Chapter 12: Temperance
By the time Joshua emerged from Douglas’ Tack with his new saddle, Alice had already finished her business at the bank and Marshal Thompson’s law office. She was standing beside the loaded wagon with her back toward him as she engaged in conversation with a neatly dressed man in a bowler hat.
Alice must have seen the man’s eyes shift beyond her to Joshua, because she turned and nodded, acknowledging his arrival before saying, “Mr. Brody, it was very nice to have met you, but I really should be getting on back to the ranch. I don’t want to leave William alone any longer than I have to.” After a moment’s hesitation she added politely, “Have you had the chance to meet my ranch hand, Joshua Mason?”
Brody shook his head, “I am certain I have not. Silas Brody, Solicitor, at your service.” He gave Joshua an assessing look and didn’t bother holding out his hand as he observed the other man’s rough appearance and mud-stained clothing.
Joshua was amused by the dapper man’s snub and responded in an exaggerated drawl, “Pleased ta meetcha,” as he heaved his saddle into the back of the wagon on top of the other supplies. “Missus Evans, if’n you’s done finished yer bizness, we can git a move on, if’n you is ready ta git goin’.”
A hint of exasperated mirth in her eyes, Alice’s lips twitched as she said, “Yes, I’m ready.”
Having already turned dismissively away from Joshua, Brody smiled and tipped his hat gallantly at Alice, “Mrs. Evans, I’m delighted to have finally had the pleasure of meeting you. I hope you will do me the honor of allowing me to call on you? Or perhaps we could partake of lunch together the next time you come to town?”
The notion of Brody calling on Alice and trying to win her favor wasn’t nearly so amusing to Joshua as being snubbed had been. He busied himself with checking Nathan’s harness as he bit back irritation and another emotion that he rarely felt but recognized nonetheless—jealousy.
Alice immediately demurred. “I’m sorry, Mr. Brody, but I really don’t get into Bisbee all that much. Again, it was a pleasure to meet you though.” She turned to climb into the wagon, and ever the gentleman, Silas Brody offered her a helping hand into the wagon.
Joshua wordlessly climbed in on the opposite side and picked up the reins. The relief he felt when she’d declined the solicitor’s offer so quickly had been nearly as annoying as his reaction to the request in the first place. They hadn’t even been in Bisbee for more than two hours and he was already ready to get back home. He had figured on Alice getting attention when they came to town, but hadn’t reckoned on it being of this sort, though in retrospect, he should have anticipated it. Alice Evans was a beautiful woman—of course she’d draw the eye of any red-blooded man every time she came to town.
Alice settled beside him on the bench seat, and Brody still hadn’t released her hand. He lowered his head over it, brushing a kiss to the back and said, “’Til we meet again,” grinning up at her.
Even then, he seemed reluctant to loosen his grip on her, and Alice frowned at him as she gave her hand a tug. “Excuse me.”
Joshua could sense her growing alarm and his fingers twitched with the desire to shoot the fancily dressed idiot and be done with it. He restrained himself though, and merely said, “Brody.”
Upon hearing his name, the elegantly dressed man’s gaze flickered from Alice to Joshua. Brody paled visibly at the menacing expression on the other man’s face and in those cold blue-green eyes. There was no hint of the ‘country bumpkin’ Joshua had played at being earlier, only a definitive and deadly intent as he grimly continued, “If you don’t let go of her hand, you’re going to go from being a two-armed solicitor to a one-armed panhandler.”
Silas released Alice’s hand and stepped away from the wagon so quickly that the heels of his boots hit one of the wooden steps leading up to the boardwalk. He lost his balance and sat down hard on the step, gaping up at the two people in the wagon.
“Ready?” Joshua asked Alice in an even tone, and she nodded, wiping the back of her hand on her skirt before wrapping her fingers around the reticule on her lap. He clicked his tongue at Nathan and a few moments later, they were on their way out of Bisbee.
They traveled in silence for a short time until Alice said with forced levity, “Well, I suppose it’s a good thing you didn’t shoot him.”
“Yet,” Joshua returned darkly. She gave him a wide-eyed look and he relented, sighing, “I’m just kidding. Mostly.”
Somewhat appeased by his half-hearted reassurance, Alice tossed her head and sniffed, “Mr. Brody was far more persistent than the other two, I have to admit.”
That took a moment or two to sink in. “The other two?” Joshua echoed, giving her a sharp look before staring straight forward again. He carefully kept any hint of emotion from his voice as he said, “I reckon you near about find yourself surrounded by suitors every time you go to town, though. Women, especially unmarried women, widows and the like, ain’t exactly commonplace out here.”
Thoughtfully, she replied, “No, not really. In fact, Dan’s been gone nearly two years now, and honestly this is only the second time I’ve come to Bisbee and had anyone request to call on me. The fact that I had three requests in one day, well, that was a bit excessive.”
He found that hard to believe that she had so little interest from perspective courters. Men dramatically outnumbered women in this part of the country. While potential suitors might have let Alice have some grieving time following Dan’s death, after a year had passed, she’d have been considered fair game. Unless Hollander had made his intentions to pursue Alice Evans clear to any men who might have been interested in courting her, in effect staking a claim on her. The more Joshua thought about that, the more likely he considered that prospect to be. Out loud, he said only, “I imagine they wanted to give you some time to get over Dan’s death.”
“Mmm,” Alice responded dubiously.
Changing the subject, Joshua asked, “So did you get your business with the bank and the Marshal all squared away?”
She hesitated and said slowly, “Yes. Marshal Thompson said since it seems Mr. Hollander had no heirs or family to speak of, the cattle from his ranch don’t really have an owner anymore, that they’re now the same as feral cattle, free for us to round up and add to our herds, if we so choose. Some have already joined the herds of other ranches in the area… the rest have probably scattered far and wide.”
“Probably so,” he agreed.
“The problem with them joining our herd is that more cattle means more work for you and the boys,” Alice pointed out.
“Mark and I have made do so far,” Joshua said, unconcerned. “Once Will’s back on his feet again, it’ll be that much easier for us to keep ‘em together on the range. It’s been a good summer weather-wise, and with you giving ‘em feed from Turner’s store in addition to the grazing they do, I imagine they’ll be fat enough to fetch a good price next spring at market.” He would have thought she’d be happy about that, but when he glanced over at her, he saw her expression was troubled and the corners of her mouth were turned down into a frown.
Neither of them said anything for the next mile or so until she suddenly broke the silence by asking abruptly, “Does your offer to work on the ranch for no pay still stand?” She didn’t look at him as she spoke.
He didn’t bother trying to hide his surprise, straightening on the bench seat and staring at her profile. “What made you come to your senses?” he finally asked, absolutely certain that something significant must have brought about her change of mind. She was too proud to accept his offer unless she had no other choice.
