Chapter 3: Envy
Alice added a couple of logs to the woodstove, using a poker to spread the coals around the wood to ensure an even burn, before she straightened with a sigh and looked around the kitchen. The bread was rising nicely, and would be finished baking by the supper time.
The woodbin was spared a quick and evaluating glance accompanied by a grimace. There wasn’t nearly enough wood in it to last all the way through supper, so she headed outside to get more, with the poker still in her hand.
It was nearly four in the afternoon, and the worst of the sun’s heat had finally started to ease off. Mark was in the barn mucking the stalls. When he finished that chore, he’d be heading out to meet Will on the range and direct the cattle back to the Evans homestead for the evening.
The dwindling amount of usable firewood under the lean-to behind the house elicited another sigh from Alice. There were logs aplenty drying in the sun near the shed, but they were all waiting to be split into smaller pieces suitable for use in a cooking fire. If Will didn’t get a chance to do it when he returned from the range, she’d have to do it herself. Mark didn’t quite have height and reach enough to swing the ax with the leverage necessary to chop wood efficiently yet.
That was all right, even though chopping would add to an already lengthy list of daily chores. Despite being what many would consider ‘men’s work’ Alice enjoyed splitting logs far more than she did some of her other chores, like making lye soap and washing clothes.
Alice gave the small pile of firewood a few experimental jabs with the poker before using the hooked end to flip one of the split logs over. There was nothing underneath that first log but as she flipped another over, a large pale scorpion skittered out from between, tail raised high and ready to strike. There was no point in killing it, because even if she did, no doubt there’d be another one to take its place before the day ended. Arizona had no shortage of scorpions.
A smile curved her lips as she recalled a far more memorable encounter with Arizona scorpions, soon after they’d arrived from Massachusetts. One had been crawling on the house’s ceiling and when Dan had gone to knock it down with a broom, it seemed to break into pieces upon hitting the floor. Tiny scorpions scattered in every direction at the impact, causing both of them to shriek in surprise. Well, Alice had shrieked. Dan had only cursed. Very loudly. That had been an interesting lesson learned, that scorpion mothers carried their babies on their back for protection.
They were just trying to survive the best way they can, like everything else here in Arizona, Alice thought to herself, staring at the scorpion in front of the woodpile. She let the venomous little creature scurry away and continued using the poker to check the rest of the logs for any other varmints, with no more success. Satisfied, Alice set the poker aside and begin piling wood up in her arms to carry inside.
She’d just finished her fourth such trip and was walking out the door of the house when she saw two, no make that three horsemen approaching from the west. Alice lifted her hand to shade her eyes from the afternoon sun as she tried to identify the riders. The man in the slate grey Townsend hat was almost certainly Glen Hollander, and the landowner rarely went out ‘visiting’ without his surly wrangler, Tom Atkins. The third man riding the black horse seemed familiar to her from what she could see of his features at the distance, but she couldn’t quite place him. No doubt it was one of Hollander’s other ranch hands.
Well, at least isn’t Lester Holmes, was Alice’s initial thought as she brushed bark and dust from the firewood off her clothing and watched the men draw up their horses in the yard.
Mark had heard the men arrive as well, for he emerged from the barn still holding the shovel in his hand. He rested it against the barn door and walked toward his mother, reaching her side just as the arrivals began to dismount.
The black horse’s rider was the first to reach the ground, and he immediately went to take the reins of Hollander’s stallion, turning his back somewhat toward Alice and Mark in the process.
Atkins merely stood there, taciturn as ever, as he watched his boss make his way toward the Evans.
"Afternoon, Alice," Glen tipped his hat to her and smiled, before adding a cooler greeting for her youngest son. "Mark."
"Mr. Hollander," the twelve year old immediately returned, crossing his arms in front of him.
The landowner’s warm smile and informal use of her first name were far too familiar for Alice’s taste but she kept her expression neutral as she inclined her head graciously. "Mr. Hollander." Her green eyes slid away from the landowner to the men with him, and she politely welcomed Hollander’s right-hand man first, "Mr. Atkins," with a slight nod before greeting the third man, who had just now turned to face them. "Mr…"
Her mind went blank as she saw those unmistakably familiar mocking blue-green eyes and that small sardonic smile. Dear God, it’s Ben Wade, was all she could think.
Glen took her sudden silence as a hint for him to supply the other man’s name. "This here’s Joshua Mason. I hired him outta Bisbee a week or so ago."
