For the last five or six days Hewey Calloway had realized he needed a bath. Now, in the final miles of a long horseback trip, it was a necessity no longer to be denied. By nightfall he would be eating hot biscuits and brown gravy at his brother’s table. Sister-in-law Eve Calloway was not inclined to generosity regarding the social graces.
Ahead of him the red wooden tower of an Eclipse windmill stood almost astraddle the wagon road which meandered casually among the gentle hills and skirted respectfully around the scattered stands of low-growing mesquite trees. The leaves were still the fresh pale green of early spring. Tall above those trees, the mill’s white-painted cypress fan turned slowly in the warm west wind which had stuck Hewey’s old blue shirt to his skin much of the morning. A vagrant white puff of cumulus cloud drifted over him, yielding a few minutes of pleasant shade before the sun broke free again in the full heat of early May.
The more he thought about it the more he began to look forward to that cool bath, but he didn’t want to push Biscuit into a trot. The brown horse was favoring his right forefoot a little. If it got any worse Hewey would have to walk and lead him.
Hell of a note, going lame the last day out. But better here than where they had started the trip three weeks ago in the melting snows of New Mexico high country.
He had known this region for years, and the sight of the red and white windmill confused him a little. Those colors were the trademark of the Two C Land and Cattle Company, old C. C. Tarpley’s outfit. Hewey would take a paralyzed oath that the place just ahead belonged to a four-section bachelor homesteader, a former cowboy who had always been glad to provide Hewey a meal or two and let him roll out his blankets on a hard and civilized wooden floor instead of the soft and uncivilized ground.
The red towers and white fans scattered from here halfway to Midland were sign to a traveler that he was crossing Two Cs land, and welcome to it so long as he shut all the wire gates behind him and didn’t run the cattle. He was welcome to camp a night anywhere but never two nights in the same place unless he had a broken wheel. One night was traveling; two nights was squatting.
Gradually Hewey realized he had been right about the homesteader. He recognized the layout of the place, the fallow field, some faded, rotting stalks where last year’s hegari crop had grown, and last year’s cane. By now a good fanner should have plowed it up and started planting anew. The crude shed stood where Hewey remembered it, but the little frame house was gone. Nothing remained but stubby cedar posts that had been its foundation, and a weather-bleached four-by-four privy thirty feet from what had been the back door, a short run on a cold wet night. Somebody had dismantled the house for the lumber, more than likely. By the windmill’s color, that somebody had to be C. C. Tarpley.
Old C. C.’s still spreading out, Hewey thought idly, begrudging him nothing, curious as to why he hadn’t taken the privy too. It looked lonesome standing there by itself.
C. C.’s water would be as wet as anybody’s. Hewey looked up at the Two Cs brand painted in red on the mill’s white tail, which automatically held the fan into the west wind to keep the maximum driving force on its angled wooden fins. The slow turning activated a sucker-rod which clanked and shuddered down the center of a pipe reaching deep into the ground. Each stroke of the rod brought up cool water from the dark depths of the earth, rhythmic gushes pumping it into a big dirt tank which long hours of man and mule sweat had scooped from the ground.
Hewey swung his right leg across Biscuit’s rump, holding the leg high to clear the rolled blankets and the “war bag” of miscellaneous cowboy accumulations tied behind the high cantle. Over that cantle was stretched a dried rattlesnake skin, supposed by many to ward off rheumatism, which became a mark of the trade for cowboys who survived the other hazards long enough to acquire it. Some said it also helped prevent hemorrhoids, another ailment common to the horseback profession.
Hewey doubted that, because he had them.
He stretched himself and stamped his feet to stimulate the blood and to steady his saddle-cramped legs. He unbuckled the girth, slid the saddle from Biscuit’s back, then led the horse down to the water’s edge to let him drink. Not until Biscuit had taken his fill did Hewey tie him to one of the tower legs and prepare to get a drink of water himself. He laid down astraddle the heavy pipe which extended from windmill to tank. He pushed carefully out to the end of it. The pipe was pleasantly cool. He held on with both legs and his left hand, cupping his right hand just under the mouth of the pipe. He drank thirstily from the hand as the water pumped out in time to the mill’s even strokes.
It was good water, carrying only a faint suggestion of the gyp common to much of West Texas. Water was a thing to be cherished in dry country. A man prized a good sweet well the way he prized a fine horse. Hewey finally took some of the water up his nostrils and choked. He decided that was enough for a while.
He inched his way back along the pipe, misjudging where to step off and sinking his left boot into the mud. He talked to the boot the way he was accustomed to talking to his horse. “Won’t hurt you none. Damn little mud you’ll ever get on you in this country.”
Inside a small plot which had been the homesteader’s garden, green grass was coming up between last year’s plowed rows and the fence. Hewey led Biscuit there and turned him loose, fastening the sagging wooden gate to keep him from straying off. He watched the horse roll in the soft dirt, taking up the sweat where the saddle and blanket had been.
Hewey was vaguely disappointed. He had counted on a noon meal from the homesteader, even if only some rewarmed red beans and hogbelly. Well, at least the horse could graze awhile. Hewey would make do with a cold biscuit and dried-out bacon brought from the Two Cs line camp, where he had stayed last night with old cowpuncher friends. He might brew himself a can of coffee too, after a while. Right now he wanted to test the water in that tank.
He emptied his pockets and piled their contents on the bare tank dump. They didn’t amount to much…a couple of silver dollars and some smaller change, a Barlow knife, a sack of Bull Durham smoking tobacco and a book of brown cigarette papers, a wallet containing his life’s savings of twenty-seven dollars. He set his boots beside his treasure. On them jingled a set of scandalous “gal-leg” spurs, the shank shaped like a woman’s leg, silver-mounted to show the high-heeled dancing shoe, the stocking, the garter on a plump thigh. It took a sport to wear such as that. He clutched his sweat-stained cotton socks in his hand and waded off into the tank with the rest of his clothes on.
The deepest part came up barely past his thighs. He took off his faded jeans and washed them out, then his shirt and finally his long-handled cotton underwear that once had been white. Naked except for the hat, he walked out with the wet clothing, squeezed as much water from it as he could, then hung it piece by piece to dry in the sun on the bottom brace of the windmill tower. That done, he waded back into the tank until the water was to his knees, then sat himself down shoulder-deep.
If a bath always felt this good, he thought, I would take one every week or two.