Wordlessly, Alice opened her reticule and withdrew a paper, holding it out for him.
Joshua shifted the reins to hold in one hand as he took the document. It was a certificate of Homestead for a parcel of land north of Bisbee—in effect, it was the deed to the Evans land. He examined it briefly before handing it back to her. “The banker had it?”
She nodded, tucking the document back into her reticule and closing it. “He sold it to me for a hundred fifty dollars. I doubt it was legal, since the deed didn’t actually belong to him, even with Glen Hollander dead, but it’s in my hands and no one’s ever going to take it from my family again,” Alice said with grim determination.
Joshua didn’t trust himself to speak. It was bad enough that Hollander had made the Evans family trade their deed for water rights and then dammed up their creek anyway when they needed water the most, but the banker making her pay nearly 25 cents an acre for land that was in effect already hers was nothing short of outrageous. At that price, the land had cost Alice twice again the value of land in this area. They called Ben Wade a thief, he thought to himself, curling his lip in disgust.
Now he realized that her willingness to accept his working on the ranch without pay wasn’t because she had changed her mind about paying him, that she’d accepted he didn’t need the money anyway. Instead, it was because she couldn’t pay him, not even at the pittance wages of twenty dollars a month—she’d used up what little money she had to get the Evans Homestead certificate back. “Have you got enough money set aside to last until spring roundup? Enough to buy the food and stores you’ll need to keep the ranch going til then?” he asked, though he suspected he already knew the answer.
“No,” Alice replied, her voice barely above a whisper as she confirmed his suspicion. “I asked a couple of people about maybe selling off some of the longhorns from the Bar-H that have joined our herd, but they’re worthless, since so many ranches in the area have already added them to their numbers.”
Joshua hadn’t considered the short term effect of Hollander’s herd scattering, but what she said made sense. No one would pay for the cattle when, if they wanted, they could just take a couple of men out and round up ‘feral’ cattle bearing the familiar interlocking H of the Double Bar-H brand.
There just weren’t a lot of options available to her right now. She could sell either Castor or Pollux and that would net enough money to last a year, possibly longer, given how rare and valuable the Hereford bulls were in this area of the country. She could also do nothing, just making do with the money she had and try to make it stretch as far as possible, but risk losing everything if she failed. If she could just make ends meet until spring roundup, selling off the half-blooded offspring the bulls sired on longhorn cows would give the Evans family enough money to last for another year. The half-Hereford calves would be worth significantly more than a Longhorn calf would at market, and there was a lot of potential there in terms of making money over the long term.
Of course, he had an option of his own to suggest, but he knew she wasn’t going to like it, even though it was by far the best of those she had open to her. “I can give you some money. A loan. Of say, the hundred fifty dollars you spent getting your land back. More, if you need it, but enough to last you until spring, and you can pay me back with the money you get from selling the cattle for market.”
She didn’t say anything, and he could see the indecision on her face. She didn’t want to accept his offer unless she had no other choice, but she hadn’t outright said ‘No’ either.
“Come on, Alice, you know it’s better than the other options you’ve got open to you,” Joshua said persuasively. “You get to keep Castor and Pollux and your land and don’t have to worry about needing stuff you can’t afford to buy until spring. After that, you’ll have all those extra cattle to sell off to pay me back anyways.”
“I know it is, but that doesn’t make it any more pleasant,” Alice said with distaste, her nose wrinkling.
He felt a flash of irritation at her words and didn’t bother keeping it from his tone when he spoke, “Is the prospect of my helping you out that damn objectionable?”
Now it was her turn to be surprised. She stared up at him for a moment before resting a hand lightly on his forearm, earnestly saying, “That’s not it at all, Joshua. God knows, you’ve helped us so much these past couple of weeks, I can’t even imagine how awful things would have been if you hadn’t been here. I’m immensely grateful for everything you’ve done for us, and I know Mark and William are as well.” She emphasized her words by giving his arm a comforting squeeze.
Somewhat mollified, Joshua nodded and glanced down at her. “It’s the money, isn’t it? Or really, where the money came from.”
Alice made a face, “It doesn’t seem right, taking money that was stolen from others.”
“It ain’t stolen from others, it’s stolen from the Southern Pacific Railroad,” he corrected. “And it’s money they would have used to line the pockets of politicians and wealthy men like Glen Hollander and the banker you had to reclaim your Homestead certificate from. It’s the money they would bribed people with, so they could run families like yours and thousands of others off their land in the name of manifest destiny, of progress.” He didn’t bother to hide his disgust at that particular notion.
“I suppose so,” Alice sighed in acceptance and looked down, suddenly realizing she was still touching his arm. She removed her hand, to his regret, withdrawing it to rest on her lap. “Will you need to head back to Miller’s Peak?”
“No.” Joshua generally didn’t carry more than fifty dollars at any given time—there just wasn’t much that he was interested in spending money on in general, and the average cowboy was perpetually broke. However, this time, he had taken far more from the stash than usual. Not that he had any particular notion to spend it, but just in case he needed it, he’d have it handy without having to make another fifty mile round trip to Miller’s Peak to get it.
“I’ll give you the money when we get back home,” he informed her. He wondered if she’d try to keep his loan a secret from her sons, and figured the best way to find out was to just ask. “Will you tell William and Mark how you got the land back?”
She gave him an odd look. “Of course, I try to tell them everything. What’s going on with the ranch affects all of us. We decided together as a family to stay here and keep ranching after Dan died, we decided together to take up Mr. Butterfield’s offer on sending us Castor and Pollux, to replace the barn…. I’d have included them in the decision to buy the land if they’d been here, but I wasn’t sure if Mr. McGregor would change his mind about selling me the Homestead Certificate if I didn’t accept his offer right then and there.”
Joshua nodded, considering her words for a few moments as the wagon rattled up the road. “You gonna tell ‘em ‘bout your suitors in town? I reckon since you had three this visit, the floodgates done opened and you’re liable to have just as many next time you go to Bisbee, if not more,” he said bitterly.
Alice had a pained expression on her face as she answered, “Yes, I suppose I should. I guess I expected that it’d happen sooner or later.” She didn’t seem very enthusiastic about the whole ordeal.
The notion of her being approached by men interested in courting her rankled him. She ain’t yours, he firmly reminded himself, and couldn’t help but recall how she’d felt pressed up against him last night, her soft body a perfect fit against his, the sweet taste of her lips and dazed arousal on her uplifted face when he’d forced himself to walk away from her. She might have been though, if you’d stayed, a small persuasive voice spoke up. He ignored it, instinctively knowing that leaving was the smartest thing he could have done.
