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GOING TO THE CATTLE SHOW
About this time we began to hear raccoons, in the early part of the night. There were numbers of these animals in the woods about the farm; they had their retreats in hollow trees and sometimes came into the corn fields. I first heard one while coming home from the Edwardses one evening; the strange, quavering cry frightened me; for I imagined that it was the cry of a "lucivee," concerning which the boys were talking a good deal at this time. One was said to have attacked a farmer on the highway a little beyond the Batchelder place. The animal leaped into the back part of the man's wagon and fought savagely for possession of a quarter of beef. Repeated blows from a whip-stock failed to dislodge it, till it had ridden for ten or fifteen rods, when it leaped off the wagon, but followed, growling, for some distance. As nearly as this man could judge, in the dim light of evening, the animal was as large as a good-sized dog. The "lucivee," or loup-cervier, is the lynx Canadensis, which ordinarily attains a weight of no more than twenty-five pounds, but occasionally grows larger and displays great fierceness and courage.
I made haste home and calling Addison out, asked him whether that strange cry which still issued at intervals from the woodland, over towards the Aunt Hannah lot, was made by the much dreaded "lucivee." He laughed and was disposed to play on my fears for a while, but at length told me that it was nothing more savage than a 'coon. The wild note had struck a singularly responsive fiber within me; and to this day I never hear a raccoon's hollow cry at night, without a sudden recurrence of the same eerie sensation.
About this time we all became much interested in the approaching Cattle Show, which was to be held at the Fair Grounds, near the village, during the last week of September. Thomas bantered me strongly to raise two dollars and go into partnership with him in an old horse which he knew of and which he desired to buy and enter for the "slow race." The horse could be purchased for three or four dollars and was so very stiff in the knees as to be almost certain of winning the "slow race," thereby securing a "purse" of ten dollars.
What with Thomas' enthusiasm, this looked to me, at the time, to be a very alluring investment. Tom had also another scheme for winning the "purse" of the "scrub race," where every kind of animal took the track at one and the same time. The Harland boys — where we went to mill — owned a large mongrel dog that had been taught to haul a little cart. He was known to be a fast runner; and Tom had intelligence that he was in the market, at a price of two dollars. If we could secure him, there was little doubt that the scrub-race purse would easily drop into our hats. I had to confess to doubts whether the Old Squire would consent to my embarking in such speculations.
"But you needn't show in it," said Tom quietly. "I'll do all the trading and keep them over at our barn." The way being thus opened to a silent partnership, I began a canvass of all my assets.
Thomas was also intending to enter a colt and a yoke of yearling steers for the premiums on those classes of animals. Addison intended to enter one of the Old Squire's yokes of steers; and Tom acknowledged to me that his own chance was slim on steers, since ours were the larger and better-matched.
Gram usually sent in one or more firkins of butter, several cheeses and even loaves of bread and cake. The Old Squire exhibited several head of cattle and sometimes his entire herd; also sheep, hogs and poultry. Then there was always an extensive exhibit of apples, pears and grapes, arranged on plates, as also seed-corn, wheat, barley, buckwheat, oats and garden vegetables. We were occupied for fully a fortnight, that season, gathering and preparing our various exhibits.
In addition, Halstead and Addison expected to do a flourishing business selling apples, pears and grapes; they also talked of opening an eating booth on the Fair Grounds, with baked beans, cakes, pies and hot coffee; and they had agreed with Theodora and Ellen to prepare the food beforehand, and take a share in the profits. The previous fall they had sold cider (moderately sweet) and done very well; but Addison had become so rigid a temperance reformer, during the year, that he would not now deal in cider.
This being my first season at the farm, I was not included as a partner in these lucrative privileges, but expected to be admitted to them all the following year. Meantime I intended to learn about it, and expected to derive a great deal of pleasure from attending the coming exhibition. There were to be numerous "attractions," besides the slow race, and the scrub race, which was for any kind of animal that had legs and could run except horses. I had finally raised two dollars to invest with Tom in the old horse, named "Ponkus," previously alluded to, and by a hard strain on my resources also became interested to the extent of another dollar with him in "Tige," the cart dog, for the scrub race.
The Fair Grounds were located near the neighboring village, about seven miles distant from the Old Squire's, and consisted of a large wooden building and a high fence, enclosing about thirty acres of land. The admission fee was fifteen cents. The Fair continued three days: Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, of the last week of September.
We set off at four o'clock of the opening day, Addison, Halse, Thomas and I driving three ox-carts, loaded with farm products. We had also to lead "Ponkus" and a two-year-old Hereford bull behind the carts, and manage a yoke of Durham steers for the "town team;" our progress was therefore slow and it was nine o'clock in the forenoon before we arrived at the Grounds and had made a disposition of our various charges.
