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Authors: Karen Wood

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BOOK: Diamond Spirit
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‘Well, I . . .’
I sound as kooky as she does.
‘No . . . Well, sort of.’

Caroline smiled. ‘I think the karmic yoga has done you good, darling. How much do her owners want for her?’

Here we go . . .

‘Two thousand dollars.’


Two thousand?
You’ve got to be kidding!’ said Caroline. ‘Crikey, Jess, we don’t have that sort of money.’

‘Not even if we use my savings? I have two hundred and forty-six dollars.’

‘We’ll get you a new horse, but we really don’t have that much money. How about we go looking after Christmas and get you another one?’

‘I don’t want another one,’ Jess said flatly.

‘I hate to disappoint you, darling, but
two thousand
dollars
? We could put a new engine in the tractor for that. We could do many things with two thousand dollars, and buying a horse isn’t high on the list.’ Caroline looked at her daughter. ‘Besides, you never know what else might come up.’

‘What about my education fund that Grand-dad left for me?’ Jess asked. It was a last-ditch effort, but she was desperate.

Caroline just gave her a cold
don’t-even-think-about-it
stare.

Jess sighed. She picked up the full box of thyme, put it on the back of the truck with the others and pulled out another empty one. There was no point even talking about it. She’d never be able to buy Walkabout.

When Jess arrived at Harry’s place later that day, Grace and Rosie were riding Legs and Nosey around the arena. Tom and Luke sat on the rails, yelling instructions to them. Jess walked over and rested her elbows on the middle rail, peering through the slabs of timber.

‘Just sit quiet, Rosie,’ Tom called out. ‘He’s still fresh. He might pigroot.’

Rosie answered something Jess couldn’t hear and continued walking Nosey around on a light contact.

There was the clink of a metal gate latch and Katrina led Chelpie into the arena.

‘Hi, Katrina,’ said Jess.

Katrina relatched the gate without answering or turning around.

‘Well, that was a waste of breath,’ Jess muttered.

Katrina mounted and began circling Chelpie at the other end of the arena. The little white mare dazzled with whiteness, even though it wasn’t a particularly sunny day. She stretched her perfectly rounded neck down into the bit and walked with such floaty poise that she looked almost surreal.

At the other end, Grace cantered a couple of circles on Legsy and then, with barely a pull on the colt’s mouth, she commanded him to slide on his hocks into a halt. Then she lifted the reins to the left and the colt bounced into an easy canter again, loping steadily towards the fence. At the rail, Grace released the reins and gave him a pat, signalling that work was over. Legsy stretched his neck, puffing gently.

Grace looked over at Luke, who was sitting on the rail. ‘Can Jess have a ride on Legsy?’

Luke shrugged. ‘Wanna ride?’ he asked Jess.

She shook her head.

‘He’s really sensible,’ said Grace. ‘Come on, if we’re going to be besties, you’ll have to get back in the saddle soon. You won’t have much fun just mucking out stables all the time.’

Jess leaned against the rail. ‘Not today, Gracie. I don’t feel like it.’

Tom twisted around and looked down at her. ‘Why so glum, chum?’

‘Harry reckons Lawson is going to buy Walkabout.’

Tom raised his eyebrows with surprise.

‘That’s bad!’ said Grace.

‘Lawson can be rough with horses,’ said Tom. ‘That’s why Harry won’t let him ride Biyanga.’

‘I know,’ said Jess, glad that they understood.

‘Why would he want Wally?’ said Luke, pushing Legsy’s head from his lap. ‘She’ll be too small for him.’ He brushed a large blob of white slobber off his jeans and frowned at Grace, who was grinning. ‘Get him off me!’

Grace reined the horse back a step.

‘Harry reckons it doesn’t matter how small she is,’ said Jess. ‘Sometimes the smaller ones are better on their feet. He says she’s the best foal Biyanga has ever produced.’

‘Maybe if Lawson can’t ride Biyanga, he thinks Wally would be the next best thing,’ said Luke.

‘He’s just trying to get back at Harry for not letting him ride Biyanga,’ said Grace.

Tom shifted up the rail towards them. ‘Why don’t you buy her, Jess?’

‘I already thought of that,’ said Jess. ‘I asked Mum this morning and she said no. Wally’s worth two thousand dollars and we just don’t have that much money.’

Tom whistled. ‘That’s a lot of money for a freshly weaned filly.’

