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- Peggy Stewart: Navy Girl at Home - 2/34 -
He has taught me. Now:"
It was a strange picture. The girl standing there in the beautiful early spring world, her only companions a thoroughbred, half-wild Kentucky colt and a Russian wolfhound, literally worth their weight in gold, absolutely faultless in their beauty, and each with their wonderfully intelligent eyes fixed upon her. At the word "Now," the colt raised his perfect head, drew in a deep breath and then exhaled it in a long, trumpet-like whinny. The dog voiced her wonderful bell-like bay; the note of joy sounded by her kind when victory is assured.
The girl raised her head, and parting her lips gave voice to a long- drawn note of ecstasy, ending in a little staccato trill and the same upflinging of the arms.
It was all a rhapsody of springtide, the semi-wild things' expression of intoxicating joy at being alive and their absolute mutual harmony. The animals felt it as the girl did, and surely God acknowledged the homage. Such spontaneous, sincere thanks are rare.
"Let's go now."
The horse's slender flanks quivered; his withers twitched with the nervous energy awaiting an outlet; the dog stood alert for the first motion.
Resting one hand upon those sensitive withers the girl gave a quick spring, landing lightly as thistledown astride the colt's back, holding the halter strap in her firm, brown fingers. Her costume was admirably adapted to this equestrian if somewhat unusual feat for a young lady. It consisted of a dark blue divided riding skirt of heavy cloth, and a midshipman's jumper, open at the throat, a black regulation neckerchief knotted sailor-fashion on her well-rounded chest. Anything affording freer action could hardly have been designed for her sex. And a bonny thing she looked as she sat there, the soft wind toying with the loose hairs which had escaped their bonds, and bringing the faintest rose tint into her cheeks. It was still too early in the spring for the clear, dark skin to have grown "black as a darky's." "On to the end of nowhere!" she cried. "We'll beat you to the goal, Tzaritza. Go!"
At the word the colt sprang forward with an action so true, so perfect that he and the girl seemed one. The dog gave a low bark like a laugh at the challenge and with incredibly long, graceful leaps circled around and around the pair, now running a little ahead, then executing a wide circle, and again darting forward with that derisive bark.
Shashai's speed was not to be scorned--his ancestors held an international fame for swiftness, endurance and jumping--but no horse can compete with a wolfhound.
On, on they sped, the happiest, maddest, merriest trio imaginable, down the road to the point where the perspective seemed to end it but where in reality it turned abruptly, leaving the one following its course the choice of taking a sudden dip down to the water's edge or wheeling to the right and leaping "brake, bracken and scaur." The girl did not tighten her single guiding strap, she merely bent forward to speak softly into one ear laid back to catch the words:
Just beyond was a high fence dividing the lane where it crossed two estates. It was surmounted by a stile of four steps. There was no pause in the colt's or dog's speed. Tzaritza cleared it like a--wolfhound. Shashai with his rider skimmed over like a bird, landing upon the soft turf beyond with scarcely a sound.
Oh, the beauty of it all! Then on again through a patch of woodland which looked as though a huge gossamer veil had been laid over it. If ever pastelle colors were displayed to perfection Nature here held her exhibition. Soft pinks, pale blues, silver grays, the tenderest greens with here and there a touch of the maple buds' rich mahogany reds, and above and about the maddest melody of bird songs from a hundred throats.
As the horse swung along in his perfect gait, the great dog making playful leaps and feinted snaps at his beautiful muzzle with a dog's derisive smile and sense of humor, and if any one doubts that dogs have this quality they simply don't know the animal, the girl sang at the top of her voice.
They covered the ground with incredible swiftness and presently the lane grew broader, giving evidence of more traffic where a wood road crossed it at right angles. Just a little beyond this point an old gentleman appeared in sight. He was walking with his hands clasped behind him and his head bent to examine every foot of the roadway. Evidently he was too absorbed to be aware of the trio bearing down upon him. He wore the clerical garb of the Church of England, and his face would have attracted attention in any part of the world, it was so pure, so refined, so like a cameo in its delicacy of outline, and the skin held the wonderful softness and clearness we sometimes see in old age. He must have been over seventy.
Just then he became aware of the colt's light hoofbeats and looked up. He was tall and slight but very erect, and his face lighted up with a smile absolutely illuminating as he recognized his approaching friends.
The girl bent forward to say:
"One bell, Shashai." Whereupon her mount slackened his gait to the gentlest amble, but the dog went bounding on to greet the newcomer. First she dropped down at his feet, burying her nose in her forepaws as though to make obeisance, but at his words:
"Ah, Tzaritza! Good Tzaritza, welcome!" she instantly sprang up, rested her forepaws upon his shoulders, and looked into his face with the most limpid pair of eyes ever seen; eyes filled with something deeper than human love can ever summon to human eyes, for those have human speech to supplement their appeal.
