BY SEVEN-THIRTY he was ready to go, stock fed, milk out, cows ambling to pasture through the early September chill, yet still he lingered. She might be coming by. She usually did. No hurry anyhow, he had all day. He sat down on the running board of the big truck, lighting his pipe, taking in the long barn, clean, solid red, white trimmed, the outbuildings square and neat. A good place, he told himself. Only needed one thing. He might have that soon, too. He hoped so. Still, maybe she was right, not wanting to hurry things.
A car sounded, up over the rise of the hill, and he got up quickly, tall and lank and lean, his blue eyes brightening with the smile that lurked there always. That must be her car. Yep, through the trees. Tell the squeaks anywhere. The grin broadened. Today was all right now, as the little car slowed to a halt at the road comer.
“Mornin’,” he called, making it say a lot of other things too. She got out, coming over to him. She was small, just a handful, crisp, slender, strong, with the sun bright on that hair, cider red, and, most of all, the look to her that put things through. He could laugh at that look, usually. Like this morning. He knew what she was going to say. But that could wait. Till he put her down, anyway. She made him put her down pretty soon.
“No, Jim,” remembering, “wait now. I want to talk to you.”
“So?” he said in mock astonishment. “What about? Decided it can be this fall, ’stead of next spring? We—”
“No,” grey eyes very severe, stifling smiles. “No, I haven’t decided that at all. I haven’t decided anything. Not definitely. You just listen to me, Jim McRay.”
“Yes’m,” teacher and child, grin holding back.
“No. I mean it, Jim. I’m serious.” She was, all right. Meant it. Didn’t she have long lashes though, and the color under her skin—“You’re going to the city today, and you’re going to get a corn cutter, aren’t you?”
“That's right,” very gravely, “got the cash for it right here,” slapping a pocket.
“And,” she looked straight at him, no getting by, “and you aren’t going to get anything else, are you, Jim?”
“Else?” he said. “Why no. What else’d I be gettin’?” But his eyes went away. He knew she’d be saying it.
“No horses, Jim. That’s what I mean. Promise?”
“Why now, Lo,” uneasily, “what would I be doin’ with any more horses? Got more now than—”
“I know you have,” she said, “you’ve got two work teams when you only need one, and you’ve got three old things out there in the pasture that never will be any good to you. And—no, I don’t care, Jim. I don’t think it’s funny. Just anybody can sell you a horse. 'Specially if it’s old or something wrong with it. Spavin View, that’s what they call this place, down at the store. And they laugh at you. I don’t want to be laughed at, Jim, and I don’t want to live in any place called Spavin View. I—”
“Well now, Lo,” unhappily, shuffling, “let ’em laugh. Ain’t one of ’em’s got a place good as this. There’s four hundred acres, clear and payin’, horses or no horses. Just ’cause I got sort of a soft spot—”
“Soft spot! That’s just it, Jim. You can’t have a soft spot and make a go of hill farming. Not nowadays.” Jim McRay nodded. She didn’t have any soft spot. He’d admit that. All drive, she was, all ambition. Like her ma. Fine woman her ma had been—still was, really, he conceded. “You’ve got to make everything count, Jim, every penny.” He grinned at her, reassuring.
"I know, Lo. I’m goin’ to the city just to get me a corn cutter, and I’ll be back early and we can do something tonight. Maybe figure some on the furniture. All right?”
She nodded up at him and, after a while, the motor on the big truck roared, and she was just a tiny figure, vanishing with the turn of the road, her face clear bright before him as he rolled along.
He didn’t blame her. She was right, he supposed. Back country you had to scramble for everything, watch the pennies. Well, he did that. He was only twenty-six and he’d made the farm go. Brought it back. Stocked it. Got things so’s he could get married now, come spring. Lo’d promised that. Half promised it, anyway. Would have before, he figured, if it hadn’t been for the horses.
