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Excerpt from An Independent Spirit

The race was a quarter-mile down a sandy cart track. Two young boys stretched a rope across the road marking the finish. I rode to the starting line, next to Isaac and his English stallion. The stallion was dancing and prancing, on his hind legs a goodly part of the time, anxious to run. He was already in a lather.

Bess seemed calm, but alert. The only races we had ever run were with the seagulls on the beach, but I knew Bess was fast, and more important, running in the sand had put her in top condition. Even after swimming the sound, her breathing was unlabored. I was feeling more confident. She could run a quarter-mile and never care.

Isaac looked down his aristocratic nose and sneered at me sitting bareback on my Banker pony. Before I had time enough to get mad, a man hollered, "Get ready, get set, go!" and fired a pistol.

I squeezed my legs, leaned forward, and shouted to Bess, "Run, girl, run!"

Bess understood perfectly. When she felt my legs against her ribs she gathered her hind legs under herself and vaulted forward. Isaac's horse reared straight into the air, and by the time he was on all fours again, Bess and I were two lengths ahead of them.

"Run faster, girl," I urged. The sound of the stallion's hooves digging into the sandy path was getting closer.

Bess ran faster. I could feel her powerful muscles and the heat from her body through my own. A vision of Mother swooning over me showing my bare legs popped into my head. I pushed the thought away and concentrated on beating Isaac Druman's highfaluting horse.

Behind me, I heard Isaac smacking his horse's hindquarters with a crop. They were so close I could hear the stallion breathing.

Bess kept running and the finish rope got closer.

Suddenly I saw Diablo's head from the corner of my eye. He was gaining on us! On either side of the track, men were yelling, some jumping up and down. "Go, Betsy, go!" I heard them screaming.

"Come on man, are you going to let a girl on a Banker pony beat you?" I heard another say.

Isaac was alongside of us, still gaining.

I waited until we were about four horse lengths away from the finish line before I gave Bess some final words of encouragement. "Come on, Bess, run! Beat that smart aleck or we'll never hear the end of it. Beat him!" I squeezed my legs harder and held on tight.

Bess almost sprinted out from under me. Her ears flat and her neck stretched forward, she ran, her legs gathering under her and then reaching out in long smooth strides.

The next thing I heard was the people in the crowd screaming at the top of their voices, "She won! She won!"

Grandpa was jumping up and down, waving his arms. Then he ran over and gave me a big hug, which made me fall off of Bess. If he had not still been hugging me I would have fallen out right in front of everyone, because my knees were like jelly.

Mother got so mad when she found out, she cried for a week. That is when she started talking about me going to stay with Aunt Frances in Edenton, so I could learn to behave like a lady.

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