A great crowd of people was pouring through the gate of the enclosure. Fully four thousand people were already on the grounds; and a gaudy array of "side shows" at once attracted our attention. There were counters and carts for cider, gingerbread and confectionery. Loud-voiced auctioneers were selling "patent medicines" and knickknacks of all sorts.
Close at hand, a snare drum and fife, inside a tent, drew attention to "a rare and wonderful show of wild animals," which the fakir at the door declared to consist of "a pair of bald eagles, two panther cubs, a prairie wolf and Hindoo seal," and sometimes he said "prairie wolf and Bengal tiger."
Then there were rather disreputable fellows with "whirl-boards" at "ten cents a whirl;" with "ring-boards" at "five cents a pitch," and ten cents made when you lodged the rings on the points. There was also a blind-fold professor of phrenology, who examined heads at fifteen cents per cranium.
In the crowd, too, were even less reputable fellows, who sought to entrap rural youths into "betting on cards," and making "rare bargains" in delusive watches. Altogether it was an animated scene, for young eyes. Addison, Halse and Theodora were occupied with their "booth." Ellen and Wealthy were with Gram in the Fair building, where the fruit and dairy products had to be watched and presided over. The Old Squire was a member of numerous committees on stock and other farm exhibits. We hardly caught sight of him during the day. For my own part I kept with Thomas and "Tige," whose little wagon for racing we had brought down in one of the ox-carts. We avoided the sharpers, for the good reason that we had very little money in our pockets. We were cheated but once, by a youthful Philistine who had "tumblers to break," suspended in a row by a string.
We paid him ten cents, and standing off at a distance of forty feet, threw a nicely-whittled club at the row of suspended glasses. If we broke one, we were to receive twenty-five cents. The safety of the tumblers lay in the extreme lightness of the clubs, which were of dry pine wood, much lighter than their size indicated. Tom and I each threw the clubs twice. Not a tumbler was injured. The proprietor called it a "game of skill;" but it was nearer a game of swindling.
But the slow race and scrub race were the features that interested us most. In explanation I may say that a "slow race" is not an uncommon attraction at a county fair. Usually the object in racing horses is to exhibit speed; but the "slow race" is for the slowest horse — the one which is longest in hobbling a mile. To prevent cheating, no one is allowed to drive his own horse; if he enters for the race he must drive a horse that has been entered by another person. Of course, under such conditions each man drives over the track as quickly as he can, since it is for his interest to do so. The "purse," or prize, at the Fair that fall was ten dollars; that is to say, the man who entered the slowest old skeleton of a horse, received ten dollars, together with the cheers and jeers of the crowd. Public sentiment is now more humane and wholesome.
What Thomas and I had in view was the ten dollars; and we did not believe there was a horse in the county that could beat our old "Ponkus" at going slow.
There were no restrictions in the race. Anybody who had a horse was at liberty to enter him for it. The time set for the race was four o'clock in the afternoon. A little before that hour, Thomas drove Ponkus on to the track, in an old "thoroughbrace" wagon.
We found that as many as twelve different horses (or wrecks of horses) had been entered for the race. It was an odd and venerable-looking troop that drew up near the judge's stand, which was to be the starting point.
There was one horse with the "spring halt" in both hind legs, and he lifted his feet nearly a yard high at every step. There was another with three "spavins" and a "ring-bone" on the remaining leg. Still another had the "heaves" so badly that its breathing could be heard twenty rods away. In fact, every one had some ailment or defect. The agents of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals had not yet made their way into our locality.
The owners surveyed the rival nags with a critical eye. The bystanders laughed and made bets. The horse with the "spring halt," that lifted both hind legs so high, was the popular favorite at first. But soon a fresh roar from the crowd told of the approach of another "racer."
A tin-peddler, with his cart and great bags of paper-rags on top, came in. The first glimpse of the peddler's horse sent dismay to the rest of us. Besides being utterly stiff-kneed and knock-kneed, it was really nothing but a moving skeleton. Its hair looked as dead as that on a South American cow-hide, and nearly every bone in its frame might have been counted.
The crowd shouted, "Room! Room there! Room for old Rack-o'-bones! Don't breathe or he'll tumble down! Is he balky? Will he kick? Check him up!"
The peddler had been passing the Fair Grounds on his way through the county, when some wag had hailed him and induced him to enter his horse for the race. He was a little wiry man forty or fifty years old, dressed in a soiled tweed coat and a boy's cloth cap.
He wanted to drive his horse, harnessed as it was in the tin-cart; but the rest of us cried out against it; he therefore took the cart off the forward wheels, and strapped a salt-box to the axle, to sit on. It was a queer sort of "sulky." There was not much to choose, however; all the horses were in rickety wagons, or battered gigs.
