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Bearpaw: An Old West Tale - 17. Chapter 17 Holding on Tight

Oh, sweet Jesus...

Holding on Tight



Jubal was leaning back in his chair, staring at the ceiling, his stretched out hand still connected to his friend’s. Dawn was close, and he was thinking about what needed doing at the farm. He’d for sure replace them broken panes, and he had the back door to build and hang. He was plenty glad he’d gone ahead and finished the thing they’d been planning to do when Ronnie Prescott’s bullet found Lucas. No doubt he’d be pleased it be done.

Thinking on the loft, he wondered what Lucas would want. He’d said he was going to loft both sides, and Jubal had enough of the two-and-a-half-inch pine for such—plenty more than needed—but they hadn’t talked about how the ladder up would be placed. There were lots of possibilities.

Did he want a big opening overhead between the two sides, or would he want one just big enough to get up to the upper floor, and have the two lofts connected front and back? Should have talked more about it. Lucas had surely liked the cabin being open once the roof was on, so maybe Jubal should loft the one side for the time being?

He was pondering the situation when he felt a squeeze of his hand. Startled, his head jerked sideways sharp enough it hurt his neck. “Lucas? Lucas, did you just… Lucas, can you hear me? Lucas? Please say something or squeeze my hand… please,” he finished in a whisper.

He watched the man, holding his breath till it hurt, but saw no other sign. He’d just convinced hisself it be something he’d imagined, when it happened again. “Lucas, you hear me?” he asked again as he stared close at his face. He turned the lantern up full and waited. After a long minute, maybe two, Lucas’s lips moved as if he was trying to wet them, and Jubal’s heart about leapt from his chest. “Oh, sweet Jesus… thank you, Lord!”

“Ju… Ju… bal?” The man’s eyes opened to the point of being narrow slits, and Jubal turned the lantern down quick, a choke being his only sound in response to hearing his name.

“Thought… knew it be… you… you’re… alive?” came out raspy as all get out, but Jubal heard him plain, and had a hard time forming any words of his own, his eyes filled with a sudden flood of tears.

He wiped them away with his free hand. “Course I’m alive. I’ll… I must go get the doctor,” he managed to get out as he tried to ease his hand away. Lucas wouldn’t let him, though, holding it tighter. Jubal was right shocked at the strength of his grip.

“Don’t… leave.”

“But he said… all right, but you’ve been sleeping a while and the doc will want to check on you—he said any changes—so I will have to—”

“Some… water?”

“Can you swallow?” Jubal asked, afeared of doing the wrong thing.

Lucas’s eyes what had closed, opened again, this time a little wider. He nodded, a barely noticeable movement.

Jubal opened his canteen with one hand and held it up, carefully pouring a couple of drops into them parted lips. He was surprised again when Lucas’s free hand came up and gripped the canteen, tipping it so more water poured out. After the first swallow he cleared his throat, and then had a couple more before letting his hand fall back to the bed.


Lucas nodded again, this time a little more obvious. “That bastard… sumbitch… Prescott… he shot out my new windows… didn’t he?”

Jubal snorted. “Yep, he did—two of them—but he won’t be shooting any more.” Lucas, as rough as his voice be, sounded like hisself, and Jubal had never felt such a joy. The power of it about stole his breath. He’d been in time to save him after all.

“Thought he… shot you too.”

“He tried, but I shot him first.”

“He dead?”

“Yep. Shot him through the heart. Twice, one of them bullets from you.”

A small smile appeared on the man’s face, and it brought more color with it. “You… can shoot the eye… out of a squirrel… dancing… in the rain.”

Jubal laughed, pleased his friend was showing his humor. He wanted to shout, he felt so good. “You remember everything?”

“Think so. Remember gunshots… after you… up and disappeared on me.”

“Had to get my gun.”

“I figured. Heard you… on the roof… remember that. Expected you’d break your… neck. More water.”

Jubal did as asked, not quite as worried now. Lucas drank more this time. “Enough?”

“Yep. Belly’s full.” Lucas sighed, sounding out of breath.

It scared him just a mite, the deep breaths he was struggling to take. “Need to get the doc now… no argument this time.”

Lucas, with a new, slightly bigger smile, let his hand go when he gently pulled, but only after he looked at their joined hands. “Knew that was you… your hand I been feeling. You went and saved my life again.”

“Saved both of us, Lucas. Be right back.”


He halted halfway through the door to the outside. “Yep. You all right?”

