The Black Stallion's Blood Bay Colt (10 page)

BOOK: The Black Stallion's Blood Bay Colt
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That had been Jimmy Creech's idea, Tom could have told him. But he didn't, for he had learned that the less he mentioned Jimmy's name to his uncle, the easier it was to get along with him.

Letters came frequently from Jimmy and George Snedecker. After leaving the Bedford Fair, they had gone on to Butler, Ebensburg, back to Carlisle, and then on to the Lebanon, Youngstown and Mercer fairs. Jimmy finished in the money at most of the fairs, but he never brought Symbol home to win. There were several pictures of him in the latest issue of
Hoof Beats
, and Uncle Wilmer studied them critically.

“He's gettin' on,” Uncle Wilmer said in a surprised tone. “Must be my age, all right.”

“So are a good many of the others,” Tom said. “Some of the best drivers are old men.”

“Not
old men
,” Uncle Wilmer answered a little fiercely. “Just gettin' on. We can keep up with any of the young'uns, all right.”

From that day, it seemed to Tom that Uncle
Wilmer's attitude toward Jimmy Creech changed considerably. Once he even went so far as to claim that Jimmy Creech was “responsible for the good looks of the colt. It was him who bred the mare to the Black. He knew what he was doin', all right.”

The first week of September approached and with it came the fair at Reading, just fourteen miles from the farm. Tom listened to his uncle and aunt discuss the many reasons why they couldn't afford to go this year; yet he knew that nothing would keep them from attending it. They hadn't missed one in the past forty-three years; Uncle Wilmer had told him that much. And Tom knew too of Aunt Emma's crock of mincemeat that had been standing for three months in the cellar. Aunt Emma was famous for her mincemeat pies, and certainly she would have one in the pie-judging contest this year as in previous years. The entry applications had arrived a week ago, and they had been signed and returned by Aunt Emma. Tom knew that, even if Uncle Wilmer didn't. And Aunt Emma's pie wouldn't be at the fair without Aunt Emma.

Monday was the first day of the fair and Aunt Emma and Uncle Wilmer were very definite about not going this year. “We always spend too much money,” Aunt Emma said. “And when you've seen one fair you've seen them all.”

Uncle Wilmer nodded his egg-shaped head in agreement.

On Tuesday, Aunt Emma went down to the cellar to taste her mincemeat. Returning to the kitchen, she looked for the program of activities at the fair which had come in the mail. She found it on the porch in her
husband's hand. He was telling Tom, “Looks like they'll have some good races on Wednesday and Thursday, all right.”

Aunt Emma took the program from him, read it quickly, then said quietly, “Thursday is pie-judging day.”

“Heh?” Uncle Wilmer cupped his ear.

“Thursday,” Tom shouted for his aunt. “It's the day they judge pies.”

Uncle Wilmer took back the program, studied it, then said, “Thursday's races are better'n Wednesday's.”

“I just might have some mincemeat down cellar,” Aunt Emma said. “Wouldn't do no harm to try to—”

“Heh?”

But Aunt Emma said nothing, and Tom knew there was no need to tell his uncle about the mincemeat in the cellar.

“We really shouldn't go,” Aunt Emma said loudly to her husband.

“Darn right,” he returned. “We saw it last year—” He stopped suddenly, his head turning in Tom's direction.

And then the boy was conscious too of Aunt Emma's gaze upon him.

“But Tom didn't see it last year,” Uncle Wilmer said.

“No, he didn't,” Aunt Emma said, nodding her head in agreement.

“We oughta go for him. That's what we oughta do, all right.”

“We certainly should,” Aunt Emma said. “ 'Specially since he'll be goin' home soon. He ought to see the fair before he goes home.”

The smile left Uncle Wilmer's face. “Tom goin' home? When?” He turned to the boy.

“Jimmy said he'd pick the mare and colt up soon now. I'm going back with him. I have to be back at school in two weeks,” Tom said.

“I hadn't thought of your goin' yet,” Uncle Wilmer said quietly. “Seems you only jus' got here.”

Aunt Emma turned upon her husband. “What have you been thinkin' about, Wilmer! You know well enough he has to go to school!”

“Sure, I know it!” Uncle Wilmer returned defiantly. But then his gaze fell. “I guess the summer's just about gone, all right. I guess it is. That always comes with the fair, too.”

