One afternoon Peg arrived at the stables as Pat was leading Garbo out to the arena. “What's going on, Pat?” Peg queried excitedly.
“The vet came yesterday, and said Garbo's tendon was well enough for more exercise,” Pat responded. “I'm going to start working her on the jumpsâwant to watch?”
“Of course!” Peg affirmed. She swung astride the fence and perched there, watching Pat put Garbo through her paces. Pat had Garbo on a lunging rein, and he circled her at a walk before cracking the whip sharply to cue Garbo into a brisk trot. Then again he snapped the whip, and Garbo broke into an even, flowing canter. Peg's throat ached with the beauty and grace of the dappled gray horse.
“Now let's try her on the jumps,” Pat said after a few more circles. Still keeping the horse on the lunging rein, he guided her over the first jump. Effortlessly, Garbo gathered her legs beneath her and cleared the hurdle with room to spare.
Peg couldn't help clapping her hands. “Mrs. Huntley's going to be so pleased!”
Pat saddled Garbo up, circled the arena, and headed for the jump. But just before the fence, Garbo came to a dead stop, nearly throwing Pat from the saddle. Pat took her back around, and again Garbo refused.
“I don't understand,” said Pat, perplexed.
“Maybe something spooked her,” suggested Peg.
“She didn't act spooked,” Pat worried. “She just didn't want to take those jumps. I wish we knew what it was that circus clown did to her.”
Peg thought about those clownsâthe big red shoes they wore, their coarsely drawn mouths, the tiny cars they droveâand shuddered. Suddenly she had an idea. “Let me try something,” she begged.
“What are you going to do?” Pat asked. “You're not an experienced jumper. I don't want you to get hurt.”
“Nothing ventured, nothing gained,” Peg shot back, quoting her father, and she ran to the stables. Quickly throwing a halter on Merrylegs, she led the dozing pony into the ring and tied her to the fence rail. Garbo grew visibly calmer. Peg mounted Garbo, and spurred her toward the jump. The horse took the hurdle with the same ease she had riderless and, without hesitating, turned toward the double jump. The horse and girl rode around the ring, Garbo taking all the jumps flawlessly, and then Peg slowed the horse and posted over to Pat. Pat's eyes were shining.
“I wish I'd had a stopwatch!” he declared. “I'll bet you'd have beat the blue-ribbon winner at last year's meet. You're a natural jumper, Peg!”
Laughing and blushing at Pat's extravagant compliment, Peg slid off the horse. She stumbled slightly, and Pat steadied her, his strong hands grasping her arms. For a moment blue eyes met gray eyes, and then Peg lowered her gaze. She began to chatter nervously. “I wish dancing were as easy as jumping. I'm an awful dancer. I feel so awkward and I'm always taller than my partners.”
“I know just how you feel,” Pat said with complete understanding.
“Really?” Peg said, puzzled.
“Yes, myâmy sister's quite tall,” Pat quickly explained. Peg wished that she could meet Pat's tall, horse-loving sisterâit seemed as if they had so much in common! Pat's next words broke in on Peg's thoughts.
“Look, Peg, I'm no great shakes, but I can give you a whirl if you want to practice some of those dances. What do you say?”
“Gee, Pat,” said Peg, blushing a little, “that would be swell!”
Pat led her to a darkened corner of the feed room, empty now before the monthly oat delivery. He switched on the small transistor radio, and twisted the dial until he found a slow fox-trot, then he took Peg in his arms. Pat held her firmly, and Peg responded immediately to the lightest pressure from his hand on the small of her back, the way Garbo responded to the pressure of Peg's knees. To Peg, the smell of oats was better than the scent of flowers, and her feet felt lighter in her riding boots than they ever had in her pink evening shoes. She wished the dance would never end, that she and Pat could dance on and on, cheek to cheek. But at last the music swelled to a conclusion, and for a moment they stood in the circle of each other's arms. “Those kids in your dance class don't know anything,” said Pat, a little gruffly. “You have a natural sense of rhythm.”
