Chapter 1As soon as Dad and I arrived at the sales yard, a brown and white pinto caught my attention. They're kind of rare around Puget Sound country. Rain pelted down, but even dripping wet, the pinto looked sleek and sassy.
"Dad," I said, pointing. "How about him?"
We'd come to Bonney City to buy a horse for my twelfth birthday and even though I knew Dad would do the final choosing, I hoped to have some say in it.
My dad nodded. "Well, son, let's have a look."
We had ridden double on Dad's horse Stepper the nine miles from our hometown of Greenfield. We dismounted and slogged across the muddy yard, Stepper following. Fifteen or twenty horses and mules were for sale, and nearly the same number of people milled around.
Dad ran his hands over the pinto's legs and back and barrel. When I tried to pet the horse's nose, he tossed his head and stamped his front feet.
"He has lots of spirit," said the man holding his halter rope. "Great buy for only twenty-five dollars." He grinned and winked as if he knew the exact amount Dad had said we could spend.
In spite of all the hoopla last New Year's Day about it being the turn of the century, and prosperity being just around the corner, 1900 hasn't been any better for us than any other year.
I was disappointed when Dad moved along, motioning for me to follow. "I don't know, Dan," he muttered. "He's kind of wild and mean-eyed."
"Maybe he'd calm down after we got to know each other."
"Maybe. But the horse you acquire today will be yours for a long time. You can't choose one just because he's flashy or because nobody else in Greenfield owns a pinto."
As usual, Dad had seen right through me. People say we are a lot alike. Physically, maybe. We're both stocky-built, with brown hair and brown eyes. Although I guess I'm stubborn as he is, sometimes.
We walked around the yard, taking note of this horse and the other, tall ones and short ones, mares and geldings, browns and bays. None except the pinto really held my interest. I was edging toward him again when Dad stopped in front of a skinny sorrel mare with a white-striped face and four white socks. She stood hip-shot, head low, droopy-eared—a sad excuse for a horse if ever I saw one. I couldn't figure why Dad would take a second glance at her.
Although the man holding her halter appeared to be younger than Dad, white hair showed from under his hat. He had white eyebrows, too, and pale-blue eyes.
"Are you the owner?" Dad asked.
"No." The man fidgeted, nervous-like. "I brought her in for Far Meadows Farms."
Since Sam Meadows is an acquaintance of Dad's, he naturally liked the sound of that. He stuck out his hand. "Dan Graham," he said, "and this is my son, Little Dan."
The white-haired man gave each of us a quick handshake. >"James Long," he said.
"What's Sam expecting to get for her?" Dad asked.
I nearly bit my tongue. He couldn't really be interested in the mare, could he?
"Uhhhm. Thirty-five dollars."
Ten dollars too much, thank goodness. But as if he hadn't heard, Dad started checking the sorrel as thoroughly as he had the pinto. Then he took hold of her lead and trotted her in a circle. She flung her front feet to the side with every step. A paddlefoot. Dad shoes horses for a living and knows how they should move, so I figured he'd be discouraged for sure. Instead he checked her feet again.
All this time, Mr. Long craned his neck, gawking this way and that, looking around at the crowd.
Dad straightened, eyed the mare for a minute, and said, "I'll give you twenty-five for her."
Dang! I never thought he'd make an offer.
Hunching his shoulders, Mr. Long pulled his slicker tighter around the neck. "Sam is wantin' thirty-five."
I tugged at Dad's sleeve. A man was showing interest in the pinto.
Dad said, "Wait a minute, son." He held the sorrel's halter with both hands and looked into her eyes. "Thirty," he said to Mr. Long.
He seemed to have his heart set on the mare. I crossed my fingers behind my back, hoping he'd change his mind.
"Well, I'm just representin' Sam Meadows," the white-haired man said. "And he's expectin' thirty-five."
He rocked up and down on his toes and glanced around the yard again, then gave a sigh. Heading toward us through the rain came a middle-aged, heavy-set man. He wore a dark-gray oiled-wool coat and brushed bowler which surely looked out of place amongst all the yellow slickers and sweat-stained felt work hats.
"All right, thirty-five," Dad said, just before the man got to where we stood.
Mr. Long acted surprised and confused, as if he didn't know what to do. The man in the fancy clothes ignored us and spoke to him. "Is this the mare we discussed earlier?"
"Yes, sir, Mr. Bannister."
Dad grinned at the heavy-set man. "Except you're about one minute too late. I've agreed to Sam's asking price."
Mr. Bannister's bushy black eyebrows slanted to a V above his nose. "Mr. Long was holding the horse for me. I told him I'd be interested."
Now Dad had a chance to reconsider. Instead of taking it, though, he shrugged and said, "You know how it is at the sales yard. First come, first served." He unsnapped the top button of his slicker to reach for the bills in his shirt pocket.
Stepping closer to Dad, Mr. Bannister said in a cold voice, "I was prepared to pay more than Sam Meadow's asking price. I still am."
My hopes died. As I said, Dad can be stubborn. He faced the man square on. "I like the mare, Mr. Bannister. I tried one last time. "It's okay, Dad. If..." He shushed me with a sharp glance.
Some other people in the sales yard had turned their heads our way, looking at Mr. Bannister. Well, how could they not notice him, dressed up so fine and acting so bossy?
He gave Mr. Long a glare mean enough to wither a grape into a raisin. "All right," he said to Dad. "The mare is yours." He whipped around and stomped away, mud spattering up from his boots onto his fancy long coat.
Dad was a little fussed, which is unusual for him. "Who does that Bannister fella think he is, anyway?" he asked and gave the folded bills to the white-haired man.
When Mr. Long took the money, his hand shook. "He owns lots of real estate in this area. He's used to getting what he wants."
"Well, he didn't this time," Dad said.
Someone had taken the pinto. Not that it mattered, anyway. Dad was already signing the bill of sale for the sorrel. He'd bought the horse he thought best suited for me. Maybe so, but I didn't have to like her, did I?
Dad re-read his copy of the sales bill. "Now let's see. The mare's name is—"
He suddenly stopped talking, and I wondered why, 'til the white-haired man spoke up.
Then I knew what was running through Dad's mind. Ginger reminded him of ginger cookies, which reminded him of Mama. They'd been her favorite cookies, and we never ate them any more. >Not once in the three years since she died.
Dang horse. I knew she'd be bad news.