When a mind's made up, it's set. The man of the house makes the decisions. If'n you took the notion that I'd try to get Mrs. Erickson to go against your say-so, you're wrong; but I'll just take the rest of the things from the clothesline whilst you get my hat. How's that?"
Mr. Stauffer folded his arms across his chest. "Do you, or do you not, want to stay?"
Leaning against the cart, Hope shook her head. "Onliest thing I want is to go where're God sends me and farmers need me."
"You just said Annie can't keep up. Do you think someone else needs you more? Or is it money? I can't—"
One hand shot up in the air. "Hold it right there. You and me—I get the funny feelin' I'm talking turkey and you're talking goose. Far as I can see, you folks could use my help—"
"Of course we can!"
"Then, why didn't you just say so? I thunk you was tryin' to send me off."
He jerked his gaze to the side, and his hands fisted, then opened. "What do you charge?"
"I don't bicker or dither. For all the work he does, a farmer don't earn much money. What he gets, he's gotta use for his family. God and them, that's where his loyalty lies. Me? My deal's straightforward and plain as can be: When the day comes that God sends me down the road, you give me whatever you feel you can afford. So there you are."
"Someone could cheat you."
"Never have." She shrugged. "God takes care of me. 'Tis Him I lean on."
Mr. Stauffer studied her face, then glanced at her cart. One step, and he dipped his head to see its contents. "Who keeps the rest of your belongings?"
Eyes narrowed, he pushed her quilt and discovered nothing beneath or behind it. "Two cans? All you have are two cans of food?"
Hope smiled at him. "Two cans more than lotta folks got."
"You're staying—at least for a while. As long as Annie wants. She's the woman in my home, and the decision is hers to make."
"I'll do my best to help her out."
"Two cans," he muttered to himself. Raking his fingers through his hair in one savage move, he rasped, "I don't know who's saving whom."
"Jesus saved me. As for anybody else—well, He puts us together to help one another out. Suppose you tell me where you want Hattie to go. Pasture or stall—don't matter which. She don't mind bein' round any of God's other critters. Fact is, cows and horses and—" She caught herself just before mentioning sheep. Some folks held a strong dislike for them, and from what he'd said earlier, Mr. Stauffer was one of them. "—and goats all seem to take a shine to her. Hattie's got a way of calming other beasts."
He nodded. "Donkeys and mules—they're good at that. I have a mare that's trying to wean her foal. We'll put the foal and your Hattie in a stall together tonight."
"Fine. Fields look to be ripening right nice. When's harvest set to start?"
"Week and a half or so. Maybe two weeks." He took a breath and let it out.
Hope shoved a hand in her apron pocket. "Mr. Stauffer, you got the look of a man fixin' to say something, but the words don't taste none too good. Why don't you just go on ahead and say what you gotta?"
He grimaced. "My sister—she is ... having a hard time. The heat and her being, umm ... well, there are things she shouldn't do."
"Yep. I reckon you and me're gonna have to team up and set her to simple tasks so she feels she's useful. Don't want her to feel I'm shoving her outta her own kitchen, but I aim to be takin' charge of things and say I've gotta earn my keep."
His shoulders relaxed. "Gut. Sehr g—Good. Very good." He smacked his hand against the cart. "This can stay here, and I'll take Hattie to the barn."
She grinned at him. "Sehr gut."