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Bearpaw: An Old West Tale - 2. Chapter 2 Stench

The road to somewhere...




Worn out, Jubal’s body was thankful once he climbed up into the well-used buckboard. The seat weren’t wide, and Lucas took up a good bunch of it, but it had a back board he leaned against after adjusting his holster for comfort. He looked around at his tack stowed in one corner of the two-foot-deep wagon before letting loose a sigh. Everything he had left in this world was back there.

Setting his feet on the footrest board this kind of wagon be named for, he ignored his sadness as he glanced to his left. No use fretting at starting all over again. “Good to be done walking for a spell. Sorry for the stench of me. That bog muck holds a powerful odor what gets right up inside your nose.”

Lucas chuckled as he clucked the big horse forward. “Step ahead, Dinah.” She responded with a lurch forward what got the creaky wagon moving. “Can’t tell for certain—might be you do smell bad—but not any worse than I do,” he said as his gaze settled on him.

“Won’t argue with you, since all I can smell is my own self,” Jubal said to the man. His face be close and their eyes tangled in a way Jubal couldn’t avoid, holding the stare given him. Lucas surely wasn’t as old as he’d thought. Likely not thirty years on him beneath all that dirt.

His heart sped up some as the man’s body bumped against his with the sway of the wagon, his cock responding despite the fear such a thing gave him. He needed to be careful without a doubt, but desire weren’t always something a man could control. Turning his head away, he reached up to make sure his kerchief didn’t come loose from his neck.

“You mentioned Larkspur. That where you was headed before getting set upon?”

Jubal nodded before he answered. “Understood there was good land for sale there. Saw a notice at a land office when I was figuring out my dream of owning ground. It was written that plenty of new farmland be opening up thereabouts for four dollars an acre, and a couple of fellas what be there for the same reason, they told me they heard it was a fine town with good people.”

“Yep, that be true. Well laid out and right friendly. Real nice place for sure. You wanting to farm?”

“Became my dream after I saw some of this world. Never thought I did, though. Found it an awful life as a young’un, but started getting a yearning after years of chasing cattle. Realized it wasn’t the farming I hated back then, and every day on the range was the same, you know—mostly miserable with only aches and my pay to show for it. Got damn sick of beans too, and biscuits with more weevils than flour.”

Lucas chuckled. “Don’t care for beans anymore either, ‘cept in a stew, and can’t abide weevils, though I’ve eaten plenty over the years. I surely do understand that yearning for land. Signed on to outfit after outfit beginning my fourteenth year.”

“You started younger than me,” Jubal said, his eyes growing heavy.

“Was young for sure, but had a lot of good experiences them first years driving cattle. Eventually came to realize I was missing a lot too, though.”

“Like a wife and young’uns?” Jubal asked, doing his best to stay awake and keep the polite talk going.

“Hell no. Got none of those, and likely ever won’t. Content as I am… mostly. Ain’t no expert farmer, but like to think I’m learning.”

“So, you’ve been to Larkspur?” Jubal asked as he pondered Lucas’s words.

“One time I was, yep. Was there before I came east.”

“Didn’t like it enough to stay?”

“No, liked it fine from first I saw it. Real pretty town it is, with rich ground everywhere, same as here. Lots of trees there too.”

Jubal stifled a yawn, genuinely interested in hearing about the place he’d been heading for. “So… then why didn’t you settle there? Sounds about perfect.”

“Most ways it was, but I had my reasons for moving on.”

Jubal waited for more, but the man went quiet for a spell. As curious as he was, he respected the man’s privacy.

“I went there looking for someone.”

Jubal, whose eyes had closed out of weariness, had to think for a time before he realized they were still talking about Larkspur. “And you didn’t find them?”

“No, happens I did, and learned what I needed to—weren’t a surprise what I saw—anyways, changed my plans to what be more sensible. Was told I could find good property to the east, and fifty cents an acre cheaper to boot. This bug-eyed land agent in town said there weren’t much difference in the kind of land, but the town be smaller. Made little difference to me. Learned there be a bank, a telegraph, and a stage what came regular, and that convinced me it be worth a look since Larkspur weren’t no longer a possibility for me.”

No longer a possibility? What did that mean? Jubal’s curiosity got prodded, but he left it alone. The man had gotten quiet again.

