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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 - 21. Chapter 21 One Step at a Time

Never met nobody like you....

One Step at a Time

 

 

Jubal was sitting in the dark close to the fire, making breakfast. A tin cup of lip-smacking good, sweetened coffee sat on the stump next to him, steaming in the cool morning air. It wouldn’t be long till the heat arrived, the orange glow already spreading across the horizon to the east.

There’d been a healthy rain during the night, but it ended after a good seven hours of pouring down. It’d been nice music to fall sleep to, but he’d woken up soon after because there’d been some blasted drips through the roof of the original cabin. They hadn’t fallen on him, but the splat on the dirt floor had been too annoying to ignore. Putting balled-up sacks in those spots allowed for some peace, leastwise enough to sleep again.

He stared at his hands in the firelight, scrubbed clean of wolf blood and guts. The two furs were now tied tight on their stretching frames after having been scraped and washed last evening. It took hard work to strip the flesh and tissue from a skin and then stretch every inch of the pelts over a post to break up the toughness of the hide—them fibres what could make it stiff as a board if it don’t be done.

Back and forth, over and over he’d worked them until his shoulders were on fire, but he felt the better for having done so. Wolves, as much as he might have hated them yesterday, were only trying to survive like everything else in this land, and their death deserved honoring by providing a good usable fur.

He’d boiled their brains and some water into a paste and worked it into the underside of the pelts, and would do so again after scraping once more. It was the Indian way, one he’d learned as a young’un, and ensured a supple hide which could be used for so many things.

He had to admit these two were mighty fine, pretty as all get out, and he pictured them as rugs to set your feet on when the mornings be cold, but they’d keep a fellow extra warm as bed coverings, or even turned into clothes. He’d made an outer coat from furs once, but the sewing wasn’t something to be proud of, and the fit weren’t a good one.

His thoughts turned to Lucas, and to how disappointed he’d been with him. He hadn’t seen him a’tall yesterday, and that was likely for the best. Folks in town what paid attention would see his devotion more as friendship now, at least he hoped it be so for both their sakes. He’d been tired enough to sleep deep as the rain fell—after the drips were quieted—and despite the aches from tanning them hides, he felt rested. Enough to scythe some hay in the field to the east? He hoped for that too, since it would put Lucas's mind to ease.

By the time he was ready to begin, the sun had burned the wet off the field enough he felt comfortable doing the task. It be about noon when he dropped to the ground, worn out from swinging the razor-sharp scythe back and forth, working shoulders what complained the whole time. But there be a good-sized field of thick hay laying down around him and that gave him satisfaction. Lucas wouldn’t be able to do such work for a time, and this amount would more than triple the small haystack. Plentiful as it was, it might even be enough to carry the stock through winter since Lucas said more than once there be grass to find the year round, even with the snow.

Thinking of his friend, he told hisself he needed to drive into Bearpaw soon. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to, but he was nervous after the way he’d left Lucas two days past. He wondered if not showing up yesterday would bother the man. Fact was, he missed him something terrible. He missed his easy laugh and usually good spirits. He missed the bond he felt between them, and he missed looking at him… he even missed that comforting scent of him.

There was one more thing he had to do, though, before he harnessed Dinah. Knowing Lucas, he was itching to get home, and Jubal wanted his mattress, table, and clothes moved into the new cabin just in case he’d convinced the doc to let him leave today.

He’d already had the lumber cut and laid out, so nailing the bed platform together was done in half an hour. He made it tall enough to sit on comfortable-like, and it could be moved to the loft easily since there be no railings or walls yet, but Jubal set it in the northeast corner of the main floor for the time being. He expected Lucas would have to keep off them stairs for the next while.

Setting the table in front of the west window on the hearth side seemed the best. It got light from the smaller east window as well, and there be a view of the crick, the other cabin, the laneway, and the smaller corral, so would be a pretty spot to sit in. A few nails driven into the logs let him hang clothes and the shotgun, as well as some tools what Lucas had hung up in the other cabin. At some point, proper hanging hooks could be purchased from the blacksmith.

The place was ready for its owner. He’d probably want a new cookfire out front, but he could make the decision on how it be set up. Besides, Jubal needed to get going. Last thing he did was carry two newly-peeled sitting stumps inside and set them next to the table. The man needed some honest-to-goodness chairs, but these would do for now. The old cabin had been for sleeping, but he reckoned this was a home you’d want to sit yourself down in and do some work.

