Hat Creek Trouble

The One about Breaking Horses

I woke early to start breakfast. I took a cup of coffee out to Woodrow, who sat watching the sun come up. He seemed startled that I was up so early, but I just went back inside to work on breakfast. He came in a few minutes later and sat at the table.

“Augustus was quite a wild man, if you come to think of it.” Call said out of the blue after a minute or so.

I turned to him. “I don’t believe we’ve had the pleasure of meeting.”

He shook his head. “I suppose not, since he’s buried in Texas.”

I remembered the story Newt told me about Captain Call hauling his old friend back to Texas to be buried. “You were close then, with this Augustus?”

He nodded for a moment, then it was quiet for a bit. “Augustus McCrae was my friend for more years than I’d bother counting.”

I looked at Captain Call. “Augustus McCrae.” I said, rolling the name around.

He nodded. “On my trip back from Texas, I ran into a man who said there was a child in Mexico with Augustus’ name.”

I remembered very distantly that one of my great-grandmothers had been Mexican, but it was so watered down through the years, I had barely any Mexican in me at all. “He never met his daughter?”

Woodrow shook his head. “Gus and I raised Newt. I reckon if he’d known he’d been the father, he would have lived a happy life in Mexico.”

I nodded. “Why are you telling me this story, Captain? You don’t seem like much of a story teller.”

He was quiet for a while as I put in the biscuits in the fire. “I’ll be plain with you Miss McCrae. I don’t rightly believe you are who you say you are.”

I thought about it for a moment as I started on the meat. “I believe that to be your right, Captain.”

“You’re not from around here and you didn’t come to be no caretaker.” He said.

I thought about how I had told him the first time. Maybe that was the best route, instead of explaining that I’d lived with them almost two weeks, left and came back with none of them remembering me but Newt. “Well, Captain, you’re right. I’m not from around here. I’ve never been to Montana before. A few days ago, I was working at a lawyer’s office. That same night, I was at my apartment in Denver, with my roommate. Today, I’m in Montana on a cattle ranch.” I said with a shrug. “I don’t know how I got here. I just know I don’t want to go back.”

He looked over at me. “Ma’am, I ain’t a man to call a lady a liar. But I believe you about as far as I can throw you.”

I smiled. “That’s understandable.” I told him, thinking. “When I left Denver a few days ago, the year was 2014.” I told him, trying to gauge his reaction as I looked over at him.

He sat still for a moment, mimicking a statue. Then slowly turned his head to look at me. “That ain’t rightly possible, seeing as its 1877 now.”

I shrugged. “I know that. But that’s what happened.” I said, walking around the table and pulling up the hem of my dress just enough to show off my neon colored flats. “I brought these with me, as I didn’t have any plain shoes.”

He looked a bit disbelieving, but then his expression slowly softened. “Time travel, eh?” He said, sipping his coffee.

“I don’t know how it works, or how to get back, so I expect I’ll try to make the best of what I’m given while I’m here.” I told him, finishing up the meat.

Call said nothing else as the boys started filing in, grabbing their coffee and sitting down. I pulled the biscuits out of the fire and the day went on normally.

About midafternoon, I went to look out the window to only see Pea Eye and Newt working in the lot with the horses. Newt was trying to break one of the mares in the herd and Pea Eye was watching, yelling advice every once in a while.

I left the rag on the table and went to watch. I stood next to Pea as Newt kept hold of the reins he’d gotten on the mare. He reminded me of the rodeo that played on the TVs at Figgy McGee’s, the pub down the block from my apartment in Denver.

Newt could have long outlasted any other cowboy on TV. I was almost mesmerized by watching Newt that I almost forgot what I came out there for. “Pea, have you seen the other guys?” I asked, looking around for them.

“No ma’am. Captain said they was going for a ride and it was best for us to stay and try to get this mare to break.” Pea said as Newt got thrown from the horse.

I cringed, covering my mouth. I was about to ask if he was ok when he stood up and dusted himself off, simply looking annoyed at the mare. But he climbed back on and held on tightly, being tossed around the pen on the leather saddle.

“How long’s he been at this?” I asked Pea.

“’Bout a few hours, I’d reckon.” He said, watching Newt.

