The Storyteller by Olley

Word count 2658

      

The Storyteller- 3rd in the Hettie Series.

Johnny is 19 Scott is 25 they have been at Lancer for 6 months.

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Johnny was hot and dusty, and letting Barranca walk. It had been a hot frustrating couple of hours convincing stupid cattle to do as they were told and get in that canyon, out of harm’s way, until they could be returned to the main herd.

Down below a small figure was walking. Well, he cocked his head to one side watching, walking in his experience was usually a means to get to somewhere or more ominously get away, and dios without a horse, or worse a lame horse. Well maybe she wasn’t walking, it was more of a stroll like regular folk do in towns and cities or on Sunday after church.

He set Barranca in that direction.

“Hola Hettie, no bonnet to keep the sun of your head or out’ta your eyes?” and smiled at the girl. He liked her she was interesting and brave, and funny, and didn’t look at him like she was judging him or even worse eyeing him up as a beau.

“Why hola back Johnny, seemed to have lost another bonnet somewhere along the way”. Hettie Baxter had that serious look on her but her eyes had that spark he could recognise.

Johnny jumped down and took off his hat and put it on her head “Don’t want you to get any more sun crazy than you already are” He grinned “Shall I walk with you, or do you want to ride with me?”.

Hettie adjusted the hat so that it settled over her thick curly hair and squinted up at him and then looked down at his boots. “Those boots aren’t made for too much walking, so if Barranca don’t mind we can ride”.

Johnny nodded and patted Barrancas’ neck and rubbed his nose “You’re a good fella and she hardly weighs anything, what do you say?”.

Barranca nickered and nodded his head up and down.

“That’s a yes I guess” said Johnny, and with his usual grace hopped up into the saddle, as soon as he was settled he reached down his arm and Hettie swung up to sit behind him.

“So where are you wandering off to ?” asked Johnny.

“I was looking for my muse, as I have a story in my head that needs an ending”.

“You lost a muse? Where and what’s it look like?” Johnny was grinning he enjoyed these conversations with Hettie.

Hettie softly laughed “I needed some inspiration”.

Johnny nodded, “So what’s the story about?”

“Well it’s about an earnest well-meaning greenhorn who comes out west gets sun sick and falls off his horse” Hettie stated in her most serious voice.

Johnny snorted out a genuine laugh “Ernest uhh”

Hettie poked him in his ribs, “No earnest isn’t his name it’s what he is”.

Johnny shook his head enjoying himself, “Ernest the earnest greenhorn, sounds funny”.

Hettie grinned, “You have a point, I shall call him Ernest, a dim but well-meaning greenhorn who comes out west to be a cowboy”.

“Dim uhh. You making fun of someone we both know Hettie Baxter?” Johnny tried to sound serious without success.

“Noooo he’s just a character in one of my stories”. Hettie sighed.

There was a sympathetic silence as Barranca slowly walked enjoying the respite after herding those stupid cattle all by himself.

Johnny broke the silence, “So Hettie when did you know you could write these stories of yours?”

Hettie thought for a moment “My Grandma Millie was a born storyteller and I guess I have inherited it from her. In Europe where my family came from, the northern countries have some very scary stories of giants and dragons, your Pa knows some. In Mexico you must have heard stories the old ladies tell of magic and they are a mixture of the Spanish and the local native Indian tribes. And Americas’ various Indian tribes have their stories of the spirits that created earth and its animals. These stories are usually spoken and passed from generation to generation by the tribe storyteller or wise person. My Grandma collected as many stories as she could and wrote them down. She could sit and tell a story and bring it to life for me, and one day I want to do the same with my writing, these stories shouldn’t be lost. In the meantime I’m practicing with these dime novel stories”

Johnny nodded he knew from his childhood the village bruja holding court with tales that could scare a small boy into a cold sweat.

“So you’re practicing your trade I understand that. I spent some time a while back with some Cahuilla they had a shaman who could sure spin a good tale at night over the camp fires.”

Hettie was silent thinking about what to tell Johnny. Besides her family there were very few people she really spoke to.

“I knew an Indian shaman when I was a kid. It was what he had taught me that probably saved my life that time”.

Johnny pulled Barranca to a halt and looked around at this, how this girl could surprise him. He put his leg over Barrancas’ neck and slid to the ground and reached up to help Hettie down. He knew to keep quiet she would continue.

