Copyright 1956 by Carl L. Biemiller

Illustrated by Kathleen Voute

Chapter One Chapter Two Chapter Three Chapter Four Chapter Five
Chapter Seven Chapter Eight Chapter Nine Chapter Ten Chapter Eleven
Starboy's Home C.L. Biemiller's Home

Chapter Six

There is a great smell about county fairs, decided Johnny, as he and Mr. Murphy and Remo and old man Applegate walked through the grounds to the stable area where the trotting horses were. It was a mixed smell, almost good enough to eat in some places. The sizzle of frying hotdogs was in it and the flavor of root beer and the tang of lemonade and the gooey spices of candied apples on sticks. It was an exciting smell of pungent dust and animals with hot motor oils in it and vague burnings. And once in a while on a sudden breeze there was the rich aroma of curing hay from the surrounding fields and the faintest scent of honey-suckle.

In the stable area, however, the smell of the fair was all horse.

Mr. Applegate led them down a row of stalls each single one of them occupied by a horse, to a small office tucked away at the end of the shed.

"Come on in," he invited, and shoved the door open. Mr. Murphy and Johnny and Remo followed him.

There was a man sitting behind an old-fashioned roll-top desk. He wore glasses and he peered at them through the glasses. "Well," he said brightly, "if it isn't Obed Applegate. Come in, come in. Let's visit."

He got up and walked around the desk to greet them. He was a tiny man, almost as old as Mr. Applegate. He was as neat as a toy soldier. He wore a faded pair of dungarees, which were tucked into a pair of half boots that were soft and richly brown. He had on a gleaming white sateen shirt with an open collar and a pair of bright red firehouse suspenders. His face was round, brown, and puckered with pleasure.

"Good day, Bert," said Mr. Applegate. "This is Mr. Murphy and Johnny Jenks and Remo…" He hesitated as if searching for a last name and then gave it up and continued. "Knew you'd be racing today. What are you running, your old mare?"

"Nice to know you all," nodded the little man. "No," he said, "the old mare's done. But my name wouldn't be Bert Tuttle if I couldn't race a horse. Did sort of a foolish thing, though, Obed. Bought that stallion from Squires, the bad one. He trots fine and behaves fairly well for me, but he still gets excited at crowds and awful nervous. Want to see him?"

Without waiting for a reply he pushed past them. Mr. Applegate and Mr. Murphy and the boys strung out behind him. Bert Tuttle led them to the stall at the far end of the barn.

"There he is," said Mr. Tuttle. "He could win easily enough, but whether he will or not is something I'll have to find out. You knew I was still doing' my own driving?"

Remo and Johnny looked at the horse with awe, and Remo gazed with curiosity. The animal was big, black, and gleaming. His shining coat was damp with sweat and there was a touch of white foam at his flared, red nostrils. He stamped, banging his hoofs down hard and making muffled thuds against the flooring beneath the hay in the stall.

"Sooo, boy," crooned Bert Tuttle, "easy, easy now. Don't get too close to the back of the stall, boys. He kicks."

"That horse hates people," said Remo, a surprised tone in his voice. "He doesn't trust them."

Little Mr. Tuttle threw the boy a sharp glance. "He does for a fact, son," said Mr. Tuttle. "He's been abused, and he's just now getting around to trusting me. That's why racing him is doubtful, although he has been well trained." Mr. Tuttle paused. "How can you tell he hates 'em, son?"

"I just know," answered Remo.

He did know, too, thought Remo, but he was beginning to realize that it wasn't always wise to let other people know too much about how or why he knew. But there were certain samenesses about this world with his own. Maybe that's really why he was here to realize that a here could be pretty much a there anywhere.

The creatures like earth's horses were called zilts at home. They too had four legs and a queer sort of hammerhead. They had sleek coats, not fur or hair, but sleeker, almost metal coats that looked white and shining in the orange desert hills of home. They lived off the desert wire plants and drank water only when the rains fell into pools or when they could break into the sealed reservoirs, which stored water for the people. Men caught them at home too and trained them for riding or made them pets and raced them for sport. They were a thinking animal, obedient to command if they liked the person giving it. Not like this creature before him.

