The Dragooner wore a smart hat to work that day, or really every day. He spent most of the day in the only creek that has not froze over. The dragooner drank a fair bit of coffee and mullified it with sharp sips of whiskey. The whiskey was nearly as old as the coffee. The dragooner drifted in his thoughts as his horse was being fed by a small boy with the same hat as the dragooner. It was a sharp hat.
He guarded a bunch of men digging in a creek- trying to strike it rich. The miners had a colorful but limited language. He watched over his herd of drunken misfits. The nights were free for them, but during the day he kept a keen eye on them as their paladin and warden. The dragooner was hired to watch for the Cheyanne but the dragooner felt his awful appearance kept them out of sight. Peoples would part ways, like Moses and the Red Sea, in the plains to avoid him as he rode west. The girls at the taverns would make a point to hide from him when he drank. He was a frightening visage of a man, except for his hat. His hat was quite sharp. The three colt pistols were hardly welcoming along with his grizzled face, potted and scarred with long thin streams of whiskers. After long baths he smelt like roses but that was a rare occasion. So he hardly saw trespassers, let alone the Dog Warriors, or even a stray wolf.
He did see them, but he kept it to himself. He saw a couple of pups lurking around. One little boy touched the dragooner’s horse. The child thought for a moment while looking at the dragooner, the horseman smiled at the child and waved. The boy ran away as fast as he could.
The miners kept their distance until evening, that’s when the whiskey and greed grabbed them. The miners made more gold flecks from playing cards with the dragooner than panning in the creek. They laughed and joked with him during the night but when they were panning they hardly looked at him. He wondered if he was there to keep them safe or keep them there.
That afternoon, as he stood in the creek, with his hairy feet freezing he thought about how he arrived here. He signed no contract but that gave him little comfort. Was he here by choice or chance? He was one of many who cleared the way into the forest of Mexico just twelve months ago. Or maybe even longer? He fired his rifle and pistols at men. He saw a man murder a boy and run off just to join another division. He road trains. He farmed. His parents came from some place far away. How did his parent meet? How did he get here guarding odd men?
He heard of a Calvary Officer wandering around the deserts of Egypt left by the First Citizen. He heard the man found the ancient city of Memphis. The officer took notes of everything. He traveled alone in the arctic fog of history, from the French to the domain of the ancient Pharos. The man was found grey and old at the back edge of the world, the Ottomans initially wanted to kill him for fear he was a pirate but when he spoke French, they picked him from death and carried him to the ancient city of Byzantium. They bathed him and fed him. They gave him robes. They ransacked his wares and found the notes of the ancient city. They then took him to the citadel, where old men asked him questions for weeks and then months. Once they were satisfied they put him on the first boat to France. The King welcomed him home as a scholar. He is probably dead, the dragooner thought.
As the miners sung a song of sorrow and hope, the boy and the drangooner’s horse fled across the creek. The boy lost his hat and the horse at the same time. The sharp looking hat danced across the water, the dragooner was not sure if he should save the horse, the boy or the sharp looking hat. He knew his hat was pretty special to him and he would suppose the boy would feel the same about his. The horse was not his and was as dumb as it was mean. His shotgun and his Hawkins rifle were strapped to the saddle. Perhaps one of his colts was still there. What of the boy? The boy must be smart because of his fine judgement of hats. What a silly thought! Why were they running? What must of caused the stir? The dragooner did not think of such things because he was safe with his Walker around his neck. The miner seemed to be unconcerned but the creeping thought ran a foul of any comfort. He looked at the creek bank but saw nothing. The large mass of foliage had hidden a lurker of some fright.
It was when the twenty foot pine sapling was shook so hard it was almost unrooted that the miners took notice. This was no war party or raiders. Everyone in the creek knew exactly what was in the abyss of the forest. The knowning of the fear did not ease the dread of the unknowing.