Grace called out to her sister. ‘Hey, Rosie, did you hear that? Lawson is going to buy Walkabout.’

Rosie rode towards them, a horrified look on her face.

‘He was in the mares’ paddock yesterday. I saw him rope Walkabout and nearly strangle her. It was so awful,’ said Jess.

‘Lawson actually used to be quite nice before he had that big fight with Ryan,’ said Grace.

Rosie glanced over her shoulder. ‘Something happened in their family, but we’re not allowed to know what. Harry gets a bit narky if you ask him about it.’

‘Yeah,’ said Grace. ‘We’re too young and stupid to understand, apparently.’

‘Well, he probably knows that you’d go flapping your mouth off to everyone if you knew,’ said Rosie.

‘Would your mum let you have Walkabout if you could find the money?’ asked Tom.

Jess shrugged. ‘Yeah, I guess so.’

‘Well then, somehow we have to find two thousand dollars,’ he said.

Jess stared at him. Easy for him to say. His family was rich. If he was in this position, he would just . . .

‘Hey,’ she said. ‘Why don’t
you
buy her, Tom?’

Tom grinned and gave Nosey a pat. ‘I kinda had something else in mind.’

Jess’s face dropped. ‘Oh.’

‘And besides, you should own her, not me. She’s your little buddy.’

Rosie spoke up. ‘I think we should unsaddle these horses and have a crisis talk in the tackroom.’

‘Yeah,’ said Grace, kicking off her stirrups and jumping off Legsy. ‘This is really
bad
.’

‘The feedroom would be better,’ said Luke, climbing down from the rails. ‘There’s not much to sit on in the tackroom.’

‘Yeah, and it’s more out of the way, too,’ said Tom, turning to glance at Katrina. ‘Not so close to you-know-who’s stable.’

‘Okay, let’s put these horses away and meet in the feedroom in ten minutes,’ said Rosie, leading Nosey towards the gate.

14

WHEN THE HORSES
were hosed off and munching at their haynets, Jessica and her friends gathered in the feedroom. Grace peered down the stable aisle. ‘Just checking that the poo-magnet isn’t around,’ she said, closing the door. ‘I think she’s gone for a trail ride with Tegan Broadbum.’ She sat down next to Jess on a hay bale, wriggling her bottom into place.

Rosie turned a tall white bucket over and inspected its underside. ‘That’s very unkind, Grace,’ she said, dusting off some dirt. She placed the bucket upside down and sat on it.

‘I know. It was meant to be.’ Grace gave a wicked little chortle and nudged Jess in the ribs.

Jess gave her a semi-distracted grunt of approval. She was too busy imagining Walkabout with whip marks up her flanks, a cut and bleeding mouth and spur welts all over her ribs, as would surely be the case if Lawson Blake bought her.

‘Okay, guys,’ said Tom, bringing them to order. ‘We’re having this meeting so that we can help Jess save Walkabout.’ He pointed a straw at Jess, getting straight down to business. ‘So, Jess, when did you find out about this? Who told you Lawson was going to buy Walkabout?’

She was careful to tell the truth, the whole truth, and not to exaggerate as she told them about Lawson’s visit to the mares’ paddock with the stranger, and how the two men had roped Wally and forced her to the ground.

‘I can’t believe anyone could do that to a foal,’ said Grace, disgusted. ‘There was no need to go anywhere near her.’

‘Yeah, that’s what bugs me so much,’ said Jess. ‘It was just so pointless. Now she has terrible rope burns up her neck and she won’t let me near her to check if she’s okay.’

‘Poor little thing,’ said Rosie. ‘I hope she doesn’t think all humans are like that.’

‘I hate Lawson,’ said Grace.

‘You shouldn’t say that about your own cousin,’ said Rosie.

‘Well, he shouldn’t be so cruel. I don’t care if he’s the Queen of Sheba, I hate him,’ snorted Grace.

‘You mean the King of Sheba,’ Rosie corrected her.

Tom interrupted. ‘Jess, did you tell Harry about this incident? He’s responsible for that mare’s care while she’s here, and that includes her foal.’

‘I did,’ said Jess, ‘and that’s when he told me that the strange man was her owner and that Lawson was going to buy her.’

‘Harry does have the right to kick him off the property if he’s mistreating the horses.’

‘Harry had a look at her neck and said it should heal okay by itself,’ said Jess. ‘And anyway, I’d rather he didn’t do that. The guy would take Wally with him.’

