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  • Susan Stoderl

Prairie Dust, Chapter 2, Excerpt 2 | a Historical Novel in Serial Form

Barbed wire on the prairie
Prairie Dust, a historical serial novel

Jim decided bad news could always wait as he put the letter in his jacket pocket. He’d take care of business first, he thought as he pulled out onto the main road to Wray. He had to hurry since the land office closed at noon on Saturday.

As Jim jostled down the rutty road, he questioned what would make the best impression on the townspeople. Today, he was picking up the deed for some land he had purchased for twenty-five dollars. By its history, many thought the land had a curse on it. The previous owner had gone bankrupt in the droughts of 1893 and 94, plus another succession of other owners and bankruptcies. The land now belonged to him, a profitable addition to his empire. 

He had debated whether to go to the land office by automobile, buggy, or wagon since few owned cars on the plains of Colorado. Jim was lucky that the Ford Model N would run on gasoline, kerosene, or ethanol. He could always find kerosene. Visiting the busy office allowed him a chance to impress his neighbors. Some potential allies would prefer a man of standing, others not. Was it more beneficial to show his leadership ability, or begin as a good, neighborly man? This delicate dance was always challenging. His instincts favored wealth, humility, and zero tolerance for other’s shenanigans.

The only person in the land office besides Jim was Joe Taylor. He had met him and his wife Edna at the dance the night before. The Taylors were strict and overly devout Methodists. He was sure Flora would approve of Joe and his wife. She would, however, not approve of Mrs. Taylor’s drab clothes. 

After Jim hopped up into his Model N, he knew it was time to deal with Flora’s letter. It was probably best to get it over with. He took his pocketknife out of his pants pocket and slit the envelope open. But he hesitated. It could wait until he got home. 

Jim engaged the emergency brake and adjusted the spark control and hand throttle accordingly. He checked to see that the gas valve was in the correct position, then stepped on the starter pedal and adeptly adjusted the choke. He would be home soon enough to read the damn letter.


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