"Stop that, Owen," I say, but he tugs harder.
"Lizzie," he whines, tears falling faster. I move my hand to grip his shoulder.
After the funeral we walk stiff-legged back to my second setting, Old Miss Watson's house. She pours us tea, but I long for coffee, something bitter and scalding. Owen asks for milk and she uses the last of it to give him a cup. I tell him he'll have to milk her cow tomorrow and he grudgingly agrees.
Miss Watson lets us stay up late while she tells us stories of her younger brother.
"He's out in California mining for gold."
I think she's trying to cheer us up, but it makes me long for my pillow even more. When her story is finally over Owen is asleep in bed. Trying to remain polite I stay until she is too tired to talk. After she suggests sleep we both turn in.
In the morning Miss Watson tells us we must go to town so she can buy flour. The walk to Grayson Grove is five miles from Miss Watson's house, she refuses to hitch up the horse and buggy claiming that she doesn't know how to. When I suggest that she get one of her farm hands to do it she waves it aside saying they don't know how to either. I fight to suppress my smile and remain stoic.
We reach Grayson Grove in under three hours and immediately enter Lisbon's General Store. Inside Miss Watson talks to Mrs. Lisbon about flour, but I follow Owen to a small barrel of peppermints.
"Just look, Own," I say, but he reaches gingerly towards the sweet. I give him a warning glance as he looks for permission in my eyes, knowing that he will receive none. With a sigh I slowly pull a penny from my pocket and Owen eyes it greedily. He picks out three peppermints while I walk towards the counter.
"Three peppermints please," I put the penny down on the bar. Mrs. Lisbon shakes her head and slides it back towards me.
"Not today, Honey," she says. I nod my head in appreciation. I nudge Owen in the ribs and he mutters a quiet "thank you." Mrs. Lisbon looks at him sympathetically and I know it's time to go outside. I push Owen ahead of me and we sit on the porch step just as Miss Watson and Mrs. Lisbon start their chat.
"I heard the baby died as well," Mrs. Lisbon says.
"It was tragic: the mother, father, and the babe," Miss Watson replies.
"What was the cause?"
A stupid grass snake is how I want to reply, but Miss Watson responds differently.
"Wagon turned over, sent the horse and all over the side of West End Point."
"The fall certainly didn't leave them pretty, but the baby's face wasn't so bad. We didn't let them see, of course."
"Certainly, and poor Owen. Is he really not speaking?"
"The only thing he's said to me was to ask for a cup of milk. Lizzie May can get some talk out of him, but when she's not around he shuts up."
Owen is looking at me while Miss Watson says this. His eyes seem to be asking for forgiveness and I give him a smile.
Miss Watson and Mrs. Lisbon talk for awhile longer, but she eventually emerges and we begin the walk back.
When night rolls in I'm outside in the barn. When it comes to spending another night listening to Miss Watson's stories or talking to the horses, I definitely choose the latter.
Dusty isn't as talkative as Spot-On, but he was my father's horse and so I choose to sit with him. His whinnies are few and far between, but his muzzle finds its way to my shoulder pretty often. Sporadically I offer him some Alfalfa cubes to let him know that his attentions are appreciated. I wish I had something sweeter to give him, but sugar's raised in price and the carrots aren't ready to be dug up.
I pick up the brush and begin to detangle his mane while I tell him how happy I am that he wasn't the one to go over the side of West End Point. A shame as it is to lose a good work horse, Dusty was my father's horse and he means a heap of a lot more than the old wagon-puller that went over with my parents and baby sister.
Something I will always like about Dusty is that he's a cattle horse. He doesn't pull any wagons or plows. My father and I broke him in together, he is one of many horses to receive similar treatment.
After I awhile I deem it safe to go inside. Sure enough Miss Watson is asleep. I change into my nightclothes and crawl into bed.
After breakfast the morning finds me outside. I am looking over Miss Watson's new pony. He's flighty and insecure around a whip, but when a body goes up to him with a handful of oats he gets pretty friendly. Owen soon joins me outside. Earlier today I convinced Miss Watson to let Owen name the animal.
Owen and I walk around the horse for awhile with Owen offering him the occasional handful of oats.
"Be careful, Owen," I say to him as he feeds the horse, "once that horse opens its mouth he's gotta close it again, and he doesn't care much if you hand is in there." Owen pulls his hand back quickly and frowns at me, the horse whinnies. "You gonna name this thing or what?"
Owen opens his mouth to speak, but instead shrieks as the horses muzzle finds its way to Owen's oat-filled hand.
"Chomper," he spurts out angrily, but soon opens his hand again to feed the horse.
"Chomper? That's pretty good," I say before going to find some Alfalfa.
When I return Owen is petting the horses head and speaking into its ear. This time I can't resist the smile, it's good to see Owen attach himself to something, but even better to see him speak to something.
I walk up and put my hand on his shoulder.
"Chomper needs to go out to the pen so he can exorcise, why don't you lead him out?" Owen happily takes the lead rope from me and he leads the horse out to the stable with me following behind.