This is the thirtieth part of a fiction serial, in 820 words.
Not long after Sophia’s second birthday, we had new lawmen in town who were finally getting on top of the trouble. James Earp had been joined by his younger brother, Wyatt. Both were working for Marshal Meagher, and dealt out punishments there and then, usually with the butt of a pistol. Some complained that they were too harsh, but those cowboys soon learned to fear them, especially the hot-headed Wyatt.
On the homestead, life was still good. We had more pigs by then, and Walter seemed to have a way with them, as well as the crops. Little Sophia stuck by her mama most of the time, and loved to be around the animals, or out in the field. Mary had got us some chickens for fresh eggs, and my little girl liked to feed them too.
There had been no more babies. Susan told me she was sorry about that, but I told her not to mind. I was a happy man just how things were.
It was a Sunday when the men rode in. Susan was in the house making dinner, and daddy and Henry were sitting outside their cabin enjoying the warm light evening. We saw the dust approaching from the trail, and I got a bad feeling. I looked across at daddy, and he nodded. So I went inside and got the Henry rifle, as well as daddy’s pistol.
I counted six of them, dusty-looking cowboys on sweaty horses. Some had red sashes around their waists, something I had seen before in Wichita. The leading rider got off his horse, and walked up to me, smiling. “You Phineas Fuller, Jessie’s boy?” I nodded and pointed at daddy in his chair. “And that’s my daddy”. Henry stood up and went inside, then Walter walked around front carrying an empty pail that had contained the pig food.
“Alright if we water the horses, Phineas? I nodded and pointed at the pump. “Maybe your negra could fill that pail for me?” Walter dropped the pail in front of the man, and I said “Reckon you can manage that yourself mister”. The others were getting off their horses and looking around, but only that first man did any talking, as he worked the handle to fill the bucket. “Got yourself set up real nice here, Fuller. Real nice. But I got you a good offer from my boss. He wants to buy the place for grazing, told me to fix a price”.
Before I could say anything, Henry came back outside carrying a shotgun. “It’s my place, mister. And it ain’t for sale. Tell Mr Mathewson that”. The man dropped the half-filled pail and turned to Henry. He had stopped smiling. “I never said it was Mathewson, mister. But I got a price in mind that’s real good. Maybe you wanna put that scattergun down and talk nice?” Two of the other men walked forward, and daddy raised his arm to show the pistol. I stood my ground. “You heard Henry, mister. Ain’t for sale. You’re welcome to water, but then you had better go I reckon”.
The man raised his hands and started smiling again. “You got a cripple, a half-wit, and a negra. Don’t reckon we’re scared none, Fuller. But we ain’t here for no trouble, just to do business”. His accent was jarring me. Probably west Texas, certainly not from around these parts. This time I smiled, and lowered the rifle. “No business to be done, mister. If you don’t want water, then you had all best be on your way”. He turned to the others and jerked his head. They slowly got back on their horses, and started to ride off. But he was the last to mount up, turning to Henry with a wide grin.
“You’ll see us again, I promise you that”.
When I was sure they had gone, I walked over to daddy. “Should I ride into town, daddy? Maybe tell the Marshal?” Daddy shook his head. “Meagher only cares about what happens in Wichita, Phin. Likely they could pay him off anyways. We are gonna have to be more watchful from now on though”.
By the time the weather had got real hot, they hadn’t returned. But I was uneasy all the time back then, and trying hard not to show it in front of Susan and little Sophia. For a couple of months, daddy and Henry had been taking turns staying up nights, and sleeping during the day. But after the harvesting of the crops, we all finally relaxed. It was so hot that late summer, and I had trouble sleeping. Susan was restless too, and thought she might be expecting again.
I finally got to sleep one night after sitting out front to escape the heat inside. I just stayed in the chair, and didn’t remember nodding off.
The screaming woke me up. I knew right away it was Mary.