Fool's Gold

by Madison
Part 1

Andrea Carter finally slowed Taffy’s pace and let her walk to the edge of the fence. Sweat glistened on the horse’s shiny back. Andi leaned over and put her arms around Taffy’s neck, slipping her a tasty sugar-lump. The horse gave a satisfied snort.
 “Amazing!” came an exclamation from outside the arena. Jenny Grant, Andi’s friend who had hair as red as fire, stood lazily dangling her arms over the fence. Andi dismounted and wrapped Taffy’s reins around the saddle horn.
   “What’s amazing?” she asked.
 Jenny hopped up on the fence and swung her legs over.
  “You and that horse. I mean, I can ride, and all. But you---you just seem to have a special way with them. I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. You trained Taffy yourself, didn’t you? You’re just a natural.”
   Andi glowed at the praise, but said humbly, “Thanks, Jenny, but I guess I can’t help it. I grew up with horses.”
  “Oh, no,” Jenny went on, “It’s more than that. I’ve ridden horses since I was knee-high to a grasshopper, but I’m still awful clumsy with them. You’ve got the knack, though. I’d even say you were better at it than your brothers.”
  “Oh, Jenny…” Andi said, beginning to feel embarrassed. “You know Jenny, I sure am glad you’re visiting again. With Rosa working in the house so much and Chad and Mitch going on that trip up North, I think I’d be bored silly without you.”
  “I’m glad I could come,” Jenny said, “I still ain’t used to this heat yet, though.” She fanned herself with her straw hat.
  “Howdy, ladies.”
 The girls jumped when they heard the voice behind them.
 Chad was standing there, but Chad wasn’t what Andi saw. She was blinded by what stood next to him: the most beautiful horse that Andi had ever seen, besides Taffy of course. The horse was a gold buckskin, shinier than anything Andi had seen panned from a spring river. It had a long, rugged black mane that had been allowed to grow far past the horse’s withers, a smoky black dorsal stripe, and a tail sleek and dark as a raven’s wing.
   Andi reached out towards its nose on impulse, but Chad’s hand pushed her hand away.
   “Not until I explain, little sis.” he said, “To begin with, this is Mr. Goodwin’s horse.”
   “Oh,” Andi said. Her heart sank.
    “..or I should say, was Mr. Goodwin’s horse. It ran away a while back of years ago. He’s been running wild since. Mr. Goodwin had given him up for lost. He was caught just a week or so ago.”
   The horse was beginning to paw at the ground and toss its head. He looked so grand and spirited.
  “Has he had any training at all?” she asked, her eyes still riveted on the stunning animal.
“Any training that he had he seems to have lost. Which is why,” Chad said, “Mr. Goodwin asked me if I knew anyone who would be willing to break him in again.”
          “Oh, did you say one of the hands would do it? ”Andi said, “Chad, how exciting!”
 “Actually,” Chad said, leaning leisurely against the fence post, “I didn’t offer the help of our hands.”
Before Andi could pipe out her exclamation of dismay, Chad put a finger to his lips. “Slow down, Andi,” he said. “I told him that the hands don’t have time for him. But I also said that I knew a fine trainer who would be more than willing to take on the job.” The beginnings of a smile played on Chad’s face. He seemed to be in an unusually good mood.
 “Really?” Andi said, “Who?”
Until now, Andi had forgotten that Jenny was still sitting beside her. She was reminded when a hand thudded her in the shoulder.
“Andi!” she exclaimed, “Don’t you know? He’s talking about you!”
Andi’s face turned white, and then red. “Oh no, it couldn’t be…is it, Chad? Do you mean me?”
 It didn’t seem possible. Such a wonderful horse, for her to take care of? Her heart swelled at the thought of training a horse that had run wild so long. He was practically a Mesteno---a Mustang.
 “That’s right, Andi,” Chad said, “to keep you out of trouble. So yes, Andi, I would like for you to train this horse.”
 Andi felt like smothering her older brother with a grateful hug, but Chad was not the type who would appreciate that kind of thank you. So she just smiled at him, knowing that he would understand. Andi had given her brother a lot of unnecessary trouble in the past---usually over horses, for that matter---so coming from him this was more than a kind gesture. It was like a way of saying that he still trusted her.
   “Tell me more, Chad,” Andi said. “Does he take a saddle?”
    “No.”
    “Will he spook easily?”
     Very easily.”
   The more Andi heard, the more this project sounded like an adventure. And there was nothing Andi liked better than that. “I won’t let you down, Chad,” Andi said, “You’ll see. When Mr. Goodwin gets him back he’ll be the gentlest old mount you ever saw.”
  Chad smiled at her, and then left the horse in her hands.
  “See?” said Jenny, after Chad had left the horse in Andi’s hands. “Even Chad knows that you’re the best with horses in these parts.”
  “Well,” Andi said, gazing at her intimidating charge, “I guess I’m all right with them. It’s just a gift, maybe.”
  “Do you think he’ll buck and kick and act like he’s never been trained?” Jenny asked.
    “He might,” Andi said.
    At the moment, the horse was pawing his huge hoof on the ground again. He looked as restless as could be.
“You better get him to the pen,” Jenny said.
 Andi could hardly contain her happiness. She imagined impressing her friends by galloping her wild horse across the dry acres of the Circle C.
 “When are you going to start working with him?” Jenny asked.
 “Why not start now?” said Andi.  
 Andi and Jenny, after a few moments of discussion, decided to call the horse Midas, for his kingly appearance and golden color. The horse, impatient at the delay, snorted like a riled bull.
   The first step to gentling a horse, Andi knew, was to earn its trust. This didn’t turn out to be a very difficult thing with Midas. He seemed to have and insatiable weakness for sugar, and for food in general. Andi felt with satisfaction the feeling of his soft nose squirming in her hand only seconds after offering it. Jenny, who was watching the whole process, nodded in approval.
   Spurred on by easy success, Andi extended her hand towards the horse’s neck. When he didn’t back away or shy, Andi gently put her hand further. A thrill went through her as her hand connected with his warm hair. She could feel that he was relaxed as could be.
  This horse won’t be any problem at all, Andi decided. Chad’s going to see that he made the right choice when he gave Midas to me.

