Pages 1-2 Summary

A long time before beets were planted or highways arrived in Argus, North Dakota, “there was the railroad.” The tracks crossed the Dakota-Minnesota border and went on into Minneapolis; everything that both makes and diminishes the town arrives and leaves on that track. On a cold spring morning in 1932, the train brings “both an addition and a subtraction.” Two passengers, with blue lips and numb feet, are stowed away in a freight car. When they jump, they are so cold that they stumble.

Karl Adare is a tall, pale fourteen-year-old; his eleven-year-old sister, Mary, is short and quite ordinary looking. Things are better in North Dakota “than in most places,” which is why they have come here to live with their sister’s mother, Fritzie. She and her husband run a butcher shop on the east end of town.

The Adare children begin walking east, warming up as they walk. They walk through town, searching for their aunt’s shop; Mary keeps walking but Karl stops, inexplicably and mysteriously drawn to a small, blossoming tree. Mary finally turns around and is frightened to see how far behind her he has fallen. Karl does not hear her shout, nor does he hear the shouts of the woman in the house who owns the tree. When Karl does not respond, the woman unties her large, “anxious” dog.

Karl tears a limb from the tree, leaving a scar which Mary will see on the tree next spring when she walks by this house. When the dog jumps at Karl, he strikes out with the branch and yells at his sister to run, which she does. Mary runs east, toward Aunt Fritzie, and Karl runs back toward the train.