Soaping up in the crick, he be thankful his scrapes had healed. No need for salve, and it was mostly used up anyway. Running rough hands over his face, he decided shaving could wait. He was soon decked out in his new clothes, squirming at the tightness of his britches. They were smaller than he expected, and he hoped they’d loosen up soon for his balls’ sake, but at least there weren't no stains.

He’d already harnessed Dinah when he made a decision for something he'd been thinking on. Making sure the wagon brake was set, he went to get his gold from behind the outhouse. He even managed to stay clean as he tipped the big rock over and retrieved the leather pouch. Reid was right. It belonged in a bank where folks would hear that’s where it be. They didn’t need anymore visits to this farm from thieves and such.

Despite the heat of the day, the air felt right fresh after the rain, and Dinah trotted with a little more life to her step. He was in Bearpaw in no time, and pulled up to a clear space across from the bank, but not in front of it. He wanted folks to see him walking into the building because he had no doubt it was common knowledge his gold had been recovered.

The bank manager, Ralph Kimmel, was a patient and pleasant man, and he explained how banking worked for Jubal, who’d never used one before. When he left, he was confident he’d done the right thing. No more worry over them coins and whether someone might be watching to see where they be stowed.

Lucas was standing at the window looking out when he pulled up behind the hotel. Standing! Jubal was happy to see such, and even more so to see him open the door and walk outside.

“Was worried I’d have to walk home,” he said with an expression Jubal weren’t sure about.

“You allowed to leave?”

“Yep. Doc finally agreed this morning. Been waiting for you.”

“Sorry… had some work to do before I left.”

“Work? What kind of work?” He moved slowly towards the wagon, taking care with each step.

“Here, let me help you,” Jubal said as he hopped to the ground. “See you got a new shirt too.”

“Yep, Reid brought it over from the mercantile. Like your new duds.” His eyebrows lifted as he looked Jubal up and down. “You got room in them britches for everything?” he asked with a smirk.

Jubal chuckled. “Just barely. Hoping they loosen up some.”

“They look just fine, Jubal,” he said with a nod as he looked him over again. His gaze lifted to meet Jubal’s. “So, what work you be doing that kept you? You weren’t here yesterday a’tall.”

“Nope, got a lot to tell you. You all done here?”

“Settled up with Doc Vance yesterday—worth three dollars I’d say—so nothing keeping me here.”

“You feeling good?”

“Course I am. Been moving around since yesterday. Tender, like I’ve been branded, but not much I can’t do.”

“Suppose you have been branded,” Jubal said as he took in his good color. He was a far cry from the pale man he’d brought in that terrible day.

“Yep, you might have branded me, but it don’t mean you own me,” he said with his first honest-to-goodness genuine smile.

Jubal matched it. “Need help getting up? Put a saddle pad on the seat for you. Had a feeling you’d get your way.”

Lucas chuckled. “I’m obliged. My hind end is still sore from all that laying. Just need you to get my feet high enough I can step on.”

Judging the situation, Jubal stepped behind him and gave him a bearhug just below his ass. “You ready?”

Lucas grabbed hold of the seat before he answered. “Yep.”

Jubal lifted and stepped close to the wagon, Lucas’s feet landing in the buckboard in a smooth movement.

“I’m good,” he said, hanging onto the front board before Jubal let go completely. “That worked better than I thought."

“There be any pain from it?”

“No more than standing. Feels a blessing to be out of that damn bed and on my own wagon again.”

“Reckon it would be. Laying around be trying for most of us.” Jubal climbed up onto his side and clucked Dinah forward, circling her back out onto the street. “Should I go slower?”

“No need. Honestly, my stomach don’t hurt anything like it did. Sitting up is still hard, but once I’m up it ain’t so bad. Doc doesn’t reckon I can damage anything now. Says the pain I got will keep me from doing too much for my own good. That’s the truth,” he said after glancing sideways at Jubal.

Jubal was skeptical, having seen him wince a few times, but he understood it was hard for a fellow to admit he felt pain. “I’ll keep Dinah at a walk… expect you be sore no matter what you say.” They were going by the bank now, and Jubal thought he should mention what he done. “Put my gold in the bank earlier.”

“Today?”

