Hat Creek Trouble

The One about Regrets

I woke up panting and covered in sweat. The room was dark, but as I looked around, it wasn’t the cabin. It was a room somewhere else, as I was in a bed instead of on the floor. It was like I couldn’t catch my breath as I looked around.

The door opened and Woodrow and Newt came in with another man. It took me a moment to realize where I knew him from, but then it clicked. The doctor that fixed Newt’s hand. My chest hurt and I felt like I had just run a marathon.

“What’s going on?” I croaked out. I cleared my throat and tried again.

“You fainted at the cabin and when you woke up you were talking crazy so we brought you into town.” Woodrow said, fidgeting his fingers with the brim of his hat.

“It’s awful lucky these boys brought you in when they did. You had the start of a nasty fever. We caught it in time and it’ll be a slow recovery, but you’ll be back to normal soon.” The doctor said, looking a little glossy eyed. It was pretty late in the evening. Maybe he’d already had a few drinks.

I took a minute, sitting there, trying to decide whether all the nightmares I’d had were real or not. I couldn’t seem to tell them apart.

“How are you feeling, Miss McCrae?” Newt asked, fidgeting with his hat the same way Call was.

“Dizzy still, a little bit. I had some terrible nightmares.” I said, glancing at the window.

“You, uh talked in your sleep.” Woodrow said, seeming to enjoy the view of the wall behind me.

“I hope I didn’t say anything ridiculous.” I said, looking over at him and there was an eerie silence that made the doctor shift.

“You were having dreams about earlier yesterday, ma’am.” Newt said after a moment.

“Oh. I apologize.” I said, looking back at the window. I could see the light from the saloon down the road and people walking back and forth across the street.

“Well, I don’t believe you’ll be needing me anymore this evening. If you do, my apartment is above this building. Goodnight, miss.” The doctor said, turning to leave.

Woodrow and Newt just stood there, not really sure what to do.

“You don’t have to stand there and look awkward.” I told them both, laying back on the pillow. It was incredibly comfortable compared to the floor of the cabin at home.

“I suppose I’ll be just outside.” Woodrow said, pulling open the door the doctor just left through.

Newt came to sit in the chair near the window. “How do you feel?”

I smiled a little bit, though my brain was starting to slow down. “You’ve already asked that, Newt.”

He nodded, realizing his mistake and looking down at the wood flooring. “The boys came into town today to check on you, but you were still asleep. They’re all mighty worried about you.”

“That’s sweet.” I said with a little bit of a smile. “Very few people have been worried about me in my life.”

“I know that. That’s why I want to marry you. I’ll worry about you the rest of my life, even if you don’t marry me.” He said, looking intently at me.

I sighed, feeling suddenly very tired. “Newt Dobbs, you’re a darling. But I’m not cut out to be a wife.”

He just shook his head. “But you are. You’re perfect.” He said.

I shook my head, looking at the wall in front of the bed so I didn’t have to look at him. “I really don’t think you’re thinking this through.”

“But I have. I thought through everything.” He told me.

I sighed and closed my eyes. “Newt, I was raped by three different men. That doesn’t make a good wife. That makes a whore.”

Newt looked pained at my words. “I don’t care what nobody else thinks. And I know I ain’t ever gonna let nobody hurt you ever again.”

I looked back over at him and held my hand out to him. He scooted his chair closer to the bed and took my hand. “As much as I would love to tell you yes, you can’t promise for sure that I’ll never get hurt again. And I don’t want you to promise something you can’t keep.”

Newt looked a little lost. “That’s what marriage means to me. I ain’t gonna leave you or hurt you. I ain’t gonna let nobody else hurt you neither. I won’t never leave you alone, if I can help it. I don’t know what to say if it can’t be helped any. And maybe there will be times I can’t help it.”

I squeezed his hand a little bit. “Newt Dobbs, you’re a dear.” I told him, feeling the tiredness tug at me.

“You said I could ask again when my hand was better.” He told me and I smiled.

“Did you ask Captain Call?” I asked him.

He paused. “I don’t think he’ll object.”

I smiled at him, feeling like my eyelids weighed ten pounds each. “I gave you two conditions; Ask Woodrow and wait until your hand is better. Successfully, you’ve only completed one of those.”

He ducked his head a little bit. “Suppose I’ll ask him tomorrow then.”

I squeezed his hand once more. “I’m terribly tired Newt. I think I’ll get a little bit of sleep.”

“I’ll be here when you wake up.” He said, standing up and heading for the door. I briefly saw him watching me from the door when sleep overtook me once more.

When I woke up this time, it wasn’t as violent as it had been the night before. The sun was out and the room was warm from under my covers. I stretched a little bit, to find I was still sore. My midnight blue dress hung on a hanger with the rest of my clothes.