The dragooner could not wait but he was forced into idleness, the beast may not head towards the creek. It maybe frightened off by the smells and sounds of the miners. Then again it could simply be a mountain lion, a recently self-emancipated horse or a large man. A groan from the forrest dispelled any possibility that is was anything but a bear. “Are there grizzly bears in Colorado?” The dragooner thought. He had his pistol readied and slowly edged to bank. It was here he would die. From the runt of his family, to the US cavalry to this creek – he lived and died. He walked slowly toward the well-worn path to town that the miners made. He could see magnificent dark fur. The bear was making its way to the creek, it was a giant magnificent beast, its eyes were both solemn and jolly. The whole bear was made of these contradictions. It was beautiful and the dragooner could hardly keep his mind straight.
The bear was free in its idle ambling, it looked like the bear was just simply just following a path it happened upon. It did not seem like the bear had any intent in its actions. With a size like that it would seem obvious that it could do anything at anytime it pleased or really when a thought struck it. It was completely free. When the bear noticed the men in the creek, it started to move with intent towards them. It snorted and groaned. It had anger in its movements. It did get distracted and rubbed its dark black fur against a tree, it was petting itself rubbing its back and sides scratching parts it could not reach with its paws. It let out a snort of quizzical joy before it roared and growled with anger at the men. It started to run down the path. It stood up and roar when it caught sight of the entire group. When a couple of miners decided to run it got on all fours and ran faster, only to stand again. When it stood it was like an angry toddler, a giant angry toddler.
The dragooner placed himself on the path between the bear and the men. He was getting paid and he was going to do his job. The bear was looking at those miners. It moved aggressively and with purpose. When it was a few yards from the dragooner it raised on its two feet again. It was growling and swiping at the dragooner, but with eyes for the miners. The bear seemed to not really mind the dragooner, it seemed as if it recognized him, as if the bear assumed by the looks of the dragooner that he was wild. It was as if the bear was motioning for the man to move away to attack his real prey. The bear roared, like a strange shout, as if the continent was finally taking on the strange aliens from distant a world; the western hemisphere was rejecting these men.
The dragooner and the bear danced around each other for a short bit but it felt like hours. The bear finally knew that it had to get through the dragooner to reach the miners. It fell on it fours and made a few swips, then it reared up but it missed again . The bear seemed like it had a strategy. “Did it?” the dragooner thought. The bear was still some yards way but it seemed very close for him. The bear moved closer and the man moved back. This was happening all along. The dragooner wish he had his knife on him but it was with the horse, perhaps. He realized he should shoot the bear, it was out of his mind! He forgot in fear. It was as if he was going to tackle the beast. He lifted his pistol but tripped backwards on the banks of the creek. He could feel the cold water on his head and back. “It could be blood,” the dragooner thought. He lifted up his Walker to the bear but it was on top of him already.
He tried to put the gun on the bear but the large pistol was too long. The bear put his face right in front of the man, he opened his mouth. The dragooner pulled the trigger of the colt Walker right next to the bears ear. The bear shivered, he could see it work all the way to it small tail from under the beast. The large 44 bullet had struck a long branch about ten feet above them. It hit so hard the thick brach swayed back and forth before tumbling to the ground. The falling of the branch crashing behind and the loud colt Walker thunder startled the bear. The bear looked at the miners, the large branch behind him and the wooly wily dragooner and ran faster than the horse across the creek. The miners could hear the bear tearing away from them.
The relieved men picked the dragooner up. They patted the man on the back as they picked him up. One old man checked the dragooner finding nothing wrong with him, not even a scratch. For awhile they stood in huddle not saying a word before they headed back. In town the miners bought the dragooner drinks. Everyone in the small town wanted to speak to the dragooner- even the women who worked at the bar. The small survey man gave him a bottle of wine. Everyone asked about the bear. He tried to talk to them straight but it felt like he could hardly embellished the story or make it proper to talk about. They asked him all sorts of questions about his life. He told them where he got got his Walker colt from. He told them about the war. They all seemed interested.
