The Georges and the Jewels (6 page)

BOOK: The Georges and the Jewels
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“He needs to work at a hard job for a while and see what life is like.”

“If he works long enough, he’ll never come back.”

“If it’s hard enough, he’ll learn his lesson.”

“You never know what lesson he’s learning.”

They went round and round like this. But it was a touchy subject, and Mom was careful to not bring it up very often. I think she thought that the idea of horses from Oklahoma and the idea of making up with Danny would come together of
their own accord, and better not to push them together before Daddy was ready. In the meantime, she said to me, “You know your grandfather and his brother Eben didn’t speak for thirteen years because once Eben got drunk and drove home in the wagon, forgetting your grandfather in town. I don’t think the family ever stopped arguing about what that
meant.
When you argue about what things
mean
, they just get bigger and bigger.”

The good thing, other than the weather, was that we got a call from a lady who had horses at the biggest riding stable on the coast. A girl wanted a pony. The girl was nine, an “advanced beginner” but small. The lady, who had seen Daddy’s ad in the newspaper, wanted to come out, but Daddy insisted that it would be his pleasure to trailer the pony to the coast, and then we spent three days getting ready, which meant not only cleaning up the pony and me getting out my nicest English-style riding clothes, it also meant Daddy washing the truck and the trailer.

“Now, Abby,” he said as he did, “this is something you should know, a business practice. If this lady were to come out here, she would see our place and she would think that we really couldn’t possibly have a pony that would be good enough for her client. If we drive there, though, and we are all cleaned up and shined a bit, then she’ll look at our old truck and trailer and say to herself that she’s getting a deal on the pony, but the fact that everything is spic and span will tell her that we are
economical
rather than
poor.
She’ll be sure she’s getting a good deal on the
right
pony.” He suggested that Gloria come along, and that was fine with me. I knew her
mom would dress her up so that she would look good at the fancy stable.

I’d been polishing the pony with the sweater every day, and even though a gray doesn’t shine up as brightly as a chestnut, he looked good and felt good—his coat was as slick as a piece of silk. Daddy could hardly contain himself. He even made Mom iron his jeans on the Friday night before we left.

The stable was about an hour away. I had heard of it but never been there. It wasn’t on the way to anywhere, but rather off by itself under a big stand of pines. You had to go through a gate and down a special road to get there. Daddy would have had to pay a dollar just to drive down that road, except that he told the guard he was taking a pony to the stable and the guard waved him past. We drove for a while on the road through a forest—with the windows open, you could smell the pines—but it wasn’t cheerful. Fog wafted here and there, and all of the houses were behind big walls and gates. There were, needless to say, no kids playing in the streets. It was like the country but not country. Walls, houses, lawns, and gardens but no animals or fields. Even so, Gloria and I picked out houses—or, rather, mansions—that we thought were pretty.

The lady, who introduced herself as Miss Slater, was waiting for us at the gate to the stable. She was small, not much taller than I, but a little on the wide side. She was wearing copper-colored English-style riding breeches that were wide on top, brown tall boots, and a brown wool jacket. Even though it wasn’t that cold, she had gloves on. Daddy stopped the truck and she came to the window with a big smile, which made her look prettier than I thought she had been, and she told us
where to park and unload the pony. She gave Gloria and me a nice smile and said to me, “So! You must be Abby! You’re going to show us what this pony can do!”

I said, “Yes, ma’am,” the way I was supposed to. Daddy opened the back of the trailer and went in. A moment later, he brought out the pony. Miss Slater said, “What’s his name?”

Daddy said, “George,” with a perfectly straight face.

“Hello, George,” said the lady. She put her hands on her hips and stared at the pony while Daddy stood him up. The pony’s ears were pricked, and I might have said he was nervous, but he did stand quietly while she walked all around him, then went up to him and picked up his feet and opened his mouth. In the meantime, Gloria and I pretended to be perfectly well-mannered girls and that we were just standing there doing what we’d been told to do, but really we were edging closer and closer toward the gateway to the inner court of the stable so we could get a look.

