A cowboy always trusts his horse’s senses, ‘specially his hearing. I knowed sumpthin’ was up when Jasper’s eyes flicked off to the side of the trail. I watched him keerful like. The Catskill Mountains were chock full of wild critters and not all them was friendly. I watched to see if Jasper was worried or just noticin’. When his head dropped low again and his ears relaxed to a sideways waggle, I settled back to doze. It had been a long trip an’ I was jus’ that tuckered.
I didn’t get that snooze. Jasper stopped sudden-like and his ears pointed down a ravine. I watched him but couldn’t figure out his thinkin’. He didn’t seem fearful but something weren’t right. His nostrils flared and he snorted. His ears nearly touched at the tip, they was straining so hard to hear. He looked … worried. Not for hisself but for whatever critter was out there.
So I gave him his head. I loosened the reins and touched his sides with my calves. He understood. We plunged into thick undergrowth and fought our way through bushes and vines. The trees towered over us and the ground was treacherously thick with deadfall. Every now and again he would stop his floundering and stand stock-still, ears swiveling to locate the sound. Then he would either plow forward again or adjust his direction a mite.
Finally, I heard it. I still had no idears what it could be. I just knowed my horse could be trusted to not take us to some injured catamount kit. Them mountain lions wouldn’t take kindly to us nosing in. No sirree. And I ain’t inclined to irritate them. Nope. Not me.
We broke out into a clearing. A lake stretched out before us, sparkling blue in the hot sunshine. That’s when I heard it fer reals. Now my eyes were searching along with Jasper’s. A child’s cry ‘bout froze my liver. No other folk could be seen. A child alone out here. Yup… froze my liver and my gizzard.
Jaspar knowed where he was headed now and he weren’t wasting no time. He trotted quick-like, his head high and muscles tense. He leapt over a crick and broke into a ground-eating gallop through the meadow surrounding the lake. Then I saw her. A little tyke, soggy and bedraggled, clutched wildflowers in muddy fingers. Jasper slowed as we neared and stood, blowing in excitement. I stepped down from the saddle and plopped down on the ground beside her.
“You hurtin’ anywhere’s, Princess?”
“No, Mister. I picked pretty flowers for Mommy’s birthday, but my Mommy and Daddy gotted lost and I fell in the mud.” She snuffled brown snot back into her nose and rubbed her eyes with a fist. I feared she’d rub dirt in them so I took that grubby hand in mine and helped her stand.
“I betcha I know how to find ‘em.” I stepped back into the saddle, reached down, and scooped her up in front of me. I gave ol’ Jasper his head again. He took a minute to look around, then I watched his nostrils flare as he tried to catch a scent. Twasn’t till his ears started swiveling that I felt him tense up. He heard something. I held the girl tight as he took off at a gentle canter.
When we rounded the far end of the lake, we found what he’d been hearing. People flocked around us cluckin’ like chickens. The tike’s Mom and Dad looked like they’d been handed a miracle when that muddy little girl wrapped her arms around their necks, still clutchin’ them wildflowers. I reckon I had a bit of her mud in my eyes as they seemed a bit watery.
The park rangers had just arrived and they seemed real glad to see me. They even seemed happy to turn off the spinny lights on their cars when they noticed Jasper was more than a bit spooked. Yup… that campground was a happening place.
It was time to move along. After being gifted with provisions and even a warm blanket ( I downright refused any money), I headed out on my journey again. Jasper done taught me long ago how to be with my Master. As we traveled I listened real keerful to hear which way He wanted us to go. I knowed He would have another task for me an’ Jasper as long as we listened to His directions.
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