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- Peggy Stewart: Navy Girl at Home - 20/34 -


"Fo' de Lawd's sake, Miss Peggy, what yo' bown' fer ter do? Yo' gwine start hawsestealin'?" Jess didn't know whether to laugh or take it seriously. When Jim Bolivar returned Pepper was trying to reason out the wherefor of being hitched behind such a handsome vehicle as Peggy's surrey, and Jess was protesting:

"But--but--butter," stammered Jess, "Miss Peggy, yo' am' never in de roun' worl' gwine ter drive from de town an' clar out ter Severndale wid dat disrep'u'ble ol' hawse towin' 'long behime WE ALL?"

"I certainly am, and what is more, Jim Bolivar is going to sit on the back seat and hold the leader. He has got to get HOME and he can't without help. Mr. Bolivar, please do as I say," Peggy's voice held a merry note but her little nod of authority meant "business."

"But look at me, miss," protested Bolivar. "I ain't fit ter ride with yo', no how."

"I am not afraid of criticism," replied Peggy, with the little up- tilting of the head which told of her Stewart ancestry. "When I know a thing is right I DO it. Steady, Comet. Quiet, Meteor," for the horses had been standing some time and seemed inclined to proceed upon two legs instead of four. "We'll stop at Brooks' for the shoes, then we'll go around to Dove's; I've a little commission for him."

"Yas'm, yas'm," nodded Jess.

The shoes were bought, Peggy selecting them and giving them to Bolivar with the words: "It will soon be Easter and this is my Easter gift to Nellie, with my love," she added with a smile which made the shoes a hundred-fold more valuable.

Then off to the livery stable.

"Mr. Dove, do you know a man named Steinberger?"

"I know an old skinflint by that name," corrected Dove.

"Well, you are to buy a horse from him. Seventy-five dollars OUGHT to be the price, but a hundred is available if necessary. But do your best. The horse's name is Salt--yes--that is right," as Dove looked incredulous, "and he is a flea-bitten gray--mate to this one behind us. Steinberger bought him today, and I want you to beat him at his own game if you can, for he has certainly beaten a better man."

"You count on me, Miss Stewart, you count on me. Whatever YOU say goes with me."

"Thank you, I'll wait and see what happens."

Their homeward progress was slower than usual, for poor half-starved Pepper could not keep pace with Comet and Meteor. About four miles from Annapolis Bolivar directed them into a by-road which led to an isolated farm, as poor, forlorn a specimen as one could find. But in spite of its disrepair there was something of home in its atmosphere and the dooryard was carefully brushed. Turkey red curtains at the lower windows gave an air of cheeriness to the lonely place. As they drew near a hound came bounding out to greet them with a deep-throated bark, and a moment later a girl about Peggy's age appeared at the door. Peggy thought she had never seen a sweeter or a sadder face. She was fair to transparency with great questioning blue eyes, masses of golden hair waving softly back from her face and gathered into a thick braid. She walked with a slight limp, and looked in surprise at the strange visitors, and her big blue eyes were full of a vague doubt.

"It's all right, honey. It's all right," called Bolivar. "'Aint nothin' but Providence a-workin' out, I reckon, jist like yo' say.

"We have brought your father and Pepper home. Salt is all right, Nelly. You will see him again pretty soon."

"Oh, has anything happened to Salt, Dad?" asked the girl quickly.

"Well, not anything, so-to-speak. Jist let Miss Stewart, here, run it and it'll come out all right. I'm bankin' on that, judgin' from the way she's done so far. She's got a head a mile long, honey, she has, an' has mine beat ter a frazzle. Mine's kind o' wore out I reckon, an' no 'count, no more. Come long out an' say howdy."

Nelly Bolivar came to the surrey and smiling up into Peggy's face, said:

"Of course I know who you are, everybody does, but I never expected to really, truly know you, and I'm a right proud girl to shake hands with you," and a thin hand, showing marks of toil, was held to Peggy. There was a sweet dignity in the act and words.

Peggy took it in her gloved one, saying:

"I didn't suspect I was so well known. For a quiet girl I'm beginning to know a lot of people. But I must go now, it is getting very late. Your father is going to bring Pepper over to see me soon and maybe he will bring you, too. He has such a lot to tell you that I'll not delay it a bit longer. Good-bye, and remember a lot of pleasant things are going to happen," and with the smile which won all who knew her, Peggy drove away.