“Time goes awfully fast,” Tom said. “It seems to me I just got here, too, But the colt is over two months old now, Uncle Wilmer. Even that's hard to believe.”

When Tom left the porch after it had been agreed to go to the fair on Thursday for his benefit, Uncle Wilmer joined him.

“Where you goin'?”

“To the mailbox. I thought there might be a letter from Jimmy.”

“I don't suppose he'd be racin' at the fair.”

“He didn't say anything about it in his last letter. He was at the Mercer Fair then; that's a couple of hundred miles from here.”

“That's purty far, all right. Guess he wouldn't come.”

They walked to the mailbox together and found Jimmy Creech's letter. As Tom opened the envelope, Uncle Wilmer made it plain he was definitely interested in its contents. “Read it aloud, Tom,” he said. “Good and loud.”

“The season is just about over for George and me,” Tom read. “We decided we'd kill two birds with one stone by racing at Reading, then pick up you and the mare and colt and come home.”

Tom stopped reading and turned excitedly to his uncle. “You hear that? He's coming to Reading!”

Uncle Wilmer nodded his head vigorously.

“I entered Symbol in a race on Thursday; that's the day we'll get there,” Jimmy wrote.

Tom stopped reading again to shout, “Thursday, that's our day!”

“We'll be there Thursday, all right,” Uncle Wilmer said.

Tom turned back to the letter and continued reading aloud: “We'll go back to Coronet on Friday, and you can come back with us, if you want to—”

“What's he mean, ‘if you want to'?” Uncle Wilmer interrupted. “When that colt goes you go, too. You belong with him, all right.” But he didn't meet Tom's gaze when the boy turned to him. “What else he say?” Uncle Wilmer asked without raising his eyes.

“We got the picture you sent of the colt,” Tom continued reading, “and he sure looks like everything you've written about him. George and I can hardly wait to see him in the flesh. Glad to learn everything has worked out so well with your uncle.”

Tom glanced at Uncle Wilmer. “I told him you've been a big help to me,” he said.

“That the end?” Uncle Wilmer asked.

“That's all, except he says he'd like to meet you,” Tom replied, folding the letter.

Uncle Wilmer said nothing until they were well on their way down the hill. “I'd like to meet him, too, all right,” he said.

“You will,” Tom returned, “at the fair—Thursday.”

Although it was only a little past eight o'clock, the traffic was heavy as they approached the fairgrounds Thursday morning. Tom sat in the front seat beside Uncle Wilmer, who had a firm, deathlike grasp on the wheel and whose body swung with his old car as he weaved it in, out, and around the other cars. Tom found himself moving with his uncle, gauging distances between cars and wondering if they were ever going to get to the fair at all. In the back, sitting in the middle of the seat, Aunt Emma held her carefully wrapped mincemeat pie and never said a word.

Tom relaxed a little when he saw the flags of the fairgrounds just ahead. Attendants of the parking lots solicited Uncle Wilmer's patronage by waving and shouting, but Uncle Wilmer kept his foot on the gas. “No need to pay those fellers,” he said. “I know my way around, all right.”

Two blocks from the main entrance to the fairgrounds, Uncle Wilmer swerved recklessly across the highway, bringing the oncoming traffic to a screeching stop. The drivers of the other cars shouted angrily at Uncle Wilmer. But unmindful of their critical blasts, Uncle Wilmer turned down a side street, where there was no traffic ahead of them.

Tom settled back in his seat, certain his uncle knew where he was going. A few minutes from now and they'd be inside. It seemed a very long time since they
had gotten up. And it was, when he figured it out. Uncle Wilmer had awakened him at four o'clock to help with the chores, and Aunt Emma had been up even earlier getting ready. The mare and colt were in the paddock with free access to their stall and a rack full of hay. They'd be all right until he returned to the farm; and Jimmy and George would be with him to see their colt for the first time. And tomorrow? Tom faced tomorrow with mixed emotions. He'd miss his uncle and aunt, and life on the farm. But there was much to look forward to as well, for before very long the colt's real schooling and training for the track would begin. While he'd never have been able to do this by himself, he could watch Jimmy Creech, helping him while he brought the colt along and learning a great deal.

