STORIES OF HARNESS AND SADDLE
BY SEWELL FORD
NEW YORK CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS 1905
Copyright, 1903, by CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS
Published, March, 1903
TROW DIRECTORY PRINTING AND BOOKBINDING COMPANY NEW YORK
SKIPPER 1 Being the Biography of a Blue-Ribboner.
CALICO 31 Who Travelled with a Round Top.
OLD SILVER 67 A Story of the Gray Horse Truck.
BLUE BLAZES 95 And the Marring of Him.
CHIEFTAIN 125 A Story of the Heavy Draught Service.
BARNACLES 157 Who Mutinied for Good Cause.
BLACK EAGLE 181 Who Once Ruled the Ranges.
BONFIRE 215 Broken for the House of Jerry.
PASHA 241 The Son of Selim.
By Frederic Dorr Steele and L. Maynard Dixon
By one desperate leap he shook himself clear Frontispiece
There were many heavy wagons 6
For many weary months Skipper pulled that crazy cart 24
He would do his best to steady them down to the work 130
Then let him snake a truck down West Street 144
"Come, boy. Come, Pasha," insisted the man on the ground 266
Mr. Dave kept his seat more by force of muscular habit than anything else 268
BEING THE BIOGRAPHY OF A BLUE-RIBBONER
At the age of six Skipper went on the force. Clean of limb and sound of wind he was, with not a blemish from the tip of his black tail to the end of his crinkly forelock. He had been broken to saddle by a Green Mountain boy who knew more of horse nature than of the trashy things writ in books. He gave Skipper kind words and an occasional friendly pat on the flank. So Skipper's disposition was sweet and his nature a trusting one.
This is why Skipper learned so soon the ways of the city. The first time he saw one of those little wheeled houses, all windows and full of people, come rushing down the street with a fearful whirr and clank of bell, he wanted to bolt. But the man on his back spoke in an easy, calm voice, saying, "So-o-o! There, me b'y. Aisy wid ye. So-o-o!" which was excellent advice, for the queer contrivance whizzed by and did him no harm. In a week he could watch one without even pricking up his ears.
It was strange work Skipper had been brought to the city to do. As a colt he had seen horses dragging ploughs, pulling big loads of hay, and hitched to many kinds of vehicles. He himself had drawn a light buggy and thought it good fun, though you did have to keep your heels down and trot instead of canter. He had liked best to lope off with the boy on his back, down to the Corners, where the store was.
But here there were no ploughs, nor hay-carts, nor mowing-machines. There were many heavy wagons, it was true, but these were all drawn by stocky Percherons and big Western grays or stout Canada blacks who seemed fully equal to the task.
Also there were carriages—my, what shiny carriages! And what smart, sleek-looking horses drew them! And how high they did hold their heads and how they did throw their feet about—just as if they were dancing on eggs.
"Proud, stuck-up things," thought Skipper.
It was clear that none of this work was for him. Early on the first morning of his service men in brass-buttoned blue coats came to the stable to feed and rub down the horses. Skipper's man had two names. One was Officer Martin; at least that was the one to which he answered when the man with the cap called the roll before they rode out for duty. The other name was "Reddy." That was what the rest of the men in blue coats called him. Skipper noticed that he had red hair and concluded that "Reddy" must be his real name.
As for Skipper's name, it was written on the tag tied to the halter which he wore when he came to the city. Skipper heard him read it. The boy on the farm had done that, and Skipper was glad, for he liked the name.
There was much to learn in those first few weeks, and Skipper learned it quickly. He came to know that at inspection, which began the day, you must stand with your nose just on a line with that of the horse on either side. If you didn't you felt the bit or the spurs. He mastered the meaning of "right dress," "left dress," "forward," "fours right," and a lot of other things. Some of them were very strange.
Now on the farm they had said, "Whoa, boy," and "Gid a-a-ap." Here they said, "Halt" and "Forward!" But "Reddy" used none of these terms. He pressed with his knees on your withers, loosened the reins, and made a queer little chirrup when he wanted you to gallop. He let you know when he wanted you to stop, by the lightest pressure on the bit.
It was a lazy work, though. Sometimes when Skipper was just aching for a brisk canter he had to pace soberly through the park driveways—for Skipper, although I don't believe I mentioned it before, was part and parcel of the mounted police force. But there, you could know that by the yellow letters on his saddle blanket.
For half an hour at a time he would stand, just on the edge of the roadway and at an exact right angle with it, motionless as the horse ridden by the bronze soldier up near the Mall. "Reddy" would sit as still in the saddle, too. It was hard for Skipper to stand there and see those mincing cobs go by, their pad-housings all a-glitter, crests on their blinders, jingling their pole-chains and switching their absurd little stubs of tails. But it was still more tantalizing to watch the saddle-horses canter past in the soft bridle path on the other side of the roadway. But then, when you are on the force you must do your duty.
One afternoon as Skipper was standing post like this he caught a new note that rose above the hum of the park traffic. It was the quick, nervous beat of hoofs which rang sharply on the hard macadam. There were screams, too. It was a runaway. Skipper knew this even before he saw the bell-like nostrils, the straining eyes, and the foam-flecked lips of the horse, or the scared man in the carriage behind. It was a case of broken rein.
How the sight made Skipper's blood tingle! Wouldn't he just like to show that crazy roan what real running was! But what was Reddy going to do? He felt him gather up the reins. He felt his knees tighten. What! Yes, it must be so. Reddy was actually going to try a brush with the runaway. What fun!
Skipper pranced out into the roadway and gathered himself for the sport. Before he could get into full swing, however, the roan had shot past with a snort of challenge which could not be misunderstood.
"Oho! You will, eh?" thought Skipper. "Well now, we'll see about that."
Ah, a free rein! That is—almost free. And a touch of the spurs! No need for that, Reddy. How the carriages scatter! Skipper caught hasty glimpses of smart hackneys drawn up trembling by the roadside, of women who tumbled from bicycles into the bushes, and of men who ran and shouted and waved their hats.
"Just as though that little roan wasn't scared enough already," thought Skipper.
But she did run well; Skipper had to admit that. She had a lead of fifty yards before he could strike his best gait. Then for a few moments he could not seem to gain an inch. But the mare was blowing herself and Skipper was taking it coolly. He was putting the pent-up energy of weeks into his strides. Once he saw he was overhauling her he steadied to the work.
Just as Skipper was about to forge ahead, Reddy did a queer thing. With his right hand he grabbed the roan with a nose-pinch grip, and with the left he pulled in on the reins. It was a great disappointment to Skipper, for he had counted on showing the roan his heels. Skipper knew, after two or three experiences of this kind, that this was the usual thing.
Those were glorious runs, though. Skipper wished they would come more often. Sometimes there would be two and even three in a day. Then a fortnight or so would pass without a single runaway on Skipper's beat. But duty is duty.
During the early morning hours, when there were few people in the park, Skipper's education progressed. He learned to pace around in a circle, lifting each forefoot with a sway of the body and a pawing movement which was quite rhythmical. He learned to box with his nose. He learned to walk sedately behind Reddy and to pick up a glove, dropped apparently by accident. There was always a sugar-plum or a sweet cracker in the glove, which he got when Reddy stopped and Skipper, poking his nose over his shoulder, let the glove fall into his hands.
As he became more accomplished he noticed that "Reddy" took more pains with his toilet. Every morning Skipper's coat was curried and brushed and rubbed with chamois until it shone almost as if it had been varnished. His fetlocks were carefully trimmed, a ribbon braided into his forelock, and his hoofs polished as brightly as Reddy's boots. Then there were apples and carrots and other delicacies which Reddy brought him.
So it happened that one morning Skipper heard the Sergeant tell Reddy that he had been detailed for the Horse Show squad. Reddy had saluted and said nothing at the time, but when they were once out on post he told Skipper all about it.
"Sure an' it's app'arin' before all the swells in town you'll be, me b'y. Phat do ye think of that, eh? An' mebbe ye'll be gettin' a blue ribbon, Skipper, me lad; an' mebbe Mr. Patrick Martin will have a roundsman's berth an' chevrons on his sleeves afore the year's out."
The Horse Show was all that Reddy had promised, and more. The light almost dazzled Skipper. The sounds and the smells confused him. But he felt Reddy on his back, heard him chirrup softly, and soon felt at ease on the tanbark.
Then there was a great crash of noise and Skipper, with some fifty of his friends on the force, began to move around the circle. First it was fours abreast, then by twos, and then a rush to troop front, when, in a long line, they swept around as if they had been harnessed to a beam by traces of equal length.