“Anyways,” he said after some time had passed, “I was determined for a place of my own, so that’s where I headed… and it be where I settled. Love my land, but… sometimes I think it might beat me.”

“Why would you think such a thing?”

“I’m one for being challenged, don’t hear me wrong, but can’t keep up the way I’d like. Made some mistakes for sure, and admit it’s taken some time to learn what it takes to build a homestead… to be a successful farmer.”

“Ain’t that the way with everything? Took me a year before I could call myself a decent cowboy.”

“Suppose that’s true. Missed more cows than I caught my first year,” Lucas said, smiling his way.

“Same with me. Used to get laughed at, but now my rope throws right about every time. What mistakes you meaning?”

Lucas steered Dinah around some ruts, and took some time before he answered. “Last year’s garden was a waste, for one—planted too late to get a decent harvest—and winter came earlier than I was told… just three more weeks would have got me a lot more than small turnips and stunted carrots,” he said, sounding sad and amused at the same time. “A farmer needs to always be prepared for what might come, and I sure as heck wasn’t.”

“Yep, farming isn’t easy, especially doing it by yourself.” Jubal thought of the responsibility his useless pa heaped on him as a young’un. Had to fight with him just to spend time in school, since he was of the mind the only learning a person needed was from the bible. Damn fool the man was. “What’s your land like?”

“Isolated, I guess you could say. Can feel lonely sometimes, but it’s not much different than being a cowboy stuck out on the range by his lonesome. It’s beautiful too. Great views in a couple of spots, and the land will grow anything I ask of it. Feel right fortunate at times, I truly do.

“Planted me a big garden at the right time this spring that’ll keep me well fed, with some to spare for barter, though I put my rows too close together. Grew faster than I expected, but so did the weeds… needs sorting bad. I’m behind on that, like most things. Got me three horse corrals done, and some other pens, but I’d like more so they don’t chew the grass down. Good thick grass it be, though. Happens I’m behind on my haystack too.”

“Been my experience, if the soil be rich, a farmer can do well,” Jubal said, being truthful, but trying to give encouragement too.

“As long as he got the brains he needs. Built a cabin last summer, right after I settled, but I didn’t do a good job on it. Fact is, it’s a real pain to my eyes. Was in a hurry and put it too close to the crick, not thinking it would overflow come spring. Set it up on rocks, but the rocks sunk low with all the water, and I ain’t figured out how to lift it back up.” He chuckled, not seeming bothered much by it.

“Was taught there’s always a way if you’re hell-bent on a thing.”

“Well, I ain’t the sharpest axe on the wall, but, I’m learning, and that cabin is best forgotten. Got a bigger cabin built on higher ground… logs this time what just needs finishing. Main reason for my trip was to get nails for the roof. Been a shortage of supplies in town, what with new settlers buying everything in stock, and I didn’t plan for the stage and supply wagons stopping till the road firmed back up. Can get all the lumber I need, but it ain’t no use a’tall without nails.”

Lucas turned his head to smile at him, and he was struck by how the man took things in stride, even when he had his doubts. Maybe he thought the land might be beating him at times, but he had the right attitude for farming, that was for damn sure.

“Paid a fella to do my new chimney, and he did a fine job… way better than the one I did. Get plenty of water from the crick, and there’s three springs, two to the north and one to the southeast, but I’d surely like a well to draw from. Reckon I’ve yammered enough about my farm. You’ll see for yourself if we ever get there.” He slapped the reins again.” Step out, Dinah. Haw!”

Dinah did quicken, but barely, making Jubal smile. She was moving fast enough the bloodsuckers were mostly leaving them be, and that be enough for him. For some reason, he felt a peace as he sat beside this man he didn’t know from no one, and he liked the sound of his voice. The trip would take as long as it took, and he didn’t mind because he had a place to go after feeling completely lost and alone. Maybe he had lost everything, but hard work can make a man feel some worth.

“So what’s the name of the town we’re heading for?” Jubal asked after a yawn.

Lucas chuckled. “You’re sounding plumb tuckered.”

“Reckon I am a mite wore out, but I’ve been in much rougher seats than this. It’s almost like a rocking chair that’d put a man to sleep.”

