|And Borrowed A Horse|
Ragtail Needs Solitude
Lark and Cecilia returned, laughing and swapping stories like old friends.
She presented the sack of gourds to Ragtail. “What do you want to do with these?”
“Get the seeds out and ground up. Save the hulls for Damn Donkey.”
“Mister, we ain’t got a grinder.”
“Got two rocks?”
Cecilia’s blank face confirmed her standing as an indoor woman. She may know how to use a scrub board, but she wouldn’t know how to make tortillas outside.
Rose snorted, Lark wiggled into his shamefaced shuffle like he did just before Ragtail started throwing things.
There were too many people, too much talking, and a limit to his patience. Ragtail glared at Rose. “Explain it to her.” He went to join his one reliable trail companion.
When Rose caught up with him, Ragtail had his arm around Damn Donkey’s neck, scratching his ears. “Kettie says I ought to stay with you,” she said.
Ragtail bowed up like a barn cat at a rattlesnake. “Ain’t nobody can keep me from going when I want.”
“I don’t think it’s like that, mister. She don’t want to lose you before she knows how to fix Cornelius.” Rose spread her hands. “You’re the only one that knows.”
Ragtail was studying her face for the truth in it when Lark arrived with gourd shells.
“All right,” Ragtail told her, “let’s see how accommodating you wimmen are.”
Rose took two full steps backward. “What do you mean?”
How About The Truth
Ragtail reached for the husks. “Tell me why all of you were prisoners that fetched up here.”
“Prisoners?” Lark echoed. “What’s that about?”
“Shaddup and let her tell it,” Ragtail said.
“Sure,” Rose said. “Ain’t no harm in it, I suppose.” She shrugged. “We was in a jail wagon headed for the territorial prison when Charlie, our driver, got to feeling poorly. Wasn’t no one riding shotgun. They said puny women in a lock-up didn’t deserve another law dog.” Rose gave a soft chuckle. “The thing with lawmen is that half of ‘em take a badge so the other half quits looking for them.” She looked at Ragtail. “Ain’t it so?”
“Go on, get to it,” he said.
“Well, Charlie’s in his twilight years, and he’s getting worsened, so he makes us a deal. He’s built a place in a hidden valley, and if we take care of him until his great getting’ up mornin’, he’ll drive us there and free us. ‘Course we agreed. That’s it.”
“I didn’t see no grave,” Lark said.
“It’s yonder, on t’other side of the oaks.”
“No jail wagon,” Ragtail said, looking around. “Wasn’t one in the barn.”
“Kettie said to tear it apart so if anyone came by they wouldn’t start asking about it.”
“So all five of you are convicts?” Lark had turned his shoulder to Rose. He looked like he’d run.
She laughed. “Sure ‘nuff. Almost six, but the judge didn’t sentence Yalla. He just followed along.”
“What’s the crimes?” Ragtail had his jaw set. He didn’t cotton to convicts making light of their status.
“Well,” Rose said, extending a finger and tapping it with another as she named her companions. “Anna, as I told you, is plumb crazy. There’s nowhere for her around decent folks.
Cecilia, who you seem to be smitten with,” she leered at Lark, “was a housekeeper and governess. Trouble was, the fancy people’s riches kept finding a way into her pocket.”
She counted on another finger. “Kettie, for the blunt of it, was a card shark and swindler.”
Another finger, “and Cornelius murdered her husband—”
“Whoa, wait!” Ragtail held up a hand. “That sickly woman is a killer?”
“That’s what they got her for,” Rose said. “Funny, though. She always acted like the tamest one of us all.”
Ragtail pointed at Rose. “How about you?”
“I never done nothing wrong.” Rose wore a deep scowl. “True love don’t often come about for a woman who earns her way in a dancehall. I only borrowed that horse to get to my handsome cowboy. I would have returned it as soon as I collected up with my man but they never gave me a chance. Said I stole it and jailed me. I’m what they call a victim of circumsticks.”
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