‘Good point,’ said Tom, looking thoughtful. ‘And her price is two thousand, you say?’

‘That’s what Harry said.’

‘Reckon the owner would lower his price?’

Luke spoke up. ‘If there are two people bidding for her, he wouldn’t lower the price.’

‘But she would go to a much better home,’ said Rosie. ‘Surely that’s worth more than money.’

‘I don’t think the owner cares about that,’ said Jess.

Luke spoke again. ‘You could make things worse if you bid against Lawson. The price might go even higher.’

Jess was shocked. More than two thousand?

‘Do you have any money saved?’ asked Rosie.

‘Two hundred and forty-six dollars,’ Jess replied. ‘That leaves one thousand, seven hundred and fifty-four.’

‘Oh, is that all,’ said Grace.

The feedroom went quiet.

They were wasting their time. Wally was doomed.

‘Can you ride?’ asked Tom.

‘Of course she can ride,’ Grace snorted. She turned around and whispered to Luke. ‘She’s a really good rider. I’ve seen her at gymkhanas.’

Luke mouthed back, ‘Well, how come she never gets on a horse?’

Jess glared at Luke and Grace, who quickly stopped.

‘If you knew how to campdraft, you could win some money,’ said Tom, pointing his piece of straw at Jess again, as though sizing her up for the task. ‘Luke won eight hundred dollars last season. Didn’t you, Luke?’

‘Yeah, although I would have loved to win out at Longwood – there was fifteen hundred dollars up for grabs in the junior event,’ said Luke. ‘You gotta be pretty sharp to win out there, though. The kids out that way are born on horses, spend every day mustering cattle.’

Fifteen hundred dollars!

‘When is it on?’ asked Jess.

‘In March. Harry will be taking Biyanga and the two colts,’ said Tom. ‘I’ve been training Nosey for months.’

‘I’m taking Legs,’ said Luke. ‘It’s a huge draft, twelve hundred head of cattle. We pack up the truck and go for five days.’

‘Dad’s taking us too,’ said Rosie, sounding excited. ‘It’s one of the biggest drafts in the district. I’ve never been before. I can’t
wait
.’

Grace leapt off her hay bale and faced Jess. ‘That’s it! Why don’t you come too, Jess?’ She did a crazy little pogo dance on the spot. ‘You could win fifteen hundred dollars!’

‘But I don’t have a horse,’ said Jess. ‘And I wouldn’t have a clue how to campdraft.’

‘Luke’ll teach you,’ said Tom. He looked at Luke, who shrugged. ‘And maybe Harry can find you a horse.’

‘I bet I could find you one in our paddocks at home,’ said Grace. Then she thought better of it. ‘They’re all a bit young, though.’

‘What about the bay gelding in the yard at your place?’ asked Rosie. ‘He looks like a stockhorse.’

‘No way. That’s my cousin’s horse. He’s crazy.’

‘Hey, didn’t you say he comes from out west?’ asked Tom.

‘Yeah, he does,’ said Jess. ‘He comes from . . .’ she paused. ‘That’s weird. He comes from Longwood.’

Grace gasped. ‘Oh my God! It’s a sign!’ She hopped from one foot to another.

‘Jess, I think it might be your destiny!’ cried Rosie.

‘Hey now, slow down,’ said Jess. ‘That horse is a rogue. I’ve only ridden him once and he reared up in my face.’ She looked at her friends. ‘You all saw my face when I first came here, right? Well, that was his handiwork.’

‘Is
that
how you got the black eye?’ asked Tom. ‘That was a mean one.’

‘Yes, he just kept tossing his head and snatching the reins,’ answered Jess, and before she knew it, she was telling them about the day down on the river flats – about Lawson and his gun, Shara being reckless and stupid, the gunshot and Dodger going crazy. Her friends listened with mouths agape. ‘I’m telling you,’ she concluded, ‘he’s a total fruitcake.’

‘Who are you talking about – Lawson or the horse?’ asked Tom.

‘The horse,’ said Jess.

‘Jess,’ said Tom. ‘Most horses would get a fright if someone let off a gun near them. I reckon it’s Lawson who is the fruitcake, not the poor horse.’

Poor horse? Does it matter to no one that Dodger nearly
turned me into a pizza?

‘Did you give that horse its head?’ asked Tom.

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