The Georges and the Jewels (9 page)

BOOK: The Georges and the Jewels
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In the days since the death of the mare, Jack had settled down for the most part, but it was still a question what to do with him. He was just over a month old, and he needed a friend. Daddy said that maybe the pony could have been his friend, but the pony was gone. None of the mares or geldings could really be trusted. The mares would probably not like him, and if they didn’t, they could kick him hard and really hurt him. With geldings, you never knew. And, he said, “It’s not like I have time to sit and watch them all the time and make sure nothing happens. And neither do you.”

But Jack couldn’t go on the way he was, which was living in a stall and going out into one of the corrals for an hour every day while the others were brought in. Foals on stud farms were out all the time, at least in nice weather. I even heard Daddy tell Mom that we should give him away, but I saw her shush him, and then I suppose they prayed about it.
Jesus was merciful, because, at least for the time being, we didn’t give him away. Instead, Uncle Luke, seeing our predicament, proposed that he and Daddy spend a day building a new corral—not as big as the others, but big enough for three or four horses to trot around in for a bit. “Give you way more flexibility. And the ground’s soft enough. We can get those postholes dug in no time.” To me, Uncle Luke said, “Your daddy didn’t get to be this stubborn all by himself, so I feel obliged to do what I can for you, Abby, because I know you like that little guy.” When I came home from school Friday afternoon, they had all the posts in the ground, and while I was riding the mare and working around the other mares, they ran the woven wire fencing.

They worked until after dark, and we had a late supper. I would say that everyone was happy. Daddy let Uncle Luke smoke at the table (though Mom opened the kitchen windows so the air blew through), and the two of them talked about snakes back in Oklahoma. They both had stories. Daddy had found a rattler in a bag of grain. Uncle Luke had found a rattler in his bed. Daddy had gone for a swim once in the crick below their house, and a cottonmouth had swum right alongside him, round and round. That was nothing, Uncle Luke had been climbing a tree and saw a rope hanging from a high branch, and when he reached up to grab it, it was a rattler. If Uncle Luke thought that was something, well, Daddy had roped a snake. How about this, Uncle Luke had
used a snake as a rope.
Of course, by now we were all laughing, it was really late, and pretty soon we went to bed.

In the morning, first thing, I gave Jack his milk and his petting session, and then I put him out in the new pen with some hay and a water bucket tied to a corner post. He romped and played and seemed to know that this was all for him. I still wished he had a friend, though.

Chapter 8

O
VER THE WEEKEND, WE WORKED WITH THE NEW HORSES
. I could tell they had been pretty cheap, because all the things you could fix needed fixing—they all required shoeing, or, if they didn’t have shoes, their feet were broken and untrimmed. Their tails were tangled and their manes were too long, and most of them were only partly shed out, with dull, uneven coats that we had to scrape with the shedding blade or, according to Uncle Luke, a farrier’s rasp, but we didn’t have that. The vet had checked their teeth—two of them would have to have their teeth worked on, which meant that the vet had to come back out and file off sharp corners. It was a time-consuming job, but afterward, they would be more comfortable eating and would get the benefit of their feed, which,
since feed was expensive and no one wanted to buy a horse in poor condition (except Daddy, who could always see beneath the surface), was worth it in the end. Still, they seemed well mannered enough.

And they looked different Monday morning from how they looked Friday morning, because we worked all Saturday, and then Uncle Luke declined to accompany us to our church on Sunday. He said he would go to the regular Baptist church in town, but there was no way to tell whether he had or not. Even so, he didn’t mind working Sundays, and so he did pull manes and give baths all afternoon. Daddy might have said something about it being against the Lord’s day, but, as he pointed out, it wouldn’t have made a difference, anyway.

It was good to have Uncle Luke around, but when he drove away in his big rig early Monday morning, we were happy to see him go, because he did make it a point to do things his way and to be sure that Daddy knew he was doing things his way.

