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    Headstall
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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.

Larkspur: A Sidewinder Tale - 7. Chapter 7 A Bark with No Bite

We had our chance...

 

A Bark with No Bite

 

 

They’d scythed about two acres of tall, thick grass and were just finishing fluffing it into small piles. It weren’t easy work by no means, but was a necessary chore so the sun and air could do a better job with the drying. Leaving it to lay flat would let the bottom side stay wet, and that could rot the hay once stacked. The afternoon was growing long, but there were still a few good hours of sun left, it being the height of summer.

If the weather held for the next forty-eight hours, they would turn the piles over, and the following day they’d begin to move it, by wagon, over to the already growing haystack near the barn. The sudden thwack of an axe hitting wood let them know their friend had returned from his walk.

“Mitch is back at the cabin. We should mosey on over and see if he’s calmed hisself any.”

Boone stood upright, stretching his back muscles as he faced the man. “Not yet, Coy. Let him get through some of the woodpile first, and we’ll get done here.”

“What are you talking about? We are done!”

“Yep, suppose we are at that”—Boone’s gaze swept over the field—“so I think we deserve to set a spell and listen to the birds… or go up to the spring for a drink.”

“I should check on the stew.”

“No need for that. It’ll cook just fine on its own. The fire will just be good embers now. Want an apple?”

Coy sighed. “No… my stomach don’t want no food… I’ll have one after supper. Mitch is right. I can’t seem to help myself.”

Boone chuckled, feeling a mite sorry for him. “Trust me… he don’t mind you fretting over him a’tall—his bark for you has no bite to it—so best we let him accomplish something afore we go back. You know how proud a man feels to get a job done. Good honest work helps a mind settle.”

Coy looked at him with an almost smile. “You mean like scything hay?”

“Might be I do, but I’m not sure it worked for you,” Boone answered with a teasing grin. He sat hisself down in a patch of shade with his back against the trunk of a big maple tree, and Coy joined him, sitting close as he could get.

“What if he don’t want to talk to us about what happened earlier?”

Boone removed his hat and kissed Coy’s neck, tasting the salt of his sweat and liking it. He always liked the tang of it in that particular spot. After blowing a stream of air across it, causing Coy to hunch his shoulders and shiver, he answered the question. “Then we won’t talk… but I suspect he will at some point. Either way, we’ll respect his choice.”

Coy’s hand came up and cupped the side of Boone’s face, pulling their heads closer together. “Was I right to tell Will to come back tomorrow?” A finger slowly traced his jawline, but he could tell the man’s thoughts were really on Mitch and Will.

“I expect you were. Nothing’s going to get solved without Will pushing for it.”

“Mitch needs to push too.”

“True enough, but he’s the one who’s sick, and his pride is going to get in the way for sure. Mark my words… he don’t want to be a burden to anyone, least of all someone he might feel love for… or someone who spoke of love for him. I reckon he’s thinking on the way Will left him, not wanting to see him die, and probably sees not much has changed about the dying part. You understand what I’m saying?”

“Yep… you’re telling me could be Mitch is stuck on that… being too proud for his own good.”

“Yep.”

“So, it’s up to Will then?”

“I’d say so. Don’t expect he will, but Mitch should tell him the whole truth too. It might get them past what happened between them, enough to have themselves a real talk.”

“And Will needs to tell Mitch he went back and looked for him.”

“Yep. Wouldn’t be a bad idea at all. Probably be a big surprise to Mitch, but it could change the set to his mind.”

“Was sad to hear how Will tried to make things right, but couldn’t find him.” Coy’s fingers were now traveling along Boone’s forearm, brushing at the hairs.

“Yep, sure was a sad story he told. Finding people ain’t easy no how, what with so many towns and different trails spread out. A mite easier now with the telegraph and trains reaching farther, but there’s lots of places they ain’t got to yet. Would have been harder back then.”

“What if I hadn’t found you, beside the river near death like you were? I could have come so close and still missed seeing you there, just as easy as not.”

