Myrtle Viellot focused on her knitting as her husband, Mendel, paced in front of her.
“You’re going to wear yourself out, Mendel. Sit down.”
Incredulous at her suggestion, he gestured wildly.
“Sit down? What is wrong with you, Myrtle? Aren’t you worried about Theodore? He’s been gone two days.”
She set her yarn work aside.
“I am worried, honey. But you know trips across the valley take longer during this time of year. He’s a smart boy. I’m sure he’ll remember everything you taught him.”
Walking over to the snack can, Mendel palmed a wing full of sunflower seeds.
“I just hope I told him enough. Did I tell him about hollowed out trees? I told him about hollowed out trees, right? And not to wander too close to the marsh at Duckford, right? I told him, right Myrtle?”
Clucking, Myrtle tried to hide her frustration.
“Honey, why don’t you go strut around the grove for a spell? You need to relax and stop getting yourself so worked up. Theo’s going to come through the brush any time now.”
“I know you’re right, dear. It’s just so many of us disappear every fall. Even though there are dozens of farms breeding distant family members for someone’s holiday meal, we still have to deal with Mr. Big Bad Walk-on-the-wild-side Nature Guy, intent on bagging his own turkey.”
Myrtle smoothed his ruffled feathers.
“You’re still doing it, dear.”
“Okay, okay. I’ll be in the grove if Theo comes in.”
Myrtle clicked her beak watching her husband fly away from their nest. She was worried about Theo too. But all the families in the Great Grove fretted over missing family members.
Myrtle puffed out her feathers, taking her own advice. Worrying was useless and made her molt. She had to believe her youngest jake would be home when the flocks came together under the forest canopy before the Big Cold moved in.
Mendel saw his friend, Radford, perched on a low-hanging branch. Settling down next to him, Mendel looked across the glen at what had Radford’s attention. He gobbled.
“They never learn, do they?”
“Nope. But we were the same way when we were young toms.”
“True, but we didn’t overdo it like that. All the strutting and displays this close to the Big Cold are wasted. Better to save it for mating in spring.”
“Oh, right. Because you showed so much restraint at that age.”
The toms gobbled together knowing they’d both shared… and had eaten their share of wild oats.
“I guess we’re lucky we can remember those days. It means we’re still here.”
Radford could tell his friend’s heart was heavy.
“Theo’s not back yet, huh?”
“No. And he’s never been gone this long before.”
“C’mon, Men. He’s a young jake approaching tomhood. You know the nature… thinking nothing can hurt you and you’ll live forever.”
“I know, Rad. Just… this time of year.”
Before Radford could respond, he and Mendel were knocked from their branch.
Gobbling and drumming to untangle their feathers, the toms were about to run for cover when they saw what hit them.
Mendel danced around, purring and kee-keeing, happy to see his youngest.
“I was worried sick, son. Come. We must share the news of your return with your mother.
Mendel clicked his beak.
“What’s wrong, son?”
“I-I overheard the Goulds and Merriams talking a few days ago.”
“What have I told you about listening to them? You know how their kind is…. always all gloom and doom.”
“They said the food isn’t coming back.”
“Of course, it isn’t, Theo. The Big Cold is coming. Food is always scarce this time of year.”
“No, dad. Their elder said even when it was Sun Time, it was hard to find food… because of the Big Burn.”
Radford gobbled. “That is true, Men. The hens have had to go further from home for food, and don’t even think about building a new nest. Padding our old ones is near impossible.”
“I think we’re getting ahead of ourselves, Rad.” Mendel turned to Theo. “But what has this to with you being gone so long?”
Theodore chirped, beating his wings against his chest.
“I found a place for us to go. A place with plenty of food.”
“What?” The toms said in unison.
“I was over near the marsh, and-”
“What did I tell you about the marsh-”
“Dad, just listen, please. I met this older tom named Vernon. He was having difficulty flying. The guy’s a bit on the plump side. But he admitted he’d been eating too well and too much since he moved in with his cousin, Prunella.”
“Son, what does-”
“Let me finish dad. When I asked him about it, he said there was so much food, their flock couldn’t eat it all.”
“And you believed him?”
“Nope. I made him take me there. It’s all true. Pastures full of vegetables and seeds, trees full of fruits and nuts, and there’s a marsh full of ducks.”
“How can this be?” Radford walked closer to Theo. “No one has ever allowed us or the ducks to roam and eat freely. We have to be on-guard even in the protected space.”
“That’s what I told Vernon. And guess what he said? No one is allowed to take turkeys or ducks from the land. It’s called private property.”
Mendel strutted around the bush.
“I don’t know, son. We’ve seen this before. Lure us is, then turkeys go missing. Remember cousin Boris and his flock?”
“I know, dad. But I was there. And Vernon said the people are something called vegetarians and vegans.”
Mendel and Radford looked at each other.
“What do those names mean?”
Theo fluttered. “They mean the people don’t eat meat.”
The toms blustered about yelping and cackling until a small group of their flock joined them. Theo told his story again, and more turkeys danced about.
“Before we get carried away, this place needs to be checked out,” Radford suggested.
“Agreed.” Mendel turned to his son. “Think you can find this place again?”
“Are you kidding? Yeah. It’s just beyond the apple place.”
Mendel and the group agreed to meet again after sunset.
“Come on, Theo. We still need to let your mother know you’re safe and tell her about this new place.”
The tom and his jake took off for their nesting roost. Just as they landed, Mendel glanced at Theo.
“Son, you didn’t tell me if this new place has a name.”
“Sure does, dad. It’s called Fowlerville.”
Mary Anne Evans (November 22, 1819 – December 22, 1880; alternatively “Mary Ann” or “Marian”), known by her pen name George Eliot, was an English novelist, poet, journalist, translator and one of the leading writers of the Victorian era. She is the author of seven novels, including Adam Bede (1859), The Mill on the Floss (1860), Silas Marner (1861), Middlemarch (1871–72), and Daniel Deronda (1876), most of which are set in provincial England and known for their realism and psychological insight.
She used a male pen name, she said, to ensure that her works would be taken seriously. Female authors were published under their own names during Eliot’s lifetime, but she wanted to escape the stereotype of women’s writing being limited to lighthearted romances. She also wanted to have her fiction judged separately from her already extensive and widely known work as an editor and critic. Another factor in her use of a pen name may have been a desire to shield her private life from public scrutiny, thus avoiding the scandal that would have arisen because of her adulterous relationship with the married George Henry Lewes.
Eliot’s Middlemarch has been described by Martin Amis and Julian Barnes as the greatest novel in the English language.
“It is never too late to be what you might have been.”
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