Mr. Murphy cleared his throat.

"Well, you're right, son," agreed Mr. Tuttle. "Tell you another thing about this horse. As far's I know he doesn't fear a thing, not me, not men, and none of the animals that have been around him. Tell you something else, the only thing I ever saw stop him when he was really beside himself was a big bumblebee. I mean it. He backed into a sharp nail at the corner of the barn one day and bolted down the yard, jumped the fence, and set sail for the next county. Well, sir, I saw him stop dead in his tracks and when I went down to him with a halter, there he stood while a plain old bumblebee buzzed around and around his head. Don't know what he'd do if he ever ran into a swarm of honeybees. Freeze up, I guess."

"He's a fine-looking animal, just the same," said Mr. Murphy, "and it's a good thing he's afraid of something even if it's only bees. When do you race, Mr. Tuttle?"

"They'll be calling the first heat pretty soon now," said Mr. Tuttle perkily. "Obed Applegate can tell you about trotting. I used to drive for him a long time ago. Why don't you go on back to the office till I get ready here? Got to harness and let him see the sulky before we go out on the track."

The office had its special fair ground smell too, of harness, liniment, and cigars. Johnny and Remo sat on two bushel baskets and Mr. Murphy uncoiled his length on a battered green bench. Mr. Applegate sat behind the desk and made the springs squeak in a revolving armchair. "Not much to trotting really," he said. "Not to watch, that is. But it takes a long time to make a good trotter and a smart driver.

"In the first place, when a horse wants to go fast, he runs. But in harness racing the horse learns to go as fast as he can in a trot. There are ways to help an animal stay in trot, special harnesses and all that, but mostly it's a matter of training. Then again a horse has to get used to working between the shafts of a little two-wheeled cart, which doesn't weigh more than seventy-five pounds or so. He has to drag that along behind him. That's all there is to it."

"What's a trot?" asked Remo interestedly.

"Hmmm," hemmed Mr. Applegate. "A trot is when a horse's right forefoot and his left hind-foot move forward at the same time that his left forefoot and his right hind-foot are moving backward."

"What did Mr. Tuttle mean about calling a heat?" asked Johnny.

"Harness races are run in three heats usually," said Mr. Applegate taking of his straw hat and wiping the sweat from the band with a careful finger. "Guess you could say that there are three separate races. The winner of two is the boss horse and the boss driver."

"Can we go and watch Mr. Tuttle?" asked Johnny.

"Nope," said Mr. Applegate. "Not with that stallion as rambunctious as he is. He's feeling mean today. But we can walk out to the track and watch some of the other drivers warm up. Let's go."

There was a wide-open area between the stables and the track. Several horsemen had driven their sulkies through this space to an opening in the track fence and were moving up and down the track practicing starts and giving their horses a chance to loosen up. Already a crowd had gathered along this open area to watch the horses and drivers.

Out on the track the drivers were turning their sulkies, wheeling and darting like swallows. Johnny and Remo could hear the hoof-beats, which sounded like muffled drumming on the soft, dusty earth. The horses shone in the bright light, glistening wetly, and there were little dots of bouncing brightness from the sun glinting off harnesses.

The crowd along the open space grew larger as they watched. There were men in shirtsleeves and some in newly washed overalls. There were women in gay summer dresses herding small children and chattering at them steadily. And there were boys and girls of all sizes, some with cotton candy, others with lollipops, still others with sticks and balloons, lots of balloons.

Remo was excited. He shook Johnny's arm.

"Here comes Mr. Tuttle now," he said. Johnny pointed for Mr. Murphy, and Mr. Applegate to swing their heads to look. Johnny and Remo moved away from the adults for a better look.

Mr. Tuttle's sulky moved slowly. He had the stallion under a tight rein. The magnificent horse seemed to rock, bounce, jiggle with impatience. He was lathered with a white foam all over his chest and there was foam on the harness. His eyes rolled whitely from side to side. Once he lunged but Bert Tuttle held him.

"Bert better get him out on that track and work off some of that skittishness," muttered Mr. Applegate.

"Boy," said Johnny to Remo, "that horse looks like he's about to explode."

