CALLIE’S STAR By Patty Wilber
CHAPTER EIGHT-MOVING THE CATTLE
Callie awoke while the sky was still streaked with pale pink and yellow streamers. She hoped to enjoy the quiet solitude of the dawn alone. Mornings were her favorite time, and she wanted to ride to the overlook where she had first spotted the Outlaw. Callie always felt strangely happy when she was up there, looking into the little valley. One morning she caught a glimpse of the stallion, black and shining silk in the soft early light. Her breath had knotted in her throat, and his beauty and freedom filled her mind until there was room for nothing else.
She turned toward the voice. It was Uncle Bob.
“I was just coming to wake you, but you’re already dressed!”He reached out to touch Callie’s horse picture that matched the picture on the wall.
“This picture was a favorite of your mother’s,” he said.
“Was that hers on the wall?” Callie asked.
Uncle Bob looked up at that one with surprise, and back to the one on the dresser and said, “Yes. Is this one yours?’
Callie nodded. “I found it in…in a… store we used to go to.” She didn’t want to say, “the Goodwill we used to go to.” Aunt Martha and Uncle Bob donated to Goodwill. They didn’t shop there. “Mom didn’t tell me she used to have one just like it.”
“She may have forgotten all about it,” said Uncle Bob. Then he said, “How’d you know we were going to move cattle this morning?”
Callie’s stomach shrank inside her. She had been dreading the day Uncle Bob would ask her help with the cattle.
“Who’s going?” she asked, hoping her voice sounded steady.
“Just Jeff, you, and me,” he said. “Martha’s got to get that article she’s been writing submitted this morning.”
As he swung open the gate to West Pasture, Uncle Bob said, “We’re going to move them from this pasture, through Dry Creek Pasture, and leave them in Ridge Pasture.” He glanced at Callie. “We’ll move them nice and slow. Callie, you’ll be in the back. All you need to do is walk Cloud forward, and the cows will move away from you.” Callie smiled and nodded, but inside she quailed. She didn’t trust the big, slow-moving cows with their flecks of slobber clinging to their rubbery lips.
They rode into the pasture and Jeff pointed out where Callie should position Cloud.
Callie pressed her lips together and took a deep breath, then she moved Cloud quietly in behind the small herd of black Angus cows. Jeff and Uncle Bob were on either side, directing the lethargic cattle across the field and toward the gate on the far side. As they neared it, the cows shed their lazy attitude like a snake skin until, suddenly, they were nervous and fretful. Callie gripped her thighs tighter around Cloud. The cows bumped and crowded each other and their brown eyes rolled, showing red-laced whites. Their breath puffed out in hot, grassy snorts. All at once, an old cow stopped and turned, trying to break back into the open land behind the riders.
Jake barked at her, trying to herd her back, but she charged. Jake snaked back and forth in front of her, and the cow slowed for a moment, then dodged to the left. Jake was right in front of her, and Callie held her breath. The cow lowered her head, and Callie exhaled all at once and cried, “Jake!”
The dog looked up at Callie, and the cow darted past him. Callie felt a wave of relief sweep over her, but then her face grew hot as she watched, feeling helpless, while Jeff galloped after the renegade cow. He tried to intercept her flight, but he was a little too late, and the cow ran to the far end of the big pasture.
“Watch the herd!” Uncle Bob yelled loudly.
Callie jumped with guilt. Her eyes had been on Jeff. When she turned her attention back to the cows, she saw that they had turned and were about to follow the renegade. Suddenly, Callie’s mind flashed to an image of her mother and Aunt Sally. Her face went white and her skin crawled. She could picture the crazed herd stampeding, like a locomotive gone off the tracks, and for a split second, panic filled her.
“NO!” she said to herself. “NO!” She urged Cloud into a trot. The familiar rhythm of his steady gait helped settle Callie’s ringing nerves. She COULD ride, and she was smarter than any old cow. She eased Cloud into a gentle lope, and the cows, losing a bit of their verve, turned and began to plod toward the gate.
Jeff brought in the old cow. Once she realized the rest of the herd was not following her, she came back, almost on her own.
Once again, as they neared the opening, the cows grew excited. Jake was off to one side, and he barked with authority at the lead cow. She tossed her head, but went through the gate after just a brief hesitation, and the other cows flowed after her like water.
Uncle Bob closed the gate behind them.
“One more gate to go,” he said, and reined Pitch toward the cows. Callie nodded glumly.
“Don’t call off the dog next time, O.K.?” Jeff said abruptly.
Callie twisted her fingers into Cloud’s mane, feeling its coarse fibers. Then Jeff said, “Um, Jake knows what he’s doing. Don’t worry about him.”
Callie nodded, still fidgeting with Cloud’s mane. “Sorry,” she said.
“It’s O.K.,” said Jeff. “Really.”
Callie looked at him from under her long bangs, then pushed them back under her helmet, took a deep breath. “Well,” she said, echoing Uncle Bob, “One more gate to go.”
They took up their positions. This time the cattle seemed to know what was happening, and they moved steadily toward and through the Ridge Pasture gate.
“Good job, Callie,” Uncle Bob said as he closed the gate. Then he looked at Jeff. “Why don’t you two take the rest of the day off?”
“Great!” said Jeff. Then he turned to Callie. “Let’s call Luis and Jose and meet them down at the pond this afternoon.”
“Sure,” said Callie, glad to be done with cattle. Swimming sounded good. It was already a hot day.