It was too soon for her. She wasn’t ready for it, not with Hollander’s attack still haunting her memory, and the pain and fear still showing in her eyes every now and again when she stopped and let herself think too much. If Joshua started kissing on her and loving her and that fear took her during the heat of the moment, turning his desire for her into a perceived attack as a result—the self-loathing and disgust he felt just thinking about it would be nothing compared to how he’d feel if it actually happened like that.
Some of his musings must have shown on his face because he suddenly realized she was staring at him, thoughtful and worried. “Are you feeling all right?” Alice asked with concern. “You had the strangest expression on your face, and for a moment there I thought you were going to be ill.”
He mustered a smile, reassuring her, “I’m fine. Just a little sick to my stomach at the thought of having to endure more men like Silas Brody fawning over you, is all.” Sadly, that statement wasn’t far from the truth.
Alice gave him a skeptical look, but when he offered no further explanation, she admitted with a resigned sigh, “Believe me, I’m not looking forward to it any more than you are.”
Sensing an opportunity, Joshua offered, “If you want, I can probably keep ‘em away from you if I go into town with you.”
He shrugged nonchalantly, “I got my ways.”
She arched an eyebrow up at him suspiciously, “What, like the way you persuaded Silas Brody to let go of my hand earlier?” Her green eyes brightened with mirth, “I have to admit, that was quite amusing, how he backed up so quickly that he tripped over himself.”
“Something along those lines, yes.” In retrospect, Brody’s quick retreat was humorous, though it hadn’t been nearly fast enough to suit Joshua at the time.
“All right, so long as your ‘ways’ don’t involve a gun or other manners of bloodshed.” Alice shifted on the bench seat and peeked up at him from beneath lowered eyelashes as the wagon rattled along.
The faintest tinges of a blush colored the fair skin of her cheeks the longer she looked at him, and it didn’t take a genius to realize that she was thinking about the kisses they’d shared the night before. They weren’t very far from the ranch now and Joshua stayed focused on driving the wagon. When a few minutes had passed and she was still looking at him, he gave her a sidelong glance, catching her eyes in a heated gaze as he warned, “If you keep looking at me like that, I’ll be tempted to give you a few more of those ‘little kisses’ you mentioned earlier.”
Alice flushed scarlet and quickly averted her eyes to stare at the road ahead of them. He couldn’t help but grin in amusement at her reaction and when he looked at her again, she was sitting as primly as any church lady, her fingers clasped tightly around her reticule. The closer they got to home, the more she relaxed. By the time they were approaching that last dusty rise, he could feel her eyes were on him again.
Joshua pulled up on the reins, bringing Nathan to a halt. The gelding tossed his head restlessly, not pleased at stopping so close to home.
Blinking with confusion, Alice turned slightly toward him as she asked, “Is something wrong? Wha…?”
He kissed her before she had a chance to get the second question out, drawing her into his arms as he captured her lips with his. Initially Alice stiffened with surprise but as had happened last night, after a moment her lips softened and she melted against him. He found himself intoxicated by her touch, her scent, her taste, and Joshua, who had never been particular about practicing temperance or living a life of moderation, was hard pressed to apply it right now, of all times. But he forced himself to end the kiss, pulling back and allowing his arms to slide from around her back to her arms, not quite willing to release her completely just yet.
Joshua stared at Alice, at her swollen lips and uplifted face, and his voice was husky with desire when he said, “Makes you wonder, don’t it? If this is what the ‘little kisses’ do to us, what’ll big ones be like?”
Her eyes darkened with anticipation, the barest hint of a smile touching her lips, and it took every ounce of willpower he possessed not to kiss her again. Instead, he moved his hands from where they lightly rested on her upper arms to her bonnet, straightening it and tucking a stray wisp of pale blonde hair behind her ear before he turned back and picked up the reins. The gelding Nathan began to walk before breaking into a trot, eager to get back to the ranch, knowing a good rubdown and rest awaited him.
Alice had regained her poise though that slight smile still lingered on her face as they topped the rise and the house came into sight.
Over the following weeks, the ranch thrived due to an unusually wet summer. Will steadily recovered from his injuries. He still tired easily and his wound still caused him some discomfort, but he gradually improved to the point that he was able to help out with simple chores like milking Daisy and grooming the horses. Like most boys his age, he largely ignored his mother’s directive not to overdo it.
One day, Joshua discovered him in the barn, doubled over and sweating with exhaustion and helped him back to the house, announcing irritably to Alice, “Your son’s so hellbent on gettin’ better that he’s killin’ himself in the process.”
She resisted the urge to say anything, instinctively knowing that Joshua’s obviously annoyed disgust at William’s overexertion would probably have a far greater effect than any motherly care or advice she had to give. She was right, because after that, Will took more care not to push himself so hard.
To Alice’s disappointment, Joshua maintained a proper and respectful distance from her, one that was almost certainly more appropriate to their working arrangement—after all she was, in effect, his employer—but she found herself somewhat chapfallen nonetheless. There were quite a few occasions where she thought she could sense him staring at her, but she could not seem to catch him at it. Whenever she looked in his direction he was either staring down at his plate, or looking at Mark or Will, or off in the distance. She eventually stopped trying, figuring that what she had taken for a sense of being watched had been borne more out of her own desire to have his attention on her than more than a passing interest on his part.
Of course, the opposite was not true, for it seemed that every time she looked in his direction for more than a moment or two, even if his back was turned toward her, he would turn his head just in time for his eyes to meet hers before she could look away. It was horribly embarrassing, and she could never manage to hide the guilty flush that would rise in her cheeks.
The improvements in William’s overall health meant that the next time Alice went to Bisbee, she felt safe enough to let Mark accompany her and Joshua to town and leave her oldest son at home alone, though not without extracting a sullen promise from the boy that he would do nothing more strenuous than walking to the outhouse during their absence. Her implication that there’d be no more books and dime magazines forthcoming from Turner’s Trading Post if she even suspected he had done more than that probably didn’t hurt.
The presence of Mark and his excited chatter made the trip to Bisbee a quick one that had far less tension than the previous and to Alice’s relief, their arrival in the small mining town gathered nowhere near as many stares and whispers as the previous had.
It was strange, going in to the general store with Joshua’s borrowed money in her reticule along with the list of feed and stores they’d need to last them for the next few weeks. She couldn’t help being even more tight-fisted than usual, not wanting to spend any more of his money than she had to, even with the knowledge in her head that there was a lot more money than this he could get if she needed it—or wanted it.
He caught on to what she was doing though, giving her a significant look as he mildly said, “The list said we needed four sacks of flour, not three. And fifteen sacks of feed, not ten,” correcting her deviations from the original handwritten list as though he had it memorized—and given his knack for remembering what he’d read, no doubt he did.
