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When Stogie, Gramp's untamed horse, escapes during a storm, Lily and her horse Beware are the ones who bring Stogie home again.
"I'm scared," Mom says, from the doorway of Lily's room. "Can I get in with you?"
"Yes," Lily says. She moves over in bed and sits hugging her knees. Mom slides under the sheet, but she doesn't lie down. She and Lily look out the black window at the black sky.
"Wind," Mom says. "I don't know—sometimes it's even worse than lightning."
"I know," says Lily. Lightning comes quickly and then goes away. This wind just keeps on roaring. A leftover hurricane came through two days ago. After the rain the air stayed smothery and hot. Now cold air from Canada is pushing the hurricane air away. It breaks off tree branches, and rattles windows, and bangs into the sides of the house.
The black night makes Lily feel blind. She reaches over and pushes the switch on the bedside lamp. The switch clicks, but nothing happens.
"The electricity's out," Mom says.
Lily reaches for Mom's hand. "I hope Beware is okay." Beware is out there in the wind and dark.
"She'll be fine," Mom says. "The wind can't hurt a horse."
"It can't hurt us either," Lily says, and Mom laughs.
"Look," she says. A huge black cloud sails across the black sky. The rim of the cloud is silver with moonlight.
"It's clearing up," Mom says. "We'll have a beautiful day tomorrow."
Lily watches the ribbon of silver twist along the edge of the cloud. The cloud sails swiftly past the window, and another pushes behind it. The long roar of the wind dies down for a moment.
Then from far away, from down near the horse pasture, comes a sound like gunshots. Pop-pop-pop-pop-pop!
Lily and Mom squeeze hands. There's a long, loud raking sound, the sound of something breaking, and then a crash.
"A tree," Mom says. "A big tree must have fallen."
Lily doesn't say anything. She knows how Mom will answer. But she wonders, is Beware all right?
Someone walks out of the downstairs bedroom. The kitchen door opens. After a minute Lily calls, "Gramp?"
He answers her from out on the porch. "Tree down somewhere."
"We heard," Mom says.
"Horses are running," Gramp says. "Hope my fence is still up."
"Should we go see?" Lily is already halfway out of bed, feeling in the dark for her clothes.
"Don't bother!" Gramp says. "The batteries are gone in this dadblamed flashlight! Wouldn't you just know it?" Lily hears him grunt, and then she hears the flashlight thud on the lawn. "We'll have to wait till daylight."
"Lie down, Lily," Mom says. Lily does, but she stays awake a long time, trying to hear the hoofbeats.
When Lily wakes up, Mom is getting out of bed. Downstairs the kitchen door bangs shut. The early-morning sky is baby blue, and a small white cloud stands still outside Lily's window. Lily remembers the black and silver clouds last night, and she gets up quickly.
Already Gran is at the kitchen stove, and the phone is ringing. Mom answers it, and she tells Gran, "They want him on the road crew. A lot of trees came down last night."
"I doubt they'll get him," Gran says as Lily goes out the door.
From the front step she can see all the way across the pasture. Gramp looks small down there, trudging up the slope toward the far fence. A silver green heap of leaves and branches lies across the fence line: one of the big maples.
Lily looks along the fence of Beware's pasture. She's looking so hard for broken places that at first she doesn't see Beware and the pony. They're grazing peacefully in the middle of their field.
But where are the other horses? The Girls, Gramp's big blond workhorses, should be following him up the hill. The bunch of horses he bought last week to sell again should be there. Stogie, the black Morgan that no one can catch, should be galloping and snorting and looking dangerous.
There are no horses anywhere, and the cow and calf are gone, too. Gramp is all alone in the big pasture. Lily sees him climb over the fallen branches and bend down outside the fence. He must be looking at tracks. Now he stands up and looks off toward the woods and then the other way, toward the swamp. After a minute he turns back. Lily picks the flashlight up off the lawn and goes down to meet him.
"Morning," Gramp says, and reaches into his pocket for his pipe. He bites onto the stem. Then he takes the pipe out of his mouth and says, "They split up. We've got the day's work cut out for us."
"The road crew wants you," Lily says.
"They aren't gettin' me!" says Gramp. "If that cow or that team gets onto a road and somebody hits 'em—" He doesn't say any more.
Lily looks toward the road that passes in front of the house. It runs downhill to a bigger road. Off in the hills behind the pasture are other roads: logging trails, dirt roads, and a mile away, another wide paved road.
"We should hurry," she says.
"Breakfast first," says Gramp. "This is going to be a big job." In the kitchen he takes the cup of coffee Gran hands him and goes to the phone.
"Sorry, Ron, can't help you out today," he says. "I've got critters loose all over kingdom come."
He's quiet for a minute. Then his eyes start to bulge, and his nose gets red. "You let a car hit that work team at fifty miles an hour, Ron, and you'll know you've got troubles!" he says, and he hangs up the phone with a crash. "Idiot!"
"The world isn't built around farmers anymore, Linwood," Gran says. "Sit down and eat your breakfast."