“I guess I've just found the right partner,” Peg said, boldly laying her head on his chest. But Pat flinched away. “C-c-careful,” he stuttered. “I have a sore spot there.” The moment was over, and when they said goodbye and Peg wheeled her bike up the drive, it was almost as if the dance had never happened. Yet in her bed that night,
Journey to a Horse
discarded by her side, Peg kept reliving those minutes when she had been in Pat's arms. Suddenly, a daring plan came into her headâshe would ask Pat to the Fall Frolic!
In the light of day, Peg was not so sure about her plan. She had never asked a boy to anything in her life. And Pat was sometimes so strangely distantâdid he really like her as much as she liked him? Peg was still pondering her dilemma that afternoon as she worked attaching paper edelweiss to long lengths of green wire. Her thoughts were so intent on Pat that Nancy, the head of the decorations committee, had to call her name twice before she looked up. “Hey, Peg, come back from dreamland,” Nancy chided her. “I asked you if you'd gotten your frock for the Frolic yet?”
“Oh, sorry!” Peg exclaimed.
“Peg was dreaming about her date,” Doreen said with a spiteful giggle.
“Yes, Peg, is he a bay, or a chestnut?” Marjorie chimed in, and the two of them collapsed in helpless laughter.
Wooden-faced, Peg continued twisting wires together as Nancy tactfully changed the subject. Inside she vowed to herself, “I'm tired of being the odd girl out. I
invite Pat to the Fall Frolic, and I'll show them all!”
The next day at the stables, Peg marched up to Pat before she could lose her nerve, and said nervously, “Pat, would you be my date for the Fall Frolic?”
The saddle soap fell from Pat's grasp and he bent to pick it up. When he looked at Peg again, his face was unreadable. “I'd like to, Peg,” Pat began, “but I'm afraid it's impossible.”
“Never mind!” Peg said, humiliated. “IâI've got to go curry Merrylegs!” Awkwardly, she backed out of the stall, her cheeks crimson. She suddenly realized that a boy as handsome as Pat was sure to have a girl in Havertown.
“Wait a second, Peg.” Pat caught up with her as she reached the tack room, and grasped her arm. “You don't understandâI really do want to take you to the Frolic. But I wouldn't be doing you any favor if I did.”
Peg furrowed her brow. What could Pat mean? Then suddenly she knew! He'd heard her talking often enough about her mother and Carol to know what
think of a Polish stableboy from Havertown escorting her to the country club.
Looking deeply into his gray eyes, she said, “Oh, Pat, I know we come from different backgrounds, but let's not let other people's foolish prejudices get in our way. Besides, you'd help me show Doreen and Marjorie I'm not a social washout! They'd never expect me to snag an escort as good-looking as you!”
“Well, I've always dreamed of escorting a girl to a country club dance,” Pat said slowly, a strange gleam in his eye. “And I'm just as eager to put those two in their places as you are. I'll rent a tux andâand shave, and all that stuff, and get you a corsage . . . Say, what color is your dress?”
“Midnight blue,” Peg said.
“Then I'll get you gardenias. Greta Garbo loves gardenias. It will be like having Garbo there with us.”
“Oh yes! That sounds wonderful,” Peg sighed.
Pat put his arms around her. Peg felt herself tingle all over, as if she'd been plugged into an electric socket. Then suddenly, Pat's smile disappeared and Peg looked up into gray eyes that were clouded with concern. “Listen, Peg,” Pat said slowly, “there's a couple of things I've got to get off my chest. Maybe you'll hate me, butâ”
Just then they heard a voice calling, “Peg! Peg, dear, where are you?”
“That's Mother,” Peg breathed. Pat swiftly released her and, grabbing a shovel, disappeared into the barn. Peg sighed as she watched her mother approach, picking her way gingerly through the piles of horse dung. “Drat this luck!” she thought. She hoped Pat would learn to forget about the social barriers between them. And what had he been about to tell her?
“There you are!” her mother exclaimed. “Hurry up, Peg, and get in the car. Uncle Roger's back from the Orient and he's coming down for a visit. We're going to pick him up at the station.”
