您的位置:外语教育网 > 英语文化视窗 > 文学与艺术 > 小说 正文
  • 站内搜索:

Boyhood in Norway(15)

2006-09-07 22:16

  LADY CLARE Lady Clare the Story of the Horse

  The king was dead, and among the many things he left behind him which his successor had no use for were a lot of fancy horses. There were long-barrelled English hunters, all legs and neck; there were Kentucky racers, graceful, swift, and strong; and two Arabian steeds, which had been presented to his late majesty by the Sultan of Turkey. To see the beautiful beasts prancing and plunging, as they were being led through the streets by grooms in the royal livery, was enough to make the blood dance in the veins of any lover of horse-flesh. And to think that they were being led ignominiously to the auction mart to be sold under the hammer——knocked down to the highest bidder! It was a sin and a shame surely! And they seemed to feel it themselves; and that was the reason they acted so obstreperously, sometimes lifting the grooms off their feet as they reared and snorted and struck sparks with their steel-shod hoofs from the stone pavement.

  Among the crowd of schoolboys who followed the equine procession, shrieking and yelling with glee and exciting the horses by their wanton screams, was a handsome lad of fourteen, named Erik Carstens. He had fixed his eyes admiringly on a coal-black, four-year-old mare, a mere colt, which brought up the rear of the procession. How exquisitely she was fashioned! How she danced over the ground with a light mazurka step, as if she were shod with gutta-percha and not with iron! And then she had a head so daintily shaped, small and spirited, that it was a joy to look at her. Erik, who, in spite of his youth, was not a bad judge of a horse, felt his heart beat like a trip-hammer, and a mighty yearning took possession of him to become the owner of that mare.

  Though he knew it was time for dinner he could not tear himself away, but followed the procession up one street and down another, until it stopped at the horse market. There a lot of jockeys and coarse-looking dealers were on hand; and an opportunity was afforded them to try the horses before the auction began. They forced open the mouths of the beautiful animals, examined their teeth, prodded them with whips to see if they were gentle, and poked them with their fingers or canes. But when a loutish fellow, in a brown corduroy suit, indulged in that kind of behavior toward the black mare she gave a resentful whinny and without further ado grabbed him with her teeth by the coat collar, lifted him up and shook him as if he had been a bag of straw. Then she dropped him in the mud, and raised her dainty head with an air as if to say that she held him to be beneath contempt. The fellow, however, was not inclined to put up with that kind of treatment. With a volley of oaths he sprang up and would have struck the mare in the mouth with his clinched fist, if Erik had not darted forward and warded off the blow.

  "How dare you strike that beautiful creature?" he cried, indignantly.

  "Hold your jaw, you gosling, or I'll hit you instead," retorted the man.

  But by that time one of the royal grooms had made his appearance and the brute did not dare carry out his threat. While the groom strove to quiet the mare, a great tumult arose in some other part of the market-place. There was a whinnying, plunging, rearing, and screaming, as if the whole field had gone mad. The black mare joined in the concert, and stood with her ears pricked up and her head raised in an attitude of panicky expectation. Quite fearlessly Erik walked up to her, patted her on the neck and spoke soothingly to her.

  "Look out," yelled the groom, "or she'll trample you to jelly!"

  But instead of that, the mare rubbed her soft nose against the boy's cheek, with a low, friendly neighing, as if she wished to thank him for his gallant conduct. And at that moment Erik's heart went out to that dumb creature with an affection which he had never felt toward any living thing before. He determined, whatever might happen, to bid on her and to buy her, whatever she might prove to be worth. He knew he had a few thousand dollars in the bank——his inheritance from his mother, who had died when he was a baby——and he might, perhaps, be able to persuade his father to sanction the purchase. At any rate, he would have some time to invent ways and means; for his father, Captain Carstens, was now away on the great annual drill, and would not return for some weeks.

  As a mere matter of form, he resolved to try the mare before bidding on her; and slipping a coin into the groom's hand he asked for a saddle. It turned out, however, that all the saddles were in use, and Erik had no choice but to mount bareback.

