Authors: Walter Farley
The veterinarian had picked up his telephone, and Tom knew that this was the end of their conversation. He was walking toward the door when the doctor
called to him, his voice soft once more. “See that your mare gets enough exercise, and keep your eye on her at night. They usually have them at night, at the most unreasonable hours. And if you're so sure it'll be this weekâ”
“I'm sure,” Tom said. “Quite sure.”
He had the door open when the veterinarian called again. “Leave everything to nature. And don't worry. Don't worry at all.”
It was three miles from town to the farm, and all the way back Tom kept thinking,
“Don't worry,” everyone tells me. “There's nothing to it.” Even Jimmy said there's nothing to it. But how can I help worrying when there's so much at stake? Perhaps I'm not made for this type of thing. Everyone else is so casual about it. A few weeks ago, back at Coronet, maybe I was casual, too. But it's different now that the mare's time is so close at hand and she's my responsibility. That's it, she's my responsibility. I wouldn't want anything to happen to the Queen or to her foal. And now I'm alone. It's up to me. It's what I wanted. But I'm wondering whether I can shoulder all this responsibility. I guess that's why I wanted to have a veterinary around. I didn't want to go it alone. I lack confidence in myself. I might as well admit it
But there's Uncle Wilmer
, Tom thought eagerly.
He'll be around. I've got him to turn to. He doesn't understand a horse as finely bred as the Queen, but he's had workhorses and cows that have given birth here at the farm, and he'll know what to do
Tom's pace quickened as he reached the lane. Having thought it all out, having decided to put his faith in Uncle Wilmer should have made him feel better, but it didn't. He knew that somehow he had let
himself down, and let Jimmy Creech down, too. He lacked confidence in himself. He was groping for someone's hand. First it had been the veterinary's and now his uncle's. It wasn't the way he had thought it would be or plannedâor the way Jimmy had planned. Jimmy had placed the Queen in his hands, not in those of Uncle Wilmer.
Upon reaching the farm, he saw the Queen grazing in the pasture. He called to her and she raised her head, the white blaze standing out vividly against her dark-brown face. She whinnied, then went back to her grazing.
Tom went to the barn and picked up a longe line. Carrying it, he went back to the pasture. He had reached the gate when his uncle appeared at the door of the chicken house. Tom waved to him but said nothing. His uncle called to him.
Tom waited while Uncle Wilmer came toward him, walking in his slow, loping way with one hand, as usual, bent behind his back.
“What you goin' to do?”
Tom raised the line. Uncle Wilmer knew perfectly well what he was going to do, yet every day since the Queen had arrived he'd asked that same question when Tom had gone into the field. The boy turned away, knowing that his uncle would follow him, watching as he always did while Tom worked the Queen on the longe.
Tom went up to the mare and snapped the line to her halter; then he backed away until the line was extended its full length. Uncle Wilmer was standing a few
feet behind him. “You'll have to get farther back,” Tom shouted. Every day he had told his uncle the same thing.
The Queen stopped grazing when Tom shook the line. And at the first sound of his clucking, she moved into a trot, slowly encircling the boy.
Tom pivoted with her, his eyes never leaving the mare's heavy, cumbersome body. He kept her at a slow trot for a long time before letting her come to a stop. Then he went to her, unclipping the line. The Queen moved away.
“If I was working my land again, I'd see that she got plenty of exercise, all right.” The words were spoken by Uncle Wilmer, who was standing directly behind Tom.
Tom neither turned around nor said anything.
A shout came from the woods at the far end of the meadow, and Tom recognized the voice of Mrs. Yoder, who lived on the lower road.
“Telephone!” Mrs. Yoder was calling. “Emma or Wilmer is wanted on the phone!”
His Uncle was saying something about using the Queen to pull a cultivator when Tom turned to him. “Phone!” he shouted, pointing to Mrs. Yoder.
But his uncle continued talking about what he'd do if he was working the farm again and the Queen belonged to him.
Aunt Emma appeared in front of the wash hanging in the yard. She'd heard Mrs. Yoder, for she was coming through the back gate.
