Read more journal entries in Andi’s Attic >>
September 9, 1889
Unbelievable! My worst fears realized! This ridiculous incident with the buggy happened on September 8, although it’s taken me two days to finish up the entry. By the time any grandchildren and great-grandchildren read these entries, the dates will be so muddled that nobody will be able to figure out when something actually happened.
When I saw the empty hitching rail, my stomach dropped clear to my toes. I’d been in a hurry to tie him up, but surely Ranger would not make it his life’s goal to loosen his reins and hightail it home. Ranger was trained to be ground-tied, and that included the buggy. Those thoughts comforted me for about two seconds. Andi Prescott, how could you have been so careless?
I glanced up and down Mariposa Street. Late afternoon traffic was picking up. Buggies, wagons, and cowboys on their horses. But no Ranger. No spanking-new buggy. Riley is going to skin me alive! That buggy cost all of fifty dollars. Now, that might not seem like a lot of money to someone who grew up on the biggest ranch in the San Joaquin Valley, but to Riley it’s huge. Except for the 1,000 acres my family deeded over to us as a wedding present, Riley works hard to make Memory Creek ranch pay. And we rarely ask for help from the family. Riley works for Chad sometimes, and Chad pays well, but—
“What’s the matter?” Melinda asked.
“What do you think’s the matter?” I wailed. “Our buggy is gone.”
Melinda’s breath caught in her throat. “Oh, Andi. How will you get home?”
Getting home? That was the very least of my worries. “What will Riley say?”
Melinda furrowed her brow. “What do you mean?”
“It’s our new buggy. I promised Riley I’d take good care of it. And—and—” I gulped. “I lost it!”
“How do you figure?”
“I reckon I was in a hurry and didn’t tie Ranger very well.”
Melinda shook her head. “Andi, even if you were rushing, your fingers know how to do the job, even if your mind is five minutes ahead. I’m sure you tied him just fine. You simply don’t remember.” She huffed. “Even if he did get loose, your horses are all ground-tied. He should be standing right here, thinking he’s still tied up.”
This was true, but her words did not make me feel better at all. “On the off chance that something startled him, he might be wandering farther into town. Probably hanging around a horse trough. It’s been a warm day.” My heart settled down . . . a little. I didn’t want to think of the other possibility. Neither, apparently, did Melinda.
Neither of us brought up the idea that Ranger and the buggy might have been stolen. I hitched up the Wilsons’ buggy, and Melinda and I headed uptown. Half an hour later, I was close to tears. Ranger and the buggy were nowhere. It was close to five o’clock. By now, Riley would be home and wondering where I was. Jared was hungry. I was hungry. And I was scared. Not for the first time did I wish Melinda had a new-fangled telephone whose wires reached all the way out to Memory Creek. No such luck . . .
“We’ll find Ranger later,” Melinda assured me. “For now, I think you should rent a horse and buggy from Sam Blake and head home.”
I clenched my jaw. “Not without our buggy.”
“Riley will come looking for you.”
Melinda was right about that. I should probably do what she says.
“When you get home, you can tell Riley about Ranger. In the meantime, I’ll ask Peter to keep looking here in town. And we can ask Justin to—”
“No!” Worse and worse! “Don’t get Justin involved. It’s humiliating enough as it is.” I sighed. “Where can Ranger be?”
My sister lifted her shoulders in a helpless shrug. “I’m sorry, Andi. I haven’t any idea.”
Downcast, I hiked up Jared on my hip and headed for the livery. This is a nightmare. How can I tell Riley I’ve lost his beautiful buggy?
An hour later, I pulled up on the horse’s reins and squinted in the distance. A galloping horse was a small, dusty, dark spot. The early evening sun sent faint rays out, but not enough to blind my vision. I could easily tell the spot was horse and rider. Riley and Dakota.
Riley rode up beside me and stilled Dakota. A look of relief washed over his face. “I was getting worried,” he said. “Where have you been?”
My fingers clenched the reins. My stomach leaped into my throat. “I . . . I . . .”
A look of worry replaced Riley’s relieved expression. “What’s wrong?” Then his gaze left me and passed over the horse and buggy. His eyes widened. “Where’s Ranger and our buggy?”
I explained, and Riley frowned. “That’s odd.”
“I tied him up. I really did.”
Riley waved my words away. “He’s ground-tied.”
“You searched the town?”
“Melinda and I both searched the town thoroughly. Ranger is nowhere to be found.”
“Well, you go on home. I’ll ride into town and look around. Horses don’t just go missing.”
“Maybe not, but this one did.” My throat tightened. “I’m sorry, Riley.”
Riley reached into the buggy and caught my long, dark braid. He gave it a gentle tug. “It’ll be all right, I’m sure. Go on home. I’ll be back shortly.”
