Hat Creek Trouble

The One with the Horse Lessons

It had been probably close to an hour later when I heard a squeak from the porch. The boys had gone to bed in the barn, because I’d heard them talk as they left the porch. The squeak of the wood now on the porch was as if someone was sneaking around.

Honestly, I hadn’t even checked to see if the door was locked. But I figured it was one of the guys, wanting a biscuit for a midnight snack so I stayed still on the floor. The fire flickered and I heard the latch lift on the door. Part of me was worried about bandits or robbers and part of me was saying I was being stupid.

No spurs clinked as the person walked across the floor, but their cowboy boots clicked on the wood floor. The latch closed again and I tried not to shiver from the draft they let in. The boots clicked a couple more steps forward, but I couldn’t place where exactly they were in the cabin.

Suddenly, my arm was being yanked on, rolling me onto my back roughly. I gasped as Jasper straddled me, roughly kissing my neck as he held my hands down. “Get off! Jasper, get off me!” I screamed, thrashing to get out of his grip.

“Only a whore doesn’t know how to make biscuits. So I want my poke.” He said, pulling open the buttons at the top of my dress.

“Newt! Needle! Help!” I screamed, thrashing still against him.

He just smiled. “They’re out cold. Ain’t gonna hear ya.” He said, holding both my hands with his one as he started to undo his pants.

He leaned over just enough while trying to unbutton his pants that I leaned up and bit him on the cheek. “Ouch!” He screeched and I scrambled away from him, trying to stand to run to the door.

I flung open the door and ran into Newt’s arms. “What-“ He started, but stopped, seeing Jasper kneeling on the floor with his pants undone, holding his cheek.

“Jasper.” He said in a deadly calm voice. Newt started forward, but I knew if Newt got out of my hands, he’d kill Jasper.

“Take Newt.” Needle said, stepping past me.

I took Newt’s arms and turned him around. I pulled him with me, up the hill a little bit, still in sight of the house. I didn’t realize until Newt pulled me to a stop that I was crying. I turned to him and his features were softer, more concerned.

“Did he… did he…” He started, stammering out the words.

I shook my head. “No, no. Just tried. That’s all.” I said, standing there feeling useless.

Newt took a step towards me and wiped my tears away with his thumbs. “Ain’t right. Ain’t right at all.” He said simply.

I shook my head, trying to hold back my tears. “No, it ain’t.” I said, turning away from him to wipe my face. I was stronger than this damn it. I shouldn’t be crying in front of a guy I’ve known for a day.

“Needle took Jasper to the barn.” Newt said quietly.

I nodded. “He won’t hurt him, will he?”

“I ‘spect not. Probably give him a lick with the horse whip.” Newt said, his eyes trained on the barn.

“Thank you.” I mumbled. “For saving me.”

I could see Newt shift out of the corner of my vision. “I shouldn’t have left you in the cabin on your own. I shoulda slept on the porch.” He said.

I turned around, still wiping off my face. “It’s not your fault.” I said, sitting on the ground before my knees gave out. I was shaking so badly that when I sat down, my knees knocked together.

Newt sat next to me. “I can go get ya a blanket.” He said.

I shook my head, leaning it on his shoulder. “Please don’t.” I said.

After a moment he nodded and put his arm around my shoulders. “This ok?”

I nodded on his shoulder. “It’s just fine, Newt.”

A few minutes later, Needle started up the hill towards us and I picked my head up off Newt’s shoulder. Needle dipped his head a little before kneeling in front of us. “He said he didn’t do nuthin’, but I never trust a man with his pants around his ankles.” Needle said.

“No, he didn’t. Sure as hell tried, but he didn’t.” I told him. “Did you whip him?” I asked, quietly.

Needle dipped his head, obviously not sure what his answer should be. “I tied him to the hitching post in the barn. I did give him a lick with the horse whip, but it ain’t nothin’ he ain’t got before.”

I nodded, leaning back on Newt’s shoulder. I could feel my tears well up, but I refused to let them fall. I didn’t want to be weak. I blinked, looking straight up at the moon.

“You alright, miss?” Needle asked, quietly.

I nodded. “Nothin’ I ain’t gone through before.” I said with a smile. He ducked his head and I felt silly for saying it. “I would appreciate it if someone could sleep on the porch for me though.” I said, looking back down at the ground.

