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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 - 16. Chapter 16 Broody

Better than he does hisself....

Broody

 

 

The sun was showing itself to the east, halfway clear of the horizon, and Jubal was staring right into it as he rode out of Bearpaw. It was a breezy morning with the promise of being another fine day, but he could tell there’d been some rain during the night, dark patches in the dirt giving it away. Must have happened while he slept. He had so much to ponder, and pretty much all of it had to do with the man he’d just left behind.

He’d been given no new reason to hope, but it didn’t stop him from feeling some. Lucas hadn’t died while he sat with him, and Doc Vance had just told him it could be another good sign he might recover. He’d take the ‘could’, even though the doc had cautioned him right after saying such, adding there was no telling what the strain be to his organs and their functions.

Then the man had ordered him from the room so he could attempt to feed Lucas some fluids. Said it could get right messy and might not be successful, so he didn’t need Jubal nor anyone else looking over his shoulder and fretting. He followed up with a look what said he wouldn’t hear no argument about it.

Reluctant for sure, he obeyed the doc and left, the jingle of gold coins annoying him as he walked to the livery. He’d halted when he went by “Willoughby’s Glass and Mirrors”. It was where they’d picked up the cabin windows, and where Lucas had ordered the smaller loft ones. The door was open and he stepped inside. Greeted by Willoughby himself, he told the energetic man what he wanted.

The broken panes of glass in the new window would likely bother Lucas, if’n he knew him like he thought he did, so he ordered two new ones to replace the bullet-shattered ones. Willoughby still had the measurements, and told him the wood pieces holding the panes in place should be easily pried off and reused if he took some care with them and their small nails. He was confident he could do it since he had that new chisel for just such a task. Besides, Vincent had taught him well about working with different woods, being a very fine furniture-maker hisself. Many a time he’d allowed Jubal to assist him and do some of the simpler work with his own hands.

The new glass and the loft windows would be ready to pick up that afternoon, so he’d harness Dinah and drive in later. Keeping busy be what he needed. He’d gotten some sleep earlier, and it would do… more than enough far as he was concerned. Reconsidering his order as he prepared to mount up, he’d turned around and went back inside, ordering one more piece of glass. Lucas hadn’t been wrong. The cost of it be dear, but he figured it a worthwhile purchase for what he had planned.

His stomach made its emptiness known as he turned north. Despite only being here a short time, riding to the farm felt like going home.

First thing he did—after unsaddling and turning his mare loose—was to get those damn coins out of his pockets. After gazing about the farm cautiously, satisfied he be alone, he strode over the foot bridge what crossed the crick until he reached the outhouse through the trees. Looking around again, he slipped behind it into the dense brush.

There be a big and heavy flat rock deep in its midst, and he squatted to get a good grip on it. Flipping it over, he exposed the little pit he dug what held his pouch of gold. Who would ever check for such in back of an outhouse? Ronnie Prescott surely hadn’t—he wouldn’t have been able to see behind it unless he came from the north—and there’d be no avoiding fighting through that thick patch of trees and brush what grew there.

Nope, he never thought to look there… maybe if he had he would have left them alone. As soon as the thought came, he threw it away. If Ronnie had found the gold, he’d still have tried to kill the ‘dumb farmers’, cause that’s who the man be.

His pa was one what never liked to get bested either. Hate would churn in him for days and days over the smallest slight, and he was inclined to take it out on Jubal in plenty of ways. He hoped that old bastard was dead, but doubted he would be. He was too damn ornery to die.

Opening the pouch, he added his new coins. Thinking on it, he removed one, slipping it back into his pocket. He might need more supplies in the coming days while he waited for Lucas to wake. Putting the rock back in place, he walked west out of the bush, and then north to check on the wildings. They were nowhere to be seen, but the oats were again cleaned up. As he searched the area, he hoped it wasn’t deer what ate them. The whole ridge felt empty to him.

Returning to the barnyard, he began the feeding and watering, a pastime he found pleasant. If anything could ease his worry, it was this place. He spoke to each animal as he checked to make sure there were no injuries or scratches needing his attention. The cow’s udder looked fine, but he reckoned at some point he should get the stool and milk her proper since the big calf be likely to wean itself soon.

