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       A Verse Narrative by Michael E. Mautner


    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.

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