In honor of July 4, 2016, I am posting the story "Hurrah for the Fourth of July!" This is one of the stories in Tales from the Circle C Ranch. There are a lot of fun stories from Andi's point of view in the Tales book. Go HERE to learn about them.
Hurrah for the Fourth of July!
July 4, 1880
This story takes place on the Fourth of July before the events in Andrea Carter and the Dangerous Decision.
This story takes place on the Fourth of July before the events in Andrea Carter and the Dangerous Decision.
“Hurrah, hurrah for the Fourth of July!”
I slid down the banister before anybody—namely Mother or Luisa, our housekeeper—could catch me. I was decked out in a white and navy-blue middy blouse and skirt. Melinda had just finished doing up my hair in loopy braids with red ribbons.
It was seven o’clock on a bright, already-hot July morning.
“Happy Fourth of July!” I greeted my family at breakfast.
Justin looked up from his plate of hotcakes and whistled. “You look like a true niece of Uncle Sam today, honey,” he said. “All you need is a flag.”
“I’ll get one in town later.” I flopped down in my seat. Melinda entered the dining room right behind me wearing a new, green-and-white summer dress.
“You all slicked up for Jeffrey?” Chad teased.
“Wouldn’t you like to know!” she shot back, laughing.
Nobody seemed to care that we girls were late for breakfast. Everybody looked cheerful and ready for the big celebration. Chad had let the ranch hands off for the day; a few old-timers volunteered to stay behind and keep an eye on things.
“I have a surprise for you, Mitch,” I said between gulps of milk.
Mitch raised his eyebrows. “Oh?”
I nodded. “You oughta take a look at Chase. Before the sun came up I went out and braided his mane and tail. Then I tied red, white, and blue bows on—”
“You what?” Mitch choked on his coffee.
“I fixed him up to look like the champion he is,” I explained. “He’s sure to win the Fourth of July race this year. He’s not named ‘Chasing After the Wind’ for nothing, you know.”
“Andi!” Mitch’s face reddened. “I’m not gonna let my horse look like a pampered fool in front of the entire town of Fresno this afternoon.”
“Aw, please, Mitch?” I begged. “You’re the only one from the family racing. I want Chase to look beautiful when he crosses the finish line ahead of all those slowpokes.” I gave him my sweetest smile. “Please?”
Silence. This was a good sign. It meant Mitch wasn’t truly angry with me.
“Sure, little brother,” Chad put in. “You can borrow a red shirt from one of the dandies in town and—”
“Excuse me, Mother.” Mitch rose from his seat in a hurry. “I need to tend to my horse.”
I frowned. It had taken me two hours to comb Chase’s mane and tail and tie all those ribbons. I hoped Mitch would let them stay in place.
When I went out to the barn after breakfast, Mitch was still tending Chase. He’d curried him till he shone, and he’d left the ribbons in.
“They don’t look too bad,” he admitted when I thanked him. “I reckon it’s the least I can let you do to be part of the race. I know you’re itching to ride.”
Mitch spoke the truth. I wanted to race so badly it hurt. Two things prevented me. The most important hurdle was my mother. She would not look favorably on me racing in town against the men and boys.
The second obstacle was more practical. If Mitch participated, then what was the use? Chase was the fastest horse in the valley, faster than Taffy. Even with my lesser weight, I could never beat my brother.
I would be content to let a Carter claim the victory and the ten-dollar purse. Maybe Mitch would split it with me for all the work I’d done to get Chase ready for the race.
Mitch let me help him tack up Chase and lead him out of the barn. Chad had the surrey ready to go, with Pal and Caesar harnessed. The last thing I wanted to do was ride to town in the surrey, but Mother gave me no choice. I flashed an I’m-sorry glance at Taffy, who whinnied from her stall.
We arrived in Fresno by mid-morning. Already the thermometer was touching eighty-five degrees. Mother made me wear a straw hat to keep my head from frying. I stood along J Street with at least five hundred other citizens to wait for the procession.
At half past ten, the parade formed under the guidance of the grand marshal, Mr. T. P. Pickering. He started by on his white stallion.
