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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 - 14. Chapter 14 Blood Stains

Hey, readers! The story chapters are now in proper sequence. I hope you will revisit this chapter if you read it before it was deleted to correct the issue. All comments and story likes/reactions were lost in that deletion of the chapter, so it would mean a lot to me if you could replace them (even though it was my fault it happened). I will respond to any comments as per usual, and I think you will find this chapter makes much more sense now. Again, I apologize for the screw up. Cheers!

Bearpaw

 

 

Chapter 14

 

 

Just after he left Bearpaw and made the turn home, Jubal saw a two-horse rig coming toward him. It carried Sheriff Barnes and two other men, and he groaned aloud at the sight because he was sure Reid would want to do some yammering, something he had no interest in. He couldn’t help noticing the horses were not near the size and power of Dinah as he reined her to the side to give them room.

The shiny, black-painted wagon was one he’d not seen before, but he could tell a covered-up body when he saw one. Good… that sumbitch was off Lucas’s land and headed for a hole in the ground. Was the cart what they used as a funeral wagon, for folks what people cared about?

Numb as he’d ever been, he felt nothing but disgust at the sight of Ronnie Prescott laying in the back. Not even a decent hatred could be mustered. He’d managed to feel bad for the killing of the cousins—just a mite—but not this one. Might be it was the powders Doctor Vance gave him, or the simple fact nothing mattered to him but seeing Lucas open them lively eyes of his again. He didn’t belong in no funeral wagon, that was for damn sure.

“Evening, Jubal. Anything happen since I left?”

Jubal found it took a lot of effort to look at the three men, all staring at him. One of the other two he recognized as young Billy, so the other must be Sam. “Ah… no… the doc says no change a’tall.”

“I suppose that’s a good thing, right?”

Jubal shrugged, not caring to talk to Reid or anyone else. How had this happened? How had he bared hisself to all these feelings after what he’d been through in the past? He should have known better, but fact is, Lucas got to him quick, and he maybe didn’t understand how much till he saw him lying in that cursed pool of blood, believing for a time he be dead.

“Jubal?”

“Yep?”

“You all right? I said we found Prescott’s horse tied in the woods, about three hundred feet in from where the road ends, a good ways east of the laneway.”

“Oh. Is that right? Never considered his horse a’tall.”

“Course not. You had Lucas to save.”

Jubal felt a stab at Reid’s words, though he tried not to let it show while he was being stared at. “Suppose. Where it be now?”

“Put her in the front corral with your mares, if’n that’s all right with you? Could tell they knew each other with all the carrying on. Lucas’s are still in the one farther back, beside the barn. Didn’t want no tussling with no one here to keep an eye.”

“Ah… we’ve been leaving them spread out cause….” Jubal stopped speaking, and then realized they were all waiting for more. He closed his mouth. Their plans for the herd weren’t anyone’s business.

“Well… so I figure she’s yours if you want her. She’s a good one for sure… head about as nice as the other one, but a mite leaner. Looks built for speed is my guess.”

“Mine? Well, I don’t know, Reid….”

“Understand if you don’t want her. Took the tack off her for Roland’s pay—he has more work to do with this one—and the bastard had three guns and two gun-belts I took custody of too. Need to check if they be stolen. If’n she’s something you don’t care to look at, I can auction that mare off… if it be what you prefer.”

“Why… why is that up to me? Ain’t that your decision to make?”

“It weren’t me he stole from. He robbed you, Jubal.”

“He did a damn sight worse than that,” he responded, picturing Lucas’s pale face and those lips what had no color or movement to them.

“He surely did, and you made him pay for it,” Reid said, staring directly at him with clear sympathy. “Want me to send someone back to get her?”

“No… no… I reckon she can stay put. Not her fault her rider tried to kill our friend.”

“That’s a fact. All right then. That’s settled, but there’s more. You needing anything? You look right wrung out.”

“Reckon I feel that way. Need to get done at the farm and get back to town for Lucas. Doc… he gave me some powders to treat... shock, whatever that be. What more is there?”

“Don’t want to keep you—know it’s not the best time—but it’s expected I write a report for the judge and the town council. Anyways, found ten double eagles in his saddle bags. Had two witnesses for the finding, and I strongly suspect they be yours, proof being ten were found on each of his accomplices in the robbery of your property. Further proof being they had your horse and pack saddle in their possession, stolen at the same time, along with stolen goods from at least one more victim.”

Jubal raised his eyebrows at the official-sounding words. “Expect they are mine. Told us he wanted them coins we took off his cousins.”

“Further proof he was involved. You still be shy two hundred dollars by my reckoning, but they’re yours if you accept them. Those two mares get you closer to even.”

