THE REASON WHY I PURCHASED A HORSE—A PECULIAR CHARACTERISTIC—DRIVING BY THE RIVER—OUR HORSE AS A PERSECUTOR—HE BECOMES A GENUINE NIGHTMARE—EXPERIMENTING WITH HIS TAIL—HOW OUR HORSE DIED—IN RELATION TO PIRATES—MRS. JONES'S BOLD CORSAIR—A LAMENTABLE TALE.
T is probable that I should never have bought a horse if I had not been strongly urged to do so by other persons. I do not care a great deal for riding and driving; and if it ever did occur to me that it would, perhaps, be a nice thing to have a horse of my own, I regarded the necessary expense as much too great for the small amount of enjoyment that could be obtained from the investment. It always seemed to me to be much cheaper to hire a horse at a livery-stable if only an occasional drive was desired; and I cling to that theory yet. But everybody else seemed to think I ought to own a horse. Mrs. Adeler was especially anxious about it. She insisted that we were doing very well in the world, and she could not see the use of having means if we were to live always as we did when we were poor. She said she often wanted to take a little drive along the river-road in the evening with the children, and she frequently wished to visit her friends in the country, but she couldn't bear to go with a strange horse of which she knew nothing.
My friends used to say, "Adeler, I wonder you don't keep a horse and take your family out sometimes;" and they hammered away at the theme until I actually began to feel us if the public suspected me of being a niggardly and cruel tyrant, who hugged my gold to my bosom and gloated over the misery of my wife and children—gloated because they couldn't have a horse. People used to come down from the city to see us, and after examining the house and garden, they would remark, "Very charming!—very charming, indeed! A little paradise, in fact; but, Adeler, why don't you buy a horse?"
I gradually grew nervous upon the subject, and was tolerably well convinced that there would never be perfect happiness in my family until I purchased a steed of some kind. At last, one day Cooley had a yellow horse knocked down to him at one of those auction-sales which are known in the rural districts as "Vandues." And when I saw Cooley drive past the house, every afternoon, with that saffron brute, and his family in a dearborn wagon, and observed how he looked in at us and smiled superciliously, as if he was thinking, "There lives a miserable outcast who has no horse and can't get one," I determined to purchase at once.
I have not had much experience with horses, but I found one whose appearance and gait were fairly good, and I was particularly drawn toward him because the man recommended him as being "urbane." I had heard many descriptions of the points of a good horse, but this was the first time I had ever met a horse whose most prominent characteristic was urbanity. It seemed to me that the quality was an excellent one, and I made a bargain on the spot and drove home.
"Mrs. Adeler," I said, as I exhibited the purchase to her, "I do not think this horse is very fast; I do not regard him as in the highest sense beautiful; he may even be deficient in wind; his tail certainly is short; and I think I can detect in his forelegs a tendency to spring too far forward at the knees; but, Mrs. Adeler, the horse is urbane. The man said that his urbanity amounted to a positive weakness, and that is why I bought him. If a horse is not urbane, my dear, it is useless, no matter what its merit in other respects."
She said that had been her opinion from early childhood.
"I do not care greatly, Mrs. Adeler, for excessive speed. Give me a horse that can proceed with merely a tolerable degree of celerity and I am content. I never could comprehend why a man whose horse can trot a mile in two minutes and forty seconds should be made unhappy because another man's horse trots the same distance one second sooner—that is, of course, supposing that they are not running for money. One second of time never makes any especial difference to me, even when I am in a hurry. What I want in a horse is not swiftness, but urbanity. I would rather have a kindhearted horse, like ours, than the most rapid trotter with a wicked disposition."
For a while I enjoyed having a horse, and I felt glad I had bought him. It seemed very good to drive down by the river-bank upon a pleasant evening, with the cool breeze blowing in from the water, and the country around beautiful with the bright foliage of early autumn. There was a sufficient compensation for the heat and wretchedness of the busy day in that quiet journey over the level road and past the fragrant fields in the early twilight; and as we came home amid the deepening shadows, we could find pleasure in watching the schooners far off in the channel flinging out their lights, and we could see the rays streaming across the wide interval of rippling surface, and moving weirdly and strangely with the motion of the water.
Sometimes, upon going out, we would overtake Cooley in his dearborn; and then it was felicitous to observe how, when I touched my horse with the whip, the animal put his head down, elevated his abbreviated tail to a horizontal position and left Cooley far, far behind, flogging his tawny horse with such fury as would surely have subjected him to the reproaches of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals if that excellent organization had been present. My horse could achieve a tolerably rapid gait when he desired to do so. That fact made existence in this world of anguish and tears seem even more sad to Cooley than it had done previously. I feel sure that he would have given fabulous sums if his horse could have trotted a mile in a minute just once—when we were upon the road together. I began to think that it was just as well, after all, to have a progressive horse as a slow one.