“Yep.”

“So now you can travel safe… not worry about getting robbed.”

Jubal stifled a sigh. There still be tension between them. “Put it in the bank so no one would come looking at the farm.”

“Why would anyone do that?”

“To steal it. Not saying there’s another Prescott out there, but there can be thieves anywhere, and folks know how much I got robbed of, I’m sure, so they know what I got back. Reid talks to everyone.”

“Reid wouldn’t tell your business!”

“Hold your horses, Lucas,” he said gently. “Not saying that a’tall. Morey knew I was robbed… so did Billy, so you can bet it got around. Folks put two and two together and get all kinds of sums. Seems they all know what happened… word spreads fast in a town… and now it’ll spread I took a pouch of gold into the bank and left it there, so there should be no talk about gold on your property.” His head turned to meet Lucas’s scrutiny.

“Morey and Billy ain’t everybody.”

Jubal sighed. “You’re getting me wrong. Stopped at the mercantile again on the Sabbath after I left you, and there be a lot more questions—even personal ones—from folks I ain’t never seen before. Only saying gossip moves quicker than flames, and your farm is safer for not having my money there. You understand me?”

“Yep, clear as water, and you be right to do so.”

Jubal turned Dinah at the corner and headed for Lucas’s road. “I like Reid, you know?”

“I do know, and I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to bark at you like that.”

“No need for any apologies. My money is safer in a bank, and I came to realize that after the advice he gave me.”

They drove in silence after that, Jubal almost afraid to start another conversation. Something felt different between them, and he weren’t sure what that meant.

“Sure missed this place,” Lucas said as Dinah turned into the laneway without any direction from Jubal. “See you sawed that blasted branch off.”

“Yep, I did, so you wouldn’t have to bend every time. It’s a place to be missed, that’s for certain,” he said as he looked sideways. Lucas’s gaze was on him.

“Would you miss it if you left?”

Jubal didn’t stifle his sigh this time, feeling more of that tension at the question. “Love this place, Lucas, I surely do. I love… well… everything about it, and you should be proud of where you’ve settled.”

He nodded slowly, not breaking eye contact. “Happy to hear you say such.”

“Meant it.”

Lucas nodded again before spotting the wolfskins. “Where the hell did they come from? You shoot them on my land? Jesus, that be a big one on the left!”

“The black one was a male, a young one I think, and the other a female… she weren’t nursing.” He got the wagon turned and stopped where the frames be. “Got one more scraping and coating to do, and then they should be tanned right. Don’t reckon they need smoking, but still might.”

“You use brains?”

“Yep. Always works best.”

“Yep. So where did you shoot them?”

“Long way from here.”

“You out hunting then?” Lucas had leaned forward and towards Jubal, his hands bracing his weight, getting the best look he could. He was close enough Jubal could smell that special scent of him, the one he’d missed bad, especially in the night.

“Not regular hunting, no, but I hunted the herd for a day.”

“The wildings? That be why you didn’t come into town yesterday?”

“Yep, that’s the reason.”

“Thought you might be sick of my company,” Lucas said, looking happier than he’d been the whole way from Bearpaw.

“Not, likely, but it did cross my mind you could have been sick of mine.”

“Not likely,” he said with a big grin, now resembling the Lucas he knew well. “So, did you find them?”

Jubal clucked to Dinah. She deserved to get out of the sun. “Found most of them. Didn’t see the stallion, and….”

“And what?”

He’d gone past the log cabin and was about at the barn where the wagon always sat. “Remember the big paint mare, one of the ones what hadn’t birthed yet?”

“The ones whose eyes you didn’t like, them being too close together? Yep, what about her?”

“Found her dead… and part-eaten… she’d only just given birth from the looks of it, and wolves got her and the foal. Some spotted hide was about all that was left of the poor little thing.”

Lucas exhaled loudly. “Goddamn! Wasn’t what I wanted to hear. What about the rest? Anymore missing?”

“Got a good look after I shot the second wolf, the female, and they were all together in a valley hell-bent towards the south. Tracked them a lot of miles so them foals would have been tuckered out for sure. Wolf-tracks over the herd’s the whole way. Stallion could have been in the woods further east, or he could be dead. Hope he’s around to protect them. Would have liked to stay with them, but had chores to do and there weren’t much daylight left.”

“Might be you should have. The stock would have been fine.”