Lucas chuckled again, and it be a nice sound to Jubal's ears. “I used springs from a fancy buggy what was broken up on the side of the road. Took some work, and some help from the blacksmith in town, but worth the trouble in saving my rear from bruising. We’re headed to Bearpaw Lake, to answer your question. Folks just call it Bearpaw mostly.”

“It has a lake? Ain’t seen one of those in a long while.”

“And you won’t there either. It’s really a river that’s good and wide, being fed by three other rivers. It makes for a lively discussion with some folks who insist it is a lake with separate rivers going in and out, while others say it’s a river with a bulge in the middle.”

Jubal chuckled softly, not wanting to disturb the peace of the drive. “The things folks will argue over. Is it fordable?”

“Yep. Most places it is once spring gets finished.”

“Sounds like a river to me,” Jubal said, his heavy eyes sliding shut. The next time he opened them it was dusk and Lucas must have nudged him from his sleep.

“Did you hear that?”

“Hear what?” he asked, matching Lucas’s whisper as he came fully awake.

“I heard a voice ahead… might have been two… and then there be a shout. Think you should get in back under the canvas.”

“Why would I do that?”

“Reckon it’s a gut feeling I have. Could be nothing, but have your gun ready.”

“Sure enough I will, if’n you think it best, but what about you? If trouble be planned, they might already know I’m here.”

“Don’t think so or they wouldn’t have shouted like that. Anyways, can’t take the chance of losing my supplies and wagon, nor my horse either. She pulls the plow and moves logs around with no trouble. I ain’t telling you what to do, but I am asking you to trust me. I think keeping you for a surprise would be best. Can you shoot?”

Jubal moved quick and was soon covered in the canvas on the right side of the wagon. He could see under the seat through a crack between the boards of the box. “I can shoot the eye out of a squirrel dancing in the rain.”

Lucas snorted. “I’d surely like to see that one day,” he whispered back, tension clear in his voice.

A couple of miles later, Jubal was starting to doubt Lucas’s gut feeling, but stayed where he was despite how uncomfortable he be. Another quarter mile he heard a voice, clear enough to know it was within shooting range, telling Lucas to stop the wagon. It was full-on dark, but the moon was more than a three quarter one, and high enough he could see a man on a horse twenty yards ahead. He couldn’t make out his face, it being in shadow, but didn’t need to. He was up to no good for sure and certain, and Jubal had enough of such.

Lucas brought the buckboard to a halt. “I don’t want no trouble, mister.”

“Good. Then I’ll be needing you to step down from that wagon. No reason for you to get yourself hurt.”

“Don’t think I’ll be doing such,” Lucas said, sounding calm. He must have put his hand on his gun grip because the man warned him not to draw it from the holster.

“You need more convincing you should do what I tell you?”

“I reckon I do, because I ain’t in no obliging mood.”

“You dumb farmers never learn, do you?”

“I’d say us farmers learn plenty, and I’m warning you to clear yourself from my path before I got no choice but to shoot you.”

Laughter rang out loud into the evening air. “Boys! This here sodbuster needs some persuading to hand over his rig.”

Jubal listened hard, and soon heard the footfalls of two horses, each coming from different sides of the road. Three men. Could it be? Were these the ones what ambushed him? He could now see all of them, and the man in the middle turned his head just right for the moon to light his face clear enough Jubal could see the squint of his eyes. He wore his hat tilted back just like he had at his campsite. It was the bushwhacker he’d seen leaving as he lay there, no doubt for it, and he had to fight the urge to stand up and start shooting. He hadn’t been fooling about being a good shot.

“Well, I guess you got surprise in your favor. Knew you didn’t have the guts to try me on your own.”

At the word surprise and how he said it, Jubal’s instincts took over. Lucas was signaling him, and he caught movement from the one on the right as he began his draw. The man wasn’t fast enough, though, and didn’t see his death coming as Jubal fired unseen from beneath the wagon’s seat. All hell broke loose when Lucas dove sideways at the same time. He heard a shot from his new friend’s gun before he disappeared from his sight. The man on the left, getting off one of his own, dropped from his horse right after.