People did laugh at him about the horses. He knew that. Spavin View. Lo didn’t like to be laughed at. Well, he couldn’t help it bothering her. Maybe she’d understand some day, maybe see his way. He liked horses, more’n liked ’em. He was sorry for ’em, ’specially the old ones, the cast-offs. The city horses, too. Plod, plod, plod, all day—Heat—No water—Dark, dirty, stifling barns. He knew. He’d gone to see. Sometimes he couldn’t help himself. He just up and bought ’em. Twice he’d bought ’em off carts and brought ’em home. Grass was cheap—hay. Let ’em roam around. But no more. You couldn’t keep that up forever, of course. Lo was right. There was a limit. At eleven o’clock he was on the outskirts of the city.
“Mr. Jansen had to go out,” the girl at the farm implement place told him, “one of his children is sick. He’ll be back at two. He said to tell you he was sorry, but you’d understand.”
“Sure,” he said easily. “Hope the kid’ll be all right.”
Well, three hours to kill. At the corner, in a window, he saw it. A big red card, black lettered, “McReady’s Sales Stable... Fall Sale... Work Horses... Saddlers... Hunters... All Day” and the date. Today.
He walked by fast. Let’s see now, he said, furniture. I could look at furniture. He walked down to the furniture store. Fast. Keep thinking about furniture and Lo. There was another blur of red in a window, but he got by that.
He’d have been all right, really, but there in the furniture window was another card. “Work Horses... Hunters...” Hmmm, hunters. Wonder what they’d be like. Never had seen much of those. Just to look, of course, to kill some time. Honest, Lo, that’s all. I gotta go somewheres. McReady’s was just around the corner, down that alley. He almost ran down the alley.
THERE was the usual crowd, leaning against beams, hats back, pipes, quick eyes, slow bidding, McReady,the auctioneer, circulating around—tobacco juice, horses plodding up and down, slow, discouraged. A workhorse went, another. Prices were low. “We’re not giving these horses away, gentlemen.”
Two men came in. They wore riding clothes. McReady saw them. Jim McRay went over and stood beside a little fellow with a small, seamed face, and bandy-legged. McReady said something to the auctioneer.
“Well, gentlemen, if you won’t say anything on workhorses, we’ll try you on something else.” A boy, lead-rope in hand, was coming down the runway. “We’ll try you on a hunter. A horse that can jump.” He looked at the two men who had just come in. Jim McRay looked at the horse.
He looked at the horse long and steadily, shifting for a better view, his shoulders straightening, and a gleam in his eyes. This was a horse.
Not discouraged, this one, not broken-spirited. Big and black and towering, must be over seventeen hands, Jim thought, big all over, with a chest on him that could break steel, and a shoulder and a funny almost catlike grace about him, big as he was. The lift to his head, and the eyes, and the look of him—Jim McRay didn’t see anything else, didn’t hear anything. The little sandy, burned man beside him pulled at his sleeve.
“There, mister,” he said, “is a horse ought to be sellin’ McReady, not McReady sellin’ him.” Jim McRay looked down. Something about the little fellow. Maybe his blue eyes. Faded. Pretty straight though.
“So?” Jim said, encouraging him.
“Yes, sir,” the little man said, “that horse has jumped for gold, mister. For a gold cup bigger’n a water bucket. Won it too. They sent him over here, most three thousand miles, and when he got it for ’em, then they up and sold him. Sold him to an old pod with a chequebook and knowin’ no more about horses than a snaffle is a cold in the nose.” The blue eyes had fire in them.
“How do you know?” Jim said.
“Know?” The little man spat. “How do I know? Didn’t I take care of him, the big black, for two years? Didn’t I—oh well, what’s the difference. Then they ruined him.”
“How?” Jim said. The auctioneer was building it up. “Gentlemen, here you have—” the little man’s eyes went around, his voice lowered.
“Wind,” he said, “they got his wind. Gallopin’. Up hill when he was cold. Runnin’ him. Till now it’d tear your heart out, hearin’ him. Bleeds too, some, at the nose. He—”
Jim McRay’s eyes went to the black, went through him, farther, back to the days, to the glory that had been his. That must have been his. Seeing it all in that quick second, like the pictures in the magazines—the crowds and the gay colors and the great open countrysides and the cheers. Cheers that had set the arch of that neck and the look of those eyes—Pride. The confidence of things done well, of things he’d do again, given the chance. Courage high above this place, no part of it.