“Well me and my pony would go off and explore and one day not long after Grandma Millie had died this Indian and a young brave well, found me. His name was Dark Cloud hides the Sun, never did get to know the braves’ name. To cut a long story short it seems he knew Grandma when she was a young girl and had heard of her passing and had come to pay respects. He kept appearing and disappearing but when he did find me he spoke of his way of life and his peoples’ beliefs. Of how his people lived with the earth to hunt and find water”. Hettie paused at that and looked sideways’ at Johnny from under the brim of his hat that she had pulled down low on her head. Johnny pursed his lips and nodded his understanding.

Hettie continued, “Seems like Grandma Millie was known to him as Still Clear Water”.

Johnny looked under the brim of his hat, his deep blue eyes searching Hetties’ bright pale blue ones “Yep, still clear water, that sort’a water can be real deep”.

Hettie smiled, this young man understood her he was a true friend. “The last time I saw him it was about 6 months before my misadventure” she sighed and looked over into the distance towards a ridge with huge boulders and sparse trees. “He told me he was dying and that all the signs he had read said I was the one to pave the way”. Johnny stopped and Barranca bumped into him, he reached out to Hettie and took her hand, so she stopped and looked at him.

“You are about 9 ½ years old and he wanted to give you this privilege, coz from what I know that is what he was asking of you”.

Hettie gave a small nod, “I had learned some of his words and had read my Grandmas’ journals so knew their story. He said he had time to teach me the chant that would lead his spirit to the afterlife. So he began to teach me the special, well I suppose mystic, words. I went home and that evening told my Pa, and he went and told your Pa. Next day Pa and Uncle Murdoch, Mr O’Brien your Pa’s foreman and your Tio Cipriano came with me. They built the pyre just like he asked them to and I sat with him and memorised the words of the death chant. As it got dark he spoke to me of the importance of being a storyteller like he was and Grandma Millie, and he closed his eyes and said he could see all his ancestors, and died with a smile on his face. It was a good death and when the time came I was a bit embarrassed because I knew the others were watching but started the chant and clapped my hands and stamped my feet just like he had told me to”.

Tears were running down Hetties’ cheeks, Johnny hugged her pushing the hat down her back and put his head on top of hers. No words were needed.

She pulled away and wiped her eyes on the sleeve of her dress. Johnny handed her a bandana from his back pocket “Blow your nose and I’ll get you home”.

Hettie smiled at him and turned and pointed to the ridge in the distance “It was up there in a place now called Indian Rock”.

Johnny mounted Barranca and reached down so she could hop up behind him.

Johnny looked up at the position of the sun in the sky “Times a getting on Hettie better get you home. You fancy letting Barranca stretch his legs?”

“Okay by me” she said.

“Hold tight” Johnny felt her hands clasp a little tighter but she obviously wasn’t afraid of the speed as Barranca launched into a gallop.

They arrived at the Baxter homestead. It always brought a smile to Johnnys’ face. It wasn’t anyway near as impressive as the Lancer hacienda which even now 6 months after coming home still reminded him of too many Mexican hacienda that brought bad memories of hard cruel times. This was a western wooden style two storey ranch house well cared for a pretty white picket fence around the front, a swing bench seat and a rocker on the front porch. Flowers and vegetables in a well tendered garden. A couple of barns and corrals. He could hear chickens and knew there were a couple of milk cows and a pig round back. There was a shingle on the gate leading to the house stating ‘Charles E Baxter, Veterinarian Surgeon’. Yep he thought this was a proper home even on the outside.

Hettie held on to Johnnys’ arm as she slipped of the back of Barranca and handed him his hat. Her mother appeared at the front door.

“Hello John, thank you for fetching Hettie home. Do you want to come in for lemonade and cookies?”

Johnny tipped his hat, “Thanks Ma’am but I’m already running late for supper so best be on my way.”

Hettie looked up at him and with a grin patted his leg, “Tell your Pa you were rescuing a damsel in distress.”

Johnny laughed out loud, “Not too sure the ol’e man will go for that.”

Mrs. Baxter walked out and put her arm around her daughters’ waist. “You tell your Pa Lucy is due home next week so you are all invited to dinner a week on Sunday.”

“Will do Ma’am, Bye.” Johnny tipped his hat.

