the way Jed was acting over the same essay. The more he thought about it, the more he tried not to. It did not matter of course.

No, it did not matter.

Hannibal threw his pen down. Tomorrow, he would give Jed another chance.

—oooOOOooo—

Wednesday

Next morning, meeting up with the Curry children for the walk to school, Hannibal walked beside Beth instead of Jed. Usually the two boys lagged behind, discussing grand plans, but not today. If Jed understood the reason, he did not show it. He scampered up.

“Han, Han …y’know that burrow we found? Down by the…”

Hannibal, pretending intense interest in what Beth was saying, shushed Jed. “Sorry, Beth. I missed that. Jed was talkin’ over you…You were sayin’?”

“Oh, nothin’ really,” answered Beth, surprised. “Just…I thought I could make a nice paper outta, y’know, the two new calves Erin had last week. So I reckon I might choose…animals an’ how they help us.”

“Uh huh, uh huh.” nodded Hannibal, with apparent absorbed interest.

Jed tried again. “I went to take a look this morning’, Han, an’ I reckon there’s fresh drop…” he began.

The eager voice trailed off. Han was making another ‘shush’ gesture with his hand.
“…So, thankful for milk from cows, wool from sheep, honey from bees … that kinda thing?” pursued Hannibal.

“Er…yes,” said Beth, rather confused at the rapt interest from Hannibal. “That kinda thing.”
Hannibal turned, with a wide encouraging smile, to Jed. He was not unreasonable. Maybe Jed just needed a little hint that sharing, specifically, sharing stuff HE wanted to know, was the way to keep your friends happy. “Beth’s tellin’ me about her Thanksgivin’ essay,” he remarked, conversationally.

“Uh huh?” chirped Jed. He was surprised Han found this more interesting than fresh droppings at a burrow they had…‘plans’…for. But, fair enough. “Sounds real nice, Beth.”

A beat. Hannibal waited. Maybe he had been a little too subtle for Jed? “It’s real helpful to talk over essays, huh? To share ideas? Friendly like.” Nothing. Still too subtle, he guessed. “Wanna tell us about yours, Jed?” he prompted.

Jed shook his head, “Nope!” he grinned happily.

Hannibal switched off his own smile. Mentally, he ‘rolled his eyes’ how Jed could be so oblivious. However, Hannibal’s shrug expressed his complete indifference to whatever Jed wanted to do.

For the rest of the journey, he returned his full attention to Beth. And, if Jed received something akin to a ‘Kansas in November’ cold shoulder, well, Hannibal reasoned, that was up to Jed, huh?

Hannibal hated secrets. He would find out what Jed was writing about, just to show him nobody but NOBODY kept secrets from Hannibal Heyes! Certainly not Jed Curry who was near two years younger and should be grateful…yes, GRATEFUL…to have such a … internally Hannibal searched for the perfect word… such a perspicacious (he decided) friend as Hannibal Heyes!

And, if Jed wouldn’t tell him, Hannibal was sure someone else would!

—oooOOOooo—

At recess, the boys decided to get a baseball game going. Hannibal and Nate were elected as captains and began to pick their teams. Hannibal went first. Jed took a step forward, as Hannibal started to speak. “Zach,” Hannibal chose. Zach started slightly and looked over at his little brother, as he moved to stand by his team captain.

Jed felt his face burn red, as he stepped back into line. Hannibal always chose him first. ALWAYS! He was his best friend. And…he might be small but he was real fast! Safe hands on a catch too!

“Kurt,” picked Nate. That was fair enough. Kurt Mueller may be a pain in the butt in many ways. But, he sure could pitch!

Jed told himself not to be silly. Zach was five years older and taller…and real good with a bat. Han liked winning. Nothing wrong with that! Liking winning did not mean he did not like Jed TOO. Jed found his smile again as Han chose.

“Tommy.”

TOMMY BAUER! Han had chosen that…that BLOWHARD, rather than him. He was WAY faster than Tommy! Jed felt another wave of scarlet wash over his cheeks.