Newt got thrown once more before he came to sit on the fence. He’d managed to get the saddle off the mare and set it on the fence.

“Are you alright?” I asked, as he climbed to sit on the top rung of the fence.

He nodded. “Scrapped my elbow a bit. Nothing bad.” He said, panting a bit and pulling up his sleeve to reveal the bloody scrape.

“You and Pea should come inside for a rest. You’ve been workin’ awful hard. I’ll even get you some cool water.” I said, patting Newt’s leg as I turned and walked away. I got the bucket off the porch and went to get some cool water out of the lake.

About dinner time, Captain Call, Needle and Dish rode back into camp. They put their horses up in the stable and came in to see Pea, Newt and I sitting at the table.

“Been loafin’ around I see.” Call said, but I could tell he was just getting in a good jest.

“I think I almost got her broke, Captain. I’ll try again tomorrow.” Newt said, taking a glance up at the Captain.

“Supper ‘bout ready then?” Call asked as Needle and Dish took off their hats.

“Yes sir. I just wasn’t sure when you’d be back. Beans are done and the biscuits should be about done too.” I said, standing to check on them. Call nodded and sat down at the table with the other boys. “What took you so far from home?” I asked, off-handedly. There was obviously a reason the three had gone off for a bit and it was driving me crazy that I didn’t know.

“Dish told me there was bandits in the area. I figured we best keep an eye out. I supposed Pea and Newt could get by just fine.” He said, in a way that made me think he wasn’t telling the whole truth.

I remembered when Newt and Dish took me on the horseback ride and we met with the four bandits while we were hunting. “Oh. Best to keep them away from the stock.”

“I suppose we’ll be out at it for a couple days.” Call said as he dished himself some beans.

I nodded, not feeling it was necessary to call him out.

The boys and I ate in silence, then they retired to the porch while I finished cleaning up. Without fail though, every evening, Newt would ask if I’d like help with anything. Dishes was the only real chore I had after dinner, so he carried the wash bucket down to the lake for me and we talked while I washed the dishes.

Tonight though, he sat silently, deep in thought. The silence, though not unwelcome, made me feel uncomfortable this evening.

“Have you ever had a girlfriend, Newt?” I asked, letting my words slip. Around the other men, I watched how I worded things, because they’d look at me funny when I said ‘that’s awesome’ instead of ‘that’s neat.’ But around Newt, it didn’t bother me to just talk how I normally had before.

He looked at me. “I’ve had a friend that’s a girl before, if that’s what you mean.”

I was usually explaining words to Newt, not because he was stupid or anything; he was actually pretty smart. But because my terms for things were different then his. I thought about it for a moment. “Like, a long term commitment with a girl. Courting.” I said, coming up with the word at the last moment.

He smiled. “Nah. Not me. Ain’t got much time for girls on a cattle ranch, usually.” He said ‘usually’ with a tone of voice I couldn’t put my finger on.

“Do you regret it? Moving up here and not being able to have time for a girl?” I asked as I rinsed off a plate and stacked it in the wash bucket.

Newt smiled. “Captain Call and Mr. Gus was the closest thing I had to a pa. I couldn’t imagine not coming with ‘em.” He said, glancing over at me. “ ’Sides, I got all the time for the only girl that means anything.”

I blushed, feeling the warmth of my cheeks spread to my ears and neck. “You’re too good to me, Newt Dobbs.”

This made him smile, as he laid back in the grass with his hands behind his head. “I ain’t never gonna be too good to ya.”

I shook my head at him.

“So what’s the guy version of a girlfriend? Ya ever have one of them?” He asked, looking up at me with those big brown eyes.

“A boyfriend. Yeah, I’ve had a couple of them.” I told him.

“Tell me about them.” He said, squirming around in the grass until his head laid near my leg.

“One was named David. He was nice, but never wanted to leave his house. One was named Joseph. He was mean and he was the one that hit me. Then there was Alex. He was the one that called me a whore.” I said, stacking another clean plate in the tub.

Newt was quiet for a minute. “The Captain told me that before I was born Mr. Gus was married twice. Once to a lady for a couple years and she died. Then again to another lady and she died after about a year of marriage. But Captain Call told me Gus and his second wife had been acquainted for only a week ‘fore they got married.”

