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Authors: Larry McMurtry

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BOOK: Zeke and Ned
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At the moment, Jewel was glad for the triplets. It made it easier for her to keep her eyes busy, so Ned Christie could not look in them. Once or twice—just for a moment—Jewel had raised her head, and Ned had looked in her eyes. In those moments, Jewel felt him take power over her; the fluttering stopped, and she felt still and helpless, like a bird that could no longer fly

This time, it happened while she had a wet shirt in her hand, about to spread it on a bush. Ned looked at her just before he swung off his horse, and Jewel froze under his glance, motionless by her bush like a quail might be, just before it flushed. She
to flush—wanted to run in the house and get busy stirring mush, or patrolling the triplets—but she could not move. Tall Ned Christie had taken power over her again, and she could not do anything but stand by the red haw bush, until the men walked off toward the back pasture to look at a new black horse Zeke had recently acquired. They were passing a whiskey bottle back and forth. Looking at the bottle released Jewel, even though Ned did glance her way a few times while they were
inspecting the horse. He glanced her way, but he was too far off for his eyes to take power over her. She finished spreading the laundry, then took the empty basket back to the house.

Zeke had slaughtered a white shoat a few days before, and her mother was frying pork chops, while Eliza, Jewel's little sister, snapped green beans.

“I thought I heard the menfolk,” Becca said. “I expect they're hungry.”

Rebecca Sixkiller Mitchell married Zeke Proctor seventeen years earlier, after Zeke had courted her for a mere three days. Becca's uncle, Money Talker Mitchell, was known throughout the territory for his fine racehorses. Zeke had traveled all the way to Missouri—where Becca's family settled on their way west after Becca's baby sister, Margaret, died of the measles during the Trail of Tears—to bargain with Uncle Money Talker for a colt from his prize stallion. When Zeke laid eyes on the lively Becca, he asked her father, a Baptist preacher, to marry them right away. So, Zeke returned home to the Going Snake with a spirited colt
a spirited wife. Becca's father, like many Cherokees, was drawn to the river baptism and fasting practiced by Baptists. Many Cherokees welcomed rituals from the Baptist religion, since they resembled a lot of their own sacred ways. Becca herself liked to visit the little Baptist church just outside of Tahlequah whenever she had occasion to travel to town.

Becca stood a good six inches taller than her husband, Zeke. Though Becca had never fully recovered her strength after the triplets' birth, it was clear where Jewel had gotten her fine features and her willowy stature. Becca's long hair was pulled back from her face in a braid thick as a horse's tail, accenting her high cheekbones.

“They had a whiskey bottle, Mama,” Jewel said.

“Men will always be having their whiskey, Jewel,” Becca replied, wiping sweat from her forehead with her dress sleeve. “That don't mean they won't be hungry. Help your sister snap them beans.”


sobering up with a few cups of strong chicory coffee. That way, he could be looking at Jewel Sixkiller Proctor while he was getting over the whiskey.

Zeke, though, was still in a drinking mood, and he preferred to drink in the little smokehouse with the freshly butchered remains of the white shoat hanging above them. Once Tuxie Miller showed Zeke the place under the henhouse where Old Mandy Springston kept her extra whiskey, there had been no restraining him. He promptly crammed four bottles into his big saddlebags, an action which alarmed Tuxie Miller. Zeke showed no sign of meaning to pay for the whiskey, either.

“Old Mandy's mean,” Tuxie reminded Zeke. “She'll be wanting to get somebody to kill you, if you steal that much whiskey. Bill Pigeon's her old boyfriend . . . she might get Bill to do it.”

“You just saw Bill Pigeon miss three men at point-blank range,” Zeke told him. “Why would I worry about Bill Pigeon?”

“I think he might have winged one of those men,” Tuxie said, but his remark went unnoticed, as the three of them galloped out of Tahlequah. Tuxie considered putting his two bottles back in the hiding place, to make the theft a little less noticeable, but he knew such a consideration would be treated with scorn by his companions. He quickly drank the two bottles instead.

Ned Christie had no head for whiskey. He got thoroughly drunk on half a bottle. Zeke, however, drank two bottles and was still sober enough to open the black horse's mouth and count its teeth. The only way to tell Zeke Proctor had been drinking was to look at his eyeballs: they got red as a vulture's comb after the third or fourth bottle.