The whole stable was painted white, and all of the stall doors and windows were painted with dark green trim. Horses’ heads looked out over every door, and the courtyard was full of people—some of them were girls or women dressed like Miss Slater, and others were men in overalls who were cleaning stalls. Miss Slater said, “Not bad.” I looked at Daddy, who had his poker face on. “Let’s see the little fellow go.”

I held the pony while Daddy got out the English tack, and Gloria helped him saddle up. When I went to get on, though, the lady said, “Abby, did you bring your hard hat?”

“No, ma’am.”

“We’ll lend you one. Why don’t you lead the pony through here.”

We followed her into the courtyard. Everyone there stopped what they were doing and stared at us. The first hard hat she handed me came down over my eyes; the second one sat on my head like a mushroom cap. Gloria started to laugh, but I poked her a good one. Finally, Miss Slater found one—nice black velvet—that fit me. I was relieved. We walked the pony to the mounting block and I got on. Then we went out of the courtyard and over to the arena.

There were five or six horses and riders in the arena—no ponies—and all of them looked at us as I rode George in. Of course, some of the girls said, “Oh, isn’t he cute! Look at him!” but I pretended not to hear them. I walked across the arena and then turned left and walked along the rail. The pony flicked his ears here and there, but he minded his manners. After two circuits, we made a little U-turn and went back the other way. Miss Slater called out, “Abby! Please pick up a trot.” And so we did. Some horses get into a ring full of other horses and they don’t like it because the other horses come too close. Others think that if the ring is full of quiet horses, then everything must be okay—no mountain lions anywhere nearby. That was how the pony was. He liked other horses and liked feeling that he didn’t have to keep his eye out.

After we had shown off the walk, trot, canter, halt, rein back, and a few turns in either direction, she motioned me into the center, and we trotted over a few poles. Daddy was standing by the rail, chewing on a piece of straw and talking to one of the ladies. I was sure he was putting on his Oklahoma
accent so that everyone would think he was the biggest hick in town. We jumped a few low jumps, and then I pulled him up in front of her and said, “Ma’am. Just so you know, he’ll jump about anything. Daddy had him jumping over two chairs draped with a tablecloth the other day. He didn’t look right or left.”

“Hmm,” said the lady.

I could tell that she was trying to look undecided, but she seemed happy underneath that, so I knew she liked the pony.

Now she took the rein and led us to the fence, where a girl in fancy riding clothes was sitting. The lady said, “Abby, this is Melinda. She’s the girl who’s looking for a pony.”

Melinda had white eyelashes and big eyes, which made her look like she had just seen a ghost. She reached out and put her fingers on the pony’s neck, then she said, in a very low voice, “Is he nice?”

“Oh, sure.”

“Is he
always
nice?”

“Well, we’ve only had him for about six months, but he’s always been during that time.”

“You’re a good rider.”

“But he’s well behaved anyway.” I waved toward Gloria. “She can’t ride very well, and he’s always fine with her, too.”

“My dad thinks I should have a show pony.”

I jumped off.

Getting Melinda onto the pony was a big job, as she was practically limp. It was like she could hardly hold herself up as soon as she stepped inside the ring. For one thing, she acted like she was sure one of the other horses might come running
at us, and she kept flinching and looking over toward them. The lady gave her a leg up, but as Melinda bent her knee, she sort of crumpled. Finally, since Melinda was small, the lady just put her hands around her waist and set her on the pony. It was Gloria and I who put her feet into the stirrups. The lady fixed the reins in her hands. Melinda closed her eyes for a moment, took a deep breath, and gave the pony a kick. He walked away. He looked a little surprised to see me standing there, knowing that someone was on his back.

