A gray mouse peeked out of a hole in a sack of dried beans at Cleve Hammon’s new supply store. Despite wandering snow flakes whistling through cracks in the walls Cleve kept busy building the shelves that would hold the dry goods. A month earlier, before winter set-in, he had finished the roof and used pine tar to seal its seams and gaps. A barn and a woodshed completed the collection of buildings located above Cimarron Creek in Southwest Kansas.
“We got plenty to do here.” Cleve looked at his old dog curled at the foot of the wood stove. “Got enough wood to get to the thaw…I hope.” The Franklin stove he had hauled from Boston burned in the middle of the main room of the three room cabin.
Outside the cabin horses whinnied. The hound dog stood, and Cleve dropped his hammer. He hurried to the side of the door and cautiously lifted the edge of the rawhide covering the window opening. Through the storm he spotted two men, a young woman, and a child walking toward the cabin. One of the men wore a pistol and carried a rifle, much like the weapon Cleve grasped in his hands.
“Yo, in the cabin.” One of the voices cried out.
“I ain’t open yet.” Cleve hoisted the Henry to the window. “Keep rid’n.”
“Too durned cold. Open the door Cleve. And put that Henry back down.”
“That you Emmett?”
“I picked up some stragglers, you gonna open that door or do we have sleep in the barn?”
Cleve set the Henry on the floor and opened the door. “Daggone it’s good to see you, Emmett. What cause you to ride this way?” The dog lopped out the door and sniffed at the strangers.
“Lucy and I finished work on the Bar-T an there’s no winter’n on that spread, so we headed south. Maybe pickup somethin’ around Amarillo.”
“Who’s that yer dragg’n along?” Cleve nodded at Clarence.
“Kids got caught in the storm. Brought’m here maybe Bertha could mother’m a bit.”
Cleve lowered his head. “Bertha went to the Lord three months ago, consumption got
“Oh, sorry Cleve.”
“Tough life out here Emmett, she got to cough’n blood then she was gone.”
“You runnin this alone then?”
“Best I can, dog and me.”
“Well, you got a family now, though these kids don’t have a lick of sense. They’re what’s left of a bandit raid west of here. Lost their folks, cabin burned out, they managed to run. Boy and his sisters said they was headed for Liberal to sell their cows, but dust storm got’m.”
“Emmett, all I got is some beans and some dried jerky, there’s some stores in the barn.”
Emmett turned to the three youngsters. “Clarence, you kids put them animals in the barn, then come on in here. Bring that flour and anything else in the wagon.” He walked past Cleve and set his saddle on the floor. “Well, it ain’t fishes and loaves, but it’ll do. I think the girl can cook, and the boy – Clarence will help with the work I spect. The little one, Merci will keep you entertained. They need a home.”
“You ain’t stay’n?”
Cleve walked in behind Emmett, “I don’t know Emmett. Look around, I ain’t got half a house yet.
“Ain’t no choice Cleve – I hereby bequeath Clarence, Mary, and Merci to your care. Amen. Got any coffee?”
“On the stove.”
“Last time I was by here all ya had was a barn, ya done a lot for a man with little or no help sides his wife. ”
Mary appeared in the doorway. “Sir, where can I put this Bible. Ma always kept it out at home.”
“Kin you read it?” Cleve scratched his chin.
“No, sir, but Clarence can.”
“Put it right here,” Cleve tapped the table, “ I guess Clarence is going to be reading that to us a little each day.”
Emmett gulped his coffee. “This here’s yer new home. You kids are gonna stay here with Mr. Hammon.”
Merci ran in the door followed by Clarence, her eyes were big as silver dollars. “Look Clarence, the promise land.”
Emmett tipped his hat back with his coffee cup. “Yup, probably so.”
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