“They'll sell him, likely, to those two guys in puttees, and he’ll go out to some riding stable and they’ll put clucks on him, at so much an hour, and if he’s too fly, too lively, as he will be, well—they’s ways of toning that down. I know. They’s places, some of them, will do that. Until, soon if he’s lucky, he’ll—” Jim McRay heard.
“Seventy dollars? Seventy dollars for this horse? For— Look, gentlemen, look at him—” and the smile from the sharp-faced man in puttees, confident, thin. “Seventy dollars?”
AND THEN his own voice, surprising him, from his mouth but not of him. “Ninety!” and the look from the auctioneer, the quick stabbing glance from the two men.
“Ninety dollars? Now gentlemen, that’s better,” complacent now, “that’s—”
“Nine-five,” from the thin face.
“One hundred.” No, he hadn’t said that. Yes he had. He meant it. What good was a corn cutter? He had a corn cutter. It would work all right with a little patching up. A corn cutter against the look in those eyes. Pride. Heritage. For a hundred dollars, all that. “Going, going, gone. For one hundred dollars to the gentleman in the blue overalls. Sold as is, you understand that, of course. Just as is. Next horse.”
Jim McRay was moving forward to take the rope, getting outside; the sandy, burned-faced man was beside him.
“Mister, you’ve bought him. What you going to do with him?” And Jim McRay couldn’t answer that. Not easily.
“I don’t know,” he said. Lo was coming into his mind now. He’d done it again. “Take him out to my place, I guess. In the country.” He looked at the big horse, dirty black and towering beside him. “Can he go at all? Do anything?”
The little man spat. “Sure,” he said, “easy hacking. Trot a little, canter some. He’ll wheeze pretty bad, but that won’t hurt him, long as you don’t run him. Run him and he’ll bleed. Can’t get the air into his lungs. Tries, but he can’t. And I wouldn’t jump him much.”
“Oh, can he jump?”
The little man’s eyes widened, incredulous. “Jump? Him? Listen, mister, what you think you’ve bought? That horse is a champion. A cross-country horse. He’ll jump anything—five feet—six if you ask him. Timber, stone, brush, banks, just give him space for a stride. He’ll never refuse, not even now. But don’t let him go on, don’t let him out. He’d do it for you, but, well, they fall quick, those bleeders. Quick and dead.”
Jim McRay nodded. “I see,” he said. He looked at the little man. “You wouldn’t want a job, would you?” he said. He liked this little man.
There was a pause, hesitating. Then, “No mister, thanks.” half regretfully, “I—I guess I don’t belong on no farm. I guess I belong where they’s thoroughbreds, huntin’ horses, action. I been at that too long. But—thanks, mister. You done yourself a favor today, something that’ll let you sleep good nights. See if you haven’t.”
JIM McRAY thought of that, driving home, the big black steady in the truck behind. “Done himself a favor, had he?” Well, he hoped so. Didn’t look much like it, though, to him. Looked more like he’d got himself into a mess. A real one. That soft spot again. He couldn’t seem to lick that. It licked him. Bigger than he was, really. He could hear Lo—“You promised. You told me—” Yep, that was right. He had. Well, maybe she—
“Got yourself another horse, eh,” Jake said at the barn. Jake was the hired man, grinning.
“Yep,” said Jim McRay shortly. He could handle Jake anyway. “You go get the cows.” He put the big black in the best stall, gave him oats, a little bran and spread straw deep on the floor. He stood back, admiring the bone and sinew of him. He’d bet if that coat was brushed out—
It was an hour later. Dusk was falling, and he was still busy with brush and curry, getting a gloss, and sheen, across those thin ribs, and over the gaunt haunches, talking low, steadily, reassuringly. Then he heard her voice “Jim! Oh Jim!” He could feel his face go red there in the dim light and his first thought was almost “Run and hide,” the way it had been when he was very small and forbidden the stalls. Then he straightened. Maybe she’d see.
“Hi there,” he called, “be right out.” He took the halter. “Come on,” he said to the great horse, “light’s better out there. Might be you could tell your own story best, give her a look at you,” and he led the way out.
