All Rights Reserved ©


The kitchen garden was a large plot, three-hundred square feet of black soil. It was plowed and half planted. Ms. Aileen led the mule out of the corral and started for the field. He followed her.

“I ain’t ever plowed a field but I can learn,” he said. He pulled the plow blade from the ground and helped her hitch up the mule. “I’ll dig out that corner down there and drain it away from the field,” Tyree told her. He pointed out where a rain puddle stood in the lower part of the field.

“Joel says to plow it down toward the creek, make a ditch around the base of that hill.” Ms. Aileen said, absently.

“Or just get a shovel and dig a ditch.” he told her. She narrowed her eyes at him.

“If you get around to that before you leave,” she nodded.

“I reckon you still don’t want me here,” he sighed his disappointment. Well, if that was how it was, there wasn’t much to do. Wish in one hand, spit in the other.

“It isn’t that. I just don’t have the means to pay you. Davy did what needed doing. I never planned to have a hired hand.”

“I’d like to learn some things. One day I hope to have a place like this.” He stopped himself before all his dreams spilled out. She didn’t need to hear what he wanted. She needed to tell him what she wanted.

“We plowed two months ago, and I have struggled to plant since then. All my energy just.. I don’t know.. I couldn’t do much of anything. It has been hard just to plant this. This is big enough to get three people through the winter, a little more than I need now that it’s just me but old habits die hard so now I sell the extra in town.”

“Tell me what to do. We’ll get it planted.”

“I have it all planned out. I start with that side, and plant what gets harvested first, and work my way down to here. There’s a root cellar behind the house and the smoke house. I have a rack behind that where I hang the stuff to be dried. I dry herbs and sell them in town; eggs, extra vegetables and pies. I make enough to get by.”

Plowing a field didn’t seem so hard. Tyree hitched up the mule to the plow, sure it wasn’t harder than keeping the mule moving, and heading toward the other end of the field. He had great confidence that once he got the mule moving, he could do the job without any problem. He enjoyed accomplishing this without direction.

Ms. Aileen had left him there, either going off with Malone somewhere or gone berry picking. She had mentioned something about pies. His shirt was soggy with sweat, and he peeled it off, dropping it on the ground. His hair was stuck to his back, and hanging in his face, and he took a minute to retie the rawhide cord that wrapped it. He got to the other end of the field and turned to see Ms. Aileen and Malone standing looking down the field. Both of them laughing and shaking their heads. Tyree didn’t know what was so damn funny. He walked over to them and scanned the field. The rows he had cut were wobbled across the field, no more straight than the track of a sidewinder. Tyree frowned and shook his head.

“I guess you haven’t done this before,” she chuckled.

“I told you to keep the liquor out of his reach,” Malone said with a grin.

Aileen chuckled. “He said he wasn’t a farmer.”

“I reckon not.”

“What sort of work did you do before you came here, Mister Allison?” Malone asked, his face serious.

“I worked for some ranchers down in the Texas panhandle. Chasing off rustlers, and squatters.”

It was all a lie. But he needed Malone to believe he was able to handle himself. Clem was the one who hired out his gun to the highest bidder. So he’d just borrowed some of Clem’s reputation. He’d never worked for any ranchers. He’d stolen from them though.

“Ranch hand? What made you decide to take up farming instead?”

“Sort of accidental, I reckon,” he said, “Just happened by at the right time.”

“I’m going to put some cornbread together. Stew is ready. I’ll put coffee on,” Ms. Aileen said. With that, she walked off toward the house. She stopped and turned back around. “Show him how to cut a straight row Joel.”

“So, Mr. Tyree, I take it you didn’t cotton to Texas and pushing steers around.”

“I like Texas fine. I just missed the territories. I lived up here before it was a state. I know the country pretty well. I wasn’t pushing cows around, I hate cows, too damn stupid. I like working with horses. At least they will work with you.”

Malone seemed to think about that, his eyes squinting, his lips pressed together. “I don’t quite understand. You were riding for a ranch chasing rustlers, and yet you weren’t riding fence and babysitting steers?”

“I worked for some ranchers. Hunted down rustlers and the like.”

Malone was quiet for a long minute, considering what Tyree had said.

“It sounds like you were a hired gun,” Malone’s eyes darkened as his brows knit together. “That’s not what you meant, is it? You’re awful young for that. Dangerous.”

He wanted Malone to know he could be dangerous. Tyree had been around a lot of rough men. Sometimes just knowing a fellow was willing and able to fight saved him having to do so. Sometimes it got him a little respect. He wasn’t used to being bossed around, he wanted Malone to know that. He wasn’t taking orders. Not from Ms. Aileen, not from Malone.