“The lady at the dress store said she met her husband when he came out of the saloon one night and tripped her. The next day he came and apologized. She said they got married the next Sunday.” I told Newt.

Newt was quiet for another set of minutes and I was starting to realize this was the only way he could form a response. If you rushed him for an answer, you were sure to not get one. “You suppose it’s ok for people to get married so soon?” He asked, looking up at me. “Or real young?”

I smiled at him, wiping my hand on my apron before stroking his hair as he closed his eyes. “Mr. Dobbs, if I do remember correctly. We’ve both time traveled.” I said, leaning over him to kiss him on the forehead. “I believe anything is possible.”

He smiled up at me, like a dog that just got a biscuit. “Suppose it’s about time to go back to town and get you some new clothes.”

I shrugged. I didn’t care and I was sure Newt knew that. I stacked the dishes in the bucket and stood up. Before I could pick up the bucket, Newt was on his feet and lifting it off the ground. I just looked up at him and shook my head. “You’re an interesting man, Newt Dobbs.” I told him as I took his elbow and we walked up the hill.

When we rounded the house, I let go of Newt’s arm. No reason for him to be teased more than he already was.

“Captain, suppose we could go into town tomorrow and get goods?” Newt asked when we got closer to the porch.

Captain Call thought about it for a minute, blowing smoke out of his lungs. “Suppose so. We need some nails and bacon, I reckon.” He said, glancing at me for confirmation.

“Uh, yeah. We’ve got probably enough for three more days at best.” I told him, trying to figure it out in my head.

He nodded. “Suppose you’ll need a good rest tonight then. Needle will go with ya.” He said, taking another drag from his smoke.

“And Captain,” Newt started. “Suppose I could buy the miss a new dress, with my wages?”

Captain Call took a moment to think through his answer and I wondered if that was where Newt got his habit from.

“Newt, now that’s just silly talk. I don’t need nothin’ but bacon to cook for you boys.” I said, looking up at him. I hoped I wouldn’t upset him when I said it; I still wasn’t entirely sure in my place as a woman on a cattle ranch. But I didn’t need new dresses and he didn’t need to be spending his hard earned money on me.

“Miss McCrae is right. You best keep your money, Newt.” The Captain said and Newt was about to argue. “I’ll buy the miss a new dress and that can be her wages for the month.” He said, looking at me to see if I had any qualms.

“See, that’s fair terms.” I said, taking the bucket of dishes from Newt and walking up the stairs. I could hear Newt argue with Call from the porch, but I zoned them out a little bit by humming a familiar song to myself.

“Why won’t you let me buy you nothin’?” Newt asked suddenly, making me turn around. I hadn’t even heard him come in the cabin, or close the door.

As soon as I looked at him, I could tell I’d hurt his feelings. “Oh, Newt. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to offend you.” I said, pausing in my task. “I just meant I think it’s silly for you to be buying me things I don’t need when you worked hard for that money.”

He still looked offended as he walked over to lean on the table, still watching me. “But what if I wanna?”

In all honesty, I hadn’t thought anything about if he wanted for no reason to buy me things. I thought for just a second, trying to phrase my reply carefully. “Every time a guy has bought me something, they’ve wanted something in return. I didn’t want it to be like that with us. I want you to be with me because you like being with me. Not because you expect things from me.”

He stood there, just watching me and I could almost see the wheels in his head working. “I wanted to buy you the dress to show you how much I like bein’ with you.” He said.

I gave him a sad smile. “I’m sorry for turning down your offer so quickly. I’d love a new dress and if you want to buy me one, then I will graciously accept it with a smile.” I told him.

He smiled a little bit. “Well, I’m much obliged.”

I smiled at him and shook my head as I went back to doing dishes.

“Are you going to get the red one again?” He asked me.

I glanced over at him. “The thing about time travel is that every time you do it, something changes. The first time I came through, I was wearing my street clothes. This time, I came through in the dress. So because that little thing changed, everything else has changed. Even if there’s a similar outcome, it’s all different. Does that make sense?” I asked him.

Newt nodded.

“But, if the dress lady has the red one, I’ll get it just for you.” I said with a smile.

He smiled real big then nodded and returned to the porch.
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