“I was right,” he thought, in that first minute, because she stood there and her eyes went slowly over the animal and there was admiration, a flash of it, he was sure of that, a gleam, mirroring his own. And then, all at once, it wasn’t there, it was gone, and her voice was flat and calm and foreboding.
“So,” she said, “so you got another one.” He wasn’t very smart then. He knew he wasn’t being smart, but words—they were hard, they did tricks on you, came out when you weren’t ready, really.
“Well, you see, Lo, I couldn’t—he’s a thoroughbred. Lo, a jumper, and he’s got a busted wind and he can’t—” no, that was wrong, all wrong.
“A jumping horse,” she said, and her mouth went out in that straight line, red and scornful, “and one that can’t go anyway. That was just what you needed on the farm, wasn’t it? Needed it more than a corn cutter. I don’t suppose you got the corn cutter?”
“Well now, Lo,” he said, helplessly. He could see Jake’s head near the window, taking it all in, “well now, Lo, you look at him. You never saw a prouder horse, Lo. He’s been a champion, jumped for the biggest cup there is. You can tell by his eye, and, well, I just couldn’t let him get sold some place, just any place, now could I, Lo? You—” but she was turning away.
“No,” she said, “of course not. The thing to do was to buy him and bring him here and let him eat your hay and grain and take up your room. That was the thing to do, of course.” She stopped, turning, and there were tears bright in her eyes. “That was just what you’d do because you haven’t got any gimp and go to you, Jim McRay. You’re just soft all over, just an easy mark, and—and I don’t care. I don't want to see you or have anything to do with you.” She was running to her car, stumbling a little, and he called, “Now Lo, now wait, now—” But she had the engine going and had swung the little car off down the lane.
FOR a minute he stood there, looking after her. The big horse was pulling toward the grass unheeded. Then he turned and walked back, on into the barn, holding the halter rope as if there just weren’t anything on the end of it. As if there just weren’t anything anywhere.
She was right, he supposed. He was a fool. A hundred dollars was a hundred dollars and a lot of money. Spavin View! You couldn’t blame her. Doggone it, he couldn’t seem to stop these things. Something in him just wouldn’t let him stop.
After the chores were done, he went and stood beside the stall. There was breadth between those great eyes, peering out at him, intelligence.
“You been a lot of places, horse,” he said, “a lot of places I’ll never see. I’d ought to let you go. That’s what I ought to do. But, well, we’ll see. Maybe tomorrow she might feel different,” and he went on in to supper.
All that next day he waited hopefully, an ear cocked for the sound of her car, and an eye watching the road, but she didn’t come. Till evening he debated what to do. He had his pride. But then he let even that go.
“Thing to do,” he said, “when two people don’t agree, is to talk it over. That’s the thing.” He backed the truck out. Let him talk to her and she’d understand.
IT WAS a mile to the Grancy place, a mile through the woods and open fields, that touched their corners, making a checkerboard of cleared, grassy stretches. Good farm, theirs was. Clean, flat, handpicked land, with never a speck of brush by the walls, never a growth of popple sprouting unbidden. That was her ma’s idea. Strict, the old lady was, always neating things up, fretting about waste, worrying. All right he supposed.
The trouble was, the whole place was front-parlor like—curtains drawn, unlived in. Somehow it didn’t seem like a home. It was too prim. The old lady had fretted herself into her sickness. A stroke, four years ago. Overwork, some said. Over-worry too, maybe. And now the old lady was flat on her back in bed and might be there always. He drove into the yard.
The big square house stared out at him, flat white and solid, and comfortable among the giant evergreens that formed a thick ring, to break the winter blasts. Her car was in the yard. He brightened at that. This would be all right. She’d see. He knocked, and there were lights inside, but for a minute no one came. Then he heard footsteps and the door opened.
“Hello, Janey,” he said. A small girl, like Lo, her sister. Only not like her really. Not like any of them. She was quiet and in the background always, with the look of things—of thoughts of her own—deep in brown eyes. She was hard to know. She kept to herself a lot, but she was growing up. Must be nineteen. No, nearly twenty now. Funny how they did grow up. He smiled at her. She had a nice smile, slow and warm. “Lo in?” he asked, and waited.
