Gegg is seeking refuge in Henree's saloon, since his wife and daughter's spring cleaning has not been stopped by the rain that has halted spring ploughing for the day.
Gegg sits at a table and nurses a beer, making it last to put off going home at least until the straw mattresses have been restuffed and the beds put back together.
Ricard enters the bar and approaches the counter. He fishes his last meager handful of coins out of his pocket.
Ricard: Hi, Henree. A beer, please.
Ricard is slightly less diffident about being here, in a grown man's world, than he was last fall. He accepts the brew and looks around the nearly empty establishment. He doesn't really want to drink alone.
Gegg is enjoying the quiet, since that's a commodity in short supply in his life, just now.
Ricard hesitates a moment, then approaches Gegg's table.
Ricard: Mind if I join you?
Gegg looks at the kid with ~~ moderately good-humored resignation ~~.
Gegg: Sure, Ricard. How are your parents?
Ricard pulls up a rickety stool and sits.
Ricard: 'Bout the same. Nothing ever really changes with them.
Gegg is no stranger to this kind of phrasing, having heard it from his cousin Jed's kids and his own Sanda.
Ricard takes a tiny sip of beer. This one mug's going to have to last him a while.
Gegg: Getting on each other's nerves, are you?
Ricard gives an elaborate shrug.
Ricard: I nearly left, you know, a few months back. Jed Mullins kinda talked me out of it.
Gegg: Good for him. It would have been a fool thing to do, with winter setting in.
Ricard: Yeah. Well. It's spring, now.
Gegg: Sure is. I should be out ploughing, if it weren't for the rain. We can use it, though, I guess.
Ricard shrugs at the truism.
Ricard sips his beer again.
Gegg sips his own, just to be sociable.
Ricard: Makes it ugly to travel, though.
Gegg: Mud's easier to tramp through than snow, but makes you a whole lot dirtier at the end of the day, that's for sure.
Ricard: Girls don't much like a guy who's covered in mud.
Gegg: Trust me, son, any woman who's worth having won't think less of you for doing your share of the hard work that's necessary to keep a farm running. The mud washes off, after all, but laziness never does.
Ricard stares into the head of foam on his mug.
Gegg: Something bothering you?
Ricard looks up.
Ricard: You've tried it all, haven't you, Mr. Gegg? You've stayed home and raised a family, you've travelled, you've donated, and you've not donated.
Gegg considers for a moment, then nods.
Gegg: Yup. I guess I have, at that.
Ricard: I'm... well, I'm kinda stuck on the three teeth of a pitchfork, right now.
Gegg: Sounds uncomfortable.
Ricard: Yeah. Um, you know I used to be sweet on Nelbie Jergens, before she took up with Samm?
Gegg: Yeah. Nice girl.
Ricard: Well, they've kinda split up. Just when I thought I had it all figured, and I was just waiting for spring, they've split up and I might have a chance with her after all.
Gegg: Have you talked to her?
Ricard: No. But she smiled at me. From across the far side of the feed store, day before yesterday. She smiled at me.
Gegg: A smile's not as good as a conversation, but it's more than nothing, that's sure.
Ricard: She smiled like she meant it. A real smile, not just a hello.
Gegg: Are her parents smiling at you, as well?
Ricard: Don't think they even saw me. They were arguing the price of the feed. But they're part of what makes the three teeth of the pitchfork.
Gegg: They don't like you?
Ricard: Well, you see, it's a matter of prospects.
Gegg: Yours, or hers?
Gegg: You'll get your father's farm, won't you? It's not bad, as Gumgeeville farmland goes.
Ricard: Yeah. If I stay, if he doesn't throw me out. But no, it's not all that great a piece of land. Better than the Mullinses, but that wouldn't take much.
Ricard: And my dad's young and healthy. Which is good, I know. But I'll be forty or fifty before I inherit. Maybe even older than that.
Gegg: Could be sooner, but I expect you're right.
Ricard: So I can stay home, and bust my back ploughing gravel, and be a good son. But it doesn't make me much of a marriage prospect, for someone like Nelbie.
Gegg: On the other hand, Samm's dad is healthy enough, too. That's not going to scare off Nelbie. There just aren't too many boys the right age from around here who are already independently wealthy, aside from Bart Mullins, and he's not exactly available.
Ricard: Well, yeah. But still, how can I court a girl, or ask her to have babies with me, when I'm broke and gonna stay that way? So that's the first tooth.
Gegg nods judiciously, and takes a slurp of beer.
Gegg: What's the second?
Ricard: I can do what Bart did. Or his family, at least. I can donate and have some money for courtin'. But then my dad'll throw me out of the house, and the Jergenses won't think much of me, either.
Gegg: Nelbie, or her parents? Or both?
Ricard takes a full-sized swallow of his beer, then remembers and sets the mug down hastily.
Ricard: Nelbie and I never really talked about it. By the time the subject came up, she was already seeing Samm. But I know how her folks feel. If they knew I'd donated twice already, they'd call me a soulless wretch.