"Tzaritza. Dear, faithful Tzaritza," said the old man in the tenderest tone as he caressed the magnificent, silky head now nestling against his face as a child's might have nestled. "Good dog. Good dog. But here are Peggy and Shashai. My little girl, warm greetings," he cried as Shashai came to an instant statue-like standstill at Peggy's one word, "Halt!" and she slid from his back, braced at "attention" and saluted in all gravity, the clergyman returning the salute with much dignity. Then in an instant the martial attitude and air were discarded and springing forward the girl slipped to his side, caught one hand and by a quick, graceful motion circled his arm about her waist and laid her head upon his shoulder just where Tzaritza's had but a moment before rested, her face alight with affection as she exclaimed:
"To meet you 'way, 'way out here, Compadre!"
"'Far from the madding crowd,' Filiola. Five miles to the good for these old legs of seventy-four summers. They have served me well. I have no fault to find with them. They are stanch friends and have carried me many a mile. But you, my child? You and Tzaritza and Shashai? Come hither, my beauty," and the free hand was extended to the colt which instantly advanced for the proffered caress.
"Ah, thou bonny, bonny creature! Thou jewel among thy fellows. Ah, but you possess a masculine frailty. Ah, yes, I've detected it. Oh, Shashai, Shashai, is thy heart reached only through thy stomach?" for now the colt was nozzling most insinuatingly at one of the ample pockets of the old gentleman's top coat. Never had those pockets failed him since the days when he had ceased to be nourished by his dam's milk, and his faith in their bounty was not misplaced, for a slender white hand was inserted to be withdrawn with the lump of sugar Shashai had counted upon and held forth upon the palm from which the velvety lips took it as daintily as a young lady's fingers could have taken it.
Three was the dole evidently for when three had been eaten Shashai gravely bowed his head three times in acknowledgment of his treat and then turned to nibble at the budding trees, his benefactor returning to Peggy.
"So this is heyday and holiday, dear heart, is it? Saturday's emancipation from your old Dominie Exactus when you may range wood and field unmolested, with never a thought for his domination and tyranny."
"As though you ever dominated or tyrannized over me!" protested the girl. "I'd do anything, ANYTHING for you--you know that, don't you?" There was deep reproach in her voice. Then, it changed suddenly as she asked:
"But where is Doctor Claudius?"
"In his stall, eating his fill. I wished to use my own legs today," smiled her companion. "His are exceptionally good ones, but my own will grow stiff if I do not use them more."
Just then Shashai suddenly raised his head and stood with ears alert and nostrils extended. Tzaritza rose from the ground where she had dropped down after greeting Dr. Llewellyn, and stood with ears raised, though neither man nor girl yet heard the faintest sound.
"Some one's coming and coming in a hurry," said Peggy quietly, "or THEY wouldn't look like THAT."
As she spoke the dull thud of hoofs pounding rapidly upon soft turf was borne to their ears, and a moment later a big gray horse ridden by a little negro boy, as tattered a specimen of his race as one might expect to see, came pounding into sight. With some difficulty he brought the big horse to a standstill in front of them and grabbing off his ragged cap stammered out his message:
"Howdy, Massa Dominie. Sarvint, Missy Peggy, but Josh done sont me fer ter fin' yo' an' bring you back yon' mighty quick, kase--kase, de--de sor'el mar' done got mos' kilt an' lak' 'nough daid right dis minit. He say, please ma'am, come quick as Shazee kin fotch yo' fo' de Empress, she mighty bad an'--"
"What has happened to her, Bud?" interrupted Peggy, turning to spring upon Shashai's back, but pausing to learn some particulars. The Empress was one of the most valuable brood mares upon the estate and her foal, still dependent upon her for its nourishment, was Peggy's pride and joy.
"She done got outen de paddock and nigh 'bout bus' herself wide open on de flank on dat dummed MAS-CHINE what dey trims de hedges wid. She bleeged ter bleed ter death, Joshi say."
Peggy turned white. "Excuse me, please--I must go as fast as I can. Home, Shashai, four bells and a jingle!" she cried and the colt swept away like a tornado, Tzaritza in the lead.
"Golly, but she's one breeze, ain' she, sah?"
"She is a wonderful girl and will make a magnificent woman if not spoiled in the next ten years," replied Dr. Llewellyn, though the words were more an oral expression of his own thoughts than a reply to the
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