That afternoon, I got on Ornery George for the first time since his session with Uncle Luke. Daddy was grooming one of the new geldings—we called him “Black George”—so that I could get off Ornery George and right onto that one with only a switching of the saddle. He didn’t see that when I threw the saddle onto Ornery George’s back, he pinned his ears and reached around as if to bite me. He had never done that before, but anyway, he didn’t bite me. He was just showing me that he could. I led Ornery George to the mounting block. I put my foot in the stirrup, grabbed his mane, and began to hoist myself on when Ornery George leapt away from the
block and deposited me in the dirt. I was okay except I sat on my left hand. I jumped up. I still had Ornery George’s rein in my right hand, and I gave him a jerk. He started backing up and pulling me with him. I gave him another jerk. Daddy tied Black George to the bar and came trotting over, and when Ornery George kept backing up, even though I was jerking the rein, he took the rein out of my hand. Ornery George stopped and stood still.

Daddy said, “What’s going on with you, buddy? Got a thorn in your cinch?” He leaned down and put his hand inside the cinch and felt around. George flinched away from him. Daddy said, “Come on, buddy, come on, buddy,” and started leading him forward. George walked along nicely enough. Only when Daddy turned toward him did the horse throw his head. Daddy walked him over to the arena, opened the gate, took off the bridle, and let George go. George bucked like mad all around the arena, stopping only a little bit in order to run a few strides and start bucking again. Daddy leaned on the fence. Finally, he said, “Well, you’ve got to wonder what’s got into him.”

As for me, I couldn’t help thinking that it was rather interesting that what Uncle Luke had done with George had never been mentioned in the five intervening days, certainly not by me. Daddy often said, “All secrets are guilty secrets.” I said, “Did Uncle Luke tell you he rode the horse?”

“No, he did not,” said Daddy. “I did not give him permission to ride the horse. Did you?”

“I didn’t know he needed permission.”

“Well—” He looked at me. “Did he sack him out? Lay him down?”

I said, “I guess so. He said he needed to learn his lesson.”

“And then he left before you could find out what lesson, exactly, it was that he learned.”

I said, “I guess so.”

“Well, Abby, it looks to me like the horse learned the wrong lesson. What do you think?”

“I don’t want to ride him.”

“I don’t blame you.”

“Are you mad?”

“Not at you.”

“At George?”

“Of course not.”

All of this time, George had been bucking and kicking out, but now he settled and stood across the arena with his head down. Daddy whistled with his fingers between his teeth, and George looked up. Then he turned toward us and walked, then trotted, to the gate. Daddy said, “Put a halter on him and walk him around the arena for ten minutes, because now we have to start all over with him.” He stopped, then said, “Abby. He’s not a bad horse. I’m going to tell you something about the horse business. You see how we are giving this horse another chance?”

I nodded.

“It’s because he’s good-looking. When you go to buy a horse someday, you make sure he or she is good-looking. They live longer because they get more chances to redeem themselves. You hear me?”

“Yes, sir.”

“And another thing. Anything you saw your uncle, bless
his soul, do with this horse, you just forget it. Put it out of your mind. Got that?”

I nodded at that, too.

While I was walking Ornery George, he behaved well enough. But he was jittery and I had to go so carefully to get the saddle off that it took me ten minutes. The Ornery George I knew had been grumpy. This Ornery George was nutty.

I rode Roan Jewel and Blue Jewel. They were nice enough. Then I went to the pen and gave Jack his milk. After he drank it, he stood with his head down and his ears flopped while I ran a chamois over him, head to tail, on both sides. We often used the chamois on the horses just to shine them up, but on him I used the rough side, which seemed to give him a nice scratching. While I was doing this, standing back by his shoulder, his head came around my body. I thought he was looking for something, a bit of hay, maybe, but he didn’t seem to be. I finished rubbing him with the chamois and picked up the bowl. He followed me to the gate, and I patted him on the nose after I had let myself out. Later, when we were giving all the horses their alfalfa for the night, Daddy said, “That foal gave you a hug.”

“He did?”

