The captain of the ship Sea Horse sat back in his chair and drank a long drain of his coffee. They were almost to Spain, their destination, and the only mishap had been the thunderstorm a day ago. He contemplated this fact, and had just decided that this had been the most uneventful voyage yet, when he heard the distress call. One of his sailors burst into the cabin.
“Captain! A strange disturbance around the ship the Horn of Plenty, sir! Permission to reply to the signal.”
The captain scratched his beard.
“Permission granted. Make a large circle around the disturbance, and come abreast of them on the Horn of Plenty’s starboard side.”
The night watchman aboard the Horn of Plenty had been watching the disturbance, a black stallion, ever since he had escaped during the storm a day before. He had named the beautiful horse Tear Drop and had prayed for him every time the waves hurled him up and pulled him under. The stallion was promised to a wealthy businessman in England, as were all the other horses aboard. The man was starting a business and wanted expensive purebred horses. The watchman said Tear Drop’s name over and over, talking to him, calming him. The big horse seemed to sense the desperation in the watchman’s voice, for he slowed his frantic paddling and stared into the man’s eyes. The large ship rocked suddenly, and the watchman slowly abandoned his post to direct the Sea Horse to Tear Drop. As the large ship crawled slowly forward, Tear Drop started to panic. The watchman rushed to the railing and began to talk to him. Almost immediately, he became still. The crew aboard the Sea Horse readied their equipment and were trying to find a man to go out, when the night watchman timidly spoke up.
“Yes, David?” the captain asked absently, his eyes fixed on Tear Drop.
“May I go to him, sir?”
The captain turned.
“You’re volunteering? The horse could kill you, you know.”
The watchman nodded.
The captain turned to the Sea Horse’s crew.
“Well, put him in, then!”
David was quivering with excitement as the crew from the Sea Horse readied the equipment for him to take to Tear Drop. When it was time, he launched himself into the waves. Treading water, he moved gradually closer to the big horse. Uneasy, Tear Drop swam away. The sailor tried again to get closer, calling his name over and over. Tear Drop again swam away. David slowly pursued him, but he was quickly tiring. When he felt he could swim no longer with the equipment strapped to his back, he turned around to signal to the Sea Horse. Directly in front of him, he saw nothing but open water.
He looked up, startled. Both ships were quite a distance away, too far for him to swim to. Suddenly, the ocean felt very big and violent, the waves enormous, the pack on his back like lead. A large wave tossed David high, then pulled him under. As he came back up, he found himself yelling Tear Drop’s name. Tear Drop was treading water, watching the wave-battered man. Another wave sucked David under and, when he resurfaced, Tear Drop was nowhere to be seen. A pang of fear twisted David’s heart. Then he felt a bump on his back. He spun around. Tear Drop faced him, nickering. David tentatively reached out to touch Tear Drop, then grabbed his mane and hauled himself up when another wave tugged at him. Tear Drop never flinched, seeming to know the importance of being still. When he was sure of himself, David waved his arm in a big sweeping motion, calling the ships to come closer. When he saw that they were underway, he wrapped his arms around Tear Drop’s neck and laid his head on his mane. Within a quarter hour, the ship was near enough to hoist Tear Drop aboard. David clambered after, so exhausted that the sailors had to carry him to his bunk. Almost before his head hit the pillow, he fell into a deep sleep.
The days passed quickly after that, one and then another, blending together in a flurry of activity. The one thing that stood out was the time spent between Tear Drop and David. David had saved Tear Drop’s life by sending the distress call, and Tear Drop had saved David from drowning. There was a special bond between the two of them, and if David wasn’t the one to feed him, Tear Drop wouldn’t eat. Some of the sailors grumbled, saying the stallion was picky. Others openly admired the bond between the two. Still others pretended not to notice, simply because they didn’t know what to think. Every morning, David was up earlier than needed, feeding, exercising, and caressing Tear Drop. One morning as he and Tear Drop were strolling around the top deck, the captain approached.
“Yes, Captain, sir?”
“We’re almost to England. I can feel it in my bones! Oh, to taste my Maria’s tea right now.”
He inhaled deeply.
“I expect you’ll be glad to see your family too, son. You married?”
The mention of England distracted David, and it was a moment before he was able to speak.
“Yes, sir. Got a wife, and a young boy.”
He half smiled.
“Mary and Nicholas. Sure will be nice to see them again. I wish they could meet this guy, though.”
He patted Tear Drop’s withers, and Tear Drop nibbled his sleeve. The captain looked at the exchange, opened his mouth, and then shut it. Then he turned, and walked away.
