Hat Creek Trouble

By Bryce Blackburn

Adventure / Romance

The One about Family Ties

Newt looked in extreme pain as I sat down on the bed next to him. “Hey handsome man. Needle will be right back with your whiskey, ok? Do you remember the first night I taught you to dance?” I asked him, trying to distract him from the pain.

He was struggling to nod, so I kept talking. “You asked for lessons. That was when Jasper was being so mean, and I told you that you could have as many lessons as you’d like. You taught me to ride Little Dipper in return.” I told him.

Newt nodded, his breathing ragged. “You looked so scared.” He choked out a nervous laugh.

“Oh, I was. I most definitely was. And you remember how you fought with Jasper when he was calling me those mean names? Just like you just did.” I said, trying to keep him occupied.

Needle barged in and handed me the change and the bottle. I pulled the cork out with my teeth and gave it to Newt. “Take a couple big swigs and it’ll lesson the pain, alright?” I asked. He nodded, pulling the bottle to his lips. “Bet you’ll think twice before hitting a guy for my honor again.” I said with a little laugh.

Newt just shook his head. “Wouldn’t think twice at all. No ma’am.”

I just smiled at him as he handed me the bottle back. I put the cork back in and set it at my feet. Then I put the change back in the bag and put it in the pocket of Newt’s jacket.

“You never told me how you knew that my hand was broken.” Newt said, sweat breaking out over his brow.

I gave him a small smile, but decided it was alright to tell him. “A man I was meant to marry. He got drunk one night and broke his knuckles against my head.” I told him, pulling up my bangs to reveal the scar on my hairline. “The ring he wore cut me open. I couldn’t afford to go to the doctor, so his cook sewed me up. That’s why the scar is ugly.”

Newt gave a cry of pain as the doctor finished adjusting his knuckles. “You broke two knuckles. It’s going to hurt for a few weeks. You best stay away from lifting anything with it.” He said, standing up and coming back with a white strip of cloth that he wrapped around Newt as a sling.

Newt’s face grew upset. “Captain ain’t gonna be happy.” He said, giving Needle a grave look.

Needle ducked his head for a moment. “No, don’t believe so. Don’t reckon he’d be mad either when you tell him what happened.”

“See. It’s a good thing we didn’t all ride in together. We’ll prop you up in the wagon and you can nap on the way back, alright?” I said with a smile.

“You don’t know how to run the horses.” Newt said, looking like he might pass out.

“No, you’re right. But Needle will help me and all we got to do is get you home and you’ll be right as rain.” I said, trying to hide the panic I was starting to feel. “Did you pull the wagon around?” I asked Needle.

He nodded, coming to Newt’s left side to help him up and out the door.

I suddenly realized the doc was still there. “How much I owe ya doc?” I asked, picking up the liquor bottle.

He smiled. “Three dollars and we’ll call it even.”

I nodded. “Give me just one minute. I have to go get your money.” I told him and he nodded. I left to find Needle pulling Newt into the back of the wagon.

“He won’t be able to sit up. You’ll have to tie him in if you want him to sit on the seat.” Needle informed me.

I nodded. “I was worried about that. Hand me his money bag so I can pay the doc.”

Needle tossed it to me and I returned to the inside. “Three dollars. Thanks so much, doc. It means a lot to me.”

“How long have you been married?” He asked.

I smiled a little. “We’re not, not just yet.” I told him and he nodded as I left. “You wanna go get your horse and I’ll wait here for you?”

Needle looked wary. “I’ll be back in just a minute.” And he took off down the road.

I stood next to the buggy, setting my hand on Newt's chest. His breathing was still ragged and it worried me how he’d gone into shock. I’d gone into shock when I broke my arm, but I just slept for an entire day and I felt better. Newt just laid there, eyes still open.

“Newt? Are you alright?” I asked, running my hand across his collar bone.

His eyes moved, like they couldn’t find something to look at, until he saw me. “Marry me?” He said.

I smiled at him, smoothing his wild hair down a little bit. “When your hand heals, ask me again.”

“But there’s a church not half a mile from here and I love you.” He said. But I saw the way his eyes moved around, like they couldn’t find something to focus on.

I stood on my tippy toes to lean over the railing of the wagon. “I love you, Newt Dobbs.” I whispered. Newt grew a big ol’ smile as Needle rode up. He looked relieved that I was still by the wagon.

Fifteen minutes and a quick lesson on how to operate the wagon, and we were on our way out of town. Driving the wagon was more nerve wrecking then riding a horse. In the wagon, I had to control two horses at once. Granted, they seemed to be under good temperament, but that didn’t mean anything.

It was a long two hours getting home, but somehow I managed to get us there. I pulled up on the reins to stop the horses and Needle showed me how to run the break.

“What in the hell happened to Newt?” Woodrow asked, as the rest of the boys joined us around the wagon.

