A Horse’s Tale - Mark Twain - ebook

A Horse’s Tale ebook

Mark Twain

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It was interesting how Twain switched between stories. For example, a horse started a story from a first-person perspective. At first, people told, then letters told about past events, often to characters who do not participate in the events of history, and, finally, animals told other animals about the dialogue.

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Contents

Acknowledgements

Part I

I. SOLDIER BOY—PRIVATELY TO HIMSELF

II. LETTER FROM ROUEN—TO GENERAL ALISON

III. GENERAL ALISON TO HIS MOTHER

IV. CATHY TO HER AUNT MERCEDES

V. GENERAL ALISON TO MERCEDES

VI. SOLDIER BOY AND THE MEXICAN PLUG

VII. SOLDIER BOY AND SHEKELS

VIII. THE SCOUT-START. BB AND LIEUTENANT-GENERAL ALISON

IX. SOLDIER BOY AND SHEKELS AGAIN

X. GENERAL ALISON AND DORCAS

XI. SEVERAL MONTHS LATER. ANTONIO AND THORNDIKE

XII. MONGREL AND THE OTHER HORSE

Part II

IN SPAIN

XIII GENERAL ALISON TO HIS MOTHER

XIV SOLDIER BOY—TO HIMSELF

XV GENERAL ALISON TO MRS. DRAKE, THE COLONEL’S WIFE

Acknowledgements

Although I have had several opportunities to see a bull-fight, I have never seen one; but I needed a bull-fight in this book, and a trustworthy one will be found in it. I got it out of John Hay’s Castilian Days, reducing and condensing it to fit the requirements of this small story. Mr. Hay and I were friends from early times, and if he were still with us he would not rebuke me for the liberty I have taken.

The knowledge of military minutiæ exhibited in this book will be found to be correct, but it is not mine; I took it from Army Regulations, ed. 1904; Hardy’s Tactics–Cavalry, revised ed., 1861; and Jomini’s Handbook of Military Etiquette, West Point ed., 1905.

It would not be honest in me to encourage by silence the inference that I composed the Horse’s private bugle-call, for I did not. I lifted it, as Aristotle says. It is the opening strain in The Pizzicato in Sylvia, by Delibes. When that master was composing it he did not know it was a bugle-call, it was I that found it out.

Along through the book I have distributed a few anachronisms and unborn historical incidents and such things, so as to help the tale over the difficult places. This idea is not original with me; I got it out of Herodotus. Herodotus says, “Very few things happen at the right time, and the rest do not happen at all: the conscientious historian will correct these defects.”

The cats in the chair do not belong to me, but to another.

These are all the exceptions. What is left of the book is mine.

MARK TWAIN.

Lone Tree Hill, Dublin, New Hampshire, October, 1905.

Part I

I. SOLDIER BOY–PRIVATELY TO HIMSELF

I am Buffalo Bill’s horse. I have spent my life under his saddle–with him in it, too, and he is good for two hundred pounds, without his clothes; and there is no telling how much he does weigh when he is out on the war-path and has his batteries belted on. He is over six feet, is young, hasn’t an ounce of waste flesh, is straight, graceful, springy in his motions, quick as a cat, and has a handsome face, and black hair dangling down on his shoulders, and is beautiful to look at; and nobody is braver than he is, and nobody is stronger, except myself. Yes, a person that doubts that he is fine to see should see him in his beaded buck-skins, on my back and his rifle peeping above his shoulder, chasing a hostile trail, with me going like the wind and his hair streaming out behind from the shelter of his broad slouch. Yes, he is a sight to look at then–and I’m part of it myself.