Nate, not much less surprised, watched the hope wiped off his youngest brother’s face and the confused hurt in the blue eyes. Only for a moment, though. Then, Jed’s gaze dropped to the ground and stayed there.

Nate really needed another older boy on the team. But… Nate saw tension in the small shoulders. He could not bear to risk Hannibal snubbing Jed for a third time.

“Jed,” he said.

Jed, head still hanging, walked slowly to his brother’s side. He did not understand why Hannibal had not picked him. Had he done something wrong? He thought back to that morning. He had not thought too much about it at the time but Hannibal had talked to Beth the whole way to school. Something felt tight in his chest. He sighed heavily and told himself, firmly, NOT to be such a baby.

—oooOOOooo—

That same afternoon, as the children came home from school, Hannibal walked with Esther.

“Esther,” began Hannibal, making sure he kept his voice…nonchalant, “do you know what Jed’s writin’ about, for Thanksgivin’?”

“Oh, for Pete’s sake! I hadta listen to you try and wheedle it outta Beth this mornin’ and Zach reckons you were bleatin’ on about it all the time he was waiting to bat!” Hannibal blinked. Maybe he needed to work just a tad harder on being ‘subtle’. “What do YOU care?” demanded Esther. “It’s just a silly school paper!”

“I don’t CARE!” clarified Hannibal, with dignity. “I was just…makin’ conversation!”

They strode on together in silence.

Hannibal cleared his throat. “I don’t suppose you happened to catch sight of a few lines? Somethin’ that might give us a clue?”

“Sheesh!” despaired Esther. “Nope. In the first place, I’ve better things to do than read my brothers’ essays. In the second place, he hunches over it like he’s guardin’ a treasure map and then sneaks out to put it ‘somewhere safe’.” Esther looked at the chagrin on Hannibal’s face. “It has some long words in it,” she offered. “He keeps askin’ Ma how to spell stuff. Last night he asked her how to spell…” Esther gathered herself, “‘quiver-cation.”

Hannibal’s mind began to work furiously. What on earth could Jed Curry be writing about equivocation? His brow furrowed. Where would Jed consider ‘somewhere safe’?

“Esther,” once again Hannibal attempted…nonchalance, “Your Ma won’t mind if I call at your place? Just to say ‘hello’? Just to be polite? Just to…” He trailed off in the face of feminine incredulity.

—oooOOOooo—

“Hannibal Heyes!” Elizabeth Curry put her hands on her hips, “WHAT do you think you’re doing? I keep finding you all over the house!” She raised an admonitory finger. “You’d better be putting those pillowcases back straight!” She checked. He was. “What on earth are you LOOKING for in the linen closet?”

“Looking for?” equivocated Hannibal. “What could I be looking for in there, Mrs. Curry?”

He hung around watching Mrs. Curry put away some freshly laundered sheets. She probably KNEW what Jed’s essay was about. A direct question would almost certainly meet with failure though.

“I reckon Jed’s made a mistake with the topic he’s chosen for this Thanksgivin’ essay,” he sighed, shaking his head regretfully. Mrs. Curry looked at him blandly. “I mean…” Hannibal displayed his…finesse, “Family togetherness is kinda a…a clee-shay, huh?”

Mrs. Curry gave a little shrug.

“Course, then he changed back to his first idea,” persisted the wily one. “Bein’ thankful for his new baseball bat.” Nothing. “Huh?” he prompted.

“Nice try,” admired Mrs. Curry. “Unfortunately for you, I’m not as green as winter cabbage and I’m not falling for it. Jed knows he can trust me with a secret.” She gazed down, affectionately, at the dark-haired youngster. “Didn’t I ever tell you what my wise old father used to say? Curiosity killed the cat!”

Having little choice, he allowed himself to be shepherded back downstairs. The door opened. Jed, his arms full of firewood, strode in. He gave an anxious smile at Hannibal but did not venture to speak. Mrs. Curry surreptitiously looked from one to the other.

“Are you staying for supper Hannibal?” she asked, mildly. Jed looked hopeful.