“I reckon I was old enough. I did it for two years. It was good money but – got tired of it. Why I come up here.”

“I see,” Malone said, “so you decided to learn to farm. That makes sense.”

He shrugged. He got the mule turned around and looked down the field. He wasn’t sure how he would get those rows straight, but he was determined to do so, especially with Malone watching.

“Go fetch a stick of some sort. You need to make a target to aim at. I’m guessing you understand that concept,” Malone said, unsmiling. Tyree felt the disgust in his words.

“Sumbitch is going to piss me right the hell off. Go fetch a stick, what am I, his goddamn dog?” He muttered under his breath. He walked around to the woodpile and found something for a stake and whittled down the end to a point.

He ought to get on that buckskin mule and head on out. This wasn’t part of his plan. He took a deep breath and blew off his anger. This was a new game, and he wasn’t real sure how to play it. He should just play along until the rules were clear.

“Carry it down there, and poke it in the ground where you want the row to end.”

Malone was accustomed to ordering people around. He did it to Mark, he had seen that. Malone would soon learn he was not Mark.

Tyree lined up the plow with the stick, and headed straight for it, geeing and hawing the mule until they reached the end. He moved the stick to the next position. He was pleased that the rows were much straighter than before. The muscles in his thighs ached so bad he could hardly walk. He unhitched the mule, and threw himself on its back, riding it back to the barn. There were long pegs on the walls on which to hang the harness and other tack. He took the time to put things away properly. He was dragging his steps as he crossed the porch. If he hadn’t been so hungry he would have sacked out on his bunk, and taken a nap instead.

Malone was leaned back in his chair laughing easily with Ms. Aileen. He obviously was at home here. He watched Tyree with a slight frown on his face. Tyree thought it was likely he didn’t appreciate that Tyree just walked in without knocking. He didn’t like it either when Tyree walked over to the stove, and poured himself a cup of coffee. Malone watched him as he straddled a chair, and stabbed his fork into a slice of ham. He ate without waiting, even as Ms. Aileen offered thanks for the meal. The muscles along Malone’s jaw worked, and Tyree saw his eyes harden. Tyree was enjoying wiping the grin off the big man’s face.

“You used to just helping yourself, boy? And don’t you know to take off your hat in a lady’s house? Did you even bother washing your hands?” Malone asked him.

Tyree locked eyes with the man for a minute, and caught the reddening of Ms. Aileen’s cheeks. He pushed his hat to his back, and laid down his fork. He hadn’t expected Malone to take it on himself to call him on his manners. He had miscalculated how comfortable Malone was here. He was caught somewhere between embarrassment and indignation.

“I washed my hands,” he growled. “I don’t know what wearing a hat has to do with lady folk.”

“Where were you raised, in a barnyard?”

“Saloons and whorehouses with vermin and the like,” Tyree said quietly, feeling smug. Malone glared at him. He wasn’t sure what to expect when Malone stood up, and motioned him outside. Tyree sent a glance to Ms. Aileen, but she was no help. He got up, and stepped out on the porch, and Malone pulled the door shut.

“What was that?” Malone asked, his face red. Tyree took an involuntary step back, his mouth going dry. Damn he’s big.

“What’s your meaning?”

“If you don’t have proper table manners, perhaps you should eat out here. I’ll bring you your bowl. And that vulgar mouth of yours!”

“You think you can tell me wha –”

Malone interrupted. “Son, don’t try me. I can wash your mouth out with soap if I need to, or wear you out with a razor strop. You ask Mark if I can or not.” Malone gave that a minute to sink in.

“You show some manners, you take that hat off when you enter a lady’s house, you seat yourself, and wait to be served, you keep your paws off the table till grace is offered. Now you think you can conduct yourself appropriately? If so, go eat your dinner.” Malone shut the door behind him, leaving Tyree to consider.

Tyree strode off across the yard, walking down to the creek, like a whipped dog going off to lick its wounds.

He avoided Ms. Aileen the remainder of the day. He hurried to feed the stock before she came to milk, and slipped away to himself.

He heard the crush of leaves when Mark came to find him. He leaned against a tree along the creek, staying quiet as the boy called to him. Coming to the back of the barn he watched Malone, his brother and Ms. Aileen leave in the buckboard.

Continue Reading Next Chapter

About Us

Inkitt is the world’s first reader-powered publisher, providing a platform to discover hidden talents and turn them into globally successful authors. Write captivating stories, read enchanting novels, and we’ll publish the books our readers love most on our sister app, GALATEA and other formats.