After some more evolutions a half-dozen were picked out and put through their paces. Skipper was one of these. Then three of the six were sent to join the rest of the squad. Only Skipper and two others remained in the centre of the ring. Men in queer clothes, wearing tall black hats, showing much white shirt-front and carrying long whips, came and looked them over carefully.
Skipper showed these men how he could waltz in time to the music, and the people who banked the circle as far up as Skipper could see shouted and clapped their hands until it seemed as if a thunderstorm had broken loose. At last one of the men in tall hats tied a blue ribbon on Skipper's bridle.
When Reddy got him into the stable, he fed him four big red apples, one after the other. Next day Skipper knew that he was a famous horse. Reddy showed him their pictures in the paper.
For a whole year Skipper was the pride of the force. He was shown to visitors at the stables. He was patted on the nose by the Mayor. The Chief, who was a bigger man than the Mayor, came up especially to look at him. In the park Skipper did his tricks every day for ladies in fine dress who exclaimed, "How perfectly wonderful!" as well as for pretty nurse-maids who giggled and said, "Now did you ever see the likes o' that, Norah?"
And then came the spavin. Ah, but that was the beginning of the end! Were you ever spavined? If so, you know all about it. If you haven't, there's no use trying to tell you. Rheumatism? Well, that may be bad; but a spavin is worse.
For three weeks Reddy rubbed the lump on the hock with stuff from a brown bottle, and hid it from the inspector. Then, one black morning, the lump was discovered. That day Skipper did not go out on post. Reddy came into the stall, put his arm around his neck and said "Good-by" in a voice that Skipper had never heard him use before. Something had made it thick and husky. Very sadly Skipper saw him saddle one of the newcomers and go out for duty.
Before Reddy came back Skipper was led away. He was taken to a big building where there were horses of every kind—except the right kind. Each one had his own peculiar "out," although you couldn't always tell what it was at first glance.
But Skipper did not stay here long. He was led into a big ring before a lot of men. A man on a box shouted out a number, and began to talk very fast. Skipper gathered that he was talking about him. Skipper learned that he was still only six years old, and that he had been owned as a saddle-horse by a lady who was about to sail for Europe and was closing out her stable. This was news to Skipper. He wished Reddy could hear it.
The man talked very nicely about Skipper. He said he was kind, gentle, sound in wind and limb, and was not only trained to the saddle but would work either single or double. The man wanted to know how much the gentlemen were willing to pay for a bay gelding of this description.
Someone on the outer edge of the crowd said, "Ten dollars."
At this the man on the box grew quite indignant. He asked if the other man wouldn't like a silver-mounted harness and a lap-robe thrown in.
"Fifteen," said another man.
Somebody else said "Twenty," another man said, "Twenty-five," and still another, "Thirty." Then there was a hitch. The man on the box began to talk very fast indeed:
"Thutty-thutty-thutty-thutty—do I hear the five? Thutty-thutty-thutty-thutty—will you make it five?"
"Thirty-five," said a red-faced man who had pushed his way to the front and was looking Skipper over sharply.
The man on the box said "Thutty-five" a good many times and asked if he "heard forty." Evidently he did not, for he stopped and said very slowly and distinctly, looking expectantly around: "Are you all done? Thirty-five—once. Thirty-five—twice. Third—and last call—sold, for thirty-five dollars!"
When Skipper heard this he hung his head. When you have been a $250 blue-ribboner and the pride of the force it is sad to be "knocked down" for thirty-five.
The next year of Skipper's life was a dark one. We will not linger over it. The red-faced man who led him away was a grocer. He put Skipper in the shafts of a heavy wagon very early every morning and drove him a long ways through the city to a big down-town market where men in long frocks shouted and handled boxes and barrels. When the wagon was heavily loaded the red-faced man drove him back to the store. Then a tow-haired boy, who jerked viciously on the lines and was fond of using the whip, drove him recklessly about the streets and avenues.
But one day the tow-haired boy pulled the near rein too hard while rounding a corner and a wheel was smashed against a lamp-post. The tow-haired boy was sent head first into an ash-barrel, and Skipper, rather startled at the occurrence, took a little run down the avenue, strewing the pavement with eggs, sugar, canned corn, celery, and other assorted groceries.
Perhaps this was why the grocer sold him. Skipper pulled a cart through the flat-house district for a while after that. On the seat of the cart sat a leather-lunged man who roared: "A-a-a-a-puls! Nice a-a-a-a-puls! A who-o-ole lot fer a quarter!"
Skipper felt this disgrace keenly. Even the cab-horses, on whom he used to look with disdain, eyed him scornfully. Skipper stood it as long as possible and then one day, while the apple fakir was standing on the back step of the cart shouting things at a woman who was leaning half way out of a fourth-story window, he bolted. He distributed that load of apples over four blocks, much to the profit of the street children, and he wrecked the wagon on a hydrant. For this the fakir beat him with a piece of the wreckage until a blue-coated officer threatened to arrest him. Next day Skipper was sold again.
Skipper looked over his new owner without joy. The man was evil of face. His long whiskers and hair were unkempt and sun-bleached, like the tip end of a pastured cow's tail. His clothes were greasy. His voice was like the grunt of a pig. Skipper wondered to what use this man would put him. He feared the worst.
Far up through the city the man took him and out on a broad avenue where there were many open spaces, most of them fenced in by huge bill-boards. Behind one of these sign-plastered barriers Skipper found his new home. The bottom of the lot was more than twenty feet below the street-level. In the centre of a waste of rocks, ash-heaps, and dead weeds tottered a group of shanties, strangely made of odds and ends. The walls were partly of mud-chinked rocks and partly of wood. The roofs were patched with strips of rusty tin held in place by stones.
Into one of these shanties, just tall enough for Skipper to enter and no more, the horse that had been the pride of the mounted park police was driven with a kick as a greeting. Skipper noted first that there was no feed-box and no hayrack. Then he saw, or rather felt—for the only light came through cracks in the walls—that there was no floor. His nostrils told him that the drainage was bad. Skipper sighed as he thought of the clean, sweet straw which Reddy used to change in his stall every night.
But when you have a lump on your leg—a lump that throbs, throbs, throbs with pain, whether you stand still or lie down—you do not think much on other things.
Supper was late in coming to Skipper that night. He was almost starved when it was served. And such a supper! What do you think? Hay? Yes, but marsh hay; the dry, tasteless stuff they use for bedding in cheap stables. A ton of it wouldn't make a pound of good flesh. Oats? Not a sign of an oat! But with the hay there were a few potato-peelings. Skipper nosed them out and nibbled the marsh hay. The rest he pawed back under him, for the whole had been thrown at his feet. Then he dropped on the ill-smelling ground and went to sleep to dream that he had been turned into a forty-acre field of clover, while a dozen brass bands played a waltz and multitudes of people looked on and cheered.
In the morning more salt hay was thrown to him and water was brought in a dirty pail. Then, without a stroke of brush or curry-comb he was led out. When he saw the wagon to which he was to be hitched Skipper hung his head. He had reached the bottom. It was unpainted and rickety as to body and frame, the wheels were unmated and dished, while the shafts were spliced and wound with wire.
But worst of all was the string of bells suspended from two uprights above the seat. When Skipper saw these he knew he had fallen low indeed. He had become the horse of a wandering junkman. The next step in his career, as he well knew, would be the glue factory and the boneyard. Now when a horse has lived for twenty years or so, it is sad enough to face these things. But at eight years to see the glue factory close at hand is enough to make a horse wish he had never been foaled.
For many weary months Skipper pulled that crazy cart, with its hateful jangle of bells, about the city streets and suburban roads while the man with the faded hair roared through his matted beard: "Buy o-o-o-o-olt ra-a-a-a-ags! Buy o-o-o-o-olt ra-a-a-a-ags! Olt boddles! Olt copper! Olt iron! Vaste baber!"
The lump on Skipper's hock kept growing bigger and bigger. It seemed as if the darts of pain shot from hoof to flank with every step. Big hollows came over his eyes. You could see his ribs as plainly as the hoops on a pork-barrel. Yet six days in the week he went on long trips and brought back heavy loads of junk. On Sunday he hauled the junkman and his family about the city.
Once the junkman tried to drive Skipper into one of the Park entrances. Then for the first time in his life Skipper balked. The junkman pounded and used such language as you might expect from a junkman, but all to no use. Skipper took the beating with lowered head, but go through the gate he would not. So the junkman gave it up, although he seemed very anxious to join the line of gay carriages which were rolling in.
Soon after this there came a break in the daily routine. One morning Skipper was not led out as usual. In fact, no one came near him, and he could hear no voices in the nearby shanty. Skipper decided that he would take a day off himself. By backing against the door he readily pushed it open, for the staple was insecure.