My head still swam a little, but I didn’t feel nearly as bad as I had when I took my nose dive into the dirt at the cabin. I stood and pulled the curtains closed, then set about the daunting task of putting my clothes on. About half way through getting my dress on, there was a knock at the door.

“Ma’am, are you awake?” Woodrow asked from the other side of the wood.

“Yes, Captain.” I called back.

“Are you decent?” He asked, obviously hearing my voice from the direction different then the bed.

“I’m afraid not, Captain. You’ll have to give me a few minutes.” I told him as I buttoned up the back of the dress.

It took me a couple minutes to get myself together, but I pulled open the door to see Woodrow, Newt, Dish and the doctor looking back at me. I blinked at the brightness of the world. “Good morning, boys.”

“Morning, Miss McCrae.” Newt said, pulling his hat off, which made the other two do the same.

“How are you feeling this morning, Miss McCrae?” The doctor asked.

“A little dizzy, but not as bad as last night or even the day before yesterday. However, the sun seems a bit brighter than I remember.” I said, trying not to wince at the brightness.

“All are very normal. You’re free to go, but I’d like you to stay away from any heavy lifting and if you’re not needed for work, to sit and rest a bit. Over working yourself will be the devil.” The doctor told me. “I suppose I forgot to tell you, but I sewed up your lip while you were asleep. You’ll barely even know there’s a scar there.”

At his words, I reached up to run a finger across my lip. It felt a little rough, but there wasn’t a gaping hole like there had been. “Well, thank you doctor. That was very kind of you.”

“And Captain, I’d appreciate if you’d get Miss McCrae back in about a week’s time, just so I can make sure she’s still doing alright.” The Doc said, turning to Woodrow.

“Thanks doc.” Call said, putting his hat back on. He walked down the boardwalk to where his horse and Dish’s were tied up.

“The wagon’s just around the corner, ma’am.” Newt said, holding his elbow out for me.

“Ever the gentleman.” I murmured as I took his arm and he led us around the building, with Dish following along behind.

“I never thanked you for helping me with the dishes.” I told Dish as he turned away.

He just turned back to me a smiled a little bit. He tipped his hat and went back to get his horse. Him and Call came to rest next to the wagon and Newt drove us forward. Call led the way and Dish followed the wagon. I leaned over and rested my head on Newt’s shoulder.

“Suppose you’re feeling better.” He said and I couldn’t decide if it was a question or a statement.

“Yes, thank you.” I told him, sitting back upright again.

The rest of the ride back to the cabin was silent and I couldn’t tell why, exactly. Dish rode up next to the wagon and the three of us talked about one thing or another and then he fell back, or Newt would make a passing comment about the weather. We pulled up to a stop in front of the barn and Newt and Needle were quick to offer to help me off the wagon.

Despite the fact I didn’t need help, I let them both help me down.

“Miss McCrae. I hope you’re feeling better.” Needle said.

“Much better, thank you.” I said with a smile.

“We were awful worried about you, ma’am.” Pea Eye said.

I tried to smile at him, but my lip ached a little. “I’m much obliged.”

Newt helped me inside and I felt a chill cross my skin, regardless of the warm day outside. Despite myself, I glanced over at the wood range.

Of all the times I’d been hurt or hit or beaten and battered, I felt like this was the one that would stay with me. The one that would haunt my waking dreams as often as my nightmares.

“Are you alright, ma’am?” Newt asked from behind me.

“Yes. I’m sorry. It’s just a warm day and this cabin is awful stuffy.” I said, coming to slide a rock in front of the door so it couldn’t close.

Newt took my hand, making me look at him. “Are you alright?” He asked again, softly.

I wanted to nod my head yes, but a pain started in my chest and I just wanted to cry. I slowly shook my head and Newt held his arms out to me. I hugged him, trying to pull him close.

“It’s gonna be alright.” He told me quietly.

I shook my head and this sense of hopelessness fell over me. “No, it’s not. None of this was supposed to happen. If I’d just stayed with Gerry, you wouldn’t have broken your hand and you wouldn’t have had to hang those men.” I told him.

Newt shook his head. “Now, don’t you be talkin’ like that. It ain’t your fault.” He told me, pulling me back into a hug. “Those men ought never got after you. It wasn’t your fault none. And I’d have hit those men had they done it to any other girl either, so that wasn’t your fault none neither. Ya hear?”

I nodded into his shoulder. I pulled back and wiped my eyes. “I suppose I should make lunch.”

“I’ll help ya if ya like.” Newt told me.

I nodded. “I’d appreciate the company.”

So we worked together and made biscuits and fried up what we had left of deer meat that Dish had shot. Newt and I worked together, not saying much, but I didn’t need much. I just couldn’t be left alone in this cabin.

