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The Horse That Mattered

by Call Me Les 30 days ago in Short Story

Author's note: The intended audience is children aged 9-13. "Riding a draft horse of Harvey's stature, even if he was a gelding, was against the rules, but with Devin's help, I'd been discreetly riding him for months. Harvey was perfectly well-behaved with me. He was a lot calmer overall after we'd spent time together, too. We were the same, Harvey and I."

Photo by Misha Voguel from Pexels

Since I usually spent the first week of August moping about, when I whistled on my way to breakfast, my Aunt Fern knew something was up. I sat down at the kitchen table with a smile. She smiled back, kissed my cheek and passed me a bowl of oatmeal and a glass of orange juice.

"What happened yesterday, Lena? You left at the crack of dawn and barely made it back by the dinner-bell." Peering at me over her coffee mug, she winked and added, "This must be a special one."

I took a sip of my juice while I considered my reply and opted for a rambling, half-truth. "Um, nothing much. In case you were wondering, that swallow I found with the broken wing is really healthy now."

My aunt's smile changed to a sly, stretched-too- far-to-one-side-smirk and a nod, but she didn't miss a beat. "Good! I suppose that means it'll be flying off to a new home soon."

"Not exactly," I replied.

At that, I put my head down and started gobbling up my oatmeal in an attempt to avoid further questions about my wounded bird. I doubted even Aunt Fern would believe me if I tried to explain that Lin could talk.

Examining her nails, Fern ignored my slurping.

"Did you know that a new purchase of horses will be arriving any minute? You should run down to the old barn and watch! It only happens once every five years. Maybe Mr. Moreau will let you help him."

The spoon fell from my hand with a clank.

"New horses??"

I drained the last of my juice and dumped my dishes in the sink; I'd wanted to buy a horse of my own from the first day I'd moved into Anguine Abbey.

"Gotta-go! Love you! Bye!!"

Fern shook her head and smiled to herself. Some things never changed.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Tugging my boots on as I went, I leapt out the kitchen door and hopscotched my way down the path to the old barn—from which a considerable amount of noise was echoing.

As I approached my destination, the trumpeting clamor of male voices escalated. When I identified one of the voices as Devin's father's, I was stunned! Mr. DuPont never shouted; his heavy stature made him appear intimidating, but he was cheerful and kind like his son. The other two voices belonged to our horsemaster, Mr. Moreau, and a stranger, who I assumed had come to trade out the retired horses with fresh ones. I quietly scuttled behind a stack of crates waiting to be unloaded from yesterday's monthly market purchase before anyone noticed me.

Mr. DuPont inserted himself into the fray to stop the fight.

"Everybody, calm down! Let's talk this through! What seems to be the problem?"

I could hardly believe my eyes. Old Mr. Moreau's hat was on the ground, his salt and pepper hair askew, his sleeves rolled up high on his lean forearms, and he was waving his fists in the air like a boxer!

Upon hearing Mr. DuPont's suggestion, the normally meek Mr. Moreau exploded.

"He beat that horse! If you think cruelty is worth debating, DuPont, you've got one comin', too!!"

I took a closer look at the slick-suited seller's face and noticed his right eye was swollen and turning purplish. Before the seller could take a swing back, Mr. DuPont put a commanding hand on each of the men's shoulders to keep them apart.

"Enough!!" he bellowed.

Mr. PurpleEye spat out his reply as if his words were sour milk.

"You want to trade it in? Fine! But once you do, it becomes my property, and I'll handle that stupid beast any way I want to!"

"Your property?! A horse is not property!" Mr. Moreau hollered back.

Mr. DuPont glanced sharply at Mr. Moreau, and the frenzied old horsemaster lowered his hands, but refused to unclench his fists. Mr. DuPont turned back to the seller, gritted his teeth and said, "I haven't seen you here before, Sir. What farm are you from?"

Before Mr. PurpleEye could respond, Mr. Moreau interjected.

"He's from Pettit's place! If I were you, Vincent, I'd get on the next ferry outta here because once I call Pettit and tell him how you've been handling his horses, he'll do a whole lot worse than what I just did!"

Mr. PurpleEye hurt one of our horses?! Which one?

Frantically, my eyes roamed for the horse in question. There were two old mares tied up to the fence post. Both of them were calm, if wary, so it couldn't have been either of those two, could it? Then I noticed a familiar snout peeking out from behind a clump of trees. I inhaled sharply and covered my mouth.

CCo licensed image from pexels.com

Oh no! It's Harvey!

"I think you'd better take that suggestion, Vincent," ordered Mr. DuPont in that scary-quiet tone of voice grown-ups only get when they're really, really mad. His right hand steady on Mr. Moreau, Mr. DuPont used his left to shove the seller away.

PurpleEye fell backwards and landed on the ground with a hard, SPLAT!

DuPont followed up the shove with a grim,

"Get out. And don't come back."

Mr. PurpleEye—I mean, Mr. Vincent—looked the colossal Frenchman up and down and decided to do as directed. I'd never seen a grown man lope away so hastily. His feet tripped under him as he ran and his frenzied escape resembled a cartoon character kicking up a dust cloud.

When the seller was out of sight, Mr. DuPont's shoulders relaxed and he turned to Mr. Moreau, who he was still holding back with his right arm. Peace restored, the laid-back father lowered his hand from Mr. Moreau's shoulder, picked up the old horsemaster's hat from the ground, softly dusted it off and passed it to him.

"Why are you down here alone, Moreau?”