“No ma-am,” Hannibal said. Jed’s shoulders drooped. “Unless…” Hannibal was MORE than fair. Everyone deserved a third chance…maybe even a fourth? “Unless, you’d like some help with your homework, Jed?” The tone warmed up several degrees. “I could check your paper. Kinda advise you on the phrasin’. Look over the spellin’.”

“My Ma’s helpin’ with the spellin’,” said Jed. He took a deep breath. “We could go check on that burrow Han. Whaddya say?”

Seconds later the shoulders drooped again, as, with a return to chilled tones, Hannibal said, “Nah! I’d better get back. Work on my OWN paper. It’s about somethin’…somethin’….STUPENDOUS. ‘Course, I can’t say what. It’s a secret.”

Jed gazed after his best friend. What had he done to make Han so mad at him?

—oooOOOooo—

Hannibal’s own shoulders drooped as he closed the Curry front door behind him. After a, nonchalant, squint and rummage under the hen house and another, casual, root through the woodpile, just in case that was the ‘somewhere safe’, he set off home.

No! Not quite yet! A small hope sprang, as Sarah Curry ran across from the outhouse. You never knew! Being only nearly, nearly, nearly three…at least she would be ‘green as winter cabbage’, huh? Hannibal prepared for a little corruption of the innocent.

“Sarah!” he called, striding over. “Hello, Sarah!”

“‘Lo, Han’bul!” A delighted squeal as she was swung round by the wily one. “‘Gen! Do wit gen!” She was obeyed. Squeaks of laughter.

“Sarah,” tried Hannibal, giving her his very, very best dimpled smile, “You know Jed is busy writin’ somethin’?”

A thumb went into a small mouth. A nod.

“You’re a clever girl, huh? Have you heard him talk to your Ma about it?”

A second solemn nod.

“Do YOU know what Jed’s writin’ about?”

A third nod. Hannibal rejoiced.

“Are you gonna tell Hannibal?” he wheedled. Wide eyes. Thumb sucking. “You can whisper to me,” he coaxed, gently.

Thinking. Another solemn nod. A damp thumb was removed and wiped on a grubby pinafore. Hannibal, triumph surging through his veins, bent his ear to the freed mouth.

“Fanks Giffen!” confided Sarah. She gave Hannibal a final wise nod, before scampering back to the house.

—oooOOOooo—

Thursday

On Thursday, Jed asked his Ma if she could pack an extra piece of cake. It was Han’s favorite and he was planning to share it, as a surprise. Elizabeth smiled an understanding smile. She hoped the peace offering would put things back to normal, but doubted it. She knew how hard it was for anyone; let alone young Jed, to keep a secret from Hannibal’s insatiable curiosity. She also had some idea how Hannibal would feel about Jed doing so.

—oooOOOooo—

“Han! Han!” cried Jed, at lunch.

Hannibal came over, hoping Jed had finally seen reason and was going to tell him about his essay. Maybe, Hannibal perked up at the thought, Jed had realized, at last, that he DID need his friend’s help. Yup! The trace of a satisfied grin. That would be it!

“I had Ma pack an extra piece of cake for you, Han. It’s your fav’rite,” Jed said, hope in the blue eyes.

Hannibal sat. Cautiously, he accepted the piece of cake. He waited. And waited. Perhaps Jed was a touch embarrassed to admit he had been wrong? A generous friend would make it easier for him. Hannibal WAS a generous friend.

“If you need some help with your essay…that’d be OK Jed,” he prompted, kindly. “You can practice read it to me. I’ll let you know if it’s any good. Tell you where it needs a few changes. How’s that?”

“It’s okay Han,” came the unsatisfactory response, perfectly clear despite the mouthful of cake, “I read it to Ma. She said it was just fine.”

Fine! Just fine?

Hannibal gave Jed back the untouched piece of cake.

“I’m not hungry.” Without another word, he walked away.

An angry voice shouted after him. “You don’t need to know everythin’ all the time, Hannibal Heyes! An’…an’…” Hannibal slowed, the tiniest bit, in case Jed had anything more sensible to add, “An’ I don’t ALWAYS need YOUR help. I CAN do stuff without YOU! I’d…I’d…” the voice caught slightly, “I’d RATHER do stuff without you!”