"His hatred is strong," said Remo.

Some special sense made the crowd slowly back away, leaving plenty of extra space for the stallion and its sulky. Mr. Tuttle, perched on the little seat behind the horse, strained at the reins.

There were many people who would have agreed with Johnny. The stallion, all its energies pent up, did seem about ready to explode.

Something did!

It wasn't the horse.

A small boy, his eyes wide and suddenly afraid at the vicious power he sensed in the oncoming stallion, backed into the crowd. As he did so the floating yellow balloon he tugged with him on a tightly clenched string moved gently against a lighted cigar in his father's face.

Bang it went!

The report was sharp. It cracked like a shot just as Mr. Tuttle and the stallion passed.

The horse screamed. It reared suddenly and lunged forward. Despite Bert Tuttle's clenched hands on the reins, he lost his balance as the sulky tilted and fell heavily to the ground. The stallion bolted tearing the reins loose and charged, the sulky careening behind him, for the track.

Runaway horse!

There are few things in nature as senseless as an angry, panicky horse.

The stallion broke into a wild, lunging run down the track. It stopped, reared again, and kicked madly at the sulky behind it splintering wood wherever the shattering hoofs reached. It whinnied and screamed with rage as if frustrated by the dragging weight behind it.

Bert Tuttle, helped to his feet by Mr. Murphy and Mr. Applegate, watched from the track edge.

"He'll kill himself or somebody else," whispered Mr. Tuttle.

The horse turned. Somehow the sulky was still upright behind him, aiding rather than halting his speed. It charged back for the open area outside the track. Its neck was outstretched like an angry gander's, its teeth bared and its ears flattened in rage.

"He's headed back for the crowd," said Mr. Applegate. "Send for a gun, we'll have to shoot him."

Johnny and Remo, side by side, watched the maddened animal as intently as the crowd.

But as the horse turned to start his charge back, Johnny had a flashing idea.

"Remo," he asked quickly, "have you got the marsquratz, the space-tron?"

Remo reached into his pocket and handed it to Johnny, his eyes bright with quick, alert insight.

"Think hard, Johnny," he urged. "I don't know what a bee is or I'd do it myself."

Johnny closed his eyes. He released the little ball. He concentrated with all his might, his face screwed into tenseness by his effort. Go, little ball, he thought, go. Circle the horse's head. Dart at his eyes. Go, ball!

The tiny pellet whizzed into the air; almost unseen it darted for the track and directly into the stallion's hurtling path. The horse broke its stride, faltered.

Oh, be a bee, thought Johnny, dip, dive, go around and around his head. There was perspiration on the boy's forehead from his efforts.

The space-a-tron, like the biggest bumbler of all time, hovered before the stallion, whizzed around its ears, dipped, and wove around the horse's head. It was a black, blurry streak and a line of light in the horse's eyes.

The stallion stopped. His hoofs plowed into the earth as he braked to a standstill. He shuddered, seemed queerly spent. And still the little ball whirled around his head.

"Bring it back fast, Johnny," said Remo. "Quickly now."

Johnny, his face still wrinkled with effort, called the marsquartz to his hand. It came like a dart. He handed it to Remo.

Johnny felt as though he had run a long race. He opened his eyes. Mr. Tuttle was walking slowly up to the shivering stallion. Mr. Tuttle was grasping the bit in the horse's mouth, pulling the reins from the ground, leading the stallion back, off the track to the stable area.

"Did you see that?" asked old Mr. Applegate. "Did you see something buzz that animal's head?"

Mr. Murphy turned. "Just an illusion," he snapped. Mr. Murphy whirled to Remo and Johnny.

They looked like two slightly grubby angels, but just as innocent.

Mr. Murphy was not fooled. "Let's go home," he said.

Old Mr. Applegate scratched his chin reflectively. "Meet me at the Ford," he said. "I want to see if Bert's all right."

Gently Mr. Murphy reached out. He grabbed an ear on each boy, Remo and Johnny. "March, men," he said firmly.

Chapter One Chapter Two Chapter Three Chapter Four Chapter Five
Chapter Seven Chapter Eight Chapter Nine Chapter Ten Chapter Eleven
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