In advance of the publication of The Dane on June 22, here is a short excerpt:
Nels bellied up to the bar, pushing past two young bucks. He shouted to Harold for a beer, slapping his hand on the table. “Goddamn Harry. Goddamn.”
“You’re hot as a poker,” Harold said, grinning as he filled a mug with lager. He handed it across the counter to Nels. “What’s got you fired up anyway?”
“Today is a red letter day, my friend. My wallet is full and I am going to drink my fill. That I guarantee.” He spoke with the faintest of Nordic accents, that the few Swedes in the area found unplaceable. They had never met a Dane from Slesvig, as he was quick to say.
“Good for you, Nels,” Harry said, reaching across to give him a slap on the shoulder.
Nels nodded his thanks and took a long pull on his beer, wiping the suds from his mustache. He was well known in Sunnynook, but then everyone was. It was a homesteaders town of about a couple hundred, bigger than most of the others in the area because it was on the railway and had a station house and an elevator. Farmers from thirty miles or more would bring their grain and cattle here to ship and sell.
That was what Nels had been doing as well, selling his cattle, to somebody down near Hanna. For a hell of price, as he kept thinking to himself, while he slapped the counter of the bar in rhythm to a song that only he could hear in his head. If harvest went off half as well as the cattle, well he’d be looking at his first great year here in the five since he’d settled.
He was a latecomer, compared to most everyone else. Most of the families had been settled here fifteen or twenty years. They’d built up their lands—or in the case of a good many, failed and buggered off somewhere else—and turned their sod shacks into sturdy houses. Nels was still working on that.
He was only one man himself, so he only needed one room, as he always said. And the cold of the Canadian prairie wasn’t so bad. No worse than his winters in Denmark. The damp there got into you worse, he told everyone. Went right to the bone and you couldn’t get it out, no matter what you did.
Not that he wouldn’t mind one of those catalog houses, ordered up and the plans and pieces sent in on the train. And if this year went like he thought it might…well, hell, he might be building next summer.
He finished off the last of his beer and waved at Harold for another, just as Wally Lindback tapped him on the shoulder. Nels turned to look him over and shook his hand. “What are you doing here, boy? Aren’t you too young to be in a place like this?”
“Dad would kill me if he found out,” Wally said, with an agreeable shrug.
Nels laughed. “I’ll spot you a beer.”
“Thanks,” Wally said. “Saves me asking. You seem flush tonight.”
“Been a hell of day, Wally. Hell of a day. Sold the cattle. Got a fine, fine price, I don’t mind telling you.”
“That’s great. And you got that crop coming too.”
“Still have ta get it off,” Nels said, though his grin said he thought that would be no problem. He waved the bartender over and ordered a beer for Wally and another for himself.
“Dad’s still broken up about his,” Wally said, a shadow passing across his face.
Nels frowned. “Yeah, that’s a hell of thing. That’s farming though. And he’s not the only one. Hail took a lot of good crops this year. Not mine for once though, not mine.”
Harold brought the two beer over and Nels passed one on to Wally, peeling off some bills to pay the tab. He raised his glass and Wally followed suit.
“Yeah,” Wally said, taking a sip of his beer while he looked past Nels at the others in the bar. “I wouldn’t maybe go telling everybody about your good fortune. They’re liable to get jealous.”
“Oh folks here are good,” Nels said, unconcerned. “Most are good farmers like your dad. They understand that some years will be good, some bad. You learn to roll with what life gives you. Can’t do otherwise.”
“Yeah,” Wally said, taking another drink. “Yeah.” But he did not appear to believe it.
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