From The Wit and Humor of America, edited by Marshall P. Wilder, Volume III, New York and London: Funk and Wagnalls and Company, 1911; pp. 464-469.
BY JAMES MONTGOMERY BAILEY
The other morning at breakfast Mrs. Perkins observed that Mr. Stiver, in whose house we live, had been called away, and wanted to know if I would see to his horse through the day.
I knew that Mr. Stiver owned a horse, because I occasionally saw him drive out of the yard, and I saw the stable every day, — but what kind of a horse I didn’t know. I never went into the stable, for two reasons: in the first place, I had no desire to; and, secondly, I didn’t know as the horse cared particularly for company.
I never took care of a horse in my life; and, had I been of a less hopeful nature, the charge Mr. Stiver had left with me might have had a very depressing effect; but I told Mrs. Perkins I would do it.
“You know how to take care of a horse, don’t you?” said she.
I gave her a reassuring wink. In fact, I knew so little about it that I didn’t think it safe to converse more fluently than by winks.
After breakfast I seized a toothpick and walked out towards the stable. There was nothing particular to do, as Stiver had given him his breakfast, and I found him eating it; so I looked around. The horse looked around, too, and stared pretty hard at me. There was but little said on either side. I hunted up the location of the feed, and then at down on a peck measure and fell to studying 465 the beast. There is a wide difference in horses. Some of them will kick you over and never look around to see what becomes of you. I don’t like a disposition like that, and I wondered if Stiver’s horse was one of them.
When I came home at noon I went straight to the stable. The animal was there all right. Stiver hadn’t told me what to give him for dinner, and I had not given the subject any thought; but I went to the oat-box and filled the peck measure and sallied boldly up to the manger.
When he saw the oats he almost smiled; this pleased and amused him. I emptied them into the trough, and left him above me to admire the way I parted my hair behind. I just got my head up in time to save the whole of it. He had his ears back, his mouth open, and looked as if he were on the point of committing murder. I went out and filled the measure again, and climbed up the side of the stall and emptied it on top of him. H brought his head up so suddenly at this that I immediately got down, letting go of everything to do it. I struck on the sharp edge of a barrel, rolled over a couple of times, then disappeared under a hay-cutter. The peck measure went down on the other side, and got mysteriously tangled up in that animal’s heels, and he went to work at it, and then ensued the most dreadful noise I ever heard in all my life, and I had been married eighteen years.
It did seem as if I never would get out from under that hay-cutter; and all the while I was struggling and wrenching myself and the cutter apart, that awful beast was kicking around in the stall, and making the most appalling sound imaginable.
When I got out I found Mrs. Perkins at the door. She had heard the racket, and had sped out to the stable, her only thought being of me and three stove-lids which she 466 had under her arm, and one of which she was bout to fire at the beast,
This made me mad.
“Go away, you unfortunate idiot!” I shouted: “do you want to knock my brains out?” For I remembered seeing Mrs. Perkins sling a missile once before, and that I nearly lost an eye by the operation, although standing on the other side of the house at the time.
She retired at once. And at the same time the animal quieted down, but there was nothing left of that peck measure, not even the maker’s name.
I followed Mrs. Perkins into the house, and had her do me up, and then I sat down in a chair and fell into a profound strain of meditation. After a while I felt better, and went out to the stable again. The horse was leaning against the stable stall, with eyes half closed, and appeared to be very much engrossed in thought.
“Step off to the left,” I said, rubbing his back.
He didn’t step. I got the pitchfork and punched him in the leg with the handle. He immediately raised up both hind legs at once, and that fork flew out of my hands, and went rattling up against the timber above, and came down again in an instant, the end of the handle rapping me with such force on the top of the head that I sat right down on the floor under the impression that I was standing in front of a drug-store in the evening. I went back to the house and got some more stuff on me. But I couldn’t keep away from that stable. I went out there again. The thought struck me that what the horse wanted was exercise. If that thought had been an empty glycerin-can, it would have saved a windfall of luck for me.