"Mr. Mason," Alice repeated and was amazed that her voice sounded almost normal, though her mind was racing. Had Hollander knowingly hired Wade on to be another one of his thugs, a blunt tool that could be used to carry out the ‘dirty work’ the landowner was known for? But the name Ben Wade was too notorious, too famous to carry on without some repercussions from the lawmen in the area. So he’d been forced to change his name and take on an alias that the landowner could use to lessen the danger of the famous outlaw being recognized.
Wade… No, Mason… Joshua Mason smiled at her, lightly tipping his hat, "Mrs. Evans." His voice seemed even more velvety smooth than she remembered.
Mark was staring hard at the man and his eyes flew open with recognition. He blurted, "Ma, ain’t that…"
"Mark!" Alice said sharply, interrupting him before he could say another word. As her son tore his eyes away from Mason’s face to look at her, she told him, "Why don’t you help Mr. Atkins and Mr. Mason get their horses watered before you get back to your chores." She lifted her chin slightly, using nothing but her force of will to hold her son’s gaze long enough to convey to him what she couldn’t say out loud. Don’t say it. Not right now.
The boy faltered. "But…" he began, his eyes flickering from Hollander to Atkins and finally to Mason again.
Alice grasped her son’s thin shoulder, giving it a reassuring squeeze. "Just do as I say. You’ve got work to do, and you’ll need to be helping your brother bring the herd in shortly." She cast a quick glance at Joshua Mason but rather than seeing smug satisfaction in the man’s eyes at being recognized, Alice saw worry, though the pleasant smile remained on the fugitive’s face. For some reason she could not fathom, Ben Wade did not want his real name revealed, and that meant that Glen Hollander had no idea who he’d actually hired on as a cowhand.
Mark hesitated, peering back up at his mother with worried eyes before he nodded. "Yes ma’am." She released her grip and allowed Mark to step down from the plank porch, watching as he went over and claimed the reins Atkins offered him. The boy turned to Joshua as well and held his small hand out expectantly for the reins the man held.
Joshua shook his head. "Lead on," he said amiably, making a slight gesture with one hand that indicated his intention to follow the boy to the watering trough.
Mark paused again and then squared his shoulders. "It’s over here," he said unnecessarily, for the basin was in plain sight a few feet away from the large corral by the barn.
Fighting down her worry, Alice watched the two walk off toward the stone trough by the barn.
Hollander watched them walk away as well, and his expression was both confused and suspicious.
"I’m sorry about that, Mr. Hollander," Alice drew the landowner’s attention back toward her, giving him an apologetic smile for good measure. "It’s just…." Her voice trailed off and she pursed her lips, trying to think a plausible excuse for the boy’s behavior. "It’s just that your man, well, he looks a lot like someone we used to know a few years back."
Giving her a quick nod of understanding, Glen peered over toward Mason again, and now Atkins looked that way as well. "You know, I thought he looked a tad familiar my own self, but I couldn’t quite place his face. What was the name of the feller he holds a likeness to?" he asked curiously. "Perhaps I’ve seen him around town recently or something?"
Alice forced a rueful smile to appear on her face and shook her head. "I doubt it. The man we know has been dead for at least two years. No, it’s far more likely that Mr. Mason just has one of those faces that just seems familiar, even if you’ve never seen the man in your life." She waved a hand dismissively for emphasis and added, "Besides, people like us don’t exactly move in the same social circles as you do, Mr. Hollander. And speaking of which, if you’ll forgive me if I sound impertinent, but what brings you out this way? "
The abrupt question drew Hollander’s eyes back toward her and away from Mark and Joshua Mason, just as she had intended. Sometimes it paid to be rude. She continued, "I hope you and your men have come to inform me that the little problem with our creek is now resolved and the water is rushing toward our land even as we speak?"
Hollander was definitely focusing all of his attention on her now. He struggled to suppress his irritation and forced out a smile that came nowhere near reaching his eyes. "Now Alice," he said condescendingly, "I told you that I would have my boys look into it, and I have. Why, Atkins here only told me this morning that he believes they’ve found the problem, ain’t that right?"
The wrangler drawled out from just behind the landowner, "Yup, sure did." Atkins ducked his head to spit at the ground, using a dirty hand to wipe his mouth afterwards. "Told the boss just this mornin’ that it looks like some beavers done gone ‘n dammed up the creek." His gimlet eyes dared her to contradict him.
