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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
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Bearpaw: An Old West Tale - 1. Chapter 1 Lost and Found

Another journey begins...

Lost and Found

 

 

Jubal Coyle surely didn’t care for being lost, but he liked being sad as he was even less. Anger no longer burned through him like it done earlier, and now he felt low as a snake. Damn that thick, godforsaken bog he’d fought his way through, one what caused him to shoot his own horse.

He’d tried his best to calm him, but the stallion’s panic at being stuck in muck and roots had him twisting and jumping. He’d managed to thrash his way out, but his left front weren’t no longer straight below the knee, and Kema looked to him to make it right again. There weren’t many men he trusted, but he trusted Jubal, and it about broke his heart he couldn’t do nothing for him but end his pain with a bullet.

Finding the road—if it could be called such—hadn’t been easy, and now he sat in the dirt on the edge of the rutted trail, trying to catch his breath after lugging his tack and saddlebags through mostly dense and stinking swamp. The ground be still marshy at his back, and he’d long given up fighting the mosquitoes, too weary to stop ‘em taking his blood. Reckoned he lost a quart to the never-ending swarm.

Where in tarnation was he? His thinking had been addled for days, but he was finally coming out of it, figuring out he be facing west cause of the dipping sun’s path. That meant south was to his left. He supposed his best bet be to head that way—the direction the railroad lay for certain—but what would he do once he got there?

He had no money to speak of, thanks to being bushwhacked days earlier by three men. It be hard to remember how long ago it’d happened. His head still carried a big lump from the gun butt what struck his head within seconds after waking from a dead sleep. He’d heard a voice and felt the hit, and remembered such, but hadn’t seen who done it, not till later.

His gut had warned him for days he was being followed, and he still cursed hisself for falling asleep like he’d done, but weren’t no use crying over tipped milk. That mistake meant he needed a new plan, now that buying land of his own be out of the question. He’d gone from being a man of some means and big dreams to one what didn’t even have a mount.

So… he reckoned he only had the one choice to make. He needed to hire onto a big outfit and go back to driving and watching over cattle. He’d thought those miserable days be over for him, but like so many times in his life, he’d been proved wrong.

Groaning from his aches, he stood up and attempted to brush the caked, foul-smelling mud from his clothes. He weren’t long in giving up, knowing he looked a sight as he loaded back up with his tack and saddle bags. A small taste from his canteen of swamp water rinsed the dirt from his throat before he started south, back to his old life.

Despite the sun having begun its descent, it was still strong enough to peel a man’s skin, and Jubal was now thankful he wore that mud, some of it wettened again by his sweat. A smart man might have left his saddle behind, but Jubal was as stubborn as the damn bog filth he wore, so he trudged on under the weight, hoping for a wagon to come along from the north.

Judging by the ruts, there hadn’t been nothing as heavy as a stagecoach pass by for many weeks, but someone had used it, and not too long ago. There were a lot of ups and downs as he walked, and he imagined it would be rough travelling this part in springtime.

The sun had dropped another foot when he heard the sound of a horse and wagon in the distance. Only trouble was, it came from the direction he needed to go. So far, he’d been accepting of his bad luck, but the loss of his horse, the thievery of his hard-earned money what ended his dreams—and the godawful pain in his head—had him wanting to give up.

Course he couldn’t, and he wouldn’t, but it was surely an effort to muster up any good feeling for his situation. Dropping his load for the first time in about three miles, he checked his gun and adjusted his kerchief before sinking to the ground and burying his head in his hands. He didn’t look up until he could feel the wagon’s progress through the dirt beneath him. It was being pulled by one horse, a wide, sturdy bay what appeared more plough horse than cart horse.

Weren’t long before he could see the driver clearly, and he appeared a rough-looking fellow, grimy hair and beard combined to form a big ball with a face in it. He guessed his hair was brown, but couldn’t be certain of it. The man wore a holster for sure, and he could see the butt of a rifle sticking out of a wooden scabbard at his side. He be ready for trouble, but so was Jubal.

As the wagon neared, he saw the straight-backed man was about as dirty as him, his britches caked in mud and his shirt badly stained. His wide-brimmed black hat too, had mud on it and had surely seen better days. There were enough clues Jubal had no doubt he was a farmer, and the envy he felt at that fact hit him square as he rose up to speak a greeting.

“Good day to you, mister.”

“Hello, stranger. Looks to be you’ve had some trouble. I’m guessing you’ve lost your mount?” he asked as he looked at the saddle laying on the ground. His eyes shifted back, eyeing him head to toe before settling back on his face. He appeared friendly enough, but his caution was clear.

