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The Colt with the Tough Mouth
If there's one thing in life which I've enjoyed more than any other, it's been the drivin' of fiery horses. I've never yet met the horse which proved itself my master, and to-day, old as I am, I'd try a fall with the ugliest horse you could produce. I've been run away with time an' time again, but the most damage I ever see done in a runaway was caused by a three-year-old colt, behind which me an' Tish Brown went to meetin' at Milton one Sunday evenin' in winter, years an' years ago, when I was still a young feller on the old farm.
I traded for this colt (he was a big black, with three white feet an' a star between his eyes) with a Gipsy who came along our way. I was always tradin' horses, and as I never got the worse of the bargain, father became used to it after awhile, and never went into the stable positive that he'd find there the same lot of horses he'd last seen.
I gave the Gipsy a bay mare and five bags of oats for the black colt, and I thought I'd made my fortune, for a handsomer colt you never rubbed your hands over. He went well, single or double, and would walk ahead of a plough like the grand marshal of a 'lection parade. He only had two faults, — he'd run away at the drop of the hat, and his mouth was that hard that ten men couldn't hold him in when he stretched out his neck and decided to take charge of the subsequent proceedin's.
But I liked that horse for the very pride of him an' the devil in his eyes. I soon discovered that he was just as gentle as a lamb as long as his neck kept well curved an' he felt the reins was in strong hands
but if he ever got a chance to straighten out his neck he wouldn't do a thing but look about for something to happen which would give him a fair excuse to go up in the air. An ordinary double wire bit was of no earthly use on that colt, so I got for him a curb bit with a camel's hump in the middle, that, properly applied, would make him set down in the road and ask for mercy.
Father swore the colt would be the death of me, and he positively forbid Ed to draw a rein on him, and Ed wasn't any too anxious, 'specially as just then he was courtin' a girl from the next concession — the same girl I told you he took to the Church of England sociable, — and the courtin' was in such an advanced condition that he could only spare one hand for drivin', and old Darby was good enough for him.
But there was one person besides me who wasn't afraid to ride behind the black colt, and that was Tish Brown. Tish was 'fraid of nothin', and she fell in love with the colt at first sight. I let her drive him once before I got the curb bit, and do you know, she couldn't bend her elbows for nigh a week, but she held him in, all the same.
The curb bit, however, done the business, and there wasn't a peaceabler horse from that time on in the neighborhood. When I'd hitch him up and trip the curb into his mouth, he'd look at me humble like, just as much as to say, "Now, George, for the love of Heaven, do have a care how hard you yank on the lines."
That winter they was holdin' protracted meetin's down to Milton, and it was considered quite the proper thing to drive your best girl there at least Sunday night. Me an' Tish wasn't any too partic'lar about goin', but the old folks insisted on our representin' the family, and the old man's word was law, 'specially when I was feedin' my horse on his oats a couple of nights each week.
Me an' Ed both havin' a girl, it naturally left Jane out in the cold, for father considered she was too young to have a beau, much to her sorrow, as there was two or three of the neighbors' boys peekin' through the pickets at her; for Jane, if I do say it, was by long odds the prettiest girl in the neighborhood, her cheeks goin' pink an' white at a word; and her eyes — well, her husband ain't got over lovin' her to this day.
Jane consequently was eternally naggin' at me an' Ed to take her out with us once an' a while, but we couldn't quite see it her way just then. She'd never seen Ed's girl, but she knew Tish an' hated her from the first, though there was absolutely no sense in her doin' so. But hate her she did, and she was eternally wishin' the black colt would spill her out some time to her undoin'. Jane was a little Tartar, I tell you, an' mighty nigh she come to havin' her wish, as I'm goin' to tell you.
Well, this Sunday I hitched up the black colt to the cutter an' drove over to Tish's for supper. After the meal we drove down to Milton as usual an' put the colt in the shed.
The whole neighborhood was out that night, for a preacher from the city was to lead the meetin,' and it was looked upon as a grand round-up of fractious sinners, and of course everybody was anxious to see who the city preacher would corral.
I don't remember much about the meetin'. Me an' Tish was in our favorite seat just behind the choir, and we usually found enough to interest us in the gossipin' back and forth of the young people about us, without botherin' about the sermon, for we was in about everything in them days.
When meetin' was out we chatted at the Church door awhile, and then I drove round the horse, got Tish in an' started for home. I noticed something was wrong the minute we shot out the gate, for the black colt give his old defiant snort an' began lookin' about for something to scare him.
"Hi! there, my boy! I cried to him, and he settled down into a good smart trot. I never pulled him very hard now, for I knew the power of that curb bit.
When we turned Granger's Corners we had a straight way before us for about two miles, and it was my custom to let the black colt show his oats on this stretch. However, the snow was deep on both sides of the road, there bein' only one track; and while we'd dallied at the Church door the old folks had got started, and the road was well dotted with rigs ahead of us, so I judged it best to go cautious.
Right in front of us old Zenas Furrs was humpin' along through the pitch-holes in an aggravatin' way, so I turned out to pass him. Our cutter ripped through the snow as we went by, and just as we got into the track again a partridge rose out of the snow and whizzed into the woods. That was enough for the black colt. He gave one wild snort an' straightened out for a run.