  "Ride her on the snaffle. She won't stand the curb," shouted the groom, as the mare, after plunging to the right and to the left, darted through the gate to the track, and, after kicking up a vast deal of tan-bark, sped like a bullet down the race-course.

  "Good gracious, how recklessly that boy rides!" one jockey observed to another; "but he has got a good grip with his knees all the same."

  "Yes, he sits like a daisy," the second replied, critically; "but mind my word, Lady Clare will throw him yet. She never could stand anybody but the princess on her back: and that was the reason her Royal Highness was so fond of her. Mother of Moses, won't there be a grand rumpus when she comes back again and finds Lady Clare gone! I should not like to be in the shoes of the man who has ordered Lady Clare under the hammer."

  "But look at the lad! I told you Lady Clare wouldn't stand no manner of nonsense from boys."

  "She is kicking like a Trojan! She'll make hash of him if he loses his seat."

  "Yes, but he sticks like a burr. That's a jewel of a lad, I tell ye. He ought to have been a jockey."

  Up the track came Lady Clare, black as the ace of spades, acting like the Old Harry. Something had displeased her, obviously, and she held Erik responsible for it. Possibly she had just waked up to the fact that she, who had been the pet of a princess, was now being ridden by an ordinary commoner. At all events, she had made up her mind to get rid of the commoner without further ceremony. Putting her fine ears back and dilating her nostrils, she suddenly gave a snort and a whisk with her tail, and up went her heels toward the eternal stars——that is, if there had been any stars visible just then. Everybody's heart stuck in his throat; for fleet-footed racers were speeding round and round, and the fellow who got thrown in the midst of all these trampling hoofs would have small chance of looking upon the sun again. People instinctively tossed their heads up to see how high he would go before coming down again; but, for a wonder, they saw nothing, except a cloud of dust mixed with tan-bark, and when that had cleared away they discovered the black mare and her rider, apparently on the best of terms, dashing up the track at a breakneck pace.

  Erik was dripping with perspiration when he dismounted, and Lady Clare's glossy coat was flecked with foam. She was not aware, apparently, that if she had any reputation to ruin she had damaged it most effectually. Her behavior on the track and her treatment of the horse-dealer were by this time common property, and every dealer and fancier made a mental note that Lady Clare was the number in the catalogue which he would not bid on. All her beauty and her distinguished ancestry counted for nothing, as long as she had so uncertain a temper. Her sire, Potiphar, it appeared, had also been subject to the same infirmities of temper, and there was a strain of savagery in her blood which might crop out when you least expected it.

  Accordingly, when a dozen fine horses had been knocked down at good prices, and Lady Clare's turn came, no one came forward to inspect her, and no one could be found to make a bid.

  "Well, well, gentlemen," cried the auctioneer, "here we have a beautiful thoroughbred mare, the favorite mount of Her Royal Highness the Princess, and not a bid do I hear. She's a beauty, gentlemen, sired by the famous Potiphar who won the Epsom Handicap and no end of minor stakes. Take a look at her, gentlemen! Did you ever see a horse before that was raven black from nose to tail? I reckon you never did. But such a horse is Lady Clare. The man who can find a single white hair on her can have her for a gift. Come forward, gentlemen, come forward. Who will start her——say at five hundred?"

  A derisive laugh ran through the crowd, and a voice was heard to cry, "Fifty."

  "Fifty!" repeated the auctioneer, in a deeply grieved and injured tone; "fifty did you say, sir? Fifty? Did I hear rightly? I hope, for the sake of the honor of this fair city, that my ears deceived me."

  Here came a long and impressive pause, during which the auctioneer, suddenly abandoning his dramatic manner, chatted familiarly with a gentleman who stood near him. The only one in the crowd whom he had impressed with the fact that the honor of the city was at stake in this sale was Erik Carstens. He had happily discovered a young and rich lieutenant of his father's company, and was trying to persuade him to bid in the mare for him.

  "But, my dear boy," Lieutenant Thicker exclaimed, "what do you suppose the captain will say to me if I aid and abet his son in defying the paternal authority?"

  "Oh, you needn't bother about that," Erik rejoined eagerly. "If father was at home, I believe he would allow me to buy this mare.

