DARK TRAIL HOME

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CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

They spent the week clearing stalls. Wood was stacked high in the woodshed, the barn was clean, tack organized on the walls, tools sorted, sharpened, oiled. The weeds in the garden were cleared, seeds planted, the field plowed and corn planted. Tyree appreciated that Mark worked well in tandem, and yet he almost wished he wasn’t here. He felt like he was working himself out of a job. Nothing had been promised. Malone suggested there might be two or three weeks of labor involved in cutting up downed trees.

“You should come over and help me.” Mark invited. “I have some horse shoeing to do. Blaine, our farrier, is off for a couple of weeks, so I’m doing his work. We can play around with the forge. I been working on some knife blades.”

“You’re making knives? What kind you makin’?”

“I’m making a skinning knife, with a half moon edge, and a little hook at one end.”

“A hook?”
“Yeah. A sharpened groove that catches the hide. Then I’m working on a scraper to clean hides.”

“I’d like to see those,” Tyree said.

“I been collecting some antlers and bone for handles. I have three knives started, but I’m not sure how to put the handles on just yet.”

“I can show you how to do that,” Tyree offered.

“You’ve done that before?”

“Once or twice.”

He saw Malone working with a horse in a big arena corral. He stopped to watch. He was impressed by the horses at the ranch. They were all well-bred, healthy animals. Obviously Malone took pride in them, and he understood why. Mark left him with his brother as he fired up the forge. Malone held the horse on a long rope, a lunge line, letting it trot around the arena. The arena was impressively big with a post set in the center. Malone looped the end of the rope around the center post, and used a long whip to keep the horse moving.

The horse was young, flighty and wild. It ran in one direction, hugging the corral poles, then Malone turned it, sending it the other direction. Slowly he tightened the rope, bringing the horse inches closer to the center.

Malone nodded to Tyree. Encouraged, Tyree moved closer, climbing on the top rail as he watched Malone work. Whichever way the horse turned, Malone was there to slow it down or speed it up. He talked to it, encouraging it, stroking it with his calm words. He told Tyree what he was doing, what the horse would do.

“Watch his ears, and his head. See what he’s doing? He’s telling you what he’s thinking.”

Snaking a rope around the colt, the rancher let the rope brush against the horse. It threw its head up, rolling its eyes, and sidestepping at first, then settled down. Malone then switched to a short whip, snapping it a foot or so from the horse’s head. He was patient, letting the horse take its time, not fighting it.

“Watch his mouth, he’s licking his lips. He’s telling you he is done fighting. He wants to know what is wanted from him.”

“Why don’t you just throw a saddle on him and break him?”

“I don’t want to break him. I want to train him. He has to learn to trust me, then he’ll want to do what I ask. After that, I just need to let him know what that is.”

“You could just make him do what you want.”

“That’s how most people do it. That doesn’t create trust, though. That creates fear, not respect. I don’t want him to fear me.”

What did Malone want from him? The man came across as demanding and yet –

“How long it take to do all that, Malone?”

“A year or more. Depends on the horse.”

He asked more questions, and Malone took the time to answer them.

“Come on over here. Let me show you something about horse language.”

Malone stepped back, and let him work with the horse for an hour. “Slow down, kid. Slow, smooth movements. Let him catch up to you. If you notice him getting nervous just back off a minute.”

“I should work on my horse like this. Break him of his bad habits.”

“I wouldn’t get my hopes up. You reward him for bad habits. He isn’t going to lose them so easy.”

“What you mean?”

“I see you giving him candy. You let him get away with humping up, biting, side stepping you. I think you like fighting with him. I get the impression you two enjoy fighting each other.”

“You see all that?” Tyree asked curiously.

“I know horses. I’m aware how that horse follows you. He trusts you, but he also does what he wants to do. You’re lucky he wants what you want, mostly. He still has a lot of wild in him.”

“I like him the way he is.”

“Why don’t you come work for me? I’m mindful that you have a natural knack for this. You catch on quick.”

“Um, no. I have other work.”

“What other work?”

“Traps, hunting. I sell wild meat in town, and pelts. I do some work for a friend sometimes, breaking mustangs.”

“Oh. Didn’t realize you were so busy.”

“Well, Ms. Aileen can’t pay me, so I make money elsewhere a day or two a week.”

“I see.” Malone said.

He was reluctant to leave the arena, enjoying handling the horse. Malone took the rope from him, patted his shoulder, Tyree stepped from under Malone’s hand. He noticed the question in the man’s eyes as he sidestepped him. He’d hardly been aware he’d pulled away until Malone focused that look on him.

“Come back later. I’ll show you more.”

He turned his attention to the knife blades Mark was working on. He had good steel to work with, and Tyree felt a pang of envy. Malones had money. Every facet of their ranch spoke of money. The big house, the tight barns and corrals, the high dollar horses. He found it hard to conceal his interest in Mark’s work. Mark was enjoying showing off his collection of deer antlers he intended to use for handles. Tyree picked up a piece of antler and turned it in his hand, imagining the grip, the turn of the handle where he would start to work the piece.

“Those carvings over at Ms. Aileen’s, did you do those?”

“Most of them. Davy tried a couple times. But yeah, I like to carve. I made a couple of tools to work wood.”

Mark led him inside to a small work bench. “I made these, the bevels are small enough to get the grooves and detail work.”

“You must have a lot of patience.”

“I sell carvings sometimes. I plan to take some to the fair.”

“Fair?”

“The Fourth of July. There’s a celebration. Contests, some rodeo events, and tables where you can sell stuff. You’re going aren’t you?”

“I suppose so. Hadn’t thought about it.”

“There’ll be a dance and shooting contests. Pie-eating contest. Judging of all kinds of baked goods, jellies, chili. Then some local farmers will be showing their livestock. Joel might take his stallion and a couple of his mares and show them.”

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