Once at liberty, he climbed the roadway that led out of the lot. It was late in the fall, but there was still short sweet winter grass to be found along the gutters. For a while he nibbled at this hungrily. Then a queer idea came to Skipper. Perhaps the passing of a smartly groomed saddle-horse was responsible.
At any rate, Skipper left off nibbling grass. He hobbled out to the edge of the road, turned so as to face the opposite side, and held up his head. There he stood just as he used to stand when he was the pride of the mounted squad. He was on post once more.
Few people were passing, and none seemed to notice him. Yet he was an odd figure. His coat was shaggy and weather-stained. It looked patched and faded. The spavined hock caused one hind quarter to sag somewhat, but aside from that his pose was strictly according to the regulations.
Skipper had been playing at standing post for a half-hour, when a trotting dandy who sported ankle-boots and toe-weights, pulled up before him. He was drawing a light, bicycle-wheeled road-wagon in which were two men.
"Queer?" one of the men was saying. "Can't say I see anything queer about it, Captain. Some old plug that's got away from a squatter; that's all I see in it."
"Well, let's have a look," said the other. He stared hard at Skipper for a moment and then, in a loud, sharp tone, said:
"'Ten-shun! Right dress!"
Skipper pricked up his ears, raised his head, and side-stepped stiffly. The trotting dandy turned and looked curiously at him.
"Forward!" said the man in the wagon. Skipper hobbled out into the road.
"Right wheel! Halt! I thought so," said the man, as Skipper obeyed the orders. "That fellow has been on the force. He was standing post. Looks mighty familiar, too—white stockings on two forelegs, white star on forehead. Now I wonder if that can be—here, hold the reins a minute."
Going up to Skipper the man patted his nose once or twice, and then pushed his muzzle to one side. Skipper ducked and countered. He had not forgotten his boxing trick. The man turned his back and began to pace down the road. Skipper followed and picked up a riding-glove which the man dropped.
"Doyle," said the man, as he walked back to the wagon, "two years ago that was the finest horse on the force—took the blue ribbon at the Garden. Alderman Martin would give $1,000 for him as he stands. He has hunted the State for him. You remember Martin—Reddy Martin—who used to be on the mounted squad! Didn't you hear? An old uncle who made a fortune as a building contractor died about a year ago and left the whole pile to Reddy. He's got a fine country place up in Westchester and is in the city government. Just elected this fall. But he isn't happy because he can't find his old horse—and here's the horse."
Next day an astonished junkman stood before an empty shanty which served as a stable and feasted his eyes on a fifty-dollar bank-note.
* * * * *
If you are ever up in Westchester County be sure to visit the stables of Alderman P. Sarsfield Martin. Ask to see that oak-panelled box-stall with the stained-glass windows and the porcelain feed-box. You will notice a polished brass name-plate on the door bearing this inscription:
You may meet the Alderman himself, wearing an English-made riding-suit, loping comfortably along on a sleek bay gelding with two white forelegs and a white star on his forehead. Yes, high-priced veterinaries can cure spavin—Alderman Martin says so.
WHO TRAVELLED WITH A ROUND TOP
Something there was about Calico's markings which stuck in one's mind, as does a haunting memory, intangible but unforgotten. Surely the pattern was obtrusive enough to halt attention; yet its vagaries were so unexpected, so surprising that, even as you looked, you might hesitate at declaring whether it was his withers or his flanks which were carrot-red and if he had four white stockings or only three. It was safer simply to say that he was white where he was not red and red where he was not white. Moreover, his was a vivid coat.
Altogether Calico was a horse to be remarked and to be remembered. Yet—and again yet—Calico was not wholly to blame for his many faults. Farm breeding, which was more or less responsible for his bizarre appearance, should also bear the burden of his failings. As a colt he had been the marvel of the county, from Orono to Hermon Centre. He had been petted, teased, humored, exhibited, coddled, fooled with—everything save properly trained and broken.
So he grew up a trace shirker and a halter-puller, with disposition, temperament, and general behavior as uneven as his coloring.
"The most good-fer-nothin' animal I ever wasted grain on!" declared Uncle Enoch.
For the better part of four unproductive years had the life of Calico run to commonplaces. Then, early one June morning, came an hour big with events. Being the nigh horse in Uncle Enoch's pair, Calico caught first glimpse of the weird procession which met them as they turned into the Bangor road at Sherburne's Corners.
Now it was Calico's habit to be on the watch for unusual sights, and when he saw them to stick his ears forward, throw his head up, snort nervously and crowd against the pole. Generally he got one leg over a trace. There was a white bowlder at the top of Poorhouse Hill which Calico never passed without going through some of these manoeuvres.
"Hi-i-ish there! So-o-o! Dern yer crazy-quilt hide. Body'd think yer never see that stun afore in yer life. Gee-long a-a-ap!" Uncle Enoch would growl, accenting his words by jerking the lines.
A scarecrow in the middle of a cornfield, an auction bill tacked to a stump, an old hat stuffing a vacant pane and proclaiming the shiftlessness of the Aroostook Billingses, would serve when nothing else offered excuse for skittishness. Even sober Old Jeff, the off horse, sometimes caught the infection for a moment. He would prick up his ears and look inquiringly at the suspected object, but so soon as he saw what it was down went his head sheepishly, as if he was ashamed of having again been tricked.
This morning, however, it was no false alarm. When Old Jeff was roused out of his accustomed jog by Calico's nervous snorts he looked up to see such a spectacle as he had never beheld in all his goings and comings up and down the Bangor road. Looming out of the mist was a six-horse team hitched to the most foreign-looking rig one could well imagine. It had something of the look of a preposterous hay-cart, with the ends of blue-painted poles sticking out in front and trailing behind. Following this was a great, white-swathed wheeled box drawn by four horses. It was certainly a curious affair, whatever it was, but neither Calico nor Old Jeff gave it much heed, nor did they waste a glance on the distant tail of the procession, for behind the wheeled box was a thing which held their gaze.
In the gray four o'clock light it seemed like an enormous cow that rolled menacingly forward; not as a cow walks, however, but with a swaying, heaving motion like nothing commonly seen on a Maine highway. Instinctively both horses thrust their muzzles toward the thing and sniffed. Without doubt Old Jeff was frightened. Perhaps not for nine generations had any of his ancestors caught a whiff of that peculiarly terrifying scent of which every horse inherits knowledge and dread.
As for Calico, he had no need of such spur as inherited terror. He had fearsomeness enough of his own to send him rearing and pawing the air until the whiffle-trees rapped his knees. Old Jeff did not rear. He stared and snorted and trembled. When he felt his mate spring forward in the traces he went with him, ready to do anything in order to get away from that heaving, swaying thing which was coming toward them.
"Whoa, ye pesky fools! Whoa, dod rot ye!" Uncle Enoch, wakened from the half doze which he had been taking on the wagon-seat, now began to saw on the lines. His shouts seemed to have aroused the heaving thing, for it answered with a horrid, soul-chilling noise.
By this time Calico was leaping frantically, snorting at every jump and forcing Old Jeff to keep pace. They were at the top of a long grade and down the slope the loaded wagon rattled easily behind them. Uncle Enoch did his best. With feet well braced he tugged at the lines and shouted, all to no purpose. Never before had Calico and Old Jeff met a circus on the move. Neither had they previously come into such close quarters with an elephant. One does not expect such things on the Bangor road. At least they did not. They proposed to get away from such terrors in the shortest possible time.
Now the public ways of Maine are seldom macadamized. In places they are laid out straight across and over the granite backbone of the continent. The Bangor road is thus constructed in spots. This slope was one of the spots where the bare ledge, with here and there six-inch shelves and eroded gullies, offered a somewhat uneven surface to the wheels. A well built Studebaker will stand a lot of this kind of banging, but it is not wholly indestructible. So it happened that half-way down the hill the left hind axle snapped at the hub. Thereupon some two hundred dozen ears of early green-corn were strewn along the flinty face of the highway, while Uncle Enoch was hurled, seat and all, accompanied by four dozen eggs and ten pounds of Aunt Henrietta's best butter, into the ditch.
When the circus caravan overtook him Uncle Enoch had captured the runaways and was leading them back to where the wrecked wagon lay by the roadside. More or less butter was mixed with the sandy chin whiskers and an inartistic yellow smooch down the front of his coat showed that the eggs had followed him.
"Rather lively pair of yours; eh, mister?" commented a red-faced man who dropped off the pole-wagon.
