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Chapter 25 Beautiful Joe by Marshall Saunders

For a good while after I went to Dingley Farm I was very shy of the horses, for I was afraid they might kick me, thinking that I was a bad dog like Bruno. However, they all had such good faces, and looked at me so kindly, that I was beginning to get over my fear of them.

Fleetfoot, Mr. Harry's colt, was my favorite, and one afternoon, when Mr. Harry and Miss Laura were going out to see him, I followed them. Fleetfoot was amusing himself by rolling over and over on the grass under a tree, but when he saw Mr. Harry, he gave a shrill whinny, and running to him, began nosing about his pockets.

“Wait a bit,” said Mr. Harry, holding him by the forelock. “Let me introduce you to this young lady, Miss Laura Morris. I want you to make her a bow.” He gave the colt some sign, and immediately he began to paw the ground and shake his head.

Mr. Harry laughed and went on: “Here is her dog Joe. I want you to like him, too. Come here, Joe.” I was not at all afraid, for I knew Mr. Harry would not let him hurt me, so I stood in front of him, and for the first time had a good look at him. They called him the colt, but he was really a full-grown horse, and had already been put to work. He was of a dark chestnut color, and had a well-shaped body and a long, handsome head, and I never saw, in the head of a man or beast, a more beautiful pair of eyes than that colt had large, full, brown eyes they were that he turned on me almost as a person would. He looked me all over as if to say: “Are you a good dog, and will you treat me kindly, or are you a bad one like Bruno, and will you chase me and snap at my heels and worry me, so that I shall want to kick you?”

I looked at him very earnestly and wagged my body, and lifted myself on my hind legs toward him. He seemed pleased and put down his nose to sniff at me, and then we were friends. Friends, and such good friends, for next to Jim and Billy, I have loved Fleetfoot.

Mr. Harry pulled some lumps of sugar out of his pocket, and giving them to Miss Laura, told her to put them on the palm of her hand and hold it out flat toward Fleetfoot. The colt ate the sugar, and all the time eyed her with his quiet, observing glance, that made her exclaim: “What wise-looking colt!”

“He is like an old horse,” said Mr. Harry, “When he hears a sudden noise, he stops and looks all about him to find an explanation.”

“He has been well trained,” said Miss Laura.

“I have brought him up carefully,” said Mr. Harry. “Really, he has been treated more like a dog than a colt. He follows me about the farm and smells everything I handle, and seems to want to know the reason of things.”

“Your mother says,” replied Miss Laura, “that she found you both asleep on the lawn one day last summer, and the colt's head was on your arm.”

Mr. Harry smiled and threw his arm over the colt's neck. “We've been comrades, haven't we, Fleetfoot? I've been almost ashamed of his devotion. He has followed me to the village, and he always wants to go fishing with me. He's four years old now, so he ought to get over those coltish ways. I've driven him a good deal. We're going out in the buggy this afternoon, will you come?”

“Where are you going?” asked Miss Laura.

“Just for a short drive back of the river, to collect some money for father. I'll be home long before tea time.”

“Yes, I should like to go,” said Miss Laura “I shall go to the house and get my other hat.”

“Come on, Fleetfoot,” said Mr. Harry. And he led the way from the pasture, the colt following behind with me. I waited about the veranda, and in a short time Mr. Harry drove up to the front door. The buggy was black and shining, and Fleetfoot had on a silver-mounted harness that made him look very fine. He stood gently switching his long tail to keep the flies away, and with his head turned to see who was going to get into the buggy. I stood by him, and as soon as he saw that Miss Laura and Mr. Harry had seated themselves, he acted as if he wanted to be off. Mr. Harry spoke to him and away he went, I racing down the lane by his side, so happy to think he was my friend. He liked having me beside him, and every few seconds put down his head toward me. Animals can tell each other things without saying a word. When Fleetfoot gave his head a little toss in a certain way, I knew that he wanted to have a race. He had a beautiful even gait, and went very swiftly. Mr. Harry kept speaking to him to check him.

“You don't like him to go too fast, do you?” said Miss Laura.

