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Bearpaw: An Old West Tale - 5. Chapter 5 Lay of the Land

By the light of the moon....

Lay of the Land

 

 

A mile out of town, Lucas took the road to the left. It be the same one they came in on, but this north side was narrower, seeming more of a trail than anything. Still, it was good and packed down and the buckboard rode easy.

A few minutes later, Lucas pointed to the right. “That be the way to the sawmill what sits on the East River, north of where we crossed it.”

“Is it far?”

“Barely fifteen minutes from here if’n you’re traveling slow, and it’s fairly flat going the whole way so pulling heavy loads be easy for a horse. I’ve carried a full stack of boards longer than twenty feet what hung way out the back, and Dinah broke no sweat hauling them home.”

Farther north, the road curved sharp to the east and trees from each side brushed against the wagon now and again.

“We be on your road now?”

“Yep, this be the only way home. Ends just after the start of my property, and then it becomes just a narrow trail to the ridge what comes up about a mile from the river bank. That ridge be my property line.”

“The bank of the East River, right?”

“Yep. It curves west a bit on its way down to the sawmill. This be higher ground than where the sawmill sits, though the road don’t hardly seem to rise.”

“I couldn’t tell we climbed a’tall.”

“It be gradual, so you wouldn’t.”

“Much farther to go?”

“Not much, no. Dinah knows the way, and we’ll light a lantern when we get to my land. You be confused again?”

Jubal gave him a shoulder bump as he snorted. “Hard to get the lay of the land when you can’t see much of anything.”

“Easy for me no matter how dark it be, and you’ll get to know it. Some wild country behind us to the west, back where we turned… thick forest a couple of miles wide along with some marshes, and then there be farms the other side of it. Forest goes south almost to town. Does that help you get your bearings?”

“Yep. Understand now the east and west farms be separated by the town and that thick woods north of it. So it not be suitable back there for farming?”

“No, and don’t reckon it ever will be, which pleases me to say.”

“We passing farms on this road?” Jubal asked, not seeing anything other than the moonlit patches in front of them.

“We passed two so far—just after we turned—should have pointed them out to you. Not many this side of town yet. Most settlers chose the west side, for good reason, I reckon. Now we be going by two more… a pair of brothers on the right side. They got a bunch of cows and they sell milk to the businesses in town.”

“Lot of cows?”

“About nine or ten what be producing milk, I think. More will freshen next year they tell me… all Shorthorn Milkers, a tough breed brought with them from the south. Sell all the milk they get, and some cheese they make what be good and tasty. Bought a bred heifer from them last fall—they didn’t want to part with her, but I paid dear enough they let me have her—and she gives me all I need. She calved in early spring. Leaving the little girl on her for the summer, so her and I share the milk since I don’t need much. The cow should calve again next spring, since I walked her down the road to visit the same bull.”

“You’ll have your own herd soon enough.”

“Could do, but them boys will buy the next calf if it be a heifer. I reckon two cows might be plenty for the milk I drink.”

“Suppose it is. We used to drink warmed up milk on cold mornings, and it sure filled a belly. Who has the next farm?”

“I do, but it’s still a ways ahead. There be ten lots not purchased yet on the north side, and maybe the same on the south. Expect they’ll sell fast once the west and north ones be bought, but there still be some choice there from what I hear. Folks like to be close to town, and the roads are better out that way for sure. More of a community than on this side of Bearpaw, but that suits me just fine.”

“You don’t want to be near folk?”

“Can do without close neighbors for sure. Realized that right off when I came here. First few lots I looked at, I could hear people, and hear them loud… kids and folks talking and yelling, and hammering and such… could see some of them too. That all irritated me right quick. Don’t want to watch other folks going about their business… wasn’t what I had in mind, a’tall. You know what it’s like on a mesa at night with the only sound being a cow bawling, and a foot stomp now and again?”

“Yep, I surely do.”

“Well… I might want to be a farmer, but I yearn for that kind of peace too, right down to my bones.”

“Understand that, Lucas, I truly do.”

“Expected you would. So, I rode over to this east side and traveled the road we’re on—went right to the last lot—and that’s the one I’m planted on. It be so quiet, I felt it be home the minute I stepped into the front trees, and got more sure with each part I saw. Lots of folks put their buildings close to the road for it being convenient, but I set mine a good distance back. If this here road went further to the ridge, I would have built all the way over to the east.”