“But you did find me—said yourself you searched every inch of the river banks—and you did save me. And now Mitch has found Will by coming to Larkspur and seeing his mill sign, so maybe the Lord is helping them the way he helped us.”

“A person’s pride will humble him, but a humble spirit will gain honor,” Coy said softly.

“What was that?”

Coy repeated it. “Something my ma used to quote from the bible. Proverbs 29:23, if I recollect right. She used to say God despises pride more than anything.”

“Could be he does. It does tend to blind us to the truth of things.”

“Yep. Gets in the way of knowing ourselves and each other… and even in trusting the Lord, thinking we know better when we don’t. Letting go of mine brought me a great gift.” He slid his fingers through Boone’s and squeezed. “I understand Mitch’s pride, I surely do, but it ain’t doing him a lick of good. I’ll pray tonight he tells Will what the doc told him. You’re right it’s his burden, but sharing it would help him whether his days be short or otherwise… and maybe could bring Will peace in knowing he was there for him at the end.”

Boone sighed. “I doubt Will would hightail it anywhere if he knew.”

“No… no he wouldn’t, and I’m guessing Mitch knows that.”

“And that will likely keep his pride in place.”

Coy didn’t say anything, but Boone could feel him nod his head, now pressed against his chest. Burying his head in shiny, black hair, he breathed Coy's scent in and sighed. Time would tell whether their friends could reach someplace good, but for now, in this moment, his only concern was for Coy and the bruising his big heart might take. 

 

They took their time walking over to the homestead, seeing Mitch as soon as they left the woods to the west of the clearing. He was still a distance off, shirtless, and swinging the big-headed axe with apparent ease.

“He’s sure lost a lot of weight from when we left Red Bluff.”

“More than I thought,” Boone agreed. “He looks fitted up and healthy, though, and he’s split a bunch already… from here he seems to have gotten younger too. I thought he was over fifty, but now I don’t think so.”

“No… I don’t reckon he’s got that many years on him, but I expect there’s a lot of worry in being a sheriff. That could add some age for sure.” Their path was taking them right to Mitch, and he set down the axe when they got close.

“Howdy, boys. Did you get your grass laid down?” he asked like nothing awkward had happened earlier.

He was breathing hard, but Boone was relieved to see he wasn’t still angered… or didn’t appear to be. “Whole clearing’s cut and in piles for drying. Good yield for a couple of acres. If the rain holds off we’ll turn it again day after tomorrow and load up the wagon the next. We already got the loft full from some earlier cuts, so we’ll keep stacking it near the barn. Winter didn’t last all that long here last year, but we have to be prepared for worse in case the Lord feels inclined to challenge us.”

Mitch picked up his shirt and wiped the sweat from his face. “No sign of rain I can see. You going to grow your own oats?”

“We plan on it in a couple of years, once we burn out the stumps drying to the north,” Coy answered. “For now we buy them at the livery and feed store in town. Don’t need much with grass like we got. Supper will soon be ready.”

“I saw it cooking. Lifted the lid and it smelled a bit of heaven.”

“Beaver meat like I promised, and I’ll fry up some biscuits for soaking. Where did you get off to?”

Mitch appeared reluctant to answer for a time. “Sorry for walking away like I did. Disturbed the peace of the place.”

“No need for sorry. It surely was tense between you and Will, though, and that’s my fault… should have minded my own business, and I’m sorry for that.”

“No harm done, Coy, none at all. I was bound to run into him somewhere around here sooner or later, so it was best to get it over with.”

“Does that mean you’re sticking around?”

“Sticking around? You mean staying in Larkspur?”

“Yep.”

“Coy, that ain’t our business. Let the sheriff be.”

“It’s a fair question, Boone,” Mitch said quickly. “And the answer is I don’t expect so, but I don’t know what my future is. I left when Will was here because I needed some time for myself, and not just because of him. Truth is, I’m a little confused about things, what with how good I’ve been feeling the last couple of days. I’m pretty sure I could make the trip now, but you fellas do make it hard for me to want to set out for Bearpaw Lake.”