He sat soaking, only his head and his battered old felt hat above the water. By and by half a dozen cows and their calves came ambling out from a thicket, bound for a cool drink of water and then a long, lazy afternoon shaded up beneath the mesquites, chewing cud. The cow in the lead made it all the way to the top of the earthen dump before she noticed Hewey. She stopped abruptly, her head high in surprise. Her calf spotted him at about the same time and turned to run off a little way, its tail curled in alarm. The cow stood her ground but advanced no farther. The other cows came up even with her and joined her in consternation.
Hewey spoke gently, “Don’t be afraid, girls. I’d scare you a lot worse if I was to come up out of here.”
The voice was not reassuring. Hewey held still, and one cow’s thirst overcame her timidity. She moved cautiously to the water, lowered her head for a few quick sips, then jerked it up again to study Hewey critically, the water drops clinging to the hair under her chin. Gradually she decided he posed no threat as serious as her thirst, and she settled down to drinking her fill. The other cows, followers all, took this for a clearance and moved on to water. Hewey watched, knowing that curiosity would sooner or later lead one of the cattle to investigate his boots and his pocket possessions. When a calf warily started toward them, Hewey brought up a handful of mud from the bottom and hurled it at him. All the cattle ran. But in a few minutes they trailed down to the water again. Hewey held still. It was a cardinal principle not to disturb cattle unnecessarily, especially when they were watering. A cow had to drink plenty of water to make milk. She had to make milk to wean off a healthy calf. Motherhood—human or bovine—was a sacred thing.
Eventually the cattle trailed away to the thicket and lay down in the shade to relax away the warm afternoon and rechew the grass they had packed into their paunches all morning. Hewey began to think he ought to be fixing himself a little coffee and moving on, but the water felt good. He sat lazily watching a hawk make slow circles above the thicket, screaming a vain protest at the cattle. She probably had a nest in one of those big granddaddy mesquites. The cattle ignored her.
Too late he heard the rattle of chains and then the clopping of hoofs and the sand-slicing sound of narrow iron rims along the wagon road. A desperate thought came to him: these might be womenfolks, and they were going to catch him in this tank barefoot all the way to his chin. He weighed his chances of making a dash for his clothes without being seen. They were poor. He sat where he was, stirring the muddy bottom with his hands to make sure nobody could see through the water. The move was unnecessary; there had never been a day when this tank was that clear.
Up to the windmill trotted two matched dappled gray horses pulling a buggy. Two men sat on the spring seat. Hewey’s attention went to a gaunt old man with sagging shoulders and sagging mustache. Sawing on the lines to pull the horses to a stop, the old man stared at Hewey with about as much surprise as the cows had shown. He reached instinctively under the seat, where he probably carried a rifle.
Finally he found a brusque voice. “Are you alive out there, or have I got a drowned man on my hands?”
Hewey grinned, relieved that there were only the men. “How’s the womenfolks, C. C?”
“Just barely tolerable. That you, Hewey Calloway?”
“It’s me. I’m comin’ out, C. C.”
His surprise gone, the old rancher watched with a measure of tolerant humor. “Damn if you ain’t a pretty sight! I don’t believe I ever seen a man take a bath with his hat on.”
“I sunburn easy, C. C.”
Hewey waded out, following a patch of bermuda grass along the water pipe to keep his feet from getting muddy. He felt his clothes, found them mostly dry, then began putting them on over his wet skin. His body was almost white. His hands and neck and face were browned, but the rest was customarily never exposed to the sun. Even his loose collar would usually be buttoned to keep the sun out. The last thing he did was to rub the sand from his feet, then put on his socks and boots.
The other man had never spoken. Hewey decided he probably wouldn’t. He was a generation and a half younger and fifty pounds heavier than C. C. Tarpley. His name was Frank Gervin. Behind his back, people referred to him by a boyhood nickname, “Fat,” but the tactful and prudent never called him that to his round and ruddy face.
Hewey said, “Howdy, Fat.”
Fat Gervin winced and slumped a little deeper in the buggy seat. He gave no more than a nod, a very small and tentative recognition of Hewey’s existence, and then he looked away, his eyes resting in the direction of home, shade and cool water. Fat had worked as a cowboy on many West Texas ranches, usually for only a short time at each place. He tended always to be lost on drive or to be sitting his horse in the middle of the gate when other hands were trying to put cattle through. Evidently he was better as a lover than as a cowboy, for he had somehow swayed and won Tarpley’s only daughter while the old man’s attention had been directed to more important things. This gave him a hold on the Tarpley inheritance, provided the old man did not decide at the end to take it all with him.
Hewey gave Gervin no more of his attention. He said, “I had it in mind to fix me a little coffee. Join me, C.C.?”
It would amount to nothing more than some water boiled with coffee grounds in the bottom of a smoke-blackened can and drunk directly out of that can. Hewey didn’t even have a cup. But C. C. Tarpley, biggest cattleman this side of the Pecos River, said he wouldn’t mind if he did, and he climbed down. Fat didn’t say anything; he kept his seat in the buggy.
C. C. didn’t look like a big cattleman was supposed to. If anything, in his frayed old clothes and run-over boots he appeared as if he might have a hard time holding down a swamper’s job in a saloon. His wrinkled shirt was pockmarked by tiny tobacco burns. He didn’t have to dress up to impress anyone; everybody in this country knew him. If he went somewhere else on business, nobody knew him, so he didn’t dress up for them either.
The two men squatted on opposite sides of an economical fire and watched while the water stubbornly refused to boil. Tarpley said, “Boys at the Tule camp told me you spent the night there. I’d decided you left this country for good.”
Hewey shrugged. “I’ve got kin here. Walter and Eve and their boys. I got lonesome to see them.”
“How long since you left here, two years?”
“One year, ten months and twenty-odd days.”
“I reckon you got lots of money, Hewey.”
“I recollect you ridin’ away on old Biscuit, leadin’ a packhorse with all your stuff on it, sayin’ you wasn’t comin’ back till you was rich and famous. I ain’t heard a word about you since, so I don’t reckon you’re famous. How rich are you?”
Hewey grinned sheepishly. “Had twenty-somethin’ dollars, last time I counted.”
“What come of the packhorse?”
C. C. turned his head and took a long look at the brown horse. Hewey was glad it wasn’t apparent that Biscuit was trying to come up lame. Tarpley said, “Well, if you ain’t famous, and you ain’t rich, maybe you’ve come home two years smarter. Ain’t you about worn the itch out of your feet, Hewey? Ain’t you ready to light someplace?”
Hewey looked at the coffee. “I believe it’s finally about to come to a boil.”
“Ain’t you ever found anywhere you wanted to stay?”
“Just about every place, at first. Then directly I get to thinkin’ there might be somethin’ better down the road.”
“But it’s never there, is it?”