“Since there can be no neighbors on that side?”

“Yep, that be the reason. Just a treed slope down to the river, and the other side of it is wild country what no one could farm. Worried someone could build close to my west property line, but I’m hoping whoever buys it chooses the other side for such.

“Bottom third of my land has a creek along the border. It turns and cuts the property in half, which might bother some, but excepting for spring thaw it ain’t very deep, and not wide a’tall. There’s better, easier farms with clearer land, I reckon, but I wouldn’t change where I am for none of them.”

“Sounds a fine place to me. I’m not one for people either, them what stick their nose in your business especially. Never could stand the racket in a big town either. Feel safer being alone to be honest.”

“Safer?”

Jubal knew he was being stared at again, but he kept his gaze forward. “Yep. Some folks can be dangerous, and it’s hard to tell which ones.”

“Suppose that’s true for some,” Lucas said, drawing out the words, and Jubal could tell he be curious, but he’d said enough already.

“That sheriff, he was a real surprise to me.”

“Reid? How so?”

Dinah’s walk had picked up speed and Jubal could feel her excitement. He was excited too, but didn’t know why that was. He should be exhausted, and truth be told, his head was aching on and off. “Ah… not what I expected is all. Any lawmen I’ve come across leaned to being miserable. He seemed friendly enough for the time of night it was, especially with you. Asked a lot of questions what made me nervous, but that be his job to do.” He could still feel Lucas’s gaze on him again, but after a quick glance he went back to watching the moon-dappled road.

“Saw you were nervous at his questions, but you told him plain what he needed to hear. Fact is, he ain’t been a sheriff long, so I reckon he’s trying to prove hisself. Bearpaw needed one bad, and hired him without much experience, other than a short spell as a deputy before he came here. He’s a good shot, though not as good as you, I’d bet. Folks all seem to like him, though, and that be important too.” Lucas drew in a deep breath that he soon let out as a sigh.

“Knew him years back when he worked cattle. Drove a herd four hundred miles without enough trailhands, but we got them there in good health, and you don’t forget such a challenging time. Signed up with another outfit together right after. He’s a good man, but….”

“But what?”

“Nothing important… just… we’re not the same, him and me.” He took another deep breath before he spoke again. “Could say we were looking for different things, so we took new paths is all. I’m a farmer now, and he’s a lawman. Lost track of each other for a time.”

Jubal was confused once again, but it had nothing to do with where they be. What was he missing? “Maybe you two can go fishing now that I’m here to lend a hand.” He heard another quiet sigh from the man.

“Got lots to keep me busy no matter the help. Reid will find someone else to take fishing, no worries there. Just about home,” he said after there was a thump, thump, thump beneath the wagon. “We just went over the cedar plank bridge my crick runs under. Surveyors built it back before I bought the place. They did a solid job, and it ain’t a’tall wide, so expect it will last a good while yet… well… till it don’t no more.” He chuckled at his own words, and Jubal smiled at the man’s humor.

Dinah turned left all on her own a few steps after, and then Lucas reined her to a halt. “Got a lantern hanging in that white birch beside you. You see it?”

“Yep, can almost reach it.”

“Well, don’t be falling off the wagon for trying—your head’s already seen enough damage.”

“That be true enough,” he admitted as he carefully climbed down to the ground, tree branches what couldn’t be seen prodding at him. “Got my hands on it now.”

“There’s a tin of matches hanging there too. Darker than this when there’s no moon, and I like being prepared.”

“I believe it, seeing as how you had me hide under the canvas for them miles back on the road. See the tin.” Jubal opened it and took out a match. Lighting the whale oil lamp, he held it up. First thing he saw was a large, handmade sign with split tree branches used to form letters what spelled “Gold Rush Farm”. It had clearly taken some work and care, and he thought it well done. Vincent would like it.

“Nice sign and a good name, Mr. Rush. Plenty clever for a dumb farmer.”

Lucas laughed loud, and it was answered with a whinny from the north… then another one. Of course, Dinah joined in with a call of her own. “I thought it was. This place be my treasure, better than any gold, even if getting it tamed drives me loco at times. Sounds like my horses are still alive. Hop back up and hold the lantern high. There’s a low branch we have to duck under what broke a few months back. One more thing I have yet to take care of.”

