“IT rains very hard,” said Mrs. Sparrowgrass, looking out of the window next morning. Sure enough, the rain was sweeping broadcast over the country, and the four Sparrowgrassii were flattening a quartette of noses against the window-panes, believing most faithfully the man would bring the horse that belonged to his brother, in spite of the elements. It was hoping against hope: no man having a horse to sell will trot him out in a rain-storm, unless he intend to sell him at a bargain — but childhood is so credulous! The succeeding morning was bright, however, and down came the horse. He had been very cleverly groomed, and looked pleasant under the saddle. The man led him back 119 and forth before the door. “There, squire, ’s as good a hos as ever stood on iron.” Mrs. Sparrowgrass asked me what he meant by that. I replied, it was a figurative way of expressing, in horse-talk, that he was as good a horse as ever stood in shoe-leather. “He’s a handsome hos, squire,” said the man. I replied that he did seem to be a good looking animal, but, said I, “he does not quite come up to the description of a horse I have read.” “Whose hos was it?” said he. I replied it was the horse of Adonis. He said he didn’t know him, but, he added, “there is so many hosses stolen that the descriptions are stuck up now pretty common.” To put him at his ease (for he seemed to think I suspected him of having stolen the horse), I told him the description I meant had been written some hundreds of years ago by Shakspeare, and repeated it —
“Squire,” said he, “that will do for a song, but it ain’t no p’ints of a good hos. Trotters now-a-days 120 go in all shapes, big heads and little heads, big eyes and little eyes, short ears or long ones, thick tail and no tail; so as they have sound legs, good l’in, good barrel, and good stifle, and wind, squire, and speed well, they’ll fetch a price. Now, this animal is what I call a hos, squire; he’s got the p’ints, he’s stylish, he’s close-ribbed, a free goer, kind in harness — single or double — a good feeder.” I asked him if being a good feeder was a desirable quality. He replied it was; “of course,” said he “if your hos is off his feed, he ain’t good for nothin’. But what’s the use,” he added, “of me tellin’ you the p’ints of a good hos? You’re a hos man, squire; you know” — “It seems to me,” said I, “there is something the matter with that left eye.” “No, sir,” said he, and with that he pulled down the horse’s head, and rapidly crooking his fore-finger at the suspected organ, said, “see thar — don’t wink a bit.” “But he should wink,” I replied. “Not onless his eye are weak,” he said. To satisfy myself, I asked the man to let me take the bridle. He did so, and, so soon as I took hold of it, the horse started off in a remarkable retrograde movement, dragging me with him into my best bed of hybrid roses. Finding we were trampling 121down all the best plants, that had cost at auction from three-and-sixpence to seven shillings apiece, and that the more I pulled, the more he backed, I finally let him have his own way, and jammed him stern-foremost into our largest climbing rose that had been all summer prickling itself, in order to look as much like a vegetable porcupine as possible. This unexpected bit of satire in his rear changed his retrograde movement to a sidelong bound, by which he flirted off half the pots on the balusters, upsetting my gladioluses and tuberoses in the pod, and leaving great splashes of mould, geraniums, and red pottery in the gravel walk. By this time his owner had managed to give him two pretty severe cuts with the whip, which made him unmanageable, so I let him go. We had a pleasant time catching him again, when he got among the Lima bean-poles; but his owner led him back with a very self-satisfied expression. “Playful, ain’t he, squire?” I replied that I thought he was, and asked him if it was usual for his horse to play such pranks. He said it was not. “You see, squire, he feels his oats, and hain’t been out of the stable for a month. Use him, and he’s as kind as a kitten.” With that he put his foot in 122 the stirrup, and mounted. The animal really looked very well as he moved around the grass plot, and, as Mrs. Sparrowgrass seemed to fancy him, I took a written guarantee that he was sound; and bought him. What I gave for him is a secret; I have not even told Mrs. Sparrowgrass.