“What’ll happen if I don’t accept them coins?”

“Why in tarnation wouldn’t you?” Reid asked in a strained voice what sounded right confused.

“Don’t feel right to be talking money with Lucas fighting to survive. Don’t feel right a’tall.”

The sheriff nodded slowly. “Well… I surely understand that, but as the law here, there’s things what need doing, like it or not. If you don’t take possession, I’ll be handing them over to the judge, and he’ll likely request they be returned to their rightful owner. When I tell him they were refused, I expect they could become property of the government.”

Jubal sighed, not enjoying such talk a’tall. “Don’t make sense they get my money, I suppose.”

“It surely doesn’t, and it would be better for me to have it all settled before the circuit judge arrives. He don’t appreciate complications. It’s what he calls them loose ends he has to make decisions on, and it makes him plumb irritable. Says a good sheriff tidies up, and that’s all I’m trying to do.”

“I understand… and I’ll accept them if’n it makes it less complicated, but would you hold onto them for me? I’ll come pick them up another time when they won’t feel so godforsaken dirty. My gold be the reason Lucas got shot.”

Reid looked down and away for a spell… appeared he was wincing. Then he spit. He was feeling poorly about Lucas too, and that gave Jubal some small comfort. It didn’t change the fact he felt alone, but Lucas should be cared about.

“Weren’t the gold’s fault and it weren’t yourn. Ronnie be a bad one through and through, so don’t be carrying no blame. Jubal? You hearing me?”

“Yep, I hear you.” He knew what Reid said was true, but right now it felt like his gold be cursed. Three men were dead, and the best man he knew lay near it.

“I hope you do. I’ll hold onto these coins with the promise you have accepted them as your property.”

Jubal sighed, wanting this conversation to end. “It’s a promise. I ain’t stupid… getting my money back is something I should be thankful for.”

The sheriff nodded as he glanced at his two companions. “Glad you’re seeing that, and I’m sorry for holding you up at such a time as this. You saved him, Jubal, and you remember that. Now… best you get yourself to the farm and do as the doc told you with that salve.” His gaze dropped to Jubal’s messed-up chest before rising to look him in the face. “Might do to get some sleep too. Lucas will be counting on you… for a lot of things. I’ll be checking on him, and I’ll sit with him when I can, so take what time you need. Been through a lot today, any fool can see such.”

“Appreciate that, but I want to be there in case he passes. Don’t want that to happen without me being there. He… we built a trust in a short time, and I expect he would want it so.” Why was he feeling the need to explain to any of these men?

“I’m sure he does, and he’s been blessed to find a friend like you.”

“He’s got a good one in you too, Reid, and he’d want you there same as me, got no doubt for that.”

“Surely.” He didn’t appear convinced, though, as his eyes shifted away. He clucked to his team and the wagon lurched forward. Jubal did the same and Dinah moved off towards home, her steps eager.

He felt some relief to be on his own and moving again, until he looked back at the mattress still in the wagon bed. Them blood stains brought the burn back behind his eyes, and this time he didn’t fight the fool tears, since there be nobody around to see them.

There was lots of whinnying going on as he drove up alongside the barn. He turned the rig around so it was facing west before putting the brake on and jumping down. His mind was working slow, but he’d do one step at a time. No sense washing up till chores be done.

After a few more whinnies, a single moo, and some loud hog grunts, the place grew godawful quiet. The soft clucking of the chickens was something he’d gotten used to, and he welcomed the steady sound in the distance.

He had an hour and a half of daylight left if’n he was lucky, so refused to let hisself get distracted. Pushing away that wretched feeling that came with heavy worry, he concentrated on what needed doing. Unharnessing Dinah was the first step. She’d earned some rest, and after the day they’d shared, he felt right close to her. She nuzzled him, her nose in his belly when he was at her front, and he spoke a few words.

“He’ll be back here in no time, girl. Expect you smell his blood, and I don’t know if you understand what that means, but if you do, you surely helped give him a fighting chance. I might have been too late, but you didn’t put no step wrong, not a damn one.”

She nuzzled him again as she lowered her head right down, showing her trust, and he straightened her forelock—just like Lucas always did—before leading her off to the barn. Pouring a few handfuls of oats onto the ground, he let her eat them while standing free. By the time he sorted and hung up the harness and grabbed the two watering pails, she was finished. He turned her out with Strawberry and Rabbit and strode off in a hurry to get water.