He weren’t kidding about the low branch. The lantern shone bright, but it was hard to see much until they cleared the trees. The open ground appeared mostly flat where they were, and Jubal realized he could hear the soft tinkle of water running.

“On the left through them trees is the crick what runs under the bridge. Can you hear it? Makes the prettiest sound as it goes over the rocks at the road edge.”

“Yep, and it sounds right musical.”

“Musical? I like that, I surely do. I reckon it is like music. So, the crick curves up ahead about six hundred feet from right here, and then goes northeast… then a little north to the spring what feeds it. That spring ain’t never slowed, even in winter. The cabin sits right after the curve, and don’t be laughing when you get up close to it. See the new log one I’m building to the right a ways off, up on that there knoll?”

“Sure can. See the outline of it. Sits nice and high compared to here. No missing it don’t have a roof yet.”

“No, no roof, but that one does have a proper foundation I’m right proud of. It’s been slow going for sure.” Lucas sounded tired now, probably as worn out as Jubal was. Was likely damn hard work to get the wagon unstuck all by hisself.

“We can change that tomorrow—putting a roof on—if’n that fits your plans?”

“Going to be a big job,” Lucas answered, blowing out a long breath. He sounded defeated again, and that bothered Jubal something fierce for some reason.

“Told you I can do it, and I will. What needs doing now?”

“Now? Well, that’d be Daisy unharnessed and turned out before I do anything else. Then all the water troughs need filling… suspect they’ll be getting low. There be ones for the horses, the cow and calf, the hogs, and the coop. Chickens will need feed, and so will the two hogs. Horses and cows are on new grass so that ain’t no concern. Only feed oats in the winter, and not much even then. We can likely move the horses over to the north corral tomorrow so the grass stays healthy and thick, but there ain’t no need for hurrying.”

“Where are the pails?”

“Don’t do no fretting, Jubal. You can start pitching in tomorrow, once you can see your way around.”

“If it’s all right with you, I need to earn my keep, and I can see just fine now we’re out of the trees.”

“Fair enough then. Barn’s where we be headed, and so are the pens. I’ll do for Dinah and turn her out. The wagon can stay loaded till morning.” Clucking, he drove them along the south side of the log house and pulled up beside a narrow but long pole barn. “Here we be.” He set the brake and hopped to the ground like he’d done it a thousand times. Likely had. Stretching, he breathed a big sigh. “Feels good to be home and done with traveling, and expect Dinah agrees on that.”

Jubal joined him on the ground a little less gracefully, and copied his stretching. “That seat might be more comfortable than most, but my ass is thankful it’s going to get a rest.”

Lucas chortled, sounding happier than he did a minute earlier. “My hind is thankful too. Can you see the pails hooked on the side of the barn?”

“Yep, and I can see all the pens. What’s that small, tall building across the crick? That be the outhouse?”

Jubal snorted. “No, and don’t be using it for such,” he answered, chuckling. “That be my smokehouse. Old fellow showed me how to build it and it does a damn fine job. Use it a lot and ain’t burnt it down yet.”

“Good to know… promise I won’t make no mistake. We always had us a smokehouse growing up, and my pa had me smoke all our meat. Where can I put my mare… my mares?”

“Reckon I’ll put them in the front pen for the night. It’s smaller than the other corrals, but don’t need no fighting between them and mine till we can keep an eye on them. I’ll lead them over if that’s all right with you?”

“Surely it is, and I’ll start filling while you take care of that good girl.” He stroked Dinah’s nose before walking over and grabbing two pails off wooden hooks made from tree branches, happy to be moving and helping. The crick was a short walk, and he could make out the well-used path to it. The stream be more than deep enough to sink the pail in, and the water flowed at a slow pace.

He could see from where he crouched how the cabin at the bend weren’t square or set level. Made him wonder what the log house might look like in daylight. Might be Lucas needed more help than he thought. Wouldn’t do to have another one what was crooked, and he could maybe fix such before the roof went on.

Filling the troughs, he listened to Lucas murmuring to Dinah, and then the rest of the animals as he made his rounds. His voice soothed the critters, of that he was sure, because its deep tone soothed him too. They crossed paths more than once before finishing their tasks at about the same time, Lucas only having to wait while he filled the trough for Bean and his new horse.

Jubal watched them both take a drink afore they dropped their heads to the thick grass, seeing they already had a bond. He was curious what the new mare would be like to ride. Couldn’t be as bad as Bean, and that was something he’d bet on.