“It’s always there, for a little while.” Using two big sticks as a clamp, Hewey gingerly lifted the can from the fire and set it off onto the ground. “Ought to be ready to drink in a minute. You’re company, you can have the first sip.”
“No, you’re company. This place is mine. I bought out Sam Gentry as soon as he got it proved up.”
Sam Gentry. Hewey had been trying for an hour to remember the homesteader’s name. Sad, how quickly a man’s name got lost. It was hard to make a big-enough track that your name was long remembered.
People here would remember C. C. Tarpley for a long time, of course. He had done well for himself the last twenty-five years, since he had stretched a castoff army tent on the Pecos River in 1881 and had turned loose his thirty-three spotted cows and one droop-horned bull. If that bull hadn’t made the first winter, C. C. wouldn’t have survived either. But the cattle had been prolific. People used to say that on the Tarpley place even the bulls had twin calves. It was also said that C. C. Tarpley could find and put his brand on more unclaimed mavericks than any three men on the Pecos. In his prime he rode fast horses and carried an extra cinch ring tied to his saddle so he could stop and brand any animal he came across that didn’t already have a claim burned on it. That sort of ambitious endeavor was occasionally fatal to other men, but C. C. was tough enough to make it stick.
Now, six years into a new century, if anyone were to gather the whole Two C herd from where it was scattered over four hundred square miles of mesquite and catclaw and greasewood country, he would probably tally out five or six thousand mother cows plus no telling how many yearlings and two-year-olds. All that in twenty-five years from thirty-three cows and a bull.
Hard work and attention to business were the key, C. C. had often preached. But he had always said he was not greedy. All he had ever wanted was that which rightfully belonged to him, and that which adjoined it.
The hard years of acquisition had not let him run to fat. He weighed no more now than when he had first come here. He rode in a buggy more than on horseback, a concession to rheumy bones, but the fire of ambition still glowed in coffee-brown eyes.
C. C. said, “I reckon Walter sent for you to help him out of his trouble?”
Hewey looked up quickly, surprised. “Trouble? I never heard about no trouble.”
C. C. had the coffee can, carefully holding his fingers high up near the rim where the heat was not enough to blister. The coffee was only a minute or so past a full boil, but he drank it without flinching. He had always been a man in a hurry.
Hewey waited impatiently for an explanation, but C. C. was busy with the coffee. Hewey demanded, “What kind of trouble is he in?”
“Same as all these nester operators…money. He’s stretched thinner than a cotton shirt in a cold norther. Come fall, I figure he’ll have to fold up and quit.” C. C. stared quizzically at Hewey. “You sure he didn’t send for you?”
“I ain’t even heard from him since I left.”
C. C. shrugged. “Not much good you’d do him anyway. You won’t stay lit in one place long enough to wear out a change of socks.” The statement was made matter-of-factly, not in an insulting way.
“I reckon you could help him, C. C, if you was of a mind to.”
“I’ve tried. I offered to buy him out, same as I done with Sam Gentry. Walter ain’t goin’ to do any good on a little greasy-sack outfit like that. He’ll just starve that good woman and them kids of his to death. I told him I had his old foreman’s job waitin’ for him any time he wants it back. When a man’s been as good a cowboy as Walter is, it ought to be a penitentiary offense for him to ever take hold of a plow handle.”
“What did he say to the offer?”
Fat Gervin had finally climbed down from the buggy. He put into the conversation, answering for Tarpley. “Said what all them shirttail nesters say, that he’ll make it all right. But he won’t. Best thing that can happen to this country will be when all them nesters starve out and leave it to people that know how to run it.”
Hewey didn’t look up at Fat. C. C. Tarpley gave him a sharp glance back over his shoulder, a look that told him to shut the hell up. He turned his attention back to Hewey, closing Fat out of the conversation. As if Fat had said nothing, Tarpley answered Hewey’s question. “He said he’ll make it.”
Hewey frowned at the hot coffee. “But you hope he don’t make it?”
“I got nothin’ but his best interests at heart. I like Walter Calloway; I always did. I wouldn’t do a thing to hurt him.”
“But you wouldn’t do anything to really help him.”
Tarpley’s eyes narrowed. “Best help for your brother would be to get him onto a steady job where he could do some good for himself and be of use to somebody else too. I never could understand what a man wants with one of them little old starve-out places.”
“You started small, once.”
“That was a long time ago. There was room in this country then. Now it’s gettin’ so crowded up that you can’t breathe, hardly. You’re apt to run into somebody’s house every five or six miles. Nowadays everybody wants somethin’ for nothin’. That’s what’s behind all these homesteaders, a hope they can get somethin’ for nothin’. Everybody ought to pay his own way, is how I see it.”
C. C. hadn’t paid anybody for the use of the land here in his beginning years. Nobody else was claiming it, at least nobody as tough as C. C. It was too far from Austin for the state authorities to come out collecting. By the time they started charging lease, C. C. had had many years of free use and was strong enough financially that he could afford to pay. Even so, he had snorted and raised hell.
Hewey said, “Lots of people—I never was one myself—want to own somethin’ even if it’s small. They see honor in havin’ a place they can stand on and say, ‘This is mine.’”
“There’s honor in bein’ a Two Cs cowboy, too, if you’re a good one.” C. C. studied Hewey with keen brown eyes. “I’ve still got a place for you, too, if you’re ready to settle down.”
“Still payin’ the same wages you used to?” C. C. had always advocated a high sense of morality among his ranch help. Too much money being a threat to that morality, he had seen to it that they were never seriously challenged.
Tarpley frowned. “Times’ve been a little tight. I’ve had to cut expenses. But I’ve always paid a fair wage.”
Fair but not good, Hewey thought. He said nothing.
Fat Gervin took that silence as a challenge to C. C.’s generosity. He said righteously, “The man that’s payin’ the money is the one to say what’s fair and what ain’t. Trouble with the laborin’ class is that it’s always askin’ for more than it’s worth.”
Fat had been born into that class, though he had labored little. He had started at the bottom and married up. He stood with his round shoulders back and his belly out, inviting Hewey to contest his studied judgment. To his disgust, Hewey ignored him. As the probable inheritor of the Tarpley power, Fat had tried diligently to copy C. C.’s gruff mannerisms, his toughness, his sureness of self. But he bore no more resemblance to the old man than the reflection in mossy water bears to the battle-scarred stallion.
C. C. turned on him irritably. “Fat, I wisht you’d take and water the horses.”
Color flushed the big man’s face. He turned and started to lead the horses to the tank, pulling the buggy. Tarpley said, in the same impatient tone he would use against an errant hound, “Unhook them first.”
