Crowe Legacy: Heat Rising

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FIVE

In guarded degrees, Lafayette released Cain until the white, chat road streamed by faster than the Missouri rapids. Before he would have thought it possible, he was tearing past Josephine. Spinning the big gray, he pulled in alongside her mare, forcing Cain to match Nelly’s composed rocking trot. Patting the snorting animal’s neck, Lafayette thought, ‘As usual, Peter’s judgment is flawless. Cain is top-rail. Then again, why would he not be, coming from our stables?’

Their Father, Antonio Crowe had garnished a good deal of wealth in the world of horseracing. After a time, he became determined to create his own personal line of racers, a line to be unequaled anywhere in the States. So, with Peter’s assistance, the pair spent much of their lives developing Sienna’s renowned stable.

The true transformation happened after Antonio read about the mystical, Bedouin horses of Arabia. The animals were described as having unheard of endurance and the ability to run for great distances at top speeds. After reading the article, Antonio could not rid himself of the notion of foals that had Thoroughbred strength and Bedouin stamina.

From across the Atlantic Ocean, he purchased six Arabian mares. He then paid stud fee rights for track proven winners throughout the South. Each stable owner had thought it a joke when Antonio arrived to their estate with one of his delicate looking mares. There had been a lot of joshing about the mares being runts, until they realized he was serious about breeding his tiny horses to their big studs. A couple owners felt sure the mares would die during birthing and told Antonio, he was foolhardy to purposely endanger the beautiful animals. Nevertheless, he got his way and all six mares came home to Sienna with top ranking names listed on their foal’s paperwork.

Antonio and Peter were positive the mares would live through birthing and felt sure they would have the last laugh. That was until the first batch of foals frolicked in the fields. The manner in which the young horses moved befuddled both men. The more they watched the foals, the more confused they became; it appeared as if their front legs were walking while their back legs were quite obviously, trotting.

Not willing to give up, Antonio contacted six more stables, breeding the mares to smaller racers, only to gain six more peculiarly gaited foals. Once the first half dozen reached training age, Antonio and Peter were twice as shocked. No matter what speed they urged the horses they were all fast, smooth, and unbelievably surefooted.

Three of the first foals grew into huge, exquisite racers who won consistently on any type of track they ran, bringing instant notoriety to Antonio’s line of crossbred racers. One of them became Sienna’s first all-around champion, the stallion Boreas Red. He won any race he was put in. With each victory, he brought more notice to the infamous Crowe stables of Harrisonville. The other three became pacers unlike any seen before. They could hold their long-legged stride for miles on end, and even at a fast gait, a rider felt like they were floating on air.

During those first years, Peter deciphered the traits in a dam and stud to create either a racer or a pacer. And, whereas Kentucky and Tennessee were traditionally viewed as the home of the best horses; the Crowe Stable began overturning this old notion as more and more breeders brought their mares to Missouri, or simply themselves with hopes of purchasing from the Crowe line. With the rising demand, especially for the gaited pacers, Antonio knew he had only one option.

Taking a ship to Arabia, he handpicked forty mares. It was an arduous task, and one he never regretted. It increased the size of his stable in one year, which would have otherwise taken decades to achieve. Therefore, in truth, the horses had made the Crowe name commonplace, in particular American social circles. Also providing the Crowe family the luxurious life they had become accustomed to and known for.

Lafayette knew Cain’s flashy, blue-gray color would make him a popular stud. Of course, his popularity would only be attained if he could be schooled in enough etiquette to make him reliable. If not, Cain’s powerful spirit would have him gelded before the first frost. There would be no exception.

The law of the stable was: any stallion proven inferior or unmanageable was gelded, and mares of similar persuasion were sold away; thus preventing their flawed traits from corrupting future generations. This was another reason their horses sold for such pretty prices. Because, despite the hot-blood flowing through their veins, their horses were not only beautiful, fast, and sure-footed but, also intelligent, gentle, and safe.

Yet, then again, here he was riding Cain, who in protest to the slow gait had begun vigorously bobbing his head up-and-down, clacking the snaffle bit between his teeth. Lafayette arched an eyebrow at his sister regarding the stallion’s behavior, when without warning Cain snaked out his head intent on biting the docile mare.

With a shriek, Josephine slashed out with her riding crop, striking the young stallion... once... twice... her blows landing on his delicate muzzle and splitting the skin of his eye.

Squealing Cain, shot upwards, and sunfishing with a quick switch of his hips, he set to outright bucking. Each of his thunderous landings jarring every bone in Lafayette’s body. Still, Lafayette held his seat, his own grunts echoing Cain’s. The pair of them created a discordant melody as each fought for mastery.

Benjamin and Copper Belle arrived in time to bear witness to Cain’s metamorphosis into a whirling dervish. While Josephine sat so entranced by the spectacle, she took no more notice than she would to a gadfly of Benjamin’s arrival; even though their horses stood close enough to touch.

The crunch of wheels tore Benjamin’s eyes from the high-rolling stallion to see a carriage coming around the bend. Before he even thought to move Copper Belle, to act as a buffer, the approaching driver pulled to a halt. Trying not to visibly stare, Benjamin saw the driver was a fancily dressed lady attended by several girls. He figured they too must be in route to the picnic, which was too bad, because they would begin the gossip that would spread the word of this throughout the state. Contemplating Josephine, Benjamin nudged her with the toe of his boot, causing her to jump like a spooked toad.

Turning to rip into him for his impertinence, she saw the parked carriage overflowing with frilly dresses and parasols, and she frowned. ‘Hump! They look like a bunch of June bugs chirping and jumping about like they are.’ she thought with a smug smile, but sliding her eyes back to Benjamin, she bit her lower lip. ‘Did he see me strike Cain? Blessed Mary, I hope not. He will run right to Peter tattling on me. Then Peter will tell Father and...’ She chewed harder at her lip. ‘He will ban me from the stable for a spell.’ The thought of being banned from the horses, even for a short time, sent a shudder right through her.