While they were sitting in the smokehouse talking about pork chops, the bright sunlight vanished, and a heavy shower rumbled over Going Snake Mountain. Jewel had to dash out of the house and snatch the clothes off the red haw bushes. To her dismay, they were nowhere near dry.

Tuxie Miller had to go outside and puke, to the great annoyance of Zeke.

“Go in the house and gobble for the triplets,” he ordered Tuxie, after he wobbled back inside the smokehouse. “They ain't heard you gobble lately.”

Tuxie was unrivaled in the Going Snake District for his ability to call up wild turkeys. He could also call up coyotes and bobcats, but the ability to call up bobcats was a mixed blessing, as Tuxie discovered one day when a large male bobcat jumped over a bush right on him, under the impression that he was jumping on a female bobcat.

Tuxie felt too sick to gobble, but he obediently traipsed off toward the house, leaving Zeke and Ned with two full bottles of whiskey and the remains of the shoat.

Ned was wanting to ask Zeke if he could take Jewel home with him to be his wife, but Zeke's eyeballs were almost as red as the red haws. Besides, Zeke's mind was on killing—not on marrying.

“I don't dislike the Squirrel boys, particularly,” he said. “The family I hate is the Becks. There's only one good Beck on the face of this earth, and that's Polly, and she lives over at the mill with that white man, T Spade.”

“I think she's married to him, Zeke,” Ned pointed out. “I believe they're hitched.”

“They're hitched,” Zeke said, gloomily. He had been taken with Polly Beck for over a year now, and the fact that she was already married had been a big obstacle to his happiness. It was not unusual in the Old Place for a Cherokee man to have more than one wife; Zeke himself knew men in the Keetoowah Society who had taken a second, common-law wife.

“I ain't taken a new wife for seventeen years now,” he remarked.

Ned made no comment. At least Zeke was talking about marrying; it might lead around to the point where he could ask for Jewel.

“Seventeen years is a good long stretch of time to go without a new wife,” he said. “My first two wives died, and Becca's too poorly now to have many more babies. I bet Polly Beck could have some fine babies, if she had the right encouragement.”

“I bet Jewel could have some fine babies, too,” Ned said, seizing his moment.

The minute Ned said it, Zeke got a distant look in his eye—it was such a distant look that his eyeballs even stopped being red.

“Which one of the Squirrel brothers would you have shot, if they'd showed fight?” he asked.

“Moses,” Ned said, annoyed. Zeke knew perfectly well he had not ridden all the way home with him to Going Snake Mountain just to talk about the Squirrel brothers.

“I would have shot Rat,” Zeke said. “How can you like knowing somebody with a name like Rat?”

“Well, but you can like knowing somebody with a name like Jewel,” Ned countered. “I would be pleased to marry Jewel, if there's no objection.”

“The objection is, Becca needs Jewel—she's the only one who can keep the triplets out of the fireplace,” Zeke said. “I can't afford to have my triplets getting scorched.”

Ned thought that was a ridiculous objection. Still, Zeke was his host; he had to at least pretend to take the objection seriously.

“Let 'em get scorched once or twice,” he suggested. “It'll teach 'em to avoid fireplaces.”

Although fairly drunk, Ned managed to summon his most reasonable-sounding voice. It was the voice he used in the Cherokee Senate when debating whether to put a new roof on the Women's Seminary, or some other tribal matter of serious weight. He thought he might manage to sound reasonable enough to persuade Zeke Proctor that he'd be the perfect husband for his beautiful daughter Jewel.

Zeke Proctor, though, had a teasing devil in him, even when he was drunk enough to be red in both eyeballs.

“No, that fireplace gets too hot,” he said. “The women pile wood in it till you could scorch an ox. My triplets ain't as big as an ox—one of 'em could get scorched to death, if I don't keep Jewel to watch 'em.”

Despite his desire to remain senatorial in his tone and his bearing, Ned began to feel like doing a little scorching himself. What right had Zeke Proctor to sit there, drunk as a goose, and think up reasons why he could not let Jewel leave home and marry? It was that kind of behaviour which caused most of the residents of the Going Snake District to get so riled at Zeke. Several men had taken potshots at him, for being so cranky. Ned was beginning to think that maybe the Squirrel brothers had a point.