Tom watched his aunt as she hurriedly made her way through the pasture's knee-deep grass. When she
was parallel with Tom and Uncle Wilmer she turned a withering glance upon her husband. “Good for nothing!” she shouted. “I've got to do everything!”
Uncle Wilmer moved sheepishly and it wasn't until his wife was some distance away that he regained his composure. “You oughtn't to have taken the shoes off the mare,” he told Tom defiantly.
Tom looked curiously at him. Jimmy Creech had removed the mare's shoes because running around on the soft ground without them was the best thing for her feet. Tom was certain that his uncle realized this, too. Then why did he say the Queen shouldn't be running around shoeless?
Tom fastened his gaze on the tall, bustling woman who had now joined Mrs. Yoder at the far end of the pasture, and thought he knew the answer. Aunt Emma did a good job of bullying her husband, so Uncle Wilmer, in turn, enjoyed the opportunity of taking it out on someone elseâand right now it was Tom Messenger. The boy smiled until he realized his uncle's eyes were upon him, then his lips closed tight.
They stood there for a while, watching the Queen while she grazed. But Tom noticed that frequently his uncle's gaze would leave the mare for the lower meadow and the path over which Aunt Emma would return.
“She won't have it fer a month's time,” his uncle said. “You better listen to me. You leave that mare out nights. No use to bring her in, usin' good straw to bed her down.”
Not wanting to shout or to argue with his uncle, Tom simply shook his head.
“She's your mare,” Uncle Wilmer said after a few seconds of silence. “You do with her as you like. You oughtn't to be giving her grain now. Grass is good enough for her. Grain costs money. Grass don't. You oughtn'tâ”
His uncle had stopped talking with the reappearance of Aunt Emma in the lower meadow. Tom watched her as she came toward them, her long legs moving effortlessly over the ground. She was still a good distance away when she shouted, “Tillie's sick again. She wants us for the night.”
The man turned to Tom. “What she say?” he asked.
“Aunt Tillie is sick. She says you're going into town for the night.”
His uncle lowered his eyes. “Tillie's always sick when she wants company. That's the way Tillie is, all right.”
Tom nodded sympathetically. He had met Aunt Tillie once. It had been three years ago, the last time he had spent the summer here at the farm. Aunt Tillie had taken sick then, too, and they had gone in for the night. He had watched Aunt Tillie and Aunt Emma play rummy until he had fallen asleep on the couch. Aunt Tillie was old and unmarried, and every few months she wanted company. When she did, she got sick and called Aunt Emma.
His aunt stood before them now. “We're going in right away,” she said. “You two get ready.”
She was moving past them when Tom said, “I'd better stay here, Aunt Emma. I've got to watch the mare.”
“Your aunt Tillie's sick,” Aunt Emma said with finality. “You come.”
“I can't do anything for Aunt Tillie,” the boy returned quietly. “I might be able to do something for the Queen. Surely you understand, Aunt Emma.”
“Wilmer told you the mare won't foal for a long time yet,” she said.
“But I think she will,” Tom returned slowly. He couldn't have said anything else. He swept a glance at his uncle, but the man's eyes were turned away.
“We'll be back the first thing in the morning,” his aunt was saying, “My land, Tom, you can be away from your mare that long when your aunt Tillie is sick.”
“I couldn'tÂ â¦Â I've got to stay here. Please, Aunt Emma, you just have to understand.” But then he added diplomatically, “I'll feed the chickens and the pigs, too. You won't have anything to worry about back here then.”
Their eyes met and it was several seconds before the woman spoke again. “You get ready,” she bellowed to Uncle Wilmer. “If some people think more of horses than they do of their own kinâ” She moved away from them.
The man looked at the boy in wonder and admiration; then he followed his wife toward the house.
Tom's aunt and uncle had long since departed for town when he finished his supper. As he sat in the deep leather chair before the kitchen table, he watched the last rays of the setting sun rest upon the wooded mountains. The Queen had been fed and bedded down in her roomy box stall for the night. There was nothing to do now but waitâwait for morning, hoping the Queen wouldn't have her foal tonight while he was alone.