Even so, when she was conducting her other business about town, talking with Elijah the blacksmith to arrange a day to bring the horses by for their regular shoeing, or exchanging polite words with some of the townsfolk like Agnes Newsome, the preacher’s wife, (who of course demanded to know why, if William was well enough to be on his feet again, none of the Evans had yet taken the time to start attending church again on Sundays) Joshua stayed a little apart, far enough away that were it not for Mark staying at his elbow he wouldn’t have appeared to have been accompanying Alice at all.
All that changed the instant the first man approached her with an intent expression on his face that indicated he was hoping for more than a polite passing greeting from her. The man, a silver prospector who’d clearly gone out of his way to clean up by washing his face but who still had the grimy and stained clothing that showed he spent more time underground than above, barely got out an enthusiastic, “Howdy, Mrs. Evans,” before Alice felt, rather than saw, Joshua move to stand right behind her, close enough that his broad chest touched her shoulder and she could feel his body heat through the fabric of her dress. She kept her attention focused on the prospector, whose expression rapidly turned from hopeful to dismay at Joshua’s heretofore unremarkable presence at her side.
“I, uh, er, was…” the prospector stammered, focusing his attention on Alice for a moment, but as his gaze slipped from her face to Joshua’s behind her again, his complexion paled and he stuttered to a stop. Finally, he drew in a quick breath and hurriedly said in a rush of words, “I was hoping you were having a nice day—Goodbye.” The grimy man beat a hasty retreat, looking fearfully back over his shoulder at them before he crossed the street, heading toward the saloon, no doubt for a stiff drink.
Bemused, Alice glanced up at Joshua, who was still watching the prospector walk away, and drew in a quick breath at his expression. It was grim and menacing. And it wasn’t just the look on his face, but his whole body that exuded deadly intent, from tensed muscles ready to fight, to the light yet glaringly obvious touch of his fingertips drumming the handle of his holstered pistol. This was a man who had killed people and, from the look of it, he wasn’t opposed to doing it again if the notion took him.
His gaze flickered downwards to meet hers and as quick as a flash of lightning, Joshua’s squared shoulders relaxed, his fingers dropped away from his gun, and his entire demeanor changed to the one she and the boys were far more familiar with, that of an amiable cowpoke who’s lazy and relaxed good humor intermingled with natural and casual charm. He gave her a playful wink and half-smile, his blue-green eyes warm and reassuring, as he stepped back from her.
Mark was staring up at him, mouth slightly agape and something approaching awe on his face. “Wow—how’d you do that? You scared the piss out of him and you didn’t even say a word!” the boy exclaimed.
“Years of practice,” Joshua answered modestly, giving a light shrug.
Alice blinked, shaking her head a little as she turned her attention back to finishing her business in town. Only one other potential beau approached her, a tall thin man named Sam Bragg who happened to be one of the three who had waylaid her during the last trip to town. From the way he had his hand in his jacket pocket, clearly fiddling with something or another he had tucked there, she strongly suspected he had some manner of gift or trinket with which to woo her attentions. She couldn’t be sure, though, as Bragg only mustered up enough courage to exchange a few brief sentences with Alice regarding the lovely weather they’d been having before he fled from Joshua’s dangerously brooding presence too.
After that, the only other man to stop and exchange non-business related pleasantries during their town trip was the portly bank owner, Milton McGregor, and he was accompanied by his equally rotund wife, Betty.
As the married couple passed them on the board walk before stepping off and walking toward the bank, Joshua watched them go with a shrewd expression on his face before he asked, “McGregor…. The same McGregor that owns the bank? The one that had your deed?”
“Yes,” Alice answered, a frown appearing unbidden on her face as she got to thinking about how McGregor had forced her to pay to get her Homestead certificate back.
He nodded briefly, but said nothing.
A few more steps had them in front of the Marshal’s office, and Joshua drew up short at the edge of the wooden awning over the sidewalk. Alice gave him an apologetic look and said quietly, “I promised the Marshal I’d keep him updated on William’s health. You can wait out here, while Mark and I are inside, though of course you’re welcome to come in with us.” She knew the chances of him taking her up on that offer were slim and none. “Come on, Mark,” she said.
“You’ll wait here?” Mark asked, looking up at him.
“Yep. Right’chere,” Joshua replied in an exaggerated drawl, grinning at the boy and leaning his shoulder up against the thick wooden post that held up the end of the overhang.
“We won’t be long,” Alice promised him with a smile, tucking her reticule under her arm as she stepped through the doorway and into the office, with Mark following a step behind.
The office was empty save for two people. Deputy Mitch Young had his chair propped back against the wall near the jail cells and it appeared the only thing keeping him awake was the loud snoring coming from the other occupant, Doc Hall. The Bisbee self-proclaimed doctor was sprawled on the cot in one of the jail cells, his clothing utterly filthy, and making enough noise to wake the dead as he slept off what was probably the remnants of the previous evening’s bender. Marshal Thompson was nowhere to be seen.
She cleared her throat quietly and, with a thunk, all four of Deputy Young’s chair legs hit the ground as the young man looked around with a hint of confusion on his face before he focused first on Mark, and then on her, a flush of embarrassment rising in his cheeks.
“Howdy, Miz Evans, Mark!” Young said, hurriedly getting to his feet and walking toward her. “I hope you hadn’t been waiting for long. I was just, well, keeping an eye on Doc Hall.” He coughed a little, barely stifling a yawn before he turned to look at the balding, drunken man in the cell and added with a grimace, “Not that the ol’ coot’s going anywhere anytime soon. He done got himself a bad case of barrel fever last night, he drank so much. He went to go home and got on the wrong horse, and then when the miner that owned it tried to stop him, he threw a punch and a couple other miners jumped in, and, well, honestly by that point, we figured he was safer sleeping it off in a cell before he caused any more trouble.”
Mark peered around Young as the doctor rolled over on his cot, and the boy’s nose suddenly wrinkled as the pungent smell of cheap whiskey, urine, and other less savory things wafted up from the occupied jail cell. He immediately pinched his nostrils together to block the scent and stepped backwards, toward the fresher air coming in through the open door.
Alice’s nose twitched at the awful scent as well, but she resisted the urge to clap her hand over her own nose and merely nodded sympathetically at Deputy Young, glancing at Doc Hall again. Now she could see the man’s face was swollen and he had a black eye. “I’m sure it was probably for the best. Where’s Marshal Thompson today?”