"Hang on to him, George!" Tish cried.
"You bet your life!" I replied between my teeth, takin' in the slack of the reins an' leanin' forward for a steady pull.
I pulled, but the curb bit had lost its terrors for the black colt. It just shot out into the air like an express engine, and before I knew it — rip! rip! — crash! We had passed a cutter an' cut off its rail as slick as if we'd been a circular saw, and was poundin' madly ahead through the pitch-holes.
Tish let out one wild laugh, and, as her hat went back from her head, hangin' to her neck by the strings, she grabbed hold of the lines with me, and we put our combined weight on the bit. But it had no effect whatever.
Lord! how we did get over the snow! Talk about your runnin' horses! That black colt did record work that night, and every few hundred yards or so we cut into the side of somebody's cutter and tossed its occupants into the snow. The blame colt would turn out to go by just so we'd slice somethin' from every rig we passed.
Me an' Tish was now yellin' like wild Injuns to warn the people ahead, and they turned out into the snow banks the best they could to let us past.
But it worried me terrible because that bit had no effect. I gritted my teeth an' gave the colt the reins, hopin' he'd take his jaws from the bit, for I suspected he'd in some impossible manner got it between his teeth. Then I began to saw an' yank, but the colt went ahead. We went round the last corner into the home stretch fairly in the air, for if the cutter had been touchin', it couldn't possibly have helped slattin' us over the road fence.
I turned an' looked at Tish. Her eyes was out on her cheeks an' she was coiled up ready for a header into the snow without notice.
"Look out for the gate post, George, when we turn in home!" she cried, and I did, but that colt was runnin' away in a mighty sane-headed way, for he curved out for the gate an' made as pretty a turn as ever you see.
I seen a face at the parlor window as we flew by. It was Jane's. The colt hauled up with a jerk, that nearly sent us over the dashboard, directly before the drive-house door an' stood there, pantin', of course, but entirely rational.
"Is that you, George ?" came Jane's voice from the kitchen door.
"I s'pose so," I says, " but I aint half sure."
"You'd ought to be careful an' not turn into the gate so fast!" Jane cried.
"Oh, don't worry about me," I called back. "I know how to drive," and I nudged Tish.
I now crept carefully from the cutter an' felt along the rail for damages, for I'd about as soon have broken my neck as damaged that cutter, it bein' a new one that father had traded for, the precedin' winter. It was dark in the shadow of the drive-house, and I couldn't very well see, but I satisfied myself that while there might be scratches, there was no broken pieces, and I whispered the news to Tish.
Then I went to the black colt's head, speakin' softly to him, for I wasn't sure that he wouldn't take a notion to go for a flyin' trip up through the orchard.
He rubbed his nose against me an' seemed to be in no way worried by the memory of past events. I felt for the curb bit. It was in his mouth all right, and he chawed on it contentedly.
"Well, I'll be darned!" I said.
"What's the matter, George?" Tish whispered hoarsely.
"The bit's in his mouth all right," says I.
"Then what have we been pullin' on ?" says Tish.
I felt for the lines an' found 'em buckled to the head-stall! We'd been pullin' on the black colt's head an' not on his mouth, for some darn cuss had unbuckled the lines from the bit an' fastened 'em to the head-stall.
"It's a put-up job!" I whispered to Tish, "and we've ripped up every other cutter in the neighborhood!"
I fastened the lines to the bit again, got back into the cutter an' turned round, the black colt movin' like a lamb, now that he felt the curb.
"Where are you goin' now?" called Jane, who was still standin' in the kitchen door.
"Just takin' Tish home," I called back. "I come away without my horse-blanket, and so I run in here after it."
When I'd dropped Tish at her front gate I didn't wait for an hour's sparkin' by the sittin'-room stove as usual, but made tracks for home, anxious to hear what Ed an' father knew about the wrecks along the way from meetin'.
There was excitement enough, I assure you, and would you believe it, father an' mother, in the market sleigh, was one of the rigs we passed. All they had lost, however, was a piece of the rail.
"Where was you when all this was happenin'?" father says to me.
"Oh, we must have been ahead of you all," I replied, matter-of-fact. "I jogged along here so's to get my horse-blanket, but I didn't need it after all."
"Who do you think it was?" says Jane, quite eager.
"I couldn't just swear to who it was," says father. "The feller had either a black or a white horse, I ain't sure which; I think it was a white. But it wasn't any of our neighbor boys, for both him an' the hussy with him was drunk as fools an' yellin' like fiends. I never see a more disgraceful affair, all of a Sunday evenin', too."
That runaway was the talk of the whole section that winter. Over ten cutters was more or less wrecked, and the voice of wailin' was loud in the land.
I was never suspected for a moment, though Jane did watch me pretty close for awhile, but even she lost suspicion in time, for who ever heard of turnin' round a runaway horse and drivin' him off as gentle as a lamb?
The commonly-accepted version of the affair was that some drunken feller an' his girl was the occupants of the runaway rig, and as Tish knew how to keep a secret, the truth never leaked out. But Jane's husband years afterwards confessed to tyin' the black colt's reins in to the head-stall, Jane havin' put him up to it in hopes that me an' Tish would get a good tossin' into the snow!
I tell you, none of us stopped to think of consequences in them days.