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Chapter 6 Understandings

From the top of the hill you could see right down to the ranch below. Tom saw Annie’s car turning in front of the ranch house.

Two people got out of the car. They were far away, but Tom had a clear picture of Annie in his mind. ‘Stop thinking about her. She’s another man’s wife,’ he told himself. But he couldn’t get her out of his thoughts.

It was cattle-branding day at the ranch. A lot of friends and neighbours were there to help. The young animals made a terrible noise when the heated metal burned into their skins.

Tom could see that Annie and Grace didn’t like it. So he quickly found a job for Annie and took Grace off with him. Later Annie saw Grace at the front of the branding line. Tom was showing her what to do. To begin with, she kept her eyes closed.

‘Not too hard,’ she heard him say. Grace touched the red-hot metal on the animals back and the smell of burning was terrible.

‘That’s good. It hurts him, but not for long. There… look at that . . . Grace, that’s a perfect brand. The best of the day.’

The girl’s face was red and her eyes were shining with excitement. People around her called out and she laughed and joked with them. Tom saw Annie watching and smiled at her.

‘Your turn next, Annie.’

When it was finished, everyone went up to the house to eat.

Annie felt that it was time to leave. She saw Grace walking to the house with Joe in easy conversation. Annie called her name.

‘We have to go now,’ Annie said.

‘What? Why?’

‘Yes, why?’ It was Tom.

‘Well, you know, it’s getting late.’

‘Yes. And you’ve got to get back to work on that computer and make all those telephone calls, right?’

The sun was behind him and Annie put her head on one side and looked at him. Men didn’t usually make fun of her like this.

She enjoyed it.

‘It’s the same every year here, you see. The person who does the best brand has to make a speech after dinner.’

‘What!’ said Grace.

‘So, Grace, you go in and get yourself ready. Joe, why don’t you show her the way?’

‘If you’re sure we’re invited …’ said Annie.

‘You’re invited,’ replied Tom.

‘Thank you.’

‘You’re welcome.’

They both smiled. The silence between them was filled for a few moments by the sounds of the cattle.

Diane was never very friendly towards Annie. Today, though, she made her feel welcome.

The children sat together at one end of the table. They talked so loudly in their excitement that the adults could only just hear themselves speak.

Joe was telling Grace about a strange woman who lived up on the mountains.

‘She’s got these Pryor Mountain horses and just lets them run wild. There are quite a lot of them now. And it’s the same with her children. They run around with nothing on. Came here from Los Angeles.’

Then Annie heard Grace telling Joe about her friends in New York.

Later, when the meal was coming to an end, Frank said, ‘You know what, Tom? While you’re working on that horse of theirs, Annie and Grace could live in the river house. It seems crazy for them to do all that driving to and from Choteau.’

‘Sure,’ Tom agreed. ‘Good idea.’

‘Oh, that’s very nice of you, but really .. .’

‘Come on, Annie. I know that house in Choteau. It’s in a terrible state.’

‘But Frank, you know the river house isn’t much better,’ said Diane. ‘And I’m sure Annie and Grace want to spend time alone together.’

Before Annie could speak, Frank looked along the table.

‘Grace? What do you think?’

Grace looked at Annie, but her face gave her answer. It was all that Frank needed.

‘That’s agreed then.’

Diane suddenly got up. ‘I’ll make some coffee,’ she said.

Pilgrim ran into the arena like a shot. He went straight to the far end and stopped there in a cloud of red sand. His ears moved nervously, and his eyes were wild. But he watched the open gate.

He knew that the man was coming in through it.

Tom was on foot and carried an orange flagstick and a rope.

He came in and shut the gate. Then he walked to the centre of the arena.

For almost a minute they stood there. The horse looked at the man, and the man looked at him. It was Pilgrim who moved first.

He lowered his head and took some small steps back. Tom stayed in the same place, not moving. The end of the flagstick was resting on the sand. Then he took a step towards Pilgrim and at the same time lifted the flag in his right hand. The horse ran to the left.

