The light was about gone, but Boone, standing naked in the river, had already finished scraping his face with a straight razor. Having completed his washing up, he was about to leave the water and clean his teeth when he heard splashing coming from the other side. “That you, Coy?”
“Stew’s still hot,” he called out.
“Not hungry,” Coy said as he came into view, boots in hand. Clouds moved and the half-moon cast its silvery glow overhead. “Any biscuits?”
“Cooked a mess of hardtack if you feel like chewing… and teeth stick’s on the log in your cup. Salt water’s already in it.”
“Quiet here without Wes and the guys. I miss his laugh… sounded more like a mule than Blue does.”
“Not the same at all anymore,” Coy said as he drew even with him, his eyes sweeping over Boone’s form. “Making yourself all shiny for the trail?”
Boone didn’t know if the question was meant to be funny, but he chuckled. “My clothes needed a good scrubbing about as bad as I did. Hope they dry by morning.”
“I did notice your hair was looking more brown than yellow.”
Boone chuckled again, relieved they were talking without tension. “I won’t miss the damned dust. Ah, you should eat some stew… breakfast was a long time ago.” Coy’s face was hard to read in the moonlight, but he sensed in the following silence that he’d just put his foot in it again.
“I’ll have some in the morning, but I might chew on one of those biscuits before I clean my teeth.”
“My stomach was touching my backbone afore I ate.”
“Told you I’m not hungry.”
“Yep, you did. You all right?”
“Right as rain. Had to let some stuff settle.”
“About me striking out on my own?”
“Yep. About all the stuff we talked about.”
“You know you could still come up to Larkspur and take a look,” Boone said, having thought about little else since their earlier conversation on the ridge.
Coy sighed as he moved past him and stepped out of the water. “That’s not what you want.”
“Maybe it’s not what you want.”
Halting his progress, he turned. “What does that mean?”
“I’ve done a lot of thinking too, Coy, and I know you’re not keen on farming… never have been, even when we helped your ma run things.”
“Why, because I wanted to get away after she passed on… to try something different like panning? You… you weren’t wrong about the farm. I knew all the hard work was getting us nowhere. The land’s not the same as when my pa was alive, but Ma would never leave it.”
“So… are you’re saying you do want to farm?”
“Not by myself, I don’t. I’m not like you… no doubt you can do it, but I can’t take on taming land all by myself. I don’t know much right now, but I know that for certain. It’s not I don’t work as hard as you, but you’re just smarter about farming. You proved that when we stayed with Ma, and I did want to farm with you when that was our plan… back when it was what you wanted.”
“I did want it… I did, truly.”
“Until I punched you.”
“That don’t have nothing to do with it. I—”
“Come on, Boone. It’s got everything to do with it. You think I didn’t know how much it hurt you, what I did? You think I didn’t see the changes?”
“Changes? What changes would you be meaning?”
Another sigh came from the man, this one sounding terrible sad. “You being Boone, you tried to pretend you was fine, but you never would talk to me about what happened, even when I tried my hardest.”
“You never said a word to me for weeks,” he responded, instantly regretting the bitterness that slid from his tongue.
“For sure I didn't, but I didn’t know what to say. I felt so damn bad, and Will, he was keeping an eye on me and… and everything. I got past it, didn’t I? But you... you never did. You ain’t never been the same since that night, and I’m not saying I blame you for it.”
“Then what are you saying?”
Coy hung his head, his dark mane reflecting the moonlight. He spoke softly. “You talk to me different, a lot different, and it’s clear to me now if Will died sooner, you’d have been long gone after that punch.” His head rose. “You’d have gone off with Dan, and… and you regret you never did.”
“I already told you I didn’t feel that way about him.”
“But you could have, right? I saw enough with my own eyes… you had some interest.”
“That’s not the same as….”
“Okay, some other cowboy then, or by your lonesome. What I’m saying is, you stayed here because of me… because you thought you needed to protect me from Will… and you probably did, God rest his sorry soul, but you stayed for other reasons before that. I’m not smart about farming but I ain’t stupid… so don’t say leaving has nothing to do with me busting your nose.”
“I… I just never saw a point to talking about it.”
“Ain’t that the truth. Anyways, it don’t much matter now. I reckon I’ve got it pretty much figured out, and I ain’t gonna tag along just because I don’t like our paths separating. Like you said before, there’s some things you just know, and I still got me some pride.”
“Coy, I ain’t the smartest, not like you think, and maybe I’ve been wrong about what I—”
His friend cut him off. “Don’t. It’s done, and I’ve said all I want to. Just so you know, I put that gold with ours, in the same spot. We can weigh it out in the morning, or you can do it tonight and leave my half there. I’m turning in.” With those words, he moved from view until Boone saw him in the glow of the campfire embers when he grabbed a biscuit. He disappeared from sight again, and Boone soon heard the flap of their tent move, followed by silence.