Gramp sits, and he does eat. But he hardly seems to notice the crisp hash browns or the eggs. He's looking off into space, and Lily knows what he sees. The red-and-white cow and the calf with her long white stockings. The Girls, turning their big heads and blinking their blond eyelashes. Beautiful Stogie, with his wild, matted mane. They are running loose, and anything could happen.
"At least Beware's still here," Lily says.
"Yes, Lily, I'm glad," says Gramp.
"No, I mean, I can ride her out to find the others. She can help."
Gramp looks across the table at Lily, and he smiles for the first time this morning. "You're right. She can."CHAPTER 2
"Linwood!" Gran says. Gramp looks at her, and she looks hard back at him. She is trying to tell him something without using words, but Gramp doesn't get it.
"What?" he asks.
"What happens if she finds them?" Gran asks. "Out in the middle of that bunch, all fighting and kicking! What happens if she catches up with that Stogie?"
Oh! Lily didn't think about it before, but those horses are new to one another. Gramp just bought them. All week they've been biting and chasing and squealing out in the pasture, working out which one is boss. Only the Girls and Stogie always live here, and Stogie is boss. But he has to teach that all over again to each new bunch of horses.
The new horses don't know Beware. They will want to see if they can boss her, and they won't notice Lily on her back.
Gramp keeps looking at Gran. After a minute he shakes his head. "It pains me," he says, "but you're right. Lily, you and Beware can go after the cow and calf. They went off into the swamp, and the horses went the other way. That suit you, Gracie?"
"And if you're wrong?" Gran asks. "What does she do if she does come up on the crowd of them?"
"She gets off before they get close," Gramp says, "and she takes the bridle off, so Beware doesn't step on the reins, and she walks home and tells me where they are. She's a smart girl, Gracie. She knows how to handle herself."
But a few minutes later, down at the barn, Gramp says, "Isn't often your grandma gets the jump on me like that. If you see those horses, Lily, you get off right away. Don't wait for 'em to come up to you. And don't worry about Beware. They won't hurt her."
"I know," Lily says. She's seen the horses fight. They squeal as loud as elephants and strike the air with their front hooves. They kick and chase. They never seem to hurt one another, but Lily wouldn't want to be mixed up in it.
Beware waits at the gate for her breakfast. Even after the wild night she is calm and well mannered. But her eyes shine as if she remembers the excitement, and on the way to the barn she stops once. She looks off into the big pasture. After a minute she sighs.
"I know, girl," Lily says. "Where did they go?"
She feeds Beware and brushes her and gives her a cough drop. Beware crunches it down. Cough drops are her favorite treat. Lily slips another one in her pocket for later.
While she is saddling, Gramp comes up with his long black whip. "This might help you drive the old cow," he says. "And if that bunch of horses comes up on you, you can use it to hold 'em off." Lily has seen Gramp do that when he walks into a bunch of horses. He doesn't hit them. He just holds the whip out, and the horses leave a space around him.
Mom comes in. Gramp hands her two halters, two ropes, and a coffee can full of grain. He slings more halters over his shoulder, picks up his pail of fencing equipment, and looks at his watch. He makes a face. "We're off like a herd of turtles!"
Lily feels tall, riding across the big pasture beside Mom and Gramp. Beware turns her head from side to side. Lily can see her nostrils flare as she sniffs the cool, crisp air.
When she sees the fallen tree, Beware stops in her tracks. She blows her breath out in light, rattling snorts. What is it?
Lily waits. After a minute Beware takes a step, and another. She's still crouched, though, ready to jump if anything moves.
Then suddenly Beware relaxes. She walks right up and sniffs the leaves. She tears off a mouthful and starts to crunch. "I always wonder if they feel embarrassed," Mom says, "when they've been spooked by something perfectly normal."
Lily doesn't think the fallen tree is perfectly normal. It looks bigger on its side than it did standing up. The heap of leaves and branches is as high as Lily's head, even now when she's sitting on Beware. The trunk stands naked behind the fence. Only one small leafy branch is left on it. Spikes of wood stab up toward the sky.
Gramp snips the barbed wire and pulls it to one side. "Hope nobody got cut," he says, and he looks on every strand of wire for blood or hair. He doesn't find any.
"All right, Lily, go ahead," he says. Lily rides through the opening in the fence.
On the other side the muddy ground is trampled. The dinner-plate tracks the Girls make are big enough that Lily can see the calf's prints crossing them, small and split like a deer's track. The cow's hooves have made long, slidy Vs in the mud, across the hayfield toward the swamp.
The smaller horse tracks are all mixed together. There are perfect horseshoe prints, with every nail showing. There are long slides and smears. Big chunks of turf have been torn and turned upside down.
On top of all the other tracks are the ragged, rough-edged marks of Stogie's hooves. No one can catch Stogie, so no one has trimmed his feet. His hooves grow long and break off on their own.
"See, Barb?" Gramp says, pointing uphill with his chin. "They went that way, and that black son of a gun was chasing them."
