La Duquesa – Wonder Horse Book Two
By: Victoria Hardesty and Nancy Perez
Writers of Action and Adventure with Arabian Horses
The Carnegies were thrilled. Their granddaughter was a feminine version of their son in so many respects. She was reserved the way Chip was around strangers as a young teenager. Celeste found out she loved to draw and paint like her son and deeply loved horses the way he did. She never had the same advantages he did and was naive in a sweet way Celeste thought was adorable. “I’m so glad Ginny wrote us. If she hadn’t, we’d probably go to our graves, not knowing what a beautiful grandchild we had,” Celeste said. Charles nodded his agreement.
“I know Rose is suspicious of our motives. Why don’t we stay a while? Maybe we can convince her that our intentions are good,” suggested Charles.
They looked for a place to stay closer than the drive to and from the hotel in Ontario. Charles rented a new SUV, so they didn’t need a limousine to get them around. They called home and made arrangements for paperwork to be sent to them overnight as needed. Their cell phones would keep them in touch with anyone back home that required their attention. They settled in for the long run. They didn’t want to leave until they’d won the hearts and minds of their new family.
Charles and Celeste showed up at Hartley Ranch to watch Maryann ride and spend time with her. Charles followed her around while she did her chores and helped where he could. He watched her clean one of the outside paddocks one day and stepped in to give her a hand. “Grandpa, you’re going to mess up your shoes doing this!” Maryann told him.
He laughed. “Well, how else am I going to get to know you? If you are doing this, I certainly don’t mind helping.”
She pointed out the gunk stuck all over his custom-made shoes. “That’s what I mean, Grandpa. You need to buy yourself some proper ranch clothes. Look at the rest of us. We wear jeans, shirts, and boots we don’t care about getting messy. Your fancy clothes will get so smelly and dirty that you’ll never be able to wear them again. Grandma too! Those heels she wears will break her neck if she doesn’t watch out. They’re no good on a ranch.”
Charles didn’t care about his clothes, but he did take her advice. While she was at school the next day, he and Celeste went shopping. They came home with “proper ranch clothes,” according to their granddaughter. Both showed up at the ranch later in jeans, plain shirts, and paddock boots fresh from the local farm and ranch supply Ginny told them about. They’d also bought new cowboy hats to keep the sun off their faces. Maryann hardly recognized them when she got there.
“Whoa! Look at you guys! You look like ranchers now. That’s more like it!” she told them. “Now, grandpa, let’s go get dirty!” The two laughed as they hurried off to do Maryann’s chores, leaving Celeste sitting on the deck talking with Ginny.
“How exactly did you get to know about Maryann?” she asked Ginny.
Ginny told her about Maryann’s essay and the picture she’d drawn. She told her about her first conversation with Rose and her “we don’t need charity” comment. She told her about Maryann’s first visit to the ranch and how she looked when she first got to touch and smell a real horse. She told her about Maryann sitting under the feeder in the stall reading to La Duquesa and how that helped bring that dirty, skinny, scared-out-of-her-mind horse around to the horse she was today. “She’s a remarkable young lady in so many ways,” Ginny said.
When the chores were finished, and Maryann rode La Duquesa in the arena, Charles and Celeste sat with Ginny on the patio, watching her. “I don’t have much work to do with her now. She’s a natural rider and intuitively knows how to handle herself with that horse,” she told them. “All I do now is watch and offer suggestions when they finish riding.”
Ginny thought about her conversation with Charlie Spade. She had no idea how long she would be able to keep La Duquesa. Someone else had a stronger claim on the horse than she had. She’d invested $500 and the cost of care and feeding. Maryann invested the love and work that helped bring La Duquesa back to the horse she was. But there was no price tag you could put on love like that. She hoped to hear from Mr. Spade that there was something Ginny could do to keep the mare. She thought about that all the time now. She just kept it to herself.
Charles and Celeste rode with Ginny and Maryann to San Juan Capistrano the next time Maryann rode Prince Ali for Becky Howard. They were delighted with the big silver stallion and his owner. Becky was doing well and thought her doctor would finally release her to ride. She and Maryann were scheming about how they could get together with Prince Ali and La Duquesa to ride at the same time.
“Maybe we can talk Ginny into bringing La Duquesa here so you and I can practice our ring strategy together,” Becky suggested. “That was what she and I were working on before I got hurt. It would be more fun with the two of us riding together.”
“What is ring strategy anyway?” Maryann asked.
“I know you’ve been taking lessons, so I know you’ve heard Aunt Ginny tell you about entering the arena at a bold trot, smiling so you can make a great first impression on the judge. And she’s probably talked about how to prevent another rider from covering you up, so the judge doesn’t see you on the rail in the class, right?”
Maryann nodded thoughtfully.
“Well, that’s the stuff we need to be perfect with at Youth Nationals, silly girl!” Becky told her. “When we have a championship ride, it has to be perfect!”
“I don’t even know if I’m going to Nationals this year,” Maryann admitted. “I haven’t talked to my mom about it because I don’t think we can afford the cost of the whole thing. We’d have to stay in a hotel in Albuquerque for more than a week, and we have to eat too, not just the horses. And I don’t have an outfit for Country Pleasure classes. None of the other girls at the ranch ride that discipline, so they don’t have something I can borrow either.” Maryann had been thinking about that for weeks now. She desperately wanted to go but didn’t see how it would be possible. She cried herself to sleep more than once over it.
Rose had her own serious concerns. She didn’t mention her conversation with Charles Carnegie over dinner. Maryann hadn’t heard that, nor had Aunt Adele or Uncle Roy. The more she thought about it, the more concerned she was. Were their motives as pure as they presented them? Were they here to take her daughter away from her? Were they trying to buy her affection? Were they devious people who would do any of that? Rose kept her mouth shut and watched. If they were being underhanded, it would show up soon. Rose waited for the other shoe to drop.
La Duquesa was concerned about a few things too. She often talked with Clyde in the barn and heard from him about the strange man who visited Ginny. “I didn’t hear everything,” Clyde told her, “because Ginny sent me away. But he was a stranger in our house, so I lay down in the hall to be close if Ginny needed me. That’s my job. I protect my people.”
“What was he there for, anyway?” Quesa asked.
“He had a bunch of papers in his hand that he showed Ginny. He told her someone named Sara, I think, owns you because her aunt gave you to her when she died,” Clyde relayed.
“Oh. No! I don’t want to move again. I love it here. I love Ginny, and I really love Maryann. I don’t want to go away so I never get to see them again,” Quesa whispered sadly.
“I don’t think the issue is settled yet, so don’t get your hooves in a shake over it. The man saw the pictures of you when you first got here, and Ginny took him outside and showed you to him while Maryann was riding you. I couldn’t hear everything, but I think he told Ginny maybe there was some way to work it out,” Clyde said hopefully. “Let’s give the humans some time. Every once in a while, they do the right thing, you know.”
“I know that. You helped them to help me, or I wouldn’t even be here right now. I just wish I knew I had a forever home with my one-and-only human, and I wish with all my heart that it could be Maryann.”