Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Twilight Years of Life (07/02/09)
TITLE: The Hackney Grey
By Patricia Turner
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The harness rubbed a sore shoulder and his thin legs ached from the pounding of his hooves on the cobbles. The horse lowered his head, panting laboriously. Far distant visions of green fields and days galloping under sunny skies with plenty of hay to eat and straw on which to sleep came fleetingly to his memory.
The driver was a kindly old man who kept his coat brushed, which was thin and patchy.
The man offered a rotted apple which the dappled grey took gingerly. His teeth were long and the apple was difficult to chew, but the horse enjoyed the treat.
A young woman approached the cab. Taking her fare the elderly driver assisted her into the seat, her long skirts sweeping gracefully in an elegant bunch beneath her into the cab.
“Oh to be young again,” smiled the driver quietly, patting the horse’s nose as he rounded the front of the cab to climb slowly into his seat.
To the horse, something seemed familiar about the woman, and he raised his head a little higher, tossing his mane and blowing noisily through his nostrils. His ears flicked back and forth as he strained to hear her voice. It had a musical quality, like sleigh bells almost, as she gave the address to the driver.
The humans were silent, the only sound the steady clip-clop, clip-clop of the animal’s hooves.
“Sir, I believe I may know your horse,” said the young woman as the cab came to a stop. The driver climbed down and walked around to help her dismount the vehicle.
The grey tossed his head again as she approached it, then lowered his nose into her small outstretched hand, blowing softly.
“I believe he also knows you, my lady.”
“I was ill as a child and my parents bought a dappled grey to be my companion. They thought a dog would be better, but I loved horses. The horse was young then. Eventually I was able to ride him. After I went away to school my parents sold him. I’ve missed him terribly.”
She stroked his muzzle gently for a moment, then said goodbye, turning slowly and almost tearfully toward the door of a large white house, behind which were fields and a barn. To one side was another, smaller residence, the sort built for servants.
The horse nickered and strained to follow her.
“Ma’am,” said the old driver thoughtfully.
She turned and remained still only a short distance away.
“I’m ready to retire myself, and the horse will be sold soon. I would very much enjoy making a present of him to you, if you would like to have him. Perhaps he would enjoy his last few years as your companion as well.”
“Oh, sir, you are very kind. However I could not allow you to just give him to me. You must let me buy him from you.”
The elderly gentleman looked from the horse to the lady. “I have no children, ma’am and no wife either. I have only myself to look after, and my savings will last me quite well as I am a frugal man. Also, I observe that there is a friendship between yourself and the animal. I could not in Christian kindness take him from this place and the one he so obviously loves.”
Her gentle eyes met his and they held one another’s gaze for a moment.
The door opened behind her and a gentleman stepped out.
“Amanda! What a delight to have you home.” The man came out and hugged the young woman who appeared to be his daughter.
“Father,” she turned to him and related to him the offer of the hackney driver.
“Why certainly my good man, if you will not accept payment would you accept a very comfortable home for your retirement years? I would also pay a pension as I have need of a driver for my coach on occasion,” he added, not wanting to have the man think that he was offering charity.
An amiable agreement was reached and for the remainder of his days the horse lolled in green pastures beside a merry brook, tended by his kindly former owner and with the companionship of the young woman whom he had first loved.
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