The drivers "changed over." They then got the animals as nearly in line at the bar as possible, ready for the word "Go." Just then it was discovered that one of the horses had a sharp stone adroitly inserted in his shoe, so as to press up against the "frog" of his foot, and still further cripple the poor beast. The judges promptly excluded this horse, and reprimanded his owner.
"Go!" was then shouted. And they went. The crowd whooped and cheered and whistled. Such a strident chorus of "Get-daps," "Geh-langs," "Hud-dups!" and such frantic efforts to get those horses into a trot were never before seen or heard in those parts! Each jostled and ran against others in his wild efforts to get past his neighbors and rivals. One gig broke down, and the driver had to mount on horseback; but he went the better for that, and got past all the rest. Altogether, it was the noisiest, dustiest, most harum-scarum race that can be imagined! They got around at last, the most of them, and began to look about. The peddler's horse was not to be seen.
"Where's Rack-o'-bones?" we asked each other. The shouts and gesticulations of the spectators soon told us as to his whereabouts. The peddler's horse had not yet got half way round! A snail could have crawled almost as fast. The animal could not step more than six inches at once, to save its life.
The most amusing part of it to the crowd was that the little peddler did not understand about the race, and thought that instead of winning he was hopelessly beaten. It took the judges some minutes to make him comprehend that he had won the race. His small, greedy, gray eyes shone when he was given the ten dollars.
"Don't envy him, boys," said one of the judges. "The man is entitled to the pity of the entire assemblage for owning or using such a horse."
The slow race came off the first day; but our folks attended the Fair, not only upon the following day, which was the principal day, but on the third day also. We did not reach home at night till eight or nine o'clock, and were astir and off again by five o'clock next morning; for we had our stock at the Fair Grounds to look after. Gram had hired Aunt Olive Witham to stay at the farm that week and keep house; and she not only kept house, but kept the barn as well, and did all the milking for us.
On the second day came the bona fide horse trots, of great interest to all owning horses troubled with that dangerous disease — speed.
On the third and last day, a young fellow with a cageful of dancing turkeys divided public attention about equally with a white-haired and long-bearded man from Newfoundland who "ate glass tumblers," biting off and chewing up great mouthfuls of glass, as if it were a crust of bread. Afterwards this same old Blue-nose fought with his own large Newfoundland dog, using only his mouth, growling and snapping in such a frightful way that it was hard telling which brute was the dog. But the final and most exciting feature of the day, was the "scrub race," which came off at four o'clock in the afternoon.
In this race any and every animal was allowed to take part, except horses. Men, boys, dogs harnessed into carts and carrying their owners, cows, steers and goats, anything on four legs or two, could compete except the genus equus. The prize was ten dollars to the winner, meaning he, she or it, that first reached the judge's stand. An extra rail had been put up in the fence enclosing the race-course, to keep the contestants on the track and out of the crowd.
Among the competitors were three men and about a dozen boys. The interest of the spectators, however, centered on the four-footed "racers." Among these was a little black and white Canadian cow, with fawn-colored legs and slim black-tipped horns. This creature was the property of a Frenchman, who could speak scarcely a word of English. She was harnessed, like a horse, and dragged an old pair of wheels. Jinnay, as her owner called her, galloped over the track at an astonishing speed.
Then there was a boy with a stub-tailed, brindled bulldog. The dog was harnessed into a little four-wheeled wagon, just big enough for the driver to sit in. Another lad, in a two-wheeled cart, drove a great, curly, shaggy Newfoundland dog. And still another boy drove a small, stocky, reddish-yellow dog, of no particular breed. This latter dog had erect, prick ears, and a very surly expression of countenance. His tail was apparently as straight and stiff as a file. He answered to the name of Gub, and his master to that of Jimmy Stirks.
Then there was an old man with a large, mouse-colored jackass, and another man with a mule. The mule, however, was ruled out by the judges, on the ground that he had "horse-blood" in him.
All in good time Tom drove in with our "Tige."
At the word "Go" from the judges, there was a mad scratch for it. Men, boys, dogs, cows and donkey started over the course, in most laughable confusion. Tige barked from pure delight at the uproar, as he dashed on, swinging his great bushy tail.
The Frenchman with his cow was the popular favorite. Above all the din of the race, the voice of the little Canadian could be heard screaming, "Mush daw! Mush daw!" as he plied his stick, and sometimes, "Herret, Jinnay! Herret, twa sacre petite broot!" In the height of the confusion, the jackass brayed. That was the final touch of fun for the crowd.