“No,” he returned. “I think we could make a racer of him if we liked, but father and I don't go in for fast horses. There is too much said about fast trotters and race horses. On some of the farms around here, the people have gone mad on breeding fast horses. An old farmer out in the country had a common cart-horse that he suddenly found out had great powers of speed and endurance. He sold him to a speculator for a big price, and it has set everybody wild. If the people who give all their time to it can't raise fast horses I don't see how the farmers can. A fast horse on a farm is ruination to the boys, for it starts them racing and betting. Father says he is going to offer a prize for the fastest walker that can be bred in New Hampshire. That Dutchman of ours, heavy as he is, is a fair walker, and Cleve and Pacer can each walk four and a half miles an hour.”

“Why do you lay such stress on their walking fast?” asked Miss Laura.

“Because so much of the farm work must be done at a walk. Ploughing, teaming, and drawing produce to market, and going up and down hills. Even for the cities it is good to have fast walkers. Trotting on city pavements is very hard on the dray horses. If they are allowed to go at a quick walk, their legs will keep strong much longer. It is shameful the way horses are used up in big cities. Our pavements are so bad that cab horses are used up in three years. In many ways we are a great deal better off in this new country than the people in Europe, but we are not in respect of cab horses, for in London and Paris they last for five years. I have seen horses drop down dead in New York just from hard usage. Poor brutes, there is a better time coming for them though. When electricity is more fully developed we'll see some wonderful changes. As it is, last year in different places, about thirty thousand horses were released from those abominable horse cars, by having electricity introduced on the roads. Well, Fleetfoot, do you want another spin? All right, my boy, go ahead.”

Away we went again along a bit of level road. Fleetfoot had no check-rein on his beautiful neck, and when he trotted, he could hold his head in an easy, natural position. With his wonderful eyes and flowing mane and tail, and his glossy, reddish-brown body, I thought that he was the handsomest horse I had ever seen. He loved to go fast, and when Mr. Harry spoke to him to slow up again, he tossed his head with impatience. But he was too sweet-tempered to disobey. In all the years that I have known Fleetfoot, I have never once seen him refuse to do as his master told him.

“You have forgotten your whip, haven't you Harry?” I heard Miss Laura say, as we jogged slowly along, and I ran by the buggy panting and with my tongue hanging out.

“I never use one,” said Mr. Harry; “if I saw any man lay one on Fleetfoot, I'd knock him down.” His voice was so severe that I glanced up into the buggy. He looked just as he did the day that he stretched Jenkins on the ground, and gave him a beating.

“I am so glad you don't,” said Miss Laura. “You are like the Russians. Many of them control their horses by their voices, and call them such pretty names. But you have to use a whip for some horses, don't you, Cousin Harry?”

“Yes, Laura. There are many vicious horses that can't be controlled otherwise, and then with many horses one requires a whip in case of necessity for urging them forward.”

“I suppose Fleetfoot never balks,” said Miss Laura.

“No,” replied Mr. Harry; “Dutchman sometimes does, and we have two cures for him, both equally good. We take up a forefoot and strike his shoe two or three times with a stone. The operation always interests him greatly, and he usually starts. If he doesn't go for that, we pass a line round his forelegs, at the knee joint, then go in front of him and draw on the line. Father won't let the men use a whip, unless they are driven to it.”

“Fleetfoot has had a happy life, hasn't he?” said Miss Laura, looking admiringly at him “How did he get to like you so much, Harry?”

“I broke him in after a fashion of my own. Father gave him to me, and the first time I saw him on his feet, I went up carefully and put my hand on him. His mother was rather shy of me, for we hadn't had her long, and it made him shy too, so I soon left him. The next time I stroked him; the next time I put my arm around him. Soon he acted like a big dog. I could lead him about by a strap, and I made a little halter and a bridle for him. I didn't see why I shouldn't train him a little while he was young and manageable. I think it is cruel to let colts run till one has to employ severity in mastering them. Of course, I did not let him do much work. Colts are like boys a boy shouldn't do a man's work, but he had exercise every day, and I trained him to draw a light cart behind him. I used to do all kinds of things to accustom him to unusual sounds. Father talked a good deal to me about Rarey, the great horse-tamer, and it put ideas into my head. He said he once saw Rarey come on a stage in Boston with a timid horse that he was going to accustom to a loud noise. First a bugle was blown, then some louder instrument, and so on, till there was a whole brass band going. Rarey reassured the animal, and it was not afraid.”

