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A Noisy, Crowded Place
The whistle of the Stockman's Special shrieked its warning as it raced westward toward town. On the back stoop, Fido flattened his ears, threw his head back, and began to howl. The windows of the little house in town had been opened to air, and through every one Rose heard other town dogs answering the locomotive's mournful wail in their most wolfish voices.
The sound of all that baying made the skin on Rose's arms prickle with gooseflesh. She wondered what the dogs were crying about, what the train's whistle said that stirred them up so.
An instant later Bunting let out a ferocious bellow from the stock pen.
Rose looked out the kitchen window she was cleaning. The passing locomotive made the glass quiver and the frame tremble with a small rattling sound. The railroad tracks ran nearly right through the backyard of the Wilders' new home in town.
"There goes that durn cow again!" Papa cried out. With a loud clunk! he set down the heavy trunk he was carrying in from the dining room and dashed out the back door. Rose threw down her rag and ran after him to see if she could help.
"Mind she doesn't kick you!" Mama called out from the bedroom, where Mrs. Cooley was helping her tuck fresh sheets on the bed.
Out the back door of the kitchen, in the little stock lot at the foot of the railroad grade, poor Bunting thrashed her head from side to side. She tugged the rope and tried to jerk her picket pin out of the ground. Her wet nose puffed little clouds of steam in the chill autumn air. Her hind feet kicked up clods of dull red mud. Shestretched her neck and bellowed pitifully again, her dark eyes bulging with terror.
Papa opened the gate and grabbed her rope. He held it tight, digging in his heels and trying to talk sense into her.
"Easy girl, easy," he crooned. "Nothing to be afraid of. Whoa, now."
The air trembled again with the cry of the express train's whistle. The ground quaked a little under Rose's feet as the great iron monster roared out from behind a row of trees. Its pillar of gray-white smoke billowed from the stack like an angry storm cloud. It rode high up on the grade, higher than the house, its metal wheels screeching against the rails. A string of freight cars rumbled behind.
Two boys ran laughing up to the alley fence to watch. Rose knew one of them, Scott Coday. He was a brother of Rose's friend Blanche. Blanche was Rose's seatmate in school. She was already twelve years old. Rose would have her eleventh birthday in December.
Scott pushed a shiny new bicycle, the first one Rose had ever seen, except in pictures in the Sears, Roebuck catalogue. A bicycle could cost twenty-five dollars. Just to see one was really something. She couldn't imagine how you could ride it without falling.
"Lookit that dumb old cow!" Scott crowed, stepping on the fence's crossbar to see better. "She don't know a plain lockee-motive from a pack o' wild varmints."
Rose glared at those boys with their smirking grins. She wanted to tell Scott to go stand on someone else's fence, and to scold him for gawking at other folks' business. But before she could speak, Papa cried out, "Run and fetch a bit of corn, Rose! Might calm her Some.
Rose dashed into the dusty little barn -- it wasn't much bigger than a shed, really -- and grabbed a handful of kernels from an open feed sack. Poor Bunting hated living in town. The little stock lot was so small, and the barn so cramped, that Papa had to leave her calf, Spark, out on Rocky Ridge Farm. Bunting was used to having Spark's company, and having pastures to roam and explore, and horses and chickens and Fido and the cat, Blackfoot, to chase and pretend to be frightened by.
Town was crowded and noisy, and the poor cow was terrified of the trains. Papa didn't dare put her in her stall; she might kick the walls out trying to run away. So he had kept her picketed in the stock pen until she could hear the noisy locomotives without bolting.
Rose didn't know if she liked to live in town either. When they had driven the wagon to their new home that very morning, to bring the last of their things from the farm, the neighbors had swarmed out of their houses to watch. Then the women brought platters of fried chicken and pies and corn bread. Some of the men had helped Papa and the Wilders' hired man, Abe Baird, move the heavy things into the house.
Everyone had been very friendly, and curious.
The women brought their dishes to the porch and talked with Mama, peering over her shoulder at the trunks and clothing, and the furniture that looked rather shabby out of its proper place, all piled in the yard and on the porch.
"You'll find this a good, clean-living town, Mrs. Wilder," a woman with quick, squirrelly eyes told Mama. "The children can get to be peevish now and then. You know how mischief loves the young'uns. But the neighbors are right proper folks."
I have admired this house since the time Mr. Masters built it," a man told Papa. I was sorry to hear of the bad turn of luck you had on your farm. Seems there's hardly any future left in farming."
"This your little girl?" an old woman with hollow cheeks and shriveled lips asked Mama. I guess she's smart as a whip, ain't she? My granddaughter says she's so smart, she don't come to school half the time."Little Town in the Ozarks. Copyright © by Roger MacBride. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.