He and Hewey then hunkered in silence, passing the blackened can back and forth, offering none of it to Gervin. A stranger, if told one of them had six thousand cattle and the other had twenty-seven dollars, would have had a hard time deciding which was which. More than likely he would simply have doubted the statement. They were alike in as many ways as they were different. They had come from the same sun-warmed Texas soil. Though they had taken different forks on many roads, their roots gave them a kinship of sorts. They had a respect and a regard for each other that transcended the vast differences in their individual codes, their personal goals and their financial status.
C. C. Tarpley had been orphaned at an early age and cast out on his own in a world where orphans scratched or starved. A few years ago, in an uncharacteristic surge of emotion, he had contributed four hundred dollars toward the building of an orphans’ home in Fort Worth. The word had spread and earned him a reputation as a philanthropist among those who did not know him well. Hewey Calloway, who had never owned more of the world’s goods than he could tie on a horse, gave freely of whatever he had when he had it. Last fall he had given up a well-earned spree in town before it had fairly begun and contributed his only thirty dollars to a collection for a newly widowed nester woman and her four children. No one ever knew of it except Hewey and a half dozen other cowboys who had volunteered in like manner from their own pinched pockets. Reckoned on a percentage basis, Hewey was by far a more liberal philanthropist than C. C. Tarpley.
C. C. said, “You tell Walter I’d sure like to have him back. I miss him over at the ranch. God, Hewey, you’ve got no idea how hard it is anymore to find decent help. Just the other day I had to go all the way to Sweetwater to get me two good cowboys.”
Remembering what C. C. paid, Hewey was not impressed. But he said a noncommittal, “Well, I’ll swun,” which C. C. could take for sympathy if he wanted to.
C. C. continued, “I miss that little woman of his too. When Eve was cookin’ for the hands I used to like to go by there every so often and debauch myself on her cobbler pie. My wife never could cook worth doodly squat.”
On the Two Cs Eve had been expected to cook for the regular bachelor cowboys, plus any extra help, plus any company that happened along. She wasn’t paid for it; it was simply part of the honor of being the foreman’s wife. That was one reason she had clung so tenaciously to the little homestead, poor as it was. She probably worked as hard or harder there than ever before. But she cooked for her own family and nobody else.
C. C.’s eyes narrowed. “You got an ugly mark across your jaw, Hewey. Fresh, too. Where’d it come from?”
Instinctively Hewey brought his finger up. The place burned beneath his touch. He didn’t look C. C. in the eye. “Horse,” he said.
C. C grunted. “How old are you, Hewey?”
Hewey had to figure; he hadn’t thought about it in a while. “Thirty-eight. Thirty-eight the fourteenth day of last February.”
Tarpley mused. “You sure ain’t no valentine. I’ll bet by now you’re beginnin’ to feel the arthritis settin’ in. About time for the gray hair to start takin’ over too. And all you’ve got is a brown horse past his prime, an old saddle and maybe twenty dollars. Ain’t much to show for them many years, is it?”
Hewey thought before he answered. “I’ve left a lot of tracks and seen a lot of country. I’ve worked down to the border of Old Mexico. Been to Cuba for Uncle Sam. I’ve worked cows from the San Saba River plumb up to Wyoming and Montana. I even went north once into Canada and seen the glaciers. You ever seen a glacier, C. C.?”
The old man just stared at him. He probably didn’t know what a glacier was. “What’s it ever got for you?” he demanded. “Them places are too far from here to ever amount to anything. The man who gets ahead is the one who stays put and tends to business, not the one always fidgetin’ around to go, like a horse in an antbed. You’ve seen all of that country, but how much of it do you own?”
Hewey pondered the question. “In a way, I own it all.”
Old Tarpley didn’t understand that. Hewey had found a long time ago that most people never did.
* * *
After C. C. and Fat had gone, Hewey squatted to finish the coffee. The wound on his jaw still burned where he had touched it, and he couldn’t help touching it again. He had lied to C. C., because this was something else C. C. wouldn’t have understood.
He would have to keep on lying about it, for he would not be able to explain it to Eve, either. She was not always an understanding woman. She would not be tolerant of the truth in this case. He had never seen harm in an occasional small liberty with the facts, provided the motive was honorable. The motive in this case would be to keep Eve from raising hell and later regretting her lapse from grace. It had always been his policy to protect her from herself.
The mark on his jaw represented the only bad incident Hewey had encountered on his ride home from New Mexico. He did not consider the morning he had ridden Biscuit off into a snowdrift and had almost smothered them both. That had been a natural hazard, the kind of thing a man had to expect. What he had never been able to understand were human obstacles; they seemed so unnecessary.
He had ridden a little out of his way to pass through New Prosperity, a Panhandle railroad town, thinking he might find something there wetter than windmill water. It seemed natural enough to take a shortcut down a nice wide street where all the houses appeared to be owned by bankers and merchants because every one of them had two stories. Most were decorated by gables and bay windows, and by gingerbread and scallop trim that reminded him of a good brown-topped apple pie. The thought of having to live in one of those houses and take the responsibility for it would have scared him half to death, but they were pretty to look at. Damn few ranches and no cow camps at all had anything like that.
At a corner stood a man who hadn’t missed a meal since the winter of ’89. He waved his hand sharply and hollered at Hewey, “Hey, you! Come here!”
Hewey reined up in surprise and looked behind him, thinking the man might be shouting at somebody else. He had the street to himself. He sat there in the middle of it, wondering why anybody in this town could be mad at him. He had never been here before.
The man kept yelling, and Hewey kept sitting. Unlike Fat Gervin, who was big all over, this portly gentleman ran mainly to belly. When he tired of straining his voice he walked out toward Hewey, working tolerably hard at his short, choppy steps. The sun flickered off of a small badge on his black vest and called Hewey’s attention to the fact that he represented the full majesty of New Prosperity law.
“Cowboy, I told you to come here!”
“I am here.”
“What’s your name?”
Hewey had heard that tone of voice a right smart in the Army, while he was in the Cuba campaign. It was one reason he had not chosen to remain in the service. “Hewey Calloway.”
“This is a residential street, cowboy.”
Hewey nodded. “Yes sir, and a damn nice one too.”
“You’re on the wrong side of the tracks.”
“I was figurin’ to cross over, soon as I get to them.”
“Transients ain’t allowed on a residential street. The only people who use this street live here or have got business here. One look tells me you ain’t got no business here, Holloway.”
“The name don’t mean anything to me. You’re just another saddle tramp, and you’re ridin’ where you ain’t supposed to.”
Hewey’s face turned warm. “I ain’t never been no saddle tramp. I’ve got money in my pockets.”
“How much money?”
