The horse came back alone.
Every morning at dawn, Mr. Sebastian Cooke saddled and mounted his stallion and rode the perimeter of the ranch. His father and grandfather before him had owned and worked this unlikely land, an island over a thousand nautical miles east of New Guinea. In the year of our Lord 1879, he was the third generation of Cookes to farm and ranch here, hiring the indigenous peoples for labor, who by the way proved to be excellent equestrians.
Every morning her husband rode out for precisely one and one-half hours, and was always back home in time for breakfast. Every morning except for today.
“We found King by the corral, Mrs. Esther.” Haych, the foreman, held the horse by his reins, as if presenting him to Esther Cooke as a gift. “Me, Kaiki, and some of the other boys are riding out to go look for him. My wife Lehiwa and her sister Riria will stay with you, Mrs.
“Thank you, Haych. You are a good man. I’m sure my husband is alright.” She could feel hot tears behind her eyes but did not want to cry in front of the help, though having lived here for a decade now, she felt more like they were family. Sebastian had grown up on the island, but she was a Londoner originally. Her family had lost its fortune, and Father had become taken with the idea of building a new life in Australia. Their ship had sustained damage in a storm and they had to make berth at Cooke’s Island for repairs. Esther had been just 18 when she fell in love with Sebastian, who was 15 years her senior.
She watched Haych and his kinsmen ride out, leaving King in the hands of the capable stable boys, and said a prayer for the safety of all.