Ride, Little Girl, Ride
THE ONLY time you ever saw Feller really happy was when she was on a horse. There wasn’t anything tritty-trot about the way she rode, either. When she’d go galloping by with her eyes shining you’d know she was on the glory trail. But she was too tired to be happy the first time I saw her.
It was the year I was nineteen, in those days of no automobiles and no wars. Tommy Burns had taken his licking and was sitting in Calgary praying for a White Hope. I had decided to be that White Hope, for I stood six feet in my socks, had as pretty a build as they make, and was handy with my mitts. But Tommy hadn’t agreed with me. He said I wasn’t fighter stuff. So I went off to the woods for a winter. By spring the lumberjacks had taught me a thing or two, and I meant to have another try at making Tommy see things my way.
It was a swell April day when I hit a town again. The bottom was going out of the road so fast you could hear it. The rollers pushed mud all afternoon and the tote team was streaked with sweat when we pulled into Arnaud’s livery stable in Wetaskiwin. The teamster went out over the front standard with the order, “You put ’em up. I’m thirsty,” and he headed down the street for the bar with all the rest of the lumberjacks.
I let ’em go. Poor devils! They all had hunger for likker hot in their eyes. They were on the down grade, and they knew it. I wasn’t taking that road. I’d have my roll out of the bank in the morning and hop the first train for Calgary.
The greys were mud halfway up their sides, and their legs were mincemeat from the long caulks and the rotten ice. I unhooked their traces and started rubbing them down.
That livery-stable carriage room was a pleasant place. The shed roof was open to the sky along the south side. The west sun was filling the rafters with gold light and gilding the metal clips and rings of the harnesses hanging along the walls, and lining the tongues of sleds, already tilted skyward for their summer rest, like the masts of idle ships. Birds played in and out, and there was a stable hand sitting on an empty feed box mending a broken trace, and moving his long, tobacco-stained mustache as regularly as a cow chewing her cud.
“Hey, Mustaches,” I said, “where do I put these horses?”
“Arnaud’s in the office,” he answered, “and my name’s Shorty.”
“Shorty it is,” I said.
I found Arnaud at his desk. He v;c3 a fair little Frenchman, fifty and roundish, and r.eat as a pin. He told me where to stall the horses, and to find water, hay and grain, and then bent over his account book again. I turned to the door and then stopped. Seven months in the woods makes you reading hungry. On the back of the door was a piece of paper with pencil printing on it that said, “This is for the feller that can kiss Feller.” Thumbtacked to it was a ten dollar bill.
Arnaud looked around. “That bill has been
there a month,” he said.
“Just how good is this Feller with his dukes?” I asked.
Arnaud looked at me as if he saw me for the first time. “You do not know who Feller is?” then he shook his head, sighing. “No, you are too young. She will need what she will need before you are old enough. Feller she is a grade filly, but only the thoroughbred shows. There is no one to train her. Her mother —” he shrugged—“works in the hotel. She is a good cook, but she must work too hard. If Feller wants to herd cattle, I let her. It makes honest money. A kiss —” he shrugged again “what is a little kiss! But she is not my daughter.”
“Who put it there?” I asked.
“The boys of the stable,” but Arnaud made a motion like stroking a long mustache.
I laughed and walked out.
I was just rubbing down the last horse with an empty oat bag when I heard bare hoofs on the carriage-room planking, and from under a grey
belly I see a pinto come to a stop a rod away and a girl in overalls slides down. The cayuse was wringing wet and blowing and trembling. The girl ripped loose the two cinches and started to swing the saddle off, and then stopped, crossed her arms on the saddle, and put her head down to rest, like a person all tuckered out.
SHE WAS the slenderest, thinnest thing for a girl I ever saw. I crawled out from under the grey’s belly and started toward her, thinking I’d offer to put up her cayuse for her. Shorty saw me, got up, too, and headed the same way, as if to beat me. He went tiptoeing through the straw, and before she knew there was anyone near he put his arm around her, pinned her against the pinto’s side, brought an elbow up under her chin and twisted her head back.
But he didn’t get to kiss her. She whipped around, doubled up, got a foot in his midriff and her back against the pinto and straightened out. He went sprawling backward, the pony side-stepped, and the girl dropped down in the straw.
I was scared, for I saw that that fall jarred every inch of her.