One of his least favorite things was cleaning up after chickens—done enough of that as a young’un for a pa who would lean on a cane, one he didn’t need for anything but swatting, and watch him to make sure he did it right—but it had to be done. Lucas had mentioned a few times it be well past time for it. Changing into his blood-stained britches and going shirtless, he entered the coop with a broom, a rake, a flat-edged shovel, and Lucas’s steel-wheeled muck cart.

One broody hen was setting so he let her be, but there be thirteen other eggs to collect, and he was reminded of his empty stomach. Chicken shit stunk to high heavens, but was damn good fertilizer, and he wheeled it to the garden once he was done scraping it up. Dumping the foul droppings into a pile to be spread later, he pulled weeds for half an hour and then headed off to the crick, dunking hisself britches and all after he took his boots off. He couldn’t abide that odor of chicken shit what got on you no matter how hard you tried to stay clear. Inspecting his chest, he saw there was still a greasy film from the salve, and decided to do the soaping and apply the salve later.

He started a fire and cracked five of the large brown eggs, frying them up with the thick smoked and salted bacon he'd gotten from the root cellar when he stored the extra eggs. He cut a slab of bread to go with it and downed the whole meal in a short minute. Made some coffee too what scalded his tongue, but was worth it for the life it gave back to him. He’d been avoiding the mattress, but it be that time.

The blood stains were stubborn, and all he did with scrubbing was lighten them some. They were no longer a dark red, but more a dull brown, and he had no choice but to accept it was as good as he could do. Besides, the other side was clean of stains, so it could be flipped. He laid it on the grass in the sun when he was done, expecting it wouldn’t take more than an hour or two to dry. Not a moment went by Lucas wasn’t part of his thinking. It hurt to be apart from him with no guarantee he wouldn’t die in the time he was gone, but doing these things in the place his friend truly loved helped Jubal feel connected to him.

Taking a few deep breaths, he stared at the log house… and at the doorway he’d carried the wounded man through. Lucas had been trapped in there with no way out, and that did not sit well a’tall. Grabbing tools from the barn, he proceeded to do what needed doing. His first axe swing was right on the mark, and a big chunk of wood chipped off the top log of what would be the new doorway. Never again would he get cornered in his own home.

About three hours later, he finished sawing out the final log of the doorway. He then spent some time sawing the top of the next one level for the doorway sill plate to sit on, one up from the massive log the floor be tied into. His arms were plumb wore out—and he be soaked in sweat—but he stood back and looked at the opening, feeling a strong sense of pride in his work.

The view out was different from what you got from the lower ground. It be a truly special one of the barn and pens and back fields, all the way to the far hills on the other side of the river. Being on a knoll, the house looked down on Lucas’s handiwork, and the man would see—when he got home—just how straight and true his buildings be, well worthy of his pride. The man deserved to see such… he just had to. He might have felt overwhelmed at times by the making of his homestead, but there was no proof of it in what he’d accomplished.

He emptied his canteen to replace all the water he’d sweated out, and then carried the sawed logs to the wood pile. They would do fine for firewood. It be past one o’clock, judging by the sun, and despite the urge to go see Lucas, he chose to do more work. The man would make fun of his need to be busy if he were here, but it kept Jubal’s mind from traveling dark paths.

Besides, he preferred to go in the evening when he could sit with him alone. The doc had promised again he’d send a rider if anything changed, so he comforted hisself with the fact no one had come, leastwise not yet.

Two hours later he had the door frames made and nailed on through notches like the windows. Done that way, they’d allow the logs to settle without catching them up. He pushed moss into the spaces he could see light through, not wanting any draughts for Lucas during cold months and windy times.

Affixing the hinges to the already made front door was a simple task, and when he was done nailing them into the solid cedar frame, the door swung freely and closed tightly. Looking around the beautiful, peaceful cabin, he could almost forget the memory of Lucas bleeding out on the floor. Almost. It was time to pick up the lumber from the mill for the loft, and later, the window panes from Willoughby’s.

But first he needed to soap up and apply that salve again. No matter what the future held, he was determined to finish Lucas’s cabin. He wasn’t sure why since the man would never expect it of him, but it be an important thing in his mind. He checked the mattress laying in the sun, and it had dried. The filling might be a mite damp, though, so he left it for a while longer and proceeded to the crick.

