This is the seventh of an 11-part short story based on the characters of author Susan K. Marlow’s Circle C Adventures and is posted on her blog https://circlecadventures.blogspot.com/

Part 7.

I had a wonderful day.

Ellie took Mrs. Stewart’s advice, and Saturday after lunch she donned a sturdy shirt, vest and split skirt, slapped on a hat she had “borrowed” from Jem, rented a horse from Blake’s Livery Stable, and headed out to the ranch.

She rode up to the house and dismounted.  A ranch hand wandered over and took her horse.  Ellie thanked him, and then stood in the yard wondering what to do.

A door slammed and Ellie was nearly run over by a figure bolting from the house.  Andi stopped herself just in time.  “Ellie!”

Ellie smiled brightly.  “Howdy.  What’s the matter?”

Andi looked beside herself with joy.  “Chad said I could learn to trick ride!”

“Really?”  Ellie concealed her pleasure with difficulty.

Andi grinned broadly.  “Yes!”  She took off running again.  “I have to go tell Riley!”

Ellie watched her race to the barn in search of Riley, then turned to the house.  Chad leaned against a column of the porch smiling.

“I see you kept your promise.”  He called with a wave.

Ellie smiled back.  “I see you kept yours.”

He jumped off the porch and came to stand beside her. “I couldn’t help it.  You were right.”  He ran a hand through his hair, then plopped his hat back on.  “I’m glad you came.”

A little embarrassed, Ellie shrugged nonchalantly. “Thanks.  I was hoping Andi would show me around the ranch, but I suspect that she’s busy, now.”

Chad started walking toward the barn.  “Well, don’t just stand there!”  He teased.  “Come on!”

Mystified, Ellie hurried after him.  When she entered the barn he was tacking up his horse, Sky.

“Chad, what’s going on?”  Ellie asked.

He tossed his saddle onto the horse’s back.  “I’m going to show you around the ranch.”

“Do you have time?   I don’t want to get in the way.”  Ellie hesitated.

Chad looked up from tightening the cinch.  “Do you want to see it?”

Ellie answered quickly.  “Oh, yes!”

“Then hold this, while I tack up a horse for you.”  He held the reins out to her.

Ellie frowned.  “Chad, I might be a little older-and perhaps a touch more ladylike- than I was in Goldtown, but I can still tack up my own horse if you show me which one, and where their tack is.”

“Alright, sorry.”  Chad lifted his hands in a gesture of innocence, and then pointed. “You can ride Magic.”

Ellie fell in love with the beautiful black mare the minute Magic’s dark eyes met her own.  She led the horse out of it’s stall and secured it to a post while she collected the equipment Chad pointed out and prepared to put it on.

She lifted the heavy saddle and gave it a toss.  It nearly slid off and she clutched at it to keep it from doing so.  A chuckle from Chad brought her around in a heartbeat.

“Stop it!”  Ellie swatted at his arm in exasperation.

Magic shied at her raised voice and the saddle tumbled off.

Ellie flushed hotly and bent to pick it up.  She lifted again and turned to put it on, but Chad took it from her and the saddle flew effortlessly onto Magic’s back.  Ellie huffed.  “Now let me, will you, you big show off.”

Chad watched as she finished tacking up quickly. They led their horses out of the barn and Ellie lifted her foot for the stirrup, but Chad stopped her.

He unlatched the girth and pulled it several holes tighter. “Always check the girth before mounting. Some horses, like Magic, hold their breath and the saddle isn’t as tight as it should be.”  He told her.

Ellie had a sudden vision of the saddle sliding off while she was riding and dumping her on the ground.  “Thanks.”

Chad winked.  “No problem.  Ready?” He swung into Sky’s saddle.

“Yep.”  Ellie stuck her foot in the stirrup, grabbed the saddle horn and pulled herself up. It wasn’t her best mount, but it got her up on the horse, and that’s what counted, she told herself.  Then she caught the amusement in Chad’s eyes.  She lifted her chin.

“So, I’m a little rusty.”

He grinned, but generously didn’t say anything.

By the time Ellie had seen the entire ranch, she was even more impressed with Chad than she already was.

“I can’t believe you run this ranch.  I never thought, …” Ellie trailed off.  “I don’t know what I thought.”  She finished.

She drank in the view of the Sierra Mountains in front of her and gave a deep sigh of pleasure.  Chad smiled.  “I know. That’s how I feel.”

A sudden shout and a loud gunshot interrupted them.  Chad whirled his horse around and galloped back toward the house even before Ellie caught the urgent tones of the voice.

Ellie kicked Magic into a canter and followed quickly.

The yard buzzed with activity.  A loud yell made her jerk around to see Chad bellowing in Spanish at several ranch hands.  “!Paseo para el doctor!

Ellie dismounted and flung the reins around the hitching post. She burst through a throng of people around Chad and saw a man lying moaning in the dirt.  A dead rattlesnake lay nearby and two little red dots appeared on the man’s forearm.

All of the breath left Ellie’s lungs with a whoosh. For one second she was frozen in horror, the next she was on her knees beside Chad.  “Give me a knife.”  She ordered a shocked ranch hand.  He held one out dumbly, and she snatched it from him.  A loud rip made Chad look over.  Ellie was cutting a generous piece off the bottom of her split skirt.

“Knife.”  Chad barked.

Ellie put it in his hand and moved to the other side of the wounded man.  She wrapped the piece of cloth around the man’s arm above the bite and tightened sharply. The man winced as the flow of blood was cut off.

Chad made a couple of cuts across the punctures and sucked the poison out.  He spit quickly and repeated the action.  Ellie stood up.  “Get some mud!”

A younger hand looked at her in astonishment, then shifted his gaze to the dust at their feet.  “There isn’t any.”

Ellie gave him an impatient shove.  “Then make some!”

A few men jumped to do her bidding, and soon a mud plaster was slapped on the punctures.

The ranch cook pushed his way through the circle around Chad and Ellie and knelt beside the wounded man.

“Fuera de mi camino, señor.”  The old man waved them away. Chad stood up and looked at the crowd surrounding them.  He put his hands on his hips and glared.  They sheepishly went back to their work. Ellie gave the cook a worried glance, but he made a shooing motion with his hands. “Come on, Ellie.  Cook can handle it.”  Ellie slowly obeyed Chad’s command, and followed him to the porch.  He fell into a wicker chair with a sigh, and Ellie suddenly remembered that he could have swallowed some of the poison.  Fear shot through her. “You need to wash your mouth out.  Now.” Chad laughed, but Ellie wouldn’t stand for any argument.  “Do as I say.  It can’t hurt to be careful.” Seeing the scared look on her face, Chad gave in.  “Well, if it means that much to you.”  He got up and went to the kitchen.  Ellie tagged along to make sure he did it, and didn’t just disappear for a moment, and come back out. Chad got a glass of water and washed his mouth out several times.  Ellie sank down at the kitchen table, adrenaline finally catching up with her.  Chad sat opposite of her. “Where did you learn to treat snake bites?”  He asked curiously. Ellie put her arms on the table.  “At my last school” Chad’s eyebrows shot up.  “Really?” Ellie nodded.  “There was plenty of need.  Three, three of my pupils were bitten.  The snakes had made a nest under the schoolhouse.  It was awful.”  She paled at the memory.  “I’ve never been so glad to leave a place in my life.  And not just for that reason.” Interest covered Chad’s face.  “Tell me about it.”  He kicked another chair out from under the table and stuck his feet up on it.

Ellie put her chin in her hand and stared at a wall blankly, reliving the last term.