“Joe, Joe will you stop shaking the bed” and Joe was also being shaken, but by his wife. Joe was back in the real world, although he did not really want to be there.
“What, who, he was winning.”
“Joe what are you talking about” said Nina his wife. “Had another one of those bad dreams again. I can’t blame you, things could not get any worse. Who was winning?”
“Nina I had a dream about horses and a green horse was the best, he was in front, had no fear.”
“Well it was just a dream Joe, and we have no horses. We have nothing more except for the old mare. She was the only thing that survived the fire which burnt the barn down and half the house. We have nothing more Joe. Lost our property through the fire, our home and the insurance company are not paying.”
“Nina don’t remind me, I remember that night a week ago when I heard the old mare snorting and banging on the walls of the barn.”
“Joe it was brave of you to rescue her, going through the flames and opening the door and we were lucky that the cows were out on the pastures during the night. At least we could sell the cows although it was a handful of money that we got for them.”
“Don’t remind me Nina, our neighbour seemed to be waiting for the opportunity to get our livestock under his thieving fingers. I will never forget the smile on his face when he bought the whole lot under their value, taking advantage of our mishap.
There seemed to be no apparent reason why the barn started to burn. The police put it down to spontaneous combustion, but Joe knew that he had put fresh hay down in the barn the day before and no way could it burn itself. It was not so dry and there was no sun shining that week, due to the rainy April weather they had.
Nina knew why the neighbour was waiting for the opportunity to buy the farm. Many years ago before she had met Joe, Fred Briggs, the neighbour had proposed to Nina. Nina refused him. He was a widower and his wife had died under strange circumstances. It was the talk of the village when she was found dead in the bath. There was a court examination. There was talk that Fred Briggs had bribed the judge, but it could not be proved that foul play was involved and so Fred was freed of any guilt. After Nina had married Joe they bought the farm next to the Briggs property. Nina was not very happy about living so near to this neighbour, but the farm was exactly what Joe and Nina wanted. In the back of her head she felt that Fred Briggs might have something to do with the fire.
“So what were you dreaming Joe, how to get it all back again.”
“No, not really, I was chasing a heard of horses and their leader got away, nothing like the old mare, it was a green horse.”
Nina decided that Joe’s dream was not so important and went back to sleep, although sleep was something that Nina had problems in finding at the moment. After twenty years of hard work, the farm was now gone, the animals sold and their remaining possessions were being auctioned at the end of the week. Their money would barely last for the next month and there seemed to be no future for them.
Later on at breakfast Joe suddenly looked up from the newspaper with a strange look in his eyes.
“Nina, have you seen the headlines on the sports pages?”
Joe I have no interest in reading the newspaper at the moment. The only reason we have it is because we have an annual subscription; one of the few things that has remained.”
“Look Nina, the Grand National race is being run next week and you should just see the names of the horses.”
If there was one thing that Joe enjoyed was a little flutter on the horses, although you had to have money for that, and money was something they did not have so Nina was not very impressed.
“Joe how can you just think of horse racing at a time like this? What has come into your brain.”
“Nina, we have nothing to lose, and there is a horse running in the Grand National called Green Devil: now if that isn’t an omen what is?”
“I don’t get you Joe.”
“My dream last night, remember, about the green horse that was faster than all others. That will be the winner of the Grand National I am sure.”
“And what does that mean for us?”
“Nina what do we have to lose, an old grey mare that no-one wants and when the farm is sold we might have some money, but it will never last for long.”
Nina did not like the way this conversation was developing.
“Joe I think you have an idea, that I am not keen about.”
“Nina, we have one chance. The money we get for the farm we place as a bet on Green Devil to win the Grand National. The betting odds are quite high, 200 to 1. According to how much we get for the farm I will have two hundred times as much if I place my bet and Green Devil wins.”
“No Joe, Green Devil will not win at those odds, and then we really have nothing left.”
“Nina, we have nothing to lose.”
A week later there was a strange picture at Joe and Nina’s farm. There was a collection of farm machinery on the open land standing in rows with price tickets on it all. The farm house was open and price labels were on all the articles in the house down to the crockery that Nina had inherited from her grandparents – everything was being sold. At the end of the day Nina and Joe would have nothing more that belonged to them. They had to sell everything. Even the old grey mare was up for sale. At first no-one was interested in the old horse. She had seen better days, but she had always lived on the farm and had even remained after the barn burnt down, finding shelter in the old hut at the end of the farmer’s garden. Joe had put some straw in the hut and made it as comfortable as possible. Somehow he loved that horse, he grew up with it and it broke his heart to see it go with the rest of the farm. He was glad no-one wanted her. There was one bid from the local meat factory, but Joe’s answer was “No” and Nina supported him. The grey mare was not going to end her days in a tin of cat food, she deserved more.