“I—I don’t know, Jim,” she said, “I’ll see.” That was funny. Usually you could come right in. Oh well, tonight was different. There were footsteps on the stairs, then quiet, then footsteps. Janey was there again. Her eyes were worried now, like she wanted to cry almost.
“She—she doesn’t want to see you, Jim. Not, she says, not unless you’ve sold that horse. You haven’t sold it, have you, Jim?” watching his face.
He stood there for a minute, on the steps, and everything was very quiet, waiting, the water drip, drip, dripping in the trough. He could feel the color hot in his cheeks, a stiffening through his arms and back. “No,” he said, “I haven’t sold the horse. You tell her I thought we might talk it out, get together on it. If she wants to see me, I’ll be to home,” and he walked away.
DRIVING off, he could see the doorway and Janey still standing there, looking after him, waiting. Her eyes were very big, very wide. He swung the truck hard at the corner. A man had his pride. He wasn’t all wrong in this—not all wrong. She could have talked to him.
He might have weakened, though, in those days that followed. A dozen times he was walking toward the truck, on his way. Then he’d stop. Perhaps it was the horse, the big black. The King, he called him now. Not much of a name, probably, but somehow it fitted him. He was like a king in exile standing there in the paddock, all alone, stock still, and just looking out across the fields like there was something there. Something far away that he could hear and see, or was waiting for. Watching.
He didn’t eat much, either. Oh, he was all right, only he’d leave grain and he wouldn’t fatten up. Maybe oats wasn’t right for him. Maybe he ought to have something special. Too bad that little man, the sandy one, wasn’t around. He’d know. Funny about him too. Think he’d have jumped at a job like this one. Good home and all. What was it he’d said? Something about havin’ to be where there was action, huntin’, thoroughbreds. Got in your blood, he supposed. Funny thing. And he’d get looking at the big black and wondering about him, and somehow he wouldn’t get into that truck. Not yet awhile. He’d wait. He’d see.
Three weeks passed before that night, the night he’d never forget. At eight o’clock, with the chores done by lantern light, he’d begun to feel it. Walking back from the barns with Jake, he said, “Funny, the air. Sort of tight and heavy and moany,” and Jake kept in close, looking over his shoulder and his eyes were scared. Jake didn’t scare easy. Didn’t have the brains. “I don’t like it,” he said. They went on in.
AFTER supper you could hear the wind sigh through the trees and out across, not like a regular wind, but like it was just warning you, holding back, something to come. “Best close the barn doors,” he said, but Jake didn’t move and he went out alone. The cattle were all up. Usually they were down by now. He shut the doors, and the black was standing at the stall barrier still waiting.
Toward morning it struck. It wasn’t just wind, just rain, but a wall of water, out flat, beating, surging, a river, roof high, driven by a force that howled and screamed, that tore down, shrieking, through the trees, snapping them like rifle shots, giant rifles, tearing at the shingles with a pound, pound, pound and a roar like surf. The roof moved, groaning, and the windows in his room came in, and shattered to pieces. Below he could hear a scream—Jake. He must get down there into the cellar, anywhere, out of that terrible battering power, so that he could breathe, so that he could try to think what to do, creeping, crawling, feeling the stairs, down, down, until it was above him.
Then he could think. It was one thought now—not his things, his house, his home, his barns. What was it doing to her—to them? Why was Janey’s face there, too, in his mind? He had to get over there. He had to—On his hands and knees, the cellar bulkhead serving as a protection, he fought his way out. Water, as he straightened, it was over his ankles. What was the brook doing here, in his back yard? Then the wind struck him.
He got back somehow, fighting, holding drowning, back into that saving lee, into the kitchen, holding there, bracing himself against the black darkness. The elm came down, shearing the far wall. The house would go now. It couldn’t last, couldn’t hold together, but it was holding. They did things well, in those old days. The old house, was fighting back, groaning but holding, minutes, minutes, hours maybe. This couldn’t last, there wasn’t that much power, that much fury. Minutes more, minutes more.
