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for a little while. You'll be home in time to take your kids to school."
Getting the saddle blanket on one-handed wasn't hard. Nor was making sure that it was on just right, no
wrinkles or bunching. The saddle was a different matter. Tom leaned against Doll's side studying the
matter. Finally he laid his canes across the other saddle and took hold of Doll's saddle with both hands.
A surge of strength came to him from someplace and he was able to pivot and place the saddle gently on
Doll's back. While the strength flowed he flipped the cinch off the horn and started to bend down.
Warning pains in his back flared. In exasperation he muttered a curse and reached for one of his canes.
Reversing the cane, he used the handle to hook the dangling cinch and pull it up. Once the cinch ring was
in his hands it was a matter of seconds to thread the latigo through the ring. His hands worked quickly
and confidently and the cinch was tight.
"Now let's see, Doll. Are you holding out on me? Do you still take a deep breath when you're cinched
up? Tina didn't think it was so funny when she ended up under you that time. See, girl. I'm not so young
any more. I need your help." China Doll turned her head and blew her warm breath across his face. She
nodded her head and grunted and the cinch suddenly hung loose. Tom stroked her face, rubbing behind
the ears just the way the white mare loved. Wise to the ways of even the smartest and most generous of
ponies, Tom rapidly pulled the cinch tight and neatly tucked the latigo end into its keeper.
"Now, girl, we have a couple of problems. I've got you out of here and get onto your back. We're going
to walk out the small door, Doll. You can do it, I've been watching you. The boy can't get the big door
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open, either. He takes you out the small one all the time. Mind, Doll, there isn't any need to snort and
carry on with me. I know what a smart girl you are and I know you aren't afraid of that door. Not my
China Doll." While he was talking to the mare Tom retrieved his other cane and hooked it over the
saddle horn.
With his arm across the saddle, man and pony crossed the stable floor to stand in front of the smaller
door. Hanging up on hooks by the door were two bridles. Doll stopped, turning her head toward Tom.
He chuckled, coughed, and slowly stepped in front of her. Taking hold of a bit of her mane behind her
ears he opened the door and eased out. The mare followed him quietly. Outside she drew a deep breath,
sampling the night scents.
From somewhere down the block a dog barked halfheartedly. Tom looked around, checking to see if
anyone responded. Up the block the lights of the nursing home shone steadily. Best of all, there was
nothing to indicate anyone there knew one of the inmates had escaped.
"Okay, girl. Let's see if I can get my old carcass into the saddle one more time." With only a couple of
unsteady moves Tom managed to scramble into the saddle. Once there a sense of peace came over him.
The mare stood still and rock steady, only her breathing indicating she wasn't a statue. Tom sat still,
feeling the warmth of China Doll under him, enjoying her strength, and wondering again at the willingness
of horses to carry people. A faint gray on the horizon told him it was later, far later, than he'd thought.
Looking down, Tom realized he had dropped his canes. "No matter. I don't need them when I've got
you, Doll." With a slight squeeze of his legs he set China Doll walking out and up the street. Together in
companionable silence, the pair clopped up the streets and through the sleeping town. China Doll seemed
to know where Tom wanted to go; any cues he was giving her were unconscious. Up they went, up old
familiar trails they hadn't been along for years.
Finally, at the cemetery gate China Doll hesitated. She turned her head back as if to ask where Tom
wanted to go. "Yes, girl. Clever, clever Doll. This time we go in. Mary Jane's here, waiting. The rest of
the family is, too, girl. Grandpa Sam would have loved you, Doll. He's the one who taught me about
horses. He's waiting here. So's my little sister, Lizzie. She loved horses and ponies. Always had an apple [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]