“I’ll do it.” Newt volunteered.

Needle nodded. “I’ll move your bed things.” He said, standing up and walking back down the hill.

I sighed. “I think it’ll do us all some good to forget this ever happened.” I said with a nod to myself.

Newt shook his head and stood up. Then he held out his hand to help me up. I took his hand and we walked down the hill side by side. Needle waited by the porch. “I’ll make sure Jasper doesn’t leave the barn if I gotta tie him up.” Needle said with a nod to each of us.

I smiled thank you, then said a quiet goodnight to Newt as I climbed the stairs and went inside. I looked for a lock and found a bolt that slid into the wall from the door.

I had a rough time sleeping the rest of the night. I dozed in and out of consciousness. Once, I woke to see a shadow figure, but it was a shadow cast by the weak firelight. I felt unsafe in the cabin now. I rolled from side to side in front of the fire place with no luck.

By the time there was a little bit of pink above the mountains, I had given up the thought of sleep and decided the fire was much more an interesting sight. I sat like this until the sun was within a half hour of rising. I stood and picked up the Dutch oven, setting it on the bed of coals and scooping some on top of the lid with the shovel. I filled the coffee pot with water and got it going on the wood range. Then I went to the cupboard that held the supplies for making biscuits and got to work. I mixed and measured as best as I could.

Then I cut them up and brought the Dutch oven over to set the biscuits in before I returned them to the bed of coals. I put the lid back on and returned to the wood range to start frying the bacon. By the time the bacon was done and I was about the start eggs, there was a knock on the door.

“Ma’am.” Needle and Newt said with a nod.

“Where’s Jasper?” I asked.

“Still tied to the hitching post, ma’am.” Needle said.

“You can bring him in for breakfast.” I said.

“With all due respect ma’am, I don’t trust him none to be around you. I think it best if I just take him breakfast and we start on the morning chores.” Needle told me.

I nodded, turning to check the bacon. I pulled it off the burner and put it on another plate. Then I cracked three eggs and started frying them. The guys sat in silence until I heard one of them cough. I pulled the eggs off the burner, putting one on each of their plates. I set Needle and Newt’s plates in front of them, then set down the biscuits and the bacon. I sat down across from Needle as they started getting their food. We ate in silence until the boys excused themselves.

“You need anything ma’am, just gotta holler.” Newt said and Needle dipped his head.

“Thanks boys.” I said, turning back to the dishes.

I stacked them all in the tub and headed down to the lake. After I finished, I stacked them all up and started up the hill to the house. I looked up the hill and saw three men on horseback cresting the hill. Call and his men were back. Yippee.

Less than five minutes later, you could hear the horses in the courtyard from inside the cabin. I wiped my hands on the dress and pulled open the door. I could see Call briefly talk at the guys, then head towards me.

“Morning, Captain.” I called.

“Morning ma’am.” He said, pulling his hat from his head. “I regret to report we’ve not found your traveling companion.”

I nodded and pretended to be remorseful. “It’s fine. Thank you for looking, Captain.”

He nodded. “How’s it gone?”

“Been fine. Jasper’s been a bit difficult to deal with, but we took care of it. Have you had breakfast, Captain?” I asked.

His face was curious when I brought up Jasper, but he shook his head no. “We’ve not, ma’am.”

“Well we’ve got plenty of bacon left. I’ll put on some eggs.” I smiled, hoping against hope that my being cheery wasn’t telling him how nervous I was.

He nodded. “I’ll tell the boys to wash up.” He said and I smiled, feeling like that was something a husband would say to his wife.

I nodded to him and returned to the wood range to cook three more eggs. I set the biscuits back in the fire to warm up a little. When the eggs were cooked, I pulled the biscuits out. I stepped to the door to call Woodrow and his men when I saw them start towards the house.

I dished up their plates as they came through the door and handed one to each, who thanked me.

“Newt mentioned an incident with Jasper.” The Captain said, around bites of egg and bacon. “That he attacked you.”

Pea Eye and Dish stopped eating and looked between me and Captain Call.

I shook my head as I went to the fire to add another log. “Not sure what you’re talking about, Captain.”

“Never known Newt to lie to me ma’am.” Captain Call said.

