When the mines closed in March, there was very little food left in the house. It was still a long time before the garden crops would be ready, and Alpha wanted Brack to tell his two cousins, Harl and Tibb Logan, to leave the house and find food for themselves; but Brack said that as long as he had food in his house, he would never turn his blood kin away. Then Uncle Samp came to live with them, and the mother saw her four children getting hungrier and leaner. Knowing that the kin would leave if there were no place for them to sleep, she calmly set fire to the house, first moving the children and the skimpy furniture to the smokehouse.
All spring, while the family lived in the smokehouse, they ate less and less and waited for the first vegetables. When the beans were almost ready and the whole family dreamed of having their stomachs full, three men came from the mining town to beg food for their families. Unable to turn down starving people, Brack sent the men into his garden. When they came out, the boy saw that they had taken every bean from the patch. He turned away, wanting to cry.
In May, Brack took the boy with him when he went to help a neighbor deliver a colt. The boy expected to get the colt for his own, as his father’s fee, but the neighbor’s son told him that no Baldridge was going to get the colt, that the Baldridges were cowards, and that after their Grandpa Middleton had been killed by Aus Coggins, no Baldridge had done anything about it. The boy fought with the neighbor’s son. When the fight was over, they found that the colt was dead.
One day, Uncle Jolly arrived and brought them a pair of guineas from Grandmother Middleton. Uncle Jolly spent as much time in jail as out. It was said that he was avenging Grandpa’s death by tormenting Aus Coggins—cutting his fences, breaking his dam, and doing other mischief.
Soon after Uncle Jolly left, Brack wanted to move the family down to Blackjack, for the mines were going to open again. The mother did not want to go because the smoky valley would be a bad place for her sickly baby; but she resigned herself to her husband’s wishes.
In the middle of August, the boy and his sister Euly started to school. They were anxious to learn to read and write, the boy especially, because he did not want to be a miner. He hoped that someday he could be an animal doctor, as his father had always wanted to be. It seemed to the boy and Euly, however, that the most important thing they learned in school was how to smoke bats out of the building.
In late September, the boy was sent to stay with his Grandmother Middleton while Uncle Jolly served a term in jail. He was to stay with her only until Uncle Luce came, but the corn was husked and the other grain harvested before Uncle Luce arrived. The boy was astonished at his grandmother’s ability to do heavy work, for she was very...
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