Arriving at the Carter Ranch there seemed to be a great big commotion going on. Horses were neighing. Suddenly around the corner of the barn came a gorgeous horse. It looked to be about three years old. It was a palomino. It had a darker mane and tail and seemed to be running away. Around the corner another palomino, with a very blonde mane and tail, and with a dark-haired rider that looked to be a girl.
"Whoa, Shasta, whoa," the rider called. She leaned over to the horse’s halter and grabbed it with a final ‘whoa.’ The runaway skidded to a halt.
Mitch shouted, "Way to go, Andi. "
Andi dismounted, took off her cowboy hat, and bowed. "Thank you, thank you.” She walked over to the buggy with the two horses trailing behind her and leaned in. "Howdy." She nodded at Daniel, "Welcome to the ranch. I am Andi, well known 'round these here parts for my ability to get into trouble. Wow, you sure look like Mitch. Hey, Daniel, I just thought of something. If you ever get into trouble, just blame Mitch." Andi paused as she looked at Daniel. "You know I was just joking, right?"
"Oh yah sure, whatever, you were just joking. " Daniel tried to cover up his look of delight as the realization dawned over him. The thought of being able to cover up all his pranks by saying that Mitch had done it.
Well, he would have to get to know him better so he could see how he walked, so if someone saw him they would believe it to be Mitch. That would be lying, though, and that would not be good. Well that could wait; the questions on his extended families faces could not wait. "I was just thinking of what could happen if people thought I was you, Mitch."
Mitch chuckled, but it was an unsure chuckle. What kind of damage could this cousin do to his reputation? He'd have to keep an eye on this guy. "Come on in, Daniel, and meet the rest of the family I'm sure they are all eager to meet you."
There was no time for formal introductions. The meal was ready and everyone hastened to the dinner table for fear of getting served burnt potatoes or scorched roast. The aroma in the room was delicious. Nothing smelled burnt to Daniel, much to his relief.
In the doorway to the kitchen walked a young girl carrying a china platter heaped with slices of roast ham. Behind her came a young woman carrying a two-year old boy on her hip. In her left hand she carried a bowl of what looked to be fried potatoes done to a perfect shade of brown, with grains of salt and flakes of pepper adorning the top.
After introductions were done and Chad had prayed for the food, they started passing the platters and bowls around. Along with the ham and fried potatoes there were jellied cranberries, rolls, butter, cobs of corn and a big bowl of carrots that had cream and butter mixed in with them.
Chad asked, "How was school today girls?"
Elise and Andi looked at each other and started to laugh.
"I would much be pleased to know what is so amusing in school. All I really remember is standing at the blackboard writing, getting homework, pulling girls’ braids, letting frogs loose, and getting into trouble for it," said Mitch.
"Well, we are assigned reports to do,” said Elise with her very thick, Dutch accent, "and we are thinking of topics. We have very many ideas, so many we can't choose. Cory has decided to do a report on gold panning, and Jack Goodwin was wanting to do a report on the reaction of girls screaming when you show them a snake.
She laughed. “Mr. Foster disapproved of that one, so now Jack is doing a report on how a store is run. Mr. Foster wasn’t too pleased, but he let it go. I am wanting to do a report on either how to cook chicken, beef, or ham, or I may do a report on how to knit or maybe snow, or I may do a report about scarlet fever, how to treat it and what the effects can be.
“Andi wants to do a report on horses, but Mr. Foster said that was too broad of a topic so she will do a report maybe on shoeing horses or training them. Johnny Wilson, well he wanted to do a report on how a gun goes off, but Mr. Foster said that would be too dangerous, so Johnny has to decide a knew topic. ”
“Andi, with Elise just mentioning guns going off, it’s about time you learned how to shoot a gun and hit the target. We can do it on Saturday ‘cause I’m free and school is out,” said Chad.
Andi groaned. The last time there had been a shooting lesson, fifty bullets had been used and none of them had hit the target, plus her hands had been shaky for three days. Chad had been pretty annoyed. That had been six months ago. and Andi was still not ready, but if Chad was ready to try the impossible. well she could be ready as well.
“All right Chad, if you’re ready I reck’n I can get through another fifty or so bullets on Saturday,” Andi said with her most winning smile.
Everyone laughed except Chad, who groaned.
“I had forgotten you went through fifty bullets.”
“Wan’na call it off?” Andi asked hopefully.
“No way little sis, no way. ”
Saturday morning dawned bright and clear. The sky was a bright blue. Daniel had been invited to learn how to shoot with them. That was something he was looking forward to doing.
Chad had set up the target near a rocky area. There was a big rock that kind of looked like a horse’s head. To the right of the target a little ways up was the horse’s paddock. Taffy was out grazing on the hay that had been spread out in it.