I started to help her but she knocked my hands away. Those brown little fists of hers were hard as hammers. Then she tucked her heels in under her and came up like the whip of a willow shoot. But she looked pretty white and sick.
Anybody who’s ever had anything to do with cayuses knows that every once in a while you find a wild one that nobody can ever tame. You might just as well turn one like that back into the brush for it’ll never do you or anybody else any good. Anybody with any sense could tell with one look at Feller that she was like that. Just a free, wild thing that there wasn’t any taming.
But Shorty was picking himself up, laughing. “You shore beat Shorty to it that time, Feller,” he said. “Golly, you looked funny, sitting there with your heels in the air. If I was still young I’ll bet you wouldn’t be so skittish. Why don’t you try it, Pretty Boy? Or ain’t you never kissed a girl?”
“That’s as may be,” I said, “but I’ve sure kissed plenty of men,” and I brought one up under his
Feller was a girl in overalls. Rowdy was a broncho with a mean streak. They were both a little wild—until they met the boy who aimed to be a fighter
chin that lifted him clean over the bobsled behind him. He picked himself up and went off toward the water bucket. If he was sore he didn’t show it.
When I turned around Feller was looking at me as straight as if she was six instead of sixteen. She had light brown hair, and it was drawn back tight on her neck in the sort of knot you tie in a horse’s tail. She had hazel eyes, wide apart, and a straight nose and a pointed chin. In spite of her tan you could see the veins in her temples and along her throat. Fine skin and plain veins: the marks of a thoroughbred, all right ! There wasn’t a thing about her soft or cuddly, like my little sisters at home. You could almost see her bones. Like Arnaud had said, she was grade, but a good one; one that’s been born wild on a sparse range. I’d never dreamed a skinny girl could be pretty. Yet she wasn’t exactly pretty, either. Just fine.
“I’m sorry,” I said, “Did he hurt you?”
She looked surprised. I guess she wasn’t used to having anyone worry anything about her. She shook her head, but she kept right on standing there, looking me over from head to foot. Then she
asked, “You came in with the Kitaka tote team, didn’t you?”
“I saw you, when I was bringing in the cows. You all through in the woods?”
Again I nodded.
“You want a job?”
“Not just now. I’m heading for Calgary.”
Arnaud had come out of the office to see what was going on. I guess he’d seen what had happened to Shorty’s jaw, for he was looking mighty pleased. And curious, too. “Another White Hope?” he asked.
“That's as may be,” I said, again.
He looked me over as close as Feller had. Then he put his hands in his pockets. “You’re twenty pounds too heavy in the middle and you’re muscle bound,” he said.
My face got hot, but even if he’d been a young man I’d have had to take it, for it was true. You don’t deck logs all winter without getting some muscles around the belt. “What do you reckon I’d better do to unbind?” I asked.
“I grew up on horseback,” I bragged. After all, we’d always had a bunch of cayuses around the place at home.
Feller’s face lit up. “Come on,” she said, and she picked up the pinto’s reins and headed for the back of the barn. There was a sort of shed wing built there, of bridge plank, but little bigger than a box stall. Inside was a big red-bay gelding. Imagine a horse like a greyhound seventeen hands high and you can see that brute. Wide in the chest, short in the saddle, and long underneath, with a lean head and strong jaws, and muscles braiding and unbraiding all over him every time he moved. He was the strongest, alivest, thing I’d ever laid eyes on.
He spun around as we came up, showed us his heels, and tucked his tail down in a way I didn’t like. There weren’t any brands on him. Nothing but some little patches of white scar hair on his saddle.
I guess Feller and Arnaud could both see that that horse had already got me. “He’s a stray,” Arnaud said. “He goes up for auction for feed at the next sheriff’s sale. Anybody could get him for almost nothing. Everybody in town thinks he's mean.” Arnaud waved his hands. “He puts even me out of the stall. Now we just throw his hay in.”
“I named him,” Feller said. “I call him Rowdy.”
“He’s sure got a good coat of fur,” I said.
Feller laughed. Her laugh was way up in the treble, like a little kid’s.
“Broke when he was three,” Arnaud went on. Then he shrugged again. “I do not like those little patches of white hair. A broncho is mean enough to break. A broncho with thoroughbred in him is—” and he said something in French I did not understand. But I knew what he meant, all right. A horse that’s been broke once and then goes wild again gets seven devils in him. This Rowdy sure looked like a backslider to me.