Hannibal did not deign to acknowledge this. FINE! Let Jed do it without any help. See if he cared!

—oooOOOooo—

Jed trudged home after school, alone. Well, not alone, his brothers and sisters were along. Nevertheless, alone because the one person he wanted to walk with, had run home without so much as a by your leave.

Not that it bothered Jed. A gulp. If Hannibal wanted to be a pain in the butt, fine! Jed gloomily kicked up a few dead leaves. The small chin set with stubborn pride. See if he cared!

—oooOOOooo—

That evening Jed just picked at his supper. He was not hungry. He felt hurt, sad, and mad all at the same time. Nathanial and Elizabeth exchanged a mute parental conversation.

“Let it pass.”

“Sure and the boys will work it out.”

—oooOOOooo—

Meanwhile a second mute parental conversation was taking place. Louisa and Alex had watched Hannibal glower at, rather than eat, his stew. Now a perfectly innocent firewood basket had just been kicked by the boot of a nine year old, mooching around, unable to settle.

Internally, Alex shrugged. From a word dropped in his ear by Elizabeth, he guessed his son was shaken…‘shaken’ seemed a kinder word than ‘sulking’, as Jed, for once, did not eagerly drink in Hannibal’s wise advice and trot, loyal lieutenant like, at his heels. Hannibal would have to come to terms with Jed wanting to take charge sometimes, as he grew up. The age gap, so impressively, satisfyingly, wide when Hannibal was seven and at school and Jed was five and just gratifyingly eager to tag along when his marvelous friend came home, was narrowing.

From the other side of the stove, Louisa glanced up.

“Are you not feelin’ well, Hannibal?” asked Louisa.

“I’m fine,” he scowled.

“You haven’t got a tummy ache? Or…”

“I just SAID! I’m FINE! Don’t FUSS!”

Samuel’s eyes came up from his toy soldiers at the angry, raised voice.

“Hey,” warned Alex, “Louisa asked a civil question son.”

“Sorry’m,” mumbled Hannibal. He saw the beginnings of a wobble on his small brother’s bottom lip. He managed a smile and squatted down. “Shall we set these ‘uns back upright, Samuel?”

A beat.

“We…we haven’t seen much of Jed this week,” ventured Louisa.

“Who cares?” shrugged Hannibal. A beat. “Some folk…” he remarked, casually, “Some folk don’t appreciate their friends. If some folk don’t want any help…If they’d rather keep their silly secrets…I reckon that’s their choice!”

A beat.

Louisa tried again, very tentatively. “I guess, now Jed’s getting a bit older, maybe HE wants to do stuff his way just occasionally?” She kept her eyes on his baby brother as she settled him in her lap … “Maybe you try an’ boss him just…”

“I do NOT boss anyone!” protested an outraged Hannibal. “‘Sides…” A return to would be nonchalance. “I weren’t talkin’ about Jed. I was just makin’ a…a hyper-thetic obs’vation.”

“You see…” Louisa began to explain. Alex caught her eye. He shook his head. She shut up and returned her attention to tickling David’s plump cheek, as he began his bedtime feed.

A long beat. Alex turned the page of his newspaper. Keeping his own voice as casual as Hannibal’s, he remarked, “That was a fine point you made about appreciating your friends son. A friend is a precious thing.” He rustled the sheets straight. “Too precious to risk over a silly argument.”

Hannibal wriggled. He scowled at the soldiers he was setting up for Samuel to knock over. Yes! Maybe. However, this was NOT silly!

“Good and loyal friends are easier to lose, than to find,” continued Alex. “A wise man knows that and puts himself out to keep them, secrets or not.” He met his son’s stormy, dark eyes and smiled, “Hypothetically, of course.”

—oooOOOooo—

Friday morning

Jed dragged through his morning chores. This was not unusual. The despondent attitude was. Jed was, by nature, a happy, optimistic soul.

As the others got ready to depart for school, Jed sat at the table, his oatmeal untouched. “Ma, I don’t think I can go to school today. I don’t feel so good.”

Elizabeth came over and placed a soothing hand to his forehead.

“You don’t seem to be running a fever son. Does your stomach hurt?”