Eventually they received just a little more than one thousand pounds sterling for all they sold. Their greedy neighbour had bought all he could. He knew that the farm machinery was in perfect condition and that the house was worth a lot more than being requested.
Fred Briggs visited Joe and Nina to sign the document of ownership.
“Should have chosen me, Nina” he said “then you would have a life in luxury and not that of a pauper’s wife.”
“You leave her alone Fred Briggs, otherwise ....”
“Otherwise what Joe, you can be lucky I am allowing you to stay until you find somewhere to live. And if you think I am keeping that old grey mare then forget it. As soon as you are gone she will be on her way to the meat factory” and he sniggered in his lurid way.
That night Joe dreamt again of his green horse. This time the green horse was racing side by side with a white horse and they both jumped the hurdle together. He told Nina, but she was not impressed.
“Nina please let me put the money on Green Devil, we will have two hundred thousand pounds when it wins. What do we have to lose?”
“Nina was so desperate, she no longer cared. Do what you want Joe, I am too weary to think any longer.”
On Saturday morning Joe took the money to the betting shop in the village and placed all on Green Devil to win. He did not go home, but stayed in the village, ate a sandwich at the public house and had a glass of beer with it.
“Look who is here” Fred Briggs was in the pub. “Having your last meal before you leave. Shame that the barn burnt down and the insurance didn’t pay. Spontaneous combustion is a dangerous thing Joe, can even happen when the hay is fresh and not dried out.”
“Fred, how do you know that the hay was fresh?”
The people in the public house started listening to the two men.
“Well, you said so yourself” said Fred
“I told the police and the insurance people, but I do not remember that you were listening. You were at home. I only saw you the next morning having a look to see what remained after the fire.”
“Yes, Fred, I think you owe Joe an explanation” Said the landlord.
“Rubbish, I owe nobody nothing” and Fred left the public house.
In the afternoon Joe went along to the betting shop to see the race. It was being broadcast over their television. The Grand national is a dangerous race, for men and horses. Four and a half miles of obstacles, thirty in all and some having to be taken twice by the horses. Often a horse stumbled and had to be shot or the jockeys were seriously injured. Joe did not like the race as he found it cruel, but life had been cruel to him and so he watched. One horse after the other stumbled and fell and on the last lap there were only ten horses left, two of which were Green Devil and a white stallion known as Snow. Joe got excited when he saw that Green Devil and Snow were running neck and neck and in the final lap they both seemed to cross the winning line together. It was a so-called photo finish and Snow was proclaimed the winner – just a nose in front, Green Devil coming second. Joe was completely heartbroken. He had now lost everything. How could he explain this to his Nina. His walk home from the betting shop seemed to be the longest walk he had ever made.
When he turned the corner to the farm he saw Nina waiting outside with tears in her eyes.
“She knows”, thought Joe – “my poor Nina”.
But as he got closer he saw they were tears of happiness and not sadness.
“Nina, I have to tell you something.”
“I know all” said Nina. “This is the happiest day of my life.”
“But, how come....”
Joe come in and sit down we have visitors.
And there in the living room was the landlord of the public house together with the local police officer.
“We just came to tell you that we have arrested Fred Briggs for arson. It seemed that he set fire to your farm. There must have been a few witnesses in the pub that heard you and Fred talking about the fire and things seemed a bit fishy to most of the people. Fred has been suspected for some time for the murder on his first wife. We exhumed her body last week and found traces of poison in her body that was overlooked on the first examination. We also found a canister of petrol half empty and he admitted to setting fire to your farm and also to the murder of his first wife.”
“Well this is wonderful news,” said Joe “but it doesn’t change the results of the Grand National. Green Devil lost and I put all my money on the horse.”
“Well Joe you can just turn around and go back to the betting shop and pick up our two hundred thousand pounds.” And Nina was laughing all over her face.
“But Green Devil lost on a photo finish.”.
“That’s what they thought Joe” said Nina, “I was watching as well on the television and it seemed that the horse Snow, had been given drugs and it was proved after the race with a saliva test. Green Devil is the rightful winner.”
Suddenly they all heard a snorting sound outside the window. The old grey mare decided to join in the conversation. Joe took a carrot, went out into the garden and fed the mare with it. After the mare had eaten the carrot she looked into Joe's eyes and Joe could swear for a moment that her eyes were green.