“You like horses better than any other animals, don't you, Harry?” asked Miss Laura.

“I believe I do, though I am very fond of that dog of yours. I think I know more about horses than dogs. Have you noticed Scamp very much?”

“Oh, yes; I often watched her. She is such an amusing little creature.”

“She's the most interesting one we've got, that is, after Fleetfoot. Father got her from a man who couldn't manage her, and she came to us with a legion of bad tricks. Father has taken solid comfort though, in breaking her of them. She is his pet among our stock. I suppose you know that horses, more than any other animals, are creatures of habit. If they do a thing once, they will do it again. When she came to us, she had a trick of biting at a person who gave her oats. She would do it without fail, so father put a little stick under his arm, and every time she would bite he would give her a rap over the nose. She soon got tired of biting, and gave it up. Sometimes now, you'll see her make a snap at father as if she was going to bite, and then look under his arm to see if the stick is there. He cured some of her tricks in one way, and some in another. One bad one she had was to start for the stable the minute one of the traces was unfastened when we were unharnessing. She pulled father over once, and another time she ran the shaft of the sulky clean through the barn door. The next time father brought her in, he got ready for her. He twisted the lines around his hands, and the minute she began to bolt, he gave a tremendous jerk, that pulled her back upon her haunches, and shouted, 'Whoa!' It cured her, and she never started again, till he gave her the word. Often now, you'll see her throw her head back when she is being unhitched. He only did it once, yet she remembers. If we'd had the training of Scamp, she'd be a very different animal. It's nearly all in the bringing up of a colt, whether it will turn out vicious or gentle. If any one were to strike Fleetfoot, he would not know what it meant. He has been brought up differently from Scamp.

“She was probably trained by some brutal man who inspired her with distrust of the human species. She never bites an animal, and seems attached to all the other horses. She loves Fleetfoot and Cleve and Pacer. Those three are her favorites.”

“I love to go for drives with Cleve and Pacer,” said Miss Laura, “they are so steady and good. Uncle says they are the most trusty horses he has. He has told me about the man you had, who said that those two horses knew more than most 'humans.'”

“That was old Davids,” said Mr. Harry; “when we had him, he was courting a widow who lived over in Hoytville. About once a fortnight, he'd ask father for one of the horses to go over to see her. He always stayed pretty late, and on the way home he'd tie the reins to the whip-stock and go to sleep, and never wake up till Cleve or Pacer, whichever one he happened to have, would draw up in the barnyard. They would pass any rigs they happened to meet, and turn out a little for a man. If Davids wasn't asleep, he could always tell by the difference in their gait which they were passing. They'd go quickly past a man, and much slower, with more of a turn out, if it was a team. But I dare say father told you this. He has a great stock of horse stories, and I am almost as bad. You will have to cry 'halt,' when we bore you.”

“You never do,” replied Miss Laura. “I love to talk about animals. I think the best story about Cleve and Pacer is the one that uncle told me last evening. I don't think you were there. It was about stealing the oats.”

“Cleve and Pacer never steal,” said Mr. Harry. “Don't you mean Scamp? She's the thief.”

“No, it was Pacer that stole. He got out of his box, uncle says, and found two bags of oats, and he took one in his teeth and dropped it before Cleve, and ate the other himself, and uncle was so amused that he let them eat a long time, and stood and watched them.”

“That was a clever trick,” said Mr. Harry. “Father must have forgotten to tell me. Those two horses have been mates ever since I can remember, and I believe if they were separated, they'd pine away and die. You have noticed how low the partitions are between the boxes in the horse stable. Father says you wouldn't put a lot of people in separate boxes in a room, where they couldn't see each other, and horses are just as fond of company as we are. Cleve and Pacer are always nosing each other. A horse has a long memory. Father has had horses recognize him, that he has been parted from for twenty years. Speaking of their memories reminds me of another good story about Pacer that I never heard till yesterday, and that I would not talk about to any one but you and mother. Father wouldn't write me about it, for he never will put a line on paper where any one's reputation is concerned.”

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