Mr. Moreau brushed the hat off again— but much more roughly than Mr. Dupont had done—and pulled it on harder than necessary.

"The grooms are stabling up the fresh horses in the south field pasture," he replied quietly.

With a cluck of his tongue, Mr. Moreau summoned Harvey, the gentle giant, from his hiding place, and the mammoth grey form slunk out from behind the clump of trees. The silly thing hadn't even tried to run away—like any sensible horse would have—instead he'd hidden himself behind the nearest thing he could find. Mr. Moreau strode over with a solemn step, rubbed Harvey's nose, and passed him a sugar cube from his pocket.

"Call somebody else down so we can talk about turnin' in the scaredy-cat," Mr. Moreau said gently, as though he was trying to avoid Harvey overhearing, "Much as I like him, I can't keep a horse that won't pull a cart or plough properly after 5 years of tryin' to get him to. Even if he wasn't scared of saddles, he's grown much too big for the girls to ride. I mean, just look at him! He's eighteen and a half hands high, Michael! That's tall even by Percheron standards!"

Harvey didn't seem to notice he was being spoken about; he was too busy snuffling at Mr. Moreau's pockets for more sugar cubes. The weary horsemaster heaved a heavy sigh and patted Harvey's neck a few times.

"Ah, but he's a good horse. I'm sure Pettit can find someone that'll be kind to him."

Unfortunately, the bleak assessment of Harvey's personality wasn't an exaggeration; every word Mr. Moreau had said was true. Bumbling Harvey was exceptionally skittish. With nothing for him to do in the fields and being too terrified of the other horses' shadows to be pastured with them safely, poor Harvey was always by himself. It was heartbreaking to see him so dejected. Riding a draft horse of Harvey's stature, even if he was a gelding, was against the rules, but with Devin's help, I'd been discreetly riding him for months. Harvey was perfectly well-behaved with me. He was a lot calmer overall after we'd spent time together, too.

We were the same, Harvey and I.

That was it.

Losing Harvey was the final straw on an already horrible year. I couldn't stay silent a moment longer! I had to stop them from trading away my friend. So, I did what had to be done: I suddenly and dramatically starfish-hopped out from behind the crates, landing in front of my favourite horse, all four arms and legs spread wide to protect him.

"Don't do it! Don't trade, Harvey! Please, Mr. Moreau; I can ride him. He's not useless!"

Both men jumped in surprise, but Harvey had recognized my voice, so although he disapproved of my dramatic 'peekaboo!' he merely snorted and scuffed his hooves. I guess the mares had lived enough life to have seen it all—they hardly batted an eye.

Mr. Moreau rubbed his hand on the back of his neck and took his hat back off.

"Lena, why—I didn't know you were back there! Ah geez—did you see and hear all that?"

Hands tight on the material, he crumpled the poor garment before placing it back on his crown—much calmer this time. Leaning down, Mr. Moreau gently cupped my small hand in his larger, rougher ones.

"I'm sorry, love. I sincerely meant what I said about Harvey being a good horse. I never meant to imply he was useless just because he's no good on a harness; all horses have an intrinsic value—same as you and me. He simply doesn't have a place here at the abbey, is all."

Before letting my hand go, Mr. Moreau patted it. Out of words at last, the kind, old gentleman lowered his eyes and abruptly turned his face from me while he adjusted Harvey's bridle.

Mr. DuPont took over. "Don't worry about the other horses, Lena. I'm going to get on the phone right away and let Mr. Pettit know what's been going on."

The world grew dim for a second, but I stood my ground.

"He's not too big! I've—well—er, I'm very sorry, but I just couldn't bear to see him alone all the time. I can ride him. I'll prove it!"

Harvey lifted his feet and nickered, catching onto my excitement, and before either of the men could stop me, I dashed to the horse's side, grabbed a tuft of mane above his withers and propelled myself onto his back! I leant down and whispered in his ear, "I know you can do this," and gently nudged him with my thighs. I urged the gigantic Percheron into a trot, and we picked up speed, heading towards the fence. At the right moment, Harvey sped up into a gallop and WHOOOOSH! We jumped the bar together without a hitch!

I beamed with pride.

Harvey reared.

Photo by Johannes Plenio from Pexels

Then I paced Harvey around the field a bit—to show off our skills —before leading him back to the old barn again.

"Lena! What were you thinking?! You could have broken your neck!" Mr. DuPont scolded.

Mr. Moreau smacked his hands together and cheered,

"Ha!! That-a-girl! I knew he had a fire in him!!"

Mr. DuPont gave Mr. Moreau a sideways glare, and the old horsemaster ended by saying, "Ahem—er—Lena, that was....very...dangerous. Put a helmet on next time."

I pleaded my case with everything I had left.

"I have money saved, and I'll work off the rest if I have to. I'll do anything! Please, just let him stay!"

Mr. Moreau whistled slowly.

"Lena, any woman who can ride a horse like Harvey bareback has earned the right to keep 'im for free.”

On my way back to the kitchen, I wondered what Lin, my swallow, would say when I told her how I had managed to save Harvey, and that he would be staying in the old barn for good. I wished Harvey could talk, too. Maybe there was a way to teach him! Something inside me said that if there was, my Aunt Fern would know how to make it happen.

Photo by Misha Voguel from Pexels

Short Story

Call Me Les

Keepin' it real since 1987 with 3 cats, a tiny apartment and too many words in my head. Admin at the Vocal Social Society.

~&~

No words left unspoken.

#bettertogether

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