Across the Valley.
If one stands atop Milwaukee Mount, and peers through their binoculars, about 8 miles downriver you can see two houses. Two quite insignificant, unremarkable and entirely transient houses; these houses are separated by 2 miles of undulating terrain, each of the houses being upon the crest of two hills. From these hills, they slope quiet gently down to the river bed.
For 3 generations these houses have peered at each other. And although no one can quite remember how it began, this culture of mutual animosity and hatred seems set to continue. So it was that on a Wednesday, at 2 o’clock, with a light breeze rolling in, that we find John McCormick and David Grant, sitting, facing each other, near 2 miles apart:
“Son, I have done many a bad thing in my day. Indeed the killings and the backstabbing weigh a deadly, daily, toll upon my brow. But when I look across this ridge, and look at that man there, my conscience is clear. For I know that for all that I may do in my life, that man is damned, and that man is evil.” With that John and David picked up their respective vice, the pipe for John and the Bourbon for David, and laughed as they ingested their poison.
This daily ritual had being going on time memoriam for the two sons of John and David, and they knew quickly that keep their fathers pleased, they must quickly ensure a steady supply of vice. It was in the lull before John smoked again that his son, Scott, began to talk to his father.
“Father, I was looking through the attic, trying to find the lease agreement, for Howard, the bank manager, but I can’t seem to find it. When exactly did we buy this house? And what exactly drove our people to live this way?”
“Son, I will tell you. But first you got to promise me that you don’t go and see no Bank manager. We don’t need no thieving capitalist taking all our damn money. Besides, if we ever need that cash, damn we will just take it from John and his lackey son, it’s high time that they squirmed.”
“Father, I understand, but they are the only ones that buy our potatoes, we can’t afford to get them to move out. It would ruin us father.”
“To hell would it ruin us! Our family has been tilling this land since this here state was conceived, and we will continue to do so long after they leave. You ask when we bought our house. No one knows when, so you will never find that lease, and it don’t matter, ‘cause we ain’t going to no bank.”
“Father, I mean no disrespect but the tilling days seem done. Prices keep falling, people don’t buy from us no more, and we don’t buy from them. If we want to move on, we need the money to renovate.”
John didn’t look at his son as he replied, his response bitter, dripping with resentment. Not at his son, a boy whom plainly didn’t yet realize the extent of the injustice that had befallen his family. No, his resentment was hurled at David, a man to whom John could attribute as the only real threat to his prosperity. But even so, he was not quick to get to the point, not quick to throw insults at the man he was so adamant was ruining him.
“Son, you asked why we, the McCormicks, live this way? I’ll tell you,” At that his son, having carefully packed the last pipe of the day, drew over his chair. “My great-great-great grandfather was a layman. He worked his whole damned life, inheriting a large ranch from his father. But despite this, he couldn’t control it; he simply didn’t have the money, or the men to run it. Eventually some of his own men simply took small parcels of land and sold him the produce, which he then sold to the markets. One day he had enough, so he took his revolver and went out with a few of the still loyal farmhands and tried to take on these men, they simply shot one of his men, and he scampered back to his house. This wasn’t the worse of his troubles though son, no those men who lived on the farms all around him saw this. Hell even those across the river heard. And they all began to come and claim bits of his land. They even killed some of those buggers who first nicked it. But rather than sell to your old man, they simply transported it back home.”
“Well that seems pretty awful, but what the hell does that have to do with us and renovating, or even moving on?”
“Son, there are many values I tried to instill in you. Clearly shutting up and listening is not one that you have taken to… No, it is relevant damn you, now shut up and listen. One day, my father, your grand dad, had enough. So he took his shotgun and he blasted them bastards straight to hell. But when he did that, John snuck up and took that parcel of land over there, that the Dilman’s work on. And rather then come back to us, they give their produce to Grant. That land is mighty productive, hell more so they say then all of our estate. How can a man simply take what don’t belong to him! It just ain’t right. So I tell you why we ain’t renovating, or moving. Because Son, our future is in that land, and by god I tell you now, get that back and we will be dandy. McCormick’s are staying here under Milwaukee Mount until the rain of heaven blasts us from this rock. We will not leave.”