I am his favorite horse, out of dozens. Big as he is, I have carried him eighty-one miles between nightfall and sunrise on the scout; and I am good for fifty, day in and day out, and all the time. I am not large, but I am built on a business basis. I have carried him thousands and thousands of miles on scout duty for the army, and there’s not a gorge, nor a pass, nor a valley, nor a fort, nor a trading post, nor a buffalo-range in the whole sweep of the Rocky Mountains and the Great Plains that we don’t know as well as we know the bugle-calls. He is Chief of Scouts to the Army of the Frontier, and it makes us very important. In such a position as I hold in the military service one needs to be of good family and possess an education much above the common to be worthy of the place. I am the best-educated horse outside of the hippodrome, everybody says, and the best-mannered. It may be so, it is not for me to say; modesty is the best policy, I think. Buffalo Bill taught me the most of what I know, my mother taught me much, and I taught myself the rest. Lay a row of moccasins before me–Pawnee, Sioux, Shoshone, Cheyenne, Blackfoot, and as many other tribes as you please–and I can name the tribe every moccasin belongs to by the make of it. Name it in horse-talk, and could do it in American if I had speech.

I know some of the Indian signs–the signs they make with their hands, and by signal-fires at night and columns of smoke by day. Buffalo Bill taught me how to drag wounded soldiers out of the line of fire with my teeth; and I’ve done it, too; at least I’ve dragged him out of the battle when he was wounded. And not just once, but twice. Yes, I know a lot of things. I remember forms, and gaits, and faces; and you can’t disguise a person that’s done me a kindness so that I won’t know him thereafter wherever I find him. I know the art of searching for a trail, and I know the stale track from the fresh. I can keep a trail all by myself, with Buffalo Bill asleep in the saddle; ask him–he will tell you so. Many a time, when he has ridden all night, he has said to me at dawn, “Take the watch, Boy; if the trail freshens, call me.” Then he goes to sleep. He knows he can trust me, because I have a reputation. A scout horse that has a reputation does not play with it.

My mother was all American–no alkali-spider about her, I can tell you; she was of the best blood of Kentucky, the bluest Blue-grass aristocracy, very proud and acrimonious–or maybe it is ceremonious. I don’t know which it is. But it is no matter; size is the main thing about a word, and that one’s up to standard. She spent her military life as colonel of the Tenth Dragoons, and saw a deal of rough service–distinguished service it was, too. I mean, she carried the Colonel; but it’s all the same. Where would he be without his horse? He wouldn’t arrive. It takes two to make a colonel of dragoons. She was a fine dragoon horse, but never got above that. She was strong enough for the scout service, and had the endurance, too, but she couldn’t quite come up to the speed required; a scout horse has to have steel in his muscle and lightning in his blood.

My father was a bronco. Nothing as to lineage–that is, nothing as to recent lineage–but plenty good enough when you go a good way back. When Professor Marsh was out here hunting bones for the chapel of Yale University he found skeletons of horses no bigger than a fox, bedded in the rocks, and he said they were ancestors of my father. My mother heard him say it; and he said those skeletons were two million years old, which astonished her and made her Kentucky pretensions look small and pretty antiphonal, not to say oblique. Let me see.... I used to know the meaning of those words, but... well, it was years ago, and ’tis’nt as vivid now as it was when they were fresh. That sort of words doesn’t keep, in the kind of climate we have out here. Professor Marsh said those skeletons were fossils. So that makes me part blue grass and part fossil; if there is any older or better stock, you will have to look for it among the Four Hundred, I reckon. I am satisfied with it. And am a happy horse, too, though born out of wedlock.

And now we are back at Fort Paxton once more, after a forty-day scout, away up as far as the Big Horn. Everything quiet. Crows and Blackfeet squabbling–as usual–but no outbreaks, and settlers feeling fairly easy.

The Seventh Cavalry still in garrison, here; also the Ninth Dragoons, two artillery companies, and some infantry. All glad to see me, including General Alison, commandant. The officers’ ladies and children well, and called upon me–with sugar. Colonel Drake, Seventh Cavalry, said some pleasant things; Mrs. Drake was very complimentary; also Captain and Mrs. Marsh, Company B, Seventh Cavalry; also the Chaplain, who is always kind and pleasant to me, because I kicked the lungs out of a trader once. It was Tommy Drake and Fanny Marsh that furnished the sugar–nice children, the nicest at the post, I think.

