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Margaret’s Hero

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Once again the Kindys had a decision to make. The solution came to them not at Amos’ funeral but at the family lawyer’s office several days afterward. Amos Kindy, in a rare demonstration of rational thought, had apparently ignored his estranged and already wealthy daughter in New York and left everything he owned to Edward. Maybe what had happened in Atlanta was a blessing in disguise, Edward and Rebecca decided: Gus couldn’t continue to run the farm alone, and the Kindys needed a job. The final decision took no more than an hour, and within two weeks things were almost as before on the sprawling farm in Fulton County. The only real difference was that Amos wasn’t around to make life miserable.

But another player in the drama wasn’t around either.

MARGARET KINDY’S HEART had broken when Gus met them in the front yard the day before the funeral, and told her about Hero. For two months now her beloved horse had been in the possession of Bud McAfferty, and from what Gus had learned from his cousins and friends in Crenshaw County, Bud was pleased with his purchase. That was not to say, however, that Hero was pleased. Bud McAfferty was a believer in harsh discipline, and was known to beat his animals unmercifully (his children too, some said). According to Gus’ contacts in the area, Bud always rode Margaret’s pony through the woods to town and back every weekday morning to have coffee with his cronies at the café, and more than once he’d been seen flogging the horse for some minor offense. And since some of Margaret’s friends were the children and grandchildren of Gus’ friends, she soon heard the stories too.

“We gotta rescue him, Augustus,” she told him one day, tears shining in her eyes. “We have to get him back.”

Gus of course agreed, but if he could have done something about it, he would have done it already. Buying a sickly newborn colt was one thing; buying a full-grown and healthy horse was another. Not only did he not have the money to do it, up until now he had no way of obtaining it. But now that Amos was dead and buried, and Edward back…

Gus had a long talk with Edward Kindy that same afternoon, and the next morning Edward drove the 12 miles to the McAfferty place. When he got there, however, he was informed that Hero was not for sale. McAfferty was, it seemed, fond of the horse. He said he rode him back and forth to town every day. But when Edward mentioned the answer to Gus Newberry that night, both of them suspected another reason for the refusal: There had always been bad blood between the Kindys and the McAffertys, and now that Bud owned something a Kindy wanted, he wasn’t about to part with it.

“We have to try again, Cap’n,” Gus said. He had always called Edward “Cap’n,” and his father and grandfather before him. Edward figured it was short for Captain, but wasn’t sure and had never asked. Gus thought a minute, then added, “Maybe Little Bit can go ask him.”

Edward blinked. “What?”

“Maybe she should ask him, herself. I’ll take her there.”

Edward pondered that awhile. The two men were sitting in rockers on the front porch. It was a cool, quiet night, the fields awash in soft moonlight.

“It won’t matter, Gus. You know how that old man hated my daddy.”

“Then just let us try, Cap’n. What harm can it do?”

Edward hesitated a moment too long.

“Good,” Gus said, grinning. “I’ll drive her over tomorrow, after school.”

AND NOW HERE EDWARD WAS, sitting and then standing and then sitting again at his cluttered desk at 5:30 on a Thursday afternoon, with deadlines pending and a thief on the loose, trying to keep one eye on his work and one eye on the window as he waited for his daughter and his foreman to return from a fool’s errand.

It was almost six when he heard a truck door slam, and looked up from the third draft of his Rotary Club speech. Ten seconds later the office door swung open and Gus and Margaret clomped into the room. Their beaming faces told Edward all he needed to know.

“I can’t believe it,” Edward said, looking back and forth between them. “You actually got him?”

“Little Bit’s the one who got him,” Gus said. “All I did was pay for him. With your money, acourse.”

“And we brought him home with us,” Margaret crowed. “I rode him the whole way.” She looked as if she was about to burst with pleasure. “He’s in the corral right now.”

Edward sat and stared at them both. “But…how?”

“You tell him,” she said to Gus, then gave both of them a quick hug and dashed out the door. “Gotta go check on my Hero.”

Both men watched her through the open door as she sprinted across the yard. Gus was grinning as if he had just won the lottery.

“How on earth did you do it?” Edward asked, still amazed. The image of Bud McAfferty’s stony, bearded face–and his blunt dismissal–were fresh in Edward’s memory.

“I was as surprised as you are, Cap’n.” Gus took off his cap and scratched his head. “Soon’s old Bud came to the door, Little Bit just asked him, straight out, if he’d let her buy her horse back. He frowns real big at her, the way he frowns at most everybody, then after a minute or so he looks out toward the pasture where he keeps his horses, then he looks at her again. ‘Well, I’ll tell you, young lady,’ the old man says to her, ‘I been trying to decide whether to kill him or sell him. So I guess if you’ll give me what I paid for him he’s yours.’”

Edward shook his head. “But–that’s hard to believe. Why the sudden change of heart?”

Gus’ smile turned sly. “Well, there’s a bit more to it, Cap’n. Your little gal’s enough of a businesswoman to be proud of clinching the deal, but she’s also enough of a woman to want to know why. So she asked him.”

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