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Authors: K. M. Peyton

Blind Beauty

BOOK: Blind Beauty
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Tessa kept her eyes on her dinner, feeling herself tremble. Something was happening to her, which she couldn't control.

Maurice laughed and said, “I don't know why some people go in for racing. What is it for, if you have a horse like that, and don't bet?”

Tessa thought she was going to be sick. But, instead of being sick, she voided her wild feelings by snatching up the table cloth, lifting it and shooting everything on the table into Maurice's lap – including her dinner, not to mention Myra and Greevy's. Seeing Maurice covered in thick gravy, hot steak and pureed potatoes, screaming as his lower body got burnt by the contents of the gravy-dish, was marvellous.

She got up from her chair and ran out of the room before he should kill her.

 

 

 

 

 

 

To the memory of dear Wise Words, his human friends, and Philippa in Ireland

Contents

 

Part One

 1  Shiner

 2  Shiner's Foal

 3  Tessa Goes Home

 4  “Feed the brute and treat it nicely”

 5  “I will be good!”

 6  Riding Buffoon

 7  A Dangerous Girl

 8  A Great Gallop

 9  The First Race

10  Maurice's Dinner Party

11  Tom's Question

12  A Light Goes Out

13  To Be a Jockey

14  Taking Failure

15  Disaster

16  The Big Race

17  The Knife

Part Two

 1  “This place is killing you”

 2  Buffoon

 3  “Lovely to have you back, dear”

 4  Rescue Mission

 5  “Win for me!”

 6  “He won't die?”

 7  The Operation

 8  Myra Leaves Home

 9  A Stable Hack

10  “It's the Grand National you're aiming for?”

11  The Course

12  The Race

T
he foal was born without eyes. Just empty sockets.

When Declan cleared the membrane and saw what had happened he let out a wail which so startled the mare that she staggered to get up.

Declan leapt to her head.

“My poor old baby! Lie still, you stupid old cow! What have you done, you stupid girl?”

“It's because she's so old. Twenty-three! I told you it would kill her,” said his wife Myra. “This is worse. Worse than killing her. I'll ring the veterinary.”

“What for?”

“To lay it to sleep, of course.”

“No. You'll not do that.”

“What do you mean, no?”

“Give us time. There's no hurry. Let the mare settle.”

“It's best at once. For the mare.”

“Not for me though,” Declan said. “It's not best for me. Don't ring yet.”

Word soon went round that crazy Declan insisted on keeping his blind foal. It was a filly and he wanted to keep the mare's famous bloodline going, his last chance to make a fortune. They all thought he was mad.

He had inherited the mare from an uncle, when the mare was twenty years old and had been barren for three years. She was going to be put down. Declan had tried for three more years to get her into foal and had at last succeeded. Now this!

When he had made the mare and foal comfortable and got the foal suckling, he went indoors and cried. He was only twenty-one, after all. His wife Myra was twenty and their little girl, Tessa, four years old. Tessa came and sat on his knee.

“Daddy crying,” she said in amazement. She traced the tears flowing copiously out of his bright blue eyes with a pudgy, dirty finger. She was used to laughter, anger, gloom and inebriation, but not grief.

“Why?”

“Daddy's new baby's got no eyes. That's why he's crying.”

“My teddy bear got no eyes.”

“He's got you to look after him.”

“I'll look after Daddy's baby too.”

“You do that,” said Daddy. “You look after my baby for me.”

Tessa was used to horses, seeing legs alongside and bellies overhead like great brown clouds. Declan looked after horses for Mr O'Shea. Only the old brown mare was his own. She had bred twelve good winners and no duds and was much respected. She was called Betty but her real name was Moonshine Fields.

Tessa called the blind foal Shiner. She looked after her, as promised.

When the foal was lying down Tessa went and laid beside her. She could put her fat fist into the eye sockets, it fitted exactly. The foal seemed to like the warm feel of it, and lay still. If she was a cat she would have purred. Not having any eyes did not seem to affect her much. She didn't bump into things. “She's got another sense, to make up for it. In her whiskers,” Declan said. “See how she holds her head. And her ears stand up like a hare's. Nature knows what she's about.”

Nature decreed that Tessa and Shiner bonded. Tessa could do anything with Shiner, yet with other people Shiner turned away. Tessa could fetch her in from the field. She went out with a halter and Shiner put her head low so that Tessa could put it on. She stood patiently while Tessa got one ear caught up, or the rope twisted, or put it on back to front. Then she would follow the child's stumbling footsteps back to the farm, trusting the way.

Sometimes it was a long way. The horses' field ran down to the shore a mile from the house. When the mares and their foals were sated with grazing they would go and pick along the sandy beach to explore the seawrack and driftwood, the old plastic bottles and flotsam that had washed in from the Atlantic. A wide river came inland there, winding past the farm. Herons stood patiently on the edge of the mud when the tide went out, and the gulls wheeled and bickered overhead when the fishing-boats came in. To Tessa it was a sea of grass which she could barely see over, and a blue heaven. She could smell the seashore, tell the direction of the river by the tonk-tonk of the boat engines and the screams of the gulls. Shiner would come to her, sensing her golden head moving through the grass. Taller and taller Shiner grew on the good grass, but her eyeless head nosed ever more gently at Tessa, a flutter of welcome moving in her nostrils.

She was a bay with no white on her. She was a fine filly, they all said, shaking their heads. The old mare, Moonshine Fields, died that winter, and Declan was proud that he had kept the filly because, blind or not, she was going to breed him valuable foals.