Just then, before either of us could stop her, Feller threw open that little door and walked in. “Whoa, Rowdy,” she said, just like she’d say it to any horse, and put her hand on his hip. They say horses never hurt drunk men, idiots and children. Rowdy sort of crouched, but he didn’t do anything. Her fingers left dark lines in the dust on his back. His tail quivered, but that was all. She moved her hand forward, over his shoulders, and up his neck. Then she slid her fingers in under his throat latch and began scratching gently. Rowdy relaxed. His ears came forward. His nostrils began to flare. Then he got curious and began muzzling Feller over.
IN A FEW minutes she had the pinto’s bridle on him. Then she turned around to lead him out of the stall. “She has been looking for someone to ride him ever since he wandered in,” Arnaud said. “I tell her if she ever tries it I take the snake whip to her.” But Feller was too busy to answer. Rowdy came out of that stall like thunder, dragging Feller on tiptoe. She got him stopped in the carriage room, and in a few more minutes she had the
pinto’s pad and saddle on him. There hadn’t been a cross word or a blow.
Some of the boys had seen Rowdy come out of his stall, $nd by the time Feller had Rowdy ready to go there was a little crowd of onlookers there in the carriage-room door. A boy not much younger than I was winked at Feller. “He gonna test him?” he asked. I don’t know how word had got around that I was going to ride Rowdy. I hadn’t had any supper, yet, and I’d trotted a good share of that forty miles into town in all that slush, to save the greys. And a pair of wet hob-nailed boots wasn’t exactly my idea of a riding outfit. But when Feller looked at me and held out the reins I took ’em.
“He’ll never stay with him to the test.” another boy said.
“Six bits he don’t stay with him three jumps,” a man put in.
“Go climb a box car,” Feller said, and then she turned to me. “The road around the south section’s clear.”
I wasn’t thinking much about what they meant by a test, then. I knew, before I ever clamped my legs on Rowdy, that I’d have dynamite under me. I swung up. Feller leaped away from Rowdy’s head. One of the kids let out a yell. Rowdy and I went into the air together. The reins burned through my hands as his head went down and we both went up. Bang! Bang! Bang! His twelve hundred and fifty pounds came up under me three times while I was still in the air. 1 pulled leather, but I stayed with him.
It was about seven o’clock, but the long spring twilight would last another two hours. Across the st reet a mid-week meeting was just gathering at a church. The whole corner seemed alive with people. It wasn’t any place for a crazy horse. Rowdy pitched straight out across the street, scattering people in every direction. With flying boards and a
thunder of noise he jumped the church steps, slipped across the porch, missed the wall by inches, and shot onto the sidewalk beyond.
That walk had a picket fence on one side and a row of poplars on the other. Rowdy pitched the whole block, smashing sidewalk at every jump. The pickets and poplars went stabbing past on either side of us. I don’t know how I stayed with Rowdy, even with the death grip I had on the pommel, but I did. When we reached the cross street I grabbed for a short grip in one rein and dragged Rowdy’s head back against his side just long enough to break his stride and swing him around. With road under his feet he bolted and went back up the street past the church, the muddy slush spraying out beneath him.
I caught one glimpse of Feller. She was standing in the carriage-room door, and if she was worried she didn’t look it.
Everything had happened so fast I hadn’t had time to be scared. But as we ran out of town under the afterglow I had time to get mad, for Rowdy’s run was almost as bad as his pitching—he must have been doing better than twenty feet every jump—and tired and hungry as I was it made me sick. I had sure let Feller work me! Taking a horse like that out, at that time of day, with a crowd gathered ! We might have killed somebody.
I had time to wonder, too, what the kids had meant by asking if she was going to test Rowdy. And then I forgot about those things, for Rowdy stopped that bolt-lightning run and slowed to a stride that was the grandest thing I’ve ever known. My stomach settled in place. I began to feel happy. The snow-patched prairie grass ran past on either side. There was just enough breeze to make the scattered willow clumps shake their silver catkins. Rowdy was beginning to sweat and his thick coat was matting down, almost shining. Riding such a
horse as Rowdy on an open road was such a grand thing that I forgot to be mad. I started to sing.
