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- Peggy Stewart: Navy Girl at Home - 3/34 -
As the half-wild colt swept up to the paddock from which the valuable brood mare Empress had made her escape, Peggy was met by one of the stable hands.
"Where is she?" she asked, her dark eyes full of concern and anxiety.
"Up yonder in de paster," answered the negro, pointing to a green upland. A touch with her heel started Shashai. A moment later she slipped from her mount to hurry to a little group gathered around a dark object lying upon the ground. With the pitiful little cry:
"Oh, Empress! My beauty," Peggy was upon her knees beside the splendid animal.
"Shelby, Shelby, how did it happen? Oh, how did it?" she cried as she lifted the horse's head to her lap. The panting creature looked at her with great appealing, terror-stricken eyes, as though imploring her to save the life-spark now flickering so fitfully.
"God knows, miss," answered the foreman of the paddock. "We did not find her until a half hour ago. If I'd a-found her sooner it would never a- come to this. We ain't never had no such accident on the estate since _I_ been on it, and I'd give all I'm worth if we could a-just have missed THIS one. Some fool, _I_ can't find out who, left them hedge shears a-hanging wide open across the gate and the gate unlatched, and she must a run foul of 'em, 'cause we found 'em and all the signs o' what had happened, but we couldn't find HER for more 'n hour, and then THIS is what we found. I sent Bud for you and Jim for the Vet, but we've all come too late." The man spoke low and hurriedly, and never for a moment ceased his care for the mare. The veterinary who had arrived but a few moments before Peggy stood by helpless to do more than had already been done by Shelby, the veteran horse-trainer who had been on the estate for years, and who loved the animals as though they were his children. It was evident that the Empress' moments were numbered. She had severed one of the great veins in her flank and had nearly bled to death before discovered. Her little foal stood near, surprised at his dam's indifference to his needs, his little baby face and great round eyes, so like his mother's, filled with questioning doubt. As Peggy bent over the beautiful dying mare's head, tears streaming from her eyes, for she had cared for her and loved her since colthood, the little foal gave a low nicker and coming up behind the girl, thrust his soft muzzle over her shoulder and nestled his head against her face, trembling and quivering with a terror he could not understand. Peggy raised one arm to clasp it around the little creature's warm neck. The Empress tried to nicker an answer to her baby but the effort cost her last breath and heart-throb. It ended in a fluttering sigh and her head lay still and at rest upon Peggy's lap. The splendid animal, which had so often carried Peggy upon her back, the mother of Shashai, and many another splendid horse whose fame was widely known, lay lifeless. Her little son nestled closer to the one he knew and loved best as though begging her protection. Peggy held him close, sobbing upon his warm neck.
"You'd better get up, Miss Peggy," said Shelby kindly.
Peggy bent and kissed the great silky head. "Good-bye, Empress. I'll care for your baby," she said. Shelby lifted the splendid head from the girl's lap and helped her to her feet. The little colt still huddled close to her.
"Have you any orders, miss, about her?" asked Shelby, nodding toward the dead mare.
"She shall be buried in the circle and shall have a monument. We owe her much. Her foal shall be my charge."
"And I reckon mine, too. If we raise him now it will be a miracle. He's going to miss his dam's milk."
"I think I can manage," answered Peggy. "Bud, come with me. I wish you to go down to Annapolis with a note to Doctor Feldmeyer. He will understand what I wish to do. Ride in on Nancy Lee. Come, little one," and with the little colt's neck beneath her circling arm Peggy walked slowly back to the paddock from which barely three hours before the splendid mare, now lying lifeless in the pasture, had dashed, leaving a trail of her life's blood behind her to guide those who came too late. It was all the outcome of one person's disregard of orders: One of the hands had quit his work to gossip, leaving his great hedge shears hanging carelessly across the gate, and the gate unfastened. The Empress, gamboling with her foal, had rushed upon them, cut herself cruelly, then maddened by the pain and terrified by the flowing blood, had dashed away as only a frightened horse can, running until she fell from exhaustion.
Peggy went back to the inclosure in which the Empress, as the most honored of the brood mares, had lived with her foal. The little stable, a very model of order and appointment, stood at one end of it. She opened the gate, intending to leave the colt in the inclosure, but he huddled closer and closer to her side.