Then it was gone. With a last great sweep and growl, and it was still—quiet, deathlike, and the rain came down, straight now, falling, pouring, weeping for what it had done. But you could stand and see. You could look.
The elms, the maples were down now in a twisted mass. There was the road, a snaking, swirling river, cutting, rolling to his doorstep. There was the barn, a black shadow, but still standing. Where were the sheds—that heap? Only those things close by could he see, missing them by instinct. And then, through the chaos, that thought rushed back, that he must get to her—to them—as the morning light came ghostly grey through the scudding clouds in the east.
ONLY a mile, but there were no roads, only rivers, and he cut and slashed and fought his way through, foot by foot, to an open field where he could run. And then more trees, their branches down tight, interlocked, still crashing, some of them, as they gave way. And you had to watch, you had to be careful, and then another open field, the last, with the clouds fleeing from the dawn so that now, around that corner, he would see her house.
Only, and he stopped, numb, it wasn’t there. Just pines, giant pines, snapped off and across where the house had been. Until, peering, wiping his hand across his eyes, there were jagged walls, cut through like cheese before the knife, sandwiching the great branches. He got there finally and there was one part standing still. The kitchen ell and the shed behind. And then he heard the voice—“Jim, oh Jim,” and it was Janey, there in the door, small, gallant, storm-drenched, torn. Wrapped in a great coat that trailed and dragged about her heels.
Somehow, in that quick second, her face was one of those that he had known and seen in books, that never would give in. She was grown up in that night. Calm. Unafraid.
Then, “Where is she? Lo. Is she all right?” She nodded. “She wasn’t hurt,” simply, “except that, well, that it scared her so, and she—she’s inside.” He went in.
She was in a corner, huddled, face between her hands, and when he took her shoulder she looked up and said, “No, no, I can’t,” and Janey was beside him.
“She’s all right,” she said, calmly, “she’s just hysterical. Mother’s the one.”
He saw her mother then, on the blankets, with her eyes closed, her face white and motionless. “What happened?”
“It’s her leg,” Janey said, “there was a beam, and it took so long to get her out. And father’s away. In the city.”
He looked at her, amazed. “You mean you got her out and down here all alone?” She didn’t answer that.
“We’ll have to have a doctor, Jim,” she said, “right away. Her right leg is smashed.” He stood there dumbly for a second. “But how,” he said, “it’s eight miles—no roads—it would take hours—”
“I know,” she said, as if she had planned it all. “You’ll have to go cross country, through the fields, where the trees aren’t down. You—”
Cross country, he thought. Then he remembered.
“He’s a huntin’ horse,” the little man had said, “he’ll jump anything—five foot—six—give him room for a stride,” and that was it. That was the thing, the only thing.
“I could take the black horse, The King,” he said, and for a minute they stood there, looking at each other, the same thoughts in their minds, reaching out between them—that the black horse shouldn’t, couldn’t, go all out.
“I’ll get back,” he said, “and start. Then the doc can come back on him. That way we could make it in two hours, maybe less,” and he was gone.
THE saddle was there, the bridle, damp and sodden, in a corner. He got them on without looking at the great black face. He couldn’t make himself. These things had to be done. Horses weren’t as important as humans. Or were they? Outside the barnyard was thick muck, and, as they stood silently for a second, the horse’s head went up, and again he seemed to look far out into the distance, searching, listening for something that he must have hoped was there, beyond the ruined hills.
“What is it, boy?” Jim McRay said, and then, remembering, he swung up, turning to the open fields, close clipped from the fall hay. “I haven’t done much jumping, fellow,” he said, “but I’ll try to stick along.” Then they were off.
Across two hundred yards was the first wall, bunt'd in thick scrubby brush, and Jim McRay checked, looking for the best spot, wondering what was beyond for landing, finally chancing it, and the black went up and over, clean, tucking his feet beneath him. There was a stretch of pasture, rock-strewn and rolling. The horse’s feet faltered, and shifted cleverly to another line.
Wire was there, too, and Jim McRay did not dare chance jumping wire. He slowed, finding a barway over that. He was learning now to stay well forward in the saddle, to let the reins go loose, giving the black his head. And then there came plowed ground.