The twitterings coming from the carriage distracted her from her terrifying thoughts. Studying the carriage, she thought, ‘Well, hell, it is that busy-body Hannah Baker and her insipid, boring girls.’ A conceited smile came to Josephine’s face, ’Hellfire, they should feel lucky to witness such an exhibition. There ain’t a damn man around who can stand on the same dirt with m’ frères when it comes to ridin’.′ Even as she thought this, her eyes returned to the twisting, snorting stallion. ’Good thing too, because I ain’t ever seen a horse put so much into trying to throw a rider. Hellfire, they might be right, Cain may have a touch of evil in ‘em.’

“Yuse best hopes yuse cans keeps smiling, Miss Josephine.” Benjamin said, retaining a cool, formal aloofness, even though, there was a distinct touch of alarm around his eyes. “What did yuse do to starts this?”

Her first thought, was to cuss him for speaking to her so. She loathed the way the stable slaves tended to speak as if equals. She blamed their uppity casual ways on her brothers, who treated them more as pals than slaves. Instead, she decided her better course would be to feign surprise. Turning doleful eyes on him, she tittered, “What can you be jabbering on about?”

“If Mister hits the dirt,” Benjamin nodded, “I’s sure would not wants to be in yuse skin.”

She ignored him, although, his words worried her for Cain was still sidewinding. The struggle should have been wrapped up by now and the longer she watched, the larger the panic taking up residence in her gut became. However, by and by, Cain wore down and with a bit of fast spinning, Lafayette brought him to a standstill.

Her brother was speaking soothingly to the dapple gray and when at the dust settled, she could see Lafayette’s face and at once wished she could not. One corner of his mouth was twitched down. She knew the expression well enough to know, he was coming after her next.

Once Lafayette felt positive Cain was subdued, his eyes switched to his sister. But first, he took time to straighten his frock coat, lean forward and adjust a twisted bridle strap, and then smooth back his own thick, shoulder-length hair. During all of this, his black, burning eyes never left her. Chirking to Cain, he cut a direct path to her.

As he drew nearer Josephine could clearly see the deep dimple in Lafayette’s left cheek flickering like a flame in an errant wind.

“Like I said, Ms. Josephine, I’s would nots wants to be yuse.” Benjamin said, edging Copper Belle backwards.

Lafayette’s eyes flicked from Josephine long enough to confirm the movement was Benjamin, before locking on her like those of a winter-starved coyote. Seizing her wrist, he twisted it to him. “If you were a man, I would knock your God-damn, fool head in. And, trust me, it is still damn tempting,” he said. “Fortunately... for both of us, I have the gumption to restrain myself. However, if this cheval is ruined, it is your damn fault.” Still not seeing their neighbor’s carriage, he turned his face away, spitting several times to clear the dirt from his mouth. “Damnation Jo, if you wished to eradicate me...” He flung her wrist from him, “Why do you not simply blow my fuckin’ head off? Be a sight easier, would it not?”

Josephine swallowed, trying to force the lump forming in her throat down.

“Have you lost your damn mind? What the hell came over you, attackin’ a cheval, in such a manner?”

She thought to appear innocent and let the idea go, knowing he was too angry to attempt sweet trickery. Studying the sunlight reflecting off Nelly’s mane, her mind scurried in search of the correct words to placate him.

“Why Mister Crowe, I must say, what an absolutely wonderful display of horsemanship,” Mrs. Baker called, as her team of matching sorrels brought her white, open-top carriage within earshot. “I have heard tell of your family’s superb equestrian skills; my, my, how you have made a lifetime supporter out of me. Why, sir, after observin’ you, I would say, you just must be the best rider in your family.”

Lafayette’s attention shifted from Josephine to their approaching neighbor, indecision flickering in his eyes.

Rubbing her wrist, Josephine said, “I made a mistake--”

He cut her off short, “Cease talkin’.”

“But, Lafe--.”

“I said stop,” he hissed through his teeth. “I do not want to hear you.”

“That is not fair.”

“I do not give a coon’s tail for what is fair. Ferme ta gueule!

Josephine sucked in her lower lip, ‘it was a mistake. He always laughs at my mistakes. What is so different?’

“Benjamin, I am trustin’ you to escort her to the picnic.” Lafayette said, through a gritted, false smile. “Make sure not one thing goes wrong or I will hold you accountable. Am I understood?”

“Yes, sir, Mister Lafe, yes sir.”

Realizing what her brother was saying, Josephine opened her mouth, merely to have him cut her off again, “Get her out of my sight.”

Benjamin nodded.

‘Did he just dismiss me? Me! How dare he?’ She thought, glaring at her brother as he rode off to greet their neighbors. ’And, intends on being all honey and sweetness to those girls, after how he treated me. Why the hell did they have to come along anyways? Especially, right when I need to calm ‘em.’ Her eyes and lips narrowed. ‘But how dare he speak to me so and ride off like nothing was said.’ Her own anger started to simmer, sitting straighter in the saddle; she raised her chin prepared to give him a piece of her mind.

Just as her mouth opened, Benjamin touched her sleeve, shaking his head in warning. His own apprehensions had his words whistling loudly through his gaping front teeth, “Comes on Miss Josephine, yuse does nots wants to argues with ’em. Yuse knows yuse does nots. Let’s ride on to the social.” Taking hold of Nelly’s headstall, he urged the mare to follow him.

Josephine stared after Lafayette and then kicking Nelly, she forced their slave to chase after her.

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