  But I am a minor yet, and the auctioneer would not accept my bid.

  Therefore I thought you might be kind enough to bid for me."

  The lieutenant made no answer, but looked at the earnest face of the boy with unmistakable sympathy. The auctioneer assumed again an insulted, affronted, pathetically entreating or scornfully repelling tone, according as it suited his purpose; and the price of Lady Clare crawled slowly and reluctantly up from fifty to seventy dollars. There it stopped, and neither the auctioneer's tears nor his prayers could apparently coax it higher.

  "Seventy dollars!" he cried, as if he were really too shocked to speak at all; "seven-ty dollars! Make it eighty! Oh, it is a sin and a shame, gentlemen, and the fair fame of this beautiful city is eternally ruined. It will become a wagging of the head and a byword among the nations. Sev-en-ty dollars!"——then hotly and indignantly——"seventy dollars!——fifth and last time, seventy dollars!"——here he raised his hammer threateningly——"seventy dollars!"

  "One hundred!" cried a high boyish voice, and in an instant every neck was craned and every eye was turned toward the corner where Erik Carstens was standing, half hidden behind the broad figure of Lieutenant Thicker.

  "Did I hear a hundred?" repeated the auctioneer, wonderingly. "May I ask who was the gentleman who said a hundred?"

  An embarrassing silence followed. Erik knew that if he acknowledged the bid he would suffer the shame of having it refused. But his excitement and his solicitude for the fair fame of his native city had carried him away so completely that the words had escaped from his lips before he was fully aware of their import.

  "May I ask," repeated the wielder of the hammer, slowly and emphatically, "may I ask the gentleman who offered one hundred dollars for Lady Clare to come forward and give his name?"

  He now looked straight at Erik, who blushed to the edge of his hair, but did not stir from the spot. From sheer embarrassment he clutched the lieutenant's arm, and almost pinched it.

  "Oh, I beg your pardon," the officer exclaimed, addressing the auctioneer, as if he had suddenly been aroused from a fit of abstraction; "I made the bid of one hundred dollars, or——or——at any rate, I make it now."

  The same performance, intended to force up the price, was repeated once more, but with no avail, and at the end of two minutes Lady Clare was knocked down to Lieutenant Thicker.

  "Now I have gone and done it like the blooming idiot that I am," observed the lieutenant, when Lady Clare was led into his stable by a liveried groom. "What an overhauling the captain will give me when he gets home."

  "You need have no fear," Erik replied. "I'll sound father as soon as he gets home; and if he makes any trouble I'll pay you that one hundred dollars, with interest, the day I come of age."

  Well, the captain came home, and having long had the intention to present his son with a saddle-horse, he allowed himself to be cajoled into approving of the bargain. The mare was an exquisite creature, if ever there was one, and he could well understand how Erik had been carried away; Lieutenant Thicker, instead of being hauled over the coals, as he had expected, received thanks for his kind and generous conduct toward the son of his superior officer. As for Erik himself, he had never had any idea that a boy's life could be so glorious as his was now. Mounted on that splendid, coal-black mare, he rode through the city and far out into the country at his father's side; and never did it seem to him that he had loved his father so well as he did during these afternoon rides. The captain was far from suspecting that in that episode of the purchase of Lady Clare his own relation to his son had been at stake. Not that Erik would not have obeyed his father, even if he had turned out his rough side and taken the lieutenant to task for his kindness; but their relation would in that case have lacked the warm intimacy (which in nowise excludes obedience and respect) and that last touch of devoted admiration which now bound them together.

  That fine touch of sympathy in the captain's disposition which had enabled him to smile indulgently at his son's enthusiasm for the horse made the son doubly anxious not to abuse such kindness, and to do everything in his power to deserve the confidence which made his life so rich and happy. Though, as I have said, Captain Carstens lacked the acuteness to discover how much he owed to Lady Clare, he acknowledged himself in quite a different way her debtor. He had never really been aware what a splendid specimen of a boy his son was until he saw him on the back of that spirited mare, which cut up with him like the Old Harry, and yet never succeeded in flurrying, far less in unseating him. The captain felt a glow of affection warming his breast at the sight of this, and his pride in Erik's horsemanship proved a consolation to him when the boy's less distinguished performances at school caused him fret and worry.

