Something at Buchananâ€™s feet caught his eye.
Striding across a ridge overlooking the sunbaked and rugged terrain of the Black Hills, in the South Dakota territory, Buchanan stopped and backtracked a few steps before toeing a dusty boot into the dark earth beneath his feet, sending it cascading in little avalanches over the edge of the ridge and down the steep descent toward the Potaht river below where his horse Nightshade was taking some water after the long ride.
Something had glinted the noon sunlight back up at him. Staring down at the ground as he worked, he permitted himself silently to wonder… gold?
And though the closest person to him was 15 miles away and probably falling-down drunk in the one-horse town of Thadley, he still darted a couple quick looks about just to make sure he was alone, feeling a little foolish for even thinking such a thing.
Gold in the Dakotas? It was a crazy notion, and he allowed himself almost a smile at the thought of it.
â€œGuess it comes with. . .,â€ the words trailed off as did his digging. His efforts had unearthed the source of the glint and it took him by complete surprise. He couldnâ€™t have been caught more off guard if he had kicked up a four-ounce nugget.
â€œ. . . age,â€ he said, finishing his thought in amazement at what lay below him.
He knelt down slowly, furrowing his brow just slightly before the pain shot through his right knee. It was a pain he had come to know all too well in recent years. And it was the closest thing he had to a companion these days â€” excepting for Nightshade. And heâ€™d take Nightshade over practically anyone or anything around.
He picked up the tiny heart-shaped locket made of brass gleaming and turned it over in the palm of his hand as the broken silver chain spilled through his fingers. Though Buchanan realized it wasnâ€™t impossible for such a thing to be found out here, what with the Sioux indian raids throughout the territory that had only ceased two years ago, it was surprising that the Sioux had lost it. Meticulous about their bounty almost to the point of taking inventory, the Sioux didnâ€™t take to losing what had been gained.
Custer could attest to that.
Owing to the broken chain and the remoteness of the location, Buchanan could pretty much rule out the accidental loss of the locket. Examining the break in the chainâ€™s clasp more closely Buchanan was certain it had been stolen; wrenched from the neck of some unfortunate young lady.
Buchanan found himself wondering who that little lady might be, and then shook his head a little bit in surprise to find that such a thing would matter to him.
He turned the locket over again, brushed the dirt from its back and squinted to make out the tiny four-word inscription, the last two of which had been scratched over repeatedly. It read: From Jed With Love.
Looks like the feeling became less than mutual, he thought.
Buchanan clumsily tried to open it. His big hands, suited for and well-skilled in the use of tools such as an ax, a saw or â€” more importantly â€” a .45, were far from accustomed to handling such dainty things. With a few more momentsâ€™ effort, the locketâ€™s clasp gave and it popped open.