He knew he was late for the 6 o’clock deadline for the evening meal so saw no point in pushing Barranca and settled him into an easy going lope across the pasture towards the hacienda and imagined Murdoch working himself up to bellow at him. It brought to mind a buffalo he had seen once years ago, a snorting and stamping beast with eyes too small for its’ huge head. Johnny smiled to himself, ‘I’ll tell Hettie about that buffalo she could use it in one of her stories.’

He reached the Lancer arch and as instructed slowed Barranca to a trot to the stable where his Tio was waiting, “Hola Juanito, I will take care of your horse, your Papa is anxious for you to be home.”

“Anxious uhh” Johnny frowned towards the house, Cipriano patted him on his shoulder “Your Papa it is he worries for you.”

Johnny reached the front door took a deep breath and blew out through his mouth. He had had, by his standards, a good day and didn’t want to butt heads with Murdoch.

“Hola there” he said trying to keep his good mood “Sorry I’m late.”

Murdoch and Scott were having an after diner brandy sat in the chairs by the fire, they turned to look at him. Murdoch had that look his lips in a thin line a frown between his eyes, Scott looked concerned. Before Murdoch could say a thing Johnny hurried on, “I was rescuing a damsel in distress” he grinned one of his rare smiles that reached his eyes.

“A girl !” Murdoch bellowed “John” as he got to his feet.

Just like that buffalo thought Johnny who held up his hands in mock surrender mode.

“I found Hettie Baxter looking for her lost muse, so helped her find it.”

Scott almost choked on his drink as he laughed “Lost muse, eh Johnny and where did you find it?”

Johnny looked at Murdoch who still had that look “Near a place called Indian Rock”

Murdoch’s face softened as he realised where Johnny must have been with his god-daughter.

Johnny looked at Scott and grinned “Yep seems like she got the inspiration to write a story ’bout some dim but well-meaning greenhorn called Ernest. I’m starved guess I’ll get some supper in the kitchen” He turned on his heels and the sound of his spurs tracked his way to the kitchen.

He left behind a stunned Murdoch and Scott.

“Who was that cheeky boy, and what has he done with my gunfighter little brother?” Scott turned and looked at Murdoch.

Murdoch shook his head, his youngest was such a mystery to him. How could Hettie his quiet solitary god-daughter get Johnny to become the boy he wanted not that angry pistollero who he couldn’t get through to.

Murdoch waited a while indicating to Scott not to follow Johnny, then he made his way to the kitchen. Johnny was quietly talking in Spanish to Maria eating a meal she had been keeping warm for him.

Johnny looked up at Murdoch his eyes blank as if waiting for his fathers’ temper to spoil his supper.

Murdoch smiled, “Cipriano told me of the problem with the fencing over there at Ridge bluff.”

Johnny nodded. “Stupid cattle, grass always being greener someplace else. I left Carlos an Joe to fix the fence an me an Barranca managed to round up 12 of the runaways and get them in that little box canyon with the stream”

Murdoch nodded his knowledge of where Johnny meant.

Johnny continued, “So I’ve put brush across the entrance to keep them in till we can get a couple of vaqueros out to them to take ’em back to the main herd. Probably 4 or 5 still wandering round getting into all kinds of trouble for us to find as well”

Murdoch was so utterly impressed at the decision making of the boy who seemed to struggle adapting to the rules and dancing to his tune that was now his life at Lancer.

“Good job son, good job” Murdoch said as he went to the larder and came back with 2 dishes of apple pie and a jug of cream for them to share, “and Hettie was she okay?”

Johnny smiled at the pie and poured a great deal of cream over it. “Yep she’s fine, told me about her Grandma Millie, you knew her Murdoch?” he looked up.

Murdoch took a spoonful of pie and nodded “Yes an interesting old lady, you liked her son, she could make a story come to life by the telling of it” Murdoch looked into his youngest eyes.

Johnny nodded “Thought I would have coz I got a lot of respect for the Baxter family, they’re good people. Mrs Baxter says Lucy is due home so we are invited week on Sunday”

Murdoch smiled “You and Scott will like Lucy, everyone does.”

“Well if she’s half as interesting as Hettie I reckon I’ll get along fine with her.”

Murdoch left the table “Night son” He left the kitchen wanting to laugh and shout with delight. He had seen Johnny Lancer, his son behind the Madrid mask, he went to bed that night his heart a little lighter.

End

2016

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8 thoughts on “The Storyteller by Olley

  1. Great stories! I love the Hettie character and her friendship with Johnny. You are a very gifted writer. Thank you for sharing these stories

    Liked by 1 person

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