"This'll be what you're wanting there, Mr. Stuart," Jeremiah said importantly.
All the town now knew of Henry's plan to choose a place and just go there, and they enjoyed from the plan's unfolding a vicarious sense of adventure, intrigued that he seemed set upon heading off for the Deep South. Henry opened the letter standing two steps back from the mail window, removed the single page and read to its bottom.
"One hundred and fifty dollars is the asking price for the nine acres of Alabama land, Jeremiah," Henry said, dropping his hands, the letter in one and the envelope in the other. "And I, being of sound mind" Henry feigned an idiot's vacant stare "shall buy it!"
Jeremiah stood full upright, and clapped his hands twice, and then quickly extended his right one through the bars to shake with Henry. "It sounds like a bargain at twice the price."
Henry was grateful that Jeremiah did not encumber his prospective departure from Nampa with a heaviness in his eyes that so many others could not seem to conceal. And Henry turned and left the post office, stuffing the letter into his shirt pocket, and made for the center of the street, the cool pavement greeting each footfall. He strode with purpose, and did not this day think of how his feet preferred the soil, or flat stone pavers, to bricks or cement or asphalt. He would go right away and get one hundred and fifty dollars cash from the small safe in his study and wire it directly to Mr. Peter Stedman and entrust him to complete immediately the purchase transaction on his behalf.
Turning onto the hard-packed dirt street and easier walking at the edge of town where Doctor Belton's clinic was, Henry soon walked past the doctor's office. He slowed, then stopped, and considered the closed door. He stood still and looked down the street to where it left the town limits and disappeared across low rolling hills east toward the Salmon River Mountains, and farther beyond them to where the purple Rocky Mountain barrier would rise abruptly. Henry bent down his head, bringing his chin toward his chest where he rested it and gazed at his bare feet, pale with heavy blue veins seeking his toes. He straightened, squared his shoulders and even jutted his chin forward, striking out now with a different purpose: Henry would take his seat and wait for a turn to see Doctor Belton, and he would ask him to describe for him the changes the disease would bring to his body, when he might look for the worst of them.
Henry wanted to know how he would die.
Drawing near to his home, his head was abuzz with the catalog of symptoms Doctor Belton had recited, the physiology of the impairment of his body's organs and systems. Henry angled across to that side of the street where the white picket fence began at the corner of his well-kept lawn and took in a small three hundred by three hundred foot lot from his 36 acres that rolled away into pasture and the woods behind, over hills and into hollows, cut across on the northwestern corner by Gentry Creek's clear and cold shallow burble.
Henry raised his right hand to touch the boards' sharpened pickets and walked some distance as a child might, allowing the long fingers of his opened palm to slap-pat, slap-pat, from one whitewashed board to the next. He stopped near the gate and looked at his home set back on the neat lawn going from green to a yellow-gold, at the moat of flowers, some in autumn bloom, and evergreen shrubs ringing it, reaching outward like arms down either side of the broad cobbled walk, delineating that space in color and undulations of green. Molly had wanted a pretty yard, and Henry had given Molly a pretty yard, though on some days he felt from the effort that he himself had become planted, rooted.
"This I'll give to you, Harvey," Henry said aloud to himself, pushing back the strands of white hair fallen over his ear. "And most of the land to you, Thomas." Harvey was the older son by two years, and about to marry, his wife-to-be already working beside him in his start-up Stuart Mercantile. Thomas was a sensible boy and hard-working at Frank McGuffy's sawmill, but not yet of a mind to marry, nor had he taken a woman for more than frivolous company.
Excerpted from The Poet of Tolstoy Park by Sonny Brewer Copyright © 2005 by Sonny Brewer. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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