He had no money to pay for a good sire. He spent his money on betting and drink and Tessa grew up with the noise of bitter argument accompanying her home life. She spent all her time with Shiner because Shiner loved her and she loved Shiner. There was little love at home. She would lie in the stable with Shiner in the straw and listen to the Irish rain beating on the tin roof. She would lay her head on Shiner's flank and feel secure and loved.

“The child's more horse than human,” they said.

“I love you, Shiner,” Tessa said.

But one day, after more noise than usual, Myra came storming into the stable and wrenched Tessa from Shiner's side.

“We're going,” she said. “I can't stand any more.”

“Going where?”

“We're going to my auntie in Liverpool, that's where.”

Tessa never saw Shiner again. She cried herself sick and in Liverpool grew thin and angry. At school she would not speak. The auntie Mabel was kind, but Tessa did not respond. She would sit staring out of the window, silent, seeing nothing. Auntie Mabel and Myra took her to watch the Grand National but when she saw the horses she cried, and that night she cried herself to sleep.

But later her mother came to her and said, “We've come into a bit of luck, Tessa-girl. Keep your fingers crossed for me. You could well have horses again.”

Myra had been working as a barmaid and met a man called Maurice. Maurice took Myra out in his Mercedes and Tessa came too.

“Call me Uncle Maurice,” he said to Tessa.

Tessa looked up and met the eyes of the man who had his arm round her mother. She stared. The eyes had a peculiar grip, piercing and cruel. It was instant hate on both sides.

Tessa sat in front because she got sick in cars, and Uncle Maurice turned his head sideways over Tessa to take notice of her mother. He smelled like a woman, Tessa noticed, nothing like her father. Her father smelled of horses and leather and sweat.

A hedgehog was crossing the road in front of them. Uncle Maurice altered course very slightly to run it over. Tessa cried out. She jumped round in her seat and saw it, squashed, through the back window.

“You pig! You pig!” she cried out.

“Tessa!” Myra was shocked. She hadn't seen. Declan would never do a thing like that.

But Uncle Maurice only laughed.

S
hiner walked round and round her box, stopping every so often to paw the ground. The straw was all over the place.

Declan leaned over the door talking to her all the time.

“You don't know what's happening to you, do you, my darling? Well, it's no different if you've got eyes to see or if you haven't. None of you mares knows what's happening the first time you foal – why should you? There's none of these classes for you, that tell you all about it – not like there is for the ladies. You're on your own in this, my darling, but your Declan won't leave you, don't you worry. You'll be all right.”

On and on he talked, to soothe her with his familiar voice. It didn't matter about the words being rubbish. The tone was what mattered. Although Tessa had been gone three years, she was the one who could have calmed Shiner. She was the one who should have been doing this, little as she was. Well, not so little now. She would be eight by now, quite a young lady. There had been magic between her and the filly. That bitch Myra had never told him where she was, not since Liverpool. Not that he wanted to see Myra again, not ever again.

“But my little Tessa, my little golden girl, I'd give everything I have to see her again, even you, Shiner. Well, perhaps. I'm not sure about that, Shiner, because what else have I got in this life save you, my darling, and you are my really own, my Shiner, my dear mare, my sweetheart.”

It took a long time. A dreadful time. She couldn't see the foal and didn't know what it was, and when it was delivered she got up and rampaged round her box, dripping sweat and whinnying. Declan had to lie over the foal and protect it and got badly kicked for his pains. Seizing an opportunity, he managed to gather it up bodily and get it into a corner. He stood in front of it and fended Shiner off with slaps whenever she crashed near. There was no chance of giving it a suckle, poor little devil. And from what he could see of it in the dark – he couldn't reach his torch and they had never had the electricity – it was a strange, pale little thing with ears like a donkey's. It wasn't big and strong. It was weak, but it wasn't wimpy, trying to demand its suckle and getting knocked for six for its pains. And trying again.

“God help us!” prayed Declan.

The sweat poured off his back like it poured off the mare's. It was two o'clock in the morning and he was on his own with no one to help him. What a fool he was not to have persuaded Paddy down to see it out with him! He hadn't guessed at this happening. He had thought it would be easy like it nearly always was, and if it wasn't he was near enough to a phone for the veterinary. But there was no leaving the stable, not now.

It was a long night. Gradually, as dawn came, Shiner began to calm down, but she wouldn't accept the foal's suckling. She stood shivering and kicking. When at last young Liam came into the yard to get his car to go to work Declan was able to shout out, and Liam fetched a rug and rang Paddy to come down quick, and when Paddy came he held the mare while Declan got the foal to suckle. At last! Declan was flaked out.

But later, when the sun came up, he was able to put mare and foal in the little field Shiner knew, and she fell to grazing as if she had been starved a week. The foal galloped and fell over. Got up, bucked and reared and fell over again. Declan leaned over the gate, watching.

He was relieved it was all over, and should have felt proud and pleased. But the foal! It was all wrong – puny, ugly, long in the back, washy-coloured. The only good thing about it was that it was a colt. But a poor consolation for his dreams. Declan felt like crying. Shiner was all he had, and her foals were to be his fortune. But this – this would be laughed out of any sale-ring.

It tried to gallop and went down again. Luckily the grass was thick and the ground soft with rain. By the shape of it, you wondered it could think of galloping at all. It wasn't having any success. But still it tried.

The only thing you could say about the foal – it had guts.

Declan tried hard to console himself with this thought as he turned away wearily to find himself some breakfast.

BOOK: Blind Beauty
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