“He said he had some business to take care of at the Copper Queen, and I’m not rightly sure when he’ll be back,” the deputy answered and then grinned at Mark. “I heard your brother is back on his feet, that’s good to hear.” At Alice’s inquisitive look, Young chuckled, “Agnes Newsome hurried over after you spoke with her a little while ago, I reckon. You know how she likes to be the first one to tell anyone any news, good or bad.”
She couldn’t help but smile at that. “Indeed. Well, Mrs. Newsome told you truly, William is getting better every day, and we expect he’ll be right as rain as soon as he’s got all his strength back. Hopefully in a month or so, if he doesn’t push too hard. I’d appreciate you passing the news on to the Marshal for me, if you don’t mind?”
Deputy Young snorted and waved a hand, “I don’t mind at all—though I imagine there’s a fair chance that Agnes might tell him first, of course.”
“She might, at that,” Alice readily agreed, a smile still lingering on her lips. “Thank you, Deputy Young.”
“You’re welcome, Miz Evans,” he said, tipping his hat at her a little before looking beyond her, through the large front window at Joshua, who was still standing right where they’d left him, leaning against the awning post. “How’s Hollander’s man working out as a cowprod?” he asked curiously.
Alice couldn’t help but stiffen at the question, but before she could say a word, Mark interjected, “He wasn’t ever ‘Hollander’s man’, and he’s workin’ out just fine.” The boy glared up at Young.
The deputy seemed a little taken aback by Mark’s swift and fierce defense of the man, and held his hands up in a placating gesture. “Sorry, no need to get your back up, I was just wondering how he was doing as your cowhand, seein’s how William is still on the mend. I reckon he didn’t care for Hollander anymore than anyone else in town did though, to hear tell.”
Resting her hand on Mark’s shoulder, Alice inclined her head and carefully said, “I think it’s just that, well, being called ‘Hollander’s man’ has a certain connotation to it that Mr. Mason wouldn’t take much of a liking to. I don’t think he wants anyone comparing him to the likes of the usual manner of men that Mr. Hollander had in his employ.”
Deputy Young nodded, his expression apologetic. “Yeah, I suppose I wouldn’t want that brand my own self, when you put it like that. Bein’ put in the same row as Lester Holmes and the like.”
Shifting from one foot to the other, Alice finally said, “Well, we’d better be getting a move on. I think we’ve been gone from the ranch long enough, and I need to be getting back to check on William.”
“Yes’m,” Young nodded, tipping his hat at her again as she made her way back outside. “Good seein’ you and Mark again, and tell William I… Oh!” His eyes flew open wide at something and he abruptly turned, walking over to his desk in the office and leaving Alice and Mark looking at each other with confusion at his sudden exclamation.
Joshua warily maintained his distance from them, though he straightened tensely as the deputy returned.
Deputy Young walked toward them holding a large stack of dime novels, some with pages clearly ripped off, gathered in his hands. “People have been bringing them by for William for weeks—everyone knows how much he likes to read. I been meanin’ to bring them by but kept getting caught up with other stuff. Most of them are pretty catawomptiously chawed up, but still, I figured it’s better ‘n nothing. I got drawers full of them,” he said, jerking his chin back at his desk.
Blinking a little at the number of books, Alice murmured, “Thank you,” as she took some of the magazines from the young deputy. There were too many all at once for her smaller hands to hold, and a few dropped to the ground, where they were swiftly collected by Mark and Joshua, who’d come up behind her.
“Want some help getting the rest?” Joshua asked Deputy Young, meeting the younger man’s eyes as he smoothed a hand over one dime novel before giving it to Mark to put in the wagon.
“Sure thing, Mason,” Young said with an affable nod, returning to his desk.
Joshua gave her a tight smile before he ambled after the deputy, and Alice and Mark looked first at each other, and then at the lawman and former outlaw as they worked together to stack up the rest of the dime novels and returned.
“I’ll help you carry them to your wagon. Ain’t like Doc Hall’s going anywheres, even if he does happen to wake up. Anyway, if I had the sense God gave a flea, I’d have tied them all up with some string so they didn’t flop every which way,” Deputy Young said sheepishly.
“We got some twine in the wagon,” Mark informed him with a grin, his eyes bright with excitement. “William is gonna be over the moon when he sees all of these.”
A few moments later, they reached the wagon where it was still parked in front of the Trading Post. Mark and Deputy Young worked together to tie up the magazines in some semblance of order, while Joshua removed the horse’s feed bag and checked him over one last time before they made the trip home.
Rebecca Hollins, a tall brunette woman who also happened to be a widow as well, drew Alice aside to ask her about attending an upcoming quilting bee the following Sunday after church. However, the conversation took a not so subtle turn after a few moments, as Rebecca began to pump her for information regarding her ‘looker of a cowhand’. Both surprised and irritated by the other woman’s questions, Alice would only say that he was a hard worker and got along well with both Mark and William.
The taller brunette gave her a speculative look and nodded sharply as though Alice’s reticence were only confirming her suspicions. “Keeping him for yourself, are you? Well, I can’t say as I can blame you for that. Hope to see you at the bee, either way,” she said cheerfully, giving Joshua one last and lingering look before she walked away.
Alice’s rapidly deteriorating mood took another downward turn when pair of ‘painted ladies’ from one of Bisbee’s many brothels sashayed by right as Rebecca walked off, and the two gaudily dressed women openly ogled Joshua as he shifted the feed bags in the back of the wagon one last time, evening out the weight a little more. When he hopped down from the wagon, one whispered to the other, and together, they crossed the street, right in front of him, flaunting themselves like, well, like common whores. One even stopped to murmur something for his ears only and gave him a saucy wink as well. He chuckled, smiling back at them with amusement and a little too warmly (in Alice’s opinion, anyway) as they sauntered away, and then turned back to the wagon.
Deputy Young and Mark had the magazines neatly tied in four large stacks when Alice reached the side of the wagon, and the lawman graciously helped her up into the wagon, saying, “Ya’ll be careful on your way back to the ranch. And tell William we’re all glad he’s getting better. Good seeing you again, Miz Evans, Mark, and Mason.” He bobbed his head in farewell at each of them before turning to make his way back toward the Marshal’s office, whistling cheerfully.
Mark opened the dime magazine he had kept out for the trip home and started to read, propping his back up against the feed bags as Joshua flipped the reins, and they started on their way home. A few minutes passed, and the man glanced behind him, shaking his head slightly at the bundled paper novels. “That’s one hell of a reward.”
“Excuse me?” Alice blinked, her irritation temporarily forgotten as she looked over at him. “Reward?”
Joshua shrugged, “Why you think people up and decided to give William all of those, just because he got shot? I doubt that. It ain’t money, but it’s a reward for him because they think he killed Glen Hollander.”
“But you said you were the one who killed Hollander,” piped up Mark from the back of the wagon, and sat up a little so he could see Joshua’s face.
