by Wayne Augden
Novel about a boy who fights to save a wild stallion from a rancher who wants to kill him.
“I saw Thunder today, Ma,” I said. “You should have seen him. You’ll never believe how much he’s grown. He don’t hardly look the same anymore. Must be sixteen and a half hands, at least, and my was he pretty. You always said, he’d be the most beautiful horse, and he surely is.”
I swung down from Rolly and let the reins trail behind me, and entered the little cemetery where my ma, June Hatfield, lay. Her stone read:
Born 1858 Died 1891
Beloved wife of John Hatfield &
Mother of Joshua, Toby, and Sissy.
The few words seemed so little to mark the passing of someone whom I loved so much, and even seeing the dried turned over earth still lacked the power to force upon me the realization that she was gone, and wasn’t coming back. I laid the little bunch of meadow picked wildflowers, a mixture of blue, yellow, and pink, that I’d brought at the head of her tombstone. She wouldn’t have liked me picking the flowers, but I hated the thought of not coming and bringing her something, and besides I hated seeing the plot where she lay looking so barren, and alone. Pa and I had made it neat as we could. We’d picked the rise behind our cabin with the three trees that allowed ma, and us, to see all the country around us, and the shining mountains in the distance. We’d built a slat fence around it, and all, but even with all we’d done, the place still seemed lonely and abandoned.
“He was over near Eagle Pass, Ma, running with that tri-colored mare and her band, and you know how she is. He may be the biggest and the strongest, but she’s the one runs the show. He’s as wild as any of them now, and Pa says it ain’t likely that any one man is going to catch him by himself, but I don’t want you to worry. I promised you I’d get him back, and I will.”
I stood there a few moments longer, hat in hand, wanting to say something more, but just not having the words, and finally turning my back I remounted Windy and headed down to the cabin.
When I rode up Pa came out of the barn to meet me smelling like manure and stale hay, his chest and back wet with sweat. He took his hat off and wiped the sweat from his wrinkled brow.
“Thought I told you to clean out the stalls this morning, Josh.”
“Well, yes, Sir, you did. I figured I’d get them when I got back,” I said. “I mean you said to make sure I got them done, but you didn’t say I needed to do them fore I left.”
“You needed to be told that, did you?”
“Well, if I’d a known you wanted me to do them first thing, I would have, but you didn’t say anything about it, and you knew I was going to look for Thunder today.”
Pa shook his head and tapped his foot on the ground. “All you said was you were going to go look for Thunder tomorrow. You didn’t say you were going to be gone most of the day.”
“Well, I hadn’t meant to be so long, but you see . . .”
“Yeah, I see,” Pa said, his voice hard as flint cutting me off. “Get Windy taken care of, then get over to the garden patch and help Toby with the watering,” he said then turned away, but then turned back toward me. “You understand what I mean when I say get Windy taken care of?”
“Yes Sir, “ I said looking down, and trying not to meet his gray eyes directly.
He stood there for a good minute, and I could feel his stare boring holes right through me, then he turned and walked back into the barn.
When I stepped into the garden with the bucket of water, I could see Toby had most of it done already, but I walked over to him anyway.
“Where do you want me to start,” I asked.
“Start hell,” Toby said. “What do you mean start? You don’t never start anything,” he said, his voice full of agitation. “Come to think of it, you never finish nothing either.”
“That’s not true,” I said.
“Tell that to Pa,” Toby said pouring the last of the water over the tomatoes.
“I could tell him you’re cussin’,” I said. “Wonder what he’d think of that?”
“Say’in hell isn’t cussing,” Toby said matter of factly. “And if it comes down between me saying a cuss word, and you not doing your chores, I figure he’s going to be more upset with you, than me.”
He had a point, and I conceded it. “You’re probably right.”
That mollified him, and he pointed me toward the melon’s in the last row. “That’s the last of it. Do that, and we’re finished.”
I stumbled over to the last row, the water sloshing back and forth in the bucket, spattering my jeans and when I got close enough, I reared the bucket back as if to throw the water in a high arc over the melons when Toby yelled, “you do that, and you’re going to miss over half of them, then you’ll just have to go and get more water. Why don’t you just do it right the first time?”
I glared at him over my shoulder, but then eased the bucket down, and started going down the row making sure to water every plant. After watering the last one, I turned to Toby, “You happy now?”
He grinned at me. “I’d a been a hell of a lot happier if you’d been here in the beginning to help me,” he said, then walked off toward the barn.
“What’cha doing, Joshe?” Sissy yelled the next morning seeing me heading for the barn.
"I’m going to hook up ole Job, so we can go and sled some dead-falls off the mountain down here,” I said. “You want to come?”