“You and Mitch should be out there too,” I told Chad. I wouldn’t have said no to riding Taffy in the procession either. Mr. Pickering looked grand on his steed.
“It’s too hot,” Chad said and stepped farther back under the awning of Goodwin’s Mercantile.
He had a point.
A few ranchers and their families had come up from Visalia to join Fresno’s festivities. I spotted Liberty Flanders. “Howdy, Libby!” I shouted.
The Triple L ranch had decorated a buckboard wagon and hitched up two draft horses. Libby, her family, and a few ranch hands sat on bales of hay. They looked hot but happy.
“Maybe next year the Circle C ranch will make a float,” I hinted.
Chad laughed and shook his head.
Dozens of wagons made up the procession. The hook-and-ladder fire truck passed us, followed by the new steam fire engine. A team of shiny black horses with bells on their harnesses pulled it. They trotted along, clearly not minding the heat.
A few more decorated buckboards rolled past, and then the National Guard marched by. All those boys in blue looked handsome . . . and sweaty.
The Fresno Brass Band brought up the rear, marching in time and playing “The Star-Spangled Banner.” I felt so proud to be an American right then. I waved the flag Jack Goodwin had given me earlier and sang along with the rest of the town.
The band marched all the way to Courthouse Park, where there would be more music later in the day and lots of speeches.
“Look,” Justin said. “The firemen are going to give us an exhibition of the new engine.”
Just in time. I was roasting.
With the pressure from the steam engine, the firemen shot cold water from the city’s waterline up and over the highest building in town. Water spewed from the nozzle, showering the crowd with welcome raindrops. I took off my hat and let the water stream down my face.
As soon as the water turned off, Mitch left.
“Where are you going?” I asked.
“I need to check on Chase. It’s pretty hot. I want to make sure he gets enough to drink well before the race.” The race wasn’t until late afternoon, right after the baseball match between Fresno and Madera.
I tagged along behind Mitch, just to make sure he didn’t have second thoughts about yanking the ribbons from Chase’s mane and tail. When I caught up, I could tell something was wrong.
Mitch was bent over, with Chase’s right forefoot grasped in his hand. His other hand was working the hoof pick. Where he got it was anybody’s guess, but I suspected he carried it around in his back pocket.
I peeked at the hoof. “What’s wrong?”
Mitch poked at Chase’s foot another minute before answering. Then he released his horse’s foreleg and straightened up. “It looks like Chase picked up a rock when I rode him into town this morning.”
“You got it out, right?” I looked at Chase and my stomach turned over. The sorrel gelding was favoring that foot. He didn’t put his full weight on it.
“Yeah,” Mitch said. “But it’s been lodged in there all morning. I only noticed it now.” He shoved the hoof pick back in his pocket and gave me a sorrowful look. “He’s out of the race.”
I gasped. “No, Mitch!”
“It’s not worth it,” my brother said. “Chase needs to take it easy the rest of the day.”
This was dreadful! Who would represent the Circle C ranch in the Fourth of July race? A Carter nearly always won. “Can Chad race?”
Mitch shook his head. “He doesn’t have Sky in town.” He reached out and tugged one of my looped braids. “Don’t take it so hard, sis. It’s only a race.”
Only a race! If a Carter didn’t win, then Cory Blake might. Or Tom McMurray. His bay was fast.
I fisted my hands and nodded. “I know,” I whispered. Then I smiled. “I better get back.”
But I wasn’t going back to my family. I was going out to the ranch.
I didn’t stop to think. I ran all the way to Blake’s livery stable, dodging bystanders on the boardwalk. “Mr. Blake!” I hollered into the darkened livery. What if he and his family had taken the day off like most of the town?
Thankfully, he appeared from inside the dim building. “You run around like that much more, Andi, and you’ll get heatstroke,” he warned. “What do you need?”
“A horse,” I said, panting. “I need to go out to the ranch and fetch Taffy. I’ll bring your horse back as soon as I can.”
Mr. Blake’s eyebrows shot up. “Why? What’s the matter?”