****
                       
  The next morning when she woke up, Andi was giddy with excitement about working with Midas again. After sliding down the banister and hurrying through breakfast she and Jenny were out at the training pen again.
  Midas’ grandeur only increased in the morning light. His coat was so shiny it hurt her eyes. She slowly approached him, half fearing that he was only a desert mirage that would disappear. Midas took the saddle blanket with no trouble at all. He took the saddle with hardly a fidget.
Andi couldn’t believe it. With a surge of confidence, she thrust one of her boots through the saddle stirrups, just as she might mount taffy. Before she even realized what she was doing, she found herself landing in the sand—hard. The horse had given her a tremendous shove, left her in a settling cloud of dust, and now simply stood there placidly twitching his nose.
Jenny’s mouth flew wide open.“What in the blazes did he do that for?” she said. “Are you all right?”
“I’m fine,” Andi said, embarrassed. She stood up and brushed the dirt off the back of her overalls. “I guess it was too soon.”
Andi approached Midas once more, this time cooing gentle words at him. He batted his long mahogany eyelashes as she came closer. He acted gentle as a lamb.
When the same scene repeated itself, leaving Andi sitting in the dirt again, she was more dazed and shocked than she had been the first time. She was confused. Her “wild mustang” was standing there motionless, his eyelids closed as he soaked in the early sun.
“Well, maybe I’ve got the timing wrong.” Andi said unconvincingly. “I’m through for now. Let’s go inside, Jenny.”
As they walked away, leaving the horse standing there lazily resting a hoof, Andi had a strange feeling that this wasn’t going to be at all what she thought it would be.
  The next morning was different. Mornings always brought a sense of new resolve for Andi, and she thought that surely the new day would be more rewarding.
  It wasn’t.
 Andi felt frustration welling up within her like floodwaters pressing against the levees, threatening to spill out in a torrent. She didn’t know why she was so upset. She had worked on horses for much longer than this before---sometimes just to get a saddle blanket on their back. And this horse had been wandering the wilderness for years! But Midas’ total indifferent attitude left her at a loss. He acted like it was too much work for him to lift his head. Unless it was to dip it down in the oat bucket.
  Andi vented her unhappiness to Jenny when they were washing up for the midday meal.
 “It’s not so much that he won’t listen to me that makes me mad.” Andi said, “But I don’t think he likes me at all. And I have never met a horse that I couldn’t make like me. I---I’m thinking about giving it all up.”
Jenny must have been able to hear just how much despair her friend was feeling, because she dropped the towel she was holding and put her hand on Andi’s shoulder.
 “Andrea Carter!” she said, “Don’t you remember what we were talking about a couple of days ago? Don’t you remember why Chad gave you Midas in the first place? You can do anything you want to with a horse! You can’t give up.”
  “But…” Andi said, “I’ve tried. I’ve had enough.”
  Jenny shook her head emphatically, sending her ruddy curls into more of a mess than they were already in.
  “Listen, Andi! All you need is more…determination! Yes, that’s it. Determination. You know you’ve got it in you, don’t you? Remember the camping trip, when Mitch was hurt so bad? You just kept going and going. And how we rescued Lin Mei from the slave traders? You are the most determined girl that I know and you can’t give up at this either.
 As Andi listened to Jenny, the words began to have their desired effect. A new energy began to fill her. She had done all those things, and she had wanted to give up then, but she hadn’t. Why should it be any different now? It wasn’t. She looked Jenny in the eye.
 “You’re right,” she said. “Midas’ll come around. I’ll keep on keeping at him until he gives up fighting me.”
 Jenny beamed.
 “’Course you will, Andi.” She said, pleased. “I have faith in you.”
Andi’s back burned in the heat through her plaid shirt, and sweat rolled down her neck between her two tight braids, but she wasn’t thinking about the heat. Midas had just defied her again, having taken his fine-chiseled but very hard head and shoved Andi away from him. The contempt the horse held for her was so obvious that it almost felt like being defied by a human being.
After pushing her out of the way and knocking the breath clean out of her, Midas had given himself a reward by helping himself to some sugar---out of Andi’s pocket. Ignoring the jolt the horse’s blow had given her, and the fury that was reaching a bursting point, Andi resolved to go at it once again. Ever since Jenny’s encouraging words, her confidence in herself hadn’t wavered. She was going to sit on that horse’s back, ride him, and even gallop him across the fields like she had dreamed of when she first saw him. Chad was going to be proud of her. Even so, the week spent with Midas had been exhausting.
   She eyed the horse suspiciously, wondering what his next trick was going to be. He seemed to know hundreds of them, but she was beginning to understand him enough to be ready. He stood there working very hard at reaching a single blade of grass that grew out of the cracked earth a few feet outside the pen.
  Andi approached the horse slowly, and caught his worn lead rope in her had. She gave a tug. No yield. She tugged a little harder. Nothing. It was unpleasant to know that she was much less important to the horse than that puny little blade of grass. She didn’t realize that in her anger she was subconsciously wrapping the rope around her hand, something she knew well she should never do.
In the next moment she remembered why.
So much for pretending the horse could do no more than an ambling walk. This horse was fast, and he took off like a lightning bolt, taking Andi down with him. Her mouth filled with dry dirt and grit. She had been dragged halfway around the corral before she was able to catch her breath and unwind the rope from her hand.
  The little wild ride was more a good scare than anything else. As Andi sat against a fence post, panting and wiping grime from her face, Jenny came running up. Andi assured her that she was just sore, and nothing more. She stood up with a jerk. Yes, she was definitely sore.
  She set her jaw grimly and returned Midas’ look of defiance.
 “In time, he’ll see who’ll come out on top.” she said to herself.
 
