Chapter 4: Greed
Over the next couple of hours, Alice did her best to continue the day as though Hollander and his men had never come visiting, which was difficult to say the least. She finished bringing in the rest of the cut firewood, but trying not to think about the events of that afternoon actually worsened her headache. So she brewed herself some willow bark rea. After a few sips dulled the pain to a manageable level, she devoted the rest of her time toward finishing supper before the boys got home from the range.
Will must have taken Mark’s message from her to heart, because the boys returned with the herd only slightly earlier than they usually did. At the rumbling sound of the herd returning, she gave the gravy a last stir and went to stand on the front porch, watching as Will and Mark used their horses to guide the willing herd of cattle into the large corral by the barn.
Pollux’s massive red back was clearly visible among the shorter and rangier longhorn cows, and Alice couldn’t help but smile as she thought about how astonished Hollander and Atkins had been by the sight of Castor. The man formerly known as Ben Wade had not been so impressed, but that apparently was because he’d seen Herefords before.
No, it was because he found something else more interesting to look at. She drew in a quick breath as that thought suddenly popped into her head. Giving a slight shake of her head to clear that notion away, Alice focused her attention on William and Mark, who had just enclosed the cattle in the corral and were riding their horses toward the house.
"Did he come back?" William asked immediately as he pulled up his horse in front of the porch and dismounted, his brother a few hooves behind.
Alice shivered at that suggestion, not because she found the thought of being at the ranch alone when Joshua Mason came visiting frightening, but because she wasn’t frightened, and that alarmed her even more. "No, he didn’t come back. None of them did," she stated calmly. "What reason would they have to come back anyway?
Hollander and his men saw what they wanted to see, and that was Castor."
Will frowned at that, "You’re sure it was Ben Wade? Not just someone who looked like him?"
Mark immediately rolled his eyes at the question and scowled at his brother. "I told you it was him, he practically up and said it straight out when we was talking."
Alice concurred, "It was Ben Wade, William. He looks a little different because he’s lost some weight and his hair is even shorter than yours is. But it was definitely him. Either way, we’ll talk about it later. You boys get the horses fed and watered and then get cleaned up for supper." She turned her back and went inside, effectively ending the discussion for now.
A short time later after grace had been said, they all three had food on their plates and were just starting in eating dinner when Will brought the subject up again. "So why do you think he came back?" the sixteen year old wondered, his eyebrows drawn down in thought as he tapped his fork on the edge of the plate.
Alice had been asking herself the same question almost from the moment she realized who it was that Glen Hollander now had on his payroll. She hesitated before answering, "I’m not sure. If he’s given up on his life as Ben Wade though, then he’d be needing a job that pays as much as any other man out here."
Mark looked at her, "I thought that he had lots of money though. I mean, didn’t he rob those railroads for a long time? He stole thousands of dollars, I thought. Wouldn’t that make him rich enough that he wouldn’t have to work for pay?"
Swallowing a mouthful of peas, Will shrugged, "He’d have to split the money with the men in his gang though, not keep it all for himself. Don’t matter, cause even so, that’d still be a whole lot of money. I think I remember Grayson Butterfield tellin’ me once that all together, Ben Wade and his gangs had robbed the railroads of somewhere around 400,000 dollars."
Blinking at the amount, Alice said, "That’s an awful lot of money. Even if he divided all the money equally among all his gang members, he’d still be a rich man. The thing is, people take big notice of a man that’s spending a lot of money, and I don’t think he wants to be noticed. The less people that notice him, the less chance there is of him being recognized." She chewed a bit of beef and thought that over for a few moments. "What exactly did he say to you, Mark? I noticed the two of you were talking a little bit before Mr. Hollander, Mr. Atkins and I walked over."
The boy’s brow furrowed as he tried to remember their conversation, "I asked him if Hollander knew who he was, and he said no. Then I asked him why he didn’t want him to know." The boy’s dark green eyes flickered from her to Will’s, "I figured he thought Hollander would call the law down on him, but he said that he didn’t think Hollander would take too kindly to knowin’ who he was, seein’ as how he killed Tucker."