That poor orphan child is on her way from France–everybody is full of the subject. Her father was General Alison’s brother; married a beautiful young Spanish lady ten years ago, and has never been in America since. They lived in Spain a year or two, then went to France. Both died some months ago. This little girl that is coming is the only child. General Alison is glad to have her. He has never seen her. He is a very nice old bachelor, but is an old bachelor just the same and isn’t more than about a year this side of retirement by age limit; and so what does he know about taking care of a little maid nine years old? If I could have her it would be another matter, for I know all about children, and they adore me. Buffalo Bill will tell you so himself.

I have some of this news from over-hearing the garrison-gossip, the rest of it I got from Potter, the General’s dog. Potter is the great Dane. He is privileged, all over the post, like Shekels, the Seventh Cavalry’s dog, and visits everybody’s quarters and picks up everything that is going, in the way of news. Potter has no imagination, and no great deal of culture, perhaps, but he has a historical mind and a good memory, and so he is the person I depend upon mainly to post me up when I get back from a scout. That is, if Shekels is out on depredation and I can’t get hold of him.

II. LETTER FROM ROUEN–TO GENERAL ALISON

My dear Brother-in-Law,–Please let me write again in Spanish, I cannot trust my English, and I am aware, from what your brother used to say, that army officers educated at the Military Academy of the United States are taught our tongue. It is as I told you in my other letter: both my poor sister and her husband, when they found they could not recover, expressed the wish that you should have their little Catherine–as knowing that you would presently be retired from the army–rather than that she should remain with me, who am broken in health, or go to your mother in California, whose health is also frail.

You do not know the child, therefore I must tell you something about her. You will not be ashamed of her looks, for she is a copy in little of her beautiful mother–and it is that Andalusian beauty which is not surpassable, even in your country. She has her mother’s charm and grace and good heart and sense of justice, and she has her father’s vivacity and cheerfulness and pluck and spirit of enterprise, with the affectionate disposition and sincerity of both parents.

My sister pined for her Spanish home all these years of exile; she was always talking of Spain to the child, and tending and nourishing the love of Spain in the little thing’s heart as a precious flower; and she died happy in the knowledge that the fruitage of her patriotic labors was as rich as even she could desire.

Cathy is a sufficiently good little scholar, for her nine years; her mother taught her Spanish herself, and kept it always fresh upon her ear and her tongue by hardly ever speaking with her in any other tongue; her father was her English teacher, and talked with her in that language almost exclusively; French has been her everyday speech for more than seven years among her playmates here; she has a good working use of governess–German and Italian. It is true that there is always a faint foreign fragrance about her speech, no matter what language she is talking, but it is only just noticeable, nothing more, and is rather a charm than a mar, I think. In the ordinary child-studies Cathy is neither before nor behind the average child of nine, I should say. But I can say this for her: in love for her friends and in high-mindedness and good-heartedness she has not many equals, and in my opinion no superiors. And I beg of you, let her have her way with the dumb animals–they are her worship. It is an inheritance from her mother. She knows but little of cruelties and oppressions–keep them from her sight if you can. She would flare up at them and make trouble, in her small but quite decided and resolute way; for she has a character of her own, and lacks neither promptness nor initiative. Sometimes her judgment is at fault, but I think her intentions are always right. Once when she was a little creature of three or four years she suddenly brought her tiny foot down upon the floor in an apparent outbreak of indignation, then fetched it a backward wipe, and stooped down to examine the result. Her mother said:

“Why, what is it, child? What has stirred you so?”

“Mamma, the big ant was trying to kill the little one.”

“And so you protected the little one.”

“Yes, manure, because he had no friend, and I wouldn’t let the big one kill him.”

“But you have killed them both.”

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