Ricard figures "wretch" is the politest of the labels they'd use.
Gegg: Sounds like getting money the easy way isn't going to help you much, if your girl doesn't approve of your methods. Maybe you could put out word at the store that you're available for odd jobs? It don't cost much to take a girl for a walk in the woods this time of year, after all. And your prospects are good enough.
Ricard: Yeah. I suppose. Or I could go prong myself on the third tooth.
Gegg: What's that?
Ricard: Do what I was gonna do before Nelbie smiled at me. Wait for spring, which it already is, donate to get some travelling money, then get out and see the world. Freedom, donatin' money, but no Nelbie.
Gegg: What do you have in mind to do with such freedom? And where would you do it?
Ricard: Dunno. Anywhere there's another Sime Center, I suppose. Figure out the rest once I'm out there. Maybe learn a trade in the city, or something.
Gegg: It's hard to get an apprenticeship without connections or money. And people in other cities can be as hard to get along with as your own family.
Ricard: That's why I'd start with donating. And if I wasn't getting along with folks, I'd just move along. There's a lot of world out there. Somewhere there'd be something for me. Some other girl, even.
Gegg rubs his chin ~~ thoughtfully ~~.
Gegg: Well, there's something to what you say. On the other hand, it's expensive to get food and lodgings in a city. You'd spend most of your donation payment on that, which doesn't leave much left over for seeing the world or wooing a girl. I've done a lot of traveling, and it's no magic cure for a young man's restlessness.
Ricard leans forward eagerly. He knows Gegg must have stories to tell.
Ricard: What's it like, out there? And... over there, in Simeland?
Gegg takes a thoughtful sip of his beer, then signals Henree to bring another.
Gegg: I left home when I was about your age, for much the same reasons. I joined the Army, which I figured would give me some pay and lot of adventure. As it turned out, I actually had more freedom working on my father's farm. And adventure is highly overrated, unless it's happening to somebody else.
Gegg: Now, it's true that you meet different people when you travel, and see new things. Still, it doesn't solve the kinds of problems that make up the first two points of your pitchfork.
Ricard: Does that mean, if you had it to do over, you'd just stay home?
Ricard can't imagine a man regretting his adventures, even if he did eventually come back home.
Gegg: I wouldn't have joined the Army, that's for sure. Mostly what the travel did was show me how good I had it at home. Which isn't a bad lesson to learn, actually.
Gegg's youthful adventures were the sort that make a very good story, but which were no fun at all to live through.
Ricard: You think I should go, then? Get out there and see things? ~~ eager ~~
Gegg: I didn't say that. If you do decide to leave Gumgeeville, though, you'd best put some thought into where you're going, and why.
Ricard: Where did you go, and what's it like there?
Ricard figures he needs all the information Gegg can give him. Besides, he's always up for hearing a good adventure story.
Gegg: I hopped the train to the Army recruiting station, and they sent me to a training camp where they worked us till we dropped every day. Then we got sent out to wade through a swamp infested with alligators and Simes. Believe me, there are much worse places to be than Gumgeeville.
Ricard is listening ~~ avidly ~~ .
Ricard has seen a Sime. Alligators sound much more interesting.
Gegg: Big lizards. With very sharp teeth, mean personalities, and huge appetites. They take deer with no trouble at all. Also horses, cows, and any person who's idiot enough to get close.
Ricard: But you had guns, right?
Gegg: Yeah, we had guns. Sometimes we even managed to spot the things before they attacked. We lost six men dead or with serious injuries before the rest of us got the hang of it.
Ricard: But... you only had to go near them because of the army, right?
Ricard is willing to admit the alligators sound horrible, but he isn't ready to be frightened away from the whole idea of adventure.
Gegg: Well, yeah. On the other hand, the army was there to protect the folks who live near the swamp. They lose children to the things every year.
Ricard: And to the Simes?
Gegg: From what I saw, the alligators were the bigger menace, at least to those who stayed out of the swamp.
Ricard: Tell me about the Simes. Not those Simes, but the ones you visited. What's it like, for Gens like us there?
Ricard hasn't ruled out the idea of having his adventures -- or some of them, at least -- in Simeland.
Gegg: You mean, for folks who speak the language, or for those who don't?
Ricard: Well, a language can be learned, can't it?
Gegg: Not overnight, it can't. And you have to have the knack for it to speak it well.
Ricard knows that Bart learned to speak the Sime language, and Bart wasn't any smarter in school than Ricard was.
Ricard: So, once you learn it, what's it like?
Gegg: Not too different from here, actually. Although the place we were staying had better farmland than Gumgeeville.
Ricard nods eagerly. He's a farmer's son; he knows what difference a better bit of land can make.
Ricard wants to hear all about strange customs and exotic lifestyles.
Gegg: Well, in the place we were staying, the land is run cooperatively. So except for the top managers, everybody is just part of a work party.
