Eben Holden a Tale of the North Country, Chapter 22

Chapter 22

The horse played a part of no small importance in that country. He was the coin of the realin, a medium of exchange, a standard of value, an exponent of moral character. The man that travelled without a horse was on his way to the poorhouse. Uncle Eb or David Brower could tell a good horse by the sound of his footsteps, and they brought into St Lawrence County the haughty Morgans from Vermont. There was more pride in their high heads than in any of the good people. A Northern Yankee who was not carried away with a fine horse had excellent self-control. Politics and the steed were the only things that ever woke him to enthusiasm, and there a man was known as he traded. Uncle Eb used to say that one ought always to underestimate his horse 'a leetle fer the sake of a reputation'.

We needed another horse to help with the haying, and Bob Dean, a tricky trader, who had heard of it, drove in after supper one evening, and offered a rangy brown animal at a low figure. We looked him over, tried him up and down the road, and then David, with some shrewd suspicion, as I divined later, said I could do as I pleased. I bought the horse and led him proudly to the stable. Next morning an Irishman, the extra man for the haying, came in with a worried look to breakfast.

'That new horse has a chittern' kind of a coff,' he said.

'A cough?' said I.

''Tain't jist a coff, nayther,' he said, 'but a kind of toom!'

With the last word he obligingly imitated the sound of the cough. It threw me into perspiration.

'Sounds bad,' said Uncle Eb, as he looked at me and snickered.

''Fraid Bill ain't much of a jockey,' said David, smaling.

'Got a grand appetite - that hoss has,' said Tip Taylor.

After breakfast Uncle Eb and I hitched him to the light buggy and touched him up for a short journey down the road. In five minutes he had begun to heave and whistle. I felt sure one could have heard him half a mile away. Uncle Eb stopped him and began to laugh.

'A whistler,' said he, 'sure's yer born. He ain't wuth a bag o' beans. But don't ye never let on. When ye git licked ye musn't never fin' fault. If anybody asks ye 'bout him tell 'em he's all ye expected.'

We stood waiting a moment for the horse to recover himself. A team was nearing us.

'There's Bob Dean,' Uncle Eb whispered. 'The durn scalawag! Don't ye say a word now.

'Good-mornin'!' said Dean, smiling as he pulled up beside us.

'Nice pleasant mornin'!' said Uncle Eb, as he cast a glance into the sky.

'What ye standin' here for?' Dean asked.

Uncle Eb expectorated thoughtfullyy.

'Jest a 1ookin' at the scenery,' said he. 'Purty country, right here! AIwus liked it.'

'Nice lookin' hoss ye got there,' said Dean.

'Grand hoss!' said Uncle Eb, surveymg him proudly. 'Most reemarkable hoss.'

'Good stepper, too,' said Dean soberly.

'Splendid!' said Uncle Eb. 'Can go a mile without ketchin' his breath.'

'Thet so?' said Dean.

'Good deal like Lucy Purvis,' Unde Eb added. 'She can say the hull mul'plication table an' only breathe once. Ye can learn sumthin' from a hoss like thet. He's good as a deestric' school - thet hoss is.'

Yes, sir, thet hoss is all right,' said Dean, as he drove away.

'Righter'n I expected,' Uncle Eb shouted, and then he covered his mouth, shaking with suppressed laughter.

'Skunk!' he said, as we turned the animal and started to walk him home. 'Don't min' bein' beat, but I don't like t' hev a man rub it in on me. I'll git even with him mebbe.'

And he did. It came about in this way. We turned our new purchase into the pasture, and Uncle Eb and I drove away to Potsdam for a better nag. We examined all the horses in that part of the country. At last we chanced upon one that looked like the whistler, save that he had a white stocking on one hind foot

'Same age, too,' said Uncle Eb, as he looked into his mouth.

'Can pass anything on the road,' said his owner.

'Can he?' said Uncle Eb, who had no taste for slow going. 'Hitch him up an' le's see what he can do.'

He carried us faster than we had ever ridden before at a trot, and coming up behind another team the man pulled out, let the reins loose on his back, and whistled. If anyone had hit him with a log chain the horse could not have moved quicker. He took us by the other team like a flash, on the dead run and three in the buggy.

'He'll do all right,' said Uncle Eb, and paid for the horse.

It was long after dark when we started home, leading him behind, and near midnight when we arrived.

In the morning I found Uncle Eb in the stable showing him to the other help. To my surprise the white stocking had disappeared.