  "A boy so full of pluck must amount to something, even if he does not take kindly to Latin," he reflected many a time. "I am afraid I have made a mistake in having him prepared for college. In the army now, and particularly in the cavalry, he would make a reputation in twenty minutes."

  And a cavalryman Erik might, perhaps, have become if his father had not been transferred to another post, and compelled to take up his residence in the country. It was nominally a promotion, but Captain Carstens was ill pleased with it, and even had some thought of resigning rather than give up his delightful city life, and move far northward into the region of cod and herring. However, he was too young a man to retire on a pension, as yet, and so he gradually reconciled himself to the thought, and sailed northward in the month of April with his son and his entire household. It had long been a question whether Lady Clare should make the journey with them; for Captain Carstens maintained that so high-bred an animal would be very sensitive to climatic changes and might even die on the way. Again, he argued that it was an absurdity to bring so fine a horse into a rough country, where the roads are poor and where nature, in mercy, provides all beasts with rough, shaggy coats to protect them from the cold. How would Lady Clare, with her glossy satin coat, her slender legs that pirouetted so daintily over the ground, and her exquisite head, which she carried so proudly——how would she look and what kind of figure would she cut among the shaggy, stunted, sedate-looking nags of the Sognefiord district? But the captain, though what he said was irrefutable, had to suspend all argument when he saw how utterly wretched Erik became at the mere thought of losing Lady Clare. So he took his chances; and, after having ordered blankets of three different thicknesses for three different kinds of weather, shipped the mare with the rest of his family for his new northern home.

  As the weather proved unusually mild during the northward voyage Lady Clare arrived in Sogn without accident or adventure. And never in all her life had she looked more beautiful than she did when she came off the steamer, and half the population of the valley turned out to see her. It is no use denying that she was as vain as any other professional beauty, and the way she danced and pirouetted on the gangplank, when Erik led her on to the pier, filled the rustics with amazement. They had come to look at the new captain and his family; but when Lady Clare appeared she eclipsed the rest of the company so completely that no one had eyes for anybody but her. As the sun was shining and the wind was mild, Erik had taken off her striped overcoat (which covered her from nose to tail), for he felt in every fibre of his body the sensation she was making, and blushed with pleasure as if the admiring exclamations had been intended for himself.

  "Look at that horse," cried young and old, with eyes as big as saucers, pointing with their fingers at Lady Clare.

  "Handsome carcass that mare has," remarked a stoutish man, who knew what he was talking about; "and head and legs to match."

  "She beats your Valders-Roan all hollow, John Garvestad," said a young tease who stood next to him in the crowd.

  "My Valders-Roan has never seen his match yet, and never will, according to my reckoning," answered John Garvestad.

  "Ho! ho!" shouted the young fellow, with a mocking laugh; "that black mare is a hand taller at the very least, and I bet you she's a high-flyer. She has got the prettiest legs I ever clapped eyes on."

  "They'd snap like clay pipes in the mountains," replied Garvestad, contemptuously.

  Erik, as he blushingly ascended the slope to his new home, leading Lady Clare by a halter, had no suspicion of the sentiments which she had aroused in John Garvestad's breast. He was only blissfully conscious of the admiration she had excited; and he promised himself a good deal of fun in future in showing off his horsemanship. He took Lady Clare to the stable, where a new box-stall had been made for her, examined the premises carefully and nailed a board over a crevice in the wall where he suspected a draught. He instructed Anders, the groom, with emphatic and anxious repetitions regarding her care, showed him how to make Lady Clare's bed, how to comb her mane, how to brush her (for she refused to endure currying), how to blanket her, and how to read the thermometer which he nailed to one of the posts of the stall. The latter proved to be a more difficult task than he had anticipated; and the worst of it was that he was not sure that Anders knew any more on the subject of his instruction at the end of the lesson than he had at the beginning. To make sure that he had understood him he asked him to enter the stall and begin the process of grooming. But no sooner had the unhappy fellow put his nose inside the door than Lady Clare laid back her ears in a very ugly fashion, and with a vicious whisk of her tail waltzed around and planted two hoof-marks in the door, just where the groom's nose had that very instant vanished. A second and a third trial had similar results; and as the box-stall was new and of hard wood, Erik had no wish to see it further damaged.

