Hat Creek Trouble

The One with the Letter

It took a few more minutes, picking up after dinner before I followed Newt out, when I was done with dishes. I sat on the bottom step, looking up at the stars as Pea and Call remembered a time when they fought Comanches along the Brazos River in Texas.

The Captain was recalling how they’d been on a scouting trip, looking for their old captain, Scull, when the Great Comanche Raid of the 1850’s happened. Pea was recalling how silly he thought the trip was, when they’d heard the Captain had gone done to Mexico.

The story was fairly intriguing and the most interesting part was that it’d actually happened to them; you weren’t just hearing about it on TV or in a book.

About the time I thought I might want to go to bed, Pea asked me for a story, as I was the only one who hadn’t contributed to the evening’s entertainment. The Captain and Pea told us of the Great Comanche Raid. Dish told us about how he ran cattle for a living before he hooked up with the Hat Creek outfit and decided Montana would be nice.

Jasper gave a made up story about traveling Georgia and Alabama looking for the love of his life before wandering onto the Hat Creek Co. in Texas. Needle told a heartbreaking tale of woe; he loved a gal named Sally and told her often, but a rich man came into town and swept her off to St. Louis, never to be seen again. He claimed he’d never loved another woman.

I liked Newt’s story about the blue pigs and Gus McCrae. But I had nothing to add onto it. I hadn’t done anything interesting, except time travel and that wasn’t really an after dinner conversation, as it was one you would have thought to have with bars between the parties.

The boys goaded me until I twisted the story of Newt and Dish taking me out riding, as technically, it hadn’t happened yet. I gave other names to the two boys, but I could tell Newt knew what I was talking about.

I told them how I didn’t know much about horses and a friend talked me into taking a ride with them while they hunted up dinner. I hadn’t done too bad I thought, when half way through, we met four bandits. Two were white, one was Mexican and one was an Indian, all traveling together.

After a few snide comments directed at me, the guys I rode with finally scared them off and the guy leading the ride had shot a deer with his rifle so fast, I barely had time to realize he’d moved before he was off his horse and skinning the thing.

“Sounds like a quick draw, if I ever heard one.” Pea said.

Jasper rolled his eyes. “Ain’t nobody can draw so fast you can’t see ‘em.”

“What happened to them bandits?” Dish asked.

“I don’t know. I never saw them again thankfully. The guys I was with were pretty scary, so I figured that was the reason they stayed away.” I said, pulling something out of a hat.

“I reckon it’s time to get to bed. Needle, you’ll be goin’ with the Miss and Newt into town.” Call told the men.

Needle nodded, giving a short ‘yes sir,’ before heading to the barn with Pea Eye, Jasper and Dish. Newt lingered near me, despite the fact Captain Call sat not five feet from us.

“Suppose I best make sure that fire ain’t gone out.” Woodrow said, surprising me, as he stood and went into the cabin to, honest to God, check the fire.

With Woodrow’s back turned, Newt gave me a quick kiss that I had to make sure not to fall head first into. Newt was careful to only kiss me when he knew no one was around. This was a very rare occurrence that he was kissing me while the Captain was within hearing range; as he’d left the door open a crack.

“Goodnight, Miss Selene.” Newt said with a smile as he turned towards the barn. I just stood there watching him walk away.

“Good kid, that boy.” Captain Call said a minute later, about the time Newt was swallowed by the wood beast of a stable.

“I reckon I’d agree, Captain.” I said.

He just stood there in the doorjamb for a moment and I felt like he was arranging his thoughts. “I believe he intends to marry you.”

His comment took me off guard, so I just kind of stood there for a second. “Newt?” I asked, dumbstruck. I mean, he’d mentioned marriage once or twice before, but I didn’t know he’d actually meant it.

“If he ain’t intending to, he best ought to.” The Captain said, puzzling me further.

“You think I should marry Newt?” I asked, watching as he sat in the rocker.

“I didn’t say that. I said he ought to marry you.” He said.

I was quiet for an instant. “Captain, last I checked, it’s about the same thing.”

He nodded slightly and lit a smoke. “Sometimes. Not always.”

I just looked up at him, wondering how an enigma like Captain Call ended up here. “Do you always talk in riddles when you want to say something indirectly?”