Part 2
 
For two more weeks Andi put up with Midas’ spoiled attitude. She tried every old trick she could think of---she tried sweet-talking and she tried yelling at him like Chad would do. Sometimes she gave him all the time her needed, and sometimes she tried to use her own enthusiasm to spur him on. It didn’t matter what she did. Nothing melted the beastly creature’s indifference. Three weeks, and she had not once been able to get on his back. And soon Chad would be coming home.
  The day before her brothers were due to arrive back, Andi pushed Midas harder than ever before. What would Chad say when he returned and found the horse no better off than when he left? What would he think of her?
  Andi got a surprise when she got out to the training corral. Cory Blake, a friend from town whom she had been on many adventures with, was leaning up against the rails.
   “Howdy, Andi.” he said, “I had to come. I wanted to see you do your stuff with this problem horse. That is if it’s all right.” Cory seemed genuinely excited.
Andi’s heart sank. She didn’t exactly feel like having an audience right now. But she said, “Of course it’s fine.”
 Cory whistled when he saw Andi lead Midas from the barn.
 “That is some horse.” he said. “Shiniest one I’ve ever seen. You weren’t lying when you said he looked just like gold.”
 If he’s gold, he’s fool’s gold,” Andi muttered under her breath.
   Midas stood there quietly as Andi placed the saddle on his back. She heard him give a little snort that seemed to say, come any closer and you’ll wish you hadn’t. She was worried. She looked at Cory’s eager face. She could not fail in front of both him and Jenny.
   Andi approached Midas to try to mount. The horse, with reflexes as fast as a rattlesnake, made good on his threat and reached out to give Andi a sharp bite on the arm. Andi held back the yelp she wanted to let out and hoped that Cory hadn’t seen. She knew that she was going to have a nice bruise from the spiteful horse’s teeth.
   More determined than ever not to fail in front of the eager faces watching her, Andi suddenly felt herself filled with determination. Without giving the surprised horse any time to react, she swung herself up into the saddle in one bold motion.
   It must have been that Midas was too stunned to do a thing at first, because for few fleeting moments, Andi sat atop her mount as she had so wanted to.
   It was short lived.
 Without warning the livid animal shot into a furious gallop. Andi made a desperate grab at the saddle horn, but only got a handful of black mane. One leg slid out of the stirrup. She held on for dear life while Midas continued to leg it like he had a cougar on his back. His undulating flank slapped into her at fast-paced intervals. She heard Jenny and Cory shouting in excitement and fear corral-side.
  Andi knew that letting go would be dangerous. She might be trampled. When she thought she couldn’t hang on another second, the horse came to a sliding stop at the fence. Andi tumbled into the fence boards. She looked up and saw what had stopped him. Cory had grabbed a handful of grass, and at that moment, Midas was happily chomping away as if nothing had happened. The sight was too much for nerves that were wearing thin.
  No, you’re not going to cry, she told herself.
 It was useless. Angry tears were starting to slide down her face. A rather white-faced Jenny appeared at her side.
 “You’re not…?”
  “No, I’m not hurt.” Andi said. The tears began to come faster. “But Jenny, that horse had me out there flapping around like a city girl. Cory had to feed him to get him to stop. He got the best of me, and that has never happened to me before. It’s useless. I don’t have any fight left in me. I guess I’m not gifted at horsemanship after all.”
  “But…” Jenny said. She couldn’t seem to think of anything else to say.
 Cory hopped down from the fence and squatted down beside them.
 “Wow, Andi.” he said. “That is one mean horse.” She could read in his face the shock over the fact that Andrea Carter had been tricked by a horse. She decided she didn’t care.
   “I’m going to tell Chad that I give up.” she said.