"Beavers," Alice repeated, looking between the two men. Her brow furrowed as she considered that possibility. While the large rodents weren’t as common in Arizona Territory as they were in other parts of the country, she knew they occasionally appeared around waterways in this area. Even though she didn’t really believe that beavers were the reason for the creek being dammed, she couldn’t call either man on the potential bluff without evidence otherwise. "I see."
"Now I know you probably don’t know this, but a beaver dam ain’t no small thing to get rid of," Glen informed her. "I’ll get some of my boys workin’ on tearing the thing down, but it’s gonna take some time."
Alice nodded understandingly, "Of course, I’ve heard that beaver dams can be quite complex." She thought quickly and offered, "If it’d make things go a little faster, I can always send Mark or William over to help your men out."
The unexpected proposal caught Hollander off guard and he blinked rapidly before shaking his head. "Ah, no thank you. I’ve got men enough to get it taken care of, and your boys have a hard enough time taking up the slack around here with no man around to help them."
Resisting the urge to smile at his reaction, Alice shrugged, "We’ve done just fine for ourselves these past two years, thank you very much." She spared a glance over to the watering trough where Mason and Mark were still watering the horses. They seemed to be talking quietly but were too far away to listen in on. "Well, if your men haven’t got it cleared up in the next week or so, I’ll send them over to help out anyway. High summer’s nearly here and we need the water. You’ve got enough cattle that I’m sure you don’t want to spare your men any longer than you have to on such a minor task."
Glen appeared to be biting the inside of his mouth in irritation, as there was no plausible reason he could use to delay clearing the dam, regardless of whether or not it had been erected by man or animal. Grudgingly he finally nodded, but his blue eyes were hard. "It’ll be cleared up by this time next week. I’ll have Atkins put a couple of men on it first thing in the morning."
Atkins snorted derisively but said nothing. The rangy man would do whatever Hollander told him to, as long as he got paid.
A slight smile curved Alice’s lips at her victory. "Thank you very much Mr. Hollander." She looked between the two men, arcing an eyebrow upwards, "Well I appreciate you coming to tell me about the dam, but I really need to be getting supper on soon." It wasn’t entirely a lie, though she had about an hour more before she really needed to get started on it. She did have more firewood to carry in, but she refused to do it while Hollander and his men were there.
"Actually…" Glen drew the word out, looking around the small homestead, "I was hoping to get a look at those hear-ford bulls you’ve got. I’m getting a mite tired of just hearin’ about them, wanted to see ‘em myself."
That caught Alice by surprise. "You want to see Castor and Pollux?"
"No, I want to see those new bulls you got… wait, you named them?" Hollander’s expression was disbelieving.
Atkins snickered derisively at that, conveying his thoughts quite clearly. Only a woman would name cattle.
Drawing herself up defensively, Alice nodded. "Yes, we named them, because…" She debated explaining the reasoning behind naming the bulls after the ancient twins to the two men but decided it’d be a waste of breath. "Nevermind. William’s got Pollux out with the herd today, but Castor is in the barn. I’ll have Mark bring him out." She stepped off the porch and began walking toward her son and Joshua Mason.
Glen and Tom Atkins exchanged a long glance before following a few steps behind her.
Joshua tugged on the reins of Dawson and Hollander’s grey stallion as he followed Mark over to the watering basin. So far, the visit to the Evans homestead had gone just about as he’d anticipated, though for a moment there he’d been worried the boy would reveal his identity to Hollander.
There were only a few visible changes to the small ranch since that night he’d eaten dinner there as a prisoner in chain cuffs. A new barn stood where the burnt-out rubble of the old one had been, and the corral near it was significantly larger but everything else was the same.
Mark allowed his horse to drink alongside Joshua’s for a few moments before he quietly said, "Mr. Hollander don’t know who you really are, does he?" The boy peeked up at him from under the edge of his granger hat.
"No, he doesn’t." Joshua’s expression was solemn as he met the boy’s gaze from over Dawson’s neck.
A slight frown of confusion appeared on Mark’s face. "But I thought I remembered Pa saying he was there when the lawmen got you in the saloon back when? Don’t he remember you from that?"
Joshua shrugged, "He only saw me for a couple of minutes then, and I look different now."
