The commercial buildings lining Prosperity’s main street were long, narrow wood structures, definitely a generation newer than the sod shanties of the original settlers. Each establishment had its own hitching post and covered front porch. Lettering on wood facades identified a clothing emporium, barbershop, smithy, lumber and feed store, school, church, and two saloons. A US Mail sign hung in the window of a general store.
Compared to other small towns bordering the James River, Prosperity appeared to be thriving. The Land & Loan office, directly across the street, had gold leaf lettering on its front door and campaign placards in its windows. Vote for Statehood. Vote for Vance.
His next stop was Farber’s General Store. Running Bear needed soap, coffee, clothespins, matches, cooking oil, allspice, salt, pepper, and kerosene. Zed had added two tins of Honest Labor pipe tobacco to the list.
Again prim in a crisp, snow-white apron, Mrs. Farber rushed up as soon as he entered. “Mr. Masters,” she exclaimed. “Abigail? Abigail, come here. This is the man Stormy Hawkins slapped.”
Every person in the store turned. The hum of business and conversation stilled.
He’d had to endure this new-in-town scrutiny before. As much as he wished he could run for the hills, he knew it was best to get it over with.
“He also tamed Albert Schultz’s bull,” she announced.
He was quickly surrounded. Eager hands reached out to touch his. He tried to memorize names with the faces. Joseph McDonald, Sam Elrod and his wife Georgia, Ellen Sharpe with daughter Dora, Jane Hollings, Mrs. Levi Hollingsworth.
“Welcome to Prosperity, Mr. Masters.” Abigail Farber bobbed courteously after a prompt from her hovering mother. She was proper and plain, about eighteen, with clean, even fingernails and brightly polished shoes. “Are you settling in Prosperity?”
“I hired on at the Hawkins Ranch for a few weeks,” he said.
A collective gasp swirled through the store. People exchanged glances.
Mrs. Farber shooed her customers back. “We should get your supplies. Is that your list?” She took the paper from his outstretched hand and handed it to her daughter. “Come this way, Mr. Masters. I think you’ll want a mail slot of your own. You won’t be with the Hawkins long.”
Marveling at her self-assured forecast, Blade followed her past tidy displays of notions and nails with a measure of appreciation. He’d need privacy during the final negotiation for the Hawkins property. Starting out with a separate mailbox would skirt suspicion.
At the mail counter, Mrs. Farber checked several boxes on a form and swirled the paper toward him. “Sign here. And here,” she said briskly.
When he finished, she smiled in a knowing way, but he didn’t bother trying to guess why. He’d decided long ago to ignore the designs others tried to impose. He knew what he wanted, and wild horses couldn’t drag him off course now.
She opened a large, deep drawer, pulled out a shoebox-sized package, and set it on the counter along with four letters, two newspapers, a Harper’s Bazaar, and a Harper’s Weekly. “They’ll be wanting these. The Hawkins read more than any family in Prosperity.”