Susan had accepted her back in a more permanent fashion under the women’s tent without comment, but Catherine knew she wasn’t holding her tongue out of tact. Miss Grimshaw was clearly torn between her respect and loyalty for Dutch, and her genuine admiration and appreciation for the young lady who had-- apparently-- spurned him.
Catherine was grateful, as she had no intentions of trying to explain herself. She also had no intentions of staying under this damned canvas crammed between Tilly and Karen. The girls were lovely, and she adored them, but Miss Schofield was determined to have her own space.
Her first purchase for herself would be a tent. Once she got some money…
Already she was thinking up plans, remembering details she’d learned from her outings. It would have been nice, though, to have some more recent information. There weren’t any jobs worth doing in Tumbleweed now, and she’d been nowhere else in almost two weeks.
Mister Escuella had returned from the Blackwater area just an hour or so ago and was settling down in his usual place with his guitar and a bottle, carefully tuning the former and slowly nursing the latter. He was much at his leisure, so Catherine presumed things had gone well.
“Welcome back, Mister Escuella,” Was her warm greeting, noting too late the way tension climbed through his shoulders at her approach, “How did you find Blackwater?”
When he didn’t reply, his dark eyes fixed on the tuning pegs, she waited. Catherine could be patient, even though she recognized quickly that he was purposefully ignoring her. To her memory, she’d done nothing to slight him-- after all, he was one of the men she got along best with, besides Lenny and Arthur. All of the men had treated her respectfully, but few of them bothered to engage with her beyond courtesies or bare practicals. (The Callander brothers notwithstanding, as they had little enough decency between the two of them for anybody, and indeed seemed to enjoy testing the sharpness of her tongue and wit until half the camp was howling with laughter at her biting remarks.) Only a few-- Mister Bell, Mister Williamson, and the Reverend-- seemed to harbor true dislike for her.
When the silence stretched too long, and Javier seemed stubbornly committed to pretending she wasn’t there at all, Catherine prompted in a soft voice, “I’m sorry, am I bothering you?”
“Yes.” It was a blunt reply with a flash of hard eyes. Both were so uncharacteristic and antagonistic that the lady found herself honestly taken aback. Like her, he usually resorted to sarcasm and witty retorts instead of open confrontation.
“... Have I done something to offend you, my friend?” Was her query, slipping into Spanish in the hopes he would be more forthcoming in his birth tongue that nobody else would fully understand.
Scowling, Javier turned his attention back to his guitar, “... You know what you’ve done. I don’t make friends with traitors.”
He said it in English. He wasn’t talking to her, he was talking for the benefit of everyone who might hear except her.
So this was about Dutch-- if not Dutch’s direct doing. Javier’s loyalty to the man was unquestionable, but never before now did Catherine suspect it bordering on fanaticism.
“...I wasn’t aware that making my own choices made me a traitor, Mister Escuella.” She replied gently, “I thought we stood for freedom-- for not being ruled by others.”
“We don’t stand for trying to tear family apart, Miss Schofield,” Now he switched to Spanish, speaking fast and harsh, “Will you go away, already? I don’t want to see you.”
Too well-mannered to maliciously make a nuisance of herself--and likely too proud to try and convince him against this thinking, at the risk of it looking like regret or remorse, with her feelings of injury being what they were just now-- Catherine dipped a small curtsy and turned on her heel.
“You shouldn’t be surprised,” A voice informed her condescendingly as she passed the boxes of liquor under canvas to protect them from the heat and light of the day, on her way to the chicken coop. The nonsensical busyness of the birds always seemed to help her focus her thoughts. This time, however, it seemed her introspection would be interrupted, “It was only a matter of time before they saw you for what you are-- as slow and simple as most of them are.”
“And what, pray tell, am I, Mister Bell?” The lady demanded, holding tightly to her composure, aware that he’d likely been watching her for awhile now and was looking to catch her in a moment of weakness to take advantage of.
“A snake,” He hissed-- actually hissed the first syllable with an oily smile--at her, moving to lean casually against the small structure, fiddling with his belt knife, picking absently at his fingernails, “Beautiful, and cunning, and poisonous . Vain. Sharp-eyed and fork-tongued. Prone to biting the hand that feeds it.”
Smiling, Catherine stepped near, “You would know, wouldn’t you?”
“I ain’t a snake --”
“--No,” The smile slipped effortlessly into a grin, “you are correct. You’re a rat , Micah Bell the Third. Wretched, greedy, inducing disgust and hatred in everyone. Thinking yourself very clever, but ultimately driven by your basest urges. Cowardly, filthy, and back-biting . You revel in the destruction you inevitably bring with you everywhere you go, even to those whom might foolishly call you their ally …”
He forced a growling laugh, grinning back at her-- more a fierce baring of teeth than anything-- and his hand tightened around his knife handle at both her accusations and proximity.
Tilting her head coquettishly to the side after coming to a halt before him, she finished, “And as everyone knows: snakes hunt and devour rats. There are few things rats fear more...”
“I’m not afraid of you, whore .” He spat, teeth still bared, hands still clenched.
“Am I supposed to be offended that you lump me in with the other excellent women in this camp who refuse to give you any attentions, much less affections , Mister Bell? You must be very lonely , indeed. Shall I give you the touching you crave, again…?” Her voice turned sickly sweet, as did her smile.
“You know,” He advanced a step, causing her to arch an eyebrow at his boldness, “you ain’t Dutch’s bed warmer no more, so what’s to stop me from--”
“--This is what I meant ,” Catherine interrupted with a laugh, “when I said that rats were both cowardly and thinking themselves very clever. You think I am without protections, do you? You suppose it would be easy, now, to strike at me? Would you care to test your malformed theory…?”
She watched his gaze flick over her shoulders, looking at the rest of the camp, before he sneered at her and pushed away from the coop, “...You’ll get what’s coming…”
Smiling as he walked away, the lady replied, “So will you. We shall see who gets what , Mister Bell.”