Approaching the smaller corral, he spied the new mare and remembered her right away. The image of Ronnie Prescott came to him clear. This was the horse he sat on when Jubal had peered through the slit in back of the buckboard that night. At first, he wanted nothing to do with this reminder of that man, but when she raised her fine head and stared at him with a kind eye, he remembered what he’d said to Reid. It weren’t her fault. Was no one’s fault but that thieving, killing bugger. He’d be rotting in hell for sure.

He poured the two pails into the trough and then went through to give his three mares some attention and a look over. When he got to Bean, a few more tears came as he laid his forehead against her neck. A sound came from far off, a whinny no doubt. It was faint for sure, and he wondered if someone was coming his way. He hoped not, ‘specially if it was one bringing him bad news. Wiping his eyes, he went back to finishing up. Lucas needed him to take care of all the stock, so he needed to be stronger than this.

Another whinny sounded a couple of minutes later, just as faint as the first, and this time he could tell the call wasn’t from the direction of town. Hard to tell the distance, but it was for sure coming from over the ridge out by the orchard, maybe as far away as the river. Couldn’t imagine anyone riding in from that direction. There weren’t nothing out that way what he’d seen. Might be it was a wilding, but he had a sudden thought.

He went back and got the mare he’d rode the day before, saddling her quick while there was still daylight. His holster was still in the wagon so he ran over and strapped it on, replacing the missing bullets. He wouldn’t be caught unawares again. Remembering that feeling of being defenseless, he got his knife from the saddle bag and slid the sleeve onto his gun-belt.

Loping east, he weren’t long in reaching where the sound came from. Deep in a thicket on the downward slope, he caught a flash of dark sorrel through the trees as another whinny sounded. His mare responded right quick, her body quivering with excitement. Yep, His suspicion was right. He’d found the third Prescott horse what belonged to the other dead cousin, he was certain of it.

Dismounting and tying up to a stout branch, he made his way through the thick stand with gun drawn, soon finding a picket line where the ground was tore up, but no sign of a person being near. He really hadn’t expected there to be, but you just never know what might lurk close by. The horse tied to the line looked stressed at being by her lonesome, sweat on her neck and flanks, but settled down as soon as he spoke to her. “Easy, girl,” he said in a soothing voice while he looked around.

This was where that bastard had hidden out, the proof being in a firepit filled with days worth of ashes and a few rabbit bones mixed in. A coffee and cooking pot were set beside it, and a dirty, spread-out bedroll laid about ten feet away. A walk to the river wouldn’t have taken ten minutes from the well-concealed spot.

Feeling a mite sick at how close the man had been, possibly since that very first night, he felt a rage hit him. How and when he found them was a mystery, but he could have been in this very spot when Lucas showed him the orchard. He thought about Prescott’s words earlier, and realized what he’d said.

Jubal’s bullet must have glanced off the top of the shoulder bone, not causing as much damage as he’d thought, but maybe enough to slow him down just enough. He heard tell of such a thing happening. Supposed they were lucky he hadn’t waited to ambush them that night after his cousins were shot dead, seeing how he could shoot with either hand.

A man should be able to feel safe on his own land, sure of its peace and protection. They’d been careless… he’d been careless in believing a man like Prescott would just ride off and disappear. He should have been on his guard against a proven criminal who’d tried to hold him up a second time. A man who had no problem killing innocent people… even an unarmed, old woman.

Sitting on the ground for a spell, feeling plumb defeated, he thought about how often he’d met men what couldn’t be trusted, and yet the only one since Vincent he could, lay close to dying in Bearpaw. It weren’t fair. A soft nicker drew his attention back to the sorrel on the picket line. She had no access to grass where she be, and no water. That weren’t right either.

Sighing, his rage gone as quick as it came, he stood, approaching the horse with his hand out. Prescott was dead. Justice had been done by Jubal’s own hand, and all that mattered was to keep moving… to keep finding hope where he could. She was another fine horse, and he wondered where the dead men might have gotten them. Could be they were stolen, but like the other two, this one had no brand neither. Clearly welcoming of his presence, she nickered again while he untied her.

Still cautious, Jubal paid attention to his surroundings while he worked on the tightened knot, and something didn’t seem right in the tree dead ahead. The last of the sun was shining through it from the west, and Jubal stared hard, thinking at first that he must be looking at a critter of some kind. Leaving the mare tied, he walked forward to get a better look. Sure enough, there was a sack tied to a branch of the thick fir tree, hanging right up against the trunk. Could be it was a food cache, but Jubal’s curiosity needed satisfying.

Was easy to see where someone had climbed the tree to hide whatever be stowed in that cloth bag, so Jubal did the same. There was a jingle to the dark brown sack as he worked over his head to get it freed. Seeing it be tied right tight, he used his knife to cut the rope.