'Didn't jes' like that white stockin',' he said, as I came in. 'Wondered how he'd look without it.'

They all agreed this horse and the whistler were as much alike as two peas m appearance. Breakfast over Uncle Eb asked the Irishman to hitch him up.

'Come Bill,' said he, 'le's take a ride. Dean'll be comm' 'long bym bye on his way t' town with that trotter o' his'n. 'Druther like to meet him.'

I had only a faint idea of his purpose. He let the horse step along at top speed going up the road and when we turned about he was breathing heavily. We jogged him back down the road a mile or so, and when I saw the blazed face of Dean's mare, in the distance, we pulled up and shortly stopped him. Dean came along in a moment.

'Nice mornin'!' said he.

'Grand!' said Uncle Eb.

'Lookin' at the lan'scape ag'in?'

'Yes; I've jes' begun t' see what a putty country this is,' said Uncle Eb.

'How's the boss?'

'Splendid! Gives ye time t' think an' see what yer passin'. Like t' set 'n think once in a while. We don't do enough thinkin' here in this part o' the country.'

'Yd orter buy this mare an leam how t' ride fast,' said Dean.

'Thet one,' said Uncle Eb, sqIii:fltig at the mare, 'why she can't go fast 'nough.'

'She can't, hey?' said Dean, bridling with injured pride. 'I don't think there's anything in this town can head her.'

'Thunder!' said Uncle Eb, 'I can go by her with this ol' plug easy 'twxt here an' our gate. Ye didn't know what ye was sellin'.'

'If ye pass her once I'll give her to ye,' said he.

'Mean it?' said Uncle Eb.

'Sartin,' said he, a little redder in the face.

'An' if I don't I'll give ye the whistler,' said Uncle Eb as he turned about.

The mare went away, under the whip, before we had fairly started. She was going a fifty shot but in a moment we were lapping upon her hind wheel. Dean threw a startled glance over his shoulder. Then he shouted to the mare. She quickened her pace a little but we kept our position. Uncle Eb was leaning over the dasher his white locks flying. He had something up his sleeve, as they say, and was not yet ready to use it. Then Dean began to shear over to cut us off- a nasty trick of the low horseman. I saw Uncle Eb giance at the ditch ahead. I knew what was coining and took a firm hold of the seat. The ditch was a bit rough, but Uncle Eb had no lack of courage. He turned the horse's head, let up on the reins and whistled. I have never felt such a thrill as then. Our horse leaped into the deep grass running like a wild deer.

'Hi there! hi there!' Uncle Eb shouted, bouncing in his seat, as we went over stones and hummocks going like the wind.

'Go, ye brown devil!' he yelled, his hat flying off as he shook the reins.

The mare lost her stride; we flashed by and came up into the road. Looking back I saw her jumping up and down a long way behind us and Dean whipping her. Uncle Eb, his hands over the dasher, had pulled down to a trot Ahead of us we could see our folks - men and women - at the gate looking down the road at us waving hats and handkerchieis. They had heard the noise of the battle. Uncle Eb let up on the reins and looked back snorting with amusement. In a moment we pulled up at our gate. Dean came along slowly.

'Thet's a putty good mare,' said Uncle Eb.

'Yer welcome to her,' said Dean sullenly.

'Wouldn't hev her,' said Uncle Eb.

'Why not?' said the trader a look of relief coming over his face.

'Can't go fast enough for my use,' Uncle Eb answered. 'Ye can jest hitch her in here awhile an' the first day ye come over with a hundred dollars ye can hev her 'n the whistler, both on 'em. Thet whistler's a grand hoss! Can hold his breath longer'n any hoss I ever knew!'

The sum named was that we had paid him for the highiy accomplished animal. Dean had the manhood to pay up then and there and said he would send for the other horse, which he never did.

'Guess he won't bother us any more when we stop t' look at the scenery,' said Uncle Eb, laughing as Dean drove away. 'Kind o' resky business buyin' hosses,' he added. 'Got t' jedge the owner as well as the hoss. If there's anything the matter with his conscience it'll come out in the hoss somewhere every time. Never knew a mean man t' own a good hoss. Remember, boy, 's a lame soul thet drives a limpin' hoss.'

'No use talkin'; Bill ain' no jedge uv a hoss' said David Brower. 'He'll hev t' hev an education er he'll git t' the poorhouse someday sartin.'

'Wall he's a good jedge o' gals anyway,' said Uncle Eb.

As for myself I was now hopelessly confirmed in my dislike of farming and I never traded horses again.