 

He arrived at the mill to find the saw running and no one in sight. It was his first time there by hisself, but Dinah seemed not to be bothered a’tall by the loud whine coming from the building. He put the brake on and stepped down, standing at her head as he waited to be noticed. It took a few minutes, but the noise finally stopped. Left his ears ringing, though.

A sawdust-covered Morey came out right after, walking straight for him. “Heard about Lucas and how you got him to town in time. It’s Jubal Coyle, ain’t it?”

“Yep, it is. Just hoping it was in time, Morey. I came for the two-inch pine boards for his loft.”

“Did you? Well, I made them two and a half inches… less waste for the size of the logs what you brought me, and better strength for a loft floor. That be all right with you?”

“Course it is. Like they’ll be stronger, and I’m sure Lucas will too.”

“Expected so. They’re all milled and sitting in that there pile beside your wagon. I’ll get Gerald to help you load up… don’t do it much myself anymore if’n I can help it.” His feet shifted as he tipped his hat up and scratched at his head. Sawdust swirled everywhere.

“Really am sorry, son, for what happened to Luke. I love that boy like he be from my own loins. Never saw anyone work harder than him, out there all by his lonesome with almost no time for resting, yet any time I need a hand he be there for me. Glad he finally has some help. He treats that stock of his better than he does hisself.”

“That be true, sure enough.” He felt that burn between his eyes as Morey stared at him. “Ah… reckon I don’t need no help with loading up.”

“Suit yourself. Heard from Billy you been with Luke plenty by his sick bed?”

“Billy?”

“The town councillor’s son. Young fella what follows the sheriff around like a puppy?”

“Oh. Yep. I know who you mean. He don’t say much, least not that I’ve heard.”

“He’s had his troubles for sure, that boy, but he’s grown up some and be a good ‘un now, and he sure looks up to Reid.”

“Appears the sheriff puts a lot of trust in him.”

“Yep. So, he be right? You stay with Lucas the night long?”

Jubal nodded. “I do, yep. No need for him to be all alone… just wouldn’t be right. After I unload, I’ll be going back to sit with him again. Doc’s there now… leastwise keeping a close eye on him. Hoping he wakes up soon.”

“Billy says he looks poorly, and I heard Doc Vance don’t expect he’ll wake for a week or more, that he’s in a bad way?”

“What he says, yep. Told me he can’t predict anything,” Jubal said, suddenly feeling overwhelmed by them dark thoughts again, so was eager to get going before he showed the fear right close to coming out.

The sawyer peered at him for a few long seconds. “Won’t keep you. I expect I’ll see that boy back here soon… and I’m counting on it. He be a strong one, and those of us who care for him appreciate you’re doing all you can, and we’re thankful too you killed that man what shot him. We surely don’t need folks like that ‘round here.”

“No one does,” Jubal muttered as the man turned away and walked back into the mill.

Loading up took no time at all, and he planned to take the boards straight back to the farm, but decided those loft windows couldn’t wait. Lucas was in good hands, so he’d head for Willoughby’s—the load was a light one anyways, half what she’d hauled into the mill days earlier. Driving straight to Bearpaw, he got the windows and replacement panes, fighting the urge to visit Lucas. Couldn’t leave the load sitting in the middle of town, and anyways, he’d be back in no time.

Took him less than an hour, and it was still light out when he rode up to the back of the hotel. His gaze went to the window to see the room was empty of anyone but Lucas. He didn’t know why it surprised him, but it did. Of course the doc was a busy man and couldn’t be there for every minute, but still, he hated his friend was left alone.

He entered quietly and realized the bedding had been changed. There was now a flowered flannel sheet beneath Lucas, but he still looked as lifeless as he had that morning. Approaching the bed, he felt the need for the comfort of the man’s pulse again. It’d been too damn long it seemed. Sitting, he connected their hands and the heartbeat was there. Was he right in thinking it was a stronger one?

“I’m here, Lucas. Everything be fine at the farm. All the animals are well took care of, and them oats in the north pen are still getting cleaned up. There’s a hen setting, so I left her be.” He stared at the pale face, hoping for a flicker or some movement, but there weren’t nothing. It be all right, though, he told hisself. It was only the second day, and he relied on what the doc had said.