"Tucker got exactly what he deserved," William stated firmly, his face full of disgust at mere mention of the dead ranch hand’s name.
"William," Alice immediately chided disapprovingly.
"So? You hated him just as much as the rest of us did, Ma. You tellin’ me you’re sorry he’s dead?" William lifted his chin in challenge, his pale green eyes daring her to say otherwise.
"No, I didn’t like Mr. Tucker, but it’s rude to speak so of the dead," Alice quietly reminded him, a frown on her face.
"Ma?" Mark’s soft voice drew their attention toward him, and he stared down at the dwindling amount of food on his plate as he asked, "Did Tucker kill people?"
William snorted as he cut a bit of meat from the steak, "I bet he woulda, given half the chance. Hell, after burnin’ the barn down, he said he was gonna burn the house down next, remember?"
Alice was slower in responding and tried to remember any rumors she’d heard about Tucker. Finally she shook her head, admitting, "I can’t remember ever hearing where Mr. Tucker killed anyone."
"Hollander had Tucker do all his dirty work though, remember?" William said around a mouthful of food. "He helped run the Jenkins off their homestead during the drought for sure, I know that. I remember Doc Potter had to set Bob Jenkins’ hand after Tucker broke it."
A frown touched Alice’s lips at that memory. Tucker had used his boot to crush poor Bob’s hand. The homesteader’s hand did not heal well, despite Doc Potter’s best efforts, and he had trouble doing even simple things with his hand thereafter.
"But Tucker was a bad man, right?" Mark’s small face was troubled as he looked up at his mother.
William immediately nodded, "Yeah, he was real bad."
She hesitated but could not disagree. "Yes, I think Tucker was a bad man."
Mark nodded with satisfaction, as though they were telling him something he suspected all along. A moment later, he added, "And Ben Wade is a bad man, too, right?"
"Ben Wade ain’t the same as that bastard Tucker," William informed his brother with a frown.
Alice gave her oldest son a quelling look for his bad language and then sighed, rubbing one of her temples with a finger as she considered Mark’s statement. "Ben Wade has killed people," she gently reminded William. "He killed how many people between Bisbee and Contention? Tucker, that Pinkerton, the Apaches, his gang…"
Her oldest son set his jaw stubbornly, "That was different. They were all either shootin’ at him or about to. Hell his gang was all killers anyway, they shot Pa dead from the back. Wade just gave them all what they deserved. That Pinkerton McElroy weren’t any better than the rest of them. He killed bunches of unarmed Indian women and children … then he called Ben Wade’s ma a whore and…"
"William Evans!" Alice exclaimed, interrupting him. "You will not use that kind of language at the dinner table, do you understand me?"
Mark just sat there, wide-eyed and mouth half-open with shock.
William glared down at his plate sullenly, "Sorry. He did say that, though. That’s why Wade killed him. He said, ‘Even bad men love their mommas’." The teenager picked up his fork again and started eating methodically.
The quiet clatter of the forks on the tin plates was the only sound for a few minutes as they resumed eating. Then Mark twiddled with his fork for a moment before asking, "Did Pa kill people too, during the War? And some of them were just… normal men, like him? Good people?"
"That’s different, cause it’s war," William muttered dismissively without looking up from his plate.
"So Pa killed good people but he wasn’t a bad man… but Ben Wade killed bad people and he was a bad man. And Tucker didn’t kill anyone, but he was even worse than Ben Wade?" Mark said dubiously.
Alice closed her eyes and rested her elbows on the table, steepling her fingers as she tried to put her thought into words. "William is right, killing people in a war is different, but it’s hard to explain why. Wars are fought over a bigger cause than just one man fighting with another. If the War Between the States had never taken place, people like our blacksmith Elijah and his wife would still be considered slaves and the United States would no longer be one country, but two."
Both William and Mark remained silent, their food forgotten for now, listening to her speak.
"As far as why Ben Wade and Tucker were different… Even if Ben Wade killed all of those people in self defense, he still broke the law by stealing the railroad payrolls," she reminded them.
"Yeah, but didn’t the railroad break the law by runnin’ some people out of their homes and off their land to lay the tracks?" William interjected again, looking at her. "That’s why Hollander was tryin’ to force us off the land in the first place, so he could sell the land to the railroads."