If people's right ears burn when others are speaking kindly of them, Peggy's should have burned hard that evening, for Nelly Bolivar listened eagerly as her father told of the afternoon's experiences and Peggy's part in them.

Two days later Salt was delivered at Severndale. Dove had been as good as his word. Shelby gave him one glance and said:

"Well, if some men knew a HOSS as quick as that thar girl does, there'd be fewer no 'count beasts in the world. Put him in a stall and tell Jim Jarvis I want him to take care of him as if he was the Emperor. I know what I'm sayin', an' Miss Peggy knows what she's a-doin', an' that's more 'n I kin say for MOST women-folks."

So Salt found himself in the lap of luxury and one week of it so transformed him that at the end of it poor Pepper would hardly have known his mate. Yet with all the care bestowed upon him the poor horse grieved for his mate, and never did hoof-beat fall upon the ground without his questioning neigh.

Peggy visited him every day and was touched by his response to her petting; it showed what Nelly had done for him. But she was quick to understand the poor creature's nervous watching for his lost mate, and evident loneliness. At length she had him turned into the paddock with the other horses, but even this failed to console him. He stood at the paling looking down the road, again and again neighing his call for the companion which failed to answer. Peggy began to wonder what had become of Jim Bolivar. Two more weeks passed. Mrs. Harold and Polly had returned from Old Point and upon a beautiful April afternoon Polly and Peggy were out on the little training track where Polly, mounted upon Silver Star, was taking her first lesson in hurdles; a branch of her equestrian education which thus far had not been taken up.

Star was beautifully trained, and took the low hurdles like a lapwing, though it must be confessed that Polly felt as though her head had snapped off short the first time he rose and landed.

"My gracious, Peggy, do you nearly break your neck every time you take a fence?" she cried, settling her hat which had flopped down over her face.

"Not quite," laughed Peggy, skimming over a five-barred hurdle as though it were five inches. "But, oh, Polly, look at Salt! Look at him! He acts as though he'd gone crazy," she cried, for the horse had come to the fence which divided his field from the track and was neighing and pawing in the most excited manner, now and again making feints of springing over.

"Why I believe he would jump if he only knew how," answered Polly eagerly.

"And I believe he DOES know how already," and Peggy slipped from Shashai to go to the fence. Just then, however, the sound of an approaching vehicle caught her ears, and the next instant Salt was tearing away across the field like a wild thing, neighing loudly with every bound, and from the roadway came the answering neigh for which he had waited so long, and Pepper came plodding along, striving his best to hasten toward the call he knew and loved. But Pepper had not been full-fed with oats, corn and bran-mashes, doctored by a skilled hand, or groomed by Jim Jarvis, as Salt had been for nearly four blissful weeks, and an empty stomach is a poor spur. But he could come to the fence and rub noses with Salt, and Peggy and Polly nearly fell into each other's arms with delight.

"Oh, doesn't it make you just want to cry to see them?" said Polly, half tearfully.

"They shan't be separated again," was Peggy's positive assertion. "How do you do, Mr. Bolivar? Why, Nelly, have you been ill?" for the girl looked almost too sick to sit up.

"Yes, Miss Peggy, that's why Dad couldn't come sooner. He had to take care of me. He has fretted terribly over it too, because--"

"Now, now! Tut, tut, honey. Never mind, Miss Peggy don't want to hear nothin' 'bout--"

"Yes she does, too, and Nelly will tell us, She is coming right up to the house with us--this is my friend Miss Polly Howland, Nelly--Nelly Bolivar, Polly--and while you go find Shelby, Mr. Bolivar, and tell him I say to take--oh, here you are, Shelby. This is Mr. Bolivar. Please take him up to your cottage and take GOOD care of him, and give Pepper the very best feed he ever had. Then turn him out in the pasture with Salt. "We will be back again in an hour to talk horse just as fast as we can, and DON'T FORGET WHAT I TOLD YOU ABOUT PEPPER'S POINTS."

"I won't, Miss Peggy, but I ain't got to open more'n HALF an eye no how."

Peggy laughed, then slipping her arm through Nelly's, said:

"Come up to the house with us. Mammy will know what you need to make you feel stronger, and you are going to be Polly's and my girl this afternoon."

Quick to understand, Polly slipped to Nelly's other side, and the two strong, robust girls, upon whom fortune and Nature had smiled so kindly, led their less fortunate little sister to the great house.

CHAPTER XII


Peggy Stewart: Navy Girl at Home - 20/34

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