But when the novelty of the thing had passed, my old indisposition to amusement of that kind gradually returned. I drove less frequently. One day my man said to me:
"Mr. Adeler, that hoss is a-eatin' his head off, sir. If you don't take him out, he'll be so wild that he'll bu'st the machine to flinders, sir."
The threatened catastrophe seemed so alarming that I took him out, although I had important work to do at home. The next day I wanted to stay up in the city to go to a lecture; but that morning, early, the horse again displayed an alarming amount of friskiness, and I felt as if I must go down and exercise him. I drove him for three hours at a rapid gait, and succeeded in working off at least the exuberance of his spirits.
On the following Wednesday I came home in the afternoon, exhausted with work, and intending to retire at an early hour. At half-past six o'clock, Judge Pitman came in. He remarked:
"Adeler, that horse of yourn'll certainly go crazy if you don't move him around. Mind me. He kicks like a flintlock musket now if you come within forty foot of the stable."
I went out and hitched up, and that night I drove twenty-four miles at a frightful speed. Horses have, perhaps, gone farther and faster, but few have been pushed forward with a smaller regard for consequences. Nothing but a recollection of the cost of the horse restrained me from driving him into the river and leaving him there.
By degrees the despicable brute became the curse of my existence. If I desired to go on a journey, the restlessness of the horse had first to be overcome. If I received an invitation to a party, the horse must be exercised beforehand. If I had an important article to write, I must roam around the country behind that horse for two or three hours, holding him in with such force that my hands were made too unsteady for penmanship. If I wanted to take a row on the river—an exercise of which I am passionately fond—that detestable animal had to be danced up and down the turnpike in order to keep him from kicking the stable to pieces. And he was recommended to me as "urbane"!
He made my life unhappy. I became depressed and morose. Sometimes when, amid a circle of friends, there was a provocation to laughter, and I participated in the general hilarity, I would suddenly become conscious of the fact that the horse was in active existence, and the mirth would be extinguished in gloom. He mingled with my dreams. Visions of a bob-tailed horse consuming spectral oats, and kicking with millions of legs, disturbed my rest at night. I rushed with him over countless leagues of shadowy road, and plunged with him over incomprehensible precipices. He organized himself into hideous nightmare shapes, and charged wildly over me as I slept, and filled all the air of that mysterious slumber-land with the noise of his demoniac neighing.
The reality was bad enough without the unreal nocturnal horrors. I might have sold the brute, but my wife really wanted to have a horse, and I wished to oblige her. But it was very wearing to bear about constantly the feeling of responsibility which the animal engendered. I had to choose between driving him continually and having the lives of the members of my family imperiled when they took him out; and the consciousness that whether there was sickness or business, storm or earthquake, calamity or death, the horse must be driven, gradually placed me in the position of a man who is haunted by some dreadful spectre that clings to him and overshadows him for ever and for ever.
The perpetual nervous worry told upon me. I became thin. My clothing hung loose upon me. I took up two inches in my waistcoat strap. The appetite which enabled me to find enjoyment at the table deserted me. The food seemed tasteless; and if in the midst of a meal the neigh of the horse came eddying up through the air from the stable, I turned away with a feeling of disgust, and felt as if I wanted to prod somebody with the carving-knife.
One day my wife said to me:
"Mr. Adeler, you know that I urged you strongly to buy that horse, and I thought he would do, but—"
"But now you want to sell him! ha! ha!" I exclaimed, with delight. "Very well, I'll send him to the auctioneer this very day."
"I wasn't going to say that," she remarked. "What I wanted to mention was that nearly everybody in good circumstances about here drives a pair, and I think we ought to get another horse; don't you, my dear? It's so much nicer than having only one."
"Mrs. Adeler," I said, solemnly, "that one horse down there in the stable has reduced me to a skeleton and made me utterly miserable. I will do as you say if you insist upon it, but I tell you plainly that if another horse is brought upon these premises I shall go mad."
"Don't speak in that manner, my dear."
"I tell you, Mrs. Adeler, that I shall go stark, staring mad! Take your choice: go without the other horse or have a maniac husband."
She said, of course, she would do without the horse.
But the affliction was suddenly and unexpectedly removed. My horse had a singularly brief tail, and I thought it might be that some of his violent demonstrations in the stable were induced by his inability to switch off the flies which alighted upon sensitive portions of the body. It occurred to me to get him up an artificial tail for home use, and I procured a piece of thick rope for the purpose. There was, too, a certain humorousness about the idea that pleased me; and as the amount of jocularity which that horse had occasioned had, thus far been particularly small, the notion had peculiar attractiveness.