Sighing patiently, Alice lifted a hand, "I’m not going to get into a discussion over whether the railroads have done people right or wrong, William." She turned her attention back toward Mark and continued, "My point is, Ben Wade has broken the law, and by most folks reckoning, that makes him a bad man in his own right. Now then, as for Tucker, well, even if he never killed anyone, he was a cruel man who delighted in seeing other people suffer, and the more they suffered, the happier it made him, and, well… that’s just a different kind of bad."
Apparently satisfied with the explanation, Mark nodded his head and returned to eating.
Relieved, Alice stared down at her own food. She really didn’t have much of an appetite, but there was no way she was going to let good food go to waste, so she forced herself to eat. The rest of the meal passed in silence and after she scraped up the last bite of food, she got to her feet to carry the plate over to the wash bucket.
"Mom?" Mark spoke again and she turned to look at him he asked, "Do you think we should tell the lawmen he came back? Since he’s still a wanted man? The sign said there was a reward for 2,500 dollars to whoever turns him in."
William was just getting up from his chair as well and went still at Mark’s question. A worried frown appeared on his face, though he said nothing one way or the other.
Alice considered the question a long moment. Ben Wade was still a wanted man, and the reward was big enough that they would do well for a few years before wanting or needing anything. But she found herself shaking her head, "No, I don’t think we’ll call the law down on him. If Ben Wade is truly making an effort to walk a straight and narrow path, and trying to work at making an honest living, then we’ll let him continue to do so. As far as anyone knows, Ben Wade is dead anyway. We’ll just let him stay that way."
Mark smiled at her answer. "That’s what I was thinkin’ too." Rising from the table, he put his plate into the wash water and announced, "I’m gonna go get started on feedin’ the herd for the night. Will, you comin’?"
"I’ll be along in a minute," Will responded after glancing at his mother.
Alice gave Mark a reassuring smile and watched as he grabbed his hat, plopping it onto his head before he trotted out the door and headed for the barn. She turned expectantly toward her son, eyebrows raised inquisitively.
Will’s pale green eyes were serious as he quietly asked, "Why do you figure he’s come back to Bisbee?"
"I have no idea, and it’s not like he would have told me if I’d asked, even if Hollander and his man hadn’t been standing there watching." She exhaled and blew a wisp of blonde hair away from her eyes, "When I first realized who he was, I figured that Hollander knew he was Ben Wade, and had just hired him on to do his dirty work.
‘Specially with our creek near drying up this past week or so. Oh! That reminds me, Hollander said that beavers are the reason the water stopped. Seems they built a dam there."
"Beavers," Will repeated incredulously. He’d never seen a beaver in the entire time they’d lived in Arizona.
"I know, I know," Alice could not help but smile at his expression. "Regardless of whether men or beavers built it, he says he’ll have it cleared by this time next week… and if it’s not, you and Mark are to go over there and clear it yourselves."
Biting his lip, he thought over what she said. "You really think Wade would do stuff like that? Dam up creeks, burn people’s barns and houses down and the like, the way Tucker did? Cause I don’t."
Alice immediately agreed with him. "No, I can’t see him doing that. He’s too…" She faltered, trying to come up with an appropriate word.
"Straight-forward?" Will suggested.
"Yes, that’s a good word for it," she nodded. "I just can’t see him doing underhanded things like that. It seems like they’d be too petty for him to do. Even if he was being paid."
Will scratched his head, "Maybe he’s got money stashed somewhere in the hills from that last heist? If he ain’t been spending his money, he had to have hidden it away."
"Even if he did," Alice reasoned, "he wouldn’t have put it in a place where he couldn’t get to it anytime he wanted to. Certainly there’d be no need for him to hire in as a ranch hand or anything in the meanwhile." Restless, she busied herself by starting in on washing some of the dishes.
Thinking in silence for a moment, he finally shook his head in confusion, "That’s really what I don’t get, him hirin’ on as a cowhand here, of all places. Mark said that he came here by way of New Mexico, right? He coulda gone pretty much anywhere he wanted. Why come back to a place where there’s a chance of him being recognized instead of going some place like Montana or Oregon, where no one’s ever even heard of him?"