“That was a horse hug.”

I thought about that later, in bed. Horses normally show their appreciation by nickering at you, or pricking their ears when you come, or, to be frank, getting inside your space and crowding you, and then you have to shoo them away, because they have to respect you even though you weigh about a tenth
of what they do. I had never felt a horse do that thing before that Daddy said was a hug, just that steady pressure for a moment or two that said something like, “Be next to me.”

That kid, Brian Connelly, was now calling Stella every night and talking to her for at least forty-five minutes. Every day at lunch, she bragged about how she hardly had the time to do her homework because he was bothering her so much. And then, first thing in the morning, he would stand with her by her locker while she sorted her books for the day and talk to her some more. Gloria and I sometimes found ourselves waiting for her, and for the life of me, I couldn’t understand why he talked about all the things he did. For example, he would have watched a show on TV the night before, something everyone watched, like
Dick Van Dyke.
I was the only person in my class who didn’t watch
Dick Van Dyke
, because we didn’t have a TV. But Brian wasn’t talking to me, he was talking to Stella, and he would tell her everything that happened in a show that she herself had seen, including all the jokes, which he would laugh at with his mouth open. Or he would tell her what he had for breakfast (usually Wheaties but sometimes a crispy fried egg “because I don’t like it all runny”).

Gloria and I would stand there watching Stella while Brian talked to her. She kept this happy expression on her face all the time and nodded. Gloria once said to me, “Look at her, she’s nodding to the rhythm, like he’s singing a song. I don’t think she’s hearing what he’s saying.” After that, I couldn’t see the nodding in any other way—though when you asked Stella what Brian had said, she knew.

I can’t say that he wasn’t interested in her, because sometimes he asked her questions—what shows had she seen the night before? What had she had for breakfast? What was that thing she was wearing called (in this case, a “dickey,” which was a knitted turtleneck that you could wear under your shirt to keep your neck warm, and you didn’t have to have the whole sweater, but in that case, what was the point, I thought), or what was the plaid of her skirt called? When Brian was in a question-asking mood, he asked questions until you wanted to pop him one. And, in fact, when we were in elementary school, he had been popped more than once, which at the time had made me feel sorry for him.

Now that he was so interested in Stella, though, I could kind of see Brian the way those mean kids had seen him back then. Fact was, Brian was big now, and those kids weren’t, yet, so Brian did pretty much what he pleased. He also got good grades, always sat in the front row in class, and always “contributed,” so the teachers liked him. Stella said, “He’s kind of important, isn’t he?” and Gloria and I didn’t tell her any different. In fact, I would say that Stella saw herself and Brian as the most popular couple in our grade, which didn’t sit well with the Big Four. From my point of view, Stella’s concentration on Brian meant that she expected me as much as Gloria to listen to the “Tales of Brian” and learn something. What we learned about, mostly, was getting dressed, since she was very careful to dress nicely every day, and she never wore the same thing more than once in two weeks. One of Gloria’s jobs, which I didn’t have to share, was to go shopping with Stella and her mother, looking for more and more clothes. These were clothes that
she could offer to share but didn’t have to, since she was two sizes bigger than both Gloria and me. At our school, nobody wore very nice clothes, especially in the winter, when it was cold, rainy, and muddy. I could see the Big Four looking at Stella and rolling their eyes, but I didn’t feel I could say anything to Stella. Gloria shrugged and said that they should mind their own business.

One day, Stella wore stockings.

It was only March and way too chilly and damp for stockings, and anyway, girls in the seventh grade didn’t wear stockings to school. We wore loafers and kneesocks in the winter and sneakers and kneesocks or ankle socks in the warmer months. At that point, I had never even worn stockings, and Gloria had worn them only once, to her cousin’s wedding, with a pair of dyed satin flats. Stella wore them with flats, too—navy blue with little bows on them—and a knee-length navy skirt, a round collared blouse, and a navy cardigan with little red cats all over it.

BOOK: The Georges and the Jewels
8.51Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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