To agtchill13 for her beautiful, adorable drawing of Dusty.
Set not long after Dusty becomes the rightful owner of Freckles. He's not quite used to the wilful pony yet...
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"So, Dusty, how does it feel to have your very own horse?" Mr. Callahan stood watching with amusement as Dusty hefted the saddle over his new pony's back and reached under the pony's belly for the dangling girth.
"Oh, it feels great, Mr. Callahan!" Dusty replied cheerfully. "I think he's really starting to like me, too." He slotted the girth straps through the saddle buckles and pulled up hard, grunting with the effort. Freckles murmured, shifted his front legs and patiently swished his tail.
"Make sure it's tight," Mr. Callahan advised, stepping forward as if to help. "They like to play tricks."
"Freckles wouldn't play a trick," Dusty said confidently. "Would you, boy?"
Freckles turned his head and blinked slowly at Dusty.
"See? He likes me." Dusty gave the horse a fond pat, then grasped the reins and got ready to mount up. He hooked his left foot awkwardly into the stirrup and bounced a few times, unable to get the correct leverage. Proudly, he refused Mr. Callahan's offer to help. "I can do it," he muttered, valiantly. Eventually he managed to bounce high enough so that he could sling one arm over the saddle and haul himself up with a grunt. It was not the most elegant of manoeuvres but it worked. Soon Dusty sat tall in the saddle, a little red in the face but nevertheless looking as pleased as Punch. "My very own horse," he sighed. "For the rest of my life." He began busying himself, adjusting the stirrups, shifting in his seat to make himself more comfortable, looking around to see what the view was like from the top of his very own horse.
Mr. Callahan watched with interest the shifting expression in Freckles' deep brown eyes. The pony was up to something, and Mr. Callahan was not surprised when Dusty, the saddle and the blanket beneath began ever so slowly slipping to one side. "Er, Dusty..." he said. "Dusty, watch yourself."
"Huh?" Dusty broke off from patting his pony's neck and looked at Mr. Callahan. The big wagonmaster, although standing still, appeared to be moving. Dusty tilted his head, puzzled. "Mr. Callahan, are you sliding sideways?" he asked.
"No, Dusty," Mr. Callahan grinned. "You are."
With that, Dusty and the saddle slid all the way over Freckles' right side and the clumsy cowboy was unceremoniously dumped onto the ground with a startled "oof!"
Mr. Callahan laughed out loud. "What did I tell you, Dusty! They like to play tricks!" He went over with his arms outstretched to help his little pal up off the floor. "Dusty by name, dusty by nature," he chuckled, hauling the scout to his feet and helping to brush him off.
"Wha'did you do that for?" Dusty garbled, planting his feet apart and staring at Freckles. "I thought we were friends!"
"They all do it, Dusty. They breathe in while you're tightening the straps, then breathe out once you're up. You ain't the first, and you sure won't be the last." Mr. Callahan patted Dusty's shoulder. "Now let's see about tightening 'er up, and this time we'll make sure you're secured." Mr. Callahan retrieved the saddle and tightened Freckles' girth while Dusty hovered close by, a little too closely at times. "Dusty, would you mind...?" Mr. Callahan moved his friend aside for the umpteenth time after his and Dusty's arms got tangled up yet again. "It doesn't take two, unless you're doing the tango."
"Tell that to him!" Dusty said, glaring at the pony, who gazed back innocently.
Mr. Callahan pulled Dusty by the arm and helped him up into the saddle. "This time, we'll make sure it's tight," he said, pulling the girth straps up by two extra notches. "See, Freckles? We're on to your little game now!"
Freckles whinnied softly and tossed his head up and down.
Dusty shifted his weight in the saddle, lurching wildly from side to side, bouncing up and down and rocking back and forth.
"Dusty, unless you're gonna be riding through a typhoon, I think it's safe to say you're secure," Mr. Callahan told him.
"Thanks, Mr. Callahan," Dusty grinned. "I don't know where I'd be without you."
"I know where I'd be without you, Dusty," Mr. Callahan replied, sweetly. "California."
Dusty pouted, but his consternation didn't last long. "Okay, Freckles," he said grandly, lifting the reins and straightening his back. "Let's move out. Come on, boy."
Freckles remained resolutely still.
"Come on, Freckles, come on boy." Dusty coaxed the pony with soft chirrups and nudged the animal gently in the ribs with his spur-less heels, but still the pony refused to move an inch. "Mr. Callahan!" Dusty whined. "Why won't he go?"