Back on the ground, he wasn’t the least bit surprised to find more of his gold coins. The clink of gold was a familiar sound different from any other. There be ten of them, along with a fat bunch of bank notes, two gold watches, and a good handful of Liberty coins. A woman’s jewelry was snagged on threads in the bottom, but he could see there be a necklace tangled up with earrings and that there was a real shine to them. Diamonds and gold, it looked like. He whistled softly, and then wondered why Prescott had kept ten double eagles in his saddle bags instead of keeping them here with the rest? He gave up, not understanding the mind of such an animal.

Funny thing was, he’d worked and saved a lot of years for them gold coins, put up with some real hardships, and had certainly felt lower than low when he’d woke to find hisself poorer than a one-legged whore.

He had them all back but two now, two horses to replace Kema, and now there was a third to figure out what to do with, yet none of it meant anything. He’d trade it all for Lucas to be back on his farm none the worse for wear. One thing was certain, as much as he liked the land and the town, he’d be leaving Bearpaw if his friend didn’t make it. Wherever he belonged, it wouldn’t be here, wildings or not.

He was feeling low as he returned to the farm, almost angry that he had his money back when Lucas could die any minute… if he hadn’t already. The thought twisted his guts, and he hardly paid attention as he led the new sorrel to the corral.

Dismounting, he turned her loose inside, reuniting her with Bean and the other Prescott mare Reid had found in the trees. Only thing was, they weren’t Prescott horses no more. Forcing hisself to think with hope, he decided he would give Lucas his pick of the two in the pen. That was if Reid said he had the right to make such a decision. Lucas would have a future—he had to believe that—and he had work to do.

He picked up the reins he’d dropped of the one already saddled, not even remembering doing so, and tied her to the hitching post. She would be his ride back to town once he was done, and he’d be keeping her for sure. She weren’t Kema—none could be—but he already had the start of a bond with her, and reckoned she felt it too. She be trusting him, and that thought soothed him some. He had to give her a name, but his mind be elsewhere, so it could wait for a better time.

He set the sack in the back of the wagon and continued his chores. The stock was fed and watered in little time since Jubal moved quick as he could. All that was left to do was wash up and put clean clothes on. Bugger! The pool of blood… he had put that from his mind, but he couldn’t leave it the way it was. Filling the two water pails from the crick again, he grabbed the scour brush hung on the barn wall and entered the log cabin. It was dark, but he thought that might be better than seeing clearly. Getting on his hands and knees, he poured some water and started scrubbing.

With each pour, water dripped between the thin cracks in the floorboards, and slowly the dark stain lightened. Dripping with sweat from the effort, he went for more water, and brought the lantern back as well. The red was gone near as he could tell, but he scrubbed again anyway, wanting not a speck to remain. Finally satisfied with a patch that looked like new wood compared to the rest, he left the building, pleased there would be no reminder for Lucas, at least not one made of his blood. There be plenty still on the mattress, but it would have to wait.

As he neared the crick, he remembered the plan for the wildings. Where was his head at? Running back to the barn Jubal filled a pail half full of sweet-smelling oats and headed for the upper pen. Didn’t see no wildings when he got there, but all the oats they’d spread had been cleaned up. Fast as he could, he poured new piles, with a few further inside the corral. Might be the plan was working… but he had no interest in doing it without Lucas.

The sun was completely gone, and he needed to get back to his friend. Stripping his britches off, he stepped into the crick and sunk beneath the surface. The cool water brought him back to life, at least in part. He did what the doctor ordered and gave hisself a good soaping while the moon rose higher. Clean as he could get, he left the crick and searched for the tin of salve in his dirty britches. Finding it, he picked up the lantern and went into the cabin.

The missing plank on the back wall brought the day right back to him. He sighed. Something else he needed to take care of… but not now. His chest was a mess of scratches beneath the hair, and his nipples were an angry-looking red in the lantern light, ‘specially the right one, but he’d live. The salve stung at first, but then calmed.

He dressed quickly in his extra set of clothes, pulled his boots on, buckled his holster low on his hips, and headed for his horse. All that mattered was seeing Lucas. He was mounted when he remembered the sack in the wagon. Retrieving it, he stuffed it in his saddle bag and remounted, leaving the farm behind at a lope, that low branch almost knocking his hat off. He prayed Lucas would still be alive when he got to Bearpaw. Kissing the air, he urged his mare into a gallop.

 

 

*   

For those of you returning to this chapter, thank you!. We are back to normal now, which is a huge relief to me. I would love to hear your thoughts (again) on this one. It would make this whole episode less painful. :hug:  Gary. 
Copyright © 2023 Headstall; All Rights Reserved.
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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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