“I did—but William shot him in the heart as well,” Joshua explained, deftly maneuvering the reins to direct the chestnut horse around a rut in the road. “Given the fact that William told both the Marshal and Deputy Young that he killed Hollander to protect your Ma, it’s for the best that they, and everyone else for that matter, believe that. Especially given my past.”
Alice looked over her shoulder at Mark, and at the stacks of magazines in the wagon. Joshua was right of course. Jacob Turner had said that the townsfolk were on the verge of throwing William a parade—that wouldn’t exactly have been proper, no matter what the circumstances during which Glen Hollander had died, so they rewarded the boy the only way they could, by giving him something they knew he loved. Sudden tears stung her eyes, and she had to bite her lip to hold her emotions in check.
Mark looked westward, where the edges of Glen Hollander’s massive spread lay, all centered around the fertile ground of the San Pedro river. “What do you suppose will happen to all his land, now that he’s dead? Will squatters move in? Or homesteaders like us, or will someone just, I don’t know, buy it from the bank?”
Blinking away her tears, Alice drew in a deep worried breath at Mark’s questions. What if someone just like Hollander got a hold of that land, and tried to hold back water rights again from her ranch. Then everything that they’d done so far would count for nothing.
“I don’t know,” Joshua answered thoughtfully, looking that way as well. “I think we’ll just have to cross that bridge when we get to it.”
Mark stuck his thumb up under the twine of one of the book bundles, hefting its weight a little before he picked up his tattered copy again and settled back on the feed bags again. “You’re right, Joshua. It is a hell of a reward, isn’t it, Ma?”
“Yes it is,” Alice agreed hoarsely, when she could trust herself to speak again. The wagon rattled on.
The next few days were blazing hot and dry to boot. Though summers were typically dry, the elevated terrain around Bisbee usually meant that ranches didn’t have to suffer through the extreme heat of the more westerly parts of Arizona Territory. Every now and then, though, they’d get hit with a few days of scorching heat, and these few days in July looked like they were going to be it.
With the immense supply of reading material, William spent a little more time reading and resting up, and less time trying to prove how healthy he was getting to everyone else. Mark snuck in some reading time as well, though he wasn’t nearly as avid a reader as his brother.
Alice spent as little time outside in the sun as possible, and tried to do her hardest chores early in the morning and late in the evening when the land started to cool. They started being more careful about water use, despite the fact that the rain barrels were all filled almost to overflowing, and the stream was still flowing steadily from the east.
Joshua seemed unusually quiet. The boys were both distracted enough by their reading that they didn’t seem to notice anything amiss, and initially, Alice thought he was just being a little quieter and a little less—playful?—around them because he was letting them read in peace. But gradually, she noticed it, that when his expression turned thoughtful, even brooding at times, his gaze tended to drift South, toward Bisbee, perhaps even toward Mexico. Or West, toward—she didn’t know what lay West beyond Hollander’s land that would have his interest. California, maybe? Maybe the restless spirit of Ben Wade was reasserting itself and he was ready to move on to greener pastures.
The second evening after their return from Bisbee, after the chores were done, everyone had settled down the evening. Alice and the boys were reading, she in the rocking chair in the sitting room, and the boys in their perspective bedrooms.
Joshua held a piece of charcoal in his hand, sketching supposedly. However, from the utterly distracted expression on his face, he wasn’t really paying any attention at all to what he was drawing—assuming he’d done more than make a few lines on the paper to begin with. Curious, she got up and went into the kitchen to pour herself a cup of water and as she passed him, she happened to glance down and saw that the light delicate lines on the paper were the unmistakably feminine curves of a woman’s body, from naked breasts to the slightly indented navel to the v-shaped juncture of thigh and groin on a woman’s pelvis.
The image of Rebecca Hollins and those two fancily dressed prostitutes suddenly appeared in her mind’s eye, and she abruptly realized that maybe he’d been gazing southward because he was distracted all right—distracted by the desire to scratch a particular itch that men were known to have. Her lips tightened with anger and—she admitted it to herself—jealousy. While Rebecca had been hopelessly mistaken (hadn’t she?) in her assumption that Alice wanted to keep him to herself, that didn’t mean she wanted to see him heading off to town to sleep with prostitutes either.
Alice’s hand trembled a little as she poured out the water from the pitcher, but by the time she turned to make her way back to the rocking chair, she had regained her composure. When she glanced down at Joshua’s sketch though, she saw the image had changed, and he was now drawing his black horse, Dawson. She presumed he must have turned the paper over when she had her back to him. She sat down in her the chair again, leaning back to look at him from across the room. He’d regained his concentration, and was sketching very deliberately now, focused on the smooth black lines the charcoal created on the paper with each quick even stroke of his hand.
She picked up her Jules Verne book and forced herself to read a couple more pages before she gave an exaggerated yawn and announced, “I think it’s about time for me to turn in. Goodnight.”
“Goodnight,” he answered, glancing up at her for a moment before he carefully folded up the piece of paper he’d drawn on and tucked it into his shirt pocket. “I’ll get the lanterns.” His offer wasn’t unusual, he’d taken to doing that before heading down to the barn for the night a couple of weeks earlier.
She shut the bedroom door firmly behind her, the noise causing Mark to look up in surprise from where he was laying across the bed, still reading. “Bed already?” he asked, his small face crestfallen. “I was just getting to the good part.”
“Bedtime,” she replied shortly, turning down the lantern before she shucked her dress and got into bed. Turning her back to him, Alice tucked the edge of the sheet under her arm, she shut her eyes tightly. Even after the candles and lanterns were all extinguished, it was a long time before she fell into a fitful sleep.
The next day was just as hot as the previous two had been, and everyone seemed somewhat subdued and quiet in the face of intense heat beating down on them all day. Alice was in the process of cleaning the house, giving the floors a good thorough scrubbing when she heard the lowing of the herd coming in, way earlier than was normal. She got to her feet, wincing a little at the ache in her shoulder and back and walked out to the porch, lifting her hand to block the mid afternoon sun from her eyes as she watched Mark and Joshua drive the herd into the large corral, the huge red forms of Castor and Pollux leading the way.
William emerged from the barn, and she could tell he was just as confused by the early return as she. He made his way around the outside of the corral as the cattle poured in, and when the last cow ambled past the gate, he closed it behind her before turning to look up at the two riders. Mark dismounted, clearly intent on leading his horse to the barn for a good rubdown and rest.
Joshua exchanged a few brief words with William before he turned his head, looking directly at her and giving her a brief wave. She lifted her arm, just enough to acknowledge his farewell, and then watched as he wheeled Dawson around and headed south toward Bisbee.