The big wagonmaster pretended to cough so that he could cover his mouth with his hand while he laughed. "You gotta show him who's boss, Dusty! Be forceful! Be a man!"
"Be a man, huh?" Dusty muttered, narrowing his eyes. "Okay. I'll show him!" He hunched over in the saddle and adopted what he hoped was a menacing tone. "Now hear this, Freckles, I'm asking you...no, I'm ordering you to...whooooaaaaaaa!" His last word was a high pitched wail as Freckles suddenly leapt forward with a jolt. Dusty appeared to hover momentarily in mid-air before the horse shot out from under him and left him sitting on his butt in the middle of a cloud of dust. "Mr. Callahan!" he moaned, trying to stagger to his feet, holding his hand out as the wagonmaster ran forward, his big face creased with a grin.
"Up you get, little pal," Mr. Callahan chuckled. He brushed Dusty off again, although it was getting harder to tell where the ground ended and Dusty began. "Guess you showed him that time, huh?"
"I don't think I'm cut out to be a man," Dusty muttered, rubbing his backside. "I'm more like a human yo-yo."
Mr. Callahan chuckled. "Gravity certainly does seem fonder of you than most people," he smiled.
Freckles was standing only a few feet away, snickering under his breath. Dusty fixed his hat and pushed the hair out of his eyes and spat the grit out of his mouth. He approached his pony with a hard stare. "Just look at you," he said accusingly. "Standing there like butter wouldn't melt. You oughta be ashamed of yourself!"
Freckles looked anything but. Instead, he tipped his head up and down and snorted through his nose. It sounded like laughter.
"What did I tell you last time?" Dusty continued, holding the pony's face in both hands. "No horsin' around, even if y'are a horse. You listened to me that time, why aren't you listenin' to me now?" Dusty looked back at Mr. Callahan. "Are you showin' off to Mr. Callahan? Is that what you're doing?"
The pony snickered again. Then he lifted his head and brushed Dusty's face with his big, rubbery lips.
"Oh, you're tryin' to kiss and make up now, huh?" Dusty rubbed the pony's nose with affection. "Think that gets you out of bein' naughty?"
Freckles nuzzled Dusty again. He blew a cloud of dust from Dusty's shoulders.
"Better get back up on him, little pal, while he's in a good mood!" Mr. Callahan grinned.
Dusty took hold of the reins a third time and hauled himself up into the saddle. He grimaced as his butt hit the hard leather seat. "Ouch, that smarts."
"'Smarts' is not a word I'd normally associate with you, little pal," Mr. Callahan observed. "Now come on- don't let a couple of spills put you off. You remember what it was like when you were breakin' him?"
Dusty nodded painfully. "Yeah- he almost broke me!"
"Persistence pays off," Mr. Callahan said sagely. "Practise makes perfect!"
Dusty rubbed his backside. "If at first you don't succeed, give up!"
"You know you don't mean that," Mr. Callahan smiled.
Easing himself gingerly into the seat, Dusty again took up what he hoped was an assertive tone of voice. "Now hear this, Freckles, or whatever your name is, if you throw me again, I'll turn you into glue!" He flicked the reins and dug his heels firmly into Freckles's sides, and the pony whinnied indignantly and took off at a gallop.
"Whoooaaa! Whooooaaaaa!" Dusty yelled, hanging on for dear life. "Mr. Calla-haaaaaaaaannn! Please! Whoooooaaaaaaaaaaa!"
Freckles galloped steadily for about two hundred metres then braked hard. Dusty flew over the pony's neck and hurtled towards an overhanging tree branch. Still yelling, he hit the branch with his stomach and grabbed wildly for it as the momentum spun him over the top. His legs kicked out and sent showers of leaves to the ground. As his left foot arced over, it snagged in a narrow 'Y' of the branch above and brought him to a sudden stop. Trapped by his foot, Dusty swung gently back and forth with twigs and leaves cascading down around him, while somewhere in the middle of the foliage a pair of angry birds began twittering furiously at the sudden and blatant intrusion upon their territory.
"Mr. Callahan," Dusty moaned as the laughing wagonmaster came running. "I guess I shouldn't have said the 'g' word."
Mr. Callahan shook his head. His little pal looked so funny dangling there, blinking his big blue eyes in his upside down face. "Dusty, you get yourself into some crazy situations," he guffawed.
"No thanks to him," Dusty retorted, pointing at the appaloosa standing nearby. "Turnpike!"
"I think you mean 'turncoat'," the wagonmaster smiled.