“Something awful,” I said. “Mitch can’t race Chase today, so I—”
Cory’s father chuckled. “I understand. Wait here.”
When Mr. Blake brought me a pinto, I scrambled up on his back. “Thanks!”
“Don’t run him too fast in this heat, you hear me?”
I promised I wouldn’t and set off trotting down the street. My white and blue middy blouse flapped in the breeze.
An hour later, I led Mr. Blake’s pinto into our barn and turned him over to Diego, who had stayed on the ranch to enjoy a quiet, restful day with Luisa. He frowned in suspicion when I came out of the house a few minutes later dressed in my old, familiar overalls.
“¿Adónde vas?” he asked. “Where are you going?”
“Al pueblo,” I shot back. I needed to get back to town as fast as I could, before he or Luisa dragged me off Taffy and into the house to change into my skirt and blouse. I jammed my carefully braided loops up under my hat and touched my heels to Taffy’s sides. She was raring to go, having been cooped up in her stall all morning.
I kept Taffy to an easy lope, not wanting to tire her out before the race. When I got to town, the main streets were nearly empty. Everybody was out at the ball field watching the Fresno Centrals beat the stuffing out of the Madera club. It would be a quick game, and the crowd would return soon.
I gave Taffy her fill at the watering trough and then walked her in the direction of the starting line. I tied her to a hitching rail under a large oak tree some distance from the track and made myself scarce.
If Mother saw me, she’d have a conniption fit. I took a deep breath and convinced myself that getting on Mother’s bad side was worth representing the Carter name in this all-important race.
By the time the ball game ended, I was sitting astride Taffy along with a dozen other riders. Many onlookers had dribbled away because of the heat. A few riders had dropped out of the race as well. There was no shade on Fresno’s temporary racetrack.
The quarter-mile dash is my favorite. It appeared to be some other riders’ favorite as well. Tom McMurray slipped in next to Jeff Hopkins. Neither man paid any attention to me. If they recognized Taffy, they didn’t say so.
“What are you doing?”
I jerked my head around. Cory had maneuvered his chestnut, Flash, right beside me.
“Racing. Same as you.”
His eyes were huge. “Are you loco? You’re a . . .” He swallowed.
“A girl?” I said.
“Well, don’t spread it around,” I said. “I didn’t see any rule that said girls can’t race.”
“Chase picked up a rock, so I’m racing Taffy in his place.” I narrowed my eyes. “I intend to win.”
Cory didn’t get a chance to reply. Grand Marshal Pickering held up a pistol and told us how many times we had to circle the track. Then bang! The starting gun went off.
I felt a surge of relief. No one (like Justin) had dragged me off Taffy before the race began. It was too late now. I would win this race and make my family so proud that even Mother would be glad I’d entered.
A quarter-mile race is short and fast. Taffy was bred for it. She’s a quarter horse. Long-distance running was not her specialty, but she would give her all for the quarter-mile.
Not even Flash could keep up. Only Mr. McMurray’s horse, Maggs, came close. By the time we circled the track the required number of times, Taffy and Maggs were racing neck-to-neck.
My weight gave me an edge over Mr. McMurray. He was six feet tall and probably tipped the scales at two hundred pounds. I was just a little thing. To Taffy, I weighed almost nothing.
Taffy and I crossed the finish line and won by a length. My heart nearly burst in pride at my palomino’s ability to beat the men and boys in the quarter-mile dash. I glanced around to see if anyone from my family had watched the race. Part of me wanted to see the expressions on their faces when they saw the winning horse streak by. Part of me hoped they’d missed it.
When I trotted up to Mr. Pickering and dismounted, he dropped a shiny gold coin in my hand. “Well, missy, that was quite a surprise. Your mother will no doubt have my hide when she finds out I let you race.”
Very likely, I thought.
He frowned. “If I’d seen you before the gun went off, I would have removed you and your horse from the race. You know that, don’t you?”
I clutched my ten-dollar gold piece and nodded. “Yes, sir.”
Then he broke into jolly laughter. “You beat ’em all, Andrea Carter. Every man jack of ’em.” He bent close to my ear. “A grand race. Whoever bet on you won a pretty penny.”