“You’ve guessed right. Got trapped in a bog for a spell, and Kema came out of it with a broke leg. Bad broke. He be my stud horse… or he was till I shot him.”

The man gave him a sympathetic look as he nodded. He relaxed just a mite. “That’s a terrible shame. Good stock is hard to come by around these parts. Know what it feels like to face what you did, ending their life out of kindness. Kema? That be Apache for friend, ain’t it?”

Jubal nodded. “Only had him a couple of years, but never had better,” he muttered, doing what cowboys did, not wanting to show how bad he was feeling. He also didn’t want to think any more about them trusting eyes watching him as he pulled the trigger. “I see you be heading north.”

“Yep. North then east to my farm. Be lucky to make it home afore midnight. Got through the softest part of road, so now it’s easier going. Happens the back wheels got stuck in about six miles back. Three weeks of solid rain and storming sure made wagon travel a challenge along here for a time.

"Should have unhooked my horse and hauled that downed tree off the road instead of trying to squeeze round. Usually learn things the hard way,” he said, shaking his head as he chuckled, revealing an easygoing nature that set Jubal to ease. “So, you heading south? Where to, if’n you don’t mind me asking?”

“Don’t mind a’tall, and don’t know exactly, but yep, got no choice 'cept to head that way. Was bushwhacked… three days past I think, and now I need to find an outfit what needs a trail hand or such. Don’t suppose there’s the like north of here?”

“Fraid not. Too many trees for cattle folk. There's farms, though, and a town what’s trying to grow and prosper.”

“Would that be Larkspur?”

“Larkspur?” The man shook his head, creases forming between the brows over bright green eyes what glowed pretty as he turned his head to the lowered sun. “That-away be Larkspur. Could be more than three weeks travel from here on horseback, and it ain’t easy going. There's some wide, fast rivers to get across, and it’s thick bush for a lot of it. Surely not a place you could walk to.”

Jubal nodded, happy to have at least some idea where he was at. “I expected that was the case. I knew I be missing the trail.” He didn’t want to admit he’d gotten lost, but it weren’t hard for a fellow to figure out. “So how long to get south… to the rail line?”

“The rail line? Well”—he swatted at some of the mosquitos heading his way—“depends on how you go, but I wouldn’t want to do such on foot either. There’s a trading post afore then. No big ranches anywheres nearby, though, that much I know.”

Jubal frowned, his heart sinking a mite lower than it was. “You know the area well?”

“Learning it. Found a place to get supplies I can’t get in town while the road be in such shape, and that’s where I be traveling to and from the last couple of days. Stage should be starting regular again, now that bad section is firming up, and so will the supply wagons."

“So, you saying a stage might come be coming along soon?”

“Not for weeks yet, I’d say. Well… a week at least. Could be wrong on that, but judging by the road I would bet gold I ain’t.”

“But you made it through?”

“Yep, but I ain’t got no sense most times,” the man said with another grin.

Jubal smiled back, but felt the hopelessness of his lot. He’d need to make camp soon, so he met the man’s steady gaze again. “I thank you for the information, and reckon I’m holding you back from gittin’ home.”

“Can always spare a little time to help a man down on his luck. Lord knows I’ve had my share.”

Jubal sighed before attempting a smile. “That be me for sure.”

“What’s your name, stranger?”

“Jubal Coyle.”

“Jubal, I’m Lucas… Lucas Rush… some call me Luke, and it don’t matter which. If you don’t mind me asking, did them bushwhackers leave you money enough to replace your mount?”

“No, they didn’t have no decency a’tall, and I got this lump on the back of my skull to prove such. Took all the gold I spent six years saving. Never should have traveled with it, and now all I got is a couple of coins in my hat they didn’t find.”

“What I expected. How many were there?”

“Saw three when I came to. Was riding off with my pack horse, they were, but I got a look at the one when he turned his head back my way... wasn't able to move a hair at the time. Moon shone full on his face, and he was the same one I saw camped at a river I crossed days earlier. He was alone then—didn’t like the look of him a’tall—so I kept on riding. Had a strong feeling later I was being followed, but thought it might be an Indian keeping an eye on me. Didn’t mean to fall asleep like I done.”

“Well… Indians ain’t much of a problem in these parts, but we need more law just the same. So, you really do be needing work then, Jubal,” he said, as if talking to hisself.

“Yep, I surely do. You thinking you know where I can find some?”