Mr. Callahan looked up. "I'm afraid you're gonna have to untangle yourself, little pal. Just unhook your...that's it, slowly, Dusty..."
Dusty reached up to hold onto the branch that his foot was caught in and started struggling, kicking at the branch with his free leg. "Stupid tree," he muttered.
"Take it easy, Dusty," Mr. Callahan said, almost closing his eyes as Dusty writhed and struggled like a bear caught in a trap. Finally he worked his foot loose, but he lost his grip at the same time and plummeted to the ground, leaves flying up around him as he landed.
"Mr. Callahaaaan," he moaned, lying flat on his back in a star shape.
"That's gotta hurt," Mr. Callahan muttered to himself as he once again helped his little pal to his feet. "You okay, Dusty?"
"By 'okay', do you mean, 'do you think you've broken every bone in your body'? Because if that's what you mean, then the answer's yes," Dusty replied, looking very unsteady on his feet. He pulled his hat shakily onto his head and readjusted the chin strap. He looked very sorry for himself indeed.
"Surely you're not giving up already?" Mr. Callahan smiled kindly.
"I'm giving up all right," Dusty muttered. He walked very stiffly towards Freckles, his face set in a grimace of pain and humiliation. "I hope you're proud of yourself!" he said. "You sure ain't no friend of mine any more!"
Freckles whinnied softly and lowered his head.
"Why Dusty, if I didn't know better, I'd say he was ashamed!" said Mr. Callahan, his eyebrows raised.
"He should be ashamed!" Dusty muttered. "I fed him and watered him and almost got hung for him, well, guess he wanted to see me hung and that's what he got!"
Freckles dipped his head even lower. He snorted softly through his nose.
"You can't even look at me, huh. Well, I don't much want to look at you either."
Mr. Callahan watched with interest as man and beast continued ignoring each other. Dusty stood with his back turned and arms folded, his pride wounded almost beyond repair.
Finally, Freckles took a step towards Dusty and nudged the young scout with his nose. Dusty humphed and moved out of reach. The horse moved over and nudged him again. Dusty humphed louder and walked off. The horse followed.
"Dusty, I think he wants you to get on," the wagonmaster said, eyeing the horse thoughtfully.
"I ain't falling for that one again," Dusty said, deliberately looking away from his approaching pony.
"Come on Dusty, I think he's asking to be forgiven."
Dusty pressed his lips tightly together. "Hmph," he said, pointedly.
Freckles reached out with his head and gripped the back of Dusty's pants lightly in his teeth.
"Hey! Watch where you're puttin' those things!" Dusty yelped, flailing his arms out as the horse propelled him bodily towards the saddle. "I said I ain't gettin' back on and I meant it!"
"Go on, Dusty, I think he means business," Mr. Callahan said, leaning casually against the tree as the performance went on.
Dusty struggled bravely against Freckles but the horse was stronger. The animal pushed and pushed until the intention was clear enough- Freckles wanted Dusty to remount.
"Mr. Callahan, whose side are you on?" Dusty complained bitterly as the wagonmaster stood there laughing at his friend's predicament. "Okay, Freckles, you win. Just stop the gosh darned shoving!" Dusty made one more attempt to shove back, but Freckles stood firm and the scout finally gave up. With a sigh of defeat, Dusty hooked his foot into the stirrup and clambered aboard, wincing as his poor aching body settled itself into the seat.
"Do you want me to go back and tell the girls to get a nice warm bath ready?" Mr. Callahan grinned.
Dusty pulled a face. "How about a nice warm hospital bed? 'Cause that's what I'm gonna need if he throws me one more time!"
But Freckles didn't throw him. He snorted softly through his nose and began walking forward without a fuss. Dusty had been sitting tensely with his eyes squeezed shut, but now he opened them and relaxed. "How about that?" he grinned, happily surprised. "He's behaving himself!"
"So he is," Mr. Callahan laughed, tipping his hat back. "And I think I know what changed his mind."
"Was it me?" Dusty said, looking pleased with himself as Freckles walked on, as calm and docile as a child's favourite pet. "Was it my air of authority? Do you think he listened to me? Did I show him who's boss, Mr. Callahan? Did I?"
"No," Mr. Callahan replied, "you looked so pathetic hanging upside down from that tree that even a horse felt sorry for you!"
Dusty grimaced. "Gee thanks, Mr. Callahan. That's real swell of you to say that."
"Not at all, little pal, not at all," Mr. Callahan chuckled, and together they walked back to camp.