I did as Riley asked, surprised at how calmly he took the news that our expensive buggy was missing. I was twitchy all evening, wondering what had happened to it. Stolen? Not possible. Or was it? I waited up until far into the night. But I finally couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer. Drowsiness overwhelmed me, and I fell asleep.
I didn’t remember Riley coming home, but the next morning, at a later-than-usual breakfast, I asked Riley what he’d found out the day before.
“Nothing. No one in town has seen Ranger.” He shook his head. “He just disappeared.”
“What are we going to do?”
“I’m taking the day off. I have to find Ranger and–” He broke off and swallowed.
And the buggy. His unfinished words stabbed my gut. I had begun to clear the breakfast dishes, but I fell back into my seat. “I’m really and truly sorry, Riley. I—”
“It’s all right.” Riley rose and wrapped his arms around me. “It’s just a buggy. Just a horse. I haven’t lost the important things—you or Jared.” He frowned in thought. “Even if Ranger’s reins slipped, he wouldn’t go anywhere. He would stand and wait until Kingdom come for you or me. No, I think someone either released him as part of a strange act of malicious mischief . . . or somebody stole him and the buggy.”
“Who would do that?” I demanded. But a sudden memory flooded my mind. Someone like that wretched Johnny Wilson! Or one of the Hollister boys would take great pleasure in letting loose a tied horse. I wonder who the recent version of the town’s troublemakers are.
Knock! Knock! Knock!
Riley gave me a puzzled look. Who would be knocking on our door at eight in the morning?
I ran to the door and flung it open. “Why, Libby Flanders!” I exclaimed. “What on earth are you doing way out here?” The Flanders family ranched way south of Fresno, nearly to Visalia. Visiting Memory Creek ranch was not a “just passing by” affair.
“I’m returning your horse and buggy.”
“What?” My mouth dropped open.
Riley came up from behind me. “You’re what?”
“Our great-uncle is visiting out at the ranch. He’s old and rather forgetful. Yesterday, Papa needed some supplies and wanted to send a telegram. Uncle Tatum volunteered to go into town. Father protested, but Uncle insisted, and he won. He took our horse and buggy into town. But instead of going to Visalia, which is miles closer, he went all the way into Fresno!”
And? I wondered. How did a grown man mix up a horse and buggy?
Libby’s shoulder’s slumped. “Uncle likes to . . .” Her face reddened. “Well, he’s pretty fond of socializing in the saloon and I guess he had a bit too much to drink yesterday afternoon. When he came out onto the street, he couldn’t remember what Papa’s horse looked like, and as we all know, those two-seater rigs all look alike.” She giggled.
I did not giggle. Or smile. Ranger was a striking horse with an easy-to-recognize Circle C brand. How could anybody mistake Ranger for a Triple L horse? My eyes grew wide. “Do you mean . . .?”
Libby was nodding. “Yes. Uncle Tatum wandered up and down the street, half drunk”–her face turned redder–“until he wandered by your sister’s place over on Mariposa Street. Then he helped himself to your buggy and horse.”
“By the time Uncle plodded home, it was pretty late,” Libby continued. “It wasn’t until one of the hands came running into the house saying the horse was sporting a Circle C brand. Oops. Uncle Tatum had really done it this time!”
“I’d say so,” Riley remarked quietly.
Libby slumped and finished her story. “We hightailed it back to Fresno, and Sam Blake told us it wasn’t a Circle C rig, but yours. He thought it was quite a joke the way you and later Riley were scrambling around town to find your buggy.
Uh. No joke, but I bit down on my tongue and simply smiled.
“By then it was too late to come all the way out here, so Papa paid Mr. Blake to board it. Then I scurried to town as soon as the sun rose to get the horse and rig back to you.”
Riley started laughing. “You rose before the sun, I’ll wager. That’s a long trip to Fresno and then out here. Thank you, Libby, for coming out here. You could have left the rig in town and Sam could have sent a boy out here with a note.”
“I know,” Libby said, “but it’s the least I could do. I’m so sorry we worried you. A horse and buggy are expensive items, and I’m sure it was a cause for concern when you couldn’t find them.”
That’s the truth, I wanted to say but didn’t.
“Of course, Uncle didn’t even realize what he’d done, and we didn’t tell him. Poor old man. His memory is not what it used to be, especially when he has a bit too much to drink.”
“Can you stay for breakfast?” I asked. “You have a long ride back to the Triple L.”
Libby shook her head and untied her saddle horse from behind the buggy. “I’ve got a full day ahead of me, and I won’t get home before noon as it is. But thanks, anyway.”
After she’d left, I turned to Riley. A bubble of laughter rose, and I didn’t hold it back. “Well,” I giggled, “at least it wasn’t my fault this time!”