Alcantra

A man, a horse, and a mysterious jockey

For some time our relations were not intimate, nor were our contacts frequent. Tobias seemed to have no place of permanent residence. If I wished to find him I had to make a circuit of the salesrooms and stables, and sooner or later I would find him, dapper, shaven, clean, but as usual in the depths of an unconquerable melancholy. He appeared glad to see me, but never greeted me with enthusiasm, and never appeared to part from me with regret.

Then a never-to-be-forgotten day dawned. At an early hour I was interrupted at breakfast by the announcement that Tobias was without. I had not seen him for months. He had a habit of disappearing for long periods, and these absences were never explained. His intimates could not enlighten me, because he had no intimates. Before greeting him I telephoned my business associates that matters of the utmost importance might keep me busy all day. I felt that the day upon which Tobias sought me out was sure to be pregnant with possibilities.

Tobias greeted me in sadness, and the talk flowed along the easy channels of mutual horse interest. I waited for him to arrive at the matter in hand by his usual circuitous methods. At length I was rewarded. I wish I could reproduce with any justice the melancholy sweetness of his recital. In substance I was told that a series of most unfortunate events had reduced Tobias to financial extremities unknown before, He blamed no one, least of all himself. They were due to the uncertainties inherent in his calling, and when disaster came it must be patiently borne.

Financial extremity was no new experience for Tobias—I knew that—but on this occasion difficulties had arisen at a most unfortunate moment, just when fortune was about to smile. The circumstances appeared to be these. There was a horse we both knew. His reputation was bad; it could not be worse. Tobias felt sure, however, that his shortcomings were due to his environment and to lack of proper care and training. His career on the turf had been a series of misfortunes, accidents, and tragedies. He was now for sale, having nearly killed a stableboy and having lost two important steeplechases from a sullen refusal to leave the post. The price was low, but an immediate sale desired. Tobias saw a chance to retrieve all past losses. He wished to purchase the horse, spend as many months as necessary on his education and the correction of his faults, and then race him another season. But most unfortunately, at just this moment, his finances were at the lowest possible ebb.

At this point, it seems, he had thought of me. Not at all as a possible source of money, but rather as the person to whom he could offer a priceless privilege. I had long enjoyed, he knew, the pleasures of the hunting field and show ring, and now he felt was the time for me to enter into a larger field of equine activity. It was high time I tasted the joys of the turf, and felt the thrill of winning a race with a horse of my own. To buy an outlaw, educate him, and win with him! That was something to do.

Tobias came as near showing enthusiasm as I ever saw him. He unfolded the plan. For the moment it would be necessary for me to furnish the money for the price of the horse. Tobias did not enlarge on this; it was a matter of no great concern who did it. He would give me a note for half the price and we could be joint owners and partners. He would conduct the education of our stable, and ride our horse in the races in which we entered him.

As Tobias led me on through all the stages of our progress, and showed me how inevitably we should reach that crowning hour when we should flash under the wire a winner amid the frenzied acclaim of a mighty throng, my blood began to tingle. I did not confess to him that in my wildest hours I had already dreamed this dream, and longed for its realization.

True to my horseman instincts, I demurred. I pointed out all the difficulties, and enlarged upon the almost certain failure of our hopes. Tobias listened in respectful silence, and then asked if I should like to visit the horse. We did so. I had seen the creature before, but never realized what a perfect beast he was. He was the handsomest thing that ever stood on shoes. Tobias pointed out to me certain physical indications of stamina and speed, and assured me that from my own experience I should see that he was one horse in ten thousand. He certainly looked to be. I gazed long and earnestly at his eyes. They attracted my attention, for I had never seen such human eyes in a horse’s head before. With all their beauty, there was a look of baffled cynicism in them. They fascinated me. They seemed to look out on a world made for disappointment; they told a story of unrewarded effort, of uncrowned strife, and seemed to say that, after all, the world’s rewards are but sounding brass and tinkling cymbal.

The horse was purchased in what struck me as a very short time. There seemed to be no doubt that the owner wished to part with him. He gave us minute directions as to his care and management, and seemed deeply concerned lest we both come to an untimely end. Tobias seemed to have provided for most of the details in advance. He had secured quarters for the horse, and all I had to do was to hand the owner a check and receive a note for half the amount duly signed by Tobias.

After careful consideration we selected a name. Tobias was indifferent as to what it should be, provided it began with A. This seemed important to him for some occult reason, and I could raise no valid objection beyond the fact that it restricted our choice. Finally I decided upon Alcantara. The name met Tobias's requirement in regard to the A, and it had for me certain romantic literary associations.

Jump to comments
Presented by
Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

CrossFit Versus Yoga: Choose a Side

How a workout becomes a social identity


Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

CrossFit Versus Yoga: Choose a Side

How a workout becomes a social identity

Video

Is Technology Making Us Better Storytellers?

The minds behind House of Cards and The Moth weigh in.

Video

A Short Film That Skewers Hollywood

A studio executive concocts an animated blockbuster. Who cares about the story?

Video

In Online Dating, Everyone's a Little Bit Racist

The co-founder of OKCupid shares findings from his analysis of millions of users' data.

Video

What Is a Sandwich?

We're overthinking sandwiches, so you don't have to.

Video

Let's Talk About Not Smoking

Why does smoking maintain its allure? James Hamblin seeks the wisdom of a cool person.

Writers

Up
Down

More in Entertainment

More back issues, Sept 1995 to present.

Just In