“Hugh Neal,” Seeley said, “my bull’s the best mount in this here county! He can go further than any horse—and probably faster, too.” Again, Seeley and his bull were the only ones not laughing. I did crack a grin, but I tried real hard not to laugh.
Anyway, Hugh Neal went running for Tom (he has the best and fastest horse in the county), but Seeley was good and mad now, and he said bring Tom’s horse in a hurry. And that’s how this county’s most famous race got its start.
Now, any of you who grew up in a small town knows that everyone in town hears the last word of the sentence you’re speakin’ before you say it. So it was that by the time Tom and his horse arrived, so had everyone within a ten-mile radius of Norton’s Mills.
Hugh Neal bet Mr. Gregg a free day of labor come harvest time that the bull would lose. Mrs. Smith bet my Ma a basket of washing. And I had to stand in good faith with my friend Seeley. Seeing as how he taught me both the owl call and the reed whistle, I bet in his favor. But what I bet was a whole passel more important that a basket of laundry. I bet my best friend, Jacob, a place setting by Charity Mitchell (the prettiest girl in school) that the bull would show up a no-account-regular-ol’ horse.
Well, sir, the grand race was attended by the whole Creek nation, many of them the grown up papooses that first heard Seeley whistling back in ’04. Most all the soldiers from the War of 1812 was there to support their stand-in bugler. And even Mr. Bryant, who’s 83 and always takes his 3rd nap of the day at precisely 2:30 p.m. came to see the race—set for 2:45 sharp.
As future editor of the best paper in the county, I set myself down at the finish line so I could call the race proper. The whole track was well guarded by our county-folk from start to finish. Not a whisper escaped as Seeley and Tom rounded the corner of Norton’s Mill inching towards the starting line. With each hoof placed forward, “the tension thickened.” (Miss Beebe’s favorite phrase) Seemed forever before those two steeds drew even with the line.
“Okay, gents,” Hugh Neal said, “pick your men.” Seeley and Tom both chose 2 men to act as judges so things would be square through. “Alright boys, everyone ready?”
Tom and Seeley nodded. Tom’s horse neighed. And Seeley’s bull reached down and plucked some cud to chew. I never seen anything eat so slow. I have to admit I was beginning to regret my rash bet. But the second rule my Pa taught me was to stand by your friends. With one eye on Seeley’s bull and the other on Charity Mitchell, I was praying Pa’s advice would stand me right.
“On the count of 3,” Hugh said as he raised his arm.
I saw my Ma take a deep breath in and lift her eyes to the sky. Hugh Neal smiled real big. A Creek brave lifted his papoose to his shoulders.
Tom Irvine grabbed his bridle tighter and leaned forward. Seeley’s bull gave another chew. And Charity Mitchell looked down the track smack at me.