"Sure am." Tommy's reply was quick but unsteady. He stood
and faced a set of narrow shelves, bringing down a dark, dented
can topped by a mound of cloth. "Supper tonight is biscuit and
"How many acres you got planted?"
Tommy paused, sitting down and placing the can between
his feet. "Ain't like Kentucky, Addie. Turns out the ground ain't
worth a bucket of spit, and where it is, there ain't no water." He
told Addie about how when he first set foot on his place, and
before he put up some shelter, he could stand in the center and
the land was so flat he could see into every corner of his eighty
acres. But that was about as good as it got. He'd written Addie
to join him before he realized that even if he could clear away
all that brush by and by, there was the problem of the rocky soil,
and even if he could turn it over enough and pull the largest
stones, what was left was so alkali nothing worth eating would
ever sprout, no matter how much water you put on it. "Placed all
my bets on a homesteading notice got read to me in Missouri," he
Addie tried to picture this land her brother had been so excited
about in his letter, the reason she was here, in fact. "So what's it
"Aggravation," Tommy chuckled, but there was pain in it. "If I
just stick for five years, it's mine clear and free."
"You remind me more of Pa than I thought." Their father wasn't
much of a thinker, but he did live life with one philosophy, that no
matter how difficult a thing was, if you stayed at it long enough, it
was bound to work out. It wasn't lost on Addie that the thing he
stuck with longest was drinking, and that hadn't worked out for
him at all.
"I ought to give you a pinch for that, but I know what you
mean." He reached under the cloth in the can and pulled out two
corn biscuits and a few dark, thin squares of meat. "Elk," he said,
handing her a share.
The biscuits were hard and the elk gamy, but with a fair amount
of water Addie managed. Her brother ate his as if it were butter
and pie, and she was afraid to know if this was his special-occasion
food. "So," Addie said, as she battled a piece of biscuit down her
throat, "can you make a go of the land or not? I mean, when you
wrote me you had some big plans, but doesn't sound like those will
come to pass."
"I thought about sheep or goats maybe."
"I know'd you'd say something against it. Don't worry, I already
did the figuring, and I ain't really the livestock type. But I can't
believe that in all of creation those eighty acres can't be done nothing
"Sounds like you got Pa's luck." There were other ways to say it,
she knew, but they all amounted to an insult to the Maine family
judgment. And hadn't she herself just picked up and come out here
on a mere notion?
"Like I said, I just got to stick five years and the land's mine.
Something's bound to come up." He chewed on the last piece of
venison. "So I was thinking, Addie. It's a good thing you come
"I didn't know you was thinking otherwise."
Tommy faced her directly. He put a hand on each of her shoulders,
and she could tell he was smiling under his mustache. "I'm
sure I could get a job at the mine up top Dire Draw, and I was
thinking you could stay on the property till I figure something out.
It's just a couple hours away from Dire."
She was adding it up. It was a half day to his homestead from
Rock Springs, so Dire was somewhere in between. "I don't know
what I come out here for, Tommy, but I can tell you I never had in
mind I'd be keeping your house and waiting for you to come home
to get fed."
"It won't be like that. It can't, because it's too far. I'll have to
stay in Dire, and you'll be tending things by yourself."
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