“Put your pack saddle in the barn… lots of stuff tied to it, so it’s damn heavy. Your mare had a good roll once it was off. Know you was worried for sores, but there be none what I could see.”

“Glad of that. Reckon she had a time of it with them buggers.”

“Well, she’s safe now, and she’ll be happy here. Reckon she’s a little thin, but this here grass will fix that soon enough. You can move your tack from the wagon tomorrow. Fine where it is for the night—don’t expect rain—but what does a dumb farmer like me know?”

Jubal laughed. “You ain’t dumb at all, seeing you were smart enough to hire me on.”

“We’ll see about that,” Lucas said with a grin what shone in the moonlight.

“Like them two saddle horses of yourn plenty.”

“Yep, they’re good ones. The bay mare is seven, and calm as can be. She’s blood red in the sun, and her name is Strawberry.”

“Good name for a blood bay. What about the black?”

“She’s another story. Quiet once the devil leaves her, but she can have some buck to her at the start. Gives a ride smooth as corn-silk, though. Call her Rabbit.”

Jubal chuckled as he leaned against the fence rail. “Another good name… for a bucking horse.”

“Suits her for sure. You’ll have to come up with one for your new mare. Dang, that head of hers is a pretty one.”

“It surely is, and I’ll think of something once I learn her. Like them hindquarters she’s got… bet she can spin and rollback quick.” Jubal always loved talking about horses, and he could sense Lucas was the same from the pleasure in his voice.

“Did you see where the outhouse be?”

“I did, and it be tucked away in a good spot.”

“Outhouses should be in the trees if it can be managed. Some like ’em real close to their house, but I ain’t of that mind. Don’t mind walking a distance. Keep a pail of sawdust in there for covering.”

“Seen that. Makes for a more pleasant time spent behind the door.”

Lucas chuckled. “Yep, surely does. You hungry, cause I be right empty.”

“Haven’t eaten since yesterday, so yeah, I could gnaw on something.”

“Since yesterday? Should have said something. I had some jerky in the wagon. Apologize for not thinking to ask sooner. Come on then, and I’ll carry the lantern. Stock’s all took care of till morn. Extra hands make for easier work, and I surely liked the help.”

“Appreciate the place to stay, Lucas, and I truly mean that.”

“Pleased you’re here, Jubal, and I mean that. Follow me, and don’t be laughing at my cabin.”

“Why would I laugh? It’s got a roof, don’t it?” he asked teasingly.

Lucas snorted. “A crooked one what leaks in the rain, but yep, there is a roof. Walls ain’t straight either… wander like a horse with no bridle.”

“Noticed that,” Jubal said with a smirk.

“Told y’all not to laugh. First time I ever built a cabin, and had no help for it. Confess to not knowing what I was doing, but it should stay standing for tonight.”

“Should?”

“Well, I can’t say for certain, but we’re used to some danger now, ain’t we?”

“Suppose we are at that. A crooked roof don’t scare me none compared to armed killers.”

“Don’t forget the crooked walls.”

Jubal laughed. Conversation with Lucas had fast become easy, and he surely didn’t mind teasing or being teased. Had been a long time since he had someone he could pester what didn’t mind. “Might be I’d be safer sleeping outside.”

“What? And leave me in there by myself? Not a chance, cowboy. Never know when I might need your good aim again.”

“I’m praying my aim won’t be needed ‘cept for hunting, God willing.”

“I reckon I shouldn’t joke about such a thing. Not something I want to live through ever again.” His tone had changed completely, and Jubal felt bad for it.

“Living through it is better than the other way, and we should make our peace with such.” He was pleased when Lucas laughed again. It be a good sounding one.

“We surely should be doing so. Suppose I’ll see those dead men in my sleep, but we did nothing wrong.”

“No, sir, we didn’t, and they weren’t good men, but I’ll likely see them lifeless faces till I die.”

Lucas turned at the step to the door of the cabin, holding the lantern high. “I’ll be beholding to you for the same amount of time. Feel right fortunate you had my back.”

Jubal was drawn into those shining eyes and the truth he saw there. He had to swallow before he could speak words. “We both be lucky we met when we did. Not going to lie… was feeling pretty low at the time, and I’m just as fortunate to have fought alongside a decent man. Haven’t met a lot of those lately. Ah… enough yammering. Ain’t there something for our bellies behind that there door?”

