My Forty Years Scribblin's
Other Ramblin's
Two Stubborn Hearts

This entry placed in the Writer's DigestShort, Short Story contest in 1963.

Only one difference 'tween a boy and a colt," Dad says. "A colt gets around on all four." But I still can't see how he figures it 'cause the first thing that little devil did was kick me in the shins. He was a long yearling when Dad got him down at the stock yards in a truckload of canner horses—a dunn colored, trim little stallion with black legs and a black line down his back from his mane to the roots of his tail. "Dirty buckskin color" Dad called him, just to get an argument out of me. He said I could keep the colt because his bony carcass wouldn't bring enough to pay Charlie for skinning him out. But I still think it was the fire in his cayuse eye and the way he tossed that black mane, much as to say, come and get me. I just dare you to lay a hand on me!

Charlie came down to the corral with his thumbs hooked in the pockets of his jeans and he stood there just looking and worrying his chaw of tobacco for so long that I thought he wasn't going to say a thing.

Then he pushed back his old black hat and started to rub his whiskery chin.

"Gonna take a man to handle that one, Clayt," he said. That sure made me feel good 'cause if there's one thing Charlie knows about it's horses.

I decided to call him Alkali, 'cause he seemed to be made special for our kind of country. And I scarcely could wait 'til we ate so Charlie and I could begin working with him. Sometimes I get awful tired of mulligan and that's about all Charlie knows how to cook but I didn't stop to taste it that day. I've learned not to let myself think about all the nice puddings and things we used to have 'cause when I do I always see Dad carrying my mom out to the car to take her down to that hospital and I get lonesome all over again. It wasn't quite so bad after we moved up to the cabin and Charlie came to batch with us. But it was a lot better yet after Dad brought me Alkali.

Dad had to go somewhere in the truck that afternoon but Charlie helped me chase the little dunn into the chute so we could slip a loop over his head.

"Don't like to lassoo him," Charlie said. "Jist make him more scared and wild."

Soon as he was ready at the snubbing post I pulled out the pole that was holding Alkali back. The little spitfire left that chute like a yellow streak and went around and 'round the corral like a pencil on the end of a string. Every time the rope went slack Charlie gave it a yank. It didn't take that pony long to see that he was being tricked so he threw himself on the ground, and there he lay, sulking like a big spoiled kid.

"Sneak up behind and throw a handful of dirt at 'im," Charlie said. So I did. And he was on his feet so quick you couldn't tell how he did it. But he hauled back on the rope and stood there stiff legged, blowing hate at us through both nostrils.

"Get a stick and prod 'im a little," Charlie suggested.

I found a chunk of old corral pole and reached out to touch him. That's when he let fly with both hind feet and left the scrapings of my shin bones sticking to the inside of my overalls. Next thing we knew he lunged ahead and chased poor old Charlie around that snubbing post 'til he wound up all thirty-five feet of that lariat. Right then the truck came rumbling in and we must have been a sight the way Dad came grinning through the corral poles to look us over.

"Wal I never..." Charlie snorted, puffing and wheezing for breath. Gee, was I proud, even sitting there holding my burning shins. Dad must have noticed how grown up I was getting to give me a horse like that!

"You better grain that little feller and get him to likin' you," Dad said. "Then you can do anything with him."

Well, maybe the "little feller" never got to liking me much but he sure did like my oats. Before long he'd come clear across the pasture to fight with me. He wasn't particular. He'd bite or he'd kick. One day I went limping into the cabin holding one arm where that ornery cayuse had 'bout taken out a chunk and Dad 'bout took all the wind out of me.

"You better get shed of that colt," he said, 'fore he gets a chance to hurt you."

"What d'you think he's been doin'," I showed him my bruised arm, kind of braggy like.

"I know what he's been doin' and I asked Ben Flagg for a trade, for somethin' you can use and not get your head kicked off." He took a tally book off the shelf and turned away.

"Dad," I said, "that little Alkali horse is the toughest animal in the U-nited States and I don't want to get shed of him."

"I don't want you crippled either," Dad turned back to his figures as if that settled it.

