Hat Creek Trouble

By Bryce Blackburn

Adventure / Romance

The One about Talking Out Loud

The barn really wasn’t that far away. It just seemed like it took forever. I slowly started to feel more comfortable on the leather saddle. Little Dipper ate some grass and I just watched the lake.

By the time the guys came back with their horses, I was really just ready to do something.

“Ready for that ride?” Newt asked.

“Yes sir.” I said and he blushed a bit, leading the way. I gave Little Dipper a soft kick and he started following Newt’s horse. “So how long have you been riding horses, Dish?” I called behind me, turning slightly.

“Since as far back as I can recall, ma’am.” Dish said.

I nodded. “And you, Newt?” I asked.

“Jake Spoon gave me my first horse ride when I was five ma’am.” Newt said.

“When did you first ride a horse?” Dish called to me.

I had to think about it for a minute. “I was probably ten or eleven.”

Silence came for a while and I just tried to pay attention to where we were going. We’d been riding for what felt like a half an hour and we were well out of range of the cabin, but still in the valley. Newt held up his hands and we stopped riding.

At first I couldn’t hear it, but after a minute, I could hear voices. Someone was talking. A minute later, they came around the closest bend, about fifty yards away. Two white men, a Mexican and one of them looked Indian. A very diverse group for a time when people still owned slaves.

“Well, lookie here. What we got? Two cowboys and a whore?” One of the four men asked.

Little Dipper shifted his weight and I could feel he liked this as much as I did.

“She’s a lady. Have some respect.” Newt said, fire in the veins.

The bandits then mocked me by tipping their hats.

“Well, what’chu doin’ out ‘ere, boy?” One of the white men asked.

“We’re just tryin’ to scare up some dinner. Expect you boys to have run off most of our game, since we heard you comin’ up about two minutes ago.” Newt bluffed, but that was ok. They didn’t know that.

Their eyes kept flickering to me and I felt incredibly uncomfortable. Dish ribbed his horse a bit to stand next to Newt and in front of me; blocking most of their view of me.

Thank god for cowboys, I thought.

“You boys best move along, now. I might be inclined to shoot you for trespassing.” Dish said, keeping his hand at his side near his pistol.

“You ain’t heard us that far back.” The Mexican laughed, ignoring Dish.

“And ‘sides, we ain’t saw no sign sayin’ we was on private property.” One of the white men said.

“Best if you’re on your way. I need to collect us some supper.” Newt said, appearing at ease with the situation.

The band of men laughed and yelled a few snide comments in my direction as they passed on by us.

When they were out of sight, Newt turned around on his saddle. “You alright?”

I nodded. “Yep. So we’re hunting, eh?” I asked.

Dish shook his head. “Leave it to a woman.” He said with a smile.

I shrugged.

“Yeah, we were trying. They were sorta loud.” Newt said, sending a disapproving glance to where they disappeared into the trees.

We continued on in quiet for another few minutes until, in what seemed to be one quick motion; Newt pulled his rifle out of the holster, aimed, and shot. And to my immense surprise, a mule deer fell over.

I just kind of sat there in awe.

“You alright, ma’am? Dish asked, coming to sit beside me as Newt went to check on the deer.

“That was insane.” I said, my eyes never moving from where Newt dismounted and inspected the deer.

“Don’t reckon I know what that means, ma’am.” He said, ducking his head a little.

“Oh.” I said, remembering where I was. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone shoot a deer that quickly.”

Dish nodded and trotted off to help Newt gut the thing. I ribbed Little Dipper a bit to get closer, but I stood well out of the way of the innards. When they were done, they slung the deer over the back of Dish’s horse and they mounted their horses.

“You ready, ma’am?” Newt asked.

I nodded and Newt lead the way. It took me a few minutes to realize why the deer had been put on Dish’s horse instead of Newt’s. They didn’t want me staring at the deer the whole way back to the cabin.

When we walked the horses to the mouth of the stable, Pea Eye and Needle took care of the horses while Newt and Dish went to work cutting up the deer. They all seemed to do this swiftly; so swiftly that I was left wondering what to do.

“Ma’am, would you like help down?” Needle asked, coming to the left side of Little Dipper.

“Um, I suppose to help avoid injuries, that’d probably be best.” I said, picking my right foot out of the stirrup. About the time my foot got over the horses but, Needle grabbed my waist and guided me down. I stumbled a bit when I made contact with the dirt.

“I’ll take your horse.” He said, taking the reins.

“Needle?” I asked, making him stop and turn to me. “Would you mind showing me how to put him up?”

He smiled. “Not at all.” He said.

It took me a little while, as I wasn’t used to working with the horses the way the boys were. When I was done, I noticed that the boys were still taking apart the animal with the help of Captain Call. When he saw I was done in the barn, he waved me over.

“Hope ya ain’t squeamish.” He said to me as I came over to see them slicing off cuts of meat and putting them in a pan.

“Not enough to puke.” I told him and he looked at me funny. It took a moment to realize it was my choice of words. “Not enough to lose my breakfast.” I reaffirmed.

He nodded, giving me a bit of a funny look again. “You know how to cook deer?”

I shrugged. “Same way you cook cow or elk.”

Call gave a little nod. “We’ll be having venison for dinner. The boys will ride you into town tomorrow.”

I tried to ignore his choice of words and focus on the task at hand. “Biscuits and beans for lunch?”

