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Chapter 17 Beautiful Joe by Marshall Saunders

The morning after we arrived in Riverdale, I was up very early and walking around the house. I slept in the woodshed, and could run outdoors whenever I liked.

The woodshed was at the back of the house and near it was the tool shed. Then there was a carriage house, and a plank walk leading to the barnyard.

I ran up this walk, and looked into the first building I came to. It was the horse stable. A door stood open, and the morning sun was glancing in. There were several horses there, some with their heads toward me, and some with their tails. I saw that instead of being tied up, there were gates outside their stalls, and they could stand in any way they liked.

There was a man moving about at the other end of the stable, and long before he saw me, I knew that it was Mr. Wood. What a nice, clean stable he had! There was always a foul smell coming out of Jenkins's stable, but here the air seemed as pure inside as outside. There was a number of little gratings in the wall to let in the fresh air, and they were so placed that drafts would not blow on the horses. Mr. Wood was going from one horse to another, giving them hay, and talking to them in a cheerful voice. At last he spied me, and cried out, “The top of the morning to you, Joe! You are up early. Don't come too near the horses, good dog,” as I walked in beside him; “they might think you are another Bruno, and give you a sly bite or kick. I should have shot him long ago. 'Tis hard to make a good dog suffer for a bad one, but that's the way of the world. Well, old fellow, what do you think of my horse stable? Pretty fair, isn't it?” And Mr. Wood went on talking to me as he fed and groomed his horses, till I soon found out that his chief pride was in them.

I like to have human beings talk to me. Mr. Morris often reads his sermons to me, and Miss Laura tells me secrets that I don't think she would tell to any one else.

I watched Mr. Wood carefully, while he groomed a huge, gray cart-horse, that he called Dutchman. He took a brush in his right hand, and a curry-comb in his left, and he curried and brushed every part of the horse's skin, and afterward wiped him with a cloth. “A good grooming is equal to two quarts of oats, Joe,” he said to me.

Then he stooped down and examined the horse's hoofs. “Your shoes are too heavy, Dutchman,” he said; “but that pig-headed blacksmith thinks he knows more about horses than I do. 'Don't cut the sole nor the frog,' I say to him. 'Don't pare the hoof so much, and don't rasp it; and fit your shoe to the foot, and not the foot to the shoe,' and he looks as if he wanted to say, 'Mind your own business.' We'll not go to him again. ''Tis hard to teach an old dog new tricks.' I got you to work for me, not to wear out your strength in lifting about his weighty shoes.”

Mr. Wood stopped talking for a few minutes, and whistled a tune. Then he began again. “I've made a study of horses, Joe. Over forty years I've studied them, and it's my opinion that the average horse knows more than the average man that drives him. When I think of the stupid fools that are goading patient horses about, beating them and misunderstanding them, and thinking they are only clods of earth with a little life in them, I'd like to take their horses out of the shafts and harness them in, and I'd trot them off at a pace, and slash them, and jerk them, till I guess they'd come out with a little less patience than the animal does.

“Look at this Dutchman see the size of him. You'd think he hadn't any more nerves than a bit of granite. Yet he's got a skin as sensitive as a girl's. See how he quivers if I run the curry comb too harshly over him. The idiot I got him from didn't know what was the matter with him. He'd bought him for a reliable horse, and there he was, kicking and stamping whenever the boy went near him. 'Your boy's got too heavy a hand, Deacon Jones,' said I, when he described the horse's actions to me. 'You may depend upon it, a four-legged creature, unlike a two-legged one, has a reason for everything he does.' 'But he's only a draught horse,' said Deacon Jones. 'Draught horse or no draught horse,' said I, 'you're describing a horse with a tender skin to me, and I don't care if he's as big as an elephant.' Well, the old man grumbled and said he didn't want any thoroughbred airs in his stable, so I bought you, didn't I, Dutchman?” and Mr. Wood stroked him kindly and went to the next stall.

In each stall was a small tank of water with a sliding cover, and I found out afterward that these covers were put on when a horse came in too heated to have a drink. At any other time, he could drink all he liked. Mr. Wood believed in having plenty of pure water for all his animals and they all had their own place to get a drink.

Even I had a little bowl of water in the woodshed, though I could easily have run up to the barnyard when I wanted a drink. As soon as I came, Mrs. Wood asked Adele to keep it there for me and when I looked up gratefully at her, she said: “Every animal should have its own feeding place and its own sleeping place, Joe; that is only fair.”

The next horses Mr. Wood groomed were the black ones, Cleve and Pacer. Pacer had something wrong with his mouth, and Mr. Wood turned back his lips and examined it carefully. This he was able to do, for there were large windows in the stable and it was as light as Mr. Wood's house was.