We circled the section and headed back toward town. The road ran straight before us toward the railroad embankment we were going to have to cross. Some empty box cars stood black against the sunset, and on top of one of them was a row of men and boys. I thought if they wanted to see something we’d give them something to see, and I leaned forward and let Rowdy’s ribs feel my heel.
At a dead run we topped a low ridge of ballast that paralleled the track. And then I stopped having any stomach at all, for on the other side of that little ridge was a ditch, a good twenty feet wide, and filled with islands of floating ice and slush.
So this was what they had meant by testing Rowdy! Well, it was a test of me, too. If Rowdy stopped and put me over his head into that black water Feller wasn’t going to get kissed. She was going to get ducked. Ducked, and spanked’ But Rowdy didn’t stop. He took that ditch without batting an eye, without breaking stride, as easy as an ordinary cayuse would take a three-foot crick. It was the nearest thing to flying I’d ever known. We went thundering across the tracks and on into town. The folks on the box car cheered.
I was mad at Feller for letting me take Rowdy out right at time for prayer meeting, and for not telling me about that ballast ditch that had never been bridged nor filled. But I liked that horse. I knew there wasn’t another horse in the world like him. He was the horse that every boy who loves horses dreams about all his life. I’d stay for that sheriff’s sale, and buy him in, and ride him down to Calgary.
Feller wasn’t in sight when we came in, but
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Rowdy let me unsaddle him and put him up as if we’d done it a thousand times before. And then I looked up and there was Feller standing in the door. It had been a swell ride, but I still had half a mind to tell her a thing or two. She was looking at me with that straight-as-a-little-kid look, and she beat me to the first word.
“There’s a lot of milk cows in town,” she said, “and no good grazing on this side the tracks. So every morning I go ’round to people’s lots and get their cows and their young stock and take ’em out to pasture; and in the evening I bring ’em in again. But there’s more cows in town than I can handle. If I had somebody to help me I could take ’em all. If you’d ride horseback all summer it would slim you down. We can always get extra horses, when we need ’em, from Arnaud. Will you stay and help me herd cows, just for the summer?”
So I said I’d stay and help, partly because I wanted every dollar I could lay hands on when I hit Calgary again, partly because I wanted to help that lean little kid swing a job too big for her to handle alone, but mostly because I wanted a summer riding Rowdy on the open range.
And I got my summer.
With hard riding and plenty of sweating, with grain three times a day and grass all night, Rowdy soon filled out as smooth and hard as steel. With his silky red-bay coat and his white legs flashing across the spring green of the prairie he was a pretty sight. He’d buck like the mischief any time I wanted to bring a heel up across his side, but he didn’t have a mean thing in him, and there wasn’t anything I could ask of him he wouldn’t do.
It was pleasant out on the prairies, those days, with the grass stretching away between the clumps of willows pretty as a park, and. the little wild flowers and the berries coming on in season. There were always cloud shadows floating by, or misty, rainy days when you could see the grass grow, or absolutely clear days when there was nothing but the wind, walking in big circles.
At first it did seem funny to be working for a girl. But if anybody ever tended strictly to business it was Feller. We’d race, morning and evening, getting our herd out and in, and out on the range Feller always did her share. But even when we did find ourselves riding side by side for a rod or two she didn’t talk much. The summer was going fast, and still I didn’t know much more about her than I had from the first.
Arnaud had let me sleep in the haymow and put up a punching bag in the carriage room. All the young
bucks in town would come in in the evenings and we’d box all over the place. Arnaud liked to hang around, too—he’d done a bit of boxing when he was a young man serving his time in the French army—and before long he was arranging fights for me in neighboring towns. I’d pick up five or ten dollars each time, and I began to pick up a little rep, too, for I didn’t meet anyone all summer that could touch me. Arnaud had got under my skin when he said I was too young to help Feller, so it pleased me plenty when I saw there weren’t any boys or men in town that would get smart with Feller any more, now that I was working for her.
One evening Arnaud and I were boxing. Arnaud didn’t bother with any fancy footwork, but he still had a quick eye and a punch I didn’t walk into any oftener than I could help. Feller and I had brought the cattle in early, for it was building up for a thunderstorm and the herd had been nervous and ornery all afternoon. Feller was holding Arnaud’s watch, and calling mighty short rounds, for it was so sultry we’d get warmed up in no time. We were just about ready to quit when a four-horse team came galloping in with a wagonload of young folks that had been out for a hayrack ride. They were barely in under the roof when it began to pour.
