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PARTING WITH POLLY
I HAVE sold Polly, Polly, my only and favorite saddle-mare; Polly, my quick stepping, nervy, nervous-driving mare; Polly, who would take the bit between her teeth and pull double the moment my leg crossed the saddle, and yet would trot as gently and quietly as an ambling palfrey with my small daughter astride; Polly, who would occasionally come home with fence-posts or the foundations of buildings hitched to her neck, and who on one occasion dove bodily through the barn-door when in one of her hasty returns she- found the portal closed; Polly, who ran three miles with me one day when I lost my temper and struck her with the whip. I have sold her, and I feel like a penurious old malefactor.
It was Daniel who got me into the scrape. Daniel has a theory, which he expounds to every one, that a farmer ought to sell his products when there is a market for them and when they are ripe. "For instance," says Daniel, "it 's a mighty dangerous thing to hold staple, but perishable articles for a rise in price. Take apples and potatoes. Why, in nine cases out of ten the farmer who holds his apples and potatoes over the cold months for a high price, and gets $2.70 for apples as against $1.80 per bbl., or one dollar for potatoes as against seventy cents per bushel, finds, when he has picked out and thrown away the rotten and punky ones that he hasn't a quarter part left.
"It 's so in live-stock. Never keep a cow a day beyond her prime even if she hasn't fallen off a bit, but is milking full. Never keep a hen the second season if you wish for eggs. And above all never keep a horse beyond the age of twelve, or perhaps it would be better never to keep a horse more than three or four years, whatever the age."
"But, Daniel," I said, "it takes a year or two to get thoroughly accustomed to a horse, and to get the horse thoroughly accustomed to you. And after you have had a horse three or four years, it is at its best as far as you are concerned, and if it is a good horse you just feel as if you couldn't drive any other horse."
"Just the point, boy, just the point," replied Daniel, removing his cigar and flicking a long cone of ash from its tip with his little finger. "When a man gets feeling that he can't drive any other horse, it is about time for him to try."
"Well," I replied, "it seems to me that there ought to be room for some little sentiment in the matter."
"Sentiment!" sniffed that hard, cynical, bitter man of the world; "the longer I live the less I believe in sentiment where business is concerned. When a man is so beset with sentiment that he can't sell a horse or cow or dog or hen without feeling that he has outraged affection and sentiment, he had better retire from business and keep a hospital for broken-down pets."
Now, even while this stony-hearted neighbor was giving expression to such dreadful beliefs, I sat looking across the street towards his spacious and sunny yard. By the side of the stable dozed an old white horse, so aged that no true veterinarian could guess within a decade of its age. A horse that was a veritable heirloom in the family, and which I vaguely remembered forty years ago to have been a blue roan. Daniel himself had learned, as a very small boy in roundabouts, to ride and drive him. Daniel's father, long dead, may have done the same. Daniel's two boys fifteen years ago discarded him as too slow for their infant ideas, since which time he had been an honorable pensioner on Daniel, and a very expensive one, too; for every time he did not eat his porridge, a veterinarian from a neighboring city was sent for and ordered to spare no expense in making Old Tom comfortable.
A hideously distended, half-blind, rheumatic and stiff-legged spaniel, with the hair completely gone from its once feathery tail, lay asthmatically wheezing on the steps; while a really prehistoric English bull-dog, so old and fat that he was a marvel to look at, lay at the barn door; both of which animals contributed to the support of the veterinarian.
And when I reflected that in his own stable were two cows, neither of which had given milk or had a calf for over a dozen years, and were worthy contemporaries of Old Tom and the canine Methuselahs, I mentioned these facts to Daniel, expecting to crush him to the earth, like Truth, with the weight of my facts, but not expecting him, like Truth, to rise again.
But Daniel, like a sturdy old patriarch, never blinked an eye. "Just the point, boy, just the point. I suppose those infernal old torments have cost me half of what my place is worth. But what can a man do? They are members of my family, human beings, sir! But don't ever be as big a fool as I have been."
Now Daniel, fond as he is of a horse or cow trade, wouldn't have sold or traded any one of those old pensioners to have saved his own life. But his advice was sound, and the more I thought of it, the sounder it appeared. I had bought Polly five years before, when she was broken for double harness only, and I had with great pains made her the best driving horse I ever owned.
As a saddler she had a quick sharp trot that one could sit as easily, almost, as a single-foot. This she could keep up mile after mile, and tire out any of the trained saddlers in town.
She had faults. She was somewhat hard-bitted, very sensitive to ill-treatment, afraid of nothing but firearms and the whip, and would not stand with anything but a neck-hitch, and occasionally, as I have said, brought home a stone post, or a fence-rail, or part of a barn, when the neck-hitch was stronger than the particular real estate to which she was attached.
And so I sold Polly. Sold her for twice what I had given for her five years before. Sold her without any warranty and after full explanations of her failings. Sold her and took my blood-money and went home.
It took me a full hour to break the news to my wife. It took her a much less time to give me her opinion of the transaction. I represented the facts with judicial calmness, and cited Daniel as authority for my position. I am glad Daniel did not hear what she said about him. Its brevity was no measure of its completeness.
My daughter began to cry, and my son left the table in a huff and banged the door. There are few sounds more disquieting to one's nerves than the more or less justifiable banging of a door when one has done wrong and knows it.
Then I tried unblushing bribery. Neither my wife nor my daughter would have any of it.
Then I went down town and sought the purchaser. He had left town. I sat down and wrote him, explaining the circumstances. It was a dreary two days at home before I got his letter. Then it was drearier, for the letter explained that he had bought the mare to mate up a pair for a Boston man, and had delivered her the day before. He very kindly sent me the address, and I lost no time in writing the Boston man.
His reply I received after a few days. He did not care to sell, as he had the best pair of driving horses in Boston. If I cared to call some day he would be pleased to show me what they could do, and he remained, "Very truly," etc.
It seemed to me that I had got myself into a very serious scrape indeed, especially as the clouds hung very thick over my homestead.
With a part of the price of my treason I bought a new rubber trimmed driving harness, with which I decorated Lady M. And I also had the Concord painted and varnished.
My wife had long urged the purchase of a new harness, and I thought the double outlay might soften her just resentment, but it had absolutely the opposite effect. She refused to ride behind Lady M., although that animal was a very fair roadster and handsome.
I never drove Lady M. but I missed Polly's quick sharp trot, her pull on the lines, the smooth play of her shoulders, the alert pricked ears, and the regular allegro of her light hoofs.
A few weeks after this I read of an accident in a Boston suburb, where a pair of sorrel horses belonging to a Mr. Lee became frightened at a steam-roller and ran away, overturning the carriage and severely injuring their driver. The account gave the name of the owner and driver, and sure enough it was the Boston man who had bought Polly. I wrote him reminding him of my offer, and received a note from his secretary informing me that both horses had been sent to a sale stable and I could communicate with the proprietor.
The next day I went to Boston, but was again too late. Both horses had been sold to a stranger who paid cash and did not give his name.
Then I gave up the chase and resolved to think no more of Polly, but to do my best to reestablish my reputation in my homestead.