"Why Roy, baby, what is it!" asked Peggy, as she would have spoken to a child. The little thing could only press closer and nicker its baby nicker. Peggy hesitated a moment, then said: "It will never do to leave you now. You are half starved, you poor little thing. Eight weeks are NOT many to have lived. Come." And as though he understood every word and was comforted, the baby horse nickered again and walked close by her side. She went straight to the house, circling the garden, rich in early spring blossoms, to enter a little inclosure around which the servants' quarters were built, one building, a trifle more pretentious than the rest, evidently that of some upper servant. As Peggy and her four-footed companion drew near, a trim little old colored woman looked out of the door. She was immaculate in a black and white checked gingham, a large white apron and a white turban, suggestive of ante-bellum days. Instantly noting signs of distress upon her young mistress' face she hurried toward her, crying softly in her melodious voice:
"Baby! Honey! What's de matter? 'What's done happen? What fo' yo' bring Roy up hyer? Where de Empress at?"
"Oh Mammy, Mammy, the Empress is dead. She--"
"What dat yo' tellin' me, baby? De Empress daid? Ma Lawd, wha' Massa Neil gwine do to we-all when he hyar DAT? He gwine kill SOMEBODY dat's sartin suah. What kill her?"
Peggy told the story briefly, Mammy Lucy, who had been mammy to her and her father before her, listening attentively, nodding her head and clicking her tongue in consternation. Such news was overwhelming.
But Mammy Lucy had not lived on this estate for over sixty years without storing up some wisdom for emergencies, and before Peggy had finished the pitiful tale she was on her way to the great kitchen at the opposite end of the inclosure where Aunt Cynthia ruled as dusky goddess of the shining copper kettles and pans upon the wall.
"Sis Cynthy, we-all in trebbilation and we gotter holp dis hyer pore chile. She lak fer ter breck her heart 'bout de Empress and she sho will if dis hyer colt come ter harm. Please, ma'am, gimme a basin o' fresh, warm milk. Bud he done gone down ter 'Napolis fer a nussin' bottle, but dat baby yonder gwine faint an' die fo' dat no 'count nigger git back wid dat bottle. I knows HIM, I does."
"Howyo' gwine mak' dat colt drink?" asked Cynthia skeptically.
"De Lawd on'y knows, but HE gwine show me how," was Mammy Lucy's pious answer. The next second she cried "Praise Him! _I_ got it," and ran into her cabin to return with a piece of snowy white flannel. Meanwhile Cynthia had warmed the bowlful of milk. Hastily catching up a huge oilcloth apron, Mammy enveloped herself in it and then hurried back to Peggy and her charge.
From that moment Roy's artificial feeding began. Peggy raised his head while Mammy opened his mouth by inserting a skilful finger where later the bit would rest, then slipped in the milk-sopped woolen rag. After a few minutes the small beastie which had never known fear, understood and sucked away vigorously, for he had not fed for hours and the poor inner- colt was grumbling sorely at the long fast. The bowlful of milk soon disappeared, and he stood nozzling at Peggy ready for a frolic, his woes forgotten.
"Now what yo' gwine do wid him, honey?" asked Mammy.
"I'd like to put him to sleep on the piazza, but I'm afraid I can't," answered Peggy, smiling sadly, for the loss of the Empress had struck deeply.
"No, yo' suah cyant do dat," was Mammy's reply. "You'll be bleeged fer ter put him yonder in de paddock."
"He will be so lonesome," said Peggy doubtfully. Just then the great wolfhound came bounding up. She thrust her nose into her mistress' hand and gave a low bark of delight. She was almost as tall as the colt, and seemed to understand his needs. She then turned to give a greeting lick upon the colt's nose. He jerked away, as though resenting the lady's familiarity, but nickered softly. He had known Tzaritza from the first moment he became aware of things terrestrial and they had often gamboled together when the Empress was disinclined for a frolic. Peggy's eyes brightened.
The splendid hound raised her head to look into her young mistress' eyes with keen intelligence.
"Come," and followed by the hound and colt Peggy hurried back to the stables. They had brought the Empress down from the pasture and laid her upon the soft turf of the large circular grass-plot in front of the main building. The men were now digging her grave.
"Tzaritza, scent," commanded Peggy, stroking the Empress' neck.
The hound made long, deep sniffs at the still form.
"Come." Peggy then laid her hand upon the little colt's neck. The scent was the same. Tzaritza understood.
"Guard," said Peggy.
"Woof-woof," answered Tzaritza deep down in her throat.
Peggy then led the way to the Empress' paddock. Roy capered through the
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