He smiled from behind his smoke. “Don’t make much difference if you understand the riddle, does it?”

I smiled and shook my head, wondering if I did actually understand the riddle, or if he’d confused me into thinking I had. “Good night, Captain Call. Don’t stay up too late.” I told him, retreating up the three steps and across the porch to close the door of the cabin.

For a long while, I sat in front of the fireplace, wondering over Captain Call’s comments. I couldn’t figure out what he was talking about. I knew Newt took a shine to me; if he hadn’t, he obviously wouldn’t be kissing me. But I didn’t think I was the kind of girl you married and settled down with. Then again, I’d never been married or settled down.

I stood quickly, remembering I had yet to write a letter to Gerry. I scrounged in the cabinet for a moment before I came up with a piece of paper and a fountain pen. I’d never wrote with a fountain pen, so I tore off a corner to practice with. After a minute or two, I felt I could successfully use the instrument.

I started writing out the note to Gerry.

Dear Gerry, it’s been almost a week since I’ve come back. Captain Call told me his old partner’s name was Augustus McCrae and it makes me wonder, since my great-great grandmother’s name was Augustine. I’m sure it’s just a coincidence.

I wish you could meet the Captain. He’s not a very likeable man, but he’s a good man. He does what he has to, to keep the ranch running smoothly. We’re going into town tomorrow to get some goods and Newt says he wants to buy me a new dress.

He got awful upset when I told him he didn’t need to. But he says he wants to, so I suppose if he wants to buy me new clothes, I’ll let him.

Captain Call says Newt should marry me. I’m kind of confused. I mean, I like Newt of course. But I don’t know. I never thought about marriage before. I always thought it’d be you and me until you got married and had kids of your own, then I’d be a really cool aunt. Marriage seems like a tricky thing and if Newt does want to marry me, I’d hate to mess it up.

And don’t you shake your head at me, because I know you are.

I know you don’t have a way of replying back to me. I just wish you could tell me what you think about it. Should I say yes, if he even does ask? I think I really love him, Gerry. He makes me happy and I don’t even remember the last time I was this happy.

I paused in my writing to smile a little bit.

I guess I’ll write you again in a few days. I love and miss you so much. I hope you are doing well.

Then I signed it and folded it in fourths. I set it on top of the cupboard above the wood range, underneath the coffee pot so none of the guys would find it and read it. I went back to lay in front of the fireplace and thought of Newt on horseback and Gerry running around a fashion studio with a measuring tape around his neck flashed through my head.

I pulled the blanket closer to me, trying to chase the cold from my body. I shivered and opened my eyes to see the fire close to dying. I hadn’t added wood after I wrote the letter to Gerry. Pulling the blanket around my shoulders, I put two hunks of wood on top of the bright red bed of coals. I leaned forward and blew gently until one of the coals caught fire from the wood.

But the cold from the spring had already crept into the cabin and refused to release it from its clutches. I shivered again as I got up and started coffee. When that was done, I took a cup out of Woodrow, where he sat watching the sun come up.

I went about frying the bacon and then I started the biscuits and eggs. When the boys came into the cabin, I still had a chill hanging in the air. I sat and ate breakfast with the boys. It was about halfway through, when Jasper stood up to get another cup of coffee that I remembered my letter to Gerry had been underneath the coffee pot.

I watched him carefully, then saw as the piece of paper on the shelf caught his eye. He picked it up and looked confused, then he opened it and read a few lines to himself. Or maybe he couldn’t read it. Maybe he was trying to. But my heart raced and I knew if he decided to read it out loud, I wouldn’t be able to stay in the cabin.

He looked up at me with a cruel smile. “Dear Gerry, it’s been almost a week since I’ve come back. Captain Call told me his old partner’s name was Augustus McCrae…” My words through Jasper Fant’s mouth made me sick.

I pushed my chair away from the table and left the cabin. I couldn’t be in the company of the men if Jasper read the whole thing out loud to them all. Especially the part about Newt and marriage. What would Newt think of me? What if Captain Call decided I was too much trouble and told me to just move on?