Jed, not one for telling lies, shook his head.

“Does your throat hurt?”

Another shake of the curly head.

She looked Jed straight in the eyes.

“Does your heart hurt, son?”

The blue eyes filled with tears. A nodding of silken curls.

Elizabeth drew her son into a hug. She made motherly, soothing sounds, the way she had when he was little. Jed nestled in for a moment. It felt so good to be held in Ma’s arms. All safe and warm and…he nuzzled closer…and loved. Then, Jed reminded himself he was seven now. Seven AND a half. A big boy! Too old for such things.

Elizabeth looked into her youngest son’s face. “Jedediah, we Currys, we FACE our problems head on. We don’t slouch, run away or make excuses, do we?”

“Guess not,” was mumbled.

“What was that?”

“No ma-am.”

“Alright. Then I think it’s off to school with you.”

“Yes ma-am.”

“And…Jedediah…”

“Yes, ma-am?”

“Don’t forget what your wise old grandfather used to say…’Time and tide run through the roughest day’.” A puzzled frown. “However bad things are…it’ll all be over soon enough,” she translated. She ruffled his hair and kissed his head. Sometimes, growing up was so hard.

—oooOOOooo—

Friday afternoon

“And that’s why…” murmured a shy Hannah Williams, “I’m thankful for the blessin’ of a lovin’ fam’ly an’ us all bein’ together this comin’ Thanksgivin‘.” Blushing rosily, she resumed her seat.

“That was very good, Hannah. Thank you,” smiled Miss Field. The pig-tailed head did not look up but an extra wave of pink on the freckled cheeks showed Hannah was pleased.

Esther caught Hannibal’s eye and surreptitiously mimed sticking her finger down her throat to gag. Hannibal shrugged. Hannah’s essay had not been TOO bad. A touch sappy, sure. And not exactly original. Still, Hannibal did not like to be TOO critical. Not everyone had his; he gave a little anticipatory smile at his undoubted coming triumph, assured ‘flewnancy’ with words.

“Now,” went on Miss Field, “Jedediah, let’s hear your essay.”

Jed stood up. Hannibal studied a knothole high on the wall above the blackboard. He made sure his face expressed complete disinterest in Jed’s essay. One good thing, without his help, Jed would not have written much. Not likely! He would be surprised if Jed could fill a page without being assisted with a few good ideas. Not that Hannibal cared.

“What I am most thankful for…” began Jed.

Hannibal did not care what topic Jed had chosen either. He stifled a yawn and let utter indifference ooze from every pore.

“Is my best friend Hannibal Heyes…”

Oh! The utter indifference stopped oozing. It flooded away in a torrent. Hannibal blinked.

“He is the best friend I could ever want. Ever. The plans he comes up with … they’re just real …” a deep breath, “stupendous!” Jed enunciated carefully. “Hannibal reckons he’s got finesse and I reckon…he’s right.”

Hannibal felt warmth steal over his face. So, THIS was why Jed had refused to divulge the topic of his essay. THIS was why Jed had, for the first time, spurned his friend’s, undoubtedly wise, editing advice. And he… Hannibal blushed deeper. Not at the compliments on his…

“Memory like a sponge …non’shlance…ingenious-ness-ness …”

“Inger-newity…” he corrected, almost without thinking.

“Ingen-new’ty,” accepted Jed, pressing on.

No. The compliments did not bring the blood to his cheeks. They were, after all, only fair comment! However, Hannibal did flush, as he remembered how mean he had been to Jed all week. Not really worthy of ‘the best friend in the whole wide world’.

“My Ma says if’n you want to keep a secret from Han, you have NO chance,” Jed turned to his second, much blotted, page. “On account of him being nat’rally obs’vant. BUT, I managed to keep this essay a secret. Weren’t easy…” Jed acknowledged, deviating from his script for a moment, “But I did it! Anyhow…” another deep breath, as he returned to a verbatim reading of his paper, “I’m real thankful for a friend like him. Even if…” a firm setting of Jed’s chin, “even if he don’t wanna be MY best friend no more, I’ll ALWAYS be his best friend. Forever and ever. The End.”