Shrugging unknowingly, Alice used a threadbare towel to dry off the tin plate. Another idea occurred to her, and this one was surprisingly unpleasant. "Dan told me he was picked up in the saloon in town. Is there any chance he left a… a lady friend behind?" Her voice sounded unusually harsh to her own ears.
William seemed to take her strange tone as disapproval, luckily. "Was he even in town long enough to get to know a woman that well? I mean, yeah I think Pa said he was with Emma Nelson but she sold the saloon and moved back to Dawson right after we got back from Contention."
Irritated with the turn in conversation, she sighed impatiently, "I think I’ve had enough of talk of Ben Wade, or Joshua Mason, or whoever he is at this current point in time, to last me for a good long while. Let’s just drop it for now. Besides, you’ve got chores to finish up. Now get on to them," she ordered.
He seemed startled by her sudden change in mood but nodded before heading out the door to help his brother.
It was late the following afternoon when Joshua returned to the Evans land, but this time he was alone, and grateful for it. Hollander and Atkins had nearly talked his ears off on the way back to the Double Bar-H ranch, asking him everything he knew about Hereford cattle. He did his best to answer all their questions, drawing back on what he’d learned about the cattle breed when he’d been working in New Mexico.
Lester Holmes was still alive when they got back to the large ranch, but had ended up dying in his sleep overnight. No one shed any tears. Atkins had two of the hands cart the body a few miles away, where he was buried in an unmarked grave.
Since they were back down to nine steady hands, Joshua was assigned to work with two other men, Ike Scott and Leroy Perkins. Ike was probably in his 50s, and Perkins was probably in his mid-thirties, which made him slightly younger than Joshua.
Neither cowboy was predisposed to idle chatter, and that suited him just fine. He spent most of the day trying not to dwell on how much more beautiful Alice Evans was with a smile lighting up her face.
He broke off from following the herd with Scott and Perkins as they were about to head back to the Bar-H in time for supper. They probably thought he was going south into Bisbee, but after he was a couple of miles away from them, he directed Dawson eastward, sticking to the higher terrain where he had a better view of the Evans land. It wasn’t long before he spotted what he was looking for: A single figure on horseback following about a hundred head of cattle that included one large red bull.
He clicked his tongue, maneuvering his black horse down the rocky slope toward William Evans. He made no attempt to hide his presence and thus was seen almost immediately. The teenager watched him approach from afar, his spine stiff with nervousness. When Joshua was a reasonable distance away, he gave William a quick smile of greeting accompanied by a casual, "Afternoon," and settled Dawson in to ride along side the boy at an easy walk.
Will was doing his best not to stare at the older man, and having about as much success with it as his brother had. "Joshua Mason?" he finally said tentatively, testing the name out and trying to place it with the face of the man he’d known as Ben Wade.
"Yep," Mason replied simply. "You can call me Joshua, though." He grinned and gave the boy a sidelong look, "Seein’ as how we’re old friends and all."
The notion of being ‘old friends’ with someone as famous as Ben Wade had Will smiling as well. "What’re you doin’ here?" the boy asked curiously.
The man shrugged easily, "Saw you didn’t have Mark with you and figured you could use some help driving the herd back home." Of course there was more to it than just that, but his explanation would do for now.
Will was more open with his examination of Joshua now, making note of the changes in clothing style, the clean-shaven face and much shorter hair. "You look pretty different." Blinking, he suddenly realized one thing was missing. "Where’s the Hand of God?"
"Left it behind in Mexico along with the name Ben Wade," Joshua replied, shrugging.
Will’s jaw dropped at that revelation, "You just up and left it? It was custom-made, right?"
Joshua nodded, explaining, "Yes but the gun is nearly as famous as the name Ben Wade. If I’d just changed my name, but kept the gun, people would see it and start asking questions about how I got it and I’d get attention I don’t want. Or need, for that matter."
The man and boy rode in silence for a few minutes when Will announced, "Emma Thompson moved back to Dawson. In case you was wondering."
