By Patty Wilber
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CALLIE’S STAR by Patty Wilber
CHAPTER 20 THE FILLY
It was late afternoon when the other groups began to ride in. They were trail worn and weary until they saw the corralled herd. Then the tiredness melted away like dirt removed with soap and water.
“Well, look at that!” said Mr. Sanchez, trotting his horse up to the fence. “There are some nice mares and babies in there.” He nodded with pleasure. The orphan filly rushed to the fence. “Looking for your mama?” he asked her gently. She sniffed his gelding’s nose and walking dejectedly away, crying out in disappointment.
“Her mother wasn’t captured,” explained Callie. She noticed that the filly’s patchy coat was beginning to darken with sweat.
Jo McCabe rode up to join them. “We thought they’d headed for greener pastures, and they’ve been here all the long!”
Callie, Luis and Jeff beamed like proud parents, but when the filly, hearing the new horse, spun around and whickered hopefully, Callie’s face fell.
Jo saw the distress in the girl’s eyes and said, “That’s a pretty little filly, Callie. Don’t worry about her. She’ll be fine.”
Callie kicked her boot in the dust. “That’s what Uncle Bob said, too. I guess you’re right. It’s just…” She couldn’t finish. The filly was too much like her.
Callie walked away from the corral, not wanting to watch any longer. She had reached the tent when Luis and Jeff came bounding up, carrying a bag of corn chips. Both had their mouths full and Jake was scarfing up crumbs in their wake. They were talking about the round up. Callie took a few chips, but wasn’t really paying attention to the boys until Luis said, “We found them right up near the back, all grouped together like they were waiting for us.”
“Who?” Callie asked.
“The herd, of course!” said Jeff.
Callie turned to Luis. “Go on!” she said.
“We started to edge around slowly, hoping they wouldn’t panic, but the Outlaw saw we were closing in, and he grouped them all into a tight little ball. Then…” Luis paused to intensify the drama. “…He tried to get them to climb up the cliff! I mean, this cliff went practically straight up! They wouldn’t go at first, but he kept running back and forth, biting and pushing them with his chest. Finally, one mare started to climb. She got about a quarter of the way up, and was still going strong. I thought for sure we’d lost them all. There’s no way we could have made it up that cliff. But when she got half way up she started to slip. She scrambled and she then started to make ground. Then all of a sudden, something gave way, and she fell! She rolled to the bottom, and when she hit, she just lay there. I thought she was dead for sure! But then she got up and shook herself. The Outlaw came at her, trying to force her to go again, but she wouldn’t. None of the others would even try. Good thing!”
“Yeah,” agreed Jeff. “If they’d gone up, we’d still be looking for them!”
“Anyway,” said Luis, continuing. “By now the mares were all riled up, and the Outlaw kind of gave up on getting them to climb the cliff. He ran once around them, and then he started for the top! He slipped and he almost fell twice, and we could hear him snorting and gasping for breath when he made it. He knocked a rock off the clifftop, and when it came down, the herd bolted like a bunch of rabbits running for cover!” Luis sat down as if suddenly overcome with fatigue. “You should have seen it!”
“We did,” said Jeff, joining Luis on the log. “I thought they were all going to get away when that one mare charged Callie!”
“YOU did,” said Callie. “I thought I was a goner! GEEZ! All those horses coming straight at me!”
“Annie Oakley to the rescue again!” Luis said.
“Oh be quiet!” said Callie. But she was pleased.
At that moment, pandemonium broke loose in the corral. The horses scattered and spread across the pen like an exploding star. Callie ran to the horses, followed by Jeff and Luis. Jake barked. The foals were running about, crying shrilly for their misplaced mothers. The orphan filly was standing alone near the fence. A jagged gash lay open across her shoulder, and blood ran down her leg onto the ground.
“Uncle Bob! Uncle Bob!” screamed Callie.
He rushed over and Callie pointed toward the wounded filly. Callie’s face was white. “She must’ve been in some kind of fight,” said Jeff, “Because all of a sudden all the horses started running around, and there she was.”
“Probably annoying one of the mares,” said Uncle Bob, “And the horse took a swing at her.” He paused and rubbed his chin as he studied the filly’s shoulder. “It is bloody,” he said, “But I don’t think it’s too serious.” He pointed as the little horse walked toward the rear of the corral without a limp. “Still, we’d better clean it up.”
The filly gave a low whinny that reminded Callie of the wind moaning on a wintry night. “Don’t worry, little one,” she said. “We’ll take care of you.”
“Jeff,” said Uncle Bob, “Go get the first aid kit– it’s by the Sanchez tent- and a bucket of water.”
Jo McCabe came up and said, “I brought some panels down on my trailer. We can use those to make a small pen in the run-in chute so we can catch her.”
Uncle Bob said, “Great idea,”
Everyone stepped up to get the panels and set them up in the entry chute just outside the gate of the corral. Then they tied Punkin and Flower near the little pen so the filly would be able to see then when she got in there, and hopefully take some comfort in them.
Callie, Uncle Bob and Luis entered the corral. Rick stayed to work the gate and everyone else was outside the chute, out of sight of the gate. Jeff had the water and first aid kit ready.
The filly now stood alone in the far corner, and the three people spread out to make a half circle around her, with the open end toward the gate. They moved slowly, and Callie, her eyes never leaving the horse, spoke reassuringly to her, certain that the filly would somehow understand. The little horse trotted confusedly away from them, unsure of their intent, and the herd stood watching in a nervous bunch in the back corner. Rick eased the gate open into the corral and snuck out of the way
Callie, Luis and Uncle Bob worked the filly forward until finally, trembling and bloody, she stood before the opening to the small holding stall they had built.
