Brothers: A Modern Fable

Farm buildings in a green valley
Photo by Michael Bourgault on Unsplash

There once was a farmer with five sons. He had a large farm, with crops, cattle, pigs and horses. He and his sons had worked hard and improved the land, and they prospered.

Next to them was another farmer, who had a wife and daughter. His wife was comely and his daughter beautiful. But while his farm was almost as big as his neighbor’s, he wasn’t as prosperous. He didn’t work as hard as his neighbor. Not having sons, he had to hire help, but his wife didn’t want to pay good wages, because she wanted the money to dress herself and her daughter in the finest clothes.

One day, the prosperous farmer fell ill. He understood his death was near, so he gathered his sons to his bedside.

“Soon I will be leaving you,” he said. “But you have all worked hard, and there is more than enough here for all of you, as long as you work together. Remember you are brothers, and together you can accomplish great things. But if you don’t work together, the buzzards will pick your bones.”

The sons were astonished at these words. Of course they would continue to work together. They couldn’t conceive of a world any other way.

The old farmer passed away, and life continued on. The brothers continued to work, each in his fashion, and the neighbor continued in his jealousy.

“Why so upset, Husband?” the neighbors wife asked.

“Look at them,” he replied. “All that land, and all that water, but they still won’t share with me.”

“You deserve to be treated better, Husband. Soon you will have it all,” she promised, thinking of the dresses and new furniture she could by for herself and her daughter.

The next day, the wife took her daughter aside and gave her instructions. With a bucket of ice water and some cookies, she went to where the twins were working on the fence. “It sure is hot today,” she offered each of them some water. “Why are you out here by yourselves? Wouldn’t this hot work go faster with your brothers’ help?”

“Oh, they’re all doing their own work. One is in the forge, which is hotter.”

“The others are in the office going over the accounts. I hate bookwork!” said the other.

“Two of your brothers are in the house, where it’s cool, while you slave out here by yourselves? That doesn’t seem fair to me.” She gathered up her picnic and returned home.

That night the twins were grumpy at dinner.

“What’s the matter with you?” asked the eldest, who was managing the farm.

“While you and our brother were here in the cool house, we were slaving away repairing the fence in the summer heat. Why didn’t you guys come help us?”

The manager was taken aback in silence, but the youngest, who was slight in stature but very smart, was angry.

“Do you really think it’s that easy to keep the books? All you guys want to do is eat and drink at the bar in town. You have no idea how hard it is to make sure there is food on the table, and grain for the animals. When was the last time you followed the Commodities market, to know what to plant the next season or when and where to sell?”

Five vultures in a bare tree
Photo by Casey Allen on Unsplash

A few days later, the neighbor’s daughter cornered the eldest at the general store in town, where he was picking up supplies. “You must be the hardest worker at your farm,” she began, remembering her mother’s instructions. “Managing the farm and doing labor, too,” she pouted as she measured his bicep with her hand.

“I do what I must do,” he replied, flattered by her attention.

The daughter continued to flirt with the twins whenever their chores brought them near the fence line. The eldest found himself looking forward to chatting with the daughter whenever their paths crossed in town, which seemed to happen more and more often.

Disaster struck when their prized bull got through the fence that the twins had repaired.

The youngest was fuming over the damages that the neighbor was asking for. The twins were outraged that their brothers would think they were responsible. The blacksmith tried to calm everyone down, but the eldest wouldn’t have any of it. Through all the shouting and finger pointing, no one bothered to check and see that the fence had been cut.

When the invitation for dinner came to the eldest to “see if we can’t work something out,” an uneasy peace came to the brothers. Until they learned what the agreement was.

“You can’t give him the upper pasture and it’s water! We’ll go dry, and you know it,” the youngest protested.

“I can and I did,” stated the eldest. “Besides, he promised not to divert the water.”

“Father was adamant that the upper pasture remain with the farm and refused to sell it to anyone,” said the blacksmith. “He called it the farm’s lifeblood.”

“Go back to your iron and animals. You don’t know anything,” said one of the twins.

“If you go through with this sale, I will cash out my portion and leave,” threatened the youngest.

“Well, go ahead and go, then,” said the eldest. “You, too,” he told the blacksmith. “We don’t need you spending good money on iron for your ‘art projects’, and we’ll just use the town vet if we need one.” You see, the blacksmith also tended to the vaccinations and birthings of the animals on the farm.

It didn’t take long after the two brothers left before changes started to happen. To the twins dismay, the neighbor’s daughter began spending all of her time with their brother, until they got married and he moved into her parents’ house.

Soon after, the water was diverted to the neighbor’s land in an effort to revive the overworked and overgrazed land. The twins tried to continue the farm, but they didn’t know how to dry farm, and the animals became sickly without the care of their brother.

Some years later, the blacksmith was contemplating his life. His youngest brother had become a wealthy financier in the big city. He knew because his name often appeared in the papers.

He himself had done well with his iron sculptures, and had more work than he could do by himself. He had even hired some apprentices to help with the demand. But he missed the quiet mornings on the old farm, nursing the orphaned calves and currying the horses.

He decided to take some time off. Giving everyone a paid vacation, he told no one what his plans were.

On the long drive, he reminisced about his childhood. Swimming in the pond on a hot day after haying. Cradling a newborn piglet. Building a gate meant to last for generations. He was going home.

Housing development from above and paved roads
Photo by Raphaël Biscaldi on Unsplash

Topping the last rise which would give him a broad view of the farm, his heart sank. Townhouses crowded together where the house and outbuildings used to stand. Further up the ridge, he could see McMansions outlining a golf course where the pond once stood. A small strip mall stood where the neighbor’s house had been, surrounded by cookie-cutter houses with postage stamp yards inside their wooden fences.

Depressed, he continued through much of the same, until he was in a familiar-looking part the town. The old bar was there, and on a whim, he decided to go in.

“What’ll it be, Cowboy?” asked the bartender. He ordered a beer and burger and looked around, doubtful anyone would recognize him, with his full beard and long hair in a ponytail under his Stetson.

Sure enough, the twins glanced his way and dismissed him. They looked rather worse for the wear, muscle gone to fat and puffy faces that betrayed more time drinking beer that doing any work.

“You rooting for the U or for State?” one asked without much enthusiasm. The other simply shrugged and took another gulp of his beer.

The blacksmith nursed his chewed his burger, wondering what had happened. He was debating ordering another beer when the door opened. In came the eldest brother, dressed like a townsman instead of a farmer. He didn’t even look around as he walked to the brothers’ table and took a chair.

“Can you believe that witch is claiming half the estate is hers? And if we get divorced, I’d have to pay alimony out of my remaining quarter?” he complained a little too loudly.

“I didn’t think your wife was that cruel,” said one of the twins.

“Not her — her mother!”

“That’s not what I remember from the will reading,” frowned the other twin.

“That’s what them highfalutin’ lawyers will do for you,” and the eldest drained his mug in one go.

The blacksmith had heard enough and finished his now warm beer. Tipping the bartender, he left and hopped back into his pickup.

One of his clients had some property in Montana for sale. A retired rancher, he was looking for a buyer who would respect the land and not overwork or develop it. Worth checking out, the blacksmith decided, and headed west out of town.

Some things can’t be recovered once they are gone.

Horses grazing in a meadow with mountains behind
Photo by Saira on Unsplash

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