"Who? Who’s Emma Thompson?" Joshua asked with genuine confusion. He didn’t recognize the name at all.
"The woman that used to own the saloon in Bisbee? Pa said when you was picked up at the saloon, you were… uh, you know. With her." William’s face reddened with embarrassment as he spoke. "Ma said maybe you came back to Bisbee to be with her, but she ain’t here no more."
"Ah." Joshua couldn’t help but smile at the boy’s obvious innocence, and bluntly stated, "Beddin’ a woman like Emma ain’t a proposal, but a mutual arrangement. We both got pleasure out of it, but neither of us had intentions of it goin’ anywhere beyond that. Your ma really think that’s why I came back?" he inquired curiously and wasn’t sure if he was amused or offended by her assumption.
"I don’t think so," Will returned with a shrug. "I don’t know, it’s just, you know. We were talking about it last night, tryin’ to think of things that’d bring you all the way back here." He paused and turned to look the other man in the eye, asking directly, "Why did you come back then? Why Bisbee, when there’s so many other places you coulda gone? You ain’t workin’ for Hollander ‘cause you need money, we know that."
Joshua chuckled, acknowledging the honesty of that statement. "No, I ain’t doin’ it because I need money. Mostly, it was curiosity. Just wanted to see how ya’ll were doin’, if you’d taken Butterfield’s money and moved on, if Hollander had kept his word." He pursed his lips and admitted with a wry smile, "Though I will admit I’m glad Butterfield ain’t still livin’ around here. He’d have recognized me for sure."
"He went back to Chicago right after they finished the railroad, but he ain’t comin’ back here. Ma writes him and his wife though. Mr. Butterfield’s wife’s daddy is a big time rancher in Illinois. That’s where we got Castor and Pollux from. We get a letter from them every now and again," Will informed him and looked westward toward Hollander’s land. "Hollander done right by his word for a long time, up until he dammed up our creek a couple of weeks back." The boy turned his head back toward Joshua and his pale eyes held a hint of uncertainty as he asked, "You didn’t do that, though, did you? Dam up our creek?"
All humor was gone from Joshua’s face at the question. He examined the boy’s face and realized Will was asking for verification of what he already suspected was true, not making an accusation. "No. It was already done when I was hired on by Hollander last week, and I didn’t find out what they’d done to block it until yesterday. Atkins and Lester Holmes were the ones who did it. I’d planned on knocking part of the dam out last night, but apparently your mother said something to him yesterday when he came visitin’ that convinced Hollander to take it down himself."
Will made a hissing sound of irritation between his teeth. "Knocking it out probably wouldn’t a done any good. Hollander’ll probably just have Atkins and Holmes put it back up in a few weeks, and when you’re gone there won’t be anyone to knock it out."
"Maybe I don’t plan on leaving," Joshua said mildly, looking straight ahead. "Besides, you don’t have to worry about Lester Holmes building dams or anything else anytime soon. He’s dead."
Will’s hands tightened on his horse’s reins and the animal drew to a stop. "Dead?" he repeated, staring wide-eyed at the other man. "You killed him?"
"Me? No, I didn’t kill him." Joshua wheeled his horse to the side and faced the boy. "I thought about it, though," he admitted with sardonic amusement. "No, Lester got himself bit by a coral snake yesterday morning. He died in his sleep last night. Just stopped breathin’, I suppose."
Blinking, Will nudged his chestnut horse back into motion and returned to his position at the rear of the herd. "He was nearly as bad as Tucker, I ain’t sorry he’s dead at all," the boy finally muttered.
Joshua smirked briefly, "I doubt anyone misses Lester Holmes."
"So why’s Hollander back to tryin’ to get us off our land? He ain’t sellin’ the land to the railroads, they’re already done layin’ tracks around here. I guess it’s just plain ol’ greed. He wants our land, he wants our bulls. It never ends." Will said with disgust. "For some people, they just don’t ever get enough."
"’He coveteth greedily all the day long.’ Proverbs 21:26," quoted Joshua with dry amusement. "And as for Hollander, well it seems that he’s taken a shine to your Ma."
William could only stare at him in shock and horror.