"Yes, ruther lively," assented Uncle Enoch, "'Specially when ye don't want 'em to be. The off one's stiddy enough. It's this cantankerous skewbald that started the tantrum. Whoa now, blame ye!" Calico's nose was in the air again and he was snorting excitedly.
"Lemme hold him 'till old Ajax goes by," said the circus man.
"Thank ye. I'll swap him off fust chance I git, ef I don't fetch back nuthin' but a boneyard skate," declared Uncle Enoch.
As Ajax lumbered by, the circus man eyed with interest the dancing Calico. He noted with approval the coat of fantastic design, the springy knees and the fine tail that rippled its white length almost to Calico's heels.
"I'll do better'n that by you, mister," said he. "I've got a fourteen-hundred pound Vermont Morgan, sound as a dollar, only eight years old and ain't afraid o' nothin'. I'll swap him even for your skewbald."
"Like to see him," said Uncle Enoch. "If he's half what ye say it's a trade."
"Here he comes on the band-wagon team;" then, to the driver: "Hey, Bill, pull up!"
In less than half an hour from the time Calico had bolted at sight of the circus cavalcade he was part and parcel of it, and helping to pull one of those mysterious sheeted wagons along in the wake of the terrifying Ajax.
"The old party don't give you a very good send off," said the boss hostler reflectively to Calico, "but I reckon you'll get used to Ajax and the music-chariot before the season's over. Leastways, you're bound to be an ornament to the grand entry."
Calico's life with the Grand Occidental began abruptly and vigorously. The driver of the band-wagon knew his business. Even when half asleep he could see loose traces. After Calico had heard the long lash whistle about his ears a few times he concluded that it was best to do his share of the pulling.
And what pulling it was! There were six horses of them, Calico being one of the swings, but on an uphill grade that old chariot was the most reluctant thing he had ever known. Uncle Enoch's stone-boat, which Calico had once held to be merely a heart-breaking instrument of torture, seemed light in retrospect. Often did he look reproachfully at the monstrous combination of gilded wood and iron. Why need band-wagons be made so exasperatingly heavy? The atrociously carved Pans on the corners, with their scarred faces and broken pipes, were cumbersome enough to make a load for one pair of horses, all by themselves. Calico would think of them as he was straining up a long hill. He could almost feel them pulling back on the traces in a sort of wooden stubbornness. And when the team rattled the old chariot down a rough grade how he hoped that two or three of the figures might be jolted off. But in the morning, when the show lot was reached and the travelling wraps taken off the wagons, there he would see the heavy shouldered Pans all in their places as hideous and as permanent as ever.
It was a hard and bitter lesson which Calico learned, this matter of keeping one's tugs tight. Uncle Enoch had spared the whip, but in the heart of Broncho Bill, who drove the band-wagon, there was no leniency. Ready and strong was his whip hand, and he knew how to make the blood follow the lash. No effort did he waste on fat-padded flanks when he was in earnest. He cut at the ears, where the skin is tender. He could touch up the leaders as easily as he could the wheel-horses, and when he aimed at the swings he never missed fire.
Travelling with a round top Calico found to be no sinecure. The Grand Occidental, being a wagon show, moved wholly by road. The shortest jump was fifteen miles, but often they did thirty between midnight and morning; and thirty miles over country highways make no short jaunt when you have a five-ton chariot behind you. The jump, however, was only the beginning of the day's work. No sooner had you finished breakfast than you were hooked in for the street parade, meaning from two to four miles more.
You had a few hours for rest after that before the grand entry. Ah, that grand entry! That was something to live for. No matter how bad the roads or how hard the hills had been Calico forgot it all during those ten delightful minutes when, with his heart beating time to the rat-tat-tat of the snare drum, he swung prancingly around the yellow arena.
It all began in the dressing-tent with a period of confusion in which horses were crowded together as thick as they could stand, while the riders dressed and mounted in frantic haste, for to be late meant to be fined. At last the ring-master clapped his hands as sign that all was in readiness. There was a momentary hush. Then a bugle sounded, the flaps were thrown back and to the crashing accompaniment of the band, the seemingly chaotic mass unfolded into a double line as the horses broke into a sharp gallop around the freshly dug ring.
The first time Calico did the grand entry he felt as though he had been sucked into a whirlpool and was being carried around by some irresistible force. So dazed was he by the music, by the hum of human voices and by the unfamiliar sights, that he forgot to rear and kick. He could only prance and snort. He went forward because the rider of the outside horse dragged him along by the bridle rein. Around and around he circled until he lost all sense of direction, and when he was finally shunted out through the dressing-tent flaps he was so dizzy he could scarcely stand.
For a horse accustomed to shy at his own shadow this was heroic treatment. But it was successful. In a month you could not have startled Calico with a pound of dynamite. He would placidly munch his oats within three feet of the spot where a stake-gang swung the heavy sledges in staccato time. He cared no more for flapping canvas than for the wagging of a mule's ears. As for noises, when one has associated with a steam calliope one ceases to mind anything in that line. Old Ajax, it was true, remained a terror to Calico for weeks, but in the end the horse lost much of his dread for the ancient pachyderm, although he never felt wholly comfortable while those wicked little eyes were turned in his direction. Hereditary instincts, you know, die hard.
During those four months in which the Grand Occidental flitted over the New England circuit from Kenduskeag, Me., to Bennington, Vt., there came upon Calico knowledge of many things. The farm-horse to whom Bangor's market-square had been full of strange sights became, in comparison with his former self, most sophisticated. He feared no noise save that sinister whistle made by Broncho Bill's long lash. The roaring sputter of gasoline flares was no more to him than the sound of a running brook. He had learned that it was safe to kick a mere canvasman when you felt like doing so, but that a real artist, such as a tumbler or a trapeze man, was to be respected, and that the person of the ring-master was most sacred. Also he acquired the knack of sleeping at odd times, whenever opportunity offered and under any conditions.
When he had grown thus wise, and when he had ceased to stumble over guy-ropes and tent-stakes, Calico received promotion. He was put in as outside horse of the leading pair in the grand entry. He was decorated with a white-braided cord bridle with silk rosettes and he wore between his ears a feather pompon. All this was very fine and grand, but there was so little of it.
After it was all over, when the crowds had gone, the top lowered and the stakes pulled, he was hitched to the leaden-wheeled band-wagon to strain and tug at the traces all through the last weary half of the night. But when fame has started your way, be you horse or man, you cannot escape. Just before the season closed Calico was put on the sawdust. This was the way of it.
A ninety-foot top, you know, carries neither extra people nor spare horses. The performers must double up their acts. No one is exempt save the autocratic high-bar folk, who own their own apparatus and dictate contracts. So with the horses. The teams that pull the pole-wagon, the chariots and the other wheeled things which a circus needs, must also figure in the grand entry and in the hippodrome races. Even the ring-horses have their share of road-work in a wagon show.
To the dappled grays used by Mlle. Zaretti, who was a top-liner on the bills, fell the lot of pulling the ticket-wagon, this being the lightest work. It was Mlle. Zaretti's habit to ride one at the afternoon show, the other in the evening. So when the nigh gray developed a shoulder gall on the day that the off one went lame there arose an emergency. Also there ensued trouble for the driver of the ticket-wagon. First he was tongue lashed by Mademoiselle, then he was fined a week's pay and threatened with discharge by the manager. But when the increasing wrath of the Champion Lady Equestrienne of America led her to demand his instant and painful annihilation the worm turned. The driver profanely declared that he knew his business. He had travelled with Yank Robinson, he had, and no female hair-grabber under canvas should call him down more than once in the same day. There was more of this, added merely for emphasis. Mlle. Zaretti saw the point. She had gone too far. Whereupon she discreetly turned on her high French heels and meekly asked the boss hostler for the most promising animal he had. The boss picked out Calico.
No sooner was the top up that day than Calico's training began. Well it was that he had learned obedience, for this was to be his one great opportunity. Many a time had Calico circled around the banked ring's outer circumference, but never had he been within it. Neither had he worn before a broad pad. By dint of leading and coaxing he was made to understand that his part of the act was to canter around the ring with Mlle. Zaretti on his back, where she was to be allowed to go through as many motions as she pleased.
For a green horse Calico conducted himself with much credit. He did not stumble. He did not shy at the ring-master's whip. He did not try to dodge the banners or the hoops after he found how harmless they were.
"Well, if I cut my act perhaps I can manage, but if I break my neck I hope you'll murder that fool driver," was Mlle. Zaretti's verdict and petition when the lesson ended.
Mlle. Zaretti's gyrations that afternoon and evening were somewhat tame when you consider the manner in which she was billed. Calico did his part with only a few excusable blunders, and she was so pleased that he got the apples and sugarplums which usually rewarded the grays.