“Yes, ma’am. If you would.” Call said.

Woodrow was an odd character to me when I thought about it. He didn’t much like me, or women in general, but here he was, helping me out more than a lot of other people had before. He was letting me trade chores for room and board. He wasn’t kicking me out or telling me I had to leave. He didn’t smile or seem cheery at all, but he was an incredibly nice person.

I nodded, realizing I hadn’t answered him. “I assume Jasper will be allowed to join us for lunch?” I asked.

Call didn’t answer for a moment and I almost thought he was going to ignore me. I started to turn away when he spoke. “I suppose. Don’t be talkin’ to him none if you can help it though.” He said sternly.

I nodded. “Yes, sir.” I picked up the hem of my dress to it wouldn’t catch on the tall grass along the side of the cabin. Inside, I started the beans cooking and started a new batch of biscuits to put in the Dutch oven when the beans got closer.

I thought over the letter I’d write to Gerry, if I could. “Gerry,” I thought out loud to the quiet cabin. “So far, the ranch I ended up on isn’t bad. The range boss is pretty nice. There’s a boy here named Newt and he’s such a sweet heart. One of the other guys called me a few names and Newt all but tried to kill him. It was kind of sweet, I thought. You know there isn’t a guy alive that would be like you in that sense.

“Well, I guess, him and you aren’t alive at the same time, so that makes sense.” I said, feeling a little better when I talked to myself. I felt no need to include the incident with Jasper, even if I was just thinking out loud. “I got a lesson in horseback riding today. You know I don’t do well with horses. Do you remember that time we went up to your Aunt’s house in the mountains and she tried to teach us to ride her horses. You completely fell off yours and mine keep snorting and kicking the ground.”

I smiled at the memory. “But Newt, he’s a doll. You’d love him. I’d have to beat you off him with a stick. And there’s these other two guys, Dish and Needle. Yeah, his name is really Needle. They’re really nice. They’re like older brothers I never had. And this landscape,” I said with a sigh as I stirred the beans.

“Gerry, this landscape would take your breath away. I’ve never been to Montana before this, but it’s gorgeous Gerry. I’d send a picture if I could, but I think they’re a few years behind on picture mail.” I said with a smile.

“You talk to yourself an awful lot.” A voice said from behind me, making me spin so fast, I almost fell over.

“Dish… What… how long have you been standing there?” I said, mortified her heard me talking.

“Since right before you said my name.” He said, crossing his arms against his chest as he leaned against the wall and looked down.

I wanted to explain what I had been doing but that sounded no more crazy then just talking to myself. “I’m not crazy.” I said, lacking the luster of my words.

Dish looked up at me. “Came to see if you needed help.” He told me.

“I, uh. I almost got the beans done and then I’ll put the biscuits on.” I told him, scared to look at him. I didn’t know what he’d do if he thought I was completely off my rocker.

“You really think of me as a big brother?” He asked after a moment of silence.

I took a knife off the shelf and started cutting up the biscuits. “I suppose so, yeah.” I said, still avoiding eye contact.

“Why won’t ya look at me?” He asked, moving to stand in front of me on the other side of the table.

“I’m not crazy. It just calms my nerves to talk to myself.” I told him, still working on the biscuits and avoiding his gaze.

“Last I checked, your name wasn’t Gerry.” He told me, not moving from the spot on the other side of the table. I sighed, looking up at him. “How did you end up in Montana?” He asked.

I opened and closed my mouth. “Same way you did.” I told him.

He shook his head. “I don’t think you drove cattle 5,000 miles.”

I turned to put the Dutch oven in the bed of coals in the fireplace. “I don’t know what you want me to tell you, Dish.”

“Tell me the same thing you told the Captain. You must’ve told him something, because you wouldn’t be here if you hadn’t.” He said.

I turned to look at him, not sure that was the best idea. I didn’t want all the men knowing how I’d come to be here. “I honestly couldn’t tell you if I wanted to. When I fell, I hit my head and my memory is a little fuzzy. I lived in Denver.” I told him, which wasn’t really a lie. It just wasn’t a full truth.

He nodded, not entirely believing me. “You really like Newt.” He said.

“Was that a question or a statement, Mr. Boggett?” I asked.

Dish smiled. “A bit of both, I reckon.”

I nodded. “Then yes.” I said, stirring the beans as they cooked on the range.

Dish looked like he was pretending to kick an invisible rock with the tip of his boot. “He likes you an awful lot.”

“Oh?” I asked. I was under that impression, but you know what they say about assuming.

He nodded. “Yes, ma’am.” He said, looking over at the pan of beans. “He’s not very good with women.”

I smiled. “I’m not exactly good with men either, but he stills seems to have taken a shine to me.”

Dish nodded. “Newt told me you taught him to dance.”

I nodded. “I taught him and Needle. I was going to teach Jasper, but…” I trailed off, not meaning to bring up the subject. It hurt me a little to even mention Jasper, but I didn’t want Dish to see that. “But Jasper can be a bit difficult.”

Dish nodded. “I was wondering, ma’am, after the chores are done, if maybe you wouldn’t mind teaching me.”

I smiled. “I’d be glad to, after the chores are done of course.” I said.

He smiled a little bit. “I’ll tell the boys that lunch is ready then.” He said, sliding his hat back onto his head as he left the cabin.
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