“Well…seems McAfferty was out riding through his bottomland this morning, taking the shortcut to town like he always does, when something scared his horse. Sounded like a deer rifle, he told us, four or five shots. Anyhow, it spooked Hero, and he threw Bud’s fat self into a bramblebush and took off. Left Bud afoot and all scratched and bruised up and four miles from the house.” Gus chuckled. “I’da loved to have seen it, Cap’n, I tell you. Anyhow, after he finally made it home and then went back with his men to find the pony… well, you know how he is about his hired help–they get fired pretty quick if they make a mistake. Guess it’s the same with his livestock.”
Edward Kindy thought that over. “So when you and Margaret showed up and she asked him to sell her the horse—”
Gus nodded. “Yep. It was a matter of…what’s the word?”
“Right. Timing. We lucked up.”
Edward chewed the inside of his cheek a moment. “It still sounds crazy, Gus. Those woods around his place—”
“I know what you mean, Cap’n. There ain’t no deer down in them bogs and bottoms, and even if there was, there ain’t no deer hunters. That land’s posted for miles around. There ain’t even a good way to get down in there, ’less it’s on a horse or one a them all-terrain buggies, and you can’t hunt much off either one.”
“Go on,” Edward said.
Gus put his cap back on. “Well, if you want to know what I think, I think he mighta made the whole thing up. I think he went soft. He saw the look in your Little Bit’s eyes and he got soft in the heart.” Gus paused, as if working that over in his mind. “Stranger things have happened, right?”
Edward Kindy studied the big man a moment, all the way from his battered cap down to his mud-streaked workboots. Finally he asked, “Did you have to go out to his pasture and catch him?”
“Did Bud make you go out, yourself, and catch the pony before you brought him back?”
Gus looked puzzled. “No, he had one of his boys go out and get him. Little Bit and I stayed right there on their porch while they brought him to us. Why?”
Edward shrugged. “Just curious.”
He thought a moment more, then said, with feeling, “I appreciate you taking her over there today, Gus. I really do. I just still can’t believe you got him back.”
Gus’ eyes went dreamy and faraway, and his smile returned. “That little gal deserves every good thing this world’s got to offer, Cap’n,” he said. “It’s just her due.” He fell silent then, as if surprised to have made such an observation. “Well. I best get back to work.”
Edward held out a hand, and Gus clasped it in his own. They nodded solemnly, and then walked together through the doorway.
“Thanks again, Gus.”
As the old foreman went down the porch steps Edward saw his wife Rebecca heading toward them from the direction of the corral. She and Gus exchanged greetings in the middle of the yard–he touched the brim of his cap as he always did and she grinned and patted him on the shoulder when they passed each other. A moment later she stopped at the foot of the steps and smiled up at her husband, who was leaning on the porch rail in the gathering twilight.
“She told me,” Rebecca said. “I can’t believe it.”
“Gus says it’s her due.”
Both of them turned to watch the foreman’s back. “I swear I love that old man,” she said. “I always have.” Suddenly she frowned and looked at Edward. “You didn’t let him come inside, did you?”
The question surprised him. “What?”
“Thank God Margaret didn’t have any on her,” Rebecca murmured. “She was wearing her brand-new sneakers.”
“What are you talking about?”
She nodded toward Gus’ retreating figure. “His boots. They’re covered with that nasty Crenshaw County red clay. Old man McAfferty must’ve made him go out and catch Hero himself.”
“Must have,” Edward said.
“Well. I need to go see about supper.” She paused. “Gus was gone somewhere all morning and I didn’t think of it just now, so I haven’t talked to him–did you ask him if he knows anything about last night’s break-in at the shed?”
“No. I’ll mention it to him tomorrow.”
Rebecca raised one eyebrow. “My, my. Could this be the same man who was hopping mad this morning, ranting and raving about having that stuff stolen?”
He shrugged. “I’m just not that worried about it, is all. And by the way, don’t buy a new lock for the shed door, for a day or two.”
“Oh, I don’t know. I just have a feeling everything might work out.” He came down the steps to join her. “Let’s go see Hero.”
She stayed put, studying him. “What do you mean, ‘work out’? You think your deer rifle and your three-wheeler and your binoculars might just find their way back into the shed on their own?”
Edward Kindy folded his arms over his chest and watched Gus trudging along toward the barn in his pushed-back cap and his overalls and his muddy boots. After a moment Edward turned, grinning, and looked at his wife.
“Stranger things have happened,” he said.