“It has been difficult to get the plowing done and I still have cucumbers, green beans, potatoes, pumpkins and sweet potatoes to plant. Then the corn needs doing, and it’s the biggest job. I still have to plow before I can do that.”
He squatted on the edge of the porch, listening to Missus Lassiter. His muscles ached with all he and Mark had done the past few days. He didn’t mind hard work. It felt good to do something besides set in a saddle and study the horizon.
She seemed to be talking mostly to herself while he sharpened the ax for the second time. She handed him a cup of fresh coffee, and he took a sip as he listened to her. She seemed happy enough to have him here after Malone had suggested it. He needed to find the balance between pleasing Ms. Aileen and Malone and his own desires. He didn’t want to take orders, but the rancher was apparently part of the package if he was going to stay.
Listening to her, he was beginning to get a feel for how much work there was. It made him wonder how she had done so much on her own. Even with her boy around, it must have been too much. It seemed Malone had been stepping in for some time, sending his brother to fill in the gap. She never stopped moving, though. Moving from one job to another, methodical, as she did her morning chores, made lunch, cleaned her kitchen, swept her floor and then weeded the garden, gathered firewood and worked the flowers. He watched her carefully, trying to get a feel for her schedule, anticipate her next move and be there when she needed a tool or to step in to do some heavy lifting.
He handed the cup back to her, ready to get to work. He didn’t wait for her to tell him what needed doing, didn’t wait for help.
“You don’t waste time, do you? Mark will be over shortly, I am sure.”
Tyree shrugged. “Just steady. I ain’t fast. I can cut wood and rebuild the fence. I reckon there’ll still be plenty needs doing when Mark gets here.”
He set to work on the smaller limbs, dragging them into a big pile till he reached the bole of the tree. He got into a rhythm of swinging the ax, soon peeling off his shirt, laying it over his gun belt on the corral poles. The woman brought him a glass of tea once, standing to watch him cut into the tree.
“There’s a lot of work here,” he said.
“I don’t have anything to pay you. I don’t have that kind of money.”
“I don’t need much. I can hunt, bring in wild game. I know how to trap and forage. Really, I don’t need much at all.”
“My Davy did that as well, from the time he was very young, Mister Allison. He trapped, hunted, foraged from the time he was four or five.”
“Call me Tyree. It’s my name.”
“It’s Tyree Allison, isn’t it?”
“It’s Tyree. I don’t have a last name, I have borrowed a few.”
“You don’t have a last name?”
“I just been Tyree long as I remember.”
There were questions in her eyes, but he let her draw her own conclusions.
He tried to anticipate her needs and wants. Tried to avoid reminding her of her losses. Be what she needs.
He watched her working her flowers along the porch.
“I found these down along the crick,” he said handing her a clump of wildflowers, roots intact, to plant alongside her daisies. Later it was wild medicinals for her kitchen garden. Her expression told him she recognized his intentions. He was subtly bargaining for more than a job, and she understood that.
“We can make the garden a few rows wider if we can keep this weeded.”
We, she had said, and he took pleasure in the small win.
Mark showed up after lunch each day for a few weeks. It irked him that Mark threw an arm around Ms. Aileen and gave her a peck on the cheek. She treated the Malone’s like family. She chattered at Mark, enjoying his company, welcome and open with him.
“We should take off and go fishing,” Mark suggested, wiping damp strawberry blond hair from his freckled face. He seemed intent on being friends. He made jokes, apparently disappointed when Tyree didn’t laugh at them. Tyree showed no interest in Mark other than work. He saw Mark gaze toward the small graveyard, reading the pain there in his gray-green eyes.
“I got no time for that. I want to get this done first. ‘Sides I got other stuff needs doin’.” He had promised Malachi he’d drop by later, to help brand some horses. “I found some spring traps in the barn. I been cleaning them up. I can make some money with those.”
“Yeah, those were Davy’s. He had them down along the creek. I collected them and brought them home after… Want me to help with them?”
“No. I got it. Fact, I can get this pole up by myself. You can go on fishing if you want. Thanks for your help.”
Mark stood up frowning. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say you don’t like me much. You hardly ever talk about nothing besides work.”
“You do enough talking for both of us,” Tyree said mildly.
“I see.” Mark seemed stung by the dismissal. “I really thought we were going to be friends.”
“I ain’t got nothing against you,” Tyree told him truthfully. “I just wasn’t … I ain’t here for friends.”
“Why are you here?”
“A job. I need money for supplies. I need a new coat and boots and my horse needs re-shod. I ain’t got time to play. Don’t you have no friends?”
“I got friends,” Mark said as he stomped away.
If Mark had taken what he’d said to heart, he seemed to get over it quickly enough. He was back helping with chores, talking breathlessly about hunting, fishing, guns, knives, horses, places he wanted to go. He had come over with his brother this time. He reckoned Malone was courting Ms. Aileen, which was a further irritation. It meant Malone had more than a little interest in the farm, he had plans for it.
Tyree was dragging more limbs up to the woodpile to cut them down into kindling. Mark lifted the other end and helped. Mark talked nonstop.