The girls were all in pretty, ruffly, light dresses and wearing white shoes and carrying big hats. One of the boys gets down off the load and comes over and asks Arnaud and me to give an exhibition bout, while we wait for the shower to end, so we do. It was hot and sticky, and the rain pounded on the roof, and the flashes of lightning kept blinding us, but we whaled away at each other with the girls on the hayrack laughing and squealing and thinking they were having a real lark. I had met some of the crowd here and there. After we had quit, the boy who had asked us to box came over and took me up to the wagon and introduced me to the others. Most of them knew Arnaud, already, for several of them kept their riding horses right there in the stable.
One of the girls invited me to come to a social they were having the next evening. I said I’d be glad to come, and just then I caught sight of Feller, standing over in the shadow of a post that had some harness hanging on it. So I asked if I could bring my boss, too. Of course they said I could, and one of ’em asked me who my boss was. So I pointed to Feller. I was thinking that if Feller was going to a party she’d have to dress up like a girl, and it would sure be fun to see her that way. But the girl who had asked me to come to the social simply looked right through Feller, and then she said to me, “Thanks for the
exhibition.” And then she said to the boy who was driving the team, ‘‘The rain is over. Go on.” And the wagon went out of there without a single girl even seeing Feller.
Feller didn’t say anything. She just looked at me once, and then she walked off. Arnaud followed her, talking in French that sounded pretty much the way a planer does when it hits a knot.
I began putting together all the things I’d heard about Feller. Cooking for the hotel was almost a twenty-four-hour job for Feller’s mother, so she’d never had time to fix Feller up or watch after her, at all. The hotel back yard opened right on the livery-stable yard, and Feller had cottoned to Arnaud from the time she learned to walk. When she started tagging him around the livery stable he put her in boy’s overalls and called her Feller. She’d never been anything but Feller since. From all I had heard, the truant officers had given up trying to keep her in school.
I didn’t go to that social.
TPHE NEXT day, when the cows A were lying down for their noontime rest, Feller came loping around the herd. She had an oat bag tied on behind her saddle, making a sort of a pocket, and in it was a kitten that had got a foot stepped on in the stable. So I sang her a little jingle my granddad used to sing to my little sisters when he’d trot them on his knee.
“Ride, ride, little girl, ride,
One little puppy dog tied to her side,
One little pussy cat tied to the other,
And away she goes to see her grandmother!”
Feller liked that, so I dug up all the “Mother Goose” I could remember. The herd was all quiet, and we sat down in the grass and turned the kitten loose to play. Watching Feller and listening to her while she sat there learning those rhymes as if her life depended on it made me realize more than ever what a little girl she still was, even if she was made of steel springs once she was in a saddle.
The day was still and warm, and we were far enough away from the cattle that the flies and mosquitoes weren’t bothering us much. The sun made me sleepy, and I yawned and stretched out on my back for a minute. And just then, under the ground, we heard a train whistle. I sat up. But I was slow compared to Feller. Rowdy was standing right over us, but the pinto had grazed a good fifty feet away. I barely got my eyes open in time to see Feller land on Rowdy’s back. She’d never been on him before, but he knew what she wanted. We’d chased too many cows off the track that summer.
And, sure enough, there on top the railroad grade a quarter of a mile away was a heifer. Rowdy and Feller ran for it. I caught the pinto and followed, but we were still a good hundred yards behind when Rowdy cleared the ballast ditch, leaped the embankment, and pivoted, just as the train, its whistle a steady bellow and the engineer hanging out the window with the scaredest face I ever saw, thundered by. The cow-
catcher almost took Feller’s black snake away, but not before she had popped that heifer one with the whip and put her off the tracks on the far side. Rowdy galloped along beside the track a ways, then angled back down the bank and jumped the ditch again from what was little better than a standing start.
“Don’t tell Arnaud,” Feller said, when she pulled Rowdy to a stop. But she had that same wild light in her eyes she’d had that day when she shoved Shorty over backward. I swung down off the pinto just as Feller dropped off Rowdy, and she slid straight into my arms. She whirled about to face me, and she didn’t explode, the way she had that day with Shorty.
But it was only for a moment. She swung up on the pinto, and sat there a moment. “I could have put my hand in those drivers,” she said, and then she rode off.