Lucas smiled, a different one he hadn’t seen before. “Got some jerky, hard cheese, and heavy bread, unless you want to start a cooking fire? Can have fresh vegetables tomorrow.”

“Don’t need any more than what you’re offering.”

“Got some salty butter too. I’ll get it and the cheese from the larder. That’s up in the side of that little hill to the north-east… see it better in the morn. Took a lot of digging and hauling rocks to get it done, but stays right cool in there, and there be a lantern and matches inside if you need something. The door fits tight with a good push. Some jerky in that tin and bread in the other. Knife there too,” he said, pointing to the shelf above the table. “Be back in two shakes.”

He squeezed past Jubal and out the door, leaving the lantern on a sturdy, handmade table what showed a lot of wear. The warmth he felt as their bodies brushed was fleeting, but powerful enough he had to fight the sudden surge of want it caused. There was something about the man what stirred him deep—or maybe it was just the godawful loneliness he’d been feeling for many months—but either way, it made him fearful.

Looking up and around, he saw all the mistakes right off, but still found the cabin homey. Supposed some would call it rickety, but that might be unfair. It surely was crooked, though, and the wall supports were too far apart to make it as solid as he would want. Even some of the warped wall boards could use better nailing, only fixed at the bottom and top. Maybe the man had been short of nails at the time? The floor was dirt like so many cabins were—must have been a right mess when the crick overflowed its banks—but there were worn boards laid down in a few spots.

A platform built on log legs sat in one corner—made plenty wide for a man like Lucas—with a stitched, sack-covered mattress what looked surprisingly clean. Appeared a fellow could sink into it, the stuffing being so thick. A bedroll sat at the top with Lucas’s headprint still in it.

It and the table were all there be in the way of furniture. Nails driven partway in along the walls held clothes, tools, pots, a hand-carved ladle, some drying cloths, and a long-gun what hung next to the door.

What concerned him most was the hearth. Small, it was poorly done from what he knew about them. He wasn’t sure he would trust it to hold a fire, but to be fair the soot-blackened stones said different. Likely the man’s first attempt at building one, and even more likely the reason he paid someone to do the stonework for his new cabin. Jubal once helped his neighbor build one, and learned the size of the chimney was the most important part. This one didn’t look big enough for a good draw, nor did it appear it would stand for much longer with the slight slant to it.

He thought fondly about that neighbor as he stood there, remembering all the things he’d taught him about hisself in the sweet-smelling hayfields up back of the man’s barn. Vincent, near five years older than him, had been decent and kind, and he’d helped Jubal make sense of those feelings he’d carried hidden since he was a young’un. He’d made his body sing with a pleasure he would never forget, while giving his heart a fullness he hadn’t felt since.

The man had taken a wife the next year, a young pretty thing, and what he and Jubal shared had ended. He’d expected it to, but there was some hurt he hadn’t been prepared for. No blame to Vincent, though. He’d always been truthful about what had to happen, right from the beginning.

His thoughts were interrupted when the door opened and Lucas appeared. He was carrying a flour sack he set on the table next to a small stack of tin plates. “Got some smoked porcupine jerky, if you fancy such? Little chewy, but I got the smoking right. Goes better in a stew, but I ain’t keen on waiting for such to cook.”

“Haven’t had porcupine in years, so I look forward to chewing on some.”

“Then we got our vittles. So, what you thinking of the roof over your head what I promised you?”

“It’ll do just fine. I ain’t one for fancy, and this is right cozy after where I’ve been sleeping most nights.”

“Only need it a few more days till we can move into the new cabin, God willing. We’ll have to share that bed, but I reckon it be big enough,” he said as he opened the food tins and pulled stuff from the sack. Two plates were heaped by the time he was done.

“No need for sharing your bed,” Jubal said, trying not to show the nervous swallow what followed. “I can lay my bedroll right under that window there.”

“Won’t hear of it, Jubal. Snakes have been known to slither in after dark. Big ones.”

Jubal scoffed, knowing when he was being teased. “Don’t care for snakes, but they don’t scare me none.”

“All the same, I promised you a place to lay your head, and I weren’t meaning on no dirt… unless you don’t want to share? Which case I can take the floor.”

“No… no… just don’t want to put you out is all I was saying.” He swallowed again, but Lucas was too busy to take notice.