His throat felt dry so he let go of Lucas’s hand to go get his canteen, but thought he felt a movement just as he released it. He gripped it in his again, but soon figured he must have imagined such, cause there be nothing now. Sighing, he went outside. When he returned, his thirst quenched, Doc Vance was coming through the inside door.

“Jubal! Wasn’t expecting you back so soon?”

“Doesn’t seem soon to me, Doc. Has he moved a’tall?”

“No, I’m afraid not… not yet,” he added.

“You thinking now he might?” Jubal asked, feeling some excitement.

“Well… I’m more optimistic than I was about his surviving. The fact he’s still breathing and he’s had no real crisis tells me everything is functioning enough.”

“Enough?”

“Yes, enough to build up his blood. I’d like to see more color to his skin when I pinch it, but the fact I don’t is understandable.”

“Did you get them fluids into him like you planned?”

“About half a cupful of water over the course of a few hours. His swallowing reflex is poor, but I’ll try some broth again tomorrow. Don’t worry… it’s early yet and that half cup may not seem like much, but it is. Have you been tending to yourself, Jubal?”

“Yep, did the salve again, and I soaped up first.”

“What about sleep? Did you get any?”

“Not today, but I slept some last night.”

“Not enough I suspect. Supposed you worked all day?”

“Kept busy, yep.”

The doc shook his head in disapproval. “Take off your shirt please.”

Jubal’s gaze went to Lucas as he shucked his shirt and set it on the chair.

“Some good scabbing, but it’s not dry. That’s good. Still salve left?”

“Yes, sir. About half, I’d say.”

“Those marks on your neck, they give you any problems?”

“Problems?”

“Sore neck? Pain in your head? Trouble with your eyesight?”

“No, plenty of pain for a while, and took a good long time for them to heal over, but that be last fall. I can see just fine, though I reckon I didn’t for a week or so. Hard to remember how long it be.”

“Appears someone tried to lynch you,” The doctor said as he continued to stare. His inspection took him behind Jubal.

“They’re rope burns for sure, but I got myself drug by a horse.”

“And these scars on your back? From the same time?” he asked as he turned Jubal’s back to the light from the window to get a better look.

“Yep. Happens I got drug on rocky ground, but they’re long healed.”

“I see.” The man came back into view. “Right… well… try not to let that happen again. You can put your shirt back on… and I want you to get some sleep, even if it’s for an hour or two in the chair.”

“I… I might close my eyes a spell.”

“See that you do. I’ll leave you be now. Call into the hotel or come get me if there is a change. I’m smart enough to get my rest while I can,” he said, giving him one of them doctor looks.

“You be coming back tonight?”

“Don’t plan on it, no. I did a thorough check before you arrived, and since you’re here, I won’t worry. Expect I’ll be back in the early morning. Oh, yes… Reid’s been in a couple of times. He said he would be back to ask some questions of you.”

Jubal shrugged. “Ain’t anything left to tell,” he muttered softly as he watched the doctor close the door behind him.

Alone again, he took another sip of water before returning to the chair. He picked up Lucas’s hand, laid his fingers on the wrist and said another prayer once he felt his pulse. Leaning his head on the bed next to their hands, he yawned. Yep, he was tired for sure, and feeling Lucas’s heartbeat was a comfort. Before he closed his eyes, he watched the rise and fall of his friend’s chest, and it was seemed he was taking deeper breaths than the previous night, like he just be sleeping and not in some deathly coma.

“Jubal?”

“Yep?” He came awake sudden-like, seeing he had Lucas’s hand clasped in a tight grip. Reid was behind his left shoulder, and he tried to ease his hand away, hoping it hadn’t been noticed. His eyes opened wide as it seemed Lucas was the one doing the gripping, but realized he had it wrong when the hand fell away with no movement.

“Just wanted to tell you I took your mare over to the livery again.”

“You didn’t need to do that.”

“Didn’t mind at all. Town’s quiet, and I got time on my hands. You were snoring, and I didn’t want to wake you, but you looked like you might fall out the chair.”

Jubal stood up and stretched, trying to ease some sore back muscles. “Well, I’m obliged to you. What’s the time?”

“Just past two.”

