Ten minutes later, while Margaret’s father held her in his arms and the rest of the farm residents stared in slack-jawed wonder at the giant tornado receding in the distance, Gus Newberry stood in the dooryard with his eyes squeezed shut and his head bowed and his trembling arm draped around the neck of the horse that had saved both their lives. Maybe Hero was an appropriate name, Gus thought. His heart was still in his throat, his stomach still churning.
It was a sobering incident, as close a call as Gus had ever had, but it was over and done, and in due time the terror of that dark afternoon was downgraded to no more than a gooseflesh memory. Damages were repaired, the truck was replaced, the retelling of the story grew less frequent. Life on the farm returned more or less to normal. Margaret Kindy and her pony and the old foreman were a team again, an even stronger one now, and with a proud heart Gus watched his two “youngsters” grow. It was a special time in all their lives, those happy fall and winter months in the hills and fields surrounding the Kindy homestead, and the days were bright and crisp and carefree.
Until the letter arrived from Georgia.
THE LETTER WAS A RESPONSE> to a job application Edward Kindy had given a small accounting firm in Atlanta several months ago, when he and his wife had driven through there on the way back from visiting relatives in North Carolina. He had been granted a short interview with the company’s president but hadn’t thought much about it since. After all, Edward’s experience was in farming. He had yet to use his accounting degree. The firm, however, apparently had thought about it. The letter contained an offer of a position at a startup office in Marietta, along with an impressive salary.
When the shock had worn off, Edward and Rebecca discussed their options. The opportunity was too good to pass up. Within a week they were packed and ready. Much of that last morning was spent in hugs and kisses and tearful goodbyes. It was with heavy hearts that the three younger Kindys–Mom, Dad, and 9-year-old Margaret–headed up the dirt road toward town. Gus Newberry, dabbing at his eyes with a red bandanna, waved from the porch, and the horse named Hero, fully grown now, galloped alongside the travelers for the entire length of his pasture, watching the moving car as if he understood and shared the sadness of the little girl staring back at him from the window.
That particular separation, though difficult, had been inevitable. To take Hero with them would never have worked. There would be no place for him in the crowded suburbs of Atlanta, and to house him in a remote stable would’ve been an expense they could not yet afford. The only comfort to Margaret was her father’s assurance that her grandpa would keep Hero safe and sound for her, and she would be able to ride him to her heart’s content when they came home to visit. Hopefully that would be often; 400 miles wasn’t a great distance. Besides, it was already March, and her parents had promised her several weeks’ vacation there during the summer.
What they didn’t know was that old Amos had no intention of keeping the pony. After all, he already had a horse, and saw little need for housing and feeding another. Almost as soon as his son’s car disappeared over the ridge, the old man summoned Gus Newberry and told him to take the pony into town to the auction. Gus of course refused, saying that the horse belonged to Margaret, and after a long silence Amos kicked a washbucket 10 feet in the air, muttered a few words about insubordination in his ranks, and stomped away toward Hero’s stall. In a black mood Amos loaded Hero into the new cattle truck and drove off. Two hours later the horse was sold to a crusty old farmer named Bud McAfferty, who lived with a houseful of slow-witted sons in the backwoods of Crenshaw County, a dozen miles to the west.
Only Gus’ years of loyalty to–and friendship with–Edward kept him from quitting his job and strangling Amos Kindy on the spot.
Gus didn’t have the heart to call or write to Edward’s family with the news. He hated even to think of how Margaret might react. And since old Amos never said anything more about it, the secret remained safe for weeks. Meanwhile, in Atlanta, Margaret Kindy’s hectic new life left her little time to think about Hero.
Besides, she knew she’d see him again in June.
That visit, as things turned out, never happened. On the last day of April a raging thunderstorm hit Fulton County, Mississippi, and caught Amos Kindy on one of his jaunts. A falling tree spooked his horse, and during the night the old man, afoot and lost in the rain and hail, died of exposure. Even before his body had been found, the same storm system swept across Alabama and into Georgia, where it created havoc the next day in the suburbs of north Atlanta. At the Marietta branch of Edward Kindy’s employer, lightning fried the new computer system and blinding rains flooded the offices. Dozens of account files were lost, and since the paper backups were under three feet of muddy water, most of them stayed lost. The situation was grim.
At about the same time that the Kindy family received word of Amos’ death, they also received word that the firm’s newest venture had been discontinued. Ironically, the storm that had taken an old man’s life had also taken his son’s livelihood.