"Yep," Joshua continued as he gave the boy a sidelong look, "Glen Hollander’s thinks he needs himself a new wife and has decided that Widow Evans is the perfect woman for him. The fact that she comes with two of the most valuable bulls in the Arizona Territory just sweetens the pot."
"That’s ridiculous," Will’s voice was outraged. "Like Ma would marry Glen Hollander. She doesn’t even like him. Why would he ever think she’d marry a man like him?"
Joshua smiled grimly, "Because Hollander looks at Alice Evans and sees a lonely widow woman, struggling to make it out here on the range with no man helping her, with one sick boy and the other barely old enough to shave. He’s wealthy, he’s got a big house, hired servants, and land a-plenty. Some women, maybe even most women, might jump at the chance to land a man like Hollander and think they came away better because of it."
"Well my Ma ain’t most women," William declared hotly. "Mark ain’t been sick in more’n a year, and we’ve been doin’ just fine."
"I know you have, Will. Hell your family been through a lot these last two years and done better than most I’ve seen, and with a damn sight less."
The boy seemed somewhat mollified by Joshua’s words, but still fumed.
The small shape of a boy on horseback appeared from the south. Mark had arrived to help Will bring the herd back to the ranch for the evening. His dark green eyes were wide with surprise as he realized who was riding alongside his brother, but after a moment’s hesitation he joined them on the opposite side of Will from Joshua.
"Afternoon Mark," Joshua greeted the boy with an amiable nod.
Will merely grunted at his brother’s appearance, his face still taut with indignation.
"Mr. Mason," Mark returned the greeting with respect, carefully enunciating the name. He peered closely at Will, taking note of his older brother’s obviously foul mood, and frowned with confusion. "What’s wrong?" he asked, looking from Will to the man beside him.
"I gave him some surprising news, and he’s not taking it well," Joshua explained, a tight smile on his face.
Speaking through clenched teeth, Will growled, "Hollander’s courtin’ Ma."
Mark blinked at first but then started laughing, quickly cupping his hand over his mouth to stifle the sound so he didn’t startle the cattle.
The boy’s helpless giggles were infectious and Joshua soon found himself chuckling as well. A few moments later, their mirth caused Will’s ill humor to fade enough that although he wasn’t laughing outright, he was at least smiling and shaking his head at the ridiculousness of it.
The twelve year old boy finally regained control of himself enough to press one hand to his chest, which had nearly started to ache he laughed so hard. Mark wiped a tear away from his eye with his free hand, saying with a broad grin on his face, "Boy, just wait till we tell Ma. I bet she practically falls over she laughs so hard."
The smile faded from Will’s face, but he didn’t contradict his brother’s assumption. Glancing at the man beside him, he quietly asked, "You wanna help us get the herd back to the ranch?" though he knew Joshua’s help wasn’t really needed.
He was somewhat surprised by the invitation but nodded immediately. "Sure, glad to help."
Occasional giggles continued to escape from Mark as the trio fanned out behind the cattle.
The barest hint of humor still touched Joshua’s lips as he clicked his tongue at Dawson, quietly encouraging his black horse after the herd. He wanted to see Alice Evans laugh just as much as he had wanted to see her smile, but he strongly suspected laughter would be the furthest thing from the blonde woman’s mind when she found out about Hollander’s intentions.
BACK HOME NEXT
“He coveteth greedily all the day long: but the righteous giveth and spareth not.” Proverbs 21:26
Women were drastically outnumbered by men on the frontier. A beautiful widow woman like Alice Evans would have been highly sought after, and would have a wide selection of suitors to choose from should she choose to remarry. I should have researched that before writing this chapter, as I would have had a few potential suitors approach Alice when she went to town in Chapter 1!
There are several instances of outlaws trying to go straight with varying degrees of success. Frank James was one of those who succeeded, and was actually issued a full pardon for his crimes by the governor of Missouri. Some outlaws like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were not so lucky. The more infamous an outlaw’s face was, the less the chance of him succeeding. The fact that Ben Wade refused to have his picture taken would have greatly worked in his favor, as would his robbing only railroad stagecoach payrolls instead of banks and ‘normal people’.