“That late? It was still daylight last I remember.” He checked the rise and fall of Lucas’s chest, and felt the same, that the man was taking deeper breaths. “I believe things might be changing with Lucas.”

“For the better?” Reid asked as his gaze went from Jubal to Lucas and back again.

“Could be wrong, but seems his breathing is stronger, but more relaxed too. We’ll see what Doc Vance says in a few hours.”

“Should I fetch him?”

“Could be my imagination… or being too hopeful. He hasn’t moved or anything.”

“Then we’ll leave him be. He rode out on two calls today between keeping a check on Lucas, so he deserves some rest. Don’t suppose you feel like telling me what happened?”

“Thought I did. Prescott shot Lucas and I shot him.”

“Had a look around. Where was your gun when he was shooting?”

Jubal sighed. “It be in the old cabin, and I should have been smarter about having it with me.”

“You said he was shooting at unarmed men, so Lucas didn’t have his gun either?”

Jubal picked his canteen up off the floor and took a long swig, wondering if Lucas was thirsty. “Nope, neither one of us did. Felt safe at the farm, but turns out we were wrong about that.”

He sighed again, and then started from the beginning, telling Reid about them walking to the cabin to work on cutting out the opening for a back door, getting shot at, him carrying Lucas in, propping the door up, bandaging the wound, the conversation with Ronnie Prescott, telling him he had knives to buy some time, telling Prescott he wanted Lucas to die peaceful to get more time—ten minutes what was given him—climbing up and swinging to the loft window opening, forcing his body through backwards, gripping the overhanging roof boards with his fingers, hanging from them and swinging over to the back side of the roof out of sight from the gunman, sliding down the roof and finding the ladder with his feet, scrambling to the crick while still staying out of sight, swimming under the water to the cabin on the bend, prying off the wall board he remembered was warped at the top, the nail squealing, Prescott yelling, squeezing through, grabbing his gun, opening the door and peering out when the fire cracked loud, more shooting as Prescott got panicky and suspicious and shooting out two window panes as he got closer to where Lucas be, Jubal getting close to him from behind, telling Reid what he said to the man to get him to turn around so he didn’t have to shoot him in the back, and finished by repeating his final words to the evil bastard after he shot him dead… twice.

He felt sick when he was done, reliving each moment with the telling. “It all worked the way I’d hoped, but when I got back to Lucas, I was sure it be too late… that I was too late.”

“But it wasn’t… you’re weren’t, Jubal. You outsmarted that bugger, and you cauterized them wounds. Doc told me you had to be level-headed to do such. Hard to believe you managed to do what you did… and as quick as you did it. He gave you ten minutes, and you beat it. Wouldn’t have thought that be possible for any man.”

Jubal finally met Reid’s gaze. “Ain’t never been so scared in my whole life, Reid, even when….” His words trailed off as he looked away.

“When you got that done to your neck?”

The question surprised Jubal, but he nodded after a spell. “Lucas didn’t deserve to die. Prescott wanted my gold, and said he wanted to punish us for killing his cousins what stole it in the first place. Would have given it gladly, but like Lucas said, he wasn’t going to let either of us live.” He shook his head in disgust. His hatred for the man came again, but it soon faded. Hating dead men seemed a damn waste of time.

“You could have run off and saved yourself after you got off that roof.”

Jubal shifted his attention back to the man. “Why would you even say such a thing?” he asked, the question stirring some anger. He would never have left Lucas to die by his lonesome, not as long as he had breath.

“I said it because it’s true, and some would. You ain’t known him long a’tall, yet you cared more for Lucas than for your own self, and I will be obliged to you for my lifetime for what you did… no matter what happens.”

His anger disappeared when he realized Reid was only saying thank you. “No need to be obliged.”

“No, I don’t expect you would think so. You are a good man, Jubal.”

“Maybe so, but Lucas is a better one.”

Reid smiled, like he knew some secret. “I’ll leave you two be. Going to get a bit of shuteye in my office. Come get me if you need anything a’tall.”

Jubal nodded, all his attention back on Lucas.

 

 

*

Here's another almost double chapter for you. Please leave a Story Like/Reaction and Story Recommendation (click on the little medal icon) on the front story page to help this story and me out. There are plenty of you reading who haven't done so, and it would be very much appreciated. Cheers!
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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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