It is a mooted point whether it is best to buy your horse before you build your stable, or build your stable before you buy your horse. A horse without a stable is like a bishop without a church. Our neighbor, who is very ingenious, built his stable to fit his horse. He took the length of his horse and a little over, as the measure of the depth of his stable; then he built it. He had a place beside the stall for his Rockaway carriage. When he came to put the Rockaway in, he found he had not allowed for the shafts! The ceiling was too low to allow them to be erected, so he cut two square port-holes in the back of his stable and run his shafts through them, into the chicken-house behind. Of course, whenever he wanted to take out his carriage, he had to unroost all his fowls, who would sit on his shafts, night and day. But that was better than building a new stable. For my part, I determined to avoid mistakes, by getting 123 the horse and carriage both first, and then to build the stable. This plan, being acceptable to Mrs. Sparrowgrass, was adopted as judicious and expedient. In consequence, I found myself with a horse on my hands with no place to put him. Fortunately, I was acquainted with a very honest man who kept a livery stable, where I put him to board by the month, and in order that he might have plenty of good oats, I bought some, which I gave to the ostler for that purpose. The man of whom I bought the horse did not deceive me, when he represented him as a great feeder. He ate more oats than all the rest of the horses put together in that stable.
It is a good thing to have a saddle-horse in the country. The early morning ride, when dawn and dew freshen and flush the landscape, is comparable to no earthly, innocent pleasure. Look at yonder avenue of road-skirting trees. Those marvellous trunks, yet moist, are ruddy as obelisks of jasper! And above — see the leaves blushing at the east! Hark to the music! interminable chains of melody linking earth and sky with its delicious magic. The little, countless wood-birds are singing! and now rolls up from the mown meadow the fragrance of cut grass and clover.124
Look at the river with its veil of blue mist! and the grim, gaunt old Palisades, as amiable in their orient crowns as old princes, out of the direct line of succession, over the royal cradle of the heir apparent!
There is one thing about early riding in the country; you find out a great many things which, perhaps, you would not have found out under ordinary circumstances. The first thing I found out was, that my horse had the heaves. I had been so wrapt up in the beauties of the morning, that I had not observed, what perhaps everybody in that vicinity had observed, namely, that the new horse had been waking up all the sleepers on both sides of the road with an asthmatic whistle, of half-a-mile power. My attention was called to the fact by the 125 village teamster, old Dockweed, who came banging after me in his empty cart, shouting out my name as he came. I must say, I have always disliked Dockweed’s familiarity; he presumes too much upon my good nature, when he calls me Sparrygrass before ladies at the dépôt, and by my Christian name always on the Sabbath, when he is dressed up. On this occasion, what with the horse’s vocal powers and old Dockweed’s the affair was pretty well blown over the village before breakfast. “Sparrygrass,” he said, as he came up, “that your hos?” I replied, that the horse was my property. “Got the heaves, ain’t he? got ’em bad.” Just then a window was pushed open, and the white head of the old gentleman, who sits in the third pew in front of our pew in church, was thrust out. “What’s the matter with your horse? said he. “Got the heaves,” replied old Dockweed, “got ’em bad.” Then, I heard symptoms of opening a blind on the other side of the road, and as I did not wish to run the gauntlet of such inquiries, I rode off on a cross road; but not before I heard, above the sound of pulmonary complaint, the voice of old Dockweed explaining to the other cottage, “Sparrygrass — got a hos — got the heaves — got ’em 126 bad.” I was so much ashamed, that I took a round-about road to the stable, and instead of coming home like a fresh and gallant cavalier, on a hand gallop, I walked my purchase to the stable, and dismounted with a chastened spirit.
“Well, dear,” said Mrs. Sparrowgrass, with a face beaming all over with smiles, “how did you like your horse?” I replied that he was not quite so fine a saddle-horse as I had anticipated, but I added, brightening up, for good humor is sympathetic, “he will make a good horse, I think, after all, for you and the children to jog around with in a wagon.” “Oh, won’t that be pleasant!” said Mrs. Sparrowgrass.
Farewell, then, rural rides, and rural roads o’ mornings! Farewell, song birds, and jasper colonnades; farewell misty river, and rocky Palisades; farewell mown honey-breath, farewell stirrup and bridle, dawn and dew, we must jog on at a foot pace. After all, it is better for your horse to have a pulmonary complaint than have it yourself.
