"I figured I better sit here when I saw that you was all alone. A girl your age? It ain't safe." The woman looked around the boxcar in disapproval. "Sure ain't the Palmer House."
Addie had no idea what that meant, but she got the gist. And just exactly what age did she think Addie was? "Thank you. But I do all right." She looked herself over, wondering how that was going to stay true if they made women wear dresses out here. Boots, pants, boys' shirts that buttoned up the middle, and a leather vest did her fine, she thought. The train was going at a good, noisy clip, which made the pair lean into each other to hear what the other was saying.
"You from down near Kentucky by any chance?" the woman asked.
Addie perked up, curious now. "Down near." "Thought I could hear it. Get pretty good at things like that when you live in the Territory. Everyone speaking this way and that. Most days you don't meet two people from even close to the same place. Unless you're in the mine camps I suppose, then you got all them coolies and Finns and such, thick as thieves."
"Coolies and Finns?" Addie searched her mind. Already there were a few more words she didn't know. She assumed this woman must be talking about people, but what they sounded like to her were different kinds of fish.
"Oh, young lady." The woman sighed, shaking her head as if Addie was at grave risk. She smoothed down the front of her dress. "Where exactly are you going?"
"My brother is meeting me up in Rock Springs, then to his homestead." Addie paused. Rock Springs was her destination, then her brother's place. But where she was headed felt just then like a question without an answer.
The woman huffed and again looked up and down the length of the boxcar. "Homesteading? Outside Rock Springs? And you come alone?"
"Then I best fill you in on a few things." The woman held out a palm and jabbed her finger into it. "Whatever land your brother sits on, see to it you got drinkable water. Don't know of many homesteading folks in those parts ain't met with heartache. 'Course, there's a few, and maybe your brother'll be one of them." She took a deep breath as if what she was about to say would take a lungful. "And when you get to Rock Springs, you stay away from the coolies. The Finns is okay if they aren't drinking, but the coolies are the most savage lot you'll ever meet. If they get the chance they'll snatch a baby out of a mother's arms and eat it right in front of her. And at night they go underground into their burrows, doing all manner of deviltry."
What was it, Addie wondered, about the women in these parts that turned them all into the preacher's wife? And if this woman was purposely trying to frighten Addie, it was working. She wasn't sure if she wanted to hear more. Outside, the landscape suddenly wasn't comforting at all. The sunlight had a weight to it, seemed to press down on every living thing, left the world flat and dry, the brush more gray than green, the clumps separated and solitary like a wandering army in disarray. And then ahead, Addie caught sight of a dozen or so strange-looking animals, not dogs or deer or cows, not goats either, but still, four-legged. They had long black snouts, tan backsides, white bellies, and one of them had a pair of evil-looking black horns shaped like the pinchers of an earwig. "Are those coolies?" Addie asked, pointing as the train passed the animals. She'd seen them once or twice on her travels but never this close.
The woman looked out the window and then at Addie. Her face held an expression that fell somewhere between worry and sympathy. "You are a green one," she chuckled. "Those are pronghorn. Wouldn't hurt a fly," she said, her chuckle evolving into an outright laugh.
Addie didn't appreciate being called green, nor the fact that this woman she didn't know from Adam was laughing at her. "Then how will I know a coolie if I see one?"
Excerpted from Take Me Home by Doris Haddock. Copyright © 2010 by Doris Haddock. Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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