“Maybe so, but I took that responsibility serious, especially after seeing so many wolf tracks nearby.”

“Course you did, and you did the right thing. How far east they be?”

“Hard to say… lots of ups and downs… but pretty much a full day’s ride, and now they’re probably south a few more miles at the least. There be an open plain I could see in the distance, maybe five or six miles from where I sat.”

“So, they’re long gone.”

“Yep. Could be doing a circle and come back this way, but they’re wildings, so they might be looking for new grounds. Got to admit, as much as I was happy to find them, it was disappointing to see where they be.”

“Plans for having our own herd ain’t looking good.”

“Nope, I’d say not.”

“You saw the filly?”

“Yep, and the colt. Both were moving easy.”

“Can only hope we’ll see them again and get another chance.”

His defeated tone made Jubal’s heart sink. “Well… you got a new mare to pick out and I’ll have the other, so we’re not doing too bad.” He hopped down and walked around to Lucas’s side. “Need a hand?”

“Suppose I do.” He stood up, with help from the front board, still looking bothered.

“Put you hands on my shoulders.” Lucas did, and Jubal bearhugged his legs again, and eased him to the ground. “Well, we got that figured out pretty much.”

Lucas was making his way to Dinah’s front to give her nose a stroke. “Where was that other wolf when you shot him?”

“That big one? He came at me when I was crouched over the paint, feeling sorrow for her and the foal. Wasn't paying attention, but Pistol gave him what for, and I shot him in the head before he got his legs back under him enough to jump me. Think he was a young one, despite his size.”

“Lord, you were lucky!” Lucas said with brows creased. “Pistol?”

“My mare. She earned her name for sure. Nailed him good as he was heading my way. He was likely coming fast but she be faster with that right hind leg. Stood her ground the whole damn time too.”

“Well, don’t that beat all. Knew she was a good one for you. Pistol… I like it for sure!”

The man was smiling now and that pleased Jubal. The herd situation was something they’d have to accept and let go of.

“You got the back door done!” Lucas took an excited step and grunted as he stared at the back of his new house.

“You all right?”

“Only sore a touch, so don’t be fretting. Appreciate the work you done, truly. Been driving myself crazy worrying about all what needing doing, and don’t think I didn’t notice the garden. Not a weed to be seen.”

“Look east past the pens.”

“Well, I’ll be damned. You got all that hay laid down.”

“Did it hours after the rain we got—plenty of sun on it—so it not be soaked.”

Lucas shook his head. “Ain’t right you should have done all this by your lonesome? That be a window pane in that door?”

“Yep, expected you’d like to be able to see the barn and stock without opening it, so I made that decision and bought the pane afore you woke. Anyways, scything weren’t nothing. I’ll turn it tomorrow or the next, and can load it up in the wagon for stacking when it’s dry enough. Won’t take but a day, and I won’t need any help other than Dinah's.”

“Never met nobody like you, Jubal.” He walked back to the big mare and began unharnessing her.

“I can do that.”

“Know you can, but I can help.” Together they removed the soft, well-oiled leather and settled her in the corral with his other mares. He leaned on the top rail. “Ain’t ridden these two since before I left on that trip for supplies.”

“You been laid up a spell.”

“Reckon that’s true. Suppose all the chores be done for the day?”

“Nothing to take care of—troughs are full—and I reckon there’s no sense checking the oats in the north corral. You want me to close up the new gates at the far end so we can use it for the stock again?”

Lucas sighed low and long as he rested his forehead against the top plank and stared at his feet. “Might be we should wait a spell? You said they might circle back this way.”

“It’s possible, and there’s still lots of grass in the other pens. Yep, reckon we shouldn’t give up hope just yet,” he said with a smile.

Lucas looked up and smiled too. “Any more surprises for me?”

“Don’t think so,” Jubal answered with a straight face. “Place kept me busy. Got some work still to do on them skins.”

“Suppose we should make some vittles then?”

“Got plenty of grouse stew from yesterday cooled in the crick. Got potatoes, carrots, turnips and onion in it.”

“From the garden?”

“Yep, small but good enough for eating. That patch is already producing a whole batch of food. You’ll have plenty extra come harvest.”

“Lots of room in the larder,” Lucas said as he walked toward the cabin, watching the ground carefully with each step he took.