2 miles West, and David Grant was easing himself out of his rocking chair. 50 years of ensuring the integrity of his land, and ensuring that his influence reigned supreme in this land had taken a toll on his body, as well as his house. Indeed, despite producing the third most produce in the area, debts were still rising in the Grant estate. What had once been the mightiest, most impressive ranch in the state was withering, a visual reminder of the debt crisis that Grant daily faced. Indeed most of his money was spent on ensuring that same territorial integrity that was dooming Grant to an untimely debt. And although an attack on the Harrisons had seemed the required response, considering the cowardly attack on his barn, which held half his wealth; after 10 years of squabbling, and the occasional fighting it no longer was popular, or relevant to the family. Similarly, with another squabble having only just ended at the Fredrick’s, a fight that even his son knew to be little more than ensuring that the Grant family policed this region, had left the son feeling uneasy about his father’s prodigious use of force. An unease he was sure he would never allow his own sons to feel.
However such thoughts were not occupying Mathew Grants mind as he collected his father’s bourbon and glass, and walked back into the creaky house. No, instead, he left his father’s things at the counter and walked down the hall to the row upon row of portraits of the Grant family. As he looked proudly at each of the faded and dull portraits, he felt pride as he recounted the history of his family, a history he was always proud to recount.
Indeed, it was a proud thing that on a July, 3 generations ago, that the first Grant came to be a land owner. It was a story his father had often told his young son, of how with the force of arms the first David Grant had wrestled this parcel of land from the Johnson’s, a parcel of land that after 4 generations, Grant had the authority to manage. From this violent beginning, the Grant family built a farm worthy of reverence in the region. By the time his father took the reins of the farm, they were already the destination for many a migrant worker, and many dreamed of owning some operation in the family business. However, by the time Mathew was merely 16 years old he became aware of the massive inequalities between the workers and the managers in the farm. He consoled himself in the knowledge that the ranch over the river was far less equal, and seemed far less concerned about it. But even then, he was always filled with the fear of knowing that despite such a proud history, he was inheriting a poor ranch, and a ranch that if it didn’t restructure would simply get poorer. And when he looked across the river, and saw the McCormicks, he was always filled with a mixture of fear and anger. Anger at the fact that men, whom didn’t work to rule their land, were simply filling their coffers with unimaginable wealth, fear as he knew that, that wealth would soon mean power. Power to build his sphere of influence, to threaten the Grant’s control of the price of commodities in the market, power that Grant believed was the exceptional right of the Grant’s to rule. Hell, they had fought for this, they had worked for this, and they would not let some inherited landowners take that from them. In the end, he knew he had the best men, and the best weapons to take back the Grant’s destined right to lead.
It was a sudden thud that awoke them from their thoughts, and as they rushed up the stairs to their father’s room, they found their mothers lying next to their husbands, softly weeping. It became apparent that their fathers were dying, that years of hard work had finally exacted their fatal toll on the two aged men. As they waved out their wives, they signaled for their sons to take a seat.
“Son,” John’s parched lips hoarsely spoke out, “Son, I am dying. I have had many fears, but I don’t fear you being the manager of this ranch. I just ask one thing from you, one thing I have failed in my life to achieve, and which has haunted our family for its constant reminder of our failure. We own the Dilman lot. On my deathbed I entrust you with returning it to us.” As Scott searched for the words with which to reply to his father, he noticed the small tell-tale sign of a final, low exhale. Without a chance to prevent this edict that he saw as near destruction, he quickly came to terms with the fact that he was on a path of violence, violence for his family, and violence for his honour. And so it was that John McCormick, a man whom had never truly experienced the horrors of combat, entrusted unto his son the mission of war and eventual destruction.
Over the hill, and at the same time, Mathew was listening to his father, as he too died.