Alice watched him ride off and went back in the house, returning to her floor scrubbing with an absolute vengeance.
Mark came in a few minutes later, grabbing a bit of bread from the bread box and eating it in silence as he watched her scour the floor. “Aren’t you going to ask where Joshua went?” he asked curiously.
“I know where he went—to Bisbee,” she grated out, puffing a little with exertion from how hard she was scrubbing the floor.
“Oh. Yeah, he went to Bisbee. Said he had some business to take care of. Said he’d be back by supper, more’n likely.”
She could feel the heat coming off of her in waves, and knew it had nothing to with the hot weather, but was instead fueled by anger—and jealousy. Not that she’d done anything or said anything that might have stopped him. She could have, probably, but she just… couldn’t. “So that’s what he’s calling it—business,” she muttered under her breath. She supposed it could be seen as a business arrangement, in the sense that one person bought and the other got paid.
Mark heard her say something, but couldn’t quite make out what she said. “What’dja say?” he asked around a bite of bread.
“Nothing,” she said shortly. “Now leave me be so I can get this floor cleaned before it’s time to put supper on.”
A bit startled by her sharp tone, he nodded and went back out to the relative safety of the barn.
Joshua returned as he had predicted to Mark, right as Alice was getting the plates ready to put on the table. He saw to his horse as the Evans finished the rest of the dinner preparations, Mark setting the table as William filled up the glasses with cool well water.
It was clear to see when Joshua came into the ranch house that he was over and done with brooding. Indeed, he was in a fine mood, and to Alice’s eyes, his smile was almost smug—like that of a man who’d gotten exactly what he wanted and then some. Well, if he was willing to pay for it, she was pretty damn sure he had.
“Mark, say grace,” Alice ordered tersely, pointedly closing her eyes and bowing her head over the roast chicken.
“Sure.” The boy lowered his head and recited the routine prayer they always said at meals. “God our Father, Lord, and Savior, thank you for your love and favor. Bless this food and drink we pray, bless all who stays with us today. Amen.”
They all started in on eating, and after taking a few bites, William asked Joshua curiously, “So, did you get your business all taken care of?”
“As a matter of fact, I did,” he stated smugly, meeting Alice’s green eyes from across the table for the first time since his return. Joshua paused for a long moment, the self-satisfied expression on his face shifting to something more speculative, more cautious, as he noticed her pinched and angry expression. Using his fork to move the peas around on his plate, he said casually, “I’ll tell you all about it. See, I rode Dawson into town, and then right as I got there, I saw….”
“Mr. Mason,” Alice interrupted icily, “We don’t really need to know the details of your ‘business’ in town. Especially not at the dinner table.”
Resting an elbow on the table, he raised a chicken drumstick to his mouth and took a bite out of it, his eyebrow quirked in sardonic amusement. “You don’t want to know? I mean, aren’t you the least bit curious?”
Mark nodded, immediately responding, “I would,” before he happened to glance at his mother, who was now glaring at him. “Er, nevermind. No I wouldn’t,” he hastily amended. The boy lowered his head and started shoveling food into his mouth, figuring the faster he ate, the quicker he could get away from the table and out of range.
William looked between Alice and Joshua, confused by the unmistakable tension he could now sense in the room. He ate, slowly, his gaze now fixed firmly on his plate.
Alice picked up the knife, cutting into her chicken with a bit more force than was absolutely necessary so that the knife scraped the plate. Ignoring it, she stabbed at the meat with her fork and put it into her mouth.
She’d just started to swallow when Joshua picked up his cup of water, staring into it and swirling it around a bit before he suddenly said, “Today was hotter than a whorehouse on nickel night, wasn’t it?”
William’s head shot up at the crude phrase and he stared at Joshua in disbelief. Mark giggled, a high pitched nervous sound that nearly drowned out the sound of Alice coughing and nearly choking on the bite of chicken. Will gave her a few hearty thumps on the back that did more to bring tears to her eyes than nearly choking on her meal had.
Joshua took a sip from his cup and set it down, watching as Alice recovered from her coughing fit.
The blonde woman took a few quick sips of water to sooth her throat, and when she could trust her self again, her tone was chill as she asked, “Mr. Mason, may I have a word with you in private outside?” Without waiting for his response, she got up from the table and walked outside.
“Of course, Alice,” he returned mockingly, and rose up, following her outside and leaving William and Mark behind at the table staring after them, both boys wide-eyed and worried.
Alice was standing around the edge of the house by the woodshed, her arms crossed defensively in front of her and chest heaving as she struggled to control her tumultuous emotions.
She’d be even more riled up if she knew how beautiful I thought she looked when she’s angry, Joshua thought to himself with a smirk he barely managed to keep hidden as she turned to face him, her cheeks rosy with ire. He started to lean against the rickety beam that held up the woodshed roof, but as it shifted from his weight he thought the better of it and stood up straight, facing the ranch house. There was a small window right behind Alice, but the curtains were drawn closed. He pinched the bridge of his nose, closing his eyes for a moment before opening them to regard her again as he ran his hands through his short dark hair with a quick irritated motion. “You thought I went whoring, didn’t you?”
She had started to speak, but his words drew her up short. “You didn’t?” she said after a long hesitation, her voice small and uncertain.
“No, I didn’t.” He’d considered it, yes, but the simple and heartfelt relief he saw in her eyes before her gaze dropped to the ground made him doubly glad he hadn’t.
“Oh.” Her cheeks were still red, but now it was caused by embarrassment. She wrung her hands together for a moment before looking up at him. “I… I somehow managed to garner the nasty habit of expecting the worst from you, haven’t I?”
Joshua nodded, acknowledging the honesty in her words. “You have, but I reckon it’s a hard row to hoe for you to expect any better of me, knowin’ what you know about me and my past.” A sad smile twisted his lips.
Impulsively, Alice reached out to take of his hands in her own, giving it a gentle squeeze as she shook her head. “No, you’re wrong. I should definitely expect better of you, especially after these past few weeks. You’ve been…” She struggled with the words for a moment and finally shrugged, a watery smile on her lips and tears brimming in her eyes as she looked up at him. “I can’t even put into words how grateful I am, how thankful I am that you’ve been around, how thankful we all are. I trusted you with William’s life after he got shot, and it seemed so easy, so clear then, I just don’t know why I’ve struggled with trusting you in other matters, well, I do know, but…” She wrinkled her nose and gave a dismissive wave of her other hand, vowing, “I’m just saying, I’ll do better. I promise.”
He didn’t say anything at first, just turned her hand over in his and tenderly traced his large thumb over the palm of her hand for a long moment. “Alice,” he said, drawling out her name as he asked, “Would you like to know the real reason I went to Bisbee today?”
