Horse and Wagon

For twelve chilly, meandering hours, the horse had been plodding on its way from one village to the next. Now, early in the evening of one of the shortest days of the year, Jericho's roads were as dark as Freeport's had been when the horse set out that morning. The animal was hungry, and the old fisherman driving the wagon knew it. And so, Bill Rhodes drove to the Jericho Hotel, right at the corner where the Turnpike ended at Main Street. He tied up his rig and slung a feedbag from the horse's head.

Content now, the horse began chewing its oats. Once inside, Rhodes unbuttoned his overcoat and sat down. A drink would help him warm him up faster. After chatting with William Horton, the proprietor, for an hour, Rhodes was warm enough, and his horse was rested enough.

The fisherman bade Mr. Horton a good night. Soon the rig was rolling slowly south along the Jerusalem Road. Rhodes was heading to a poor black community, where he would peddle the rest of his clams and cod at the end of a long day of fish mongering. The people there would dicker, and he would lower his prices as much as he had to. In the end, his wagon finally would be empty.

At three in the morning, Thomas Cahill was walking where he always walked with his lantern at that hour, looking over the Main Line's track from Westbury to Hicksville. For much of the way, it ran along the crest of an embankment, isolated from the farms on either side. Mostly, the track-walker was inspecting fishplates - the iron connectors through which the ends of the 39-foot lengths of rail were bolted together to keep them aligned. Fishplates had a way of working themselves loose. If they were not kept tight, they might cause a train wreck.

About three-fourths of a mile shy of the Hicksville depot, at a spot where the embankment was fourteen or fifteen feet high, Cahill thought he saw something ahead. He moved forward, still studying the rails as he walked, and soon came upon shards of a wooden crate, scattered on the track with some fish and clams. This was unexpected; the track-walker lifted his lantern high and looked around. Beyond the south face of the embankment, where the lantern light stretched and faded without quite reaching it, something jutted up from below. It resembled the corner of a wagon's tailgate. He clambered part-way down, and the lantern revealed the wreckage of a wagon that had gone down the embankment. Why would a fish wagon have been up there? He climbed back up, crossed the track, and worked his way down the opposite face. Not far away, a culvert crossed under the embankment. As he approached it, he began to make out a pair of motionless legs which protruded from its mouth. Again the track-walker lifted his lantern. Peering into the opening, he saw that the rest of the body was bloodied, and its skull was crushed.

A white horse slowly wandered in the adjacent field, nose to the ground, nibbling. It did not seem troubled by the broken harness that trailed behind it. In fact, the horse looked very much at peace with its world.


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