The bushwhacker he’d recognized was already firing in Lucas’s direction as Jubal aimed for the center of his chest, hoping none of the bugger’s shots had made contact. He heard a grunt as his bullet found its mark, but could tell the swing of the man’s horse had moved it a couple of inches to his left, likely hitting him in the shoulder. To fire again would mean shooting him in the back, something Jubal couldn’t abide doing to any man, much as it might be deserved.

He watched him gallop into the deep shade provided by the trees alongside the road ahead. It was over in less than half a minute, and two men lay dead near as he could tell. The two riderless horses had bolted as soon as the third horse had taken off, but that weren’t his concern for the moment as the hoofbeats faded.

“You all right, Lucas?” he called out, mighty fearful for the man, and about ready to retch.

“Yep, you?”

Sighing his relief silently, he answered. “Right as rain. Ain’t that what you dumb farmers say?”

Lucas snorted and then laughed. “Suppose us dumb farmers do, but we ain’t so dumb as that one expected.”

“He’s wounded.”

“Saw that. Think you got his shoulder. You were right about being a hell of a shot.”

Jubal sighed again as he pushed up off his knees and stood straight. “You ain’t too bad either. Hit that fellow while you was falling.”

“Got lucky is all.” Lucas was walking toward the two bodies with his gun drawn, but there be no need for caution. Both men had taken bullets to the chest, and their lives were over and done. “Never killed a man before.”

Jubal joined him on the ground. “Me neither. Shot one after he shot at me, but heard tell he lived through it and was thankful his death weren’t on my hands. In daylight I might have been able to wound this one,” he said as he reached Lucas’s side, now looking down at the man who’d started the fight.

“He drew first,” Lucas said.

“Yep, and I could be wrong, but it seemed the talker signaled him to… signaled to both of them. I was worried for you. Happy you moved quick like you did, but I couldn’t see where you landed.”

“Moved quicker than I thought I could. You weren’t wrong about that one. Saw his eyes shift same as you did, but we confused them. They didn’t know where your bullet came from, and that gave me time to pitch myself sideways so I didn’t give them a good target. One of them bullets was close, though. Sparked off the wheel rim my head be against. Weren’t kidding either, when I said my shot was a lucky one. It’s a terrible thing, ain’t it, to take a man’s life?”

“Not a pleasant feeling a’tall. You sure you’re all right?” As bad as Jubal felt, he was more concerned for Lucas. He was looking plenty shook, and the tone of his voice was different from any other he’d heard from him so far.

“I am. Just getting used to the idea I could have been shot dead, but I couldn’t let them have Dinah without a fight.” He shook his head slow-like. “I would have been lying dead on the road instead of them two if you hadn’t made your choice to come north with me.”

“I suppose that could be true. They be the ones what bushwhacked me.”

“I thought they might be. You certain?”

“Recognized the one talking as soon as he turned his head to the light. Could never forget his face or the way he wore his hat, and he’s the one what got away.”

“Could tell he was a mean one. I heard in his voice what was coming, and knew there was no getting through it peaceful-like.”

“Thought the same. Were you signaling me when you said surprise?”

“Yep. Saw that first one’s hand move an inch closer to his holster, and it was all I could think of to warn you they were planning to shoot. Didn’t know what you could see from where you be. We should have had a better plan, and that’s my fault.”

“Didn’t need one… it be the nudge I needed, so nothing was your fault. Besides, you be the one what suggested I hide in the back—if I hadn’t, they’d have shot us both from the cover of the trees—and that’s why we be standing here alive and safe for another day.”

Lucas pursed his lips as he looked up the road. “Unless that wounded one is waiting ahead somewhere.”

“We’ll be ready if he is. Remember, he drew left-handed, so I don’t expect his aim will be any good with a bullet in his shoulder.”

Troubled eyes finally met his in the bright moonlight, and his expression eased considerable. “Feel fortunate I weren’t by my lonesome. I knew this road could be dangerous, but never expected this kind of trouble would befall me.”

“This sort of thing happened before?”

“Heard tell at the feed store there was a robbery a month back… money and a gold watch and such from an old man who worked at the bank in Bearpaw, and his wife. They weren’t serious hurt, but it’s why I said earlier we need more law hereabouts.”

“Could be the same ones, but maybe not. So, what now?”

“Reckon we search these fellas, then load them up to take to the sheriff.”