But I felt as sick and shaken up as I had the first night I rode Rowdy. I kept seeing that engineer’s scared face and those big drivers going round. And I knew one thing. I’d never again get down off Rowdy while I was riding herd. But I don’t think Feller felt so good, either, for she let me do all the gate shutting when we took the cows in. You open and shut thirty or forty gates and it puts a nice finishing touch to the day’s work, anyway.
The next afternoon I stopped in Arnaud’s office. I wanted to talk to him about Feller, for it didn’t seem right to let a girl keep on taking the chances she did. And right off I notice that the little poster isn’t on the door any more.
Arnaud seemed plenty glad to see me. He grabs my hand. “I congratulate you,” he says. “You are very lucky. It is not every one who so young finds a girl good in mind and good in heart. I thought you were too young to help Feller. But I was mistaken. So soon you marry her, buy lovely things for her, you will have something beautiful, exquisite—!”
If my jaw dropped open he didn’t notice it.
“These women—these very women—” he went on, “—these ones who despise her because she wears a man’s clothes and does a man’s work to earn money-—when they see her in pretty things they will envy her—and be nice to her! You will see! She will not again have to come from school and hide in the stall of a mean horse, and cry in his mane. Thank heaven horses are not snobs! They know the good heart!”
By that time my face was hot.
Arnaud was patting my shoulder. “After all,” he went on, “France has had kings younger than you. I have a sister in Paris. I offer once to send Feller to her, but Feller does not want to go away from the horses, Horses do not make fun of her, nor scorn her. Nor do they make fools of themselves over her. She would not go—”
I was thinking so hard I didn’t pay much attention to what else Arnaud was saying. Somebody had that ten dollars. I didn’t. Was Feller letting people think I had it when somebody else did? If somebody else had got that ten bucks I’d find it and I’d lick the living daylights out of him. And as for Feller—
“Now you have the incentive,” Arnaud was still going on, “now you have something to fight for, it is time for you to go to Calgary—”
I walked out the door with him ; still talking. I couldn’t believe Feller was meaning for people to think I had that ten dollars. And as for marrying her—! 1 wasn’t
marrying anybody for a good, long time, yet. I’d simply get on Rowdy and ride away, first. I knew the sort of girl I wanted to marry. When I was heavyweight champ of the world I’d have the money to take care of her the way I’d want to take care of a i woman. I’d find Feller and get the truth out of her first, and if she was letting people think I’d kissed her when I hadn’t— !
And I ran straight into Feller in the carriage room.
And again Feller beat me to the first word.
“Arnaud’s bought a beef out in the country,” she said. “We’re going out and bring it in. We can get back before supper.”
THE FARM was only a mile out and I hadn’t figured out yet what I wanted to say to Feller. It began to rain. There was a driving wind. The lightning stabbed the prairie all about us, and the thunder rolled and rumbled like it was under our feet. But just before we reached the farm the sun broke through the clouds and the rain stopped. We galloped into the yard, shattering the puddles into muddy foam, our horses’ shoulders and flanks smoking, their manes glistening red in the angry light.
A boy was standing on a step with some milk pails in hishands. “Where’s the beef Mr. Arnaud bought?” I asked. He pointed toward a paddock. We steamed across the slippery yard to the gate—it was a heavy steel-andtimber affair—and I leaned over, unlatched it, and said, “Back, Rowdy.” As we went backward in a neat semicircle and the gate swung wide Feller whipped out her black snake and rode into the pen.
And then, too late, I saw what a mistake I’d made. This beef wasn’t just a steer, or an old cow. It was a range bull, shorthorn, almost pure white, and as big a one as I’ve ever seen. Generally, as a bull gets older, he begins to get mean. This bull was mature. When I saw his heft I yelled, “Wait, Feller!” But I was a split second too slow.
That bull’s white lashes almost hid his eyes, but the instant Feller cantered in he gave just one grunt of surprise, and then he charged. How they ever did it in the slippery muck I don’t know, but Feller and the pinto dodged him. The bull hit the fence of bridge plank with a jolt that shook the yard. He ricocheted off the fence, went to his knees in the mud, and charged again.
The pinto pivoted and came back out the gate. The bull came after him. I grabbed for my rope. Rowdy i knew what I wanted. We put a noose I over the bull’s horns and flopped him just as the pinto slipped, fell, and ! went clean over. Feller lit running,
I and as the pinto came up she hit the saddle, grabbing for her rope.