* * *
A week later, they arrived in England. David convinced the captain to let him take Tear Drop to his new home. As he and ten other sailors walked down the paved walk, David could only wonder if he would ever see Tear Drop again. On the voyage, they had become almost like brothers. Or as close to brothers as a man and a horse can get. David gritted his teeth, fuming that such a grand horse should be used for a business, where he would not be loved, or scratched in the special spot just above his hoof. Seeming to sense what he was thinking, Tear Drop stopped and raised his hoof. David looked sadly at it before pulling it to him and scratching it briskly. The sailor in front of him turned around.
“Come on! The gate’s just up ahead!”
Dropping Tear Drop’s hoof, David led him through the gate where his new owner stood waiting. The man was enormously fat, dressed in a gray suit, and sweating like a pig. He sniffed.
“They look overweight. Can they pull carriages?”
David was tempted to tell the man that Tear Drop was lame, and pulling was out of the question. Instead, he sighed and led Tear Drop to his stall. He kissed the stallion on his nose, then turned to go and found the fat man glaring at him.
“Come out here, boy,” he demanded.
Then he slapped David twice across the face.
“That’s for messing with my horse!”
Anger and indignation rose in David’s throat, choking him. Tear Drop, sensing this, became increasingly agitated. Finally, he let out a piercing scream and reared up, his forelegs almost touching the roof. The men were silent, one out of fear, one out of awe.
David walked slowly up to Tear Drop, and when he was still, kissed his nose. Then he turned and walked out the stable door, and then the gate, blinking hard. His nose smarted, but his heart hurt more. He walked back to the ship, crawled into his bunk, and let the tears stream down his face and into his ears.
The next day, he collected his wages, packed a lunch, and set out for home. In the town close to his cottage, he stopped at a toy store and bought a little pocketknife for Nicholas. He had enough wood at home to teach him how to whittle. There was a slight spring in his step as his feet found their way up the path. When his house was in sight, he started to run. His face split into a grin when he saw Nicholas run to meet him.
Father and son collided.
David lifted the small block of wood and turned it over in his hands.
“Father, will you make me a ship like the one you sailed on?”
The little boy’s face fell.
“Because this time you’re going to make it!”
David dug in his pocket for the knife as Nicky watched, entranced.
When his fingers closed on the little knife, David slowly pulled it out, then placed it in Nicky’s hands.
“Oh, thank you, Father!”
David smiled. By this time they had reached the door of the little house. Mary stood waiting by the door. David grabbed her by the waist and swung her around.
“Oh! David!” she gasped, a smile playing about her lips.
When she was safely on the ground, David slipped her the small sack of coins. She weighed the bag approvingly in her hand and then slipped them into her apron pocket.
“Father, come see the garden Mother and I made! We have carrots, and ’taters, and tommy-toes, and a punkin!”
Mary smiled. “We’re having stew for supper. Vegetable stew, just the way you like it.”
David threw Nicholas up in the air, then caught him again.
“I’m as hungry as a bear! A couple months at sea sure make a man want to taste home cooking again.”
Nicky giggled, and Mary brought them into the cottage and ladled out the stew. It would all have been perfect, except for Tear Drop.
* * *
The next day, David surveyed the inside of his barn. There were four stalls, side by side, and a large door opening into one of them. The whole barn was fenced in, and the property was about an acre.
David rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “So if I knock out the walls between the stalls, and take out the door, then Tear Drop wouldn’t feel closed in…” David spent the rest of the day building the ideal living space for Tear Drop. Close to supper, Mary came outside.
“David, what are you doing to that poor barn?”
David looked up, startled. He decided to tell Mary everything about Tear Drop. When he finished, he looked down at his hands, sure he had absolutely ruined any chance of ever salvaging Tear Drop from the mess he had gotten himself into. When he looked up, Mary was biting her lip, trying not to smile.
“I’ve always wanted a horse, David, you know that.”
David jumped to his feet.
“Really, Mary? You mean it?”
“Of course I mean it, David!”
“Well, then. I’ll go over to get him tomorrow! If that’s OK with you, of course.”
Mary grinned at his excitement.
“That’s fine with me, David.”
* * *
The day dawned bright and cheery as David walked down the road. He was expecting the journey to take all day, so Mary had packed him a lunch. After he had eaten it, he came to a brook, where he washed his hands and face and had a drink. Then he continued on. He came to the gate of the large stables shortly after noon.