Boone stood in the dark, feeling poorly about how their conversation ended up. A sudden shiver got him moving, and he pulled on his boots, leaving his wet clothes to dry where they were. He walked over to the horses, checking they were all accounted for, and content.
Slapping at the mosquitos who were looking to feast on him, Boone returned to the fire and banked it for the night, setting the stew to cool. Another couple of minutes were spent staring into the darkness while he set to cleaning his teeth. Coy’s words weighed heavy on him, but what was he to do? He rinsed his mouth with the remaining salt water and spat into the coals.
With no interest in dividing the gold, he made his way to their tent, a sturdy structure they’d called home for nigh on two years. Inside, it was silent and dark, with nary a rustle from Coy. Tonight, it didn’t feel like the home it usually did as he slid into his bed roll. Coy was three feet away, but the distance between them had never felt so big.
He was alone when he woke, but could smell coffee before his eyes opened. He was usually the first one up, but not so on this morning. Rising quickly, Boone stepped out of the tent to see the new dawn approaching. It was still somewhat dark, and he saw no sign of Coy, other than the steaming coffee pot and the fire licking the bottom of the left over stew. He peered into the murky light before walking far enough away to take a piss. As he was dressing down by the river in his newly washed clothes, he heard him.
“Going to be a hot one,” Coy called out. “You leaving this morning?”
“I suppose I should get an early start.” He turned to see Coy carrying the gunny sack, and coming from the direction of their hidden cache. They never went near it in daylight if they could help it. As he got closer, Boone could see his hair was wet and slicked back. He must have rose awful early… he’d already washed up.
“Figured so. Coffee’s on and stew should be hot. Made you a tooth stick too.”
Boone smiled, but had to tamp down some sadness. Fraying the ends of fresh willow cuttings with a knife and turning them into brushes was something they’d always done for each other, and he would surely miss the daily rituals they’d shared for the past five years. “Thanks. You going to sit and join me?”
“Already ate… you sure cooked a lot of biscuits.”
“Easy to chew on while I’m riding.”
“Want me to sort the gold, or should we have the assayer in town do it?”
“You can do it. There’s never been any difference in the purity.” When he got close enough to see Coy’s face, those blue eyes darted away.
“I’ll get the boys’ scale from their tent.”
Boone ate in silence while Coy weighed out the gold into neat piles. He didn’t pay a lot of attention—his trust in Coy was never a question—because he was thinking about what still needed to be said. He didn’t have a clue how to repair the damage he’d done. Now that the time was near, all kinds of doubts filled him. Selfishly, he loved the man who was sitting cross-legged on the ground, all his concentration on his task. He didn’t want to leave him, and his resolve was faltering.
“That’s done,” Coy said, breaking into his panicked thoughts. “You want yours in the tin?”
“Ah, don’t matter.”
“Okay, pick a pile.”
“I said pick a pile. I weighed it out so you get to pick. That’s the fair way.”
“I trust you.”
“I know you do.”
Coy’s gaze met his, and Boone felt the familiar connection. “The one close to your rope hand will do.”
Coy nodded and carefully poured the precious metal into the old tin and closed it, then set it aside while he put his share in the smaller container that used to be theirs.
Boone went back to finishing up the remnants of his breakfast, and thinking. When Coy stood up, he reacted. “Are you heading to the farm today?”
“Going to stick around here for a time.”
Coy frowned at him. “Told you I was done with that.”
“Sorry… thought you wanted to get to the farm to do some thinking.”
“I did, but I can do that here just as well. I’ll likely ride that way soon, I expect, but I’ll burn them tents afore I go.”
“I should help with that.”
“Don’t need any help.”
“But you’ll be alone.”
“So? You’re worrying about me again?” Coy challenged. “You don’t need to do that. I can handle myself. Going to ride in to the assayer’s office and then put my money in the bank for safety.”
“Smart thinking. I’m doing the same thing… hoping it can be wired to Larkspur when I need it. I don’t want to be traveling with a bunch of gold… or money. Maybe we should do it together.”
Coy shook his head. “There you go again. It’s a short ride to town, and I can handle myself.”
“But if we go together—”
“Boone, stop! Things will be different from now on, and that’s a fact.”
“You’re right. Just keep a lookout, would ya?” he asked seriously before picking up the tooth stick and putting the end in his mouth. He chewed on it some to soften the bristles.
“Yep. You be mindful too when you’re going through strange territory.”
“Expect it’ll be a safe trip,” he mumbled.