Hewey didn’t see that as anybody’s business. It was impolite to ask a man how much money he had or to volunteer how much you had. The latter was usually either a brag or a complaint, and nobody wanted to listen to it. Money was no yardstick of a man’s worth. Anyway, Hewey hated to admit how little was left to show for a cold winter’s work. He inflated it. “Fifty dollars, maybe.”
“Just about enough to pay a fine for trespass. You get off of this street right now, and I don’t mean in a walk, cowboy. I want you to run that horse.” The city marshal placed his hand on his gun butt to punctuate his order.
Hewey prided himself on tolerance, but there was a limit to all good things. He regretted the occasional necessity of giving one man authority over another because some people enjoyed that authority too much to be entrusted with it. They tended to be easily misled into a gross overappraisal of their importance. It seemed to him that when a man was too thick-headed and too low-down trifling to hold an honest job, he was usually able to find some other damn fool willing to hand him a measure of jurisdiction over the lives of his betters.
Hewey said, “I didn’t see no sign that said to keep off.”
“You see me!” By now the officer was swelled up like a toad at a water tank.
Hewey touched his spurs lightly to Biscuit’s sides and started moving in a walk, a very slow and defiant walk. He was afraid his hatband would split in two from the pressure his anger pushed against it.
He looked back. The officer had the pistol in his hand, pointing it at him. “I don’t let nobody smart-aleck with me. You get down off of that horse or I’ll shoot you off of him!”
The sight of the pistol brought a cold chill. But Hewey sat looking at the marshal a minute, the way he would look at a cull just before he cut it out of the herd. He swung his leg slowly over Biscuit’s rump and touched his right foot to the ground, making it a point not to hurry his compliance. While Hewey was still off balance with his left foot in the stirrup, the officer swung the pistol barrel at his head. Hewey dodged. The barrel struck him a glancing blow along his jaw and then hit hard on his shoulder. He saw a shower of bright lights.
It was the mark of a cowardly law to pistol-whip a man at the outset and eliminate any resistance. The marshal never had another chance. The move startled Biscuit. The horse lunged, striking the man with his heavy foreshoulder, sending him stumbling back. Hewey swung his fist with all the force he had. The man’s soft nose crushed like a cantaloupe. Hewey saw blood on his knuckles when he rubbed them and hoped it wasn’t his own. The officer lay flat on his back, spread-eagled with that big stomach sticking up like a washpot turned upside down. Hewey started to go off and leave him but thought of the pistol. The marshal could easily shoot him in the back as he rode away, and he might if he could clear his eyes. Hewey picked up the pistol and shoved it in his waistband.
He rubbed his jaw and then his shoulder, both aching from the blow. He said, “You’ve cost this town my business. I reckon I’ll save my money till I find me a friendlier burg.”
He doubted the officer heard him very clearly. It didn’t matter.
He made it a point to stay on the residential street and to ride in a slow walk until he passed over the tracks. He paused to pitch the pistol into a wooden water trough. He had never liked to carry one around. He kept Biscuit in a walk until he passed the last Mexican shack on the south side of town, then pushed him into a trot.
The swelling had gone down in the days that had passed, but some of the rawness remained. Hewey washed his jaw again in the dirty tank water.
* * *
Biscuit’s limp became worse as the afternoon wore on. Hewey carefully looked over his right forefoot two or three times, trying to find some physical sign of the trouble. More than anything else, probably, Biscuit needed a rest. Even at Hewey’s chosen leisurely pace it had been a wearisome trip down here from that cow camp where the two of them had spent the winter in the Sangre de Cristos. He knew that in most people’s sight he was probably working the whole thing backward, wintering in the New Mexico snow and summering in hot western Texas. But he had always drifted as the fancy struck him, and the long winter’s solitude had given him lots of time to think about his few kin. The urge to see them had grown beyond resistance.
About midafternoon he came upon a band of grazing sheep, scattered for half a mile up and down a wide draw where good moisture was bringing up the spring weeds. He was surprised to see the Two Cs paint-branded on their woolly backs. Old C. C. had always prefaced the word “sheep” with a couple or three pungent adjectives. But maybe the wool market had turned strong and the cow market had soured. To C. C, like lots of ranchers, nothing could be all bad if it paid a dividend.
Hewey hunted up the herder to auger a little. He was seldom in such a hurry that he wouldn’t take time to visit. But the herder was a ragged, graying old Mexican who didn’t seem to know three words of English. The only Spanish Hewey knew was a few cuss words, and those seemed inappropriate. Efforts at communication came largely to nought. The herder was too far from his tent camp to offer coffee, so Hewey didn’t stay.
Shortly afterward he saw a wagon moving to intersect his line of travel. He could see two men on its seat. They had a considerable load of goods in its bed. One of the men tilted his head back and took a long drink from a bottle just before Hewey came up even with him.
“Hey, Alvin!” Hewey shouted. “Alvin Lawdermilk!”
The wagon driver was a young Mexican whose growth had stopped at just a little more than five feet. He brought his four young Spanish mules to a stop. A couple of them fidgeted and stomped up dust, showing they were not yet well broken to the harness. Among other livestock, Alvin and his wife, Cora, raised mules. Their place had a reputation for being Western when raw mules were introduced to collars and hames. It was also known to get Western when Cora caught Alvin drinking. She seldom caught him.
Lawdermilk twisted his face and tried to bring Hewey into focus. Hewey heard him ask the Mexican, “Hooley, who is that?” When the Mexican answered, Lawdermilk shouted happily, “Hewey Calloway! I thought you’d wandered off the edge of the earth and fell to your doom.”
Lawdermilk tried to climb out of the wagon and almost fell to his own doom. The Mexican quickly caught his arm and pulled him back to safety, somehow getting him settled squarely onto the seat and grinning apologetically at Hewey.
Hewey said, “You better stay put, Alvin. That wagon is pretty bouncy.” It was standing still.
He rode up beside the left front wheel and pumped Alvin’s hand. He reached across to the Mexican. “Howdy, Hooley. I’m surprised you’re still puttin’ up with Alvin.” The Mexican’s name was Julio Valdez, the J pronounced like an English H. The Anglos had corrupted it. Hooley had a reputation as a great hand at breaking mules. Though short in stature, he was quick. Hewey respected other people’s proficiences, whatever they were.
Alvin Lawdermilk’s pudgy red face seemed always to be smiling, even when he was sleeping off a lost bout with a bottle. Hewey had never seen him really angry at anyone except his wife, and never in her case where she could see it. Alvin knew how to handle wild broncs, but Cora knew how to handle Alvin.