The sound of my own heavy breathing broke through my thoughts. I looked around and I was nearly halfway around the lake. I stopped and just sat on the dew dampened ground. I looked out at the lake that was shrouded in fog from the early morning, but I didn’t actually see it. I saw Gerry, sitting cross legged in front of me with a tub of popcorn and a smile.

“Are you really going to let them drive you away? Away from your true love?” I could hear his voice whisper in the slight breeze.

“Gerry, I’ve never had anybody read my things like that. That’s why I never kept a journal. If someone got ahold of it, I’d never be able to live it down. I just wanted to write you a letter.” I said, realizing my face was wet. I wasn’t sure when I’d stated crying, but I took the sleeve of my shirt and wiped my eyes.

When I looked up, Newt stood not ten feet from me. I looked up at him, but I couldn’t meet his eyes. I didn’t want to see whatever embarrassment or neglect he was feeling.

“Did he read the whole thing?” I asked, looking out at the lake again.

Newt came and sat next to me. “No.” He said, handing the letter back to me. “But I did.”

I felt like my heart literally stopped working. “Newt, I didn’t mean it like that. I mean, I’m nervous and the whole thing is scary, but I mean, if you want to get married, I can’t think of any reason to not get married. And I love it here, I do. We wouldn’t need to move or anything. I mean, we’d need our own place and that. But I could still cook and clean and stuff and you could work with the horses and…”

He took my hand and kissed it gently, leaning into me. “You’re not ready. That’s ok.”

I waited, wondering if he was going to add on to his five word comment that stopped my rant. “But you are ready.”

He smiled over at me. “Don’t mean nothin’ if you aren’t. And that’s ok. I’ll wait forever.”

I looked at him, surprised by his answer. “Well I suppose forever isn’t necessary.”

Newt smiled at me, leaning to touch his forehead to mine. “If that’s what it meant, I’d wait forever.”

I took a deep breath and looked up at him. “You’re the sweetest man I’ve ever met.”

He smiled. “You ready to go into town? We’ll get you a couple new dresses.” He told me, standing up and helping me.

Letter in hand, I stood next to him, linking my arm with his. “How far did he read?” I asked him.

Newt thought about it for a minute. “Something about a grandmother.”

I nodded. “I was wondering if your Gus was my great grandfather of some sort.”

He nodded. “Same last name. Probably.” He said, walking me back to the cabin. When we got back to the cabin, Needle had set up the wagon and saddled his horse. “We gotta go to the post office too.” Newt told Needle, who nodded.

“Not a problem.” He said, giving me a little bit of a hat tip.

When I saw Jasper walking towards me with his head down, I felt both anger and embarrassment. When an apology stumbled from his mouth, I shook my head and climbed into the seat.

“What?” Jasper asked, his temper flaring a little bit.

I just shook my head in disbelief. “You read a private document, that was neither addressed to you nor contained anything about you and you feel a simple ‘I’m sorry’ is going to release the grudge I now hold against you? No sir. No sir.” I said, looking at the horses in front of the wagon.

And then I remembered how Jasper and I had never had any of our previous conversations. So I gave him a hard look in the eye. “I understand that you get away with being indirectly rude to people. That’s fine. But from this point forward, if you do or say anything that I deem inappropriate, I will see to it that you don’t enjoy the rest of your time at the Hat Creek Cattle Company.”

Jasper looked extremely nervous. “You can’t, you can’t do that. Captain Call will make you collect your wages.”

“Jasper, there’s more to life than what you get paid. If Captain Call told me he couldn’t pay me anymore, then I’d probably still stick around.” I told him as Newt climbed onto the seat next to me. “As for you, I’ll still upset with you. So if you’ll kindly back away from the wagon, we’ll be on our way.”

He looked like a kicked dog as he took a step back. Newt shook the reins and the horses started the trek to town. By the time we’d crested the hill above the Hat Creek outfit, Newt leaned into me a bit. I leaned back, putting my head on his shoulder. “Jasper makes me mad.”

“Jasper does that.” He said, glancing over at me.

“Why do you guys keep him around?” I asked harshly.

Newt just gave me a little smile. “Because he’s family.”

My anger evaporated quickly; leaving behind a mild irritation. “I just don’t like how he treats me.” I told him.

Newt shook his head. “Me neither. I’ll have a talk with him when we get home.”

I nodded and we continued on our way.
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