“Might do. Yep… yep, I have me an idea. My gut says you’re a decent fellow. Am I right in thinking so?”

“Yep, your gut be right about me, and I ain’t afraid of work. Don’t need to be cattle work,” he said, feeling just a bit of hope return.

“Well, if that be true, I do need help on my farm. I got a hundred and eight acres of trees and pasture—mostly trees—so the work be hard and I can’t pay much. If you’re interested, I’d only ask you to work as hard as I do, and I’d be fair as I can. Can give you a roof over your head and food in your belly till you get yourself squared. Might be work somewhere in town too, if'n you’d prefer such.”

“Can I earn enough to buy a horse?”

The man’s eyes suddenly sparkled, as if he was about to laugh or share some secret. “Well… if’n you find work in town you should be able to make enough for a fair mount, but they do be dear around here. There is another way to get yourself a decent horse what don’t cost money, though.”

“You talking horse thieving?”

“Lord in heaven, no. Nothing lower than someone who would steal another man’s horse.”

“Glad to hear you say such. Then what you be suggesting, Lucas?”

“Can you rope and break your own?”

“Course I can. Ain’t no cowboy worth his salt what can’t throw a rope or gentle a horse.”

Lucas nodded his agreement. “Feel the same. So… just between us there's a wild herd—a small one—what wintered on the north end of my land where the grass was thick and the cover good... and no other folks around but me. There are two young’uns I’ve had my eye on. Coming two, the both of them, and there’s a few fine yearlings in the bunch. The mares are good quality for wildings, and I’ve seen the stallion a time or two. No doubt that he’s the reason the young’uns be as good as they are. He’s a spotted one, and so are the ones I fancy. Too hard to get a rope on them without no help.”

Jubal thought about the possibility, feeling his excitement build, and not just because he badly needed a horse. He’d always loved working with colts no one else wanted to. It was the reason he ended up with Kema, and he’d always been keen on the spotted Indian horses. Every one he’d come across had lots of heart to them. “You tried to get a rope on one?”

“No sir, not yet. You only get a chance or two with wildings, and I didn’t want to waste one. You can trust me they be fine horses, though.” He finished up with a wide grin, showing a whole mouthful of strong, white teeth.

Jubal found hisself wondering at the man’s age. Was hard to tell with all the dust and dirt streaks on his face and arms, but he was starting to see the man had some handsomeness to him. It’d had surely been a while, and his eyes dropped to them spread legs before he caught hisself. Lucas didn’t appear to have noticed.

“Ah… so... so you’re suggesting I help you catch one, and then you’ll help me get the other?”

Lucas nodded. “Sooner the better before someone else gets the same idea, and I ain’t opposed to us roping yours first,” he said with another one of them big grins.

Yep, that smile was a pretty one, no doubt about it, and Jubal felt those dangerous stirrings. “I reckon I believe you to be a fair man.”

“I am for sure. A man needs hisself a good mount, so I can wait. I have two more at home so my need be less than yours. And as long as you are willing to work, you’d have that roof over your head and a full belly every night, and I can maybe see clear to paying three dollars a week for the summer, if’n you can settle in for that. I know it not be what you can get elsewhere.”

Three dollars a week weren’t much a’tall—he’d make twice that and a little more on a cattle drive—but a place to sleep and a full belly was, so Jubal’s decision came easy. “I can do that. I can settle in because to speak the truth, I wasn’t looking forward to chasing cattle again. Swore to myself I was done with it. I’m a stranger to you, but I truly do appreciate the trail you’re opening up for me—sounds a good deal—especially if’n we catch them wildings—and you won’t have to pay me if you ain’t pleased with my work. You will need to feed me, though.” This time it was him who let loose a big grin.

Lucas appeared downright pleased. “Well, come on then, before these flying critters pick you up and carry you back into that there swamp.”

“Amen to that,” Jubal said. “They ain’t never satisfied no matter how much blood you feed them.”

“Must find yours sweeter than mine, since you got a lot more around you than I do.”

Jubal laughed as he swatted some away. He had a good feeling about this fellow, and that was surprising to him. It weren’t easy for him to trust any man, yet he did this one what he didn’t even know. He just hoped he wasn’t wrong this time… cause he most often was when it came to judging who a person truly be.

 

*

Thanks for joining me on this new adventure. It's a simple story about life in those times and I hope you like it. The story is completely written, and I'll be posting every Monday... so get ready for Bearpaw Mondays. :)  Please leave chapter reactions and comments to let me know your thoughts. Cheers! Gary.
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 

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