I had determined not to build a stable, nor to buy a carriage, until I had thoroughly tested my horse in harness. For this purpose, I hired a 127 Rockaway of the stable-keeper. Then I put Mrs. Sparrowgrass and the young ones in the double seats, and took the ribbons for a little drive by the Nepperhan river road. The Nepperhan is a quiet stream that for centuries has wound its way through the ancient dorp of Yonkers. Geologists may trace the movements of time upon the rocky dial of the Palisades, and estimate the age of the more modern Hudson by the foot-prints of sauriæ in the strata that fringe its banks, but it is impossible to escape the conviction, as you ride beside the Nepperhan, that it is a very old stream — that it is entirely independent of earthquakes — that its birth was of primeval antiquity — and, no doubt, that it meandered through Westchester valleys when the Hudson was only a fresh water lake, land-locked somewhere above Poughkeepsie. It was a lovely afternoon. The sun was sloping westward, the meadows
We had passed Chicken Island, and the famous house with the stone gable and the one stone chimney, in which General Washington slept, as he 128 made it a point to sleep in every old stone house in Westchester county, and had gone pretty far on the road, past the cemetery, when Mrs. Sparrowgrass said suddenly, “Dear, what is the matter with your horse?” As I had been telling the children all the stories about the river on the way, I had managed to get my head pretty well inside of the carriage, and, at the time she spoke, was keeping a look-out in front with my back. The remark of Mrs. Sparrowgrass induced me to turn about, and I found the new horse behaving in a most unaccountable manner. He was going down hill with his nose almost to the ground, running the wagon first on this side and then on the other. I thought of the remark made by the man, and turning again to Mrs. Sparrowgrass, said, “Playful, isn’t he?” The next moment I heard something breaking away in front, and then the Rockaway gave a lurch and stood still. Upon examination I found the new horse had tumbled down, broken one shaft, gotten the other through the check-rein so as to bring his head up with a round-turn, and besides had managed to put one of the traces in a single hitch around his off hind leg. So soon as I had taken all the young ones and Mrs. Sparrowgrass 129 out of the Rockaway, I set to work to liberate the horse, who was choking very fast with the check-rein. It is unpleasant to get your fishing-line in a tangle when you are in a hurry for bites, but I never saw fishing-line in such a tangle as that harness. However, I set to work with a penknife, and cut him out in such a way as to make getting home by our conveyance impossible. When he got up, he was the sleepiest looking horse I ever saw. “Mrs. Sparrowgrass,” said I, “won’t you stay here with the children until I go to the nearest farmhouse?” Mrs. Sparrowgrass replied that she would. Then I took the horse with me to get him out of the way of the children, and went in search of assistance. The first thing the new horse did when he got about a quarter of a mile from the scene of the accident, was to tumble down a bank. Fortunately the bank was not over four feet high, but as I went with him, my trousers were rent in a grievous place. While I was getting the new horse on his feet again, I saw a colored person approaching, who came to my assistance. The first thing he did was to pull out a large jack-knife, and then next thing he did was to open the new horse’s mouth and run the blade two or three times inside 130 of the new horse’s gums. Then the new horse commenced bleeding. “Dah, sah,” said the man, shutting up his jack-knife, “ef ’t hadn’t been for dat yer, your hos would a’ bin a goner.” “What was the matter with him?” said I. “Oh, he’s ony jis got de blind-staggers, das all. Say,” said he, before I was half indignant enough at the man who had sold me such an animal, “say, ain’t your name Sparrowgrass?” I replied that my name was Sparrowgrass. “Oh,” said he, “I knows you, I brung some fowls once down to you place. I heerd about you, and you hos. Dats de hos dats got de heaves so bad, heh! heh! You better sell dat hos.” I determined to take his advice, and employed him to lead my purchase to the nearest place where he would be cared for. Then I went back to the Rockaway, but met Mrs. Sparrowgrass and the children on the road coming to meet me. She had left a man in charge of the Rockaway. When we got to the Rockaway we found the man missing, also the whip and one cushion. We got another person to take charge of the Rockaway, and had a pleasant walk home by moonlight. I think a moonlight night delicious, upon the Hudson 131.
Does any person want a horse at a low price? A good, stylish-looking animal, close-ribbed, good loin, and good stifle, sound legs with only the heaves and blind-staggers, and a slight defect in one of his eyes? If at any time he slips his bridle and gets away, you can always approach him by getting on his left side. I will also engage to give a written guarantee that he is sound and kind, signed by the brother of his former owner.