Alvin’s smile was exaggerated by false teeth that were too white and too perfectly shaped, pushing his upper lip out more than was natural. He said exuberantly, “Damn, Hewey, it’s good to see that ugly face of yours again, though I can’t say it improves with age. Where you come from?”
“New Mexico. Spent the winter hayin’ cows in the Sangre de Cristos.”
“Wonder you didn’t freeze your butt off.”
“I did. It’ll take me half the summer to thaw the ice out of my blood.”
“A wee drop of kindness will build a fire for you.” He handed Hewey the bottle. Hewey rubbed his hand across the mouth of it, for he knew Alvin to be a tobacco chewer. He had no objection to following somebody on a bottle, but secondhand tobacco juice took a broad mind. Alvin grinned in shared pleasure as he watched Hewey take a Texas-sized drink and wipe his wrinkled sleeve across his mouth. Alvin said, “What this old world needs is a lot more kindness.”
“Truer words was never spoke.” Hewey handed the bottle back, enjoying the warmth of the whisky making its slow way down to his stomach. “You ain’t buyin’ the cheap stuff.”
“When they tote me off in that big black wagon, I want it said that I died of the best.” Alvin passed the bottle to Julio, who took only a modest sip and handed it back. Somebody had to stay sober for the mules.
Hewey glanced at the goods stacked high in the wagon bed…flour, potatoes, Arbuckle coffee, a keg of steeples, several spools of barbed wire. Beneath the seat, where nothing could fall on it and cause grievous damage, was a new wooden case full of whisky bottles. “Looks like you went and supplied yourself for the summer.”
“Only the necessaries. You’ll never catch us Lawdermilks throwin’ good money away on things we don’t need. Waste not, want not.”
Hewey knew Cora Lawdermilk. She would inspect every item as it was unloaded, and woe unto all within hearing if anything came up short, or if she found anything on the wagon which she had not ordered or approved. The case of whisky would not be there when she checked the rest of the goods. Alvin would unload it in some safe place before he reached the house. Then, as the opportunities arose, he would carry the individual bottles to secret places for ready accessibility in time of need. There was not a windmill on the Lawdermilk ranch where Alvin did not have a bottle cached to help heal some inner misery, or to cut away the taste of gyp in the water. He kept one at his milking shed, two or three in the barn and one at the corner post of the field where he raised hegari and redtop cane as feed for his horses and mules, and where he trained the young ones to work. No emergency, anywhere on the ranch, ever caught him unprepared.
Yet, with it all he was a successful rancher as success was measured in this country. A successful rancher was one who had not been broke, lately. Though Alvin did not rival C. C. Tarpley and had no such ambition, he was no shirttail nester. If the sheriff came down his road it was to electioneer, not to post a notice of foreclosure.
Hewey said, “How’s my family, Alvin?”
Alvin stared at the bottle in his hand. Hewey got the quick impression that he was uncertain how to answer. Alvin said, “I see them two buttons every day, almost. They’ve growed like weeds.”
Hewey waited until he decided that was all Alvin was going to tell him. “I had a visit with C. C. He talked like Walter is in trouble.”
Alvin looked out across the pasture, framing his words with care. He looked sober, all of a sudden. “C. C. give you any details?”
“Just said there’s money trouble.”
“I reckon that’s so.”
“Is Walter fixin’ to lose his place?”
Alvin didn’t answer, not directly. “Hewey, I’m concerned about him. Walter labors from lantern light to lantern light. You got to tell him he’s workin’ too hard. Each man to his own way of dyin’, but I’d hate to think mine was to be from overwork.”
Hewey felt increasingly uneasy. It was Eve’s doing, sure as anything. She was always pushing for better than she had. Times, just for a minute or two, Hewey would get to thinking Walter might have been better off if he had never met her. But then, he wouldn’t have had those boys.
Alvin said, “A woman has got a right to a certain amount of ambition, but not to excess. A man ought to keep her under control, like I do with my Cora. I don’t do nothin’ on my place unless I want to.”
Julio looked quickly away, studying the flight of a scissortail; its presence meant spring had come for sure.
Hewey’s conscience began to stir. He should have written, should have kept the family posted so they could write and tell him if anything was wrong. It was something he had always intended to do, but writing a letter was harder work for him than breaking a bronc or digging a string of postholes. His formal schooling had stopped just shy of the last pages in McGuffey’s third reader.
His rump was prickling now in his anxiety to go. “Alvin…Hooley…it was sure nice runnin’ into you-all. I reckon I better be seein’ about the family.”
Alvin said eagerly, “You lookin’ for a job, Hewey? There’s a right smart more work over at our place than we’ve been able to get done. If you take it in mind to light someplace awhile, we’d be tickled to have you.” Alvin extended the bottle again. “Better have one more. It’ll make the country look greener.”
Hewey shook his head. “One’s enough, I reckon. Eve’ll smell it on my breath. She don’t hold with drinkin’.”
“Neither does my Cora. Ain’t nothin’ like a righteous woman to drive a man to sin.” Alvin reached into his shirt pocket and brought out a plug of tobacco, only a little of it bitten off. He took a pocketknife and carved a generous slice, holding it toward Hewey. “Take a chaw of this just before you get there. It’ll kill the scent. Even if it don’t, the sight of a little tobacco juice runnin’ down the chin will keep a woman at a distance; she won’t smell the whisky.”
Hewey had no intention of chewing the tobacco, but he accepted it as hospitality freely offered. He also accepted one more drink from the bottle. He said, “You watch Hooley now, Alvin. Don’t you let him drink too much.”
The little Mexican smiled and flipped the reins. As the wagon pulled away, Alvin turned in the seat and shouted back, “Bunch of us will be over tomorrow and help Walter raise a windmill. I’ll want to visit with you and hear all your yarns. Ain’t many of us poor devils ever gets to travel all over the world.”
The words soon became unintelligible, but Alvin kept shouting back, and Hewey kept nodding as if he understood and agreed. He watched the wagon lumber on down the trail toward the Lawdermilk place, thin gray dust drifting off and settling slowly on the grass standing shin-high and green from the spring rains. It didn’t take a trail long to dry out. Hewey touched a spur gently to Biscuit’s side. “Come on, old friend, we still got a ways to go.”
* * *
The prickling came back as he picked up landmarks that told him he was nearing Walter’s land. He stared at a small flat-topped hill with an abrupt rimrock edge running along its north face. People here called it a mountain, which in a strictly local and relative sense it might be. But Hewey had seen real mountains, so I he regarded this as simply a hill. Beneath it was a dry, I water-hollowed place that appeared to be a wet-weather spring, though he had never been here in a time wet enough to see it run. Indians had camped here. Many times Hewey had come with Walter’s two boys to help them hunt for arrowheads. They had * probably collected a bucketful. To the boys these were a treasure left from a mysterious time they had never known. Hewey had seen Indians in the Territory and up in the mountain states. To him they were not mysterious or remote; they were real.