The galled shoulder healed, but the lame leg developed into an incurably stiff joint. Three nights later Calico, to his great joy, left the band-chariot team forever, to find himself on the light ticket-wagon and regularly entered as a ring horse. Nor was this all. When the season closed Mlle. Zaretti bought Calico at an exorbitant price. He was shipped to a strange place, where they put him in a box-stall, fed him with generous regularity and asked him to do absolutely nothing at all.
It was a month before Calico saw his mistress again. He had been taken into a great barn-like structure which had many sky-lights and windows. Here was an ideal ring, smooth and springy, with no hidden rocks or soft spots such as one sometimes finds when on the road. Mlle. Zaretti no longer wore her spangled pink dress. Instead she appeared in serviceable knickerbockers and wore wooden-soled slippers on her feet. In the middle of the ring a man who was turning himself into a human pin-wheel stopped long enough to shout: "Hello, Kate; signed yet?"
"You bet," said Mlle. Zaretti. "Next spring I go out by rail with a three topper. I'm going to do the real bareback act, too. No more broad pads and wagon shows for Katie. Hey, Jim, rig up your Stokes' mechanic."
Jim, a stout man who wore his suspenders outside a blue sweater and talked huskily, arranged a swinging derrick-arm, the purpose of which, it developed, was to keep Mlle. Zaretti off the ground whenever she missed her footing on Calico's back. There was a broad leather belt around her waist and to this was fastened a rope. Very often was this needed during those first three weeks of practice, for, true to her word, Mlle. Zaretti no longer strapped on Calico's back the broad pad to which he had been accustomed. At first the wooden-soles hurt and made him flinch, but in time the skin became toughened and he minded them not at all, although Mlle. Zaretti was no featherweight.
Long before the snow was gone Mlle. Zaretti had discarded the derrick-arm. Urging Calico to his best speed she would grasp the cinch handles and with one light bound land on his well-resined back. Then, as he circled around in an even, rythmical lope, she would jump the banners and dive through the hoops. It was more or less fun for Calico, but it all seemed so utterly useless. There were no crowds to see and applaud. He missed the music and the cheering.
At last there came a change. Calico and his mistress took a journey. They arrived in the biggest city Calico had ever seen, and one afternoon, to the accompaniment of such a crash of music and such a chorus of "HI! HI! HI's!" as he had never before heard, they burst into a great arena where were not only one ring but three, and about them, tier on tier as far up as one could see, the eager faces and gay clothes of a vast multitude of spectators. Calico, as you will guess, had become a factor in "The Grandest Aggregation."
If Calico had longed for music and applause his wishes were surely answered, for, although Mlle. Zaretti had jumped from a wagon-show to a three-ring combination that began its season with an indoor March opening, she was still a top-liner. That is, she had a feature act.
Thus it was that just as the Japanese jugglers finished tossing each other on their toes in the upper ring and while the property helpers were making ready the lower one for the elephants, in the centre ring Mlle. Zaretti and Calico alone held the attention of great audiences.
"Mem-zelle Zar-ret-ti! Champ-i-on la-dy bare-back ri-der of the wor-r-r-r-ld, on her beaut-i-ful Ar-a-bian steed!"
That was the manner in which the megaphone announcer heralded their appearance. Then followed a rattle of drums and a tooting of horns, ending in one tremendous bang as Calico, lifting his feet so high and so daintily you might have thought he was stepping over a row of china vases, and bowing his head so low that his neck arched almost double, came mincing into the arena. In his mouth he champed solid silver bits, and his polished hoofs were rimmed with nickel-plated shoes. The heavy bridle reins were covered with the finest white kid, as was the surcingle which completed his trappings.
Rather stout had Calico become in these halcyon days. His back and flanks were like the surface of a well-upholstered sofa. His coat of motley told its own story of daily rubbings and good feeding. The white was dazzlingly white and the carrot-red patches glowed like the inside of a well-burnished copper kettle. So shiny was he that you could see reflected on his sides the black, gold-spangled tights and fluffy black skirts worn by Mlle. Zaretti, who poised on his back as lightly as if she had been an ostrich-plume dropped on a snow-bank and who smilingly kissed her finger-tips to the craning-necked tiers of spectators with charming indiscrimination and admirable impartiality.
You may imagine that this picture was not without its effect. Never did it fail to draw forth a mighty volume of "Ohs!" and "Ah-h-h-hs!" especially at the afternoon performances, when the youngsters were out in force. And how Calico did relish this hum of admiration! Perhaps Mlle. Zaretti thought some of it was meant for her. No such idea had Calico.
You could see this by the way in which he tossed his head and pawed haughtily as he waited for the band to strike up his music. Oh, yes, his music. You must know that by this time the horse that had once pulled the stone-boat on Uncle Enoch's farm, and had later learned the hard lesson of obedience under Broncho Bill's lash had now become an equine personage. He had his grooms and his box-stall. He had whims which must be humored. One of these had to do with the music which played him through his act. He had discovered that the Blue Danube waltz was exactly to his liking, and to no other tune would he consent to do his best. Sulking was one of his new accomplishments.
As for Mlle. Zaretti, she affected no such frills, but she was ever ready to defend those of her horse. A hard-working, frugal, ambitious young person was Mlle. Zaretti, whose few extravagances were mostly on Calico's account. For him she demanded the Blue Danube waltz in the face of the band-master's grumblings.
When the Grandest Aggregation finally took the road the satisfaction of Calico was complete. He was under canvas once more. No band-wagon work wearied his nights. He even enjoyed the street parade. In the evening, when his act was over, he left the tents, glowing huge and brilliant against the night, and jogged quietly off to his padded car-stall, where were to be had a full two hours' rest before No. 2 train pulled out.
In the gray of the morning he would wake to contentedly look out through his grated window at the flying landscape, remembering with a sigh of satisfaction that no longer was he routed out at cockcrow to be driven afield. Later he could see the curious crowds in the railroad yards as the long lines of cars were shunted back and forth. As he lazily munched his breakfast oats he watched the draught horses patiently drag the huge chariots across the tracks and off to the show lot where he was not due for hours.
A life of mild exertion, enjoyable excitement, changing scenes, and considerate treatment was his. No wonder the fat stuck to Calico's ribs. No wonder his eyes beamed contentment. Such are the sweets of high achievement.
* * * * *
It was to sell early July peas that Uncle Enoch again took the Bangor road one day about three years after his memorable meeting with the Grand Occidental. On his way across the city to Norumbega Market he found his way blocked by a line of waiting people. From an urchin-tossed handbill, Uncle Enoch learned that the Grandest Aggregation was in town and that "the Unparalleled Street Pageant" was about due. So he waited.
With grim enjoyment Uncle Enoch watched the brilliant spectacle impassively. Old Jeff merely pricked up his ears in curious interest as the procession moved along in its dazzling course.
"Zaretti, Bareback Queen of the World! On her Famous Arabian Steed Abdullah! Presented to her by the Shah of Persia!"
Thus read Uncle Enoch as he followed the printed order of parade with toil-grimed forefinger.
For a moment Uncle Enoch's gaze was held by the Bareback Queen, who looked languidly into space over the top of the tiger cage. Then he stared hard at the "far-famed Arabian steed," gift of the impulsive Shah. Said steed was caparisoned in a gorgeous saddle-blanket hung with silver fringe. A silver-mounted martingale dangled between his knees. Holding the silk-tasselled bridle rein, and walking in respectful attendance, was a groom in tight-fitting riding breeches and a cockaded hat which rested mainly on his ears. The horse was of white, mottled with carrot-red in such striking pattern that, having once seen it, one could hardly forget.
"Gee whilikins!" said Uncle Enoch softly to himself, as if fearful of betraying some newly discovered secret.
But Old Jeff was moved to no such reticence. Lifting his head over the shoulders of the crowd he pointed his ears and gave vent to a quick, glad whinny of recognition. The "far-famed Arabian," turning so sharply that the unwary groom was knocked sprawling, looked hard at the humble farm-horse, and then, with an answering high-pitched neigh, dashed through the quickly scattering spectators.
It was a moment of surprises. The Bareback Queen of the World was startled out of her day-dream to find her "Arabian steed" rubbing noses with a ragged-coated horse hitched to a battered farm-wagon, in which sat a chin-whiskered old fellow who grinned expansively and slyly winked at her over the horses' heads.
"It's all right, ma'am, I won't let on," he said.
Before she could reply, the groom, who had rescued his cockaded hat and his presence of mind, rushed in and dragged the far-famed steed back into the line of procession.