“I’m thanking you… and I be wondering where I am?”

“Yep, I know you are, but there’s no need for such from you. And you’re in a room at the back of the hotel in Bearpaw, what Doc Vance has.”


When he reached the street, he ran smack into the doc. “He’s awake!”

“Excellent, come with me, lad.”

Jubal followed close, happy and terrified both. “Is it too early for him to wake with those injuries like he got? He’s talking too. Gave him some water cause he asked for it. Was that all right?”

“Jubal, calm yourself. Giving him water was perfectly fine. You gave us quite a scare, Luke,” Doc Vance said as soon as he entered through the outside door. “Especially Jubal here. Your friend doesn’t know how to relax. How are you feeling?”

“Hurts to move… and I think I’m hungry,” Lucas answered with a smile what looked beyond tired to Jubal.

“Being hungry is good… excellent. We’ll get you some broth when the kitchen opens. Should be soon now. Where is your pain?”

“Where I got shot.” His eyes moved to Jubal as he answered.

“You remember what happened to you?”


“Not feeling any confusion?”

“Don’t think so. How long?”

“Only two evenings have passed since it happened. It’s morning now, or almost. Do you remember everything, even before you got shot?”

“Yep.” He nodded slightly and then frowned. “We were going to cut the door opening in the back wall, right?” he asked Jubal.

“Figured we get it finished in three hours,” Jubal answered with a grin, feeling more positive with every word his friend spoke, especially now the doc was here.

The man had his listening contraption out and was moving it around on Lucas’s chest. Jubal knew enough by now to stay quiet. “Heart sounds much stronger now. Excellent. This might hurt but we need to turn you over. Jubal can you assist me?”

“Sure, doc.” He reached in past the doctor, and Lucas grunted from the pain of being shifted onto his side. He let him fall back a few inches, not liking the agony showing on his face.

“I need him farther over than this.”

“But it’s hurting him.”

“As I said it would,” the doctor said after tsking.

“He won’t start bleeding again?”

A loud sigh rushed out of the doctor. “I promise you there is no chance of that happening.”

“It’s not that bad, Jubal,” Lucas said, his grimace turning closer to a smile. “Just help me get turned to my side. My legs feel heavy as logs, and my stomach won’t let me turn without help.”

Jubal, feeling foolish, pulled him back over, farther this time, one hand behind his upper back and the other under his legs making the motion quick. “Is that all right?”

Lucas groaned through gritted teeth, but he nodded. “It’s just fine now. No… no pain.”

He didn’t believe him.

“Lad, why don’t you go tell Reid our patient is awake and doing well. He’ll want to know, and I need to do a thorough examination without a lot of questions, or such fretting.”

“Oh… yep, I’ll do that right now.” His gaze shifted between the two men. “I’ll be right back.”

“Ain’t going nowhere,” Lucas said, looking less pained.

He walked out into the coming dawn, but before he pulled the door completely closed, he heard the doctor speak through some laughter.

“That boy needs to relax. He’s been putting himself through hell worrying over you. That’s a damn good friend you got there, Luke.”

“Know it’s so.”

When Jubal walked past the window, he saw he was being stared at by pretty green eyes what were fully open. It was a sight he’d longed to see, and the day took on a new shine, one what had been missing for sure.


“He be awake now, Reid.” The sheriff was in a chair out front of his office when Jubal walked up, and he jumped up quick.

“Hoo wee! Way faster than the doc thought, eh?”

“I reckon. He’s examining him now, but he’s drank some water and he remembers everything what happened.”

Reid slapped him on the shoulder and laughed. “I knew he’d pull through. Didn’t I tell you so?”

“You did, but I didn’t know if you be right,” Jubal said, finally able to express his deepest fear. “Thought he was a goner. You didn’t see all the blood what poured out.”

“Here, sit down. You’re looking godawful pale.”

“I’m fine. Need to get back.”


Jubal did, realizing Reid was right, that he was feeling faint, and it wouldn’t do to fall down on the main street of Bearpaw.

“That better?”

Jubal nodded. Got dizzy for a second there, but I be fine now.”

“Well, stay seated a minute or two more, would you? I saw the floor, Jubal, where he laid. That blood was a fearful sight, but I know it was different from what you seen.”

He took a deep breath, shuddering at remembering. “Felt powerful guilt, thinking he’d died all by his lonesome.”

“But he didn’t, and that was because of you, so you remember that.”

“Yep, I wasn’t too late a’tall.”