He peeked through the doors of the stable, then spun around as he felt a tap on his shoulder. A groom grinned at him.
“Can I help you?”
“Um, yeah.” David scratched his chin. “Do you have a black stallion, shipped from overseas?”
“Yup!” The groom looked relieved. “Just left for the auction on South Street yesterday. Bit Mr. Hodges one too many times, I guess.”
“What?” David looked up, horrified. “But, those horses, they’re, they’re little more than bags of bloody skin and bones!” “Yeah, that’s what he looked like, I suppose.” The groom tipped his hat. “Gotta go!”
David stood looking after his retreating back. Then he recovered his tongue.
The groom turned around.
“Where did you say the auction was?”
David broke into a run as he neared the gates. South Street was only a few blocks away, but the auction was almost over. When he reached the auction, he dug out his money and settled himself under a large oak tree. A few horses were snapped up right away, before Tear Drop appeared. When he did, looking like a bag of skin and bones, the crowd collectively snickered. David’s mouth hung open. Only two weeks ago, Tear Drop had been a healthy black stallion, and now he was shaggy, skinny, and bruised. When he recovered his tongue, he had barely enough breath to shout, “Five dollars!”
Everybody turned to stare. The auctioneer, obviously gleeful at selling the stallion at all, crowed, “Sold, to the man in the back for five dollars!” David, his enthusiasm slightly dampened by the fact that Tear Drop was not responding to his caressing, barely noticed. He was preoccupied the whole way home, only stopping to bathe Tear Drop in the little stream where he had eaten his lunch. By the time he got home, he felt so mentally drained that all he could do was put Tear Drop in the barn with fresh straw and water. He walked inside, ate his supper without really tasting it, and went to bed as if in a dream. Mary noticed but didn’t say anything, simply pressed her lips together as she peered out the window at the lone horse.
* * *
The next morning, David put on a cheery face and swung Nicky up in the air as Mary fried flapjacks. It was a Sunday morning, which meant a quick breakfast and a quiet walk to church. Nicky bounced up and down all the time they were eating and during the long walk to church, happy that his father was home and excited to show off his new pocketknife. David enjoyed seeing all his old friends, and by the time it was all over, he was feeling much better than he had that morning. On the way home, he and Mary had a chance to get caught up on all that had happened. Nicky was staying behind to talk with some friends, and he would catch up later. As they rounded the bend near their house, they heard a piercing scream. Startled, they started to run, just as Nicky tore around the bend, knife in hand. David turned.
“Nicky! Stay there!”
Nicky looked frightened.
“What is it, Father?”
“Just stay there. No matter what, don’t follow us.”
As he and Mary rushed towards the house, flames and smoke became visible.
“Oh, no!” Mary gasped. “The pot I left on the stove for lunch! I forgot to cover it!”
David looked grimly at her, about to say something, when the scream came again.
It was Tear Drop, rearing and bucking. The stallion had obviously smelled the smoke and was half mad with fear. David and Mary frantically started to throw buckets of water at their house, as more churchgoers stopped to help. After a few minutes, the fire was under control and rapidly disappearing. Most of the people had flopped down on the grass to rest.
Seeing that the immediate danger was past, David cautiously let himself into the paddock that enclosed Tear Drop. The stallion whickered softly, looking at David out from under his eyelashes. David moved slowly closer. When Tear Drop didn’t move, David slowly stroked a small circle on his forehead, then moved down to his muzzle, and then to his withers, and then, with some hesitation, moved down to the special spot near his left front hoof. For a moment, Tear Drop did nothing, and David’s heart sank. After a few seconds, Tear Drop slowly raised his hoof and let David grab it before he stomped it back down. Finding that he wasn’t being punished, he hesitatingly nibbled David’s sleeve, then joyfully shook his head and whinnied loudly. David jumped out of the way, as Tear Drop reared and bucked, joyfully racing around the paddock. The tears streamed down David’s face as he saw the spirit that had been locked away coming to life again.
* * *
After the first step to healing Tear Drop’s spirit, all the rest came naturally. Before long, the bond that man and horse had developed over the ship journey had been fully restored. During the next few years, David and Mary bought a little mare, for Mary to ride, and a Shetland pony for Nicky. Tear Drop sired quite a few foals with the mare, and they brought in enough money that David and Mary were able to live quite comfortably for the rest of their life in England. And Tear Drop’s legacy preceded him wherever he went.
This story was inspired by “Marvelous Exertion,” from Story Starters: Helping Children Write Like They’ve Never Written Before, by Karen Andreola.