It took another week for him to reach the familiar land surrounding Warren. He had skirted the towns along the road, sleeping off in the dirt at night. Kuriant foraged for himself and Jim made due on the supplies he had packed before leaving for Barlowe's ranch. Several nights he brought down small game with the shotgun.
One night in the middle of his trip he even managed one of the small mule deer that roamed the southern landscape, though he had to wonder what it was doing so far from other member of its herd. But he was not complaining, though lean, it made a nice break from his other food. And they pressed on again in the morning.
He came to Warren in the mid morning, when the sun was fresh and the day still full of promise. He considered walking around the town until he came upon Linda's house, but shook the idea off. He had neither need nor desire to hide his head and slouch in the shadows. Not here. Especially since he doubted they would recognize him, as not even his Linda had before.
The day was colder than the day before it, winter finally settled in for the months ahead. He set Kuriant at a walk up Main Street, ignoring any stares, and returning any salutations only to avoid rudeness. He passed the bank and saw, through the curtained window, the figure of Mr. Miller, hard at work and with a client at his desk. He rode up the middle of the street and while there were other saddled horses tied to hitching posts along the way, he was the only rider in sight, everyone else was on foot.
To his right was the saloon, the sign reading 'Doc's' slightly askew and the paint peeling - something that the old Doc never would have let happen. He had a way of making things last longer, the least of which himself. Ahead he saw the bustle of townsfolk about their shopping and socializing, though it seemed barely populated after the packed streets of San Gabrielle-Lucas. Nowhere in the crowd, though, did he make out his Linda and he was confident he would still recognize her.
So he turned at the Hotel Siesta and he and his horse headed up Cross Street, still just plodding along, taking in the sight. Behind him, from the market crowd someone cried out: "That's the sheriff's horse that is!" But no one ran after him and after a minute the crowd seemed to settle down, thinking there was nothing it could do. It seemed that news of Sheriff Johnny Wales's demise had reached his town.
Normally Jim would have felt saddened by this response, he had come to respect Johnny Wales, if not like him per se. But he still felt empty to his core, and only the need to see his Linda one more time kept him on his horse and headed in her direction.
He did not need to ask which house was hers; he knew it as soon as Kuriant stopped beside it. The one and a half story clapboard house was painted lilac with a white porch, her favorite colors. The curtains were pulled back on two windows, which flanked the door, and he could make out Linda, from the light of a lamp, burning even in the daytime on the table beside her.
She was bent over her lap and it looked like she was sewing - Jim had a sinking feeling that she was making a shroud. Linda was dressed in black herself, although she was not out in public, but her only concession was to leave her dark wavy hair down, hanging long against her back.
Jim dismounted at the shoulder high picket fence, whitewashed, but not recently, and left Kuriant's reigns hanging in the street. The horse was smart enough to know that this was goodbye between the two of them as well and he fondly lipped at Jim's nearby hat. Jim smiled as he shoved the nose away and the horse nickered, bumping into the fence and causing it to groan.
The noise was not that loud but it was enough to make Linda look up from her sewing, startled. Their eyes met for a brief moment before Jim ducked out of sight below the rise of the fence. The door slammed open on the house and feet ran across the porch. "James?" Linda called out, and she sounded out of breath like she had been weeping. The footsteps came closer, up to the gate on Kuriant's far side.
It opened and when she saw the horse she let out a relieved half laugh and half sob. "Kuriant!" She cried and ran to the horse, taking his nose in her hands and rubbing him over, checking him for maladies. Then she took his neck in her arms and hugged him, standing there for a long time, crying into his shoulder. On his part, Kuriant dealt with her far less stubbornly than he had with Jim, dropping his head to return the embrace in his own way.
Linda did not see Jim, even as he stood up again and moved to stand in front of her. But the horse was in between them still, and her face was buried in his mane. Jim reached out as if he might touch her hair or shoulder, as if to offer some consolation, but he lowered it and stepped away, silently backing down the street, returning towards Main Street.
In the ten minutes or so he had been gone, the street had cleared out considerably, most people returning to their homes or to the Saloon - if it still served food - for dinner or rest. He walked silently through the town, still down the middle of the street, out opposite the way he had entered. No one greeted him now, and he was too lost in his thoughts to notice if any stared.
They emptiness was welling up again, now that he had seen Linda once more he had nothing left to do. He felt much like a little boat left to bob and pitch out on the open ocean with a storm coming and there was no way to keep afloat; although he had never seen the ocean a day in his life.
The way he went was much the same as the way he had entered the town of Warren, several weeks before, on foot and alone in the world. He had an idea that if he could just keep walking, back the way he had come then he might reach some resolution. The sun was a warming presence on his back and it lit up the horizon like the edge of bread dipped in honey. And as he walked, he seemed to fade into the shimmering dust of the road, until a watcher from Warren might swear that he had never been there at all.