Sissy’s deep brown eyes, sparkled, her gapped-tooth smile big as could be. “Can I?”
“Well, sure you can,” I said, picking her up and swinging her up onto my shoulders. “I wouldn’t have asked you if you couldn’t.”
She placed her little hands over my eyes, and as I walked, I pretended to be blind, like I couldn’t see, and stumbling around, which made her giggle, her little chittering laugh making me smile.
“Do it again, Joshe. Do it again.”
“You don’t take your hands off my eyes, Sissy, we’re going to end up in the water trough again,” I said, and swayed toward it.
She giggled helplessly, taking her hands away, and I swung her down from my shoulders and held her tightly to me blanketing her cherubic face with big, noisy smooches as I walked into the barn.
Ole Job recognized my step and my voice, and stretched out his neck to look at me coming toward him, and nickered at me in welcome. “Good to see you too, Job,” I said. “You ready for some work?”
I took down his harness, and walked over to the door of the stall, making sure to stand Sissy up on the bench and out of harms way. “You stay up here now till I’m done with Job,” I said, “You know he wouldn’t hurt you a purpose, but you’re so little he wouldn’t even see you before he stepped on you, and we wouldn’t want that, would we?”
Sissy eyed the big Percheron speculatively. “Job big,” she said, her dark eyes wide with interest.
“That bout sums it up, all right,” I said opening the stall and leading the huge gray Percheron out. Job towered above me, and even Pa at eighteen hands plus, and weighing almost a ton, but thankfully was well-trained and easy to manage. I clucked with my tongue and Job stepped out of the stall into the passageway and stood beside me. “You know I can’t put this on you if you don’t help me,” I said to him, rubbing his chest with one hand, and holding the halter up to him with the other. Job lowered his head and accepted the halter easily, nosing first me, then snuffling at Sissy who, standing on the bench, was looking at him one dark eye to another, and scratching his nose.
I finished harnessing him, then scooping up Sissy, I led him out and over to the sled.
“You go get Toby, Sissy,” I said putting her down, “while I finish hooking up Job. And tell Toby not to forget the biscuits else we’ll be starving by the time we get back.”
A few minutes later, Toby came out leading a very unhappy looking Sissy by one hand, and approached me, a kerchief covered pail, in the other hand. “Pa said we’re to leave Sissy with Mrs. Hanover on the way. He doesn’t want her to go up on the mountain with us.”
“I want go with Joshe,” Sissy mumbled.
“Well, you can’t,” Toby said looking down at her. “Pa said.”
“Joshe said I go.”
“Well, Joshe,” Toby emphasized the e with a scornful look at me, “shouldn’t have told you that. He knows the mountain is no place for a little one like you, Sissy. There’s too much chance you’ll get hurt up there, and we can’t have that.”
“I want go with Joshe,” Sissy said, her little face scrunched with determination.
Toby gave me an annoyed look. “You tell her she can’t go,” he said.
I looked down at Sissy who looked up at me expectantly. “I go Joshe?”
I shook my head. “Pa says you can’t go,” I said.
“You say I go.”
“I know I did Sissy, but I was wrong. I shouldn’t have told you, you could come.”
“You lie,” Sissy yelled, then threw herself on the ground and started to cry.
“Well that’s just great,” Toby said, his eyes accusing. “Now what are we going to do?”
At that moment Pa came out with the washbowl in his hand, and saw Sissy lying in the dirt. He threw the water out, then walked over, knelt down and picked Sissy up. “Now, now, Sissy, what’s all this about?”
Sissy hiccuped, and rubbed her dark eyes with a tiny fist. “Joshe said I go,” she said. “Now he say I no go. I want go.”
Pa patted her back soothingly. “Well, you can go as far as Mrs. Hanover’s, darl’in if you want,” he said, “and they’ll come by and pick you up on their way back. How will that be?”
“No, I go with Joshe. I want go with Joshe.”
“Why in the blue blazes did you tell her she could go,” Pa barked. “You know she can’t go up in those mountains with you and Toby. You’ve got work to do up there, and who’s going to watch her, while you’re working the trees? You know how dangerous it is. One misstep, just one, and that’s all it would take. No more Sissy.”
He stood up with the small child in his arms. “You got the axes and everything else you need? Food, water, slickers?”
Toby and I both nodded.
“Then you get going,” he said. “I’ll take Sissy over to the widow Johnson’s with me. The girls will be happy to make a fuss over her, while I work, and that way we’ll all get something done today. See you this evening, and remember to take your time, and do it right. I don’t want either one of you getting hurt.”