Day One Hundred Thirty Seven
Yes, I’m in Kentucky, but how was I supposed to know that the part with all the horse farms—the part I’ve been searching for—is in the eastern part of the state?
I woke up feeling happy today, and the day seemed full of promise. I dressed for traveling and went downstairs to check out of the hotel and ask directions to the horse farms. The lady behind the counter was nice, but gave me a funny look.
“Well,” she said, “Any place you go has horse farms if you look around long enough. But if you’re looking for bluegrass country, the real horsy part of the state, you want the area around Lexington and Louisville. That’s farther east.”
I wasn’t surprised. After all, it was pretty obvious that the area around the Mississippi wasn’t horse country. “How much farther?”
I expected her to say fifty or a hundred miles, at most. So I nearly fainted in shock when she said three hundred!
“The easiest way to get there,” she said, “Is to catch a boat going up the Ohio.”
Another boat. No way. I had only a few silver coins, just enough to keep me fed another day or two. I didn’t have boat fare. Why had I done something so stupid as to splurge on a fancy hotel?
I thanked the lady for her time and went to get Flecha. We went down to the waterfront, where I got a cheap breakfast and sat down to think. Three hundred miles. How could I have been so dumb as to think just getting off the boat in Kentucky would be enough? I ate and watched the dock workers, pondering my options.
Of course, I really had only two choices: stay here and look for work so I could pay for boat passage, or start riding east and hope my food and money held out. If I stayed here and found a job, I would have to pay living expenses for myself, and board for Flecha. It would take a long time to save up the kind of money I needed unless I could find work that paid big. And with my lack of skills, the only thing that paid that well was the kind of work I had done for Vince, and I wasn’t joining another gang, wasn’t killing anyone again, ever, if I could help it.
So that left riding east. If I got lucky, I might be in horse country in a week, but more likely two. The thought depressed me. When I was over a thousand miles away, I was undaunted by the distance. But now the thought of an additional three hundred miles seemed insurmountable. How could I be so close, yet still so far away?
But there was nothing to do but quit moping and start riding. So I checked my food packs, bought a few things I needed, then asked for the best road to Lexington. After enduring a few strange looks from people who obviously thought water the best way to travel, I got the information I needed and headed out.
Flecha seemed happy to be on the road, but I wasn’t. I paid little attention to the countryside, or to the other travelers. I kept my head down for much of the way, lost in my own gloomy thoughts. I passed some small places along the way that had horses, and I was so dejected that I was tempted to stop and ask for work.
But no, this was not where I was supposed to be. I hadn’t gone through so much only to be defeated by the last three hundred miles, had I? I could make it the rest of the way.
In the afternoon, I came to a neat and orderly little town on the rail line. In spite of myself, I was charmed. This was nothing like back home.
I couldn’t stay in town without money, though. So I asked a street vendor if he knew of a place that was safe for camping. He frowned and mulled the question over like I had asked him something complicated about science. Finally he shrugged.
“Maybe the horse people would let you camp with them.”
“Races going on, ma’am. First ones since the fire. Everyone’s camping near the track. I bet they’d let you set up nearby.”
This was interesting news, and I followed the man’s directions to a field on the other side of town. In the distance was a wide variety of tents—some as small as my own tarp, others so big they obviously accommodated horses. As I got nearer, I could see the track and the charred rubble of what had once been the surrounding stables and outbuildings.
I approached the camp, suddenly intimidated by all the people in their fancy gear leading their sleek thoroughbreds around. Me and my half-wild Flecha must be quite a sight by comparison! But I asked around and finally found a spot where I could set up my tarp on some borrowed poles, with a bit of grazing space nearby for Flecha. As I was putting the hobbles on her, a young woman of about my own age approached.
“What kind of horse you got?”
I sat back on my heels and looked at her. She had stubby blonde braids and a dusting of freckles on her nose. She didn’t seem critical, only curious. “I’m not quite sure,” I admitted. “Part mustang, part quarter horse, probably.”
“Well, what do her papers say?”
I stood up. “She has no papers. Most horses don’t, where I’m from. And she’s sort of stolen, anyway. Spoils of war, you know.”
She came closer and patted Flecha’s nose. “Where are you from?” she asked. “’Cause there ain’t no war around here.”
“The southwest. I’m from one of the areas that seceded.”
“What are you doing here, then?”
“Looking for a better life, hopefully on a good horse farm farther east.”
She nodded wisely. “Well, I’m from near Lexington, and we’ve got lots of horse farms there. But everyone knows horses. I don’t know that you’ll have much luck finding a job.”
I stared at her in silence for a moment. It had never entered my mind that it might not be easy to find work. But now it seemed obvious. Of course everyone in horse country would know horses. What made me think I was special?
I guess she saw how disappointed I was, because suddenly she smiled and held out her hand. “I’m sorry for my bad manners. My name’s Tanya.”
I shook her hand and introduced myself and Flecha. Tanya was on her way to supper with some of the people from her farm, who had brought horses to race, sell and trade. She invited me to go with her, and I was glad of the offer, since I didn’t feel like cooking.
Everyone I met at supper was very nice, and it was fascinating to be surrounded by people who talked little else but horses. It would’ve been heaven on earth, but for the fact that I was so worried. These people knew their stuff. How would I ever find work, even once I made it the rest of the way to bluegrass country?
After supper, Tanya invited me to go hear some music. “There’s going to be a fiddle player and dancing,” she said.
But I was in no mood for music and dancing, and I wasn’t sure I knew what a fiddle was, anyway. So I thanked her politely, but said I was tired. I’m sitting here now just outside my tent, writing by the light of my solar lantern. What should I do now? I can’t go back home. Should I go back to Charles in Missouri? Something tells me that’s not an option.
I guess I’ll sleep on it. In the distance I can hear the music. The fiddle sounds sweet, like singing bees. I wish I felt a little better and could enjoy it. But maybe it will give me pleasant dreams and I’ll wake up in a happier frame of mind.
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