The thing was, she wasn’t a bad rider. Her heels were down and her thumbs were up and and she sat in the middle of the pony and went with the motion. It was hard to figure out why she was so scared. The pony understood the words “walk,” “trot,” and “halt” perfectly well and followed every one of the lady’s commands. They didn’t try a canter. I saw that a life here would be just what a nice pony deserved—not much to do and plenty of time to do it in.

After Melinda got down, Daddy and the lady went off to one side and parleyed for a while, and then he waved me over. He said, “Miss Slater would like to ask you a favor, Abby, dear.”

I adopted my most respectful look. She said, “Well, you know, Abby, Melinda’s dad would like to see the pony as a good investment, and he is a good investment, but I think he’ll need to be shown before Melinda will be ready to show him, so I wonder if you would mind coming over from time to time and taking him in our shows?”

I glanced at Daddy, then said, “I haven’t shown English before.” I showed western pleasure as a rule.

“But you’re a good rider and you say you’ve jumped the pony a lot, so we can try it. If the pony can’t show, I’m afraid that Melinda’s father—”

Won’t go for it. They didn’t have to tell me that. So I nodded. Daddy said, “Miss Slater, that’s very kind of you. Abby is eager for all kinds of experience—” and they shook hands. We spent another half an hour with Miss Slater. She gave the pony a real going-over, including holding each leg up really high and then having the pony trot off as soon as she dropped it, but the pony trotted off sound. She looked at his eyes and his teeth again and peered into his ears and ran her fingers the wrong way in his hair to check for funguses or parasites. She even spread apart the hair on the dock of his tail because if a horse has worms, he’ll rub his tail. But she didn’t find anything, and so she wrote Daddy a check, which he put in his pocket with a serious shake of the hand. It wasn’t until we were practically to the gate of the whole area that he started whooping and grinning. Of course, how much he got for the pony wasn’t my business or Gloria’s, but I knew he’d start bragging about it at some point. All he said to us was, “Well, girls, we can say a prayer of thanks, because the Lord has been good to us today.”

Gloria had been my friend for so long that even though she didn’t go to our church (and Mom said that, really, they didn’t go to any church, unless you called dropping in at St. Dunstan’s from time to time “churchgoing”), she never blinked at anything Daddy said about the Lord. All I said was, “Okay.” What I was thinking about was going to that horse show to ride the pony. I had heard about it—beautiful
horses, and a lot of Thoroughbreds, and everyone perfectly dressed. The horses would have braided manes and tails and sometimes checkerboard patterns combed into their shining rumps. The people would all be wearing velvet hats and their boots would be clean all the way down to the soles, because grooms would prepare the horses. The whole thought made me nervous and excited all of a sudden, especially since I had said yes without really thinking. I let myself imagine it while we were driving through the pines, but then I put it out of my mind as just one of those things that grown-ups say but don’t mean.

Daddy was in a good mood for days after the sale of the pony, but I missed the little guy. I didn’t think that the girl Melinda felt comfortable enough to really take a liking to him, but I hoped she would at least pet him and give him treats.

In the meantime, now that Daddy had three thousand, five hundred dollars from the sale of a pony he had paid four hundred dollars for, he couldn’t wait to get back to Oklahoma and buy some more horses. During this period, he gave me a lot of business tips. For example, when the amount he got for the pony finally came out, he said, “Now, Abby, that extra five hundred dollars we got was because he was gray. Don’t forget that. A working horse who’s going to live outdoors shouldn’t be gray, because that just means that he’s going to look dirty all the time—no rancher has the time to wash that horse enough to keep him looking good. But a show horse, and especially a show pony, should be gray, because the judge
can’t help watching that one just a little longer. A gray show pony stands out, and that’s why we got some more money for him. That’s a ‘premium.’” I don’t know that Daddy expected me to go into the horse business when I got older—his sisters got married and never kept up with their riding—but he didn’t have Danny to give his tips to any longer, so he gave them to me.

BOOK: The Georges and the Jewels
4.6Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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