“Then you should think on it some more. I’m sure you can find work around here… maybe even be a lawman again if you’ve a mind to. We have lots of room for you in the meantime. You could be a big help with the barn and harvesting the apples, and you could do the fall hunt with Boone, so just think on it,” Coy said again.

“It’s what I’ve been doing. Went over across the ravine and sat in the shade for a while. Not saying I figured anything out, but it sure is pretty land over there. Was a peaceful place to ponder what my path should be while I still have the gumption to keep going. Don’t want to sit around and… wait. Did enough of that before I left Red Bluff.”

“It is good land over there,” Boone agreed, wanting to change the subject. “Didn’t see you come back across to this side and we was right near the ravine.”

“That’s because I walked down to the road and back up your lane. Walked the whole property… or close to it. I tell you what… if I was… well, let’s just say if I was a younger man, I think I could be happy on that piece of land that runs alongside yourn. Plenty for me, that’s for sure, and there’s a pretty spot to build a cabin not far from the ravine side, and that brook sounds awful nice to the ear. Did y’all know it was spring-fed?”

Coy’s eyebrows rose, and Boone hurried to cut him off. He wasn’t quick enough.

“We did. See? This land speaks to a body, don’t it? It surely did to us, and you could do worse than living on the plot next to ours, with a spring-fed brook what runs year round and is deep enough to bathe in. We could give you a hand whenever you need it… and we could count on you for the same.”

Mitch sighed. “Only one problem with that thinking, boy. I’m feeling good now, but you’re forgetting I might be dead and gone before another month passes, and that’s the way it be.”

“I… knowing so don’t mean I’m accepting it, but….”

“Don’t enjoy saying it so harsh, but there’s no need for sadness, lad,” Mitch said, sounding almost fatherly to Boone as he watched Coy struggle with his emotions. “I’ve had a good life, and I got me a chance to see some friends, one I didn’t think I’d ever get. That counts for plenty—learned to appreciate each new day as it comes, and that counts for plenty too. You hearing me?” he asked softly.

“Yep, I hear you,” Coy answered, managing to give the man a half-smile.

“Good. Now, I got me some wood to split… plan on working up a good appetite, just so you know.” He grinned as he reached over and gave Coy’s shoulder a squeeze, his eyes full of kindness.

Coy smiled again, this time a bigger, easier one.  

 

Supper was eaten outside in the early evening. Mitch and Coy sat on the porch rockers with plates on their laps, while Boone perched on the floor’s edge with his back to one of the support posts and his feet on the ground. The heat of the day had let up some, with a nice breeze coming through the trees from the river, and the smoldering fire a few feet away kept the mosquitoes from pestering them.

Boone had done a lot of thinking while he was finishing the day’s chores and washing up in the river, mostly about what Coy was putting himself through over his worry for the sheriff. Mitch had insisted on splitting the entire pile of wood and stacking it despite another protest from Coy, but it was plain to see the accomplishment had pleased the man. He’d looked worn out when he was through swinging the axe, though, enough that even Boone worried for him.

None of them spoke much while they ate, all of them enjoying the special treat of the smoked beaver stew. Lots of good fat laced through beaver meat, and that meant flavor. Boone sopped up the last of the juices with his biscuit and sighed, looking up at a sky soon be filled with stars. In fact, he could already see the brighter ones. This was the best part of the day for him, knowing he’d put in a full day of good work—all the animals taken care of and safe—and that his night would be spent alongside the man he loved with his whole heart.

Sex with the man had only gotten better over the past year, and they could read each other in ways he never expected possible. He may have been the only one with some experience at the beginning, but Coy was the one teaching him about love and life, and he couldn’t imagine one without him.

“Where did you go to?” Coy asked.

“I was just doing some pondering… thinking what a lucky man I am.” His glance let Coy know it was him he was talking about.