Newt went to pull the biscuits out of the fire and I left the cabin to go fetch the men. Captain Call was still trying to break that horse he’d been working on. Pea and Needle sat on the fence, watching him quietly.

“Ya doin’ alright, ma’am?” Needle asked after noticing me.

“Of course.” I said with a smile that I’m sure he didn’t believe. “My lips a bit tender but that’s my own doing. I just wanted to tell the Captain that lunch is ready.”

“You made lunch?” Pea Eye asked, drawing his eyebrows together.

“Well, of course Pea. Why wouldn’t I make lunch?” I asked, slightly confused.

“You’ve had a bit of a rough week. I woulda made lunch had ya asked me to.” Needle told me.

I smiled up at him. “I’ve kept after you boys just fine, as far as I can tell. A little scar isn’t gonna hold me down from making lunch.” I said, setting my hand on his arm and glancing back over at Call. “I’ll get Dish and Jasper out of the barn if you wanna yell at the Captain.”

“Yes ma’am.” Needle said with a tip of his hat.

I turned and walked towards the barn to see Dish and Jasper hammering on a piece of metal they’d pulled from the fire. The heat of the day and the fire made sweat stains form on their shirts. After a minute, Dish paused and looked over at me. “Ma’am.” He said, wiping the sweat off his brow.

“Lunch is ready boys.” I told them.

“You made lunch?” Jasper asked, sounding surprised.

“I’m perfectly capable of making edible food, Mr. Fant.” I told him.

“I don’t think that’s what he meant, ma’am. We just figured you’d need a few days’ rest.” Dish said.

I shook my head. “The worst thing I could do for myself is sit down and let you boys take care of yourselves. Lunch is ready when you boys want it.” I told them, turning around and leaving the barn as Woodrow climbed the fence in the pen.

Sitting down and eating with them was hard for me. The room was so quiet with nobody talking; it was almost painful. I wanted to start some idle chit-chat, but nothing came to mind that would actually stick for more than a few sentences.

We finished lunch and instead of dispersing, all the men hung around the table. I looked over at them, suddenly worried something had happened.

Call cleared his throat and stood up. “The boys and I’ve got somethin’ to show you, outside, if you’d spare us a few moments.”

I wiped leftover flour off my hands. “I suppose dishes can wait a bit.”

Call nodded and apparently that was the cue for the men to stand up as Call led them outside. Newt looked just as confused as I felt as we followed after them. “Thought it’d be too rough for you on a horse.” Needle told me as the wagon sat, still completely hitched, next to the barn.

“Where on earth are we going?” I asked, looking over at Newt.

“I ain’t got the faintest idea.” Newt told me as he and Needle helped me up into the wagon.

Call and Dish led the way and Pea Eye, Needle and Jasper followed behind the wagon. We rode for maybe only ten minutes, rounding a bend in the little valley. There, nestled in the middle of a small bowl in the mountain, was a cabin next to a stream of water that ran into the lake.

I was confused as we pulled to a stop. Dish and Needle helped me out of the wagon and I turned to look at Call. “Captain, I’m awful confused.”

“Ain’t right, a lady sleepin’ in the same place as menfolk. But my men are awful tired of sleepin’ in the barn.” He told me.

“So, you…” I trailed off, trying to connect the dots. I felt the surprise blanket me. “You built me a house.”

Call looked nervous, shifting his weight. “Ain’t much. But it’s got four walls and a roof that won’t leak.”

I turned to the little cabin, covering my mouth with my hands. I couldn’t express how much it meant to me, this gesture. I felt my eyes well up. “This is the nicest thing anyone’s ever done for me.” I told the Captain, turning back to the other men.

They all ducked their heads, shifting their weight or kicking their boots.

“And I know it ain’t much,” Call said to me before turning to Newt. “But I give ya my blessing.”

Newt’s face slowly lit up. “Marry me.” He said, turning to me.

I laughed, feeling my eyes spill over. “You’re not serious.”

“I am. I told you I’ll do right by ya. Captain even gave his blessin’. You said I had to have it to ask ya.” Newt said, looking at me with so much hope in his eyes.

My hands covered my mouth and all I could manage to do was nod at him.

He grinned, running over to me. He hugged me tightly and I laughed heartily as he picked me up and swung me in circles. The other boys hooted and hollered, making me smile. Newt set me down and gently wiped my face before softly kissing me. I smiled against him. His grin was huge as he pulled away from me. “I was startin’ to think you’d never say yes.”

“You’re a hard man to resist, Mr. Dobbs.” I said, feeling happy for the first time in a long time.

“Call.” He said, clearing his throat before glancing quickly at the Captain.

“As fitting a name as any.” I told him and he smiled back at me.

“That mean the Captain’s his pa?” Pea Eye asked.

“Oh, shucks, Pea Eye. A blind horse could see that in the dark.” Jasper spoke up.

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