The sheriff stepped closer to the chair. “Haven’t known you long, but I can spot a man who’s too hard on hisself and can suspect the reason for it, but only you know the why. You’re a fine man and this whole town is obliged to you. Don’t know anyone who doesn’t think highly of Luke so you best get used to it, you hear me?”

“Yep,” he answered, feeling uncomfortable. Had he shown his hand to the town of church-goers by his concern for his friend. Was he safe here? Sighing inside, he reckoned this wasn’t the time for worry. That could come later if it need be. “I reckon I should get back… ain’t dizzy no more. Doc might need me to sit with him. Going to feed him some broth, he said. You coming?”

“Not just yet. I’ll get over later in the morning. Tell him so, would you?”

“I surely will.” He rose from his seat and stepped off the boardwalk. “See you later, Reid.”

“Yep. You take it easy now.”

“Will do.” He started out slow, but soon got some speed up, letting his joy back out a mite as he breathed deep and clear.

The room was much brighter than when he left, daylight replacing the lantern. The doc wasn’t there and Lucas’s eyes were closed, but his face looked so much different now. Still, after he sat, he reached over to feel the man’s pulse. He felt it strong—stronger than he be used to—and then let go quick. Lucas’s eyes opened.

“Told you I knew it was your hand earlier,” he said softly. “I’m still alive, Jubal, but you can keep checking if you have a hankering to.”

Jubal swallowed before he spoke. “I see you’re still kicking, and that be a relief. What did the doc say?”

“That you been putting yourself through hell, and that don’t surprise me none a’tall, but you can stop fretting now.”

“Was worried for you is all,” Jubal said, feeling sheepish.

“I know, and I’m sorry I put you through such.”

“Weren’t nothing, since you be looking full of life again.”

Lucas stared at him for a long enough spell, Jubal felt heat in his face.

“Doc also said I have to eat— drink some chicken and onion broth—and then I got to sleep. Had a piss in a pan and feel the better for it,” he said with grin. “Says I’ll be in this bed a couple more days for sure. Can’t argue, much as I want to, cause I can’t even sit up yet.” He’d begun to look annoyed as much as frustrated.

“No need to be in a hurry. Everything on the farm is looked after. Picked up them pine boards for the loft… they look real good… straight and smooth. Still wanting to do both sides?”

“Thought about it afore all this happened, and yep. You know how to make stairs?”

“Reckon so, yep.”

“Be wanting you to show me how once I’m fit… would like proper stairs to go up if there’s room. Had a landing in our old house to go left or right.”

“There’d be room, I reckon, but could be tight.”

Lucas cleared his throat so Jubal asked him if he wanted more water. He shook his head. “I’m still going to want them, even if it is tight. Used to sit on the stairs and look out the front door as a young’un. Would like to do the same in my own house. The animals?”

“Animals are right as rain, and I even got that coop cleaned out.”

“Jubal! You didn’t need to do such. It were such a damn mess.”

“Not no more,” Jubal said, not wanting Lucas to worry, but could tell he was doing just that.

“There’s so much to be done… like finishing up the new cabin, and there’s the barn to add to and corrals to build, and more fenceposts to cut. Time for harvesting apples and vegetables soon enough… and the haystack ain’t nearly big as we’ll need.”

“That’s farming, ain’t it? I’d say you’re lucky you hired yourself a good hand.”

Lucas paused a spell, and then smiled, looking less frustrated. “It surely is, and I surely am. Been that way since I bought the land… always something to get done. What about them wildings… they ever inside the pen?”

“Not that I’ve seen, but they’re eating the oats what I’ve been putting inside. Still wanting to be a horse wrangler?”

“Of course I do. Don’t you?”

Jubal had to be careful with what he said. The fear of his secret getting known was closer to the surface, and he was feeling it. “Made you a promise, didn’t I?” He certainly couldn’t leave when the man had an injury, what with so much work to be done before winter.

Lucas relaxed and sighed. “Yep, you did, and I’m holding you to it.” His heavy-looking eyes closed.

Secret or not, Lucas needed him. And if Reid or the doc or Morey or Billy or anyone else had guessed anything, they weren’t showing him any disfavor, not like others in his past what had suspected… or known. His thoughts were interrupted when Doc Vance came through from the hotel carrying a steaming cup.

“You find Reid?”

“Yep, and he was plum joyous.” Lucas eyes had opened again. “He told me to tell he’d come by later and sit with you a spell.”