I unraveled about eighteen inches of the rope and fastened the other end to the horse's tail. This, I estimated, would enable him to switch a fly off the very end of his nose when he had acquired a little practice. Unfortunately, I neglected to speak to my man upon the subject; and when he came to the stable that evening, he examined the rope and concluded that I was trying experiments with some new kind of hitching-strap; so he tied the horse to the stall by the artificial continuation. By morning the feed-box was kicked into kindling-wood, and the horse was standing on three legs, with the other leg caught in the hay-rack, while he had chewed up two of the best boards in the side of the stable in front of him.
Subsequently I explained the theory to the man and readjusted the rope. But the patent tail annoyed the hostler so much while currying the horse that he tied a stone to it to hold it still. The consequence was that in a moment of unusual excitement the horse flung the stone around and inflicted a severe wound upon the man's head. The man resigned next morning.
I then concluded to introduce an improvement. I purchased some horse-hair and spliced it upon the tail so neatly that it had the appearance of a natural growth. When the new man came, he attempted to comb out the horse's tail, and the added portion came off in his hand. He had profound confidence in his veterinary skill, and he imagined that the occurrence indicated a diseased condition of the horse. So he purchased some powders and gave the animal an enormous dose in a bucket of warm "mash." In half an hour that pestilential horse was seized with convulsions, during which he kicked out the stable-door, shattered the stall to pieces, hammered four more boards out of the partition, dislocated his off hind leg and expired in frightful agony.
He was more urbane after death than he had been during his life, and I contemplated his remains without shedding a tear. He was sold to a glue-man for eight dollars; and when he had departed, I felt that he would fulfill a wiser and better purpose as a contributor to the national stock of glue than as the unconscious persecutor of his former owner.
"Mrs. Adeler, do you feel any interest in the subject of pirates?"
She said the question was somewhat abrupt, but she thought she might safely say she did not.
"I make the inquiry for the reason that I have just written a ballad which has for its hero a certain bold corsair. This is the first consequence of the death of our horse. In the exuberance of joy caused by that catastrophe, I felt as if I would like to perpetrate something which should be purely ridiculous, and accordingly I organized upon paper this piratical narrative. You think the subject is an odd one? Not so. I do not pretend to explain the fact, but it is true that by this generation a pirate is regarded as a comic personage. Perhaps the reason is that he has been so often presented to us in such a perfectly absurd form in melodrama and in the cheap and trashy novels of the day. At any rate, he is susceptible of humorous treatment, as you will perceive.
"I have had a stronger impulse to write of buccaneers, too, because I am in New Castle; for, somehow, I always associate those freebooting individuals with this village. A certain ancestor of mine sailed away from this town in 1813, in a brig commissioned as a privateer, and played havoc with the ships of the enemy upon the Atlantic. In my childhood I used to hear of his brave deeds, and, somehow, I conceived the idea that he was a genuine pirate with a black flag, skull and cross-bones, and a disagreeable habit of compelling his captives to walk the plank. I was much more proud of him then, Mrs. Adeler, than I should be now had he really been such a ruffian. But he was not. He was a gallant sailor and a brave and honest gentleman, who served his country faithfully on the ocean, and then held a post of honor as warden of the port of Philadelphia until his death. But I never go to the river's side in New Castle without involuntarily recalling that fine old man in the character of an outlawed rover upon the high seas.
"Here, my dear, is the ballad, When I have read it to you, I will send it to the Argus. Since Mr. Slimmer's retirement there has been a dearth of poetry in the columns of that great organ."
MRS. JONES'S PIRATE.
A sanguinary pirate sailed upon the Spanish main
In a rakish-looking schooner which was called the "Mary Jane."
She carried lots of howitzers and deadly rifled guns,
With shot and shell and powder and percussion caps in tons.
The pirate was a homely man, and short and grum and fat;
He wore a wild and awful scowl beneath his slouching hat.
Swords, pistols and stilettos were arranged around his thighs,
And demoniacal glaring was quite common with his eyes.
His heavy black moustaches curled away beneath his nose,
And drooped in elegant festoons about his very toes.
He hardly ever spoke at all; but when such was the case,
His voice 'twas easy to perceive was quite a heavy bass.
He was not a serious pirate; and despite his anxious cares,
He rarely went to Sunday-school and seldom said his prayers.
He worshiped lovely women, and his hope in life was this:
To calm his wild, tumultuous soul with pure domestic bliss.
When conversing with his shipmates, he very often swore
That he longed to give up piracy and settle down on shore.
He tired of blood and plunder; of the joys that they could bring;
He sighed to win the love of some affectionate young thing.