  "I won't have nothin' to do with that hoss, that's as certain as my name is Anders," the groom declared; and Erik, knowing that persuasion would be useless, had henceforth to be his own groom. The fact was he could not help sympathizing with that fastidiousness of Lady Clare which made her object to be handled by coarse fingers and roughly curried, combed, and washed like a common plebeian nag. One does not commence life associating with a princess for nothing. Lady Clare, feeling in every nerve her high descent and breeding, had perhaps a sense of having come down in the world, and, like many another irrational creature of her sex, she kicked madly against fate and exhibited the unloveliest side of her character. But with all her skittishness and caprice she was steadfast in one thing, and that was her love for Erik. As the days went by in country monotony, he began to feel it as a privilege rather than a burden to have the exclusive care of her. The low, friendly neighing with which she always greeted him, as soon as he opened the stable-door, was as intelligible and dear to him as the warm welcome of a friend. And when with dainty alertness she lifted her small, beautiful head, over which the fine net-work of veins meandered, above the top of the stall, and rubbed her nose caressingly against his cheek, before beginning to snuff at his various pockets for the accustomed lump of sugar, he felt a glow of affection spread from his heart and pervade his whole being. Yes, he loved this beautiful animal with a devotion which, a year ago, he would scarcely have thought it possible to bestow upon a horse. No one could have persuaded him that Lady Clare had not a soul which (whether it was immortal or not) was, at all events, as distinct and clearly defined as that of any person with whom he was acquainted. She was to him a personality——a dear, charming friend, with certain defects of character (as who has not?) which were, however, more than compensated for by her devotion to him. She was fastidious, quick-tempered, utterly unreasonable where her feelings were involved; full of aristocratic prejudice, which only her sex could excuse; and whimsical, proud, and capricious. It was absurd, of course, to contend that these qualities were in themselves admirable; but, on the other hand, few of us would not consent to overlook them in a friend who loved us as well as Lady Clare loved Erik.

  The fame of Lady Clare spread through the parish like fire in withered grass. People came from afar to look at her, and departed full of wonder at her beauty. When the captain and his son rode together to church on Sunday morning, men, women, and children stood in rows at the roadside staring at the wonderful mare as if she had been a dromedary or a rhinoceros. And when she was tied in the clergyman's stable a large number of the men ignored the admonition of the church bells and missed the sermon, being unable to tear themselves away from Lady Clare's charms. But woe to him who attempted to take liberties with her; there were two or three horsy young men who had narrow escapes from bearing the imprint of her iron shoes for the rest of their days.

  That taught the others a lesson, and now Lady Clare suffered from no annoying familiarities, but was admired at a respectful distance, until the pastor, vexed at her rivalry with his sermon, issued orders to have the stable-door locked during service.

  There was one person besides the pastor who was ill pleased at the reputation Lady Clare was making. That was John Garvestad, the owner of Valders-Roan. John was the richest man in the parish, and always made a point of keeping fine horses. Valders-Roan, a heavily built, powerful horse, with a tremendous neck and chest and long tassels on his fetlocks, but rather squat in the legs, had hitherto held undisputed rank as the finest horse in all Sogn. By the side of Lady Clare he looked as a stout, good-looking peasant lad with coltish manners might have looked by the side of the daughter of a hundred earls.

  But John Garvestad, who was naturally prejudiced in favor of his own horse, could scarcely be blamed for failing to recognize her superiority. He knew that formerly, on Sundays, the men were wont to gather with admiring comment about Valders-Roan; while now they stood craning their necks, peering through the windows of the parson's stable, in order to catch a glimpse of Lady Clare, and all the time Valders-Roan was standing tied to the fence, in full view of all, utterly neglected. This spectacle filled him with such ire that he hardly could control himself. His first impulse was to pick a quarrel with Erik; but a second and far brighter idea presently struck him. He would buy Lady Clare. Accordingly, when the captain and his son had mounted their horses and were about to start on their homeward way, Garvestad, putting Valders-Roan to his trumps, dug his heels into his sides and rode up with a great flourish in front of the churchyard gate.