“I need this man to sleep after he drinks this. And you, lad, should go back to the farm and rest.”

“Got some sleep during the night.”

The doc scowled at him. “Not likely enough, now git! And don’t forget the salve.”

“The salve? What salve he meaning?” Lucas asked.

“For my chest. Ripped it up some but it’s fine.”

“How in tarnation did you do that?”

Jubal smirked at the man, knowing he would understand. “Sliding down the roof without my shirt.”

“Ahhh… yep… I recall what you used your shirt for. That musta hurt something awful. I got splinters just passing them boards up to you.”

Jubal snickered, his own joy bubbling. “I heard you complaining about that splinter plenty when we put the roof on. Anyways, didn’t feel it much at the time. Bothers Doc more than me.”

“Well, it shouldn’t. Damn young’uns nowadays aren’t even smart enough to come out from a thunderstorm without being told.”

“We be young’uns, Doc?”

“Compared to me, Jubal, you two are still babes crapping yellow.”

Jubal snorted, and Lucas chuckled along with him.

Even the doc wore a smile as he looked at the two of them. “Now, enough yammering.” He had set the cup on the floor for a second while he propped Lucas’s head up with a pillow. “Meant what I said, Jubal. Lucas is doing well so you can relax. Go home and look after yourself. No need to see you back here before tomorrow, you hear me?”

“Tomorrow?” He stared at Lucas with eyebrows raised. He’d planned to return that evening like he’d been doing and sit with him.

“That’s what I said, lad. You’ve done your part, now let me do mine.”

“You do look wore out,” Lucas said, peering closely at his face. “You been through it too, and since the doc says I be fine and need more sleep for healing, there ain’t no cause for you to be fretting. Anything else happen I should know about before you go? Anything I missed out on?”

“Ah… no, not a thing, and ain’t no reason for you to fret either. Reckon I’ll see you tomorrow after chores then. I’ll come check on you and maybe have some good news about them wildings.”

Doc Vance cleared his throat, and Jubal heard the words he didn’t utter.

With another nod to his friend, reluctantly he left through the outside door.



He had just mounted and was reining his mare east after leaving the livery where the owner, a man called Coolie Davis, refused to take his money, saying he considered Lucas a friend. He stopped at the call. Reid be striding fast toward him carrying something in his hand, and Billy was right on his heels.

“You still thinking these here coins are dirty now that Lucas be awake?”

“Ah… no… no, I reckon not.” He lifted up his hat and squinted from the sun in his face. “The whole world looks different today.” He smiled at the sheriff and nodded to the man at his side. “Good day to you, Billy.”

“Didn’t think you knew my name,” he said kind of shy-like. “Good day to you, Jubal. I’m mighty pleased for Lucas.”

“We all are, surely. He’s itching to get home, but Doc says not yet.”

“Would expect nothing different from Lucas,” Reid said. “We’ll be needing you to keep him bridled up so he don’t hurt hisself when he does get home. He says you work harder than he does, but I ain’t seen no one push themselves like Lucas Rush, and that’s a fact. I’ll put this bag of coins in your saddlebag, if’n that’s all right with you?”

“Yep, it be fine. Best be getting home… to Lucas’s farm.”

“Want to thank you again for what you did. Hope you don’t mind, but I told Billy the whole story… what you told me happened that day.”

Billy nodded as he took his hat off, and Jubal noticed for the first time he was a mighty pretty fella. Probably wasn’t more than twenty, if that, and he wasn’t a big man, but he appeared well made. His gaze went between the two and he had that quick gut feeling, one what had let him down more than a few times. Anyways, it weren’t none of his business, but it did cause him to wonder.

“Was a brave thing you did. Ain’t ever heard nothing like it in my life,” the younger man said with his hat held against his chest, his pretty, pale blue eyes holding admiration what made Jubal feel awkward.

Clearing his throat, he pushed some words out. “Weren’t brave a’tall. Just did what needed doing, and besides, I didn’t appreciate Prescott calling us dumb farmers. Proved him wrong about us being such,” he said with a grin. “Well, time’s a-wastin’, and my belly’s empty, and that means them damn chickens and pigs will be wanting their breakfast. Be seeing you, fellas.”

He set his mare to walking, but once he cleared the main part of town, he urged her to a trot. Smooth as oiled leather she was, and he fought the urge again to holler aloud. He’d told Reid the truth. Everything looked different today. Everything looked mighty fine indeed.



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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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