“Then it’s settled, and you can pick the side. You’re gonna appreciate the mattress, I’m thinking. That crick out there is spring fed. Good drinking water, but there’s a small spring a hundred and fifty feet up the other side of it. That’s usually where I fill my canteen. We can take a walk up after we fill our bellies. Got no chairs in here, but there’s sitting stumps outside. Grab a plate and follow me.”

Jubal couldn’t remember being more hungry, and the smell of food set his mouth to watering. He followed Lucas out the door and was digging in as soon as his hind hit the wood seat, one of four surrounding the cookfire pit. It all took some jaw work, the dry, heavy bread as much as anything, but it was overall delicious and both men ate in silence ‘cepting for the smack of lips and sounds of chewing.

Jubal finished with a satisfied groan. “Feel a sight better now. That’s real good cheese. Got some sharpness to it, and the butter be nice and salty.”

“The cheese came from the brothers down the road. Said they’d show me how to make it when I’m ready. You had enough?”

“Plenty. Biggest meal I’ve had in weeks.”

“Glad you’ve had your fill, Jubal. You got clean clothes to change into?”

“Ah, should have. Britches and shirt tied to my pack saddle. Should be clean if they ain’t been fooled with.”

“There’s a thick canvas sack on the left what felt soft. Noticed it when I put the saddle in the barn.”

“That be them.”

“Got me a clean set too. What say I put these plates in the washtub and then we can have a wash in the crick? Can’t go to bed smelling like sour mud, three-day sweat, and dead men’s blood,” he said with a half-hearted grin, lantern-lit eyes staring into his.

Jubal felt his mouth go dry at the direct look, but he cleared his throat enough to get some words out. “I reckon you be right about that. I’ll get my shave kit what has my soap from the pack saddle… and them clothes.”

“Talking of shaving, I broke my damn razor more than three months back. Can’t control it without the handle, and I don’t need my throat slit open. The mercantile didn’t have any to replace it each time I asked… reckon now I should put an order in for one.”

“So… you don’t always look like that?”

“Like what?”

“Like one of them old prospectors you see what come out of the mountains once a year.”

Lucas snorted. “Suppose I do look like one of them, don’t I?”

“Scary sight, seeing you coming towards me on that road. Thought you were a big hairy goat-man at first with the beard and all that hair sticking out ‘neath your hat. All I could see was your eyes and your nose.”

Lucas apparently found that damn funny cause his laughter rang out loud and long in the night air. “Goat-man?” he asked as he wiped at some tears. “You thought I looked like a goat-man?”

“Well, more like a lion-man, I reckon… like them furry African ones,” Jubal answered with a grin, enjoying it when the man laughed even harder.

Lucas wheezed and coughed again in amusement. “And here I was thinking you be a handsome fella while you was thinking I’m some strange beast.” His laughter rang out again and Jubal joined him, but he could feel his neck and cheeks burn red… with both pleasure and a bit of fear at Lucas calling him handsome.

“Hairy lion-goat-man,” Lucas muttered as he stood up, shaking his head and chuckling. “Well… this animal wants to get some shut eye so get your backside moving. You want a stick for your teeth? Got a half dozen fresh willow ones inside.”

“I’d be obliged,” Jubal answered, trying not to stare at him while his body stood so close to where he sat.

 

Stripping in front of the already naked man, Jubal stepped quickly into the crick. He couldn’t help the yelp what shot out his mouth as the water reached up to his balls. “Jeezus!”

“Get under quick and you’ll warm up,” Lucas said, his wet face close enough to see he enjoyed his loud reaction. Jubal had to admit he was a fun man to be around. Only problem was, he looked too damn fine out of his clothes, made way better than Jubal had realized. What could he do ‘cept try not to look, but it sure weren’t easy.

Lucas disappeared under the surface and came up sputtering. Jubal did the same, and was relieved he did feel warmer. He sloshed the few steps to the bank and picked up his soap. Lathering up good, he kept his back to his new friend what be doing the same while standing in the water.

When he turned back around, Lucas was the one staring, and he didn’t look away. “Feels better to be clean, don’t it?”

“Surely does.” He splashed his way back into the middle and found hisself in a deeper spot. This time his cock was beneath the surface, and his fear of it springing up lessened. Leaning back, he went completely under and cleared the lather from his hair and privates.