“You ever been to Denver? My oldest brother, Donovan, lives in Denver. He’s a lawyer. I been to visit him a couple of times. My sister is down there now. He has a little farm, not as big as this, just a garden mostly and a few horses. I’d always wanted to go to California but Joel stays on my ass so much I can’t go nowhere. You been to Cheyenne? I want to go to the rodeo there, Fourth of July celebration is in a couple of weeks. I tried to talk Joel into letting me go to Cheyenne, but he said I’d get scalped by renegades going out there by myself.”
Tyree chewed on a long piece of bluestem, picking at his teeth with it, as he studied the blond. Mark’s freckles were darker in the sun, his face tanned, his eyes fairly danced with light. He was muscular, holding thirty pounds more than Tyree, being almost a head taller. He wore a brown gun belt, stamped with curling designs, and carried an older model Colt. He kept talking until Tyree wondered when he was going to take a breath.
“Well, have you?”
“Have I what?”
“Been to Denver or Cheyenne?”
Tyree shook his head. “You jaw more’n anyone I ever run acrost. I kinda lost track of what you was saying. I been to Cheyenne a few times, long time ago. Used to make summer camp around there.”
“Where else you been? Mexico, California?”
“Never made it that far.”
“We should go to Cheyenne sometime. I been wanting to go there, see what a real town is like. I hear they have an opera house. That’d be something.”
Where was Mark getting the idea he wanted to go anywhere with him? Was he that desperate for companionship? He admitted to himself that he had wanted companionship as well, but Mark was… not the same as him. He was soft, he was civilized and the things Tyree would have liked to share with someone, Mark wasn’t going to understand. “It’s a long trip. Lot can happen in that country. Renegades, Indian and white alike… like your brother said.”
“You went, you didn’t get scalped.”
“I’ve seen it happen, though. And I ain’t no greener.”
Mark reached out and flipped at Tyree’s hair. “I guess you got more to lose than me.”
Tyree’s eyes narrowed. “Don’t put your hands on me.”
Mark snorted and bumped his shoulder. “Don’t get all…”
Tyree put his elbow into Mark’s chest. Hard. It would leave a bruise. Mark let out a yelp and backed off, “What is your problem?”
“I don’t have a problem. I said don’t put your hands on me.”
“I was just playing.”
“Playing with me will get you hurt.” Tyree was braced for whatever Mark might try next. Or at least he thought he was. Mark didn’t seem inclined to fight. He just appeared confused, wounded and curious.
Mark stared after him as he stalked off across the yard. “You little saddle tramp, I challenge you to a duel. Choose your weapon.”
Tyree turned around. Mark held a rooster feather like a sword, in a stance a fencer might take. Tyree was confused, then amused at the childish gesture. It was difficult not to laugh.
“To the death, I must fight for my honor,” Mark said with a smirk.
Tyree put his tongue in his cheek, trying not to grin. There was no animosity in the other boy, only a good-natured desire to play.
“Dang toad. I’ll shred that feather and feed it to you.”
“Put em up or stop bragging.” Mark charged toward him and poked him with the feather, then rubbed the feather under his nose. Tyree snatched the feather out of his hand, and hooked a boot behind Mark’s leg, shoving him backward. Mark landed hard on his ass and Tyree waited for him to get up, sure he’d come up angry. But he didn’t and Tyree was surprised. Mark rolled to his feet.
“Get ready to eat your feather, you worm riddled varmint,” he yelled and dove at Tyree. Tyree sidestepped him but understanding that this was just a game to the other boy, he threw him off, and when Mark dove at him again he tackled him to the ground in mild annoyance.
All the yelling brought Ms. Aileen and Malone out on the porch.
“Little shits just rolled over the cabbage plants,”Malone exclaimed.
“And there go my daffodils.” Ms. Aileen said as Mark got Tyree face down next to the porch. Tyree twisted under Mark and hooked a knee around him, sliding his arm under Mark’s throat. He had a handful of dirt he tried to shove into Mark’s face.
“They are destroying my flowers,” Ms. Aileen said in exasperation. Presently she poked Malone, and looked amused when she handed him a bucket of water. Tyree tried to roll away from it. They both came up spitting and sputtering.
Tyree jumped up and wiped his face, taking a shove at Mark, his temper flaring at his wet clothes.
“Greasy possum, you need your brother to help you win,” he snorted as he went off a piece and rolled a smoke. Mark came to him and reached for the tobacco pouch. Tyree slapped his hand away.
“What the hell? I spose you think we’re friends now,” Tyree growled.
Mark snickered. “You got a piece of feather on your lip.” Sitting down next to him. “You’re pretty quick for a wormy little kid.”
Wormy little kid?
Tyree lit the cigarette and sucked at it. Mark patiently waited, and Tyree shrugged and handed the cigarette to him. He pulled out his gun and carefully wiped dirt off it with his bandanna.
“Nice gun. Schofield. Model 3. I collect guns. Five and half inch barrel, I have one with a seven and a half inch barrel.”
Tyree spun the cylinder under his thumb and returned it to the holster. Mark pulled his Nickel plated Remington from his holster, intent on showing the new weapon to Tyree. A sneer turned up the corner of Tyree’s mouth as he got up and walked away. Showoff greenhorn.