Excerpt from “Winter’s Tale” by Mark Helprin ~~White horse~~

Treading water, she looked at it carefully, and saw that it was a white horse twice as big as the draft animals that pulled ploughs in the potato fields, but with the lean look of a Southampton hunt horse. Though she had never seen either a cavalry mount or a battle, she knew from its motions that it thought it was in a fight. It was not drowning, but, rather, enmeshed in some sort of dream. Its front hooves left the water like leaping marlin, and smashed down into imagined opponents, cleaving the surface into angled geysers. It neighed the way horses do in a fight, in self-encouragement, and its legs never ceased flailing as it tried to trample down the brine.

If she were to approach it, she would surely be crushed, and if not, held in the vortex that it was slowly carving, and dragged under to drown. Even so, she swam into the ring.

The water there was far less substantial and less buoyant. Sometimes she went down in this rapids, and surfaced in a different quarter. But she kept swimming until she was literally upon him – half floating, half resting on his broad back. She put her arms around his neck as far as she could (which was not very far), and closed her eyes in anticipation of the detonation to come.

If the white horse had expected anything, it was not the sudden embrace of a young child in a silken camisole, and, unable to see what was on him, he went wild. First, he jumped out of the sea like a St Botolph’s Charger, and seemed to fly in the air. Then, four legs extended, he went under, hoping to shed his rider in the gales of water that would sweep over his back. He went as deep as he could, and rolled, and kicked in the noiseless brine, but she, lungs dying, did not let go.

When he came to the surface, she was with him, and, though he continued to thrash, he seemed now to want a rider. She had to be brought to land. She was a frail child with thin arms and wet hair that streamed over her face, and despite the fact that she had come all the way out there, mounted him, and hung on, she was shaking from the cold and seemed not to have the strength to engage once more the surf and its undertow. She touched his neck, urging him towards the beach, and he began to swim the way a horse swims when it fords a river – with complete concentration and single-mindedness.


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Filed under Fiction, Literature

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