One morning as the "Mary Jane" went bounding o'er the sea
The pirate saw a merchant bark far off upon his lee.
He ordered a pursuit, and spread all sail that he could spare,
And then went down, in hopeful mood, to shave and curl his hair.
He blacked his boots and pared his nails and tied a fresh cravat;
He cleansed his teeth, pulled down his cuffs and polished up his hat;
He dimmed with flour the radiance of his fiery red nose,
For, hanging with that vessel's wash, he saw some ladies' hose.
Once more on deck, the stranger's hull he riddled with a ball,
And yelled, "I say! what bark is that?" In answer to his call
The skipper on the other boat replied in thunder tones:
"This here's the bark Matilda, and her captain's name is Jones."
The pirate told his bold corsairs to man the jolly-boats,
To board the bark and seize the crew, and slit their tarry throats,
And then to give his compliments to Captain Jones, and say
He wished that he and Mrs. Jones would come and spend the day.
They reached the bark, they killed the crew, they threw them in the sea,
And then they sought the captain, who was mad as he could be,
Because his wife—who saw the whole sad tragedy, it seems—
Made all the ship vociferous with her outrageous screams.
But when the pirate's message came, she dried her streaming tears,
And said, although she'd like to come, she had unpleasant fears
That, his social status being very evidently low,
She might meet some common people whom she wouldn't care to know.
Her husband's aged father, she admitted, dealt in bones,
But the family descended from the famous Duke de Jones;
And such blue-blooded people, that the rabble might be checked,
Had to make their social circle excessively select.
Before she visited his ship she wanted him to say
If the Smythes had recognized him in a social friendly way;
Did the Jonsons ever ask him 'round to their ancestral halls?
Was he noticed by the Thomsons? Was he asked to Simms's balls?
The pirate wrote that Thomson was his best and oldest friend,
That he often stopped at Jonson's when he had a week to spend;
As for the Smythes, they worried him with their incessant calls;
His very legs were weary with the dance at Simms's balls.
(The scoundrel fibbed most shamelessly. In truth he only knew
A lot of Smiths without a y—a most plebeian crew.
His Johnsons used a vulgar h, his Thompsons spelled with p,
His Simses had one m, and they were common as could be.)
Then Mrs. Jones mussed up her hair and donned her best delaine,
And went with Captain Jones aboard the schooner Mary Jane.
The pirate won her heart at once by saying, with a smile,
He never saw a woman dressed in such exquisite style.
The pirate's claim to status she was very sure was just
When she noticed how familiarly the Johnsons he discussed.
Her aristocratic scruples then were quickly laid aside,
And when the pirate sighed at her, reciproc'ly she sighed.
No sooner was the newer love within her bosom born
Than Jones was looked upon by her with hatred and with scorn,
She said 'twas true his ancestor was famous Duke de Jones,
But she shuddered to remember that his father dealt in bones.
So then they got at Captain Jones and hacked him with a sword,
And chopped him into little bits and tossed him overboard.
The chaplain read the service, and the captain of the bark
Before his widow's weeping eyes was gobbled by a shark.
The chaplain turned the prayer-book o'er; the bride took off her glove;
They swore to honor, to obey, to cherish and to love.
And, freighted full of happiness, across the ocean's foam
The schooner glided rapidly toward the pirate's home.
And when of ecstasy and joy their hearts could hold no more,
That pirate dropped his anchor down and rowed his love ashore.
And as they sauntered up the street he gave his bride a poke,
And said, "In them there mansions live the friends of whom I spoke."
She glanced her eye along the plates of brass upon each door,
And then her anger rose as it had never done before.
She said, "That Johnson has an h! that Thompson has a p!
The Smith that spells without a y is not the Smith for me!"
And darkly scowled she then upon that rover of the wave;
"False! False!" she shrieked, and spoke of him as "Monster, traitor, slave!"
And then she wept and tore her hair, and filled the air with groans,
And cursed with bitterness the day she let them chop up Jones.
And when she'd spent on him at last the venom of her tongue,
She seized her pongee parasol and stabbed him in the lung.
A few more energetic jabs were at his heart required,
And then this scand'lous buccaneer rolled over and expired.
Still brandishing her parasol she sought the pirate boat;
She loaded up a gun and jammed her head into its throat;
And fixing fast the trigger, with string tied to her toe,
She breathed "Mother!" through the touchhole, and kicked and let her go.
A snap, a fizz, a rumble; some stupendous roaring tones—
And where upon earth's surface was the recent Mrs. Jones?
Go ask the moaning winds, the sky, the mists, the murmuring sea;
Go ask the fish, the coroner, the clams—but don't ask me.