Coy’s eyebrows rose slightly, and he looked doubtful. “Hope so for your sake. How much you think land in Larkspur is going to cost you?”
Boone removed the stick before he spoke, setting it beside him. “Ah… at least two dollars an acre, for sure, but maybe as much as six. Wouldn’t want to pay more than four, but land is going up everywhere by all accounts. With this here gold added to ours, I should have plenty to get me started. Going to have to buy a lot of tools and equipment, like a plow and harness, saws, axes, hoes, shovels, nails… and a wagon… some stock, and maybe a good team. Those might cost as much as the land, and I got to think about finding a place for lumber to be milled, and then there’s fencing, and seeds for planting. I figure we got more than two thousand each.”
“Going on weight, I reckon about twenty-eight, twenty-nine hundred we each got.”
“That much?” Boone let out a low whistle. “That’s a pile of money.”
“Yep… and maybe more if the price of gold has gone up since the last time, and I’m pretty sure it has. Wes and Lee had plenty to buy a place, so maybe Sheriff Willard was right about they never would have.”
“I reckon they wanted to… but the fever wouldn’t let them. You know those old fellas up in the high country ain’t never going to quit digging.”
“Probably not… if anyone’s got the fever they do. Don’t see them but maybe three times a year. You know, Dan must have had some gold hidden around here, seeing as how he was always at the river.”
“I reckon you’re right, but I suspect it wouldn’t be much. Maybe someone will find it one day, someone who really needs it.”
“Shame he spent all that time mining and he doesn’t get to spend it.”
“Sheriff seemed to think he’d have kept on mining his whole life,” Boone said, and felt sad in doing so.
“He might have quit for you,” Coy said softly.
The words startled him. “I wouldn’t have asked him to. I told you what I felt.”
Coy gave a nod. “You did. Should get packing… you taking the tent?”
“Wasn’t planning on it. You can have it.”
“What about Dan’s then? Wes and Lee’s have seen better days, and it’s full of nails driven into the supports… looks like Dan’s will lift off easy enough.”
“Nah, don’t need it, and I want to travel light.”
“You got Blue for packing, and you can have the mare if you want.”
“No, you keep her. She’ll come in handy for when you move along.”
Coy shrugged, and then looked over at the horses. “Anyways, you’re going to need a place to sleep when you get situated.”
“Nothing wrong with sleeping under the stars… we sure did it plenty on times.”
“Not fun when there’s a storm, and you said there might be snow where you’re headed.”
“If there is, it’ll be months from now.”
“Time goes fast, Boone, and you don’t know how long it’ll take to get settled and have a roof over your head.”
“Now who’s worrying for who?” Boone asked with a smile.
“I’m not… sounds like you got most stuff figured out good, but Dan’s tent won’t add much to the load. It’s not as big as ours.”
“That’s true. I’ll roll it up and take it along. I better check for Lee’s old pack saddle.”
“It’s in back of their tent, along with their old saddles. Those things have seen better days, but they kept them well-oiled. You think I should take them to the Sherriff?”
“Thought you’d never want to see that man again.”
“Aw, he weren’t so bad, I reckon, and he for sure coulda been worse. So, should I take him the old paint’s saddle at the least?”
“Nah, he would have thrown it on the paint when he took him, if he had a use for it. Use one of them as a pack saddle when you leave. In fact… why don’t you pack up and come with me?”
Coy’s eyes widened, and then narrowed. “You sure are a confounding man, Boone Dixon. I already told you I wasn’t doing that.”
I know, but I’ve been thinking on it—”
“No need to think on it just because I made you feel guilty. It weren’t fair of me.”
“You didn’t make—”
Coy’s loud scoff interrupted him. “You need to pack up Blue and hightail it out of here before the sun starts blazing… you got a long way to travel. I’ll lift Dan’s tent off the posts and wrap it tight for you. Might as well burn Wes and Lee’s today, same time I burn Will’s… after you’re on your way.”
“You in a hurry to get me gone?” Boone asked, a mite confused at being pushed to leave… and disappointed Coy had turned him down again.
His friend stared him down, and didn’t return the smile. “You know better. I’m making my peace with you leaving because I want you to find what you’re seeking. Been a lot of death around here lately, and too much cloudy thinking, but traveling should fix that.” He strode off towards Dan’s camp, leaving Boone to ponder his words.
Which of them was he talking about? Did Boone even know what he was seeking anymore? He hadn’t felt this poorly since his ma died, leaving him alone in a world full of danger. Despite being older now, he felt about as sad as that young boy had, and truth be told, he was feeling some hurt. Picking his tooth stick back up, he had to swallow down the lump in his throat before he could use it.