In 1861, Mary Sue was a chubby, quiet, eleven-year-old -- number four in a family of seven children and therefore right in the middle. She seldom complained, and she almost never caused trouble. Her older siblings ignored her in the same way they ignored all the younger members of the family. And those younger children? They did not find Mary Sue much fun. She didn't want to play with them, and she didn't do anything interesting enough to attract their attention. In fact, at times it seemed that she only spoke one plaintive sentence: "Maybe we could get a pony." But she said it as if she didn't believe it, and the adults just rolled their eyes and went on about their business.
All except Grandmother Dubois, that is. She heard the longing in that little voice, and that Christmas -- when South Carolina had been invaded by a huge Yankee land and sea force, when half of Charleston lay in ashes from an accidental fire, when the family had nothing but the clothes on their backs, when no one knew whether they would live or die -- Grandmother Dubois gave Mary Sue a horse. A young horse, to be sure, but a magnificent animal, who would require Mary Sue's full attention for years and years to come.
It was a gift designed to shape and structure a little girl's life, and it did so, although most of the family did not notice. The colt, now named Sable Girl, went with the family when they moved to Aiken, and Mary Sue spent the war years in the stables, raising and training her horse. The fully-grown horse did not get to come back to Charleston, much to Mary Sue's great displeasure, but the horse and its future was never far from her mind.
By 1867, the middle child of the family stood on the verge of womanhood, and her dreams centered around horse-racing and dressage, planning to own not just one horse but a stable full of carefully-bred animals, and making a place for herself as a famous horsewoman. No one told her she couldn't do it, because no one suspected that she would ever want anything other than to become a wife and mother, as all Southern women were expected to do.
That's the trouble with middle children. They're sneaky. They appear to be dull and uninteresting, right up until the time they do something outrageous.