I reddened. Double trouble. I forgot that folks bet on which horse would win. To be part of the gambling made my stomach drop to my toes. I wanted to grab Taffy and get out of town, preferably before my family realized I’d not only raced, but had won the race.
“Andrea Rose Carter,” my mother said when she saw Taffy and me standing in the midst of the other riders. Her gaze took in my rumpled overalls and wide-brimmed hat. She was not smiling.
“Hello, Mother,” I said softly. My hands were so slick with sweat that I almost lost the prize money. I slipped the coin into my pocket.
Mother’s disapproving gaze swept over the group of hot, sweaty riders.
“Ma’am,” Tom McMurray greeted her, touching the brim of his hat. The others followed, including Cory and Mr. Pickering.
Mother nodded a polite response then grasped my arm. I reached for Taffy’s bridle.
“Leave her,” she said. “Chad will take care of your horse. You will come with me.”
I glanced at Chad, wide-eyed. He caught my gaze and slowly shook his head. Yep, you’re in a heap of trouble, his look warned.
“Let me explain,” I said, scurrying to keep up with Mother’s tight grip. She could walk fast and still glide along like a lady. “Mitch’s horse couldn’t—”
“No, Daughter,” Mother said, letting me go. A hint of frost edged her voice. The hundred-degree temperature suddenly didn’t feel very warm. “What you did was unseemly and”—she scanned my outfit once more—“you disobeyed me by wearing that attire to town.”
Mother was right. I ducked my head and stumbled behind her. I knew I wasn’t to step a foot off the ranch in overalls. “It was an emergency—”
“We will not discuss it further,” Mother cut in. “You are in disgrace.”
Tears welled up. Like Justin, Mother could shame me with just a few words. “Yes, ma’am,” I whispered.
I followed Mother to Courthouse Park, where Melinda and Mitch had spread our quilts and laid out our picnic supper. Mitch flashed me a sympathetic look before rummaging around in the wicker basket for the cold chicken and biscuits.
I apologized about a hundred times to Mother in front of the rest of the family.
Mother finally smiled at me. “I forgive you, Andrea,” she said with a sigh. “But when are you going to learn to stop and think before you plunge into another poor choice?”
I winced. I often asked God to help me with that, but I never slowed down long enough to give Him a chance to answer. “I’ll try, Mother,” I promised.
It was true. I really did want to do right.
“Give Justin the prize money,” Mother said a few minutes later.
My jaw dropped. “But I—” I clamped my mouth shut at Mother’s look and dug into my overalls pocket for the money. I looked at the shiny gold eagle. Ten whole dollars.
I took a deep, regretful breath and handed the money over to Justin. A fitting punishment, I thought sorrowfully.
By evening, things had cooled down, both in town and with Mother. She treated me like the incident was over and done with.
“I love you, sweetheart,” Mother whispered just before Grand Marshal Pickering read the Declaration of Independence. “I want you to grow up to be a godly young woman who makes good choices.” She smiled. “I know you love to race Taffy, and I’m not opposed to you racing. But please! No more racing on the Fourth of July.”
“Yes, ma’am. No more racing on the Fourth.” I smiled. “I love you too.”
After the Declaration, three more men stood up and made speeches about our grand country. We cheered every few sentences.
Then the band played “America” and another round of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” In spite of the heat and getting into trouble earlier, I got goose bumps up and down my arms at the songs. It was that moving to be with other like-minded folks who loved America.
I looked at Melinda. She had tears in her eyes.
Afterwards we waited for dark. I was so tired that I dozed off. Mitch shook me awake a couple hours later. “You don’t want to miss this,” he said with a grin.
Indeed not! I sat up just as the National Guard shot off a cannon. Then we watched a fine display of fireworks, the best ever. My gaze was fixed on the flowery sparks of red, green, and blue.
I almost missed Mitch’s soft whisper in my ear. “It was a swell race, little sister. I saw the whole thing. You beat ’em all.” In the glow of the fireworks I saw him wink at me.
Hurrah for the Fourth of July!