See Part 1 Here.
Zeke seldom traveled with others and Woolsey’s and Brokaw’s incessant talking was annoying. If it had been interesting or informative, it would have been different but the two just traded tales of saloons and fights and loose women. Dirty jokes figured heavily into their repartee. From their talk, it seemed they didn’t travel together all the time. And neither man seemed to be married. Neither of them ever mentioned a wife or children. What kind of life was that?
They stopped at midday to rest the horses and eat a bite. Neither man had thought to bring a lunch, so Zeke shared his ham biscuits. He was surprised they’d remembered to fill their canteens.
Just before sundown, Zeke stopped at his usual camping spot, off of the trail, just for safety. The two men were about to sit and make themselves comfortable when Zeke realized what they were doing. He suggested they take care of their horses, then for Brokaw to gather wood for a fire. They made a bit of fun at him for being bossy but did as they were told. Zeke made sure the horses were hobbled properly. He did not want to have to go looking for horses in the morning.
When he finished, he was pleasantly surprised to see that the pair had managed to light a fire. They were pulling cans from their saddle bags.
Zeke pulled his small cast iron skillet from his bag and a couple slices of bacon. He got those frying then pulled a coffee pot out and dropped in a few spoonsful of coffee. One of the reasons he camped here was a small spring nearby. He filled the pot and his canteen and put the pot on the fire. The bacon done, he added a little flour to the grease, stirring it all around and then piling it into a biscuit shape. He let that cook and pulled out his cup and spread his bedroll on the ground.
The two others had opened their cans and set them beside the fire. They watched Zeke with interest. “How’d you learn to do that,” Brokaw asked as Zeke formed his pan biscuit.
“My ma showed me before I left home. The bacon fat already has salt in it.” He shrugged. “Not as good as baked, but it fills the stomach.”
“Smart.” Woolsey checked his can. He stirred it up from the bottom, losing a little bit of the canned beans over the side. “Dang.”
They ate, mostly the two mining company men talking about fancy restaurants they’d been to in Denver and Tucson. Zeke grunted in spots to let them know he was still awake. After he ate he cleaned his pan, added water, then beans. He used the cast iron lid to cover it and put it beside his bedroll.
“What’s that for?” Woolsey asked.
“Smart.” Brokaw nudged Woolsey with a grin. “The boy’s smart.”
Zeke sighed silently and after banking the fire, lay down to sleep. It was going to be a long trip.
The next two days went the same as the first. By the time they made Zeke’s permanent camp, he was thoroughly sick of his two companions. A quick check made it clear to him that nothing had been disturbed. He gave the two men his tent. Anything to separate him from them for even a short while. Zeke showed them the creek and mentioned that he had panned some gold there. But it was up in the hills that the mine was.
For the first time the men looked competent. They waded out into the stream and probed around a little, muttering to themselves and each other. They peered up at the hills and still talking, gestured possible water flows and rock formations. Zeke washed up, and went back to camp, collecting fire wood as he went. By the time it was dark and the two men had returned, the fire was going, the horses had been cared for and Zeke was making his dinner.
They walked around the camp, admiring the layout and his arrastra. They asked informed questions about how he’d searched out the gold, and nodded with understanding as he talked about the potato and mercury trick. While they ate, they told him about other miners and how they’d done their work. Finally, Zeke thought, something useful from these two. Maybe the Apache don’t have to kill them. The evening passed quickly, and Zeke bid the two good night as they retired to the tent.