"Do you know anybody down there that's got a pack animal they want to loan out for a couple of days?" asked Jeb. "I got to buy me some lumber to replace some of those boards and haul it up here so I can get some use out of it."
"Hell, 'bout everybody in town owns one, as you well know, Jeb," answered Cliff, as he looked around for another hammer he could use. "Try Sebio Gomez, he needs the money worse than anybody with that house full of brats he's got running around. He'll probably even haul it up here for you, and you won't even have to go into town."
"I wouldn't hire that crooked Mex for anything," said Jeb, picking up some nails and putting them in his front pocket. "I don't care how many brats he's got stealing for him. I used him the last time three-four years ago, and he tells me he'll bring up a load for a dollar and a half, and when he gets here, he refuses to unload it from his mule until I paid him two damn dollars for just bringing it up the hill, that two-faced crook. Tells me one thing, then don't carry through with it. Can't trust him. Got somebody else in mind?"
"Sebio's always been straight with me, Jeb," said Cliff. "Where's that extra hammer you got laying around?"
"It musta got buried under some of those boards. Why don't you help me put this wall together? You don't need no hammer for that. I'll do the hammerin' while you do the holdin'."
Jeb struggled with the wall to stand it up. It had some boards mssing and a couple broken under the window opening. Cliff put his strength into the other end of the wall and held it up,
"Here, you take that end and we'll set it up here on the floor if we can lift it," said Jeb, sweating from his efforts to stand it upright. Looking at Cliff, also perspiring heavily, he said, "Who else you recommend for hauling lumber? And don't tell me Herb Cluff, he's another one I wouldn't hire even if he was the only one in town with an extry jackass. He's lazier than a snake with a full stomach relaxin' under a cedar tree."
"Herb don't have much ambition, I'll grant you that," Cliff said. "But, if you just borry his mule, he won't be doin' any work and you can do it as fast or as slow as you want."
"Hah! That jackass ain't goin' to let his jackass out of his sight, and he's just in the way of a hard workin' man tryin' to do something," countered Jeb. "I'd just as soon get somebody else. That Herb makes me nervous with all his standin' around and lookin' over everything like he's going to stick it in his pocket when I'm not watching. Here, let's give it a try, see how heavy it is. Once we get it standin' up on the floor, we'll be able to nail her down and I'll have half my house built, hahaha," he chuckled.
The floor was about thigh-high to a short-legged man and they struggled and swore and sweat poured off their faces and down their necks as they put their strength into lifting the wall.
"Set 'er back down a minute, Cliff," Jeb said, setting his end on the ground and wiping the sweat off his face and forehead with the dirty rag he pulled from his back pocket. He was breathing heavy and sat himself down on a boulder. He watched Cliff lean the wall against the foundation and do some wiping of his own.
"We ain't going to do it that way, Jeb," said Cliff, taking in deep breaths. "We're both going to have to lift one end and then the other. Who would've thought that a few boards nailed together would be so damn heavy?"
"You want a cup of water or more of that sandy coffee?" asked Jeb. "It's too damn hot yet to be doing heavy work like this. We better wait 'til near sunset when it's cooler. I think I about ruptured myself there tryin' to lift that damn thing. Here, let's go in the shade and have a sip of somethin', it's coffee for me."
Taking their seats in the cave with a cup of coffee in hand, Cliff asked, "How old was she when they left, if you don't mind tellin' me?"
"Who? My wife or my daughter?" said Jeb, with a silly grin wrinkling his cheeks and a twinkle in his blue eyes. "You know the sonuvabitch shot me, don't you?" he asked, knowing full well that Cliff didn't know anything about it.
"Uh-uh, uh...," Cliff began, but Jeb continued.
"Yah, shot me, all right. What happened was, I grabbed him by the shoulder when he was getting on the stage and pulled him off it, but when he turned around, he had his pistol aimed right at my belly. I grabbed his wrist, but the gun went off and the bullet hit my leg. I wrestled the gun away from him and hit him to the side of the head with it, and he fell into the stage as it was pullin' out. The next time I see him, I'll be ready, and I'll shoot him with his own gun."
He smiled and looked at Cliff.
"Uh, uh...that'll serve him right," said Cliff, not knowing if he had heard the truth or not or if it was just another one of Jeb's stories.
"Four...she was four years old, was all when the stage took off with them," said Jeb. "And she wrote me those two letters in all these years. She'd be about thirty now, a full-grown woman, yes sir, married in her own right, too. Maybe I'll get that other letter tomorrow," he said with a far-away look on his face.
Jeb pulled out the old rag and wiped his forehead and eyes. Was it sweat or tears this time?
Cliff felt a little embarassed, thinking he had seen his friend crying. He said, "Abe, Abe Walters got a jackass you can get for your lumber, Jeb. I'm sure old Abe would be glad to make a dollar or two."
"Abe? Abe Walters? You got to be crazy recommending him. Why, that lousy skinflint! He's the one that said Johnny-on-the-spot was just tyrin' to be friendly, was all, and then the sonofagun said I should've watched him closer! Hell, it was half his fault! I wouldn't use his mule for anything in the world. Not a chance of it."