A long uphill stretch and here it was that the black’s breath began to labor, whistling, and his ears came back, as if now it were an effort, but Jim McRay closed his mind to that gasping fight for breath, because that could not count now. There were other things more important. Perhaps there were.
But his heart went out to the great heart under him, the heart that never let those legs slow down their bounding rhythm, on and on, until finally, at three miles, he had to stop.
But only for a minute, because the black fretted, eager to go, and the whistling in his throat was deep now, gasping, and there were stretches where they could not avoid some tumbled trees, and the jumps were long and close together. There were brooks and ditches, too, but they never slackened stride.
No horse could go like that, he thought, not fighting ground and breath and weight. It couldn’t be done. Then they were in marsh, struggling through hock deep, and, at the end, a leap, four feet, with no takeoff. There the black blundered, coming down hard, and Jim McRay was off, sprawling to one side, losing the reins.
THAT was the end, he thought, but the black stayed close by, and he was up again. He had not dared, in that minute, to look and see if there was blood on the nostrils. If it was there—it was. Horses were not as important as humans. No. A half hour, now, and they were in sight, almost, of the village, with a long sweep downhill, through scrub, and that would help some. They might go through.
They went through. But, coming to the first houses, the black’s head was low, and people on their porches, peering through the fallen trees at the debris of the storm looked, not at Jim McRay, but at the horse. They just stared at him silently, wondering at the sound of his breathing. Then Jim McRay found the doctor’s house.
“Go back with you? How can I go back with you? I ought to be twenty places, but there’s no getting through.”
Jim McRay said, “On the horse, here,” and the doctor looked at him.
“That horse won’t take anyone back,” he said, “he’s done.”
“He’ll take you back,” Jim McRay said. “Back the way I came and you can cut through to the Grancy’s. He’ll do it. I’ll come by on foot. Just follow the fields.” And, after a while, he stood there, watching the black gather himself and start off again, with the doctor up and his kit strapped to his back.
For minutes he stood there silently, and, in those minutes, he thought that he had learned things in that past hour. Learned what real courage or breeding or blood, or something more, could mean. That they would never let you stop. And then, slowly, he began the long walk home.
At first he walked, and then there was a flicker of hope, a prayer, that perhaps this horse might come through. Because, suddenly, he was important to Jim McRay. More important, really, than anything else. The walk became a run that he wouldn’t slow. If the black had come through, no stopping. He could too.
Short cuts he knew, under fallen trees and through them, but still it was near noon when, at a rise, he could see what was left of the Grancy place, in the hollow. There was no horse in the yard. Perhaps—perhaps so many things, and he went down the slope, running, the hope still there in his heart.
FROM the doorway Lo came out. “Jim!” she said, and she was smiling now, poised and confident again. That didn’t matter somehow. She was a stranger now. Far away.
“Is he here?” he said, and she nodded. “Oh yes. Long ago, Jim. Everything’s all right. Mother is—” He nodded quickly. “Good,” he said, “where’s my horse?”
She looked at him. “Back there, Jim,” pointing, “they had a fall. The doctor did the last half mile on foot. I—I’m sorry, Jim,” seeing, perhaps, something of what came on his face. He turned.
“Over there, you say?” and she nodded. “I—I’ll go with you, Jim,” but he shook he his head.
“No,” he said, and he went on alone.
At a half a mile, and then the field was long and bright and smooth in the sudden sun, and, in a corner by the wall, nose pointed on and always on, a heap of black.
He came up there and Janey knelt beside the head, there as he’d known she’d be, small Janey in the coat that was too large, that dragged at her heels.
That was all. Let minutes pass, let time. They didn’t matter. For Jim McRay’s head went up at last. As he stood there, straight, his eyes went out and out, far out across the hills. “Perhaps,” he said, “perhaps he found those things, the things that he was lookin’ for always. The little man said that. He said he couldn’t be happy, not without the things he’d lived for always—the crowds and the cheers—the huntin’ and the thoroughbreds. His life. We find those things, I guess, all of us. After a while.”
He turned, finally, and walked back slowly out across. Back home. And Janey walked beside him. Very close.