Want settled with the Great Crash
and plans to stay awhile.
The lynching-tree is all ash,
but not enough to slake the soil.
Speculators have arrived --
rumor has it there is oil --
and farmers want to survive
so for the hard cash they sell.
The Kent farm is not sold,
not a single hill or dell.
It's to be Clark's freehold,
Eben's writ so in his will.
By enfeoffment it shall pass,
in ritual as of old:
Clark will get a clump of grass
that he'll value more than gold,
for land is wealth less crass
than cash, which is so cold.
Eben likes to think of this,
to know what he's fighting for,
to excuse the heavy debt,
same as may break him yet,
that he'd otherwise deplore.
First light. Time to work once more.
He scrubs their stud and its mare,
rubs hard to get out the dust,
give them a sheen for the Fair
and win at husbandry just
when he'd thought to pasture them.
Had not the droughts interfered
he'd've bought a truck this year,
would've let the horses rest
and joined the new century.
Instead they get a contest
(he's got to make some money:
there's a payment due)
and retirement later,
if the two are lucky. 'S'funny;
how a man's plans can crumble,'
Eben reflects. Not really.
Clark will accompany him,
will endure the mounts' slow progress
as Eben unburdens himself
en route to the county seat.
The revelations come slowly,
prefaced by talk of the heat.
-- Day's another scorcher, eh Clark?
-- Yes, sir; more torture for the topsoil.
-- Yep. If there were water it'd boil.
(Pause. Silence for miles as the men
bob in their saddles. Then:)
-- You still friends with that Pete?
-- No sir. We had a fight.
Nothing fierce, some insults traded,
but I suspect I won't see him much
now they've gone to town
and school is out.
-- Well, I'm glad to hear it. His Pa's a cheat,
and the boy is near as bad.
-- If you're referrin' to the fire,
you know there wasn't a shred of proof.
-- I'm getting awfully tired, son,
of you're taking their side. Ross tried
to terrorize us into selling,
he torched the barn and those acres
as sure as we're riding along.
-- Don't get mad at me, Pa.
I just try to be fair.
That is what you wanted?
(Eben sighs and, with a shrug:)
-- You're right, son, and I'm sorry,
but things have gotten rough lately
and it's irksome, Ross getting off
like he did. I'd've run him out
on a rail if I could, that smug...
-- Rosses had to sell, Pa. They've failed.
You find any comfort in that?
-- No, son. It isn't him. Hell,
it's six years since our last profit
and we can't be breaking even
much longer with those bills breathing
down on us. If there's not a bigger
harvest come fall, son, we'll have to quit.
Your Ma... she couldn't stand that.
Eben slumps in his seat,
takes on an aspect of defeat,
and Clark resolves to aid him
as best as he is able.
They ride on until dusk,
hitch up at a public stable
on the fairgrounds' edge and amble
their way to a musty inn
to let two bunks. "Two bits apiece!"
Eben is outraged at the desk.
They sleep the night out in the dust.