“There were these two guys and they were talkin’ bad about Miss McCrae. Newt kept it together real well ‘til the tall one called her a whore and I swear, I never seen Newt hit somethin’ so hard.” Needle went on explaining.

“He broke two of his knuckles.” I told the Captain.

He watched me for a moment, then looked over at Needle and sighed. “Best get him inside.” He said, climbing into the wagon as him and Needle walked Newt into the house.

I followed them inside as they laid Newt in front of the fire place.

“He gonna be alright?” Woodrow asked, looking at me.

I nodded. “Knuckles take about a month to heal. Six weeks to be completely safe. Doc says to keep him from lifting anything with it.” I said, looking down at Newt.

His eyes still acted like they couldn’t focus on anything. “Did we get married yet?” He asked, looking at the fireplace.

I sighed, kneeling down next to him, so he could see me. “Will you do me a favor?”

He smiled. “Anything for the lady.”

“Close your eyes and get some sleep. You won’t hurt as bad when you wake up.” I told him.

“But then you’ll go away.” He said, setting his left hand on my face.

I smiled at him. “I’m not going anywhere. Do you want some more whiskey or are you just going to go to sleep?” I asked him.

“I think I’ll just…” He said, trailing off as his eyes closed and his breathing regulated.

I sighed, standing back up and brushing off my dress. “He’ll be fine. He’s just gone into shock. He’ll sleep the rest of today and probably most of tomorrow, then he’ll be back to acting normal.”

“Doc tell ya all that?” Woodrow asked, looking at me questioningly.

I sighed. “No, a man I was courting decided it would be the best course of action to break his knuckles against my head.” I said, pulling up my bangs to show the scar at my hairline. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have dresses to bring in and lunch to cook.” I said, moving around the men.

Dish met me at the door, holding my dress boxes. “That dress looks mighty nice on you, ma’am.” He said, setting the boxes on the table.

“Thank you, Dish. You’re a dear.” I told him as he left. I moved the boxes to the corner opposite the firewood before I started in on lunch. Needle and Woodrow left to finish unloading the wagon.

Right before the beans finished up, I went out to the lake and got a bucket of water. When I came back, Newt was sitting up, looking at the fire. I set the bucket on the table and went to sit next to him. He looked startled when I sat down.

“How are you feeling?” I asked.

“Like I got kicked by a horse.” He told me in a rough voice, rubbing his head. I stood up to retrieve the bottle of whiskey. I uncorked it and handed it to him. He looked unsure about the mash. I shrugged and took a swig before he relented.

“Does it help?” I asked.

He nodded, then stopped and held his head. “I got the worst headache in my life.”

“It’ll get better the more you sleep.” I said, leaning into him as he took another swallow.

“I don’t remember nothing after I hit him. Except the pain.” He said, still watching the fire.

“You were a bit silly, but nothing Needle and I couldn’t handle.” I said, kissing his cheek. “You should go back to sleep.” I said, starting to stand up.

He grabbed my arm and looked at me with a look of fear. “Can… can ya just sit with me for a little bit?” He asked.

“Let me make biscuits real fast then I’ll sit with you as long as you’d like. Is that ok?” I asked.

Newt still looked a little worried, like I might vanish if he let go of me. But he nodded. He turned around to watch me make the biscuits and place them in the pan. When I put the pan in the fire and sat back down next to him, he looked relieved as he leaned into me.

“You’re strong. This will pass quickly.” I told him, rubbing his arm.

“I never broke nothin’ before.” He told me, sounding very small.

I smiled at him, imagining him as a little boy of six or seven. “Let’s talk about something, Newt, to keep your mind off it. What would you like to talk about?” I asked him.

He was quiet for a moment, gathering his thoughts, I imagined. “Did we go to the Post Office?” He asked and I gave a little laugh.

“No sir. We got a bit sidetracked by you defending my honor.” I said, rubbing his arm.

“But then Gerry didn’t get your letter about how you aren’t sure if you want to marry me.” Newt said.

I smiled. “The more I think about it, the sillier that letter is to me.” I told him.

He was quiet for a moment. “What do ya mean?”

I thought about it. “The more I think about it, the sillier it seems that I was scared about marriage.”

He lifted his head from my shoulder to look at me. “Does that mean you’ll marry me?”

I smiled at him. “When your hand heals and you ask the Captain proper.”

“But the Captain ain’t your pa.” He said, looking slightly confused.

“No, he sure ain’t. But he’s as good as any father figure I’ve ever met. So I expect you best ask him first, like you would if my dad was here.” I said.

He thought about that for a moment. “I suppose you’re right.” He said, starting to stand up.

“Newt Dobbs, you sit down right this instant.” I said, alarmed that he was standing up.

He looked confused as he sat back down. “Why?”