"What will you do when you find them?" Lily asks. Mom and Gramp have grain, and the horses will want it. They'll crowd and push and kick at one another, with Mom and Gramp in the middle.
"We'll be all right," Gramp says. "Got a lifetime supply of horsewhips right here." He nods at the heap of maple branches. "So go on and see if you can find that cow. If she'll drive, drive her back here. If she won't, at least you can tell me where she is."
Lily turns Beware along the row of cow tracks and starts toward the swamp.
Mom calls after her, "Be careful!"CHAPTER 3
All by herself Lily rides across the hayfield. The morning sun is hot on her cheek. It makes bright curves along the top of Beware's neck and sparkles on the wet grass. Lily can hear Gramp's hammer ringing on the fence post. She tries to listen past it for the sound of hoofbeats. But the only hooves she hears are Beware's.
At the swamp's edge a red-winged blackbird cries check! check! from high in a poplar tree. Lily stops Beware where the land dips down. She looks carefully at the ground ahead. She doesn't want to ride Beware through deep mud or water.
The cow's tracks make a dotted line through the grass. Under the grass the ground is very wet. The tracks are big and muddy. Farther ahead the tracks look smaller and lighter-colored. The ground is drier there.
"Easy," Lily says to Beware. She shortens the reins, and she squeezes softly with her legs. "Walk."
Beware slides down the slope and lurches as she hits the mud. She tosses her nose, pulling the reins through Lily's hands.
"Hey!" Lily says. Beware isn't supposed to pull like that. But Beware doesn't try to go faster. She just puts her head down to watch the footing. Her hooves make loud squelches going into the mud and loud sucking noises coming out. Mud splats on Lily's cheek.
Then Beware's back rises up, and she scrambles onto drier land. Her breath comes in big puffs. "Whoa," Lily says. "Good girl!" Beware was bossy, pulling the reins like that, but she disobeyed only so she could do her job better.
Beware rests for a moment. Lily leaves the reins long and loose and lets Beware decide when she's ready to go on.
When Beware does start, she seems to know that she's supposed to follow the cow's tracks. She walks along quickly, with her nose close to the ground. Lily leans to one side so she can see the tracks, too.
All at once Beware stops and snorts. Lily grabs at Beware's neck to keep from tipping forward. "What's the matter? I don't see anything."
Beware doesn't seem to see anything either. She's looking into the grass, but not at any one spot. "Is it a snake?" Lily isn't afraid of snakes, way up here on Beware's back. "Come on, walk!"
Beware takes another step. Lily hears the blackbird, loud and close.
Suddenly a lot of little brown birds are in the air, flying just above the tops of the grass stems. They flutter in front of Beware and disappear into the grass on the other side of the cow's trail. Check! the blackbird calls, swooping to a lower branch.
"We won't hurt them," Lily tells him, and she makes Beware trot on quickly. Red-winged blackbirds sometimes dive-bomb people to protect their babies.
For a second the cow's tracks disappear, and then Lily sees them up ahead, making a dotted line straight toward the middle of the swamp. Why did the cow come in here? Lily wonders. Where did she think she was going?
Beware puts her ears back and shakes her head. A big deerfly, like a yellow-brown arrowhead, is biting her neck. Lily squashes it. Blood stains her fingers. Then something like a hot needle stabs into the back of her arm.
"Ow!" She slaps at it, but that fly gets away. "I hope you bit that stupid cow, too!" Lily says.
Here in the swamp some of the hot hurricane air still lingers. The sun draws up dampness from the ground. The air is hazy, and mosquitoes swirl and whine. They land on Beware, but when they smell fly spray, they rise and land on Lily instead. Lily holds the reins in one hand and slaps with the other. The morning seems long, and the swamp seems big and empty.
An airplane makes a white trail overhead. After a while Lily can hear the sound it makes. Far away a truck growls along the road, and a horn beeps. Somewhere between the road and the swamp, or on the dark pine-covered hill, the horses and the cow are running free. But it doesn't seem possible they can be near. Nothing is near, except woodpeckers, and mosquitoes, and frogs....
"What?" Lily looks at the ground. It seems almost dry here, but horses can sense things people can't. Maybe beneath the dry-looking surface the mud is deep, like quicksand.
But the cow's tracks go straight across it, with the calf's tracks scampering alongside. Lily follows with her eyes. The tracks curve away, into a brushy thicket.
That's where Beware is looking, too. She bobs her head, the way horses do when they can't quite tell what they're seeing.
In the thicket something moves.
Stogie! Lily jerks the reins without meaning to. She clutches the whip. She can picture Stogie hiding there, his ears flat back, his strong yellow teeth ready to bite. His long mane hangs like ropes. His ragged hooves paw the ground.
But Beware steps lightly forward with her neck arched. That's the way she steps when she sees a deer and wants to follow it. Lily's heart beats hard. She should get off—
And then she is close enough to see, and it is the cow, standing in a cloud of mosquitoes with the calf at her feet.
Excerpted from Beware and Stogie by Jessie Haas. Copyright © 1998 Jessie Haas. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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