The Rag Collector’s Daughter
Boys and girls of all ages ran down the school corridor. Jules took her time packing up her schoolbooks. She could hear the other children yelling their excitement. She didn’t need to race out as the other children had. She already knew what, or rather who, was waiting outside.
Shading her eyes from the afternoon sun, she smiled.
There stood Dorothy, the tan colored nag that Papa used to collect the papers and rags he sold to the junk-man. That horse must have found a way to channel Harry Houdini, she was a master at escaping a locked paddock. Papa would be mad to learn the horse had come to the school again, but it only made Jules smile.
Jules felt a tug at her skirt and looked down to see her younger brother, Danny. “Ride?” he asked.
Jules looked over at Dorothy and then at Danny’s chubby cheeks and hopeful gaze. She knew Papa would need the horse later, but where was the harm in taking a quick ride.
Nodding, she grabbed Danny’s hand and made her way through the group of students crowding around Dorothy. She grabbed the frayed rope that served as Dorothy’s bridle and led the horse closer to the gate. Using the gate as leverage, she pushed up and onto the horse’s bare back. Her skirt bunched around her legs as she tucked it securely under her.
For a moment, Jules sat on Dorothy’s back running her hands down the horse’s neck. She felt the muscles tighten under the smooth glossy coat. “Soon,” she whispered, reaching a hand down to pull Danny up in front of her.
Oh, how she wished she could kick her heels and spur Dorothy into a fast gallop, but she knew she had to be careful with Danny perched on the horse with her. Closing her eyes Jules tilted her head towards the sun and daydreamed.
Gone were the homes and warehouses that dotted along the lane. Jules was a Magyar raider on her powerful Hungarian steed.
Dorothy no longer clopped along, but rather glided with swift powerful precision. Jules loosened her grip on the rope. She didn’t have to worry, Dorothy knew where they were going.
The sound of water from the river greeted her ears as the horse gingerly stepped off the bank. They were going to the island.
In better times, Papa use to tell Jules amazing stories about the Indians who lived on the island. Times were tough now…it had been a long time since Papa’s amazing stories.
When they reached the island, Jules placed Danny on the ground first. He raced off to climb trees,laughing when he would fall onto the soft marshy ground below.
Dorothy pranced with impatience, tossing her mane about in the air.
“Let’s go!” Jules said to the anxious horse. Dorothy didn’t have to be told twice. Off they went racing around the island.
“Jules,I’m hungry,” Danny said later after Jules and Dorothy had tired from their run.
Jules looked up at the approaching dusk, “No wonder, it must be getting close to supper time. We have to hurry before Papa gets home.”
Jules and Danny once again were on Dorothy’s back waiting at the island’s riverbank, but Dorothy wouldn’t move.
“Come on girl, we have to get home. You can do it.”
It was no use, the horse would not move.
Jules looked into the river and realized what was causing the problem. The water was too high and with the waning light, Dorothy couldn’t see the bottom of the river.
“Danny hold on tight,” Jules ordered her brother as she got down from the horse’s back.
Still holding onto Dorothy’s bridle, Jules entered the water.
Her skin crawled the moment she stepped into the cold water. She pulled with all her might, but the horse would not budge. With one great tug, the rope broke.
Jules was under the water. The bed of the river was full of slippery river rock. Jules, still wearing her school clothes with their smooth soled Mary-Janes, kept slipping on the slimy rocks of the riverbed.
Again she went under. She could hear Danny’s frantic cries as the water rushed over her head.
Her lips trembling, she brought her head up out of the water. She was about to go under a third time when strong arms lifted her up and back onto Dorothy’s back.
“Papa,” she gasped as the tall silent man placed one hand on the horses neck and guided Dorothy into the water.
Silently, they made their way home.
Jules trembled the entire time, but not from the cold.
Once they were home, Mama gave Jules a bowl of chicken stew and tucked her into bed. Jules listened to the sounds coming from the backyard as Papa led Dorothy into the little paddock built onto the side of the woodshed.
She could hear the footsteps as Papa entered the house and made his way back toward her bedroom.
She clenched her eyes as tight as she could pretending to be asleep.
She felt him sit on the edge of the bed.
“No use faking, Juliska, I know you are awake,” his gruff accented voice said.
“Are you mad Papa?” she asked.
“Mad? Nincs. Disappointed? Yes.” He ran his hand through his hair and sighed. “What would have happened, Juliska, if I had not been there to pull you out of the water? What about your brother? You are lucky the schoolteacher, Ms.Szabo, saw you riding off and I could guess where you were heading. That horse brings trouble. Perhaps it would be better if I sold Dorothy.”
Jules jumped out of the bed, “No, Papa! Please, I promise I will never go off alone again. I will be careful.”
“Ah, Juliska, you remind me too much of me as a boy in the old country. Did I ever tell you about the time your Uncle Joszef and I…”
Jules listened as Papa told her stories about growing up in Hungary and the trouble he and his brother would get into.
“Papa, I missed this.”
“I missed this too, Juliska. Get some sleep.” He bent down and kissed Jules on the forehead.
“Wait, Papa, what about Dorothy? You’re not going to sell her are you?”
Papa smiled a roguish grin, “Now what would a Magyar raider be without his noble Hungarian steed?”
Jules smiled a sleepy smile, “I love you, Papa.”
“I love you too, Juliska,” Papa whispered as he quietly closed the door.
Jules closed her eyes and went to sleep, horses dancing in her dreams.