But exercise would tone him down, and exercise him I should. I laughed to myself to think how I would 467 trounce him around the yard. I didn’t laugh again that afternoon. I got him unhitched, and then wondered how I was to get him out of the stall without carrying him out. I pushed, but he wouldn’t budge. I stood looking at him in the face, thinking of something to say, when he suddenly solved the difficulty by veering about and plunging for the door. I followed, as a matter of course, because I had a tight hold on the rope, and hit about every partition-stud worth speaking of on that side of the barn. Mrs. Perkins was at the window and saw us come out of the door. She subsequently remarked that we came out skipping like two innocent children. The skipping was entirely unintentional on my part. I felt as if I stood on the verge of eternity. My legs may have skipped, but my mind was filled with awe.
I took the animal out to exercise him. He exercised me before I got through with it. He went around few times in a circle; then he stopped suddenly, spread out his forelegs, and looked at me. Then he leaned forward a little, and hoisted both hind legs, and threw about two coal-hods of mud over a line full of clothes Mrs. Perkins had just hung out.
That excellent lady had taken a position at the window, and, whenever the evolutions of the awful beast permitted, I caught a glance of her features. She appeared to be very much interested in the proceedings; but the instant that the mud flew, she disappeared from the window, and a moment later she appeared on the stoop with a long poker in her hand, and fire enough in her eye to heat it red-hot.
Just then Stiver’s horse stood up on his hind legs and tried to hug me with the others. This scared me. A horse never shows his strength to such advantage as when he is coming down on you like a frantic pile-driver. I instantly 468 dodged, and the cold sweat fairly boiled out of me.
It suddenly came over me that I had once figured in a similar position years ago. My grandfather owned a little white horse that would get up from a meal at Delmonico’s to kick the President of the Untied States. He sent me to the lot one day, and unhappily suggested that I often went after that horse and suffered all kinds of defeat in getting him out of the pasture, but I had never tried to ride him. Heaven knows I never thought of it. I had my usual trouble with him that day. He tried to jump over me, and push me down in a mud-hole, and finally got up on his hind legs and came waltzing after me with facilities enough to convert me into hash, but I turned and just made for that fence with all the agony a prospect of instant death could crowd into me. If our candidate for the Presidency had run one-half as well, there would be seventy-five postmasters in Danbury to-day, instead of one.
I got him out finally, and then he was quite enough, and I took him up alongside the fence and got on him. He stopped an instant, one brief instant, and then tore off down the road at a frightful speed. I lay down on him and clasped my hands tightly around his neck, and thought of my home. When he got to the stable I was confident he would stop, but he didn’t. He drove straight at the door. It was a low door, just high enough to permit him to go in at lightning speed, but there was no room for me. I saw if I struck that stable the struggle would be a very brief one. I thought this all over in an instant, and then, spreading out my arms and legs, emitted a scream, and the next moment I was bounding about in the filth of that stable-yard. All this passed through my mind as Stiver’s horse went up into the air. It frightened Mrs. Perkins dreadfully.46
“Why, you old fool!” she said; “why don’t you get rid of him?”
“How can I?” said I, in desperation.
“Why, there are a thousand ways,” said she.
This is just like a woman. How differently a statesman would have answered!
But I could think of only two ways to dispose of the beast. I could either swallow him where he stood and then sit down on him, or I could crawl inside of him and kick him to death.
But I was saved either of these expedients by his coming towards me so abruptly that I dropped the rope in terror, and then he turned about, and, kicking me full of mud, shot for the gate, ripping the clothes-line in two, and went on down the street at a horrible gallop, with two of Mrs. Perkins’ garments, which he hastily snatched from the line, floating over his neck in a very picturesque manner.
So I was afterwards told. I was too full of mud myself to see the way into the house.
Stiver got his horse all right, and stays at home to care for him. Mrs. Perkins has gone to her mother’s to recuperate, and I am healing as fast as possible.