Across the Years by Eleanor H. Porter
It was only after serious consideration that Miss Prue had bought the little horse, Jupiter, and then she changed the name at once. For a respectable spinster to drive any sort of horse was bad enough in Miss Prue's opinion; but to drive a heathen one! To replace "Jupiter" she considered "Ann" a sensible, dignified, and proper name, and "Ann" she named him, regardless of age, sex, or "previous condition of servitude." The villagers accepted the change--though with modifications; the horse was known thereafter as "Miss Prue's Jupiter Ann."
Miss Prue had said that she wanted a safe, steady horse; one that would not run, balk, or kick. She would not have bought any horse, indeed, had it not been that the way to the post office, the store, the church, and everywhere else, had grown so unaccountably long--Miss Prue was approaching her sixtieth birthday. The horse had been hers now a month, and thus far it had been everything that a dignified, somewhat timid spinster could wish it to be. Fortunately--or unfortunately, as one may choose to look at it--Miss Prue did not know that in the dim recesses of Jupiter's memory there lurked the smell of the turf, the feel of the jockey's coaxing touch, and the sound of a triumphant multitude shouting his name; in Miss Prue's estimation the next deadly sin to treason and murder was horse racing.
There was no one in the town, perhaps, who did not know of Miss Prue's abhorrence of horse racing. On all occasions she freed her mind concerning it; and there was a report that the only lover of her youth had lost his suit through his passion for driving fast horses. Even the county fair Miss Prue had refused all her life to attend--there was the horse racing. It was because of all this that she had been so loath to buy a horse, if only the way to everywhere had not grown so long!
For four weeks--indeed, for five--the new horse, Ann, was a treasure; then, one day, Jupiter remembered.
Miss Prue was driving home from the post office. The wide, smooth road led straight ahead under an arch of flaming gold and scarlet. The October air was crisp and bracing, and unconsciously Miss Prue lifted her chin and drew a long breath. Almost at once, however, she frowned. From behind her had come the sound of a horse's hoofs, and reluctantly Miss Prue pulled the right-hand rein.
Jupiter Ann quickened his gait perceptibly, and lifted his head. His ears came erect.
"Whoa, Ann, whoa!" stammered Miss Prue nervously.
The hoof beats were almost abreast now, and hurriedly Miss Prue turned her head. At once she gave the reins an angry jerk; in the other light carriage sat Rupert Joyce, the young man who for weeks had been unsuccessfully trying to find favor in her eyes because he had already found it in the eyes of her ward and niece, Mary Belle.
"Good-morning, Miss Prue," called a boyish voice.
"Good-morning," snapped the woman, and jerked the reins again.
Miss Prue awoke then to the sudden realization that if the other's speed had accelerated, so, too, had her own.
"Ann, Ann, whoa!" she commanded. Then she turned angry eyes on the young man. "Go by--go by! Why don't you go by?" she called sharply.
In obedience, young Joyce touched the whip to his gray mare: but he did not go by. With a curious little shake, as if casting off years of dull propriety, Jupiter Ann thrust forward his nose and got down to business.
Miss Prue grew white, then red. Her hands shook on the reins.
"Ann, Ann, whoa! You mustn't--you can't! Ann, please whoa!" she supplicated wildly. She might as well have besought the wind not to blow.
On and on, neck and neck, the horses raced. Miss Prue's bonnet slipped and hung rakishly above one ear. Her hair loosened and fell in straggling wisps of gray to her shoulders. Her eyeglasses dropped from her nose and swayed dizzily on their slender chain. Her gloves split across the back and showed the white, tense knuckles. Her breath came in gasps, and only a moaning "whoa--whoa" fell in jerky rhythm from her white lips. Ashamed, frightened, and dismayed, Miss Prue clung to the reins and kept her straining eyes on the road ahead.
On and on down the long straight road flew Jupiter Ann and the little gray mare. At door and window of the scudding houses appeared men and women with startled faces and upraised hands. Miss Prue knew that they were there, and shuddered. The shame of it--she, in a horse-race, and with Rupert Joyce! Hurriedly she threw a look at the young man's face to catch its expression; and then she saw something else: the little gray mare was a full half-head in the lead of Jupiter Ann!
It was then that a strange something awoke in Miss Prue--a fierce new something that she had never felt before. Her lips set hard, and her eyes flashed a sudden fire. Her moaning "whoa--whoa" fell silent, and her hands loosened instinctively on the reins. She was leaning forward now, eagerly, anxiously, her eyes on the head of the other horse. Suddenly her tense muscles relaxed, and a look that was perilously near to triumphant joy crossed her face--Jupiter Ann was ahead once more!
By the time the wide sweep of the driveway leading to Miss Prue's home was reached, there was no question of the result, and well in the lead of the little gray mare Jupiter Ann trotted proudly up the driveway and came to a panting stop.
Flushed, disheveled, and palpitating, Miss Prue picked her way to the ground. Behind her Rupert Joyce was just driving into the yard. He, too, was flushed and palpitating--though not for the same reason.
"I--I just thought I'd drive out and see Mary Belle," he blurted out airily, assuming a bold front to meet the wrath which he felt was sure to come. At once, however, his jaw dropped in amazement.
"Mary Belle? I left her down in the orchard gathering apples," Miss Prue was saying cheerfully. "You might look for her there." And she smiled-- the gracious smile of the victor for the vanquished.
Incredulously the youth stared; then, emboldened, he plunged on recklessly:
"I say, you know, Miss Prue, that little horse of yours can run!"
Miss Prue stiffened. With a jerk she straightened her bonnet and thrust her glasses on her nose.
"Ann has been bad--very bad," she said severely. "We'll not talk of it, if you please. I am ashamed of her!" And he turned haughtily away.
In the barn two minutes later, Miss Prue patted Jupiter Ann on the neck --a thing she had never done before.
"We beat 'em, anyhow, Ann," she whispered. "And, after all, he's a pleasant-spoken chap, and if Mary Belle wants him--why--let's let her have him!"