The boy snorted with disbelief. "You don’t look all that different. I recognized you right away, an’ so did Ma."
Considering that for a moment, Joshua spoke in a low voice as he explained, "A wealthy man like Hollander, well sometimes they get so puffed up with themselves and with how important they are that they don’t look beyond the end of their nose. So they don’t see what’s standin’ right in front of them." He looked back over his shoulder to where the landowner was still in conversation with Alice. He didn’t know what they were discussing, but something had Hollander bristling like a porcupine.
"How come you don’t want Mr. Hollander knowin’ who you are?" Mark asked curiously. "You think he’ll call lawmen down on you?"
Joshua allowed a slight smile to touch his lips, "That, and I killed his man Tucker, remember? I don’t think he’d be taking kindly to that."
Mark’s small face twisted with hatred at the name. "Yeah, but Tucker burned down our barn. He was a bad man."
"So am I," Joshua reminded the boy with sardonic amusement.
Suddenly uncertain, Mark shifted his green eyes away from Joshua’s and frowned with consternation. It was true, Ben Wade was a bad man as well, but at the same time it was a different kind of bad from Tucker. He didn’t really know what to say, so kept quiet instead and concentrated on watering Atkins’ horse.
Joshua found himself almost disappointed by the boy’s silence but did not have much time to reflect on why.
Alice, Glen and Atkins were walking toward them.
When she saw the conflicted expression on Mark’s face, Alice could not help but wonder what he and Joshua Mason had been talking about before they’d walked up. That question would have to wait until after their guests took their leave.
"Mark," she called, "Would you go get Castor? Mr. Hollander would like to have a look at him."
The boy nodded, a smile brightening his expression at the request. He looped Atkins’ gelding’s reins around the fence railing and hurried off to the barn.
Joshua led the two horses in his charge away from the trough and lashed them to the wooden fence as well before walking up to stand beside Atkins and his ‘boss’. They all looked at the back of the corral where it met the barn, waiting expectantly for the boy to release the bull.
A few moments passed and Glen glanced at Alice, one eyebrow raised. "Well? He gonna let him out, or what?"
Alice started to respond but before she could speak, Mark appeared in the corral with Castor. However, the boy was not leading the huge bull as she had expected, but riding on his back. Though irritated at first by her son’s flamboyant display, it quickly turned to true amusement when she saw the incredulous expression on Glen Hollander’s face. A genuine smile blossomed on her face as she watched Mark parade the bull around the corral.
Hollander watched in silent disbelief as the twelve year old boy used a loose-fitting halter to guide the bull across the corral as though the animal was nothing more than a well-trained draft horse rather than a massive animal that probably weighed nearly than three thousand pounds. However, where a longhorn bull was all horns, hide, and lean ropy muscle, the red and white Hereford was broad shoulders, bulging muscles and wide haunches. The bull had horns, but they were small and blunt, especially considering the size of the animal’s head.
A smile still curving her lips, Alice glanced up at the speechless Hollander, and the equally dumbfounded Atkins standing just beyond him as they gawked at the spectacle in front of them.
Joshua Mason was not staring at Mark and the bull, but at her. More specifically, at her mouth. His expression was unreadable.
She shivered and flushed, looking away as she drew in a deep breath and carefully schooled her features to a serene calm. "Mark, that’s quite enough," she called to her son, who was still proudly perched on Castor’s back.
Mark’s thin shoulders slumped with disappointment, but he slid expertly down the enormous bull’s flank to the ground, grinning with pride. Loosening one end of the rope to make a more traditional halter instead of a makeshift bridle, he led the bull over toward the fence. The great beast was even more impressive up close. It ignored the men but extended his nose toward Alice, trying to reach her through the wooden slats.
Glen finally spoke in a strangled voice, "That’s… quite some bull you got there, Alice." He coughed slightly, trying to regain his composure.
"Thank you, Mr. Hollander," Alice said and scratched the white hair on the bridge of Castor’s nose. "We’re quite pleased with him. Of course he’s not quite fully mature yet but…"
Even the normally taciturn Atkins couldn’t hold his peace at that. "Ya mean to tell me he ain’t fully grown yet?" he asked skeptically.
Mark shook his head, climbing up on the fence so that he was more of an equal with the wrangler’s height as he answered, "Nope. He’s just three now, so he has a bit more maturing to do, Ma says."