Round and round the arena he went. He was making a lot of noise and throwing his head up and down. But his eyes never left the man. They were held there by a line of fear.

Soon his skin began to shine and water flew from the corners of his mouth. But the man made him continue. Every time he slowed, there was that flag again. He had to keep running.

The horse’s leg was strong again now after days of swimming, and his face and chest were looking better. His problem now was inside his head. Pilgrim went past for perhaps the hundredth time; Grace saw him turn his head to look at Tom. Where was that flag? Why was Tom letting him slow down? Pilgrim reduced his speed to a walk and then stopped.

He stood there, looking around him. After a few moments, Tom started to walk towards him. When he was about 14 feet away, Pilgrim ran to the left again. But this time Tom stepped in and stopped him with the flag. The horse paused and ran to the right, and Tom hit him on the back with the flag. He started running around the arena again, the opposite way this time.

‘He wants to be all right,’ Tom said. ‘He just doesn’t know what all right is.’

About two hours later, Tom opened the gate and let Pilgrim back into the stable.

Tom and Grace drove back to the ranch together.

‘Grace, I’ve got a problem. When I’m working with a horse, I like to know the history.’

Grace said nothing.

‘I can understand if you don’t want to talk about it. But I need to understand what Pilgrim’s feeling. So I need to know everything about that day.’

Grace didn’t want to tell anyone what she really remembered about that day. The problem was Judith. She just couldn’t talk about Judith. Or even Gulliver. She looked back at Tom Booker and he smiled kindly.

‘I don’t mean now,’ he said quietly. ‘When you’re ready. And only if you want to.’

‘I’ll think about it,’ she said.

In New York, Robert arrived back home after another long day at the office. The place seemed so empty without Annie and Grace; he tried not to spend much time there.

The best part of his day was talking to them on the telephone.

And tonight, after failing to speak to them all day, he felt a more urgent need for the sound of their voices.

And then he heard the telephone.

‘Annie . .. how are things? I tried calling you earlier.’

‘I’m sorry. There’s only one telephone line in this new place and the office is on it all the time.’

Annie told him about her day. She sounded unhappy and Robert tried to make her feel better.

‘And how’s Grade?’

‘Oh, I don’t know.’ Her voice was low now. ‘She’s fine with Tom Booker and Joe — you know, the twelve-year-old? She and Joe are becoming close friends. But when it’s the two of us, I don’t know. It’s so bad — she doesn’t even look at me.’

Robert walked to the window and looked out at the New York night. ‘I miss you, Annie.’

‘I know,’ she said. ‘We miss you too.’

The agreement with Crawford Gates was that Annie could be away for a month. It was nearly a month already. She had to ask him for more time. But Gates was beginning to question things that she decided about the magazine. That was worrying her; it was not a good idea to be away from the office for too long. At least the new telephone lines in the river house were going to make it easier to stay in touch. Tom was going to put them in for her.

She was just turning on her computer when she saw him outside her window. Behind him stood two horses, ready to ride.

She looked at him for a moment, smiling. He was smiling too.

Perhaps it was the light, but to her his eyes seemed clearer and bluer than ever — like the sky behind him.

‘I need your help. I’ve got all these young horses to ride and poor old Rimrock here is not getting enough exercise. Would you ride him? He’s very quiet.’

‘Is this how I pay for the telephones?’

He laughed. ‘No. But I’ll think of something.’


Grace always remembered her dreams. It was easy. You just told someone about them the moment you woke up. You could even tell yourself. When she was a child she always climbed into her parents’ bed in the morning. Her father put his arm around her and she told him. It was only her father. Her mother was already up, and calling Grace to her piano practice.

To her surprise, Grace did not often dream about the accident.

She did have one dream about Pilgrim. He was standing on the far side of a great brown river. He was younger and very small.

She called him and he tested the water with his foot. Then he walked right in and started swimming towards her. But he wasn’t strong enough and the water began to carry him away.