“We are a falling ranch, people are constantly encroaching our land...” At this Mathew attempted to interrupt his father to prevent the doom saying; however he was silenced with the flick of David’s coarse hand. “I give this ranch to you, and although I know there is more for you to be learning, I will die by noon, and it is up to you to revive the glory of our people. Ensure no man, or no people take from us, that which we have shed blood to make. It is ours to run this county, and ours to rule that market. We are the people whom they look up to, and we must ensure our control is absolute.” John, whom died at the same time as his rival two miles away, was similarly quiet in the throes of death as he too simply exhaled. Leaving his son with a feeling of urgency, and barely concealed anger, and although if he merely stopped to reason, he would see his father’s ultimatum to him was doing nothing more then ensuring the dissolution of his ranch, Mathew would not give himself that time to think, and thus he became transfixed on ensuring the ranch’s integrity in the same way his father had conducted his business.
And so 3 months past under Milwaukee mount, and while Mathew did increase the patrols around his ranch, 2 miles away Scott inspected his arsenal. Indeed, he was sure that Mathew would certainly fight back if he simply attacked the Dilman’s and took back the land. Even his father, whom always spoke of the need to have the land back, was never foolish enough to take the land head on. So although he had modernized some of his weaponry, buying even a self loading carbine, he knew his forces weren’t enough. He had contemplated contacting Mathew directly, but after his proclamation in the Market 2 months ago, of ensuring terrible retribution on any man whom takes his land, having even shown the market folk the head of the man whom had firebombed the barn all those years ago, it seemed unlikely that Mathew would acquiesce to any agreement with him, and so he began to plot carefully. Indeed, he met the Howards, the same family that had sponsored the attack on the barn, and together they had plotted, with a few more families, for Dilman’s farm to be returned to him. Being as they were, relatively small farms, he had managed to buy their agreement in return for money, and offers of protection if their ranches were to be attacked. Mathew, however, had not been quiet for the last three months, sensing some future conflict with Scott as being the most likely; he opened up trade with Harrison’s cousin, the bank manager’s cousin, Joseph, the rival of Harrison in his village. Together they had put gunmen in the Dilman’s residence, and supplied the family with weapons. Although they had no interest in war, they were equally as unwilling to lose the support of such large families, and so agreed, hesitantly to the weapons and the men based around their small allotment.
The agreements, and money spent on their respective enterprises, were being felt keenly in their own homes and in the market. Indeed, while Scott still made money, at the expense of less fighting men, he was still reviled in the market for his cruel abuse of his children, whom frequently called out for more freedom. The opposite was true in Mathew’s house, were the paint had all chipped away, leaving a hollow structure; it seemed that Mathew was spending himself to oblivion. This played out in the market, where prices constantly fluctuated, unrelated to the actual produce being made by the farmers. However, despite attempts by Mathew’s aging children, demanding a cut in workers salaries and realistic spending by their father, it didn’t achieve anything. Thus despite the fact that Scott appeared to be winning, fears over internal strife led to the conclusion he must act soon, before family issues prevented him from focusing on his father’s mission.
Thus, it was a mere 4 months later, on a cool September day, that Scott amassed his forty men. All armed with an assortment of weapons, some high class, though many no better than years old revolvers. It was late at night; he had been meticulous in producing surprise conditions, even helping Mathew out publicly by offering him some loans at the market, so that he could sell his produce for less. To many, that had led to the conclusion that fighting, which had been whispered for months, was nothing more then rumours. Thus it was with assurances of complete surprise that the 40 men arrived at the Dilman’s house, breaking down the door, they were surprised to see that not only were the Dilman’s armed, but so too were many of Mathews, and even Joseph’s men, Joseph’s men coming as a surprise to Scott, whom had no inclination of such an alliance. However, it didn’t last long, and soon the men were pouring lead into the house. Although he took many casualties, after a brief battle, all but one of the Dilman’s laid dead, having been executed for disloyalty to the McCormick estate. All of the other gunmen whom had occupied the house, a forlorn hope in the best of conditions, were also scattered across the house. A brief count of his men showed that 36 of his men still stood, the 4 not standing, being killed outright.