“No dark corners here, eh Joe!” said Mr. Wood, as he came out of the stall and passed me to get a bottle from a shelf. “When this stable was built, I said no dirt holes for careless men here. I want the sun to shine in the corners, and I don't want my horses to smell bad smells, for they hate them, and I don't want them starting when they go into the light of day, just because they've been kept in a black hole of a stable, and I've never had a. sick horse yet.”

He poured something from a bottle into a saucer and went back to Pacer with it. I followed him and stood outside. Mr. Wood seemed to be washing a sore in the horse's mouth. Pacer winced a little, and Mr. Wood said: “Steady, steady, my beauty; 'twill soon be over.”

The horse fixed his intelligent eyes on his master and looked as if he knew that he was trying to do him good.

“Just look at these lips, Joe,” said Mr. Wood “delicate and fine like our own, and yet there are brutes that will jerk them as if they were made of iron. I wish the Lord would give horses voices just for one week. I tell you they'd scare some of us. Now, Pacer, that's over. I'm not going to dose you much, for I don't believe in it. If a horse has got a serious trouble, get a good horse doctor, say I. If it's a simple thing, try a simple remedy. There's been many a good horse drugged and dosed to death. Well, Scamp, my beauty, how are you, this morning?”

In the stall next to Pacer, was a small, jet-black mare, with a lean head, slender legs, and a curious restless manner. She was a regular greyhound of a horse, no spare flesh, yet wiry and able to do a great deal of work. She was a wicked looking little thing, so I thought I had better keep at a safe distance from her heels.

Mr. Wood petted her a great deal and I saw that she was his favorite. “Saucebox,” he exclaimed, when she pretended to bite him, “you know if you bite me, I'll bite back again. I think I've conquered you,” he said, proudly, as he stroked her glossy neck; “but what a dance you led me. Do you remember how I bought you for a mere song, because you had a bad habit of turning around like a flash in front of anything that frightened you, and bolting off the other way? And how did I cure you, my beauty? Beat you and make you stubborn? Not I. I let you go round and round; I turned you and twisted you, the oftener the better for me, till at last I got it into your pretty head that turning and twisting was addling your brains, and you had better let me be master.

“You've minded me from that day, haven't you? Horse, or man, or dog aren't much good till they learn to obey, and I've thrown you down and I'll do it again if you bite me, so take care.”

Scamp tossed her pretty head, and took little pieces of Mr. Wood's shirt sleeve in her mouth, keeping her cunning brown eye on him as if to see how far she could go. But she did not bite him. I think she loved him, for when he left her she whinnied shrilly, and he had to go back and stroke and caress her.

After that I often used to watch her as she went about the farm. She always seemed to be tugging and striving at her load, and trying to step out fast and do a great deal of work. Mr. Wood was usually driving her. The men didn't like her, and couldn't manage her. She had not been properly broken in.

After Mr. Wood finished his work he went and stood in the doorway. There were six horses altogether: Dutchman, Cleve, Pacer, Scamp, a bay mare called Ruby, and a young horse belonging to Mr. Harry, whose name was Fleetfoot.

“What do you think of them all?” said Mr. Wood, looking down at me. “A pretty fine-looking lot of horses, aren't they? Not a thoroughbred there, but worth as much to me as if each had pedigree as long as this plank walk. There's a lot of humbug about this pedigree business in horses. Mine have their manes and tails anyway, and the proper use of their eyes, which is more liberty than some thoroughbreds get.

“I'd like to see the man that would persuade me to put blinders or check-reins or any other instrument of torture on my horses. Don't the simpletons know that blinders are the cause of well, I wouldn't like to say how many of our accidents, Joe, for fear you'd think me extravagant. and the check-rein drags up a horse's head out of its fine natural curve and presses sinews, bones, and joints together, till the horse is well-nigh mad. Ah, Joe, this is a cruel world for man or beast. You're a standing token of that, with your missing ears and tail. And now I've got to go and be cruel, and shoot that dog. He must be disposed of before anyone else is astir. How I hate to take life.”

He sauntered down the walk to the tool shed, went in and soon came out leading a large, brown dog by a chain. This was Bruno. He was snapping and snarling and biting at his chain as he went along, though Mr. Wood led him very kindly, and when he saw me he acted as if he could have torn me to pieces. After Mr. Wood took him behind the barn, he came back and got his gun. I ran away so that I would not hear the sound of it, for I could not help feeling sorry for Bruno.

Miss Laura's room was on one side of the house, and in the second story. There was a little balcony outside it, and when I got near I saw that she was standing out on it wrapped in a shawl. Her hair was streaming over her shoulders, and she was looking down into the garden where there were a great many white and yellow flowers in bloom.

I barked, and she looked at me. “Dear old Joe, I will get dressed and come down.”

She hurried into her room, and I lay on the veranda till I heard her step. Then I jumped up. She unlocked the front door, and we went for a walk down the lane to the road until we heard the breakfast bell. As soon as we heard it we ran back to the house, and Miss Laura had such an appetite for her breakfast that her aunt said the country had done her good already.

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