He edged Biscuit across the old campsite and leaned low in the saddle, watching the ground. It would tickle the boys if he brought them a couple of good points. But if any arrowheads were left, the new grass was hiding them.
He came presently to a fence and reined up, surprised. He knew this was more or less the boundary of Walter’s four sections, but the last time he had been here Walter hadn’t yet accumulated the money or the credit to put a fence around it and keep C. C.’s cows from helping themselves to the grass, crowding Walter’s own little herd. The fence had only three strands of barbed wire, still shiny from the factory, not yet dulled or rusted from standing exposed to winter blizzard and summer sun. Three strands were the mark of a nester, poor as a whippoorwill. A real rancher like C. C. would put up four wires. Anything less was unprofessional and farmer-looking.
Cedar posts were best for fencing; they lasted longer. They cost money, though, and had to be freighted in by wagon from the hill country south and east of here. Mesquite posts would not stand as long, but a man could chop them himself, close to home. They cost him only his time and sweat. These posts were all mesquite. Hewey knew how Walter had spent the winter.
He started down the fence, looking for a gate or a drop-gap.
Until recent years this gently rolling rangeland had been a haven for massive herds of buffalo driven south each fall and winter by the chill winds howling across the high and open plains. They could find shelter here in the scattered stands of mesquite which fringed the wide draws and wet-weather creeks, and on the lee sides of the little bluffs and breaks which marked the southernmost fringe of the great caprock. As recently as thirty years ago the plains Indians had roamed here, following the buffalo, hunting the deer but settling sometimes for rabbits and rattlesnakes when times were lean.
Much of this land was unsuited to cultivation, and the man who sank a plowpoint into the sod would have ample cause to regret it. Yet there were wide deep-soil flats which could be farmed if a man had patience enough, and faith. The average rainfall was less than twenty inches a year, and the actual amount in a given year could be far, far less than that. The ranchers, already here, made it a point to tell every prospective land seeker about those worst years if they could find a way to reach him in time. The town promoters and boomers told him only of the best years, those infrequent periods when rains were generous and corn made heads bigger around than a man’s fist, kernels as big as cats’ eyes.
Given any chance, this virgin land usually made big crops the first time or two, using up nutrients stored by the grass roots for thousands of years. Few people had farmed here long enough yet to know how poorly the land might yield when it became tired of bearing crops Nature had not intended.
Because of its shortcomings, this region had been among the last to draw the farmers and small settlers. It was among the last large stretches of state-owned land that Texas had taken out of grass lease and had thrown open for homesteads of up to four sections—twenty-five hundred acres—per claimant, to be lived on and proved up in three years. Texas was more generous in its homestead programs than the federal government had been in other western states, possibly because its legislators lived nearer to the land involved and realized its limitations. They knew a man could starve to death in a year on a hundred and sixty acres. On four sections it took longer.
Hewey found a wire gate half a mile from the point where he had struck the fence. He dismounted and led Biscuit through, flinching as he touched the sharp barbs. Though it belonged to his brother, the fence stirred a latent resentment in his free-roaming spirit. This great open land had given him a kinship of sorts to the nomadic Indian. He could remember when a horseman might ride two or three hundred miles and never encounter a barbed-wire fence. Now he was lucky to travel twenty without having to look for a gate or to pull steeples out of the posts and push down the wires to cross over.
He recognized the fence as a necessity for the small settler’s survival, but it was not a thing he could accept without regret at the passing of a freer and more open time. A fence—any way you looked at it—was an obstacle. It shut you out or it shut you in.
He rode down a familiar wagon road, his heartbeat quickening. He had been here when Walter had taken up this little piece of land. Though Hewey had no liking for a plow, he had helped Walter break out his first field and build the small, ugly-plain frame house that would meet the legal requirements of the state and the shelter requirements of a wife and two sons. Walter had wanted a few cattle; that was the cowboy in him. Hewey had gone east to San Angelo and had bought him thirty cows of the upgraded type, the red body and white face of the Hereford blood showing stronger than the stubborn lean base of Longhorn. Three of the cows had calves on the trail; by the time they had reached here Walter owned more cattle than he had paid for. That had pleased Eve. She had an instinct for acquisition.
Walter had tried at the time to persuade Hewey to take up a homestead for himself. The temptation had been strong—for a couple of days. But Hewey contended that land ownership worked two ways. A man might own the land, but the land also owned him. Anyway, he had told himself, the state of Texas held all the best cards. It was betting a man a piddling parcel of land against three good years of his life, and the odds were against the man. Hewey had no wish to be tied to one place so small that a horse would hardly break a sweat loping across it in trade for his freedom of the whole West from the Rio Grande to the Canadian border.
All Walter owned was this one little piece of land. Hewey owned it all.
He came presently to the edge of the field and noted that it stretched farther than he remembered. Walter had added to it gradually until it took up just about all the deep soil that promised an affinity to the plow, and also some that didn’t. It was farmer nature, Hewey thought, to overreach oneself.
Walter had not been a farmer by inclination. Necessity had forced him to it, necessity and a woman. In his growing years Walter had been much like Hewey, a cowboy at heart, unfettered of spirit, ready to ride anywhere he had not already been, ready to try anything he had not already tried. Motherless, they had roamed with their restless father through the years of their boyhood while the elder Calloway sought in vain for an ideal land that existed only in his mind. When Hewey was fifteen and Walter barely fourteen, they had buried their father on a grassy Kansas upland above a river where he had waited with other “boomers” for the anticipated opening of the Indian lands across the deadline in Oklahoma. This was to have been the last great bonanza. But two underage boys were not eligible to try their luck in the big land run, so they had moved on. They had worked steers for Texas cattlemen leasing grass from the Osages and the Cherokees, then moved back across Red River into the land of their beginnings, searching vainly for roots hopelessly lost during their wandering years. The place of their birth had been taken up by strangers. Whatever kin they might have had was gone, scattered like tumbleweeds in a long winter wind. So they went drifting as their father had drifted, never knowing truly what they searched for, or how they would recognize it if they found it.
Walter, at least, had been able to compromise. When he married Eve, the daughter of a poor San Saba County farmer, he had tried awhile to continue the footloose ways of former years. But Eve had a strong instinct for the nest. She had pressured Walter to light in one place, old C. C. Tarpley’s ranch. She had seen to it that Walter stuck to one job while Hewey was working at a dozen. She had made Walter smoke little, drink nothing, wear boots twice resoled and clothes that had patches on the patches. She had seen to it that Walter saved every possible dollar, while Hewey was spending his much easier than they had come.