“I’d say you’re both fortunate,” Mitch said as he looked skyward, his head tilted back same as Boone’s had been. “Being here is nothing at all like living close to town where there is always some ruckus going on what needs tending. This place could spoil me, for sure and certain.”

For once, Coy didn’t take the opportunity to badger the man, for which Boone was grateful. His partner was staring skyward as well.

“So, just what did I miss after I left you fellas with Will?” His tone was nonchalant, but Boone wasn’t buying it. The sheriff had been biding his time.

“Nothing much to speak of,” he answered as he shifted more sideways, bringing one leg up onto the porch.

“He had some things to say, sure enough… things you might want to hear if you can stand still a spell, long enough for him to tell you.” Coy was grinning now.

“You lecturing me, boy?”

“No sir, Sheriff. Just making an observation.”

Mitch guffawed. “Sure you were. You gonna tell me what I might want to hear?”

“Coy, I don’t think it’s our place to talk for Will.” Boone received a smirk for his effort.

“For once I agree. We can’t speak for Will, but are you forgetting what he told us?”

“No... course I haven’t, but—”

“But what? Mitch asked a question, and Will told us we could answer any he had.”

“He did?” Mitch asked, suddenly leaning forward.

“Yep, Coy’s right… he did, but you were riled earlier and we just want you to be happy for whatever time….”

“For my last days?” Mitch asked softly. “Don’t worry… no harm to speak it. I want to speak of it.” The banked fire cracked and then the flames blazed upward to greet the advancing darkness.

“No sir. Not what I meant,” Boone answered as he leaned forward as well, feeding a thick chunk of wood to the fire. The day’s heat was giving way to the night’s coolness, something that was rare at their old camp back in Red Bluff. “For whatever time you spend with us, here or in Larkspur. Wasn’t talking about you dying.”

“Maybe we should.”

“Should what?” Coy asked.

“Talk about what’s coming. What I want to happen after I’m gone.”

Coy scoffed. “Don’t see no need for such, Mitch. You said you’re taking each day as it comes, and that we should too. Today, you’re fit as a fiddle… hell, you’re a picture of fine health, so who’s to say you won’t stay that way?”

Mitch’s head swiveled Coy’s way, his gaze direct. “I’m saying it, and I didn’t expect I’d have to again, seeing as how you said you understood.”

“I did… I do… but I ain’t one to quit on believing the Lord has a say.”

“No… I reckon you aren’t.” He blew out some air and looked skyward again. “I ain’t paying much attention to it… not for me to decide when I’m taking my last breath, but the doc told me I could have a good stretch… maybe two if I came through the first bout of sickness, and I figure that’s what’s happening. Reckon I’m still losing weight, and can still cough up a storm sometimes. My lungs are better, but I know they ain’t right, so nothing to be gained from pretending otherwise, or thinking I’m cured. Expect the Lord has plenty to worry for besides some old sheriff who likely should have died long ago.”

“You saying you’re backing out of seeing the doc in town?”

Mitch sighed. “You really don’t quit, no matter what I say. Made you a promise and I’ll keep it. Just don’t you be expecting I’ll hear anything different, cause I’m not. I might can do some good work again, but I get this weakness that reminds me where I’m at, so you boys got to accept it too. I need you to, or I can’t be sticking around. Do you fellas get that?”

“We do,” Boone said quickly, seeing the panic in Coy’s expression. “Just let us know if things get bad again… worse than they are, and we’ll help if we can.”

“I’ll do that for you if you do something for me.”

“You know we will—you just have to ask.” Coy had found his voice again.

“I’m asking. I want you to look after Wes’s paint and my mare when I’m gone. She ain’t nothing to look at, but she’s only seven or eight with a quick mind to her, and I reckon she’d throw a good colt if you put Duke on her.”

“For sure we’ll do that,” Coy said, and Boone heard the sadness he was trying to swallow down. “I agree they’d cross well because she’s damn sturdy with good legs. Good slope to her shoulder too, and her tail is set low so the power is there in her rear.”

