that he was rereading the page he’d just finished. One afternoon
he found himself in the village library again. Ruth Kinneson, the
librarian and Kinneson’s second cousin by marriage, was boxing
up some outdated westerns for an upcoming book sale.
“Welcome, stranger,” Ruth said. “What do you hear from Mr.
For the briefest moment, Kinneson wasn’t sure who she
meant. Ruth was the only person who ever referred to his former
hired hand as Mr. Patchett.
“Not much,” Kinneson said. “Since that penny postcard got
all over town.”
Ruth smiled. “Mr. Patchett is Mr. Patchett,” she said. “I think
he always felt the draw of the West.”
She removed a book from the box: Zane Grey’s Riders of the
Purple Sage. There was Patchett’s name on the check-out card,
printed neatly a dozen or so times.
“Mr. Patchett read and reread every one of these books,” Ruth
said. “I’m sure you knew that.”
Kinneson had known no such thing. He wondered what else
there might be about Patchett that he didn’t know. After that day,
many years ago, when he had inquired about Patchett’s name,
he had never asked him a personal question. Now, looking at
Patchett’s block printing on the library card, he realized that
his friend had not been fleeing anything, including Montpelier
and its thousand-and-one regulations, when he’d struck out for
Montana. Rather, Patchett had been realizing a life-long dream.
At that moment, Kinneson knew exactly what he must do.
That evening, he summoned the Sanchez brothers to the
farmhouse kitchen. Without preamble, he said that he was
prepared to sell them his seven hundred and sixty acres, the barn
and livestock, and the machinery at assessed or book value. He
would hold the mortgage himself, zero percent interest and no
down payment. After his death, the monthly payments would
go to his son and daughter. He would retain the farmhouse and
two acres for his children and grandchildren to use as a getaway.
Juan and Luis thanked him and said they would keep up the
place, of which Kinneson had no doubt. He enjoyed thinking
of old man Potts’ consternation when he learned that the last
working farm in the township was now owned by Mexicans.
The brothers returned to their trailers to share the news
with their wives. Immediately, before he had second thoughts,
Kinneson began packing. He wouldn’t need much. His fly rod,
deer rifle, winter clothing, and boots. He could bunk in with
Patchett, he figured, until he found a place of his own. Late
that afternoon he’d brought the grave marker from the maple
orchard down off the ridge, on a stoneboat behind his Oliver,
and gee-hawed it up into the bed of his pickup. He didn’t sleep
much that night. Except for a year in Korea when he was in the
service, he’d spent only a few nights away from his own bed. Now
he was leaving the Kingdom forever. He imagined that he could
hear the low, throbbing hum of the windmills. Once he heard
Elizabeth say, very distinctly, “A red-and-yellow grasshopper
fly, fished wet, is a good bet out there this time of year.”
He was up at first light. He limited himself to one cup of
coffee so he wouldn’t have to stop five times before he was out
of Vermont. He removed the urn containing Liz’s ashes from the
pie safe and wrapped it in his hunting jacket and stashed it in the
bottom of the toolbox behind the pickup cab. The rig coughed,
ground out, coughed again, and started. He’d have Patchett
throw in a rebuilt starter when he arrived.
The river was invisible in the September mist. Higher on the
ridge, the clouds had dispersed. In the rising sun, the twenty-one wind towers lit up as red as Armageddon and the fiery
blades began to turn like the big and little wheels of Ezekiel’s
biblical namesake. Well before he reached the hardtop road
where Patchett had started all this with his fish worms sign,
Kinneson knew that, for him, Big Sky Country was no solution.
“How was Montana?” Juan called to him a minute later as he
pulled back into his dooryard.
“Montana’s all right if you like it,” Kinneson said. “It isn’t the
Still, Kinneson realized, as he returned Elizabeth’s ashes to
the pantry, that it was not his beloved green fields or hundred-
year-old sugar bush or six generations of forebears that had
changed his mind about leaving the Kingdom. What brought
him back was the wind towers. Looking up at their blades,
looming high above the county in the mild fall sunlight like
so many winged, alabaster idols, Kinneson pursed his lips. As
he’d told the Sanchez children, the towers bore watching. It had
fallen to him to watch them. That might not be much, but it was
the one thing left in his world that he was certain of.
Howard Frank Mosher’s new novel, God’s Kingdom, will be published this October by
St. Martin’s Press.
Matthew Gauvin is a book illustrator living and working in Lyndonville, Vermont.