She exhaled slowly before nodding, “Yes. Yes, Joshua, I would like to know.”
Wordlessly, he reached into his vest pocket and pulled out a neatly folded piece of paper and handing it to her.
“What’s this?” she immediately asked, tugging her hand free of his to unfold the paper and glancing up at him.
A shrug was the only response Joshua could muster, and wordlessly, he reclaimed her small hand again, holding it in his as she read her way through the official document, which allocated 24,000 acres of land along the San Pedro River to Joshua P. Mason. It was signed by both Joshua and Milton McGregor. “What am I looking at, here, exactly?” she asked, a little dazed by the amount of land. It was nearly 40 times the area of the Evans ranch.
“You’re looking at the land deed that belongs to your new neighbor.” Joshua took the deed, folding it one-handed so he didn’t have to let go of her hand. He slipped it into his vest pocket and gave her hand a gentle squeeze. “Figured if I owned the land, there’s no way your creek will get dammed up ever again.”
She shook her head, still a bit flummoxed by what he’d done. “That’s a bit extreme, don’t you think? It must have cost…. No, don’t tell me how much it cost. I really don’t want to know.”
“I’ve always been a man who’s interested in the end result above all else,” he said with a tight smile. “Besides, it didn’t cost nearly as much as you’d think. You could say that Mr. McGregor reached a mutually beneficial arrangement.” The rotund banker had been surprisingly easy to ‘persuade’, especially once Joshua indicated he had proof the banker had been selling Homestead Certificates, which was a federal crime.
“But, once people figure out that you own all that land, there’s no way you’ll be able to pretend to be nothing more than a cowhand… people will know you’re rich and your name and face will be out there for everyone to see,” Alice protested, paling a little at that prospect. If his face got out, there was bound to be someone who recognized him as Ben Wade.
He immediately shook his head. “The only people who know I own that land are you, me, and Mr. McGregor—and McGregor knows exactly what’ll happen to him if he even hints that I’m the one who owns the land,” he said darkly. “As far as anyone else knows, it was bought up by some rich greenhorn from back East.”
“Ma? Joshua?” William called warily from the front side of the house. “Supper’s getting cold, everything all right?”
“Everything’s fine. We’ll be along in just a moment,” Alice replied, giving Joshua a warning look as she slowly pulled her hand away from his.
“Alice, just so’s you know,” Joshua drawled out, his voice velvet smooth as he leaned down to tell her, “There ain’t no sense in me going to Bisbee or anywhere else when the only woman I’ve taken a shine to is right here in front of me.” He brushed her lips in a kiss so gentle and tender it nearly took her breath away.
She blushed prettily, smiling up at him before she went back inside. The moment she disappeared around the corner, Joshua squared his shoulders before he looked at that small window facing the woodshed again, where moments before the edge of the curtain had been pulled aside.
Inside, William and Mark had already finished eating and were slipping their plates into the wash bin when Joshua reclaimed his chair.
“You two make up?” Mark asked, looking suspiciously between the two adults.
“Yes. I was very rude to Joshua, and I apologized for it,” Alice said, her cheeks still a little flushed, though to her younger son it might have appeared to be embarrassment. The older one knew better.
William didn’t say anything, just put his hat on and studied his mother for a long moment from beneath the brim before he headed outside. “I’m gonna help with the feeding,” he said gruffly.
“Hey, wait for me!” Mark called, hurrying outside after his brother.
Joshua and Alice finished their meals quickly and without the typical idle chatter that accompanied meals. It was a comfortable silence though, and he gave her a warm smile as he carried his plate to the wash basin as well before heading outside.
Mark and William were well into the chores of feeding the cattle by the time Joshua joined them in finishing out the evening’s chores. By the time they were all done, it was dusk. Mark went inside, but his brother lingered longer than usual, resting his chin on the edge of the fence and watching the cattle mill about.
Joshua joined him, lifting his leg to rest his boot on the lower rail as he waited for the boy to say his piece.
William studiously avoided looking at him, instead holding his hand out for Castor when the massive bull wandered near, letting the great beast lick his hand affectionately with long strokes of his thick rough tongue. When the bull bored of that, he lowered his head so that the boy could rub his poll. Finally, he looked at Joshua with dark and wary eyes, stating simply, “She ain’t no Emma Thompson. You know that, right?”
“Yeah. You’re right, she definitely ain’t no Emma,” Joshua answered, his expression serious as he met the boy’s gaze.
Turning his attention back toward the red Hereford bull, Will lightly scratched the bull right between the eyes, quietly stating, “I just want her to be happy. More than anything else. I think she deserves that much.”
The man couldn’t argue with that point. “She does.”
“You think you can make her happy?”
Joshua hesitated at the question. Could he? He was confident enough in his abilities that he felt pretty certain he could please her sexually, but really, did that count as making her happy? Not really—not more than temporarily. “I don’t know,” he finally answered honestly, “But I’m sure as hell gonna try.”
William grunted in reaction.
Now it was Joshua’s turn to ask a question. “You think I’m good enough for her?” It was an idiotic thing to ask, because he knew the answer to that—a resounding ‘No’. Hell no, he wasn’t good enough for her, and never would be.
“No,” the boy said simply, confirming his opinion, before giving him a sidelong glance. “But no one else is either. I trust you, at least, with my life. Hers too, I suppose.” A wry smile curved his lips. “I reckon there’s some that’d think that was kinda strange, all things considered.”
“I reckon so,” Joshua readily agreed.
William drew his hand away from Castor and turn to face the man directly, and his expression was fierce when he spoke. “If you hurt her, I swear to God, I’ll shoot you dead.”
“If I hurt her, I’ll give you the gun myself.”
An acre is a unit of measurement and thus can vary widely in length, width. Quite obviously, makes it rather difficult to describe in terms of area covered. To put it into perspective, a single acre is 90.75 yards of a 100 yard football field. The Homesteader Act entitled the bearer of the Homestead Certificate to between 160-640 acres of land. In the rugged rural terrain of Arizona Territory, the Evans were probably allotted 640 acres, which is 1 square mile of land (2.59 square kilometers).
24,000 acres would be 37.5 square miles (or 60 square kilometers). To put the size of that land into perspective, if it were a square parcel of land, it would have sides more than 6 miles long (7.75 km). It sounds like a lot of land, and yet it doesn’t. The real kicker is that the going price for land back then was about $0.10 an acre—so all of that land only cost Joshua 2,400 dollars.
The cattle barons of that era had land that covered areas of more than 100,000 acres. That’s 150 square miles of land—and Joshua still could have afforded it, since it would have only cost 10,000 dollars! However it seemed a little overkill to give him that much so I chose a more modest amount.
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