This wonderful news distracted Peg from her conversation with Pat. Everyone in the family loved glamorous Uncle Roger, the foreign exchange man for an important New York bank. He always came laden with exotic presents for the whole family. And Peg had a special relationship with him, for he shared her love of horses, and had helped her choose Merrylegs. Eagerly she climbed into the tan and white Buick and they set off for the station.
Uncle Roger was waiting for them, looking tanned and fit. It wasn't until they returned to the house on Meadowbrook Lane and Uncle Roger and Mother were having highballs that the Fall Frolic came up. “Tomorrow, Peg, you and I will have a grand ride and then I'll take you to dinner at the club, okay, pet?”
“Oh no, not tomorrow!” exclaimed Peg, suddenly remembering. “Tomorrow night's the Fall Frolic!”
“That's the Junior Miss dance at the country club,” Peg's mother explained.
“Going to dances already! Who's your escort?” Uncle Roger inquired with interest.
“Her cousin Hank's going to take her,” Mrs. Gardner murmured, making an expressive, let's-not-talk-about-it gesture.
“Oh, no, Mother!” Peg said. “I forgot to tell you when I heard about Uncle Roger coming, but I'm going with Pat.”
“Pat!” said her mother with distaste. “The stableboy?”
Seeing Peg's distress and his sister's mounting irritation, Roger hastened to intervene. “Now, now, Helen!” he chided his sister, shaking a finger in mock reproof. “Don't be such a snob. The world is full of perfectly divine stableboys. Believe me, I know.” Turning to Peg, he said, “Since tomorrow night is out, how about lunch at the club on Sunday? And why don't you invite your friend Pat as well? I'd like to meet him.”
“Oh, thank you, Uncle Roger!” Peg cried gratefully. Then Johnny and Carol arrived, clamoring for presents, followed by Mr. Gardner, who promptly mixed up a fresh round of highballs, and the Fall Frolic was forgotten. In bed that night, Peg reflected that she had Uncle Roger to thank for smoothing things over with Mother. Peg was hurt by her mother's attitude, but she was too busy puzzling over Pat's secret to dwell on it. She had to talk to Pat and find out what he wanted to tell her, before the Frolic.
The next day, events conspired against Peg. Her mother had made an appointment for her at the hairdresser's in the morning, and she had to help with decorations in the afternoon. She hurried home, hoping to bike over to the stables for just a few minutes with Pat, but her mother was having a cocktail party for Uncle Roger and she was needed to help pass the canapes. Peg tried to telephone Pat, but infuriatingly, the only Kowalski in the Havertown directory didn't answer. Peg resigned herself to waiting for the evening.
Shortly before 7:30, Peg emerged from the bathroom. She had managed to tame her unruly red curls, and her new formal of midnight blue chiffon edged with navy velvet accentuated her creamy skin and candid blue eyes.
“You look lovely, dear,” her mother approved as Carol flounced past her into the bathroom.
“You're not the only one going to the dance!” Carol snapped.
Peg wandered into her bedroom, too nervous of crushing her dress to sit down, her heart and head a dizzy whirl of hope and fear. Would Pat's rented tux fit? Would her parents embarrass her by asking him patronizing questions about Consolidated High? Would Carol snub him? And when they got to the dance and he saw the smooth girls like Marjorie and Doreen, would he regret bringing Peg? Absentmindedly, she dabbed a little eau de toilette on her wrists.
Peg's heart jumped as she heard the door open, her father's hearty welcome, and her mother's more subdued voice.
Carol knocked on the door. “Your date's here, Peg,” she said. “He's not bad-looking. It's too awful he has to work at those smelly stables.” She turned on her heel with a swish of her pink tulle formal, while Peg bit back the furious retort that had leapt to her lips. The anger made her cheeks flush and her eyes sparkle, and she had never looked as lovely as she did entering the living room to greet Pat.
The men rose swiftly to their feet, Pat looking tall and handsome in a perfectly fitting tux and Peg's father nearly spilling his rob roy in an overflow of filial pride. “There's a fine-looking filly, hey, Pat?” her father exclaimed with a jocular nudge.
“A thoroughbred,” said Pat seriously.