« PreviousContinue »
Whole Number 29
The Parson's Horse Race
AL, now, this 'ere does beat all! I wouldn't
have thought it of the deacon. Why, this hoss he's sold the Widder Simpkins 'ell never be no good to her. That 'are's a used up critter, any fool can see that.
He'll mabbe do for about a quarter of a mile on smooth roads, but come to drive him as a body wants to drive, why he blaws like my bellowsis; and the deacon knew it-must 'a know'd it."
So spoke Sam Lawson, drooping in a discouraged, contemplative attitude in front of an equally discouraged horse, that had just been brought to him by the Widder Simpkins for medical treatment. And Sam leaned back on his cold forge and seemed to deliver himself to a train of general reflection. "Yes, hosses does seem to be sorto unregenerate critters; there's sunthin about hosses that deceives the very elect. The best o' iolks gets tripped up when it comes to deal in hossës. Ministers, now, folks allus thinks it's sunthin sort o'shaký for a minister to hav' much to do with hosses-sure to get um into trouble. There was old Parson. Wiliams, of North Bilbriky, got into a dreadful mess about a hoss. Lord massy and he waren't to blame neither: but he got into the dreadfulest scrape you ever heard on-come nigh to unsettlin' him."
"O Sam, tell us about it," we boys shouted, delighted with the prospect of a story.
"Ye see, boys, Parson Williams—he's dead now, but when I was a boy he was one of the great men around here. He writ books, and he was a smart preacher. Folks said he had invitations to settle in Boston, and there ain't no doubt he might a had a Boston parish if he'd a been a mind to take it. He was purty up and down and commanden in his ways, and things had to go purty much as he said. He was a good deal sot by, Parson Williams was.
"And they lived purty easy and comfortable so fur as this world's goods is concerned, and he allers liked to have the best that there was a goin' and allers had an eye to good hosses.
“Now, there was Parson Adams and Parson Scranton and most of the ministers: they didn't know and didn't care what hoss they had, just jogged around with these ’ere poundin', sleepy critters that ministers mostly have. But Parson Williams he allers would have a hoss as was a hoss. He looked out fer blood. And the hoss he had at the time I'm telling about was a peeler, you bet. They called him Tamerlone from some heathen feller or other : the boys called him Tam for short. Tam was a great character. All the fellers for miles 'round knew the doctor's Tam, and used to come clear over from the other parishes to see him.
"Well, Cuff, he was the doctor's nigger man, he really made an idol of that 'er hoss—a reg'lar graven image and bowed down and worshipped him. He didn't think nothin' was too good fer him. He washed and brushed and curried him, and rubbed him down until he shone like a woman's satin dress. You see, Tam wasn't no ladies' hoss. Miss Williams was 'fraid o' death of him. But the Parson liked to drive Tam; and he liked to go 'round the country on his back, and a fine figure of a män he was on him, too. He didn't let nobody else back him er handle the reins but Cuff; and Cuff was so
dredfel..get up about it and swelled and bragged about thật:er: Koss: alt 'round the country. Nobody couldn't put in a word about any other hoss, without Cuff's feathers would be all up, stiff as a tom-turkey's tail ; and that's how Cuff got the doctor into trouble.
"Ye see, there nat'lly was others that thought they'd got hosses, and didn't want to be crowed over. There was Bill Atkins out to the west parish, and Ike Sanders, that kept a stable lip to Piquot Holler; they was down a-lookin' at the parson's hoss, and a-bettin' on their'n and a-darin' Cuff to run with 'em. Wal, Cuff he couldn't stand it, and when the doctor's back was turned, he'd off on the sly, and they'd have their race; and Tam he'd beat 'em all. Tam, ye see, boys, was a hoss that couldn't and wouldn't hev a hoss ahead of him-he jest
wouldn't. Ef he dropped in his tracks the next minit, he would be ahead; and he allus got ahead.
“So the fellers all got their blood up and there was racin' in all the parishes; and it got so they even raced on Sunday.
“Wal, of course, they never got the doctor's hoss out on Sunday. Cuff wouldn't durst do that-Lord massy, no. He was allers there in church, settin' up in the doctor's clothes, rollin' his eyes, and lookin' as pious as if he never thought of racin' horses. He was an awful solemn nigger in church, Cuff was. But there was a lot of them fellers out to Pequot Holler, Bill Atkins and Tom Peters, and Ike Sanders and the Hokiem boys, used to go out ev'ry Sunday arter meetin' and race hosses. You see it was close to the State line, and if the s'lectmen was to come down on 'em they could just whip up their hosses over the State line, and they couldn't take 'em.
“Wal, it got to be a great scandal. The fellers talked about it up to the tavern and the deacons and tithingsman, they took it up and went to Parson Williams about it; and the parson he told 'em jest to keep still, not let the fellars know they was bein' watched, and next Sunday he and the tithingsman and the constable, they'd ride over and ketch 'em in the very act. So next Sunday afternoon Parson Williams and deacon Popkins and Ben Bradley (he was the constable that year) they got on their hosses and rode over to Pequot Holler.
The doctor's blood was up, and he meant to come down on 'em strong; for that was his way o' doin' in his parish. And they was in a sort o' day-a-judgment frame o' mind, and jogged along silent as a hearse, till, come to a rise the hill above to holler, they see three or four fellers with their hosses gettin' ready to race; and the parsons, says he, 'Let's go up quiet and get behind these bushes and we'll see what th're up to and catch 'em in the act.' But the mischief on it was that Ike Sanders see 'em comin' and he knowed Tam in a minit-Ike know'd Tam of old—and he just tipped the wink to the rest o' the boys. “Wait,' says he, 'let 'em git close up, and then I'll give the word, and the doctor's hoss 'll be racin' ahead like thunder.'
"Wal, so the doctor and his folks, they drew up behind the bushes and saw 'em a-gittin' ready to start. Tam
he begun to snuffle and paw; but the doctor never mistrusted what he was up to until Ike sung out, 'Go it, boys.' Tam give one fly, and was over the bushes, and in among 'em, a-goin' it like chain lightening, ahead of 'em all.
"Deacon Popkins and Ben Bradley jest stood and held their breath to see 'em all goin' it so like thunder ; And the doctor he was took so sudden it was all he could do to jest hold on anyway; so away he went, and trees and bushes and fences streaked by him like ribbons. His hat flew off behind him, and his wig arter and got ketched in a barberry bush; but Lord massy, he couldn't stop to think of them. He jest leaned and caught Tam 'round the neck, and held on for dear life til they come to the stoppin' place. Wal, Tam was ahead of 'em all, sure enough, and was snortin' and snuffin' as if he'd got the very old boy in him, and was up to racin' some more on the spot.
"And then Ben and Ike and Tom and the two Hokium boys, they jest roared and danced around like wild critters. There's times, boys, when a minister must be tempted to swear if there ain't preventin' grace, and this must have been one of them times to Parson Williams. He didn't say nothin', but let 'em have their say. But when they'd got through and Ben had brought his hat and wig and brushed and settled him agin, the parson he says, 'Well, boys, you've had your say and your laugh; but I warn you now, I won't have this thing going on any more,' says he, ‘so mind yourselves.' "Wal
, the boys see that the doctor's blood was up, and they rode off purty quiet, and I believe they never raced no more on that spot.”
O pusillanimous heart, be comforted,
And like a cheerful traveler, take the road,
Be bitter in thine inn, and thou unshod
-Elisabeth Barrett Browning.