"Wall, I swan to man, ef Old Jeff didn't know that air Calicker afore I did," declared Uncle Enoch, as he described the affair to Aunt Henrietta; "an' me that raised him from a colt. I do swan to man!"
Mlle. Zaretti did not "swan to man," whatever that may be, but to this day she marvels concerning the one and only occasion when her trusted Calico disturbed the progress of the Grandest Aggregation's unparalleled street pageant.
A STORY OF THE GRAY HORSE TRUCK
Down in the heart of the skyscraper district, keeping watch and ward over those presumptuous, man-made cliffs around which commerce heaps its Fundy tides, you will find, unhandsomely housed on a side street, a hook and ladder company, known unofficially and intimately throughout the department as the Gray Horse Truck.
Much like a big family is a fire company. It has seasons of good fortune, when there are neither sick leaves nor hospital cases to report; and it has periods of misfortune, when trouble and disaster stalk abruptly through the ranks. Gray Horse Truck company is no exception. Calm prosperity it has enjoyed, and of swift, unexpected tragedy it has had full measure. Yet its longest mourning and most sincere, was when it lost Old Silver.
Although some of the men of Gray Horse Truck had seen more than ten years' continuous service in the house, not one could remember a time when Old Silver had not been on the nigh side of the poles. Mikes and Petes and Jims there had been without number. Some were good and some were bad, some had lasted years and some only months, some had been kind and some ugly, some stupid and some clever; but there had been but one Silver, who had combined all their good traits as well as many of their bad ones.
Horses and men, Silver had seen them come and go. He had seen probationers rise step by step to battalion and deputy chiefs, win shields and promotion or meet the sudden fate that is their lot. All that time Silver's name-board had swung over his old stall, and when the truck went out Silver was to be found in his old place on the left of the poles. Driver succeeded driver, but one and all they found Silver first under the harness when a station hit, first to jump forward when the big doors rolled back, and always as ready to do his bit on a long run as he was to demand his four quarts when feeding-time came.
Before the days of the Training Stable, where now they try out new material, Silver came into the service. That excellent institution, therefore, cannot claim the credit of his selection. Perhaps he was chosen by some shrewd old captain, who knew a fire-horse when he saw one, even in the raw; perhaps it was only a happy chance which put him in the business. At any rate, his training was the work of a master hand.
Silver was not one of the fretting kind, so at the age of fifteen he was apple-round, his legs were straight and springy, and his eyes as full and bright as those of a school-boy at a circus. The dapples on his gray flanks were as distinct as the under markings on old velours, while his tail had the crisp whiteness of a polished steel bit on a frosty morning. Unless you had seen how shallow were his molar cups or noted the length of his bridle teeth, would you have guessed him not more than six.
As for the education of Silver, its scope and completeness, no outsider would have given credence to the half of it. When Lannigan had driven the truck for three years, and had been cronies with Silver for nearly five, it was his habit to say, wonderingly:
"He beats me, Old Silver does. I git onto some new wrinkle of his every day. No; 'taint no sorter use to tell his tricks; you wouldn't believe, nor would I an' I hadn't seen with me two eyes."
In the way of mischief Silver was a star performer. What other fire-horse ever mastered the intricacies of the automatic halter release? It was Silver, too, that picked from the Captain's hip-pocket a neatly folded paper and chewed the same with malicious enthusiasm. The folded paper happened to be the Company's annual report, in the writing of which the Captain had spent many weary hours.
Other things besides mischief however, had Silver learned. Chief of these was to start with the jigger. Sleeping or waking, lying or standing, the summons that stirred the men from snoring ease to tense, rapid action, never failed to find Silver alert. As the halter shank slipped through the bit-ring that same instant found Silver gathered for the rush through the long narrow lane leading from his open stall to the poles, above which, like great couchant spiders, waited the harnesses pendant on the hanger-rods. It was unwise to be in Silver's way when that little brazen voice was summoning him to duty. More than one man of Gray Horse Truck found that out.
Once under the harness Silver was like a carved statue until the trip-strap had been pulled, the collar fastened and the reins snapped in. Then he wanted to poke the poles through the doors, so eager was he to be off. It was no fault of Silver's that his team could not make a two-second hitch.
With the first strain at the traces his impatience died out. A sixty-foot truck starts with more or less reluctance. Besides, Silver knew that before anything like speed could be made it was necessary either to mount the grade to Broadway or to ease the machine down to Greenwich Street. It was traces or backing-straps for all that was in you, and at the end a sharp turn which never could have been made had not the tiller-man done his part with the rear wheels.
But when once the tires caught the car-tracks Silver knew what to expect. At the turn he and his team mates could feel Lannigan gathering in the reins as though for a full stop. Next came the whistle of the whip. It swept across their flanks so quickly that it was practically one stroke for them all. At the same moment Lannigan leaned far forward and shot out his driving arm. The reins went loose, their heads went forward and, as if moving on a pivot, the three leaped as one horse. Again the reins tightened for a second, again they were loosened. When the bits were pulled back up came three heads, up came three pairs of shoulders and up came three pairs of forelegs; for at the other end of the lines, gripped vice-like in Lannigan's big fist, was swinging a good part of Lannigan's one hundred and ninety-eight pounds.
Left to themselves each horse would have leaped at a different instant. It was that one touch of the lash and the succeeding swing of Lannigan's bulk which gave them the measure, which set the time, which made it possible for less than four thousand pounds of horse-flesh to jump a five-ton truck up the street at a four-minute clip.
For Silver all other minor pleasures in life were as nothing to the fierce joy he knew when, with a dozen men clinging to the hand-rails, the captain pulling the bell-rope and Lannigan, far up above them all, swaying on the lines, the Gray Horse Truck swept up Broadway to a first call-box.
It was like trotting to music, if you've ever done that. Possibly you could have discovered no harmony at all in the confused roar of the apparatus as it thundered past. But to the ears of Silver there were many sounds blended into one. There were the rhythmical beat of hoofs, the low undertone of the wheels grinding the pavement, the high note of the forged steel lock-opener as it hammered the foot-board, the mellow ding-dong of the bell, the creak of the forty-and fifty-foot extensions, the rattle of the iron-shod hooks, the rat-tat-tat of the scaling ladders on the bridge and the muffled drumming of the leather helmets as they jumped in the basket.
With the increasing speed all these sounds rose in pitch until, when the team was at full-swing, they became one vibrant theme—thrilling, inspiring, exultant—the action song of the Truck.
To enjoy such music, to know it at its best, you must leap in the traces, feel the swing of the poles, the pull of the whiffle-trees, the slap of the trace-bearers; and you must see the tangled street-traffic clear before you as if by the wave of a magician's wand.
Of course it all ended when, with heaving flanks and snorting nostrils you stopped before a building, where thin curls of smoke escaped from upper windows. Generally you found purring beside a hydrant a shiny steamer which had beaten the truck by perhaps a dozen seconds. Then you watched your men snatch the great ladders from the truck, heave them up against the walls and bring down pale-faced, staring-eyed men and women. You saw them tear open iron shutters, batter down doors, smash windows and do other things to make a path for the writhing, white-bodied, yellow-nosed snakes that uncoiled from the engine and were carried wriggling in where the flames lapped along baseboard and floor-beams. You saw the little ripples of smoke swell into huge, cream-edged billows that tumbled out and up so far above that you lost sight of them.
Sometimes there came dull explosions, when smoke and flame belched out about you. Sometimes stones and bricks and cornices fell near you. But you were not to flinch or stir until Lannigan, who watched all these happenings with critical and unwinking eyes, gave the word.
And after it was all over—when the red and yellow flames had ceased to dance in the empty window spaces, when only the white steam-smoke rolled up through the yawning roof-holes—the ladders were re-shipped, you left the purring engines to drown out the last hidden spark, and you went prancing back to your House, where the lonesome desk-man waited patiently for your return.
No loping rush was the homeward trip. The need for haste had passed. Now came the parade. You might toss your head, arch your neck, and use all your fancy steps: Lannigan didn't care. In fact, he rather liked to have you show off a bit. The men on the truck, smutty of face and hands, joked across the ladders. The strain was over. It was a time of relaxing, for behind was duty well done.
Then came the nice accuracy of swinging a sixty-foot truck in a fifty-foot street and of backing through a fourteen-foot door wheels which spanned thirteen feet from hub rim to hub rim.
After unhooking there was the rubbing and the extra feeding of oats that always follows a long run. How good it was to be bedded down after this lung stretching, leg limbering work.
Such was the life which Old Silver was leading when there arrived disaster. It came in the shape of a milk leg. Perhaps it was caused by over-feeding, but more likely it resulted from much standing in stall during a fortnight when the runs had been few and short.