It took all of 5 minutes before Scott heard the thundering hooves of men galloping down the hillside, their shouts clearly audible before they themselves were visible. Scott had wisely occupied the house, and from the vantage point on the roof, he could clearly discern two columns riding towards him. Both led by Mathew’s own sons, whom had reached combat age. The columns were equal at about 25 men, and seemed a mixture of Josephs and Mathews men. Before they even reached the river to ford it, his men were already peppering their enemy with fire, from his position he was glad to see two of the horsemen fall into the river, shot from his men. However, it didn’t take long for the men to cross. And as they raced across towards the hill, the Dilman’s residence was hit by a cacophony of noise, as rifles cracked, their bullets smacking into the wood, or shredding the glass windows. In the back of his mind Scott registered that if he were to win today, it would take a vast quantity of his wealth to rebuild this splendid little farm and populate it with new workers. It was at this moment that he heard a groan from the man next to him, Hamilton, whom lurched over the ledge of the roof and fell to the ground, having clutched a bullet wound in his cut. It was with this sound that Scott took his pistol, and hurried to the second floor. Once inside, the noise of battle was deafening, as too were the screams of wounded and dead. Nearly 70 men were fighting in this two story house, and to distinguish friend from foe was difficult, many a man falling from stray bullets that neither side could account for. It was as the Mathew’s posse stormed the second floor that one of these struck Scott, he cried in agony, as he clutched his side and fell to the ground. All around him, in a daze, he passively watched as his remaining men fell to the ground. He noted with a trace of pride, that of the fifty men that entered the house, only 20 remained, five of which were Joseph’s own gunmen. Having killed the gunmen, the posse exited the house, having been unable to find Scott, whom had hidden under a mountain of dead at the top of the stairs; however his pride turned to dread as he saw the gunmen race to his house. Torches in their hands, lighting up their grotesque faces, Scott watched as they chained the house up, his family unable to escape, and set about lit his ranch, a ranch that had stood since the foundation of the State itself, on fire. It was this image that haunted him as he collapsed to the ground and breathed no more.
Mathew, however, whom had watched the fighting from the second story of his dilapidated ranch, felt no feelings of fear. Indeed it was an insurmountable feeling of joy that he had managed to vanquish his only real threat. However, this soon led to a similar feeling of fear when Mathew couldn’t account for his son’s in the returning columns. It soon transpired that one had fallen at the river crossing, before he had even had a chance to prove himself in battle. His oldest son soon met his fate after he led the charge onto the second floor where he was killed outright by a McCormick rifleman. It soon dawned on him at the enormous loss his men had suffered, his fighting posse, the best, and most well equipped in the region, lay ruined and dead on the ground. Mathew was overcome by a feeling of dread; however, he was still to figure out what he was dreading.
What happened to the Grant’s next came as no surprise to any man but himself. Having to pay debts he owed from his costly fight with the McCormick’s he was to sell the Dilman allotment, and end his fighting with the Harrison’s. With an obviously weakened currency, many of the men whom had grown to despise the heavy handed response of the Grant family began to encroach on his land, taking it for their own. Having sold his armaments and many of his men, he had little to stop them, and it wasn’t long before he owned but a fraction of the land he once governed. So it was that this land that was deemed full of opportunity by workers and their families was soon forgotten for farm’s further afield. So fast was this decay, that within 6 months of the battle, McCormick had lost his home to bandits, and was living alone, having had his family desert him. Given the fact that Mathew was still so caught up in militaristic values, many saw this desertion from his ranch as nothing more than a brain drain, moving to more profitable ranches, one having even earned a place to work at the bank. So it was, that this ranch that had been born of conflict, was destroyed in the same way. Thus when travelers came across the scrawny, starved body of Mathew’s on the ride into the market, they couldn’t see in him the future he and his ranch once could have had.
© Copyright 2016 RB113. All rights reserved.
Short Story / Other
Short Story / Westerns
Short Story / Historical Fiction
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