“Yep, she has some good points—and knows how to work cattle if you ever have the need. I got one more favor to ask.” He looked from one to the other, and Boone could feel the seriousness in the man. “There’s a reason why I brought up my dying again. Got no one else to leave my money to, and there’s none I’d rather have it than you two boys. It’s a decent sum—likely surprise you—and I plan on drawing up a will when I go to town. What I want to know is do you have any problem with me doing so?”

Coy’s quick drawing of breath was loud enough Boone took notice. So did the sheriff. “Ah… we… that don’t feel right, Mitch, taking your money. I’m sorry, but this kind of talk ain’t sitting right….”

Boone’s heart pained at the expression on the sheriff’s face. It suddenly occurred to him the man was calling them family. Couldn’t have been any clearer. “It’s a surprise, Mitch, but we’d be honored, right, Coy?”

Coy stared at him with eyes widened, and then shifted his gaze to Mitch. “I suppose, but we already got plenty.”

Boone glared at him after clearing his throat, and Coy seemed to clue in.

“I mean, it surely is an honor you’d think of us for such… but… ah… what about Will? Might be he could use it, and you and him got a special history.”

Mitch made a scoffing sound. “That’s water under the bridge.”

“You can always change that.”

“No I can’t. He left me a long time ago, and there ain’t nothing to—”

“He searched for you!”

Boone groaned. “Coy, that’s something—”

“No, Boone! If we wait for these two to talk, we’ll have snow on our rooftops.”

“Whoa!” Mitch exclaimed, interrupting them. “What the hell are you talking about, Coy? When did that man ever search for me?”

Coy suddenly looked uncertain. “Ah… maybe Boone’s right it isn’t my place to say anything, not if it’s going to get you riled again. Will should be the one to tell you.”

“Talk!” the sheriff ordered in that commanding tone he was so good at. The rocker squeaked as he shifted his weight to get nearer to Coy.

Boone was just as startled as Coy was, but he found himself thinking there was nothing weak about the man in that moment. “Go ahead, Coy—you have to tell him now.”

Coy nodded, but was still looking guilty for his loose tongue. “He went back to that town… ah… Buffalo Springs? You weren’t there, though. He found out you’d ridden out months before and hadn’t told a soul where you was headed to.”

“And?” Mitch coaxed in a softer voice this time.

“He went from town to town for a while, a couple years of looking from the sounds of it, but then he got a job bringing a wagon train to Larkspur. I remember his saying before that’s how he came to be here.”

“And then he stopped looking?”

“Yep, but only because he thought staying put might let you find him… he hoped you were looking.”

“I wasn’t,” Mitch muttered, shifting his gaze to the fire.

“Well, that don’t change the fact he hoped you might. Made a point of putting his full name up on the mill sign just in case you’d see it… or hear tell of it.”

The sheriff’s eyes rose, and Boone reckoned the man was struggling with this new information. “He never should have left in the first place. I would have gone with him.”

“Would you have?” Coy asked. “He seems to think you never would have left that town.”

Mitch rubbed his face. “Well… I had a job to do, but I still rode out after him, didn’t I?”

Coy shot a quick glance to Boone. “Does he know that? That you rode out after him?”

“Suppose he don’t. By the time I was healed up enough to get around, he was long gone. I did my job while I waited for him to come back, but he never did... and yes... I do understand why he left, but not how he went and done it. It weren't fair." His eyes squeezed shut for a second before he spoke again. "So… after I put the worst of that bad bunch in jail and got them sentenced, I turned in my badge. My heart weren’t in it anymore, and truth be told, I was angry all the time. That was going to get me killed, sure and certain, and I wasn’t about to give Will the satisfaction of being right.”

“What did you do after you left?” Coy asked.