It behaved much as milk legs usually do. While there was no great pain the leg was unhandsome to look upon, and it gave to Old Silver a clumsiness of movement he had never known before.
Industriously did Lannigan apply such simple remedies as he had at hand. Yet the swelling increased until from pastern to hock was neither shape nor grace. Worst of all, in getting on his feet one morning, Silver barked the skin with a rap from his toe calks. Then it did look bad. Of course this had to happen just before the veterinary inspector's monthly visit.
"Old Silver, eh?" said he. "Well, I've been looking for him to give out. That's a bad leg there, a very bad leg. Send him up to the hospital in the morning, and I'll have another gray down here. It's time you had a new horse in his place."
Lannigan stepped forward to protest. It was only a milk leg. He had cured such before. He could cure this one. Besides, he couldn't spare Silver, the best horse on his team.
But the inspector often heard such pleas.
"You drivers," said he, "would keep a horse going until he dropped through the collar. To hear you talk anyone would think there wasn't another horse in the Department. What do you care so long as you get another gray?"
Very much did Lannigan care, but he found difficulty in putting his sentiments into words. Besides, of what use was it to talk to a blind fool who could say that one gray horse was as good as another. Hence Lannigan only looked sheepish and kept his tongue between his teeth until the door closed behind the inspector. Then he banged a ham-like fist into a broad palm and relieved his feelings in language both forceful and picturesque. This failed to mend matters, so Lannigan, putting an arm around the old gray's neck, told Silver all about it. Probably Silver misunderstood, for he responded by reaching over Lannigan's shoulder and chewing the big man's leather belt. Only when Lannigan fed to him six red apples and an extra quart of oats did Silver mistrust that something unusual was going to happen. Next morning, sure enough, it did happen.
Some say Lannigan wept. As to that none might be sure, for he sat facing the wall in a corner of the bunk-room. No misunderstanding could there have been about his remarks, muttered though they were. They were uncomplimentary to all veterinary inspectors in general, and most pointedly uncomplimentary to one in particular. Below they were leading Old Silver away to the hospital.
Perhaps it was that Silver's milk leg was stubborn in yielding to treatment. Perhaps the folks at the horse hospital deemed it unwise to spend time and effort on a horse of his age. At any rate, after less than a week's stay, he was cast into oblivion. They took away the leaden number medal, which for more than ten years he had worn on a strap around his neck, and they turned him over to a sales-stable as carelessly as a battalion chief would toss away a half-smoked cigar.
Now a sales-stable is a place where horse destinies are shuffled by reckless and unthinking hands. Also its doors open on the four corners of the world's crossed highways. You might go from there to find your work waiting between the shafts of a baker's cart just around the corner, or you might be sent across seas to die miserably of tsetse stings on the South African veldt.
Neither of these things happened to Silver. It occurred that his arrival at the sales-stable was coincident with a rush order from the Street Cleaning Department. So there he went. Fate, it seemed, had marked him for municipal service.
There was no delay about his initiation. Into his forehoofs they branded this shameful inscription: D. S. C. 937, on his back they flung a forty-pound single harness with a dirty piece of canvas as a blanket. They hooked him to an iron dump-cart, and then, with a heavy lashed whip, they haled him forth at 5.30 a.m. to begin the inglorious work of removing refuse from the city streets.
Perhaps you think Old Silver could not feel the disgrace, the ignominy of it all. Could you have seen the lowered head, the limp-hung tail, the dulled eyes and the dispirited sag of his quarters, you would have thought differently.
It is one thing to jump a hook and ladder truck up Broadway to the relief of a fire-threatened block, and quite another to plod humbly along the curb from ash-can to ash-can. How Silver did hate those cans. Each one should have been for him a signal to stop. But it was not. In consequence, he was yanked to a halt every two minutes.
Sometimes he would crane his neck and look mournfully around at the unsightly leg which he had come to understand was the cause of all his misery. There would come into his great eyes a look of such pitiful melancholy that one might almost fancy tears rolling out. Then he would be roused by an exasperated driver, who jerked cruelly on the lines and used his whip as if it had been a flail.
When the cart was full Silver must drag it half across the city to the riverfront, and up a steep runway from the top of which its contents were dumped into the filthy scows that waited below. At the end of each monotonous, wearisome day he jogged stiffly to the uninviting stables, where he was roughly ushered into a dark, damp stall.
To another horse, unused to anything better, the life would not have seemed hard. Of oats and hay there were fair quantities, and there was more or less hasty grooming. But to Silver, accustomed to such little amenities as friendly pats from men, and the comradeship of his fellow-workers, it was like a bad dream. He was not even cheered by the fact that his leg, intelligently treated by the stable-boss, was growing better. What did that matter? Had he not lost his caste? Express and dray horses, the very ones that had once scurried into side streets at sound of his hoofs, now insolently crowded him to the curb. When he had been on the truck Silver had yielded the right of way to none, he had held his head high; now he dodged and waited, he wore a blind bridle, and he wished neither to see nor to be seen.
For three months Silver had pulled that hateful refuse chariot about the streets, thankful only that he traversed a section of the city new to him. Then one day he was sent out with a new driver whose route lay along familiar ways. The thing Silver dreaded, that which he had long feared, did not happen for more than a week after the change.
It came early one morning. He had been backed up in front of a big office-building where a dozen bulky cans cumbered the sidewalk. The driver was just lifting one of them to the tail-board when, from far down the street, there reached Silver's ears a well-known sound. Nearer it swept, louder and louder it swelled. The old gray lifted his lowered head in spite of his determination not to look. The driver, too, poised the can on the cart-edge, and waited, gazing.
In a moment the noise and its cause were opposite. Old Silver hardly needed to glance before knowing the truth. It was his old company, the Gray Horse Truck. There was his old driver, there were his old team mates. In a flash there passed from Silver's mind all memory of his humble condition, his wretched state. Tossing his head and giving his tail a swish, he leaped toward the apparatus, neatly upsetting the filled ash-can over the head and shoulders of the bewildered driver.
By a supreme effort Silver dropped into the old lope. A dozen bounds took him abreast the nigh horse, and, in spite of Lannigan's shouts, there he stuck, littering the newly swept pavement most disgracefully at every jump. Thus strangely accompanied, the Gray Horse Truck thundered up Broadway for ten blocks, and when it stopped, before a building in which a careless watchman's lantern had set off the automatic, Old Silver was part of the procession.
It was Lannigan who, in the midst of an eloquent flow of indignant abuse, made this announcement: "Why, boys—it's—it's our Old Silver; jiggered if it ain't!"
Each member of the crew having expressed his astonishment in appropriate words, Lannigan tried to sum it all up by saying:
"Silver, you old sinner! So they've put you in a blanked ash-cart, have they? Well, I'll—I'll be——"
But there speech failed him. His wits did not. There was a whispered council of war. Lannigan made a daring proposal, at which all grinned appreciatively.
"Sure, they'd never find out," said one.
"An' see, his game leg's most as good as new again," suggested another.
It was an unheard-of, audacious, and preposterous proceeding; one which the rules and regulations of the Fire Department, many and varied as they are, never anticipated. But it was adopted. Meanwhile the Captain found it necessary to inspect the interior of the building, the Lieutenant turned his back, and the thing was done.
That same evening an ill-tempered and very dirty ash-cart driver turned up at the stables with a different horse from the one he had driven out that morning, much to the mystification of himself and certain officials of the Department of Street Cleaning.
Also, there pranced back as nigh horse of the truck a big gray with one slightly swollen hind leg. By the way he held his head, by the look in his big, bright eyes, and by his fancy stepping one might have thought him glad to be where he was. And it was so. As for the rest, Lannigan will tell you in strict confidence that the best mode of disguising hoof-brands until they are effaced by new growth is to fill them with axle-grease. It cannot be detected.
Should you ever chance to see, swinging up lower Broadway, a hook-and-ladder truck drawn by three big grays jumping in perfect unison, note especially the nigh horse—that's the one on the left side looking forward. It will be Old Silver who, although now rising sixteen, seems to be good for at least another four years of active service.
AND THE MARRING OF HIM
Those who should know say that a colt may have no worse luck than to be foaled on a wet Friday. On a most amazingly wet Friday—rain above, slush below, and a March snorter roaring between—such was the natal day of Blue Blazes.
And an unhandsome colt he was. His broomstick legs seemed twice the proper length, and so thin you would hardly have believed they could ever carry him. His head, which somehow suggested the lines of a boot-jack, was set awkwardly on an ewed neck.