She stopped and stared into the space and then back at the advancing people. Her ears swiveled, and her long whiskers twitched. Callie could see the indecision in the horse’s stance, and her voice took on a pleading note. “C’mon little star, one step at a time.”
“Walk on in there,” Uncle Bob added in a rhythmic, lulling tone. Still the filly hesitated, and she began to turn, facing the people instead of the pen in the chute. Luis took a quick step toward her and clapped his hands once. The loud snapping noise took the filly by surprise, and she turned to flee from the sound. The only escape route was into the pen, and she lunged in. Luis was at the gate in an instant, and slammed it shut behind her. The little horse was trapped in the small space, and she squealed in panic. Then she reared, sending a spattering of blood onto Uncle Bob’s cheek. He motioned Callie and Luis away, and he too stepped back.
“Let’s give her a chance to settle down a little bit before we work on her,” Uncle Bob said.
They climbed out of the corral and the mares began to ease back to eating.
Callie had to force herself to stand quietly as the filly tried to run in the little pen and reared again, neighing wildly. She had visions of the filly trying to burst from the pen like the Outlaw of old. She hoped Flower and Punkin would make the little horse feel better.
After about five minutes, which to Callie seemed like days, the racket subsided. Uncle Bob picked up a halter and walked up the chute to the pen. He talked to Flower and Punkin. Callie heard the filly explode again, and it sounded as though she were trying to climb the panels.
Suddenly it was quiet.
“Callie! Come here,” Uncle Bob said. Callie hurried to the pen and gasped at what she saw. The filly lay motionless on the ground, pinned by a panel and the awkward way she had fallen.
Uncle Bob jumped in and sat firmly on her neck. He buckled on the halter.
Callie was shaking. “Is she hurt worse?”
“I don’t know yet,” said Uncle Bob. “Jeff, I need that kit, NOW!”
Jeff handed it to him wordlessly, and Uncle Bob pulled out a syringe and injected the filly with a clear liquid. “A mild tranquilizer,” he said. “To help us get her out of here safely, and clean up her wound.”
Callie looked into the filly’s terrorized eyes, and saw them soften as the drug took effect.
“Good,” said Uncle Bob and he swung his leg off the young horse and stood up. Jo and Robert moved a panel so the filly had room to get up, but she didn’t move at all.
The little horse lay so still that Callie knew she’d broken a leg. Her chest felt as if it had caved in on itself. and she was light-headed. No one moved for a split second. Then Uncle Bob said, “Keep a tight hold of that lead rope.” He prodded the filly with his booted toe. The filly looked up at him, startled, and suddenly struggled to stand up.
Callie watched, mesmerized as the filly gained all four feet, and stood unsteadily before her. “She’s all right?” Callie asked weakly.
Uncle Bob walked silently around the horse, looking carefully at each leg. “I think so,” he said.
Callie felt the thick spiral of the cotton rope in the viselike grip of her hands, and made herself relax. She began to murmur quietly to the horse, wishing she could cradle the filly’s head in her arm. Instead, she ran her hands over the rope as if it were alive, and tried to make her words caress the shivering horse.
Jake came over and tried to sniff at the strange horse, but Callie’s sharp tone told him to stay away.
Uncle Bob dipped a white rag into the bucket of water, and wrung out the excess. Then he began to clean the blood and dirt from the filly’s gash. The white became pink, and then dark red, and Callie forced herself to banish the queasiness that was rising in her throat. She could hear Uncle Bob saying, “MMMmmm,” and then, “MMMMMM.”
“What is it, Dad?” asked Jeff.
“This seems to be a little worse than I thought,” he said. “I think we’ll need to take her up to the ranch.”
“Will it need stitches?” asked Callie.
“Yes,” said Uncle Bob. “We’ll have to call the vet when we get her up there.” Uncle Bob dried his hands on a towel, and picked up some antiseptic powder. It was light blue, but when it touched the wound it turned a deep purple color.
“This will help for now,” said Uncle Bob.
“It doesn’t look much better,” said Luis, his face tinged with green.
Uncle Bob smiled, and handed the first aid kit to Jeff. “Why don’t you and Luis go see if you can reach your mother on the radio, Jeff. I’d like to get the filly up there tonight, if possible.”
Uncle Bob turned to Callie and blinked suddenly, as if he had just seen a bright light. Slowly he said, I hope Martha is not too busy with all the animals, plus her writing, to take on this filly, too.”
“Oh, I will take care of her!” said Callie. Callie reached out to touch the horse’s blue-gray neck gently, and the filly twitched. “It’s O.K. little one,” she said. “You’ll be a star.”
Uncle Bob looked at Callie whispering to the filly
“All right,” he said slowly. Callie turned to look at him. “She is now yours. And we will make that official with the Mustang Service as soon as we can.”
“Uncle Bob!” said Callie, unable to choke out any other words. Her tongue was stuck to the roof of her mouth as if she had just eaten a huge spoonful of peanut butter. She looked at the little star on the filly’s forehead, and then at her ugly gash and patchy coat. Finally, she looked at Uncle Bob. She handed the lead rope to Jo McCabe, and took the two steps that separated them. She gave her uncle a warm, slow hug that said everything from her joy at the gift of the filly to the love she felt for the entire family. She pushed her face into his shoulder and squeezed him as hard as she could.