She watched his head getting smaller and smaller and she felt so weak and frightened. She called his name again and again.

Then she saw someone standing quietly behind her. She turned.

It was Tom Booker. He said that she mustn’t worry. Pilgrim was going to be all right. Further down, the river wasn’t so deep. He could stand up there and climb out.

She decided to tell Tom Booker about the day of the accident.

Tom could see that Annie was a rider; her body moved with the horse. They rode up a long hill to a place where you could look down on the two rivers. They stopped and sat for a while.

‘That’s a beautiful view,’ Annie said.

They could just see the top of the river house.

‘Who’s R. B.?’ she asked. ‘I found the letters T. B. — I guess that’s you — and R. B. on a tree near the house. So who’s R. B.?’

He laughed. ‘Rachel. My wife.’

‘You’re married?’

‘Not now. A long time ago. I have a son too — Hal. But Rachel didn’t like it here. The winters are hard for city people. So she left, with Hal.’

‘I heard the truck when it was a long way away,’ said Grace. ‘We had all the time in the world, I thought.’

While she told Tom the story of that morning, he watched her closely. He knew she was reliving the death of her friend. He understood how she was feeling. He felt terribly sorry for her.

‘I don’t know if Judith saw the truck. I think she hit her head really hard on the road. And Gully was going crazy, you know.

But when I saw it coming, I knew it couldn’t stop. I thought I could calm Gully. Then I could pull Judith out of the way. I was so stupid!’ She held her head in her hands for a few moments.

‘Why didn’t I get off and just pull Gully away? But I didn’t.

Pilgrim was great. I mean he was frightened but he seemed to understand. He tried to get near Judith. My fingers were so close to hers . . . and then the driver sounded his horn …’

Grace looked at Tom, the pain showing on her face. Finally the tears came and Tom put his arms around her.

‘I saw her face looking up at me, down by Gully’s feet. It was just before the noise of the horn. She looked so little, so afraid.

And I didn’t save her. I let her die!’

Tom didn’t speak. For a long time they stood that way until her crying stopped. He asked her if she wanted to continue.

‘Pilgrim heard the horn and seemed to go crazy. He turned to face the truck. He didn’t want this great thing to hurt us. He wanted to fight it! And when it was right in front of us he lifted his front legs. Then he jumped at it. I fell and hit my head. That’s all I can remember …Will all this help you to help Pilgrim?’

‘I hope so,’ Tom replied.

Tom was late for supper.

‘Is she happy about her new telephones, then?’ asked Diane coldly. ‘I don’t know why she needs three lines — she’s only got two ears.’

‘She’s pleased.’

‘Frank says you took her out riding this morning.’

‘That’s right,’Tom replied .’She’s a good rider.’

Tom didn’t want to fight with Diane. He ate his food, checked the horses and went up to his room.

Tom looked through a pile of old magazines. He was looking for something to help him with Pilgrim. He remembered a piece by a Californian man who also worked with horses. He found the right magazine, and read the piece again. If a horse was afraid, it ran away. But when it felt pain, the animal turned to defend itself. That was interesting, but what did it mean? There were no answers, he decided. It was always just you and the horse. You tried to understand its mind, and it tried to understand yours.

Tom pushed the magazine away. And then he suddenly understood the meaning of the fear in Pilgrim’s eyes. The horse was lost and alone; since that terrible day, he could trust nobody.

Grace, Gulliver, Judith — they led him up that icy path. They told him it was safe. Then they hurt him when it wasn’t.

Perhaps Pilgrim also felt bad about his own part in it all. He wanted to protect Grace, but he couldn’t. And when he attacked the truck to save her from it, he suffered pain and then, at the Dyers’ stable, punishment.

Later, when his light was off and the house was quiet, Tom felt his own fear. He had a clear picture of the darkness of Pilgrim’s mind. He wanted so much to help - for the horse, and for the girl. But he knew that most of all he wanted it for the woman with the red hair and sad, green eyes.

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