  "How much will you take for that mare of yours, captain?" he asked, as he checked his charger with unnecessary vigor close to Lady Clare.

  "She is not mine to sell," the captain replied. "Lady Clare belongs to my son."

  "Well, what will you take for her, then?" Garvestad repeated, swaggeringly, turning to Erik.

  "Not all the gold in the world could buy her," retorted Erik, warmly.

  Valders-Roan, unable to resist the charms of Lady Clare, had in the meanwhile been making some cautious overtures toward an acquaintance. He arched his mighty neck, rose on his hind legs, while his tremendous forehoofs were beating the air, and cut up generally——all for Lady Clare's benefit.

  She, however, having regarded his performances for awhile with a mild and somewhat condescending interest, grew a little tired of them and looked out over the fiord, as a belle might do, with a suppressed yawn, when her cavalier fails to entertain her. Valders-Roan, perceiving the slight, now concluded to make more decided advances. So he put forward his nose until it nearly touched Lady Clare's, as if he meant to kiss her. But that was more than her ladyship was prepared to put up with. Quick as a flash she flung herself back on her haunches, down went her ears, and hers was the angriest horse's head that ever had been seen in that parish. With an indignant snort she wheeled around, kicking up a cloud of dust by the suddenness of the manoeuvre. A less skilled rider than Erik would inevitably have been thrown by two such unforeseen jerks; and the fact was he had all he could do to keep his seat.

  "Oho!" shouted Garvestad, "your mare shies; she'll break your neck some day, as likely as not. You had better sell her before she gets you into trouble."

  "But I shouldn't like to have your broken neck on my conscience," Erik replied; "if necks are to be broken by Lady Clare I should prefer to have it be my own."

  The peasant was not clever enough to make out whether this was jest or earnest. With a puzzled frown he stared at the youth and finally broke out:

  "Then you won't sell her at no price? Anyway, the day you change your mind don't forget to notify John Garvestad. If it's spondulix you are after, then here's where there's plenty of 'em."

  He slapped his left breast-pocket with a great swagger, looking around to observe the impression he was making on his audience; then, jerking the bridle violently, so as to make his horse rear, he rode off like Alexander on Bucephalus, and swung down upon the highway.

  It was but a few weeks after this occurrence that Captain Carstens and his son were invited to honor John Garvestad by their presence at his wedding. They were in doubt, at first, as to whether they ought to accept the invitation; for some unpleasant rumors had reached them, showing that Garvestad entertained unfriendly feelings toward them. He was an intensely vain man; and the thought that Erik Carstens had a finer horse than Valders-Roan left him no peace. He had been heard to say repeatedly that, if that high-nosed youth persisted in his refusal to sell the mare, he would discover his mistake when, perhaps, it would be too late to have it remedied. Whatever that meant, it sufficed to make both Erik and his father uneasy. But, on the other hand, it would be the worst policy possible, under such circumstances, to refuse the invitation. For that would be interpreted either as fear or as aristocratic exclusiveness; and the captain, while he was new in the district, was as anxious to avoid the appearance of the one as of the other. Accordingly he accepted the invitation and on the appointed day rode with his son into the wide yard of John Garvestad's farm, stopping at the pump, where they watered their horses. It was early in the afternoon, and both the house and the barn were thronged with wedding-guests. From the sitting-room the strains of two fiddles were heard, mingled with the scraping and stamping of heavy feet.

  Another musical performance was in progress in the barn; and all over the yard elderly men and youths were standing in smaller and larger groups, smoking their pipes and tasting the beer-jugs, which were passed from hand to hand. But the moment Lady Clare was seen all interest in minor concerns ceased, and with one accord the crowd moved toward her, completely encircling her, and viewing her with admiring glances that appreciated all her perfections.

  "Did you ever see cleaner-shaped legs on a horse?" someone was heard to say, and instantly his neighbor in the crowd joined the chorus of praise, and added: "What a snap and spring there is in every bend of her knee and turn of her neck and flash of her eye!"