Well, I knew I wasn't very steady when I told him next but I couldn't help it.

"Dad," I said, "if you take Alkali away from me you don't have to get me another horse. I don't ever want to see one!"

Charlie sat a-studying the toe of his old boot and Dad sat a-studying both of us.

"OK," he finally nodded. "But If you get yourself, killed don't come a'cryin' to me."

After that I really appreciated Alkali. He finally gentled so I could halter and lead him by myself—if I held the rope right up next to his chin so he couldn't be up to no monkey business.

Then we had a streak of bad luck. Charlie had a tousle with his rheumaticks and I stepped on a rusty nail. It was a week before we got back to the corral and that Alkali character thought he had put the kibosh to us proper. He reared and he snorted. He bucked and he kicked.

"Do we have to go through all that over again?" I asked. "Don't let 'im worry you," Charlie said. "Two things a horse never forgets is the rope and the oat pail."

Alkali soon forgot his week of freedom. Then Charlie sprang his big surprise.

"He might's well get used to the saddle," he said. "He oughta be big enough and gentle enough for you to ride a little, come spring."

"Whew. I'll bet he throws a ring tailed conniption," I let out a whistle, half scared that he wouldn't.

"Let 'im." Charlie went on taking up a cinch. "We've just got to show 'im who's boss, that's all."

I hardly could wait 'til Saturday when Charlie said we'd saddle my colt. I didn't get to see Alkali on Friday night. The school bus got stuck in the mud and it was dark when I got home. But early next morning I took my halter and oat pail and went out to tie up my horse so he'd be there when Charlie was ready for him. I looked the bunch over and over and everything was there but my dunn colored colt. And Alkali was always on hand for his hay and grain.

"Did you see Alkali when you fed the stock last night?" I asked from the cabin door.

"Come to think of it—I don't b'lieve I did." Dad stood frowning with the sourdough bowl in one hand and the spoon dripping batter on the hot stove. I turned to go out but he called me back to eat my breakfast first.

Alkali was nowhere in sight. I headed for the hill pasture thinking maybe he was up in the jackpines where I couldn't see him. But he wouldn't have stayed out there of his own accord. Gee, what if he was stolen and I never did get him back! I felt near panicky but I just couldn't hurry any faster. My feet felt like a couple of washboards with all that gumbo on my shoes. I hunted 'til my pancakes were plumb worn out and I was pretty sick and hopeless when I gave up and started back. Then I saw him. He was on his back in an old irrigation ditch and it looked as if he'd been there all winter. He was still trying to get out though and I hurried to get a halter on him thinking to give him a pull to help him.

"Whoa now. Easy now," I talked to him gentle, trying to let him know that everything was going to be 0K.

"We've got to get you on your feet," I said. I'd heard Dad say a horse just couldn't stay down too long or he'd be a gonner for sure. I tried to get his nose in the oat bucket but he threw his head and scattered me and the grain up and down the ditch for fifteen feet. I sure wished for Dad or Charlie, but dern it all, there's never anybody around when you need help. After a while I did get the neckband snapped on but by that time he'd wiped up the ditch with me so you couldn't have told what color either one of us was. I started around him to loop the rope over a root sticking up, then when he tried again I'd give a big pull and he'd get up—maybe.

I moved to step past him and he gave a big lurch and got me right smack on the ankle with that near hind foot.

"Now he's broke it for sure," I yelped. I was sitting there rocking and howling and squeezing my foot when Dad and Charlie came walking through the willows. Charlie went around and stood by Alkali's head.

He looked kind of crumpled and his face seemed as long as our pitchfork handle. I soon saw why. The little horse was all through struggling. I hobbled over to look too and his eyes were glazing over. Charlie laid an arm across my shoulders and all at once I didn't feel grown up at all and I didn't care if they did see me bawling.

"If he hadn't been so darned—stubborn—I—might have—got him on his feet," I blubbered. Dad just stood there quiet like, looking down at Alkali and Charlie and me. There wasn't any grin on his face anymore. And when he did say something it didn't make much sense to me.

"Only one difference 'tween a boy and a colt," Dad said. "A colt gets around on all four."