Jed sat down. His chair scraped noisily in the quiet classroom.

“Thank you, Jedediah,” said Miss Field. She smiled kindly at him, “I can tell you worked really hard on that. Well done!”

“Thank you ma’am,” Jed murmured. However, his gaze did not meet hers. It was not his teacher’s approval Jed wanted. A half-defiant, half-anxious glance was shot at the desk where Hannibal sat. Blue eyes met deep brown ones. Hannibal wriggled uncomfortably. He guessed, despite all his finesse, he had got things pretty wrong over the last few days.

“Your turn, Hannibal,” said Miss Field. A twinkle appeared. “I must say…” she went on, “I’m keen to hear how you follow that!”

Hannibal stood up slowly, staring at his essay. It was, modesty aside, the epitomomony of assured flewnancy but…His eyes scanned the words. He thought hard. He cleared his throat. One fist grasped the edge of his vest. The paper was held aloft by an impressively extended arm. A small chest thrust out. A repeat of throat clearing.

“Any time today’ll be just fine,” joshed Zach from the rear seats. Miss Field frowned in the direction of the heckle but as Zach had lowered his gaze, she decided not to hear.

“Friends…Kansans…Countrymen,” began Hannibal, the orator. “Lend me your ears! I come to speak of Curry, this one here. I come to praise him. At what rate shall we value a loyal friend? Well may you ask! For his price is far above rubies…”

Close observers may have noticed a slight, tightening, at the corners of Miss Field’s mouth as the eulogy continued. Finally, Hannibal brought his flowing periods to an end.

“And so, I hold these truths to be self-evident, that this same fellow, this Jedediah Curry, is of honor bright. And gentlemen in England, I mean NEW England, now abed, will hold their man-hoods cheap that they do not have such a steadfast friend. To be, or not to be, his best friend? That is the question. And I answer… ‘Yea! And, yea again! Thrice Yea! Let trumpets sound to Jedediah Curry!” Hannibal lowered the outstretched hand. He inhaled deeply, overcome by his own eloquence. He let the stillness gather. “The End,” he declared, resuming his seat after… Was that just the hint of a… bow?

—oooOOOooo—

“So, while EVERYONE can be very proud of their essays and I mean to display them ALL for your parents to see,” Miss Field smiled, “From the older students, I think we will have Ned and Bella read their papers.”

A satisfied smirk. A modest flutter. A smattering of congratulation.

“Bring them here, you two. I’ll make a fair copy, so the originals can be pinned up with the others.” A pause, while the two successful essays were brought to her desk.

“AND from the younger children, I think, for originality, I will ask Jed and Hannibal to read their essays on friendship. Give them to me, please.” Jed scampered to hand in his creased and smudged offering. A beat. “You too, Hannibal.”

With the utmost reluctance, Hannibal walked to the front of the class. His clutch of sheets was handed to Miss Field. He met her eyes, as she scanned the title and first line.

“It’s… it’s kinda a mess, huh?” he blurted. “Maybe you can’t read my writin’ real well ma-am? Not with all the blots?”

“Well Hannibal,” she hesitated, “While I was VERY pleased with the content, the presentation DOES leave something to be desired. I think …” she pursed her lips, “I think you need to make your OWN fair copy. In fact…I think you need to make two!”

“Yes, ma-am,” breathed a relieved Hannibal. He thrust his, supposedly blotted, essay securely inside his jacket. “I’ll do that tonight ma-am!”

Miss Field nodded, satisfied. “Class dismissed.”

“Sheesh, Han!” sympathized Jed, as they clattered down the school steps. “That was a bit much! Makin’ you write it out twice, jus’ for a few blots!” He shook his blond curls in disapproval. “I reckon Miss Field was… was mean!”

The two boys strode along, back in their natural pairing. Youthful arms and legs seemed to move in unplanned unison.

“Nah,” grinned Hannibal, his paper on ‘My Imagination and Why I am Thankful for it’, tucked safely away, never to be seen again. “Miss Field’s not mean Jed. She’s OK.”
A beat. “Wanna go check on that burrow…?”

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