Several days went by, as the cowhands engaged in their unfamiliar logging task. It wasn't like they were alone doing the chore, Bill reflected. The Owen brothers matched the hands tree for tree. Even the Old Man pitched in. The only Owens not turning up for the work were Carl, who was taking his ease with a new bride while he recovered his health, and James, who had quit the place just in time to avoid this spate of labor.
Well now, that's not fair of me. Mining's no easy task. His axe thumped solidly into the pine trunk he was undercutting. As he worked, he likened his own situation with the fairer sex to that of James, whose fiancee had married another man, and worse still, his own brother. He wondered if the young man would ever reconcile himself with his father. I don't reckon he will. Rod Owen can be a hard man. He loosed his axe from the tree and stood it upright, leaning on the end of the handle for a brief respite.
It was that hard man's words that haunted him. I'm matchin' my girl up with a Virginia boy. Bill wondered if the match had been made, for Miss Marie had come home in a mighty sour mood, and she hadn't yet shook it off. Had the Old Man's matchmaking gone awry?
"Hey, Henry. Hey! You sleepin'? Shake your tail!"
Bill looked up to see a tree falling toward him, and he turned and ran from death.
The pine hit the earth where he'd been standing, limbs crashing and tearing, and bounced once before it settled amid a cloud of dust and pine needles.
He bent over, hands on his knees, and panted, trying to catch a breath, coughing out the dust he inhaled along with the air, shaken by the close call. With his heart thrumming in his ears, he could barely hear Chico razzing him, Rulon's concerned voice, and Albert's cat calls.
Chico sprinted to his side, his white face belying the curses he let fall upon Bill's head.
"You got a death wish, hombre? Git your head outta the clouds and pay heed!"
An out-breathed "Yeah," was all Bill could respond, as he tried to will his heart to slow to a normal rate. He still felt the evil swish of a branch clipping his rear as he tried to get out of the way.
"Close," came Rulon's voice above him. It had a slight quiver to it.
"Yeah," Bill said again, not able or willing to speak more for fear of hearing his own voice break.
He raised himself up, feeling Rulon's light touch on one shoulder at the same time as Chico belted him on the opposite arm.
"Ow! I got clear of the tree, and you want to make me dead?" Anger firmed up his voice, and he fended off Chico's next punch as Rulon walked away.
"Oh, git over there and pick up your axe," Chico countered.
"You the segundo now?"
"If you're dead, I'm the next man for the job."
"That's a likely tale," Bill muttered, but picked up the tool and went back to work.
Copyright 2012 Marsha Ward