Farmers do not believe in luck. They do believe in fate, mostly as a function of the weather. But when it comes to their own fortunes, because of their immediate involvement with the land, they see their own efforts as being the thing most responsible for personal success or failure. It is a hardy, productive point of view, both self-reliant and efficient. But at the same time it is very causal and, in the end, uninspired. Myths and superstitions, goddesses of fertility worship, the colorings of the human imagination for thousands of years, died with the weather report and the McCormack Reaper.
Early spring, out from beyond Bozeman with four hundred dollars, a couple of fishing poles, and a suitcase stuffed with year-old workclothes, he was driving his car along the straight, flat highway stretching west from Spokane. He had driven all night, coming over the Rockies in a pelting downpour, the storm having blown itself out just before dawn. With the morning half gone, the sun breaking strongly through the swiftly scattering overcast, the tires of his car whined through the intermittent wet stretches remaining on the road.
Across the endless hills of the Palouse country of Washington, low, slow moving clouds were wetting the cool ground. On the dark flanks of the hills the first green shadings of sprouting winter wheat were beginning to show; and in the deep, unfarmed valleys white blossoming trees with yellow and white carpets of wildflowers at their feet braced beneath the occasional, soft coming and going of the showers. It was about noon when he first saw Gainesville, a few miles distant, as the highway went over yet another of the tirelessly rolling hills. From that distance, other than the towering grain elevators, nothing else could be seen of it except a massing of heavy trees. He had felt hungry for hours and he took the town’s off-ramp when it came along.
At the town park he ate his lunch. The park was quiet and cool, the grass spreading beneath big maple and chestnut trees, their young leaves already filling out so early in the Spring. Along one side of the park a high-riding river flowed silently. He sat at the table for a long time watching the river and drinking his coffee. Drinking until closing hour over by Bozeman and then driving over the Rockies had left him practically numb, but the bright sky and fresh air revived him and he went for a walk into town to where, on the main street, cars and pickups angled up in front of storefronted buildings. Two or three stories squat, some of them false-fronted, the brick or wood structures were close and plain. A few buildings had snuck off up the side streets, but most sat squarely on Main, two hard walls marching down the street. He walked all the way down Main and then took a corner and walked around to a side street. There, old houses with close-trimmed lawns slept beneath large-limbed trees. On his way back he came across a blue and gray stucco building with large, weather-beaten wood balconies on all three stories, called the St. Charles Hotel. He went up the steps and across the porch into the lobby. The deskman, bald and oily-looking, read a paper behind the counter and made no sign of movement until he had crossed the wide, red-carpeted lobby scattered with tables and old reading chairs. Then the paper was slowly folded up.
Most of the rooms were empty. He asked if he could get a corner room on the top floor, at the front. The deskman shrugged, bringing out a key and laying it on the counter.
“Fifteen bucks a night, fifty a week, and a hundred and twenty-five a month.” The deskman pushed across the ledger.
Three bills were out brought from a wallet and the deskman stamped PAID in the ledger. “Third floor, to the right.” The deskman unfolded his paper.
It was a big, L-shaped room with a high ceiling. So big it could have almost been an apartment. A wide bed was placed halfway down the longest wall and there were a couple of old armchairs and a folding-top desk along the other. He opened doors and found the L-shape was caused by a bathroom and kitchen built into one corner of what had been an even larger room. The bathroom was small, tiled from floor to ceiling, and the kitchen was equipped. The room itself was well-lit, one big window facing the street, a smaller one above the bed, and there were a pair of French doors, small glass panes made private with white muslin door curtains, leading out onto the balcony. He threw the shades back, letting the sun come warmly into the room, but did not open the window or the doors, just going over to lay down on the bed. There, suddenly, he remembered his car. But then he yawned and rolled to the side, turning his back to the sun coming in the balcony doors.
The sound of a train passing through town, clicking and rattling itself across roadbeds, woke him. The room was dark. Out through the main window, the sky was a deep blue, rich with evening, two stars showing themselves above the dark silhouettes of the trees across the street. He pulled himself upright and rubbed the rough stubble on his neck, then went and opened the French doors and stepped out onto the balcony. With an overhanging roof, the balcony started at his door and disappeared around the far corner. Cane chairs and tables, shoved back against the side of the hotel, spread the length of it. He could see into none of the other doors, all were locked tight with heavy drapes pulled shut. The balcony went around the corner and stopped at the back end where a lone door marked a room there. He leaned on the railing, looking out at the town. Streetlights, beginning to take strength beneath darkening skies, showed in glimpses up through the trees. Brighter lights and the sound of traffic came from the downtown, half a block away. From a house across the street he could hear the banging of pans and cupboards as someone began to prepare dinner. He went back into the room, shutting the doors behind himself, and went down out of the hotel.