Yep, he was definitely feeling better. He came up sputtering again to find Lucas still staring his way, his eyes focusing on his neck. Weren’t no choice but to accept such would happen sooner or later. He hoped the man didn’t ask about them marks he bore, though. “I reckon I’m clean as I’m going to get.”

“Was a long day, but it’s damn good to be home and back in my crick. Been in here most every evening after a long day of working.”

“You’re blessed to have such a home,” Jubal said, deciding to do a bit more soaping of his chest hair and that what grew in his armpits.

Lucas’s attention stayed on him. “You can have a home too, Jubal. Ain’t trying to tell you what you should do—ain’t right your dream got taken away like it did—but you got enough of your money back to buy some land. Maybe not as much as you planned, but you got enough for a good piece, and the government allows time for paying.”

“Suppose, but it’s not just land I’d be needing, and I don’t want to be owing money to no one, ‘specially the government. Reckon I barely had enough for a fair start, and now I’ve got less than half of it.”

“Well, it be true you’ll need tools and seeds and such, and I understand not wanting to owe cause I be the same. You can still have a looksee around these parts, though, and consider this your home as long as you be here… and I ain’t opposed to loaning you Dinah and the wagon, or my plow and tools if you settle close.”

“Appreciate that, I surely do. I’ll think on it when my mind settles, and I’ll make sure to earn my keep while I’m here, promise you that.” He watched as Lucas walked out of the water, for sure attracted to the man’s form. He was a good height with a lean waist, but his shoulders were broad, his arms strong, and his legs looked extra powerful… and that rear was a sight to behold, one worthy of being silvered by moonlight.

Weren’t a thing to improve on from the view Jubal had. He shivered in the night air as he averted his gaze and sloshed back to the bank. He picked up his long cotton shirt and pulled it over his head quick, not concerned for being wet. Once covered, he glanced sideways to see his new friend was facing him, still staring openly.

“I was right about you being a handsome fella. All that dirt weren’t doing you no favors.”

Jubal knew he was teasing, but there was something else there in those words… or was he just imagining it? He had no trust in his own judgements when it came to such. “And you don’t look scary anymore. Your hair is long, but it ain’t bushy like it was.”

“Need me a haircut for sure—don’t want no one mistaking me for some animal,” he said with a snort and a grin. “Like how short yours be. Would make my life easier to have this all gone.”

“I’d say no doubt a haircut be needed. Not to brag, but I’m more than fair at scissoring. Cut plenty of cowboys’ hair on cattle drives, and even made enough from it to stake me in some friendly card games.”

“Ain’t gonna turn that down if’n you’re willing, and I’ll pay for it too.”

“Be glad to, but no, you won’t be paying.” Jubal pulled his britches up, and just in time because his cock was beginning to lengthen. Lucas’s was still in full view, and it was a beauty what hung longer than any others he’d seen. “We filling our canteens before we go inside?”

“Yep. Pull your boots on and I’ll show you the best way to cross. Got me a little bridge of sorts. How old you be, Jubal?”

“Coming twenty-five years.”

“What I figured.”

“And what age you be?”

“Soon be twenty-six.”

“Go on with you, really? All that hair makes you look older.”

“That so? Well… not sure I like you so much anymore.”

He laughed. “Just joshing with you, Lucas.”

“Maybe so, maybe not. Just remember, older is wiser.”

“I reckon only old folks say such, don’t they?” he asked with as straight a face as he could muster.

“Changed my mind about sharing my bed with you too,” Lucas said as he strode off. Jubal followed him, snickering. Lucas wasn’t long in joining him.

 

Ten minutes later they lay side by side on the thick mattress with only their shoulders touching. Both men had sighed at the same time upon stretching out. Fully clothed, it was a mite warm for blankets. “You comfortable?” Lucas asked with a sleepy-sounding voice.

“I surely am,” he answered, and he meant it. Being so close to Lucas didn’t fill him with fear or set his nerves on edge a’tall, not like it had earlier. “It’s a fine, soft bed, softest I’ve laid on in years… maybe in my whole life.” He listened to a double yawn, and within seconds after, Lucas’s breathing evened out. Jubal smiled before yawning hisself, and then everything faded.

 

  

 *

I combined two chapters for my faithful readers. I hope you enjoyed this double chapter. Please leave a story like/reaction and recommendation if you feel the story worthy of them. Cheers!
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.
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