When parts of this land were finally taken from the grass-lease ranchers like C. C. and thrown open for claiming, Eve’s time of fulfillment had arrived. Walter was at the head of the pushing, shoving, shouting line of men scuffling at the front door of the county courthouse. Hewey had hunkered with his back to the white picket fence on the courthouse square, ready to go to his brother’s aid if any of the toughs and the hungry and the desperate tried to throw him out of his place in the line. But Hewey had not the slightest inclination to join that line himself. He found something offensive and dehumanizing in the system, something that robbed a man of pride and dignity, pitting friends against each other, bringing ugliness and greed and violence rising to the top like sour cream on spoiled milk.
Many of the men who homesteaded these places were cowboys for the big outfits and tacitly agreed that when they had finished living out their claims they would sell them to the ranches they worked for. C. C. Tarpley had expected all along that he would get Walter’s parcel and put it back into his original holdings for perhaps the price of a good horse and a new R. T. Frazier saddle. But he had reckoned without Eve. Anything she once acquired, all hell would not prize from her grip.
Across the field Hewey could see two teams, each pulling a walking plow. It was too far to recognize the plowmen, but one would almost certainly be Walter. The other was probably one of his boys unless Walter had become flush enough to hire help. Hewey doubted that. Hiring help was wasteful if you could do the job yourself, Eve always said. Eve always said a lot.
Hewey rode down the field fence until he came to the corner gate. He found it open, marked by fresh tracks of the teams moving in and out. This early in the season the field held nothing for the cows to get into and ruin. Hewey rode up the turnrows a way, then dismounted, squatted on his gal-leg spurs and rolled himself a cigarette while he waited. He had no intention of riding or walking across that newly plowed, violated ground.
He watched a black dog following behind one of the plows, waiting to catch a rabbit or chase after a ground squirrel if one was scared up. As the plow neared, the dog trotted around it and hurried out in front, barking a challenge at Hewey.
Hewey had time to finish his cigarette before the plow hand began to shout at him. “Uncle Hewey! Uncle Hewey!”
A young boy reached the turnrow and reined the team to a stop; the two gray mules had no objection. He tipped the plow over on one side and ran across the plowed earth, the dog beside him, barking. When the boy reached the grass he shouted joyously and threw his arms around Hewey, hugging him with a surprising strength. Hewey danced, swinging the lad off his feet. Biscuit took a couple of steps backward, startled at the exuberance. The black dog kept barking, afraid Hewey was hurting the boy, but it took no other action.
“I’ll swun, Cotton,” Hewey exclaimed, “you’ve growed a foot.”
“I’m not Cotton. I’m Tommy.”
Hewey held the boy away at arm’s length and took a long look. “You are Tommy. Boy howdy, you’ve growed two feet. They been feedin’ you Tarpley beef?”
“You just been gone a long time.”
“I didn’t realize how long.”
“We missed you, Uncle Hewey. Have you come home to stay?”
Hewey had no honest answer. “Maybe awhile. We’ll see.” A thought struck him. “How come you’re not in school?”
“This is Saturday.”
“Saturday?” Hewey blinked, trying to calculate. “Funny, I thought it was Wednesday.” He stared at Tommy, and the boy stared back at him until the two broke out laughing again for no good reason either could have named.
Tommy said, “We got us a fishin’ hole now, Uncle Hewey. I’ll take you there. We’ll catch us a perch.”
Hewey nodded, still not able to accept how much the boy had grown. “If you’re this big, how big is Cotton?”
“About grown. He’s comin’ on sixteen, you know.”
Sixteen. Hewey knew it, yet he could not quite accept it, either. It didn’t seem possible that so many years had drifted by so quickly. “You’re almost a man yourself, Tommy. Couple more years…Which one of you is the best cowboy, you or Cotton? Tell me the truth now.”
“I am. All Cotton wants to do is build things and tinker around with tools and wrenches all the time.”
Hewey kept grinning. “I was thinkin’ maybe when school is out I might take you two buttons with me and find us a cowboyin’ job for the summer out west of the Pecos. Good chance for you-all to see a little country.” Tommy’s blue eyes flashed in quick pleasure. But his smile faded as he thought about it. “Mama and Daddy will need us. We’ve got more land to take care of now.”
Hewey didn’t know whether to be glad for them or to sympathize. “How’d that happen?”
“Grat French finished provin’ up his four sections that adjoined us. Mr. C. C. tried to buy the place, but Mr. French was peeved at him and didn’t want him to have it. He offered it to Daddy and Mama instead. They took out a mortgage on everything we own. Except maybe my dog.”
Hewey let a slow dry whistle pass between his teeth. “I’ll bet old C. C. busted a gut.”
“No, it was him and his bank that loaned us the money. Mama says he wanted the French land and ours too, and he figured this way he would wind up gettin’ them both. She says we’re goin’ to fool old Mr. C. C.” Tommy frowned. “But I don’t know. Last year we come up shy on the crops, and the cattle market was kind of poor on our yearlin’s.”
Hewey saw worry in Tommy’s eyes. It wasn’t right, he thought, for a fourteen-year-old boy to carry a burden like this. “Well, it’s just a piece of land,” he said, trying to make the best of it. “There’s land everywhere, most of it better than this.”
“But this is our land. This is home.”
He stared at the boy, looking at those features that marked him as a Calloway. But Tommy was Eve’s son, too, and that was a side of him Hewey would never fully understand.
Land. It was a pleasant thing to ride across but a demanding thing to own. So now Walter and Eve owned eight sections of it and stood a considerable chance of losing it all. Maybe in the long run it was just as well. It would probably cost eighty years of hard labor, first for them, then for their kids and eventually for their grandchildren. Chances were that in the end none would ever feel any richer than Hewey had felt all his life.
But it bothered him, thinking that after all their planning and all their work it might fall into the open hands of C. C. Tarpley like a ripe peach falls from the tree to be grabbed up by an orchard boar. Other land-hungry men had used more direct methods; they had burned out fields and barns, run off homesteaders’ cattle, even killed. C. C.’s brand of avarice ran in a subtler vein, infinitely more patient.
Hewey frowned, watching his brother working his way across the field with his plow, a mismatched horse team laboring to break new rows in the damp and grudging earth. He pondered darkly on how a man is brought down from being a hawk in flight to a slave in chains.
This was a long way from the Osage.
Copyright © 1978, 1985 by Elmer Kelton