While Chad was setting up Daniel recollected the pranks he had played in the last couple of days. Besides the mouse in the tea cup and the snake in a dresser—plus a raw chicken replacing a cooked one—nothing too drastic had happened. After the lesson was over he planned to go and set up a couple of pranks, one which included a cold pot of tea and a little, innocent frog from the creek nearby.
Andi and Chad were both ready, so Daniel walked slowly over to the place where they were standing. Chad went through the directions twice. Never point the gun at the person when they are your friend—or your enemy as a matter of fact—unless they are threatening or a wanted or will-be wanted man.
The other rules were good ones, but Daniel didn’t pay attention. In fact, he never even heard the rule about not shooting at a rock, and how the bullet could bounce off and come back.
Andi took her place beside Chad. He helped her line up her arms and shoot at the target. He let go of her arms just as she was about to pull the trigger. She shot and amazingly she hit the target.
Her mouth fell open. “I have never before in my entire life hit the spot where it was supposed hit. I can’t believe it. I have to tell Mitch. I’ll be back in a minute. Mitch proclaimed me hopeless. That is why I need to tell him.” With a squeal Andi ran off toward the barn, where Mitch was taking care of his horse.
Chad chuckled to himself and turned toward Daniel. “Ready to give it a try?”
After a couple of tries Daniel was bored so he decided to annoy Chad. He knew Chad had told him to shoot at the target, but when you are bored anything can make life more interesting.
“Hey, Chad,” Andi called from the barn door. She started to walk toward them, ”Mitch was so impressed he . . ." Her voice trailed off as she saw Daniel point the pistol at the rock. "No Daniel, don’t do that!”
Chad whirled around, but too late the pistol went off.
It all seemed slow motion. The bang of the pistol. A little rock crumbling. A frightened squeal of a horse in pain. Taffy falling to the ground and struggling.
”No,” Andi whispered. “No!" she yelled.
She, Chad, and Daniel ran over to where Taffy was lying. Andi fell at her side. Tears were streaming down her cheeks.
"Andi, I’m sorry, I didn’t know that would happen, honest.” Daniel gulped, He had never done anything as bad as this before. Even attaching a string to a dead rattler and putting it in the teacher’s desk and pulling the string when the teacher opened the desk had not been as bad as this.
Amazingly, Andi turned toward him and gave a faint smile. “That’s okay, Daniel, I forgive you.”
Mitch had come up behind them. His sharp intake of breath showed his surprise.
“Chad,”Andi’s voice trembled, "Can she . . . will she get better?”
“Andi, I’m sorry.” He took his pistol from his holster and loaded it.
“Taffy, I love you, and will never forget you.” Andi kissed Taffy’s head and backed away.
Chad pointed his pistol at the horse. The noise of that pistol echod across the fields. Andi turned and ran toward the house, climbed the stairsc and ran into her bedroom. She sat by the window and stared across the yard.
Her thoughts flashed back to the time Chad gave her Taffy, and also when her horse was threatened and Jack Goodwin had saved Taffy. The many adventures she and Taffy had were all in her memory. She would never forget them.
She saw Daniel out by Taffy. He had a piece of paper and seemed to be drawing something. Andi made up her mind she would forgive him however hard it would be to do so. She cushioned her head on her arms and fell asleep.
It was around 4:30 that afternoon when a light knock on the door aroused Andi. “Come in, " she called expecting it to be one of her family members. In a way it was. It was Daniel.
He held a piece of paper in one of his hands. ”Andi,” he said, ”I truly am sorry for what happened. I know Taffy was special and all. Anyway, it was entirely my fault. I don’t blame you if you won’t forgive me. I drew a picture of Taffy for you, before your brothers buried her.”
With that, Daniel handed Andi a picture of Taffy and left the room.
Andi looked at the picture and smiled. It may not been done by a famous artist, but it showed Daniel was truly sorry. It was just Taffy’s head, but Andi would treasure that picture for years to come. She still was sad, but she was glad her cousin had apologized.
The whole family came to see Daniel off. He was glad he had come to the ranch, and he was glad Andi had forgiven him. She had only gotten mad at him when she introduced him to Jack Goodwin. Daniel had asked if Jack and she were going to get married one day.
Both of them turned very red in the face.
“All aboard,” the conductor called.
With a chorus of good-byes and promises to write letters, Daniel boarded the train. The family he was leaving behind were no longer strangers, and he couldn’t wait to see them again. In a letter he wrote to Andi he told her he couldn’t wait to go to her wedding.
Andi wrote back saying he could come if he behaved, which he promised he would.
Five years later he came back to Fresno. This time it was to see his cousin Andi Carter become Mrs. Andrea Goodwin.