The bull turned a somersault, got to his feet facing Rowdy and me, and charged. We dodged behind a wagon with a hayrack. He tossed the wagon
in the air like a baby buggy, but not until Rowdy and I had time to get out in the open yard. Once out on the prairie I knew Rowdy could outrun the bull, and once I had him winded I could handle him. But just then, before I could stop her, Feller put her rope over the bull’s horns, and I knew we were in for it. If only she had got that rope on one of his forelegs!
We went out onto the prairie at a dead run, two rope lengths apart, the bull between us, bellowing steady thunder. He didn’t want to run. He wanted to fight. And our horses weren’t half heavy enough to hold him. All we could do was outrun him, circle him, and trip him in the slack of the rope. We threw him and we threw him again.
For a while, if there had only been a man on that pinto it would have been fun, for there wasn’t anything the bull wouldn’t do. When we came to a three-barred gate he rose up and fell on it, breaking it to flinders. By that time the bull’s muzzle, neck, and sides were cobwebDed with strings of slaver, and the horses were lather from head to foot. I began to realize there wasn’t anything funny about our fix, at all. Once Rowdy slipped and fell and the bull’s horn grazed me as I threw myself clear. That we lived from minute to minute was a growing miracle.
But at last the bull was getting winded, and he tried a trick. He threw a foreleg over my rope, and when it slid up his leg and caught in his armpit, he dropped his head to one side, half sank to the ground, and lolled there, panting. I cantered close to get slack to loosen the rope, but the minute it eased he charged Feller. The pinto barely got away.
By that time the twilight was almost gone. Our ropes were hot and frayed. Our horses were all in. Luckily, that was almost his last charge, and at last, after I’d tossed him three times in quick succession, he turned tail. The fight was over. In a few minutes the bull dropped from a slow trot to a weary walk. He went into town and into the corral as gentle as a lamb. When I took the rope off his horns he didn’t even turn his head.
Arnaud was waiting with a lantern. Seeing him standing there sleek and safe made me blind mad. “Did you know that was a bull you sent us for?” I asked.
“I didn’t send you,” he said.
I turned to Feller. For the first time she wasn’t looking straight at me. “I told him—” she began, and then she started to cry. But she reached out for the lantern and held it close to the pinto to see to undo the lather crusted cinches. Arnaud went away and came back with rags and blankets and started wiping the pinto down, and Feller came over and held the lantern for me. If she hadn’t I wouldn’t have seen that Rowdy’s cinches were soaked with something blacker than sweat, and that when my hand came away from his girth it was red with blood.
Arnaud found the gore. The bull had got Rowdy once.
And then I turned on Feller. I told her everything that had been stacking up in me since that prayer-meeting night I first rode Rowdy. I told her what fools girls were in general and how many different especial
sorts of fool a girl around a barn was.
I told her to get to the house and get into some skirts, and never come near the stable again. I told her she was born a girl, and that there wasn’t a horse in the country she could ride fast enough to get away from facing it, and that until she learned how to be a lady she’d make trouble wherever she went.
She ran away while I was still bawling at her.
Arnaud had already got his kit and we worked on Rowdy. So that he couldn’t rip the bandages off, I sat by him all night. I was too tired to sleep. My whole body was twitching and jumping, and my mind was running in circles. But by morning I had one thing figured out. I was getting out of there, and I wasn’t coming back. Girls were made to act like girls.
The sun was up by that time, but I went to sleep directly.
It was afternoon when I woke. Rowdy was still on his feet. Arnaud was sitting on the manger, rolling a cigarette. I’d never seen him smoke. When he saw I was awake he came over to me and told me he thought Rowdy was going to be all right, and then he handed me that little roll of paper.
It was that paper that had been thumbtacked to the office door, and inside of it was a ten-dollar bill that was badly flyspecked, and had a little round, rusted ring, like a thumbtack head makes, in each corner. “Feller told me to give these to you,” Arnaud said.
The printed letters, “This is for the feller that can kiss Feller,” were pretty badly smudged, but you could still read them. Underneath them was another line. I’d seen enough of Feller’s writing on bills and cheques that summer that Arnaud didn’t have to tell me it was hers. It said, “I just I wanted to ride with you. I am going away to learn how to be a lady.”