“Or we could just leave the bodies here and let him come get them?”

Lucas gave him a stare before he spoke. “Don’t feel right to leave death laying here where good folk might pass by. We’re a couple of hours from town, and it’ll save Sheriff Barnes a trip.”

Jubal nodded. “Fine by me, when you put it such a way. You search that one and I’ll search this one.” He had to move him to get to his pockets and ended up with a handful of warm, sticky blood. “Now we’ll have the stench of blood and death on us to go with that damn mud.”

“It does reek strong, don’t it?”

Lucas’s voice had some shake to it, and Jubal felt sympathy for him, wishing he hadn’t said what he did. “It’ll fade soon enough, I reckon.” Wiping his wet hand on the man’s britches, he reached into a blood-soaked vest pocket and found a soft leather pouch that clinked.

Sitting back on his heels, he stared. “This be mine… I made it when I was seventeen, sitting around a campfire and listening to those tall tales a cowboy tells. Took me three nights to cut the pieces and sew it.” He bounced the weight of it, knowing it didn’t hold near the gold they’d stolen.

Hearing a clink beside him, he looked over to see Lucas pull a tied kerchief from the other man’s britches. It was soaked in blood too. “Found some more gold from the sounds of it,” he said with a sickly grin. “Likely yours.”

“I had forty-two double eagles.”

Lucas whistled softly. “That’s a lot of money to lose.”

“Sure is. Only ten in here,” he said after opening the pouch and counting.

“Ten tied in this,” Lucas said, spreading out the contents of the kerchief. Four hundred dollars you got back.”

“The other must have the rest.” He stared to the north again, wishing he had a horse so he could chase the thieving varmint down. “I'm guessing they didn’t split it even.”

“I’d say he was the boss of their gang, so he probably takes a bigger share… or these ones didn’t know how much was stole. Expect thieves are thieves to their core, even to each other. You notice these fellas look alike?”

“I did. They must be brothers.”

“Have to be.” Lucas stared at him curiously. “Ain’t you happy you got some of your gold back?”

“Yep, suppose I am, but truth is I don’t like this whole business. Two young brothers lay dead in front of us, their lives over and the one most responsible getting away. I didn’t just lose my money, I lost my pack horse and my saddle horse and….” He sighed at how unfair it all seemed, not mentioning the dream that be stolen too.

“Kema, ornery as he was to others, was a damn good mount I could depend on, and if I hadn’t been ambushed and addled, I wouldn’t have gotten turned around and end up in that bog. He didn’t deserve the bullet what I put between his eyes—he never took a wrong step for me whole time I had him. Feeling some powerful anger to be straight with you.” He sighed again, this time not so loud. “Mostly angry my shot missed his damn dark heart. Couldn’t shoot him the back, but feeling some regret for such now.”

“Understand that, but you did the right thing, Jubal. He got lucky today, but so did you if you take some time to think on it. And you sure enough should be angry… know it’s damnable hard to lose a horse in such a way—I truly do—but at least you have more than enough back to buy a new mount. No need for chasing wild horses anymore.”

Jubal met the man’s comforting gaze, and he felt something what stopped him feeling sorry for hisself. The possibility of a different regret? “Well, I can see you got a point, but if it’s all the same to you, I might still want to carry on with what we planned. The thought of gentling a wilding is one I ain’t sure I’m prepared to let go of. Is one of them two-year-olds a colt?”

Lucas grinned, one of those huge ones again, and Jubal was happy for it. “Yep, and he’s a real beauty. He be the finest one in the herd for sure, but I’m hoping to rope the filly… always been partial to mares. She’s a beauty too. Pleased to hear you might still be willing try them wildings with me, despite you got some of your gold back. Knew I was right about you… but enough jawing.” His gaze returned to the two dead men. “We still got us some road to travel yet, and I see you be right exhausted after the hard times you’ve had.”

Jubal gave the man a quick glance. Lucas had just killed his first man, and Jubal had no doubt he be terrible shook by it, yet his concern was for him. He wasn’t used to such… and hadn’t been for a really long time.





Hope you enjoyed this second chapter. Please share your thoughts with me in the comments, and leave story likes and recommendations if you are finding this story worthwhile. It's all about bringing new readers in to join us on this journey. :)  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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