“I just told you once your hand is healed.” I said, leaning into him.

After a few minutes, he fell over asleep. I checked the biscuits and pulled them off the fire. I set them on the table and stirred the beans. I wiped the sweat off my brow with the edge of my sleeve. I pulled open the cabin door and headed for the stable to find Woodrow in the corral, trying to break the horse Newt had tried to break the day before.

Call didn’t get thrown like Newt had, but he had the same determination as Newt had. After another few minutes, he just slid off the horse and ran for the fence.

“I do not envy you, Captain.” I told him as I watched the horse buck and throw its back legs. Call made no gesture to say he’d heard me at all. “Lunch is ready.” I told him, turning to walk away.

“You heard the lady.” Woodrow called to the other men, who then started for the cabin.

I checked on Newt. He was still fast asleep. I corked the whiskey he’d taken a few swigs from and set it on the shelf.

“He gonna be ok?” Dish asked quietly, sitting down.

“He’ll be fine. He’s just wore out.” I told him as the men started dishing their plates.

“You seem awful worried about him.” Needle said with a teasing tone.

I smiled at him. “I’d be barely less worried if you were layin’ there, Needle.” I said, dishing my own plate.

“You suppose you can take care of him and us at the same time?” Pea Eye asked in earnest.

“Newt won’t need too much attention. A little whiskey to numb the pain and water to keep him hydrated. I’ll keep after you boys just fine.” I said, breaking into my biscuit.

Pea seemed to take this as a decent answer, to which he went back to his lunch. When the boys were done, they trooped back outside to the barn, leaving me with Captain Call. He just kind of sat there in silence, which worried me.

“If you’re going to reprimand me for something, you should get to it. I have dishes that need washed and a broken man to look after.” I said, turning to face him.

Woodrow looked up at me, a little startled by my bluntness. “Ain’t got nothing to reprimand you for, that I know of.”

“Then what would you like to talk about?” I asked him, sitting down across from him.

He glanced over at Newt, laying asleep in front of the fire. “I gave him my horse when I took Gus back to Texas.” He told me.

“He told me. Hell Bitch is quite a name.” I commented.

He gave a bit of a smile. “Took me almost three weeks to break that horse. I never thought I’d seen Newt so scared.” But then he was quiet and I didn’t know what else to say. I knew he wanted to talk about something or say something, apparently about Newt or horses, but I couldn’t figure it out.

But then the light bulb clicked. “You… haven’t told him, have you?” I asked.

He looked up at me sharply, startling me a bit. “Haven’t told him what?” He asked, with a little bit of fire to his words. He was mild, compared to some I’d known. But I thought this would be the highlight of the Captain’s temper.

So I just set my hand on his and watched him for a moment. “He doesn’t know that you’re his father, does he?”

Woodrow looked deflated as he looked over at Newt. “Suppose Gus told him.” Call said.

“Newt said you and Gus raised him. He feels strongly for you both because of that. It isn’t my business, but I think that if you want to tell him, you should do it sooner rather than later.” I told him, squeezing his hand before I stood up and went to the wash tub. “I’m gonna go do the dishes and I’ll come back to check on Newt in a little while.”

The Captain gave me a nod as I left the cabin with the wash bin. Dish offered me help carrying the tub and I didn’t want to seem rude, so I accepted his offer. He walked with me down to the lake and set the tub down, then he kind of just stood there.

“Are you alright, Dish?” I asked him.

“Yes ma’am.” He said with a start then turned and headed up the hill back to the stable.

I shook my head as he left and I began dishes. I quietly sang to myself, finishing up pretty fast. I picked up the wash bucket and carried it back to the cabin. I almost dropped the wash tub when I saw Newt sitting on the porch. “Newt. What are you doing?” I asked, seeing him twitch his hand.

“It hurts. I thought moving it might help.” He said.

“Newt. For the love of God.” I said a little loudly, feeling frustrated all of the sudden. “The more you move it, the longer it will take to heal and the more it’ll hurt. Stop.” I told him, gently covering his fingers with my hand.

He looked up at me, unsure. “I didn’t mean to make you mad.” He said quietly, looking back down at the deck.

I dropped to my knees and set my head on the arm of the rocking chair he sat in. “I didn’t mean to get mad at you. I just want you to get better as soon as you can. And you’re sitting there making it worse.” I said, closing my eyes.

He put his good hand on my head, stroking my hair a little bit. “I’m sorry. I’ll try not to anymore.”

I sighed, stood up and took the wash bin into the house to stack the clean dishes on the cabinet. I took a deep breath and blew it out. I almost jumped when I felt a hand on my shoulder. I turned to see Newt standing there. He held his left arm open for me and I fell into him. “I’m sorry.” I whispered into his chest.

“It’s ok.” He said, kissing my forehead. “I won’t do it anymore.” He told me.

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