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Justin Morgan Had a Horse
By Marguerite Henry
Blackstone AudiobooksCopyright © 2005 Marguerite Henry
All right reserved.
Wearily, wearily the man's steps dragged. As he reached the fence, he rested his arms on the top rail and his whole body seemed to go limp. The boy leaned against the fence too, but not from weariness. His was an urgent desire to get close to the colts. The boy's blue linsey-woolsey shirt was faded and torn, and his breeches, held up by a strip of cowhide, were gray with dust. His stubbly hair was straw-colored, like a cut-over field of wheat. Everything about him looked dry and parched. Everything except his eyes. They peered over the fence with a lively look, and his tongue wet his dry lips.
"You!" he said with a quick catch of his breath, as the littler colt came over and gazed curious-eyed at him. "I could gentle you, I could."
The man sighed. "We're here at last, Joel. We can put our bundles down and rest a spell before we see if Farmer Beane's at home."
The boy had not heard. He just stood on tiptoe, holding his bundle and gaping at the colts as if he had never seen their like before. "That little one..." he whispered.
Just then a door slammed shut, and from the house beyond the meadow a farmer in his working clothes started down a footpath toward them. "How-de-do!" he called out as he came closer. Two rods from them, he shaded his eyes and stared intently.
With awhistle of surprise he stopped in his tracks. "Great jumping jehoshaphat!" he shouted. "If it ain't Justin Morgan, schoolmaster and singing teacher! Why, I'm as pleasured to see you as a dog with two tails." He set down a bucket he was carrying and shook hands across the fence. "Who's the fledgling you got with you?" he asked, pointing a thumb toward the boy.
"This lad is Joel Goss, one of my scholars. I board with his parents," the schoolmaster explained. "And when I mentioned that I'd be going off on a junket till school starts, I could see he wanted to traipse along. Joel," he said, putting his hand on the boy's shoulder, "I'd like you to meet Farmer Beane, an old neighbor of mine."
Reluctantly Joel turned from the colts to face the farmer. He had never been introduced before. It made him blush to the roots of his sunburnt hair.
"Cat got your tongue, boy?" the farmer said, not unkindly. "Or be you smitten on the colts?" And without waiting for an answer, he popped more questions. "Where in tarnation you two come from? You hain't come all the ways from Randolph, Vermont, to Springfield, Massachusetts, be you?"
Justin Morgan nodded.
"Sakes alive! You must be all tuckered out. Why, even as the crow flies, it's over a hundred mile down here. You didn't walk the hull way, I hope."
The schoolmaster took off his hat and ran his fingers through graying hair. "Yes, Abner; that is, most all the way, except when Lem Tubbs and his team of oxen gave us a short haul into Chicopee."
"Well, gosh all fishhooks, let's not stand here a-gabbin'. Come in, come in! The woman'll give us hot cakes and tea. I'll bet Joel here could do with some vittles. He's skinny as a fiddle string. Come in, and by and by we can chat."
All during the conversation the colts had been inching closer and closer to Farmer Beane. Now they were nipping at his sleeves and snuffing his pockets.
"These tarnal critters love to be the hull show," chuckled the farmer, reaching into his pockets. "If I don't bring 'em their maple sugar, the day 'jus don't seem right to them. Nor to me, neither."
Justin Morgan steadied himself against the fence. "Abner," he said, "before Joel and I sit down to your table, it seems I should tell you why I've come." He paused, nervously drumming the top rail for courage. After a while he looked up and his glance went beyond the meadow and the rolling hills. "I've come," he swallowed hard, "because I've a need for the money you owed me when I moved away to Vermont."
There was a moment of silence. It was so still that the colts munching their sugar seemed to be very noisy about it. Joel thought of the bright red apple he had eaten last night. He wished now that he had saved it for them.
It was a long time before the farmer could answer. Then he said, "You've come a terrible long way, Justin, and 'tis hard for me to disappoint you. But me and the woman have had nothin' but trouble." He began counting off his troubles on his fingers: "Last year, my cows got in the cornfield and et theirselves sick and died; year afore that, the corn was too burned to harvest; year afore that, our house caught afire. I just hain't got the money."
Master Morgan's shoulders slumped until his homespun coat looked big and loose, as if it had been made for someone else. "I'd set great store on getting the money," he said. "I've got doctor bills to pay and..." He took a breath. "For years I've been hankering to buy a harpsichord for my singing class."
There! The words were out. He spanked the dust from his hat, then put it back on his head and forced a little smile. "Don't be taking it so hard, Abner. I reckon my pitch pipe can do me to the end of my days." His voice dropped. "And maybe that won't be long; I feel my years too much."
The farmer pursed his lips in thought. "Justin," he said, "I ain't a man to be beholden to anyone. Would you take a colt instead of cash?"
Excerpted from Justin Morgan Had a Horse by Marguerite Henry Copyright © 2005 by Marguerite Henry. Excerpted by permission.
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