  It was while this chorus of admiration was being sung in all keys and tones of the whole gamut, that the bridegroom came out of the house, a little bit tipsy, perhaps, from the many toasts he had been obliged to drink, and bristling with pugnacity to the ends of his fingers and the tips of his hair. Every word of praise that he heard sounded in his ears like a jeer and an insult to himself. With ruthless thrusts he elbowed his way through the throng of guests and soon stood in front of the two horses, from which the captain and Erik had not yet had a chance to dismount. He returned their greeting with scant courtesy and plunged instantly into the matter which he had on his mind.

  "I reckon you have thought better of my offer by this time," he said, with a surly swagger, to Erik. "What do you hold your mare at to-day?"

  "I thought we had settled that matter once for all," the boy replied, quietly. "I have no more intention of selling Lady Clare now than I ever had."

  "Then will ye trade her off for Valders-Roan?" ejaculated Garvestad, eagerly.

  "No, I won't trade her for Valders-Roan or any other horse in creation."

  "Don't be cantankerous, now, young fellow, or you might repent of it."

  "I am not cantankerous. But I beg of you kindly to drop this matter. I came here, at your invitation, as a guest at your wedding, not for the purpose of trading horses."

  It was an incautious speech, and was interpreted by everyone present as a rebuke to the bridegroom for his violation of the rules of hospitality. The captain, anxious to avoid a row, therefore broke in, in a voice of friendly remonstrance: "My dear Mr. Garvestad, do let us drop this matter. If you will permit us, we should like to dismount and drink a toast to your health, wishing you a long life and much happiness."

  "Ah, yes, I understand your smooth palaver," the bridegroom growled between his teeth. "I have stood your insolence long enough, and, by jingo, I won't stand it much longer. What will ye take for your mare, I say, or how much do you want to boot, if you trade her for Valders-Roan?"

  He shouted the last words with furious emphasis, holding his clinched fist up toward Erik, and glaring at him savagely.

  But now Lady Clare, who became frightened perhaps by the loud talk and violent gestures, began to rear and plunge, and by an unforeseen motion knocked against the bridegroom, so that he fell backward into the horse-trough under the pump, which was full of water. The wedding-guests had hardly time to realize what was happening when a great splash sent the water flying into their faces, and the burly form of John Garvestad was seen sprawling helplessly in the horse-trough. But then——then they realized it with a vengeance. And a laugh went up——a veritable storm of laughter——which swept through the entire crowd and re-echoed with a ghostly hilarity from the mountains. John Garvestad in the meanwhile had managed to pick himself out of the horse-trough, and while he stood snorting, spitting, and dripping, Captain Carstens and his son politely lifted their hats to him and rode away. But as they trotted out of the gate they saw their host stretch a big clinched fist toward them, and heard him scream with hoarse fury: "I'll make ye smart for that some day, so help me God!"

  Lady Clare was not sent to the mountains in the summer, as are nearly all horses in the Norwegian country districts. She was left untethered in an enclosed home pasture about half a mile from the mansion. Here she grazed, rolled, kicked up her heels, and gambolled to her heart's content. During the long, bright summer nights, when the sun scarcely dips beneath the horizon and reappears in an hour, clothed in the breezy garments of morning, she was permitted to frolic, race, and play all sorts of improvised games with a shaggy, little, plebeian three-year-old colt whom she had condescended to honor with her acquaintance. This colt must have had some fine feeling under his rough coat, for he never presumed in the least upon the acquaintance, being perhaps aware of the honor it conferred upon him. He allowed himself to be abused, ignored, or petted, as it might suit the pleasure of her royal highness, with a patient, even-tempered good-nature which was admirable. When Lady Clare (perhaps for fear of making him conceited) took no notice of him, he showed neither resentment nor surprise, but walked off with a sheepish shake of his head. Thus he slowly learned the lesson to make no exhibition of feeling at the sight of his superior; not to run up and greet her with a disrespectfully joyous whinny; but calmly wait for her to recognize him before appearing to be aware of her presence. It took Lady Clare several months to accustom Shