We kept moving and a set up camp near a flowing river. After building a fire to warm myself, I went ahead and slept. In the morning, I jumped into the river, gasping and shivering and cussing at how cold it was as I slipped over the algaed rocks. I cleaned myself a bit and went panning for gold. It seemed like the whole river was combed through and nothing but rock left.I didn’t find anything after a whole week going up and down the river. I decided to go back to Yerba Buena or that place people were already calling San Francisco. Along the way I stopped at a tent that was set up alongside the road where other weary miners headed to eat. They were covered with dirt all over their face and clothes. A young woman, fine as can be, served me some meat, carrots, and potato stew. None of the miners bothered her because the cook look like he could take down two men if he wanted. I scanned around the tent and saw my brother at the end of the table. He got up and took his food with him and gave me a huge hug and a grin and grabbed my shoulder,’I knew I was going to see you again.’ He sat down in front of me and continued eating. I asked him what he was doing up here. He said he came to make his fortune as well. ‘I thought you were married.’ I said. He replied, ‘I caught her in the sack with another man. She used me for my money.’ I looked at him, ‘I warned you.’ ‘I know.’ he sighed. I looked at my brother, he had a scar on the side of his face. He got that scar protecting me when we were little from some stupid punks. After our supper, we rode our horses, heading back south to San Francisco. We were at least two days journey away from the bay. We set up camp where there were thick brambles and bone colored rocks, and then the dog began to bark. We saw a Spaniard coming toward us. He was wide eyed and limping quickly in pain. He was hurt. From the big gash in his side, we could see he was mortally wounded. Two men on horseback were coming in the distance. The Spaniard quickly found a hiding spot between a boulder.
‘You see a fella come through.’ the rider asked as he approached us with his companion.
‘What he look like?’ I asked.
The man responded, ‘He got injured back there. We’re trying to find him.’
My brother, who had one of the fastest draws, with his revolver at his side, casually stepped on the ground with his boot, covering the blood on the dirt. ‘We haven’t seen anyone here.’
The man looked at both of us and then they both rode off.
‘Thank you.’the Spaniard forced out as he limped slowly from behind the big rock.
‘Why were they after you?’ I asked as the Spaniard sat by our fire.
My brother reached into his knapsack and opened a bottle of whiskey for him to drink.
‘They are wanting to run me off. They can’t share the river.” the Spaniard said as he took huge gulps from the bottle. His face was sun-burnt and smooth.
‘You’ve come for gold too?’ He started to cough and winced. ‘What would you do with the gold?’ he asked looking at me.
‘A hot bath…’ I said. ‘Everyday.’
The Spaniard laughed in pain and took out a cigar and my brother wet his lips ready to try a smoke after he helped the fellow light it.
‘What would you do if you found gold?’ I asked him. He looked at the flames of our campfire and pulled out a picture that started to stain with his blood. ‘I’d make sure they are looked after. My family is in San Francisco. They are waiting for me. My mother and my brothers.’
We all sat in silence. I took a puff off the cigar.
‘I’m dying, aren’t I?’ he asked as I gave it back to him.
My brother took out his harmonica and began to play a soft tune. I declined to answer.
‘In the morning, you will empty my body of its personal effects and give me a burial?’ the Spaniard asked.
‘That’ll be a lot of digging.’ I said.
He smiled and then strained to pull out something from his dirty coat pocket. In the fire, my brother and I saw the lightning bolt flash of yellow metal and more blinding hot metal like the sun, it was the hugest gold nugget we ever saw. My brother stopped his music.
‘Take care of me, sirs, and I will take care of you.’
My brother and I realized why the two men had been after him.
‘Play me a song on your harmonica.’ the Spaniard quietly asked my brother. ‘Please.’
My brother quickly obliged and played a soft nighttime melody as the dog came down and rested near the dying man.
Categories: Elle Peyarre's Short Stories (fiction)