Tige might have won, if he had attended to his business; but his delight seemed to be in barking, and chasing Jinnay. The little yellow "chunked" dog, with the prick ears, on the contrary, never turned to right or left, but shot like an arrow straight for his mark. How those little cart-wheels did buzz! And he won the race by eight or ten rods, leaving men, boys, and Jinnay behind. His owner was a proud boy that afternoon, and a "great man" among his fellows; but Tom and I were somewhat depressed.
Addison took a premium with his yoke of yearling Durham steers, much to the chagrin of Alfred Batchelder who had also entered a pair for the prize. Alfred so far lost his temper as to talk outrageously to Addison upon their way home, on the evening of the third day of the Fair, after the awards had been announced. He alleged that the Old Squire, being on the stock "committees," had given Addison the premium, unjustly. For he thought (although no one else did) that his steers were the best on the grounds. The charge was a baseless one; for the Old Squire was not a member of the committee on steers that year, but only on oxen and horses.
A ridiculous accident happened as the people were coming home from the Fair that third night. There was a great deal to be drawn home; and consequently a very long procession of carts and wagons was tailing along the road, toward nightfall; also the cows and other cattle which had been on exhibition. The Edwards family, the Wilburs, as also the Sylvesters and the Batchelders, were well represented; and not only those from our immediate neighborhood, but others from various places more remote. All were journeying homeward along the highway beside the lake; not less than forty teams all told, loaded with every variety of farm produce, also the farmers' wives and children.
It was very dusty, and horse teams were constantly driving past the slower ox-carts, for some of the young fellows and a few of the older ones were quite ready to show off the paces of their nags. After this manner they went on, with here and there two or three teams cutting in ahead of the slower ones, till the forward teams reached "Wilkins Hill," a long, and in some places, quite steep ascent in the road about two miles from the Old Squire's.
Near the top of the hill Roscoe Batchelder — an older brother of Alfred — who owned a "fast horse" and had been driving past most of the other teams on the way home, overtook Willis Murch with his ox-team, consisting of a yoke of oxen and a yoke of two-year-old steers. Willis had started quite early from the Fair Grounds and hence, although driving slowly, had secured a long start of the others. Just at the top of the hill, Roscoe, with a cigar in his mouth, whipped up to drive past Willis, and feeling fine from some cause or other, cracked his whip at the steers and gave a wild yell as he dashed past!
This startled the steers, unused to the excitements of the road; they sprang forward with a jerk which somehow threw out or broke the pin through the "sword" at the forward end of the cart body. With that the cart tipped up, dumping the entire load into the road behind. Among other farm produce in the cart were eight or ten huge yellow pumpkins. At the Murch farm they always raised fine pumpkins and generally carried a few large ones to the Fair. They cultivated a kind of cheese-shaped pumpkins which often grew two feet in diameter, yellow as old gold.
When these great pumpkins were tipped out they began to roll down the hill. Immediately there arose a shout of trouble and dismay from the teamsters below. Something very much like a stampede ensued; for the pumpkins came bounding under the horses and oxen. One cart ran into the ditch and upset. Alfred Batchelder's prize steers ran away and caught the hook of a chain which they were dragging, into the wheel of a wagon belonging to the Sylvesters, and upset it. There was a wreck of all the jelly and other prepared fruits and preserves in it, Mrs. Sylvester being somewhat noted for her skill in these particulars. It was said that the greatly grieved woman shed bitter tears, then and there.
Addison was driving our wagon home and had Gram and all the girls in it. He was pretty well down toward the foot of the hill and hearing the outcry farther up, jumped out and seized old Sol by the head, to keep him from bolting. In consequence of this prudent manœuver our folks came through the tumult uninjured and without damage. One pumpkin came rolling directly down toward Addison; but by a dextrous kick he turned it aside.
Halstead and I, who were driving oxen and carts, did not fare quite as well; for the team in advance, belonging to the Edwardses, backed down into us, and our cattle, running out into the ditch, spilled a part of our loads, including our exhibits of apples and vegetables. Our case, however, was not as bad as many of our neighbors, some of whom met with considerable loss. We were occupied an hour or two gathering up the spilled loads.
So much for a youngster with a cigar in his mouth and a glass or two of beer inside him. If an indignant community could have laid hands on Roscoe Batchelder that night, he would have fared badly.
Addison and Halse had done a tolerable business with their cake, coffee and fruit stand. They cleared about seven dollars each above expenses; and Theodora and Ellen received four dollars apiece for their services as cooks. I was about the only one in the family who had not received something in the way of premiums and profits. Both my ventures, in the "slow race" and the "scrub race," had collapsed. The Old Squire laughed at me when he heard of my efforts to capture prizes, and advised me to try more creditable schemes in future.