“Zeke, I got to have Jewel!” Ned blurted out, suddenly. The thought of having to ride all the way back to Shady Mountain without Jewel filled him with gloom. He felt he'd almost rather jump his horse off a cliff, or drown himself in a creek. It was true that Tuxie Miller and his family lived nearby; he was always welcome at Tuxie's house, but he did not want to always be going to Tuxie's house. He wanted to be at his own house; he just did not want to be there alone. Two or three times since Lacy died, he had got so lonesome he'd even let the hounds crawl up in his bed. Once, he had pulled out his pistols and shot at his own wall, just to hear some racket. Sitting at home listening to the owls hoot was not satisfactory. He thought he had been a pretty good husband to Lacy, but Lacy had died. Now he had set his
heart on Jewel—Zeke did not need to tease him by yapping on about the triplets getting scorched.

“I got to have her, Zeke,” Ned said, again. “I'm getting too lonesome up there on the hill. It's been a year since my Lacy passed away, and it's time for me to marry again.”

Zeke turned a kinder eye to Ned after his passionate outburst. He himself had buried two wives, and his Becca had never quite recovered from the birth of the triplets—Jewel and Liza did most of the housework now. Zeke knew how it was to slop around all by himself, with no wife to do for him and keep him company. After his first wife, Jane, died in the cholera epidemic that had raged through the Cherokee Nation nearly twenty years ago, Zeke had grown so tired of cooking for himself that he had begun to eat his meat raw. Mostly it was venison, with a little beef now and then; he would just sprinkle a little salt on a slice, and bolt it down. He had gambled too much during his time of mourning, and lain with lewd women whom he ought not to have lain with.

“Jewel's young, Ned,” Zeke remarked, but in a more encouraging tone.

“How young?” Ned asked—he had no clear notion of Jewel's age. When he looked at her, all he could think about was taking her home with him, to lay with him on his corn-shuck mattress. He could imagine how it would feel to wake up with her arms around him, and her sweet breath on his face—it would sure beat hell out of sleeping with the hounds!

“She's little more than sixteen,” Zeke said. The fact was, Jewel
arrived at marrying age; and though Ned was quite a bit younger than Zeke, the older man had always been impressed by Ned's solid ways and kind nature. He knew Ned would not mistreat Jewel, and that he would make her a fine husband—a far better one than Rat Squirrel, at least. Rat had been sulking around lately, at times when he knew Zeke was not at home. Besides, Ned Christie was a suitor he had to respect as a man: Ned was, without question, the best shot with pistol or rifle in the whole Cherokee Nation—by the time he was ten, he could out-shoot any man around, including Watt Christie, his own father.

Zeke considered that it was fair enough to tease Ned a little. He was not going to hand over a beauty like his Jewel, without making the lucky suitor sweat a bit. He knew, though, that it would be downright
foolish to push Ned Christie too far. He was not dumb, like the Squirrel brothers, who had yet to realize that their own sister, Polly Beck, was so eager to leave her husband for Zeke that she had hired a witch woman to witch her husband to the point where he might lose his senses and drown in a creek.

But Zeke knew that it would be foolish to carry his teasing too far. If Ned were to get riled enough to take a potshot, there was very little likelihood he would miss.

“My Lacy wasn't but sixteen when we married,” Ned pointed out. “She wasn't much older than Jewel, and she was a lot smaller built.”

Zeke decided that there was no point in debating the matter any longer. Ned had his mind made up, on top of which they were running out of whiskey.

“You got my permission to ask her,” Zeke said, standing up.

“Couldn't you ask her for me?” Ned said. “I've not spoken to her much. I might choke on my tongue, if I tried to come out with a question like that.”

“Nope,” Zeke said flatly. “If you ain't man enough to ask her, then I doubt you'll be man enough to make her a decent husband.”

Ned stood up, feeling shaky. He was six foot four, and Zeke's smokehouse was not much taller than that. When he rose, he smacked right into a hindquarter of the white shoat Zeke had butchered. It hung from a hook just above him. In his eagerness to have Zeke Proctor accept his suit, he had forgotten they were in the smokehouse.

BOOK: Zeke and Ned
3.89Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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