“Easier for you to go in the front door… less of a rise. I’ll build a step for it later.”

Lucas nodded and changed course. When he cleared the front corner, he stopped dead and looked up at his house. “Well, I’ll be. You fixed them shot-out windows… and you hung the door. I thought it be leaning there.”

Jubal had come up behind the man. “Knew them windows bothered you. About the first thing you said when you woke.”

Lucas chuckled. “Suppose I did complain about him doing such, didn’t I? Seems a long time ago,” he added.

“Know what you mean. Need help stepping in?”

“Don’t believe so. It’s got a latch?”

“Yep. Lift up on it.”

Lucas did and pushed the door. It swung wide, and he was facing the new stairs. “Lord God Almighty! You… how… you did this all by yourself? Jubal Coyle! Did someone help you do this?”

Jubal smiled as he stood in back of the man, but said nothing. Lucas stepped in and looked up. “You done this for me,” he said so soft Jubal barely heard him.

“Didn’t want you fretting like you were about what needed doing, and didn’t need no help for such work.”

“But where did you find the time. It looks… like a real carpenter did it. The loft on both sides and them stairs. Those lofts alone must have took days, and how did you support everything with no help?”

“Weren’t that hard. Learned from Vincent there is always a way when you think long enough, and he be a real carpenter. You like how it’s done?”

“Lord above, yes! To be honest, I didn’t think stairs would fit once I thought about it. Ah, so that’s why you asked me about it after I woke.”

“Yep. Had to know what you wanted done, and be sure to do it right.”

“It’s more than right, Jubal. It’s better than I thought it could ever be, and I truly appreciate how open it is up above. I can still see clear to the roof, and about all of it to boot.”

“Glad it be what you wanted. Had to make a decision on leaving it open, since it makes the lofts separate from each other ‘cept for the landing. There’s enough headroom at the top for me to turn left or right, so there will be for you too, and there’s them posts to hang onto for balance.”

“Like the lofts separate, only joined by the stairs. Was that way in our old house. I need to go up there and see it for myself. Stay close in case I need some supporting.”

“You sure you should do that? It’ll still be there in a couple of days.”

Lucas turned to face him. “Pretty clear you worry for me, and I don’t mind a’tall, I surely don’t, but I’m seeing how it be up there, with your help or without.”

“You’re the boss,” Jubal said with a smirk. He knew better than to argue, and besides, the man looked right joyful at what he’d done. The first step brought a small gasp from Lucas, so Jubal took hold of his hips. “You step and I’ll lift and we’ll see how it goes.”

A minute of taking their time and Lucas reached the landing, able to make the short step up onto the loft by hisself with help from the post. “Good Lord, what am I going to do with all this space? More room than I thought there’d ever be. Could fit the other cabin in this side alone.”

“Suppose that’s true,” Jubal said, seeing the truth of it. “You could put your bed up here when you’re all healed… and hang your clothes and such… if you want?”

“Think I’d like the bed up here for certain. And you got the windows and put them in? I didn’t even notice till now. Do they open?”

“Course they do,” Jubal answered, enjoying the man’s excitement. “They fit good, and when you open both, the breeze makes a real difference. You open that one and I’ll open the hearth side,” Jubal said as he hurried over to the other loft.

Right away a breeze swept through, and Lucas laughed liked a little kid. “That feels damn fresh. Was a mite too warm up here. Can’t believe you did all this for me… or that you did it so fast, and it be such quality work.”

“You want railings or some walls up here?”

Lucas shook his head. “Don’t want any changes. Like my eye being able to travel right across.”

“Well… just make sure you don’t fall. I could put up a railing that wouldn’t block the view a’tall.”

“Is that what you’re thinking we should do?”

“Maybe so. But it be what you want what matters.”

“I’ll do some thinking on it, but I sure like the way it is now. Thank you, Jubal. I’m obliged to you for all you’ve done.”

“Wasn’t nothing. Kept me busy, and that’s what I needed. Ready to go back down?” Lucas’s steady stare was making his insides squirm, and again he felt that urge to put distance between them.

“Yep. Saw what I needed to. You go first.”

Jubal went slow, and Lucas was right behind him, one hand settled on his shoulder. He bumped against him with each step before they took the next one.

 

 

*

An early, extra longerer chapter. Merry Christmas to you all! Cheers... 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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