Not Gonna Happen
No one had ridden double on Skewy before, and C.J. expected the skewbald mare to buck when Imala tried to climb on. Most mounts were forgiving of their riders, but Skewy was a one-man horse—his. C.J. didn’t want anyone hurt, but if Skewy put Imala in her proper place, fine.
Thinking of Imala
The young cowboy had mixed feelings about Imala. On one hand, Apache remedies had cured him of a dreadful sickness. Also, Indians knew how to live in this country using nature’s resources better than white men.
But on the other hand, Imala was a female, and an Indian to boot. There was no overcoming those obstacles.
Obstacles to what?
The question skewered C.J., but he didn’t allow himself to follow the thought further. Such ruminations might lead him to believe he could have a friendship with someone so different.
Entirely dissimilar species: lions (him) and lizards (her), they could never connect as he had with Esther May.
Show Her, Skewy
It was time to let Skewy show Imala how contrary to universal laws an Indian girl riding with a white man was gonna be.
C.J. rode the mare to the wickiup. When Imala approached, he removed his left foot from the stirrup so she could step up. He extended a hand; the action was only an appearance of being helpful. He knew Skewy would explode, and his awkward seating would likely result in him being day-lighted too, but it would be worth it.
Imala stepped into the stirrup, grasped his wrist and swung lightly behind the saddle. She used the shoulder strap to shift her bag from her hip to behind, where it mostly rested on Skewy’s rump.
“I’m ready. Let’s go.”
C.J. narrowed his eyes, looking at Skewy’s ears for a telltale sign. Were they flattened back in anger?
Nope. The mare was her usual, alert self.
“Traitor,” C.J. muttered. He clucked his tongue and headed east.
How To Explain Imala
C.J. thought about what to do with Imala. His first inclination was to ride up to the cabin and tell Clem and Smitty he’d brought entertainment. What other reason did he have for a squaw on his horse?
The three men were supposed to join the lucrative cattle-rustling trade. A rough and tumble, very manly business. They wouldn’t understand his sissified agreement to escort an Indian woman on a trip.
Tea With Mama?
He didn’t understand it himself. What would his parents think if they knew their son had such a creature on his horse? Would Mama blush to think her offspring sought the Apaches for help, not the other way around?
But his parents did teach him honor. Imala’s grandmother healed C.J., and this was his payment.
“You’ll wait here,” C.J. told Imala.
“The line cabin where my friends are is over that next rise. I don’t want to get in the mess of explaining to them about you.”
“I know where the cabin is. I’ve smelled the smoke for a time. Are your friends slow of understanding, or is it that your tongue can’t speak true? What is the mess of explaining?”
“Look,” C.J. said. “You’re an In—I mean, girl, and they were drinking when I left. They might be hard to handle is all.”
Imala slid off. When Skewy turned her head to look at the dismounted rider, Imala reached into her bag and pulled out a handful of corn kernels.
Skewy’s velvety-smooth lips took the treat from Imala’s flat hand. She scratched the mare’s forelock.
C.J. watched the interaction between his horse and the Apache woman.
Well, why wouldn’t they get along? They were both creatures that had to be tamed.
“I’ll gather my rig and come back,” he said.
Imala scanned the area and pointed at a sizeable piñion pine. She moved in that direction without speaking.
C.J. watched Imala’s hips as she moved away. Too bad she wasn’t white.
He turned Skewy uphill and grinned, thinking of his companions at the shack. He’d have a tale for them, but he’d neglect to tell them that Imala waited for his return.
Oh, he’d go back but not right away. If the woman didn’t wait for him a week or two, well, that wasn’t his fault. He’d tried to keep his end of the bargain.
Will C.J. abandon Imala? Leave a comment now.
Shanna Yazzie, a Navajo woman, explains picking piñions.
The value of piñion nuts described here.
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