"Come on, buddy. Rise and shine!"
Eric Swenson looked up from the pile of straw. He lay sprawled out in
the back corner of Robert's barn, an uncomprehending expression on his
face. Bits of hay the color of his hair nested on his head. His white
shirt was rumpled and dirty, his pants ripped at the knee.
"Look at you, man. You're a mess——a black eye, your hand scraped and
bloody. What's happened to you?" A shaft of light shone through a crack
in the wall boards, painting a line across the front of Robert's
overalls. With his straw hat, he looked the picture of a typical farmer.
"Mmmph." Eric inspected the back of his hand. "Bad night." He covered
his eyes with his hands. "Oh, my head."
"Come on! Up you go!" Robert pulled on Eric's good hand. "It's time for
me to be about my chores and you should be helping me."
"I'm right with you," Eric said, slumping back into the hay. Dust motes
danced through the ray of light.
"I'm telling you this for your own good, Eric. I've never seen anyone
sink this low in such a short time. Get hold of yourself."
"Got any coffee?"
"I wouldn't go into the house if I were you. You'd at least better wait
until my father goes out into the field. He won't take to you the way
you look this morning. If he sees you hung over and looking as though
you passed out in our barn, you'll be forcing your luck with him."
"Just give me a minute, Robert, and I'll help you out."
"All right." Robert had dark brown hair, stood slightly shorter than
Eric, and wore a naturally comic expression on his face. He found
himself amusing people without making the least effort. He'd known Eric
since their early school days, and they were still friends now that Eric
lived on his own and his family had moved to Chicago. "I'll go milk
Myrtle and then you can help me with the chickens." Robert picked up a
bucket and a three-legged stool and walked over toward the cow standing
in the front stall. Myrtle let out a loud, lowing sound and stamped her
hoof. Milk squirted into the metal pail.
Eric rolled over onto an empty bottle of Old Stonewall and pulled it out
from under himself. Traitor, he thought, looking at the bottle. You're
supposed to help me forget, and all you do is magnify my problems. He
tossed the bottle aside in disgust. No matter how much he drank, his
problems were still very much with him. He remembered each moment of his
confrontation with Mr. Hillman with vivid clarity, and memories of it
pounded through his head like horses circling a racetrack.
"Wait here," he'd told the carriage taxi driver last night when they
arrived at the Hillman mansion.
He approached the door and knocked. A butler answered. "I'd like to see
Rose, please," Eric said.
Mr. Hillman charged forward and the butler backed away. "Good. You're
here. That saves me the trouble of going out to find you." Sparks
flashed in Mr. Hillman's eye.
Eric hesitated. "Is there some problem? I've come to call on Rose, sir."
"Is there some problem?" repeated Mr. Hillman, the vein in his neck
throbbing. "You're damn right there's a problem! You defile my daughter
and cast shame upon my family then come over here as though nothing were
wrong!" His face turned red.
"I was planning to ask her to marry me."
"Where I come from marriage comes before babies! I would never allow her
to marry a man who showed such a lack of respect!" Mr. Hillman's voice
was loud enough for the hackman to hear.
"Babies? You mean she's with child?" Eric was dumbfounded. He thought
he'd been so careful.
"Yes, that's exactly what I mean! I've sent her away so she won't
disgrace our family. And you'll never see her again!"
"But I must see her! Please, Mr. Hillman, tell me where she is!"
"I'll see you in hell first!" he bellowed. Then through gritted teeth he
hissed, "And I don't want you spreading this around town. Nobody else
knows where she is, so show some pride and don't ask. If you know what's
good for you, you'll forget you ever knew her. Forget this family." He
began shouting once more. "I don't ever want to see your face around
here!" He reached for a revolver, black steel gleaming from the hallway
table. At this, Eric backed down the front steps.
"I'll make damn sure you're run out of this town! No one will hire you
in this county again! And I've seen to it you won't keep your job at the
bank!" The gun blasted off. Bullets cracked just above Eric's head.
The carriage taxi pounded off at a furious pace the moment the gun was
fired. Eric ran down the long drive and out into the tree-lined street.
He ran until his side hurt then walked in a daze to the nearest bar. No
wonder Mr. Spinney fired him! Now he would be reduced to sleeping in
Robert's barn like a common vagrant. But worst of all was the loss of
Rose. He saw her ghost in the streets. Half the women in town now seemed
to be her double, but as he approached, they regarded him with
"Ready to gather eggs?" Robert stood over him holding a large basket.
"Ready as I'm likely to get." Eric staggered up from the pile of hay.
Two swallows flapped from the barn's rafters and swooped out the door. A
Robert and Eric walked outside toward the gabbling, clucking sounds in
the rough-hewn henhouse. Sun glinted flashes from the farm pond, and
Eric held his hand before his face. The wooden gate to the chicken-yard
creaked open on rusted hinges. As they collected warm eggs from beneath
the hens, Eric said, "Mr. Hillman took a shot at me."
"Hillman? From the Hillman's cereal family?" Eric nodded. "How'd you get
tangled up with him?"
"I've been seeing his daughter."
"Whoa! No offense, Eric, but they're way out of your league. What's she
doing with a jackass like you?"
"I don't know. She didn't tell me who she was when we met."
"She'll never want you in this shape. What would she think if she could
see you now? You need to sober up, go back to work, shave."
"That sounds like a fine plan, Roberto, but Mr. Spinney called me into
his office and told me I was fired for questionable business practices,
whatever that means. No matter what I said, Spinney had the same
response. It was like talking to a plank."
"You've stepped in it up to your knees this time."
"Tell me something I don't know. After he fired me, I applied for three
more jobs. No one would have me, not even the ice delivery job. I was
expecting to be promoted to loan officer.
"And when I went home, I was locked out of my apartment. There was an
eviction notice attached to the front door. I went to my landlord's
house, but no one was there. So that's when I hired a taxi to take me to
the Hillman mansion. I wanted to see Rose before she forgot who I was."
Forgetting eggs must be retrieved from behind the hens, Eric approached
one head on. She squawked, flapped her wings and pecked his sore hand.
"Damn!" He shook his wrist. "I was waiting to ask Rose to marry me until
after my promotion came through."
Robert deftly collected eggs and gently laid them in his basket. "Did
Hillman give you that shiner, too?"
"No, this is compliments of a man whose wife reminded me of Rose." Eric
gingerly touched his swollen face. "Now no one will hire me. I'm a
pariah. Hillman's made sure of it."
"Then you should go somewhere else." Robert smiled.
"Have any suggestions? And what are you smirking for?"
"Yes I do, now that you asked, my grouchy friend. I have an opportunity
to go work at the World's Fair in St. Louis, and they told me I could
bring an assistant."
"An assistant what?"
"An assistant to help with camel rides. My uncle knows a man with a
"Camels? That's not exactly my promotion at the bank."
"Neither is drinking yourself to death in my barn."
"I don't know, Robert. I should be here in case Rose returns."
"Come with me, Eric. Get on your feet, then go back to her like a man.
Don't let her find you like this. We leave in three days. Track down
your landlord and get your belongings back from your apartment. There's
a storage room in our house where you can keep everything. And while
you're at it, get this empty bottle out of my father's barn before we
"You could be right."
"I know I am. What have you got to lose?"
Excerpted from "Finding the Raven" by Patty Dickson Pieczka. Copyright © 2016 by Patty Dickson Pieczka. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.