Tom felt that he had done the job Jimmy had expected of him, for the colt could be handled and had complete confidence in human beings, which was what Jimmy wanted. And while his task in the months to come would be that of assistant to Jimmy Creech instead of having the colt all to himself, it was the way it should be. For the colt's professional life was about to begin and he would have a part of it. He'd learn with his colt. And who knew what the future would bring them?

Uncle Wilmer drove his old car down many residential side streets, and at last found a spot to park just a block from the main entrance to the fairgrounds. “Like I said,” he mumbled when they left the car, “there's no sense in payin' those fellers. Not when you been comin' to the fair for forty-three years.”

Walking to the main gate, Aunt Emma handed her
pie to Tom while she straightened her good gray dress and the black straw hat that was trimmed gaily with white flowers. Uncle Wilmer, too, fixed himself up by buttoning the collar of his blue shirt and drawing up his tie. He wore his new gray hat, but like his everyday hat, it was much too small and sat high on top of his head.

Reaching the gate, Uncle Wilmer stopped Tom from paying his own way and struggled with his big change purse until he had enough money out of it to purchase the tickets.

In the early-morning sun, they walked down the already crowded avenues of the fair. Tom could feel the fair as well as see it. He had forgotten the smells, the sounds and the excitement of a fair. And now they all burst upon him—the throaty bellowing of the brown-and-white Hereford cows from the nearest open sheds, the sweet fragrance of freshly cut flowers coming from a Grange building as they passed its doors, and all about them the farm people, so much like his aunt and uncle, as eager and excited as they were.

Yet, unlike the other people who streamed in and out of the exhibits housed in the long, low buildings on each side of the avenue, his uncle and aunt never slackened their pace and cast only a quick glance into the doorways of each building while hastening by. They seemed to know where they wanted to go, and Tom followed, as anxious as they were to get to his destination, which was the racetrack. In and out of the crowd they wound with Aunt Emma leading the way. Hawkers shouted their wares to them from small booths along the way; and even though it was early, the odor of caramel-treated popcorn balls filled the air, and fluffy
cotton candy of red and white was waved in Tom's face as he hurried to keep up with his uncle and aunt.

Finally his aunt came to a stop before a building through the doorways of which wafted the spicy smells of pastry of all kinds. She turned to her husband. “I'll meet you right here, Wilmer, at four o'clock.” Even before finishing her sentence she had turned toward the door again, the pie held carefully in her hands.

“Heh, Emma?” Uncle Wilmer cupped an ear.

She turned upon him, and Tom saw the irritable look on her face. “I'll tell him, Aunt Emma,” he said quickly.

Nodding, she smiled tightly, and Tom knew there would be no relaxing for his aunt until the pie contest was over. She was on her way through the door, when suddenly she stopped to turn to Tom once more. “You bring your friends to supper, mind you, Tom. Won't be no trouble at all. The makings are ready.”

Tom hurried to catch up to his uncle. There was no need to ask him where he was going, for ahead and towering above the low exhibit buildings was the high-tiered grandstand of the racetrack. For a farmer, Uncle Wilmer showed only mild interest in the long rows of open sheds which housed the pedigreed cattle—the black-and-white Holstein cows, all with red and blue prize ribbons hanging proudly above them; neither did he stop when they passed the sleek black Angus steers, nor at the goat shed. Instead he made directly for the grandstand, and his eyes left it only for the flags flying over its red roof. “Time to see the cattle is later,” he told Tom. “Right now they're working the horses, gettin' 'em ready for the races this afternoon.”

Tom needed no urging.

They walked behind the grandstand toward the entrance to the paddock, through which the horses passed on their way from the stables to the track. “I always go there,” Uncle Wilmer said. “You see more what's goin' on.”

“I'd better go to the stables first,” Tom said. “I want to find Jimmy.”

“You think he's here now?”

“I'm sure of it,” Tom replied.

They passed the grandstand and came to the bleachers. And now through the wire-mesh fence they could see the horses on the track. Just a short distance beyond was the paddock entrance and a little farther on were the long rows of stables.

Their paces quickened to the sound of hoofs on the track and the shrill neighs from the stables. Through the paddock gate passed sleek animals, pulling their light, two-wheeled racing sulkies behind them. Those going onto the track were charged with energy and their drivers guided them carefully past the sweated horses coming off the track from their morning workouts.

BOOK: The Black Stallion's Blood Bay Colt
9.89Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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