For this pitiful, ungainly little figure only two in all the world had any feeling other than contempt. One of these, of course, was old Kate, the sorrel mare who mothered him. She gazed at him with sad old eyes blinded by that maternal love common to all species, sighed with huge content as he nuzzled for his breakfast, and believed him to be the finest colt that ever saw a stable. The other was Lafe, the chore boy, who, when Farmer Perkins had stirred the little fellow roughly with his boot-toe as he expressed his deep dissatisfaction, made reparation by gently stroking the baby colt and bringing an old horse-blanket to wrap him in. Old Kate understood. Lafe read gratitude in the big, sorrowful mother eyes.
Months later, when the colt had learned to balance himself on the spindly legs, the old sorrel led him proudly about the pasture, showing him tufts of sweet new spring grass, and taking him to the brook, where were tender and juicy cowslips, finely suited to milk-teeth.
In time the slender legs thickened, the chest deepened, the barrel filled out, the head became less ungainly. As if to make up for these improvements, the colt's markings began to set. They took the shapes of a saddle-stripe, three white stockings, and an irregular white blaze covering one side of his face and patching an eye. On chest and belly the mother sorrel came out rather sharply, but on the rest of him was that peculiar blending which gives the blue roan shade, a color unpleasing to the critical eye, and one that lowers the market value.
Lafe, however, found the colt good to look upon. But Lafe himself had no heritage of beauty. He had not even grown up to his own long, thin legs. Possibly no boy ever had hair of such a homely red. Certainly few could have been found with bigger freckles. But it was his eyes which accented the plainness of his features. You know the color of a ripe gooseberry, that indefinable faint purplish tint; well, that was it.
If Lafe found no fault with Blue Blazes, the colt found no fault with Lafe. At first the colt would sniff suspiciously at him from under the shelter of the old sorrel's neck, but in time he came to regard Lafe without fear, and to suffer a hand on his flank or the chore boy's arm over his shoulder. So between them was established a gentle confidence beautiful to see.
Fortunate it would have been had Lafe been master of horse on the Perkins farm. But he was not. Firstly, there are no such officials on Michigan peach-farms; secondly, Lafe would not have filled the position had such existed. Lafe, you see, did not really belong. He was an interloper, a waif who had drifted in from nowhere in particular, and who, because of a willingness to do a man's work for no wages at all, was allowed a place at table and a bunk over the wagon-shed. Farmer Perkins, more jealous of his reputation for shrewdness than of his soul's salvation, would point to Lafe and say, knowingly:
"He's a bad one, that boy is; look at them eyes." And surely, if Lafe's soul-windows mirrored the color of his mental state, he was indeed in a bad way.
In like manner Farmer Perkins judged old Kate's unhandsome colt.
"Look at them ears," he said, really looking at the unsightly nose-blaze. "We'll have a circus when it comes to breakin' that critter."
Sure enough, it was more or less of a circus. Perhaps the colt was at fault, perhaps he was not. Olsen, a sullen-faced Swede farm-hand, whose youth had been spent in a North Sea herring-boat, and whose disposition had been matured by sundry second mates on tramp steamers, was the appropriate person selected for introducing Blue Blazes to the uses of a halter.
Judging all humans by the standard established by the mild-mannered Lafe, the colt allowed himself to be caught after small effort. But when the son of old Kate first felt a halter he threw up his head in alarm. Abruptly and violently his head was jerked down. Blue Blazes was surprised, hurt, angered. Something was bearing hard on his nose; there was something about his throat that choked.
Had he, then, been deceived? Here he was, wickedly and maliciously trapped. He jerked and slatted his head some more. This made matters worse. He was cuffed and choked. Next he tried rearing. His head was pulled savagely down, and at this point Olsen began beating him with the slack of the halter rope.
Ah, now Blue Blazes understood! They got your head and neck into that arrangement of straps and rope that they might beat you. Wild with fear he plunged desperately to right and left. Blindly he reared, pawing the air. Just as one of his hoofs struck Olsen's arm a buckle broke. The colt felt the nose-strap slide off. He was free.
A marvellous tale of fierce encounter with a devil-possessed colt did Olsen carry back to the farm-house. In proof he showed a broken halter, rope-blistered hands, and a bruised arm.
"I knew it!" said Farmer Perkins. "Knew it the minute I see them ears. He's a vicious brute, that colt, but we'll tame him."
So four of them, variously armed with whips and pitchforks, went down to the pasture and tried to drive Blue Blazes into a fence corner. But the colt was not to be cornered. From one end of the pasture to the other he raced. He had had enough of men for that day.
Next morning Farmer Perkins tried familiar strategy. Under his coat he hid a stout halter and a heavy bull whip. Then, holding a grain measure temptingly before him, he climbed the pasture fence.
In the measure were oats which he rattled seductively. Also he called mildly and persuasively. Blue Blazes was suspicious. Four times he allowed the farmer to come almost within reaching distance only to turn and bolt with a snort of alarm just at the crucial moment. At last he concluded that he must have just one taste of those oats.
"Come coltie, nice coltie," cooed the man in a strained but conciliating voice.
Blue Blazes planted himself for a sudden whirl, stretched his neck as far as possible and worked his upper lip inquiringly. The smell of the oats lured him on. Hardly had he touched his nose to the grain before the measure was dropped and he found himself roughly grabbed by the forelock. In a moment he saw the hated straps and ropes. Before he could break away the halter was around his neck and buckled firmly.
Farmer Perkins changed his tone: "Now, you damned ugly little brute, I've got you! [Jerk] Blast your wicked hide! [Slash] You will, will you? [Yank] I'll larn you!" [Slash.]
Man and colt were almost exhausted when the "lesson" was finished. It left Blue Blazes ridged with welts, trembling, fright sickened. Never again would he trust himself within reach of those men; no, not if they offered him a whole bushel of oats.
But it was a notable victory. Vauntingly Farmer Perkins told how he had haltered the vicious colt. He was unconscious that a pair of ripe gooseberry eyes turned black with hate, that behind his broad back was shaken a futile fist.
The harness-breaking of Blue Blazes was conducted on much the same plan as his halter-taming, except that during the process he learned to use his heels. One Olsen, who has since walked with a limp, can tell you that.
Another feature of the harness-breaking came as an interruption to further bull-whip play by Farmer Perkins. It was a highly melodramatic episode in which Lafe, gripping the handle of a two-tined pitchfork, his freckled-face greenish-white and the pupils of his eyes wide with the fear of his own daring, threatened immediate damage to the person of Farmer Perkins, unless the said Perkins dropped the whip. This Perkins did. More than that, he fled with ridiculous haste, and in craven terror; while Lafe, having given the trembling colt a parting caress, quitted the farm abruptly and for all time.
As for Blue Blazes, two days later he was sold to a travelling horse-dealer, and departed without any sorrow of farewells. In the weeks during which he trailed over the fruit district of southern Michigan in the wake of the horse-buyer, Blue Blazes learned nothing good and much that was ill. He finished the trip with raw hocks, a hoof-print on his flank, and teeth-marks on neck and withers. Horses led in a bunch do not improve in disposition.
Some of the scores the blue-roan colt paid in kind, some he did not, but he learned the game of give and take. Men and horses alike, he concluded, were against him. If he would hold his own he must be ready with teeth and hoofs. Especially he carried with him always a black, furious hatred of man in general.
So he went about with ears laid back, the whites of his eyes showing, and a bite or a kick ready in any emergency. Day by day the hate in him deepened until it became the master-passion. A quick foot-fall behind him was enough to send his heels flying as though they had been released by a hair-trigger. He kicked first and investigated afterward. The mere sight of a man within reaching distance roused all his ferocity.
He took a full course in vicious tricks. He learned how to crowd a man against the side of a stall, and how to reach him, when at his head, by an upward and forward stroke of the forefoot. He could kick straight behind with lightning quickness, or give the hoof a sweeping side-movement most comprehensive and unexpected. The knack of lifting the bits with the tongue and shoving them forward of the bridle-teeth came in time. It made running away a matter of choice.
When it became necessary to cause diversion he would balk. He no longer cared for whips. Physically and mentally he had become hardened to blows. Men he had ceased to fear, for most of them feared him and he knew it. He only despised and hated them. One exception Blue Blazes made. This was in favor of men and boys with red hair and freckles. Such he would not knowingly harm. A long memory had the roan.
Toward his own kind Blue Blazes bore himself defiantly. Double harness was something he loathed. One was not free to work his will on the despised driver if hampered by a pole and mate. In such cases he nipped manes and kicked under the traces until released. He had a special antipathy for gray horses and fought them on the smallest provocation, or upon none at all.