On Sunday, the dragooner went to church for the first time in decades- it might have been the first time ever for all the dragooner knew. He sat in the pews with the three colts but without his hat. He sure felt naked without it. He could feel the sweat pulling on the top of his empty crown. He was bathed and slightly groomed, so he had the odor of roses and lilacs.
“.. and he will guide us through all of our earthly troubles with endless love if we trust in his divine wisdom. He has a path for us and he will guide us along the path! He is with us always. He loves us and we shall love him back, for in the future we will be back with him.”
The preacher spoke and the dragooner could hardly follow it. He remembered when he bought his colt Walker from a former Texas Ranger. The man could not walk any more. He fought in Mexico with the dragooner. It was a large pistol and he remembered the weight. He fired a few shots at a small ranch. He pulled the trigger and the whiskey bottle would explode. He was a good shot. He hardly missed when it was not people at the other end.
“God loves the good and condemns the wicked, which all men are. But through the condemnation men will truly find the light of his mighty love. God condemns because of his love.”
He remembered a Mexican Captain during the war. His Calvary unit ran across s small unit in the Sonoran desert. The commander decided to take on the small regimen. The small pale Mexican Captian rallied his small force preventing the Calvary from over running them down. The dragooner’s unit eventually had to dismount. The Mexican Captain ran back and forth amongst the men, keeping the group together. He wore gold medals and a large ostentatious hat. The men in the Calvary unit all fired upon him. All of the shots missed. There were little puffs of dirt or a trooper might fall but the captain stood tall. The Calvary men marveled at the fortitude and luck of this Captain. Eventually the skirmish wound down, each side at an impasse. The Captain walked behind his horse to speak to a wounded man but was kicked right in the chest. The man slumped over, while his company retreated to aide him.
“God’s mercy is infinite and we must surrender our wills to his, for God Will is infinite kind and truly free.”
The dragooner heard about Glanton being clubbed to death by the Yuma. He had heard stories about the little man from the Ranger he bought his Walker from. What led Glanton to go down that path and the dragooner another. What was the difference between the two men. What lead them down their paths? It is a mystery how he ended up in a strange church in the middle of nowhere after dancing with bear. How did the bear happen upon the path? The mysteries felt unanswerable.
“We shall be good servants to the lord”
The dragooner looked at his withered hand. Was this the same hand he had we he was young, but older? Or is the hand different. If he were to cut off his hand would it still be him or just a disembodied hand? Is the dragooner still there if he were to have died the day before? Would he just be a victim of life? Since he bathed is he still him or another? Was he still part of the Calvary because of his memories of it? Is the pale Captain still something because of his memories of him. When he does die, will the Captain stop existing?
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Save us from the time of trial…”
Is not the boys hat both different and the same as his? –where ever that hat might be now. The hats are different but the same. The boy’s hat was smaller but almost identical. It must have been the same milliner. The dragooner wondered if he was the same boy without the hat as was with the hat. The Cheyanne boy and the boy with the hat were both boys but on two different paths. Maybe the same path? His colt dragoon was almost identical to his Walker. They were both pistols. One time he tried to fire his colt five shot in the war and it did nothing. He could not dump the powder and bullets out because he was being shot at. Click, click, and the bang the pistol fired. It was then and only then he had an idea of his pistol. This horse, where ever it was, that he had been riding was dumb and mean. It would bite him occasionally but he truly recognized it as a horse. It was just as much of a horse as his favorite one growing up.
“Now of course we will pass along the collection plate, gold or money all works the same for the lord.”
The dragooner sat in his room with his wine. He was truly living under the kingdom of time and things. He was a subject of being, loyal or not. He could feel the cool air coming through the opening between the logs. He felt the heartiness of the wine. Tomorrow he would sit on his horse and guard the miners. He would go into the creek. His lot was cast in the shifting flows of time. He could hardly feel it, time, as he drank his wine.