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Now go on reading. How can one characterize Arnold’s actions ? What do you think of the child now ?

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Eugie picked up the tin washtub for the peas, unbolted the door with his free hand and kicked it open. Then, lifting the tub to his head, he went clomping down the back steps. Arnold followed, closing the door behind him.

The sky was faintly grey, almost white. The mountains behind the farm made the sun climb a long way to show itself. Several miles to the south, where the range opened up, hung an orange mist, but the valley in which the farm lay was still cold and colourless. Eugie opened the gate to the yard and the boys passed between the barn and the row of chicken houses, their feet stirring up the carpet of brown feathers dropped by the moulting chickens. They paused before going down the slope to the lake. A fluky morning wind ran among the shocks of wheat that covered the slope. It sent a shimmer northward across the lake gently moving the rushes that formed an island in the centre. Killdeer, their white markings flash­ing, skimmed the water, crying their shrill, sweet cry. And there at the south end of the lake were four wild ducks, swimming out from the willows into open water. Arnold followed Eugie down the slope, stealing, as his brother did, from one shock of wheat to another. Eugie paused before climb­ing through the wire fence that divided the wheatfield from the marshy pasture around the lake. They were screened from the ducks by the willows along the lake’s edge.

“If you hit your duck, you want me to go in after it ?” Eugie said.

“If you want,” Arnold said.

Eugie lowered his eyelids, leaving slits of mocking blue. “You’d drown ‘fore you got to it, them legs of yours are so puny,” he said. He shoved the tub under the fence and, pressing down the centre wire, climbed through into the pasture.

Arnold pressed down the bottom wire, thrust a leg through and leaned forward to bring the other leg after. His rifle caught on the wire and he jerked at it. The air was rocked by the sound of the shot. Feeling foolish, he lifted his face, baring it to an expected shower of derision from his brother. But Eugie did not turn around. Instead, from his crouching position, he fell to his knees and then pitched forward onto his face. The ducks rose up crying from the lake, cleared the mountain background and beat away northward across the pale sky. Arnold squatted beside bis brother. Eugie seemed to be climbing the earth, as if the earth ran up and down, and when he found he couldn’t scale it he lay still.

“Eugie ?”

Then Arnold saw it, under the tendril of hair at the nape of the neck — a slow rising of bright blood. It had an obnoxious movement, like that of a parasite.

“Hey, Eugie,” he said again. He was feeling the same discomfort he had felt when he had watched Eugie sleeping ; his brother didn’t know that he was lying face down in the pasture. Again he said, “Hey, Eugie,” an anxious nudge in his voice. But Eugie was as still as the morning about them.

Arnold set his rifle on the ground and stood up. He picked up the tub and, dragging it behind him, walked along by the willows to the garden fence and climbed through. He went down on his knees among the tangled vines. The pods were cold with the night, but his hands were strange to him, and not until some time had passed did he realize that the pods were numbing his fingers. He picked from the top of the vine first, then lifted the vine to look underneath for pods and then moved on to the next. It was a warmth on his back, like a large hand laid firmly there, that made him raise his head. Way up the slope the grey farmhouse was struck by the sun. While his head had been bent the land had grown bright around him. When he got up his legs were so stiff that he had to go down on his knees again to ease the pain. Then, walking sideways, he dragged the tub, half full of peas, up the slope.

The kitchen was warm now ; a fire was roaring in the stove with
a closed-up, rushing sound. His mother was spooning eggs from a pot of boiling water and putting them into a bowl. Her short brown hair was uncombed and fell forward across her eyes as she bent her head. Nora was lifting a frying pan full of trout from the stove, holding the handle with a dish towel. His father had just come in from bringing the cows from the north pasture to the barn, and was sitting on the stool unbuttoning his red plaid Mackinaw.

“Did you boys fill the tub ?” his mother asked.

“They ought of by now,” his father said. “They went out of the house an hour ago. Eugie woke me up comin’ down-stairs. I heard you shootin’ - did you get a duck ?”

“No,” Arnold said. They would want to know why Eugie wasn’t coming in for breakfast, he thought. “Eugie’s dead,” he told them.

They stared at him. The pitch cracked in the stove.

“You kids playin’ a joke ?” his father asked.

“Where’s Eugene ?” his mother asked scoldingly. She wanted, Arnold knew, to see his eyes, and when he had glanced at her she put the bowl and spoon down on the stove and walked past him. His father stood up and went out the door after her. Nora followed them with little skipping steps, as if afraid to be left alone.

Arnold went into the barn, down along the foddering passage past the cows waiting to be milked, and climbed into the loft. After a few minutes he heard a terrifying sound coming toward the house. His parents and Nora were returning from the willows, and sounds sharp as knives were rising from his mother’s breast and carrying over the sloping fields. In a short while he heard his father go down the back steps, slam the car door and drive away. Arnold lay still as a fugitive, listening to the cows eating close by. If his parents never called him, he thought, he would stay up in the loft forever, out of the way. In the night he would sneak down for a drink of water from the faucet over the trough and for whatever food they left for him by the barn.

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