“He’s not lying. It wasn’t… it’s not…” I said, stumbling over my words. I sighed and ran my fingers through my hair. “It was taken care of.”

“I hate rude behavior in a man. Won’t tolerate it.” The Captain said as he stood from the table.

I rushed forward, taking a hold of his arm. “Captain, you had a long couple days and this ordeal would be best forgotten about by me. Jasper already got a lash with the horse whip. There’s no reason for action unless he does it again and I doubt it’ll happen again.”

“Why’s that, ma’am?” He asked me, staring me in the eye.

“Because, as far as I can tell, Newt seems protective of me for some reason. He wanted to kill Jasper last night. He about beat him to death earlier that same day. That’s why they both have cuts on their faces.” I told him.

Captain Call gave a short nod then went back to the table. “Newt said he’d like to take you into town with him.”

“I can’t ride a horse.” I said, glancing out the front window.

“Newt and Dish’ll teach ya.” The Captain said and Dish gave a short nod.

After breakfast, Captain Call told me to forget the dishes and to follow Dish out to the barn. Only one horse was saddled; a brown horse with a star on his head.

“This here’s Little Dipper.” Newt told me, finishing up adjusting the saddle.

“Why Little Dipper?” I asked.

“The star on his forehead.” Newt told me.

I smiled and shook my head. I’m sure Newt couldn’t know that Ursa Minor was the little bear; not horse, so I just shook my head. Just looking at the horse made me nervous.

“It’s easy. Me and Dish’ll be right here.” Newt said and Dish nodded.

“This seems like such a bad idea.” I said quietly, watching Little Dipper.

“C’mon now.” Newt said, leaning over a bit and weaving his hands together, like a step.

I took a deep breath and blew it out. I put my left food on his hand, so I could swing my right foot over the saddle. Even sitting on the leather gave me an uneasy stomach.

“How’s that?” Dish asked.

“A lot worse.” I said, making him chuckle. Newt took the reins of Little Dipper and started walking me out of the barn. “This is such a bad idea.” I said, trying to calm down.

“Ya need to relax. The horse can tell when you’re nervous.” Dish told me, walking on my right side.

“Horses and I don’t get along.” I told him.

“Ain’t never met nobody Little Dipper didn’t like.” Newt said as we walked down to the lake.

“Where are we going?” I asked, looking out across the lake. A buzzard flew overhead. On the other side of the lake, a coyote dashed back into the forest.

“Right here.” Newt said, coming to stand in front of the horse and me. “These reins control which way the horse goes. They know by the feel which way to go. Pull it right, they go right.” He said, turning the reins and walking with the horse in a circle. “Same happens the other way.” He said, pulling the other direction and walking us in a circle.

“Now I just feel silly.” I told him.

He smiled. “To slow him down, just pull back on the reins. Don’t jerk none or else you’ll hurt him.” He said, handing me the reins.

“What am I supposed to do with these?” I asked, taking the leather cord from him.

“Give him a gentle kick in the ribs and he’ll start walking. Pull on the reins to make him stop.” Dish said.

“What happens if he starts running?” I asked, looking at both of them.

Newt shook his head. “He ain’t gonna start running. That’s why you’re on him instead of Hell Bitch.”

I blinked a few times. “You named your horse Hell Bitch?”

Dish chuckled, ducking his head and trying to hide his smirk.

Newt looked a bit put out. “Well, no I didn’t. Captain Call did and gave her to me when I was range boss.” I nodded, thankful to get the conversation away from my own horse. “Give him a little kick.” Newt told me.

I sighed and gave Little Dipper the softest kick with my heels I could manage. He took four or five steps before I gently pulled on the reins and he stopped, looking around like he was bored.

Newt smiled. “You’re natural.” He told me.

I shook my head. “Now what?”

“You sit here and Dish and me’ll get our horses. Then we’ll come back out and take a ride.” Newt said.

I raised my eyebrows. “Wait. You’re going to leave me on your horse?” I asked him.

“You can start walking him around the lake if you’d like.” Dish told me.

I shook my head. “Yeah, I’d rather do that with someone who has a gun.” I said, remembering the coyote run back into the trees.

Dish tipped his hat and started up the hill.

“You’ll do fine here. Let out the reins a bit and Little Dipper’ll start eating the grass. We’ll be right back.” He said, starting up the hill.

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