He thought of his bringing the Queen into the barn for the night. Uncle Wilmer wouldn't like it; he'd said it was a waste of straw. And telling Aunt Emma that he thought the Queen would have her foal this week in spite of what Uncle Wilmer had said wasn't going to help matters, either. Not at all.
Restlessly Tom rose from his chair and carried the dishes to the sink. As he washed them he found himself thinking,
I hope I'm wrong. At least, I hope it won't be tonight. I'd like to have Uncle Wilmer around just in case something goes wrong. I'm afraid. Not for myself, but for the Queen. If anything happened to her through my ignorance or carelessnessÂ â¦
Tom finished the dishes and put them away in the corner cupboard; then he went to the stove and banked the fire before returning to the chair and looking out the window again. It was almost dark now.
Jimmy Creech told me what to do
, he thought.
He said he had full confidence in me. And Jimmy wouldn't put his faith in just anybody. He must believe it, so I've got to believe it, too. I've got to have confidence in myself. George Snedecker said I wouldn't have any trouble, eitherÂ â¦Â That's exactly what he wrote in the letter I got from him yesterday
Tom reached for the letter lying upon the mantle just above the kitchen table. He read it again.
Jimmy is off with some of his old pals who are racing here, so I got a chance to write, like I was going to do all week
I wanted to tell you how well Jimmy is doing, because I know you been worrying about him, like I been doing. We don't
have to worry no more. At least that's the way it looks right now. Old Jimmy is driving like he used to drive. He's almost picking up Symbol and carrying him! That's the kind of driving Jimmy is doing here. He ain't won no races yet, but he's gotten two seconds and three thirds, so he's paying expenses all right. But most important to you and me is that he's in very good spirits, acting young and happy-like, and getting a big kick out of driving. That's more like the Jimmy Creech I used to know
I wanted to tell you that I think you did it to him. You and the Queen. And don't you think for one minute that that man from Hanover Farms didn't meet Jimmy's price for the Queen. Jimmy just didn't sell her. He couldn't when he saw how you felt about her. Jimmy feels the same way about the Queen as you do, but when he got sick he forgot, I guess. You made him remember. Now he's looking forward to the Queen's foal like a papa expecting a baby. And it's done him a world of good
Like I said before, you did it. You and the Queen. So we're waiting to hear from you. And we know that our Queen couldn't be in better hands than yours. You just watch her, Tom. That's all you have to do. You won't have any trouble, and being good to her and loving her as you do is the best thing in the world for her at this time
It's getting late, so I got to quit now. We got a big day ahead of us tomorrow
After folding the letter, Tom put it back in the envelope. If loving the Queen and watching her would take care of everything, as George wrote, then he had nothing to worry about. He went eagerly to the door and across the lawn. Perhaps he didn't need Uncle Wilmer at all. Perhaps he could do it all by himself, just as he'd planned.
Upon reaching the paddock in front of the barn, he saw the Queen's head thrust over the half-door of the box stall. She whinnied and he went to her. He
stroked her nose, then opened the door and went inside. He tried to get far enough away from the Queen to look at her body, but she kept moving closer to him, nuzzling his pocket for carrots. Finally he gave up trying to keep away from her and she pushed her nose into his pocket.
As she stood quietly beside him he thought, maybe Uncle Wilmer is right. Maybe she won't have her foal for a long time. She's so calm, and not a bit nervous. I don't believe she'd be acting this way if her foal were due very soon.
But that night, when Tom went to bed in his room above the kitchen, he set the clock's alarm for midnight. He would look at the Queen at that time just to make sure she was all right. And at two o'clock and four and six, he'd do the same thing. Jimmy Creech had said she would have her foal this week, so he must look at the Queen every few hours. From tonight until she had her foal, whether it was to be this week or a month from now, he would keep this schedule that he had set for himself.
The alarm at midnight awakened Tom from a sound sleep. Sluggishly he reached for the clock, groping until he found it in the darkness. Turning off the alarm, he lay back again, his eyes closed. Then, quickly, he opened them again and turned on the light. He reached for his overalls, pulling them over his pajamas; then he made his way down the stairs, picking up the flashlight as he went out the door.