It was the last place on earth Winston wanted to be at the end of a beautiful summer day.
Well, beautiful weather, anyway. The day itself had been hard and hungry, just like every day for the last month.
He and Laura never counted on June floods when they moved to the edge of the prairie, just as the mountains began to close off a clear view of the western horizon.
Never thought they might lose everything in hours during the ten years they built their ranch.
Never considered asking for help from anyone, least of all the Hamiltons.
But it all came to pass when the April rains dried up early and the May sun never stopped shining and spring grass all withered away and Winston’s starving cattle stripped the land bare.
And then, when the rains finally came in early summer, there was nothing to hold the earth in place, and it all washed away.
The fences and the barns, and then the animals themselves. Terrible, screaming wails as the weak cattle lost their footing and tumbled under the rushing waters.
Winston had had enough sense to build the house on a hill, and it held on, barely.
But the torrents disappeared as fast as they bulged, and the Craigs were left with nothing except a place to sleep, a couple weeks’ worth of dry goods, and the gloom of an uncertain future.
Could they rebuild?
But certainly not by winter, and even if they did, the farm would bear no fruit for at least another year. And even then, would another harsh rain just wash them away again?
It all weighed on Winston like an ox’s yoke, but it would all have to wait. All that mattered in that moment was that the food was gone, and that he had nothing to fill his babies’ bellies that night.
So there he was, hat in hand, striding up the lane to speak with Pete Hamilton, trying to hold his head high. Not that it mattered anymore. He’d beg if he had to.
And if he got the chance.
The Craigs and Hamiltons had been the first two families on the Lamar County frontier, and they had become bitter enemies almost right away, Pete and Winston butting heads over property lines from the first month on.
The tug-of-war left the Hamiltons on one side of Pixie Creek, the Craigs on the other — the wrong side as it turned out.
Neither man had set foot on the other’s property in at least five years, both understanding that a trespass might end in bloodshed.
It was a chance Winston had to take as he mounted the Hamiltons’ porch. He raised his fist, but before he could knock even once, the door swung open, and Pete Hamilton smiled from within the house.
“Winston,” he said, extending a hand. “We’ve been expecting you.”
Tears bit at Winston’s eyelids. “You have?”
Pete’s gaze slid beyond his visitor and he nodded to the big field out to the south. He grabbed a straw hat from a hook inside the door, seated it on his head.
“Wagon’s full,” he said, pushing past Winston. “Should be enough to last you the rest of summer. We can think about fall and winter later on. I’ll ride over with you, help you unload.”
Winston turned and watched his neighbor walk into the pasture, feeling grateful and small all at once.
After a few seconds, he put his own hat back on and scrambled to catch up.
It was time to move on.