Hollander dubiously eyed the bull. "Just three." Longhorn bulls matured at a far slower rate than that, and had a lot less muscle to show for it. "He come here this big then? You just been feeding him grain to get him this big, or grazin’ him as well?" He reached through the fence, experimentally touching the side of the bull’s neck, trying to determine whether or not the bull was merely fat or as well muscled as it seemed.
"When Mr. Butterfield had them shipped to us, they were both smaller than they are now, yes," Alice explained, peering up at the landowner, who now stood on her immediate left.
Glen nodded with smug satisfaction, "So it was really Grayson Butterfield who told you to get ‘em. Figured it was somethin’ like that." Even a smart woman like Alice Evans wouldn’t have enough sense to know a good bull if she saw one, and her two boys definitely lacked the experience and years of knowledge that a man like him had. Butterfield, even though he was a railroad man, probably had enough contact with big ranchers in the know that he’d told her what to get and why.
Alice stiffened at his words but continued in an even tone, "We do feed them grain, but they’ve been doing surprisingly well grazing with the other cattle on the range. We had a good spring though, and plenty of rain. A dry summer, they might not fare as well as a longhorn might." A worried frown marred her features but she shook the pessimistic thought away.
"You ever seen these hear-fords back when you were in New Mexico, Mason? " the landowner suddenly asked, looking at his newest cowhand.
"They’ve been shippin’ most all of ‘em out from Illinois. Bill Gardner was planning on adding a few bulls to his herd when he…" Joshua paused, his blue-green eyes flickering to Alice before he continued carefully, "when he had that streak of bad luck I told you about." He approached the bull from Alice’s right and extended his hand toward the bull’s nose. It blew warm air on the back of his hand and then licked his skin.
Mark snickered, "He does that. Ma says it’s cause our sweat tastes salty to him and he likes salt."
A suddenly nervous Alice found herself sandwiched between the two men. Not close enough to touch her, of course, but far too close for her comfort at the same time, though they both had their attention on Castor. She skittered back away from the fence and put a few feet of space between herself and the men. "Is your curiosity satisfied, Mr. Hollander?" she inquired, tilting her head as she awaited the man’s response.
"I ‘spose so," Glen said, straightening up and turning to face her. He took off his hat and scratched his balding grey head, "I gotta say, you got a pretty impressive bull here." An easy grin appeared on his face, "Hell, I’m near bout envious."
Joshua was rubbing Castor’s poll now, and quietly said, "Envy is the rottenness of bones." He glanced up at Mark, who was still perched on the fence. "Proverbs 14:30," he added with a slight smile for the boy’s benefit.
Atkins was already untying his horse and led it a few steps away from the fence. "Mason."
His name had an implied order to it. Joshua gave the bull a last pat on the nose and went over to unhitch Dawson and the gray stallion from the fence.
"Thank you again for letting us know about the situation with the creek, Mr. Hollander," Alice said politely. "We’re looking forward to seeing our creek free flowing again."
Glen smiled at her, "Why you’re welcome, Alice." He took the reins to his grey from Joshua and used the stirrup to lever himself into the saddle. "You take care of yourself and those bulls, and if you get a chance, you feel free to think of appropriate ways to thank me." He leered at her, giving her a sly wink before wheeling his horse to head back to his ranch, Atkins’ chestnut a few steps behind.
Joshua mounted Dawson and used his free hand to tilt his hat in her direction. "Pleasure meeting you, Mrs. Evans," he said, that mischievous smile appearing on his face again. He added another nod for Mark before clicking his tongue at his black horse and directing it after Hollander.
The mother and son watched them go. When they were out of sight, Alice exhaled slowly, releasing tension she hadn’t even realized she was holding in.
Mark climbed down from the fence into the corral with Castor. "I’ll put him back up in the barn before I go help Will bring the rest of the herd in."
Alice rubbed her temples, feeling the first pangs of a headache come on. She’d have to brew some willow bark tea to go with dinner, as her headache would no doubt worsen after Will heard about the days events. Which reminded her…
"Mark?" she called to her son, who was halfway across the corral, Castor plodding behind him.
The boy looked back over his shoulder at him, eyebrows raised. "Yeah, Ma?"
"Don’t let Will run the cattle into the ground trying to get home any faster," Alice gave her son a tired but knowing smile. "Hollander and his men have already left, so there’s no point in hurryin’."
Mark grinned at the command. "Yes ma’am."
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