Ricard: So, like one really big, huge family?
Gegg: Not too much different. So everybody was pretty much living with the sorts of things that irritate you about your father, although they were a bit wealthier.
Ricard isn't going to shrug off the wealth.
Ricard: Gordy told me, where you were going, everybody was all channels and doctors and such.
Ricard thinks the idea of doctors, plural, is pretty exotic all by itself.
Gegg: No, only some of them. Most were farmers.
Ricard: Still, I'll bet doctors don't sit around at night whittling a new axe handle.
Gegg: Ricard -- they don't take in random strangers that wander by. It took a couple of diplomats to arrange for us to stay there.
Ricard: But Gens can go over there. All the pamphlets say Gens are welcome over there.
Gegg: They won't kick you back across the border. That doesn't mean they're going to house and feed you. Or even give you a job so you can do that yourself.
Ricard isn't ready to give up his idea of a Simeland adventure.
Ricard: But there are Sime Centers everywhere. You can at least donate.
Gegg: Yup. That's not much of a living, though.
Ricard: Can't be worse than farming gravel.
Gegg: Look, Ricard, if you're dead set on traveling, there's not much anybody can do to stop you. You'll probably lose your girl, but there are others. On the other hand, if you think leaving will solve your problems, well, those are the kind of problems that tend to go with you.
Ricard fidgets, trailing his finger through a puddle of spilled beer on the tabletop.
Ricard: So, suppose I stay here. For Nelbie. And do everything the old-fashioned way. For Nelbie.
Ricard isn't going to admit to being enough of a coward to be scared away from the idea of a real adventure.
Ricard: She dumped me once, for Samm. And then she dumped Samm. Who's to say she won't just dump me again? After I gave up all that for her?
Gegg: If you stay, my guess is you'll have a wife, soon enough. Nelbie or another girl. And a farm to support her and your children, eventually. And Ricard -- I know it seems impossible, but I expect in a few years, whatever you do, your dad won't be that impossibly dense fellow who couldn't possibly understand, any more.
Ricard: He seems awful old to change.
Ricard's father is well past thirty. Almost thirty-five.
Gegg: He won't change. You will.
Ricard suppresses a shudder at the thought. He doesn't want to turn into a copy of his dad. His narrow-minded, old-fashioned, joyless dad.
Ricard: That's... that's almost reason enough, right there, for getting out of town.
Gegg: It would probably speed up the process, that's true. Give you some perspective.
Ricard: So you're saying I should go, then.
Ricard had been both hoping for and dreading this verdict.
Ricard: And give up on Nelbie.
Gegg: I'm not saying one way or the other. Any choice you make is yours alone, because you're the one who's going to have to live with it.
Ricard gnaws on his lower lip.
Ricard: Nelbie wouldn't wait for me, I'm pretty sure of that. She couldn't afford to. If I didn't come back, she'd be an old maid.
Gegg: Chances are you'll manage to work things out, whatever you do. Somehow. It's not as if there's only one way for a life to go.
Ricard: Yeah, but it's only one life. However many ways there are, I can only pick one of them.
Gegg: That's true enough, and there's never a guarantee that you'll pick the best one. It sure pays to take the time to make sure you at least don't pick the worst, though.
Ricard: Hmm. Yeah, I suppose it does, at that. Stay till planting's done, maybe. And then go before harvest starts, if I'm gonna. Or else talk about a fall wedding.
Ricard feels a bit better, now that the next few weeks, at least, have a bit of structure to them.
Gegg: It'd give you a chance to get reacquainted with Nelbie, and think about whether you want to spend your life with her.
Ricard: We always liked each other when we were kids in school. That's a start, isn't it?
Gegg: Yes, and a good one. Now, you need to find out what she wants the rest of her life to be like, and see if it fits with what you want.
Ricard: Hmm. With it raining today, she and her folks are probably all stuck in the house, aren't they?
Gegg: Yup. Probably doing the spring cleaning, like my Toria and Sanda.
Gegg: Speaking of which...
Gegg swallows the last of his second beer.
Gegg: ...the twins will be waking up soon, and I'd better get back in time to mind them.
Ricard drops the comment he'd been going to make about them both being here to dodge the cleaning.
Ricard: Twins. That's so amazing.
Ricard pictures watching kids of his own growing up some day.
Gegg: Yup. It is amazing, even if it does mean we don't get much sleep.
Ricard: And they didn't even stop you from having another adventure.
Gegg shakes his head, and shrugs into his coat.
Ricard grins again and drains his well-nursed beer. Maybe the choices aren't all between bad and worse after all.
Ricard: I think I'll go see if Nelbie and her mom could use a half hour off from cleaning.
Gegg: You do that.
Gegg heads out the door.
Ricard: And thanks for all the advice, Mr. Gegg.
Gegg: You're welcome.
Ricard puts on his own coat and, with a nod to Henree, heads out into the rain.