“Went to the next town, and then the next. Traveled through a few towns alongside the new railway line, asked about him here and there, but nothing ever turned up. Figured he’d gone straight out to the west… I expected to California like he’d always wanted. Talked a lot about California when we were in Buffalo Springs. Got weary of riding aimless, and decided I missed being a lawman—heard of the need for a sheriff in Red Bluff and made my way there.”

“So you did look for him then,” Coy said, giving Boone a quick sideways glance.

“I… yep…I reckon I can’t say I didn’t. Truth is, angered as I was at his leaving without telling me, he was on my mind about every minute, so you could say I did keep an eye out. I’ll admit I used to look for him to show up in Red Bluff, but after a couple of years I knew our time had come and gone.”

“And now?”

“Now? Ain’t nothing changed, Coy. We had our chance, and we didn’t make the most of it like you and Boone are doing.”

“But something has changed, and it don’t have to be too late. He’s here and you’re here.”

“And I’m dying, Coy. That ain’t changing, and I wouldn’t do such a thing to him… nor to myself neither.”

“Do you think your dying would matter to him?” Boone asked.

“Likely not, but I ain’t looking to have folks feeling bad for my passing. He already sat by my bed more than once, waiting for me to die. What kind of man would I be to let him do it again?”

Boone nodded, having expected him to feel exactly that way. He took no satisfaction in being right, though, seeing how the sheriff’s words affected Coy.

“But—”

“Can you just leave it be, boy?”

Coy sighed. “Surely, if that’s what you want… but… well… I reckon you should know one more thing about Will.”

“And just what would that be?” the man asked, his brow creased.

“He wanted to know what he should do, because he really wants to talk to you hisself… and he asked my advice… and I said… I told him he should come back here tomorrow, after he’s done at the mill.” The last words came out in a rush.

“Course you did.” After a head shake as he kept his narrowed gaze on Coy, the sheriff tilted his head back and stared skyward again. “Well then… reckon I got me a good reason to take another long walk.”   

 

*

Thanks for reading. All mistakes are my own. So, are you enjoying this story enough to recommend it to others? As always, I would appreciate hearing your thoughts on the chapter. Cheers!

Copyright © 2021 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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5 hours ago, Leo C said:

'Stubborn' is an understatement!  Hard to tell if Old Blue or Mitch is the most stubborn one. 

I seriously hope he will reconsider after a good nights sleep!

Great work on this one too, Gary. Thanks!

Lol. I think it might take more than a good night's sleep. Honestly, I think Mitch's stubborness is more tied to his fear of hurting Will than it is his anger at the man. And Boone is right... his pride is a big factor. He might let Coy fuss over him, but he abhors the idea of Will doing it. It's very sad, but hopefully he come to the realization that keeping his secret could hurt both of them worse than telling the truth will.

Thanks, Leo... so glad you're still liking this little story. :D  Cheers! G. :hug: 

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5 hours ago, ColumbusGuy said:

Hey, you're early and I'm up way late...

Okay, Mitch knows the full story now, so maybe the morning will give him time to think about another hike.  I get him not wanting Will to sit around waiting for him to die...but back then there wasn't much to be done for most illnesses.

That hits home for me because we did that for my mother back in 2007--because she refused dialysis, she went into palliative care the day before my birthday and died six days later after spending the last two in a coma.  She wanted no machines or resuscitation attempts so it turned into a waiting game with my sisters and remaining cousins.  She had seventy six good years though....

Come on, Mitch--wake up and smell the coffee!

 

Yeah, I couldn't sleep. Had to pick up my new car this morning, so I was up before five.

Mitch has a lot of pride... probably too much, so having Will keep watch at his bedside again after all these years is something he can't allow. Will that change? Not easily, I suspect. 

You know first hand how hard that is... and so do I. I wouldn't want anyone doing it for me, but I also know it is something my kids would need to do... for their own sakes.

Mitch is smelling beaver stew right now, but maybe with some time he'll smell the proverbial coffee. For now, though, he's hell bent on avoiding such a scenario. 

We'll see.... Thanks, CG. Hope all is well with you. :hug:  

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