        ------C-------

Andi was not excited about Chad’s return. He had finally given her a chance, and she had failed miserably. She could guess what he would say: “You’re giving up too easily, Andi. I’m ashamed of you.”
 The words would sting worse than usual. She was not usually one to give in, but she knew that she didn’t want to face any more training sessions with a horse that embarrassed her and made her look foolish. No amount of encouragement from anyone was going to make her spend another hour with Midas.
  When Chad and Mitch rode back into Circle C Ranch, she wondered if they noticed that she was less exuberant than usual. It was at dinner that she finally decided to tell Chad about her decision. At least, she thought, coming home had put her brother in a good mood. Maybe he wouldn’t have time to think so much about his sister being a quitter.
“Chad,” Andi began slowly, “About the horse…”
Chad looked up from his supper. He looked confused. “What horse?”
 “You know. Mr. Goodwin’s wild horse.”
 “Oh! That horse! You know Andi, I…”
 “Yes, Mr. Goodwin’s horse. There’s something I need to confess to you about him, and you’re not going to like it.”
Andi saw Jenny give her a sympathetic look from across the table.
“Oh, yes,” Melinda piped in. “It was really dreadful. That horse practically dragged Andi all around the arena.”
Poor Melinda. She didn’t know how her words hurt. Now Andi had to tell Chad everything.
“I’m sorry, Chad. It’s what I was going to tell you. I’m giving up.”
Now that telling the worst was over with, the rest of the story poured out at galloping speed.
“…and so you see,” Andi reiterated at the end, “I’ve decided to give up. I don’t care what you think of me. I don’t care if you think I have no determination. I…”
“Andi.”
 Chad finally got her to stop talking.
 “That’s what I wanted to explain to you, Andi. Mr. Goodwin told me more about that horse. He told me that it’s never been good for anything. He’s been spoiled all its life and can’t even do so much as pull a cart. When he got away, Mr. Goodwin figured it was good riddance.”
Andi could see that Chad was coming very close to laughing. Did he actually think this was funny?
“So….he’s not wild? Just lazy?”
“’ fraid so. That horse is just a plain bad apple, Andi. A lifetime of training couldn’t fix him.”
At this point, Chad did begin to laugh.
Fury gathered in Andi’s mind like storm clouds.
“So this was all a joke?”
More laughter.
“I tell you what, Chad Carter. I don’t think it’s funny one bit! I…”
Then she noticed that Mitch was laughing too.
“You, too, Mitch? I just can’t believe you would do such a rotten thing!”
“Aw, Andi.” Mitch said, “We just wanted to see how long it would take you to figure it out.”
 “You made me a quitter! And I never quit!”
 When Chad saw just how mad Andi was, he stopped laughing.
 “I’m sorry, Andi. Maybe we went a little too far for a joke. But it ended all right. I don’t call you a quitter. Determination is a mighty good quality, but I think humility is too. Part of that might be admitting our defeat sometimes. We all have limits, and it’s a good thing to remember that. You did the right thing, and I’m just as proud of you as if you had trained a mustang.”
“You really are?”
“Sure,” said Chad, smiling at her. “And I have a feeling that horse is going to be a good-for-nothing drifter the rest of its life.”
Andi nodded, but before she took her next bite of mashed potatoes, she muttered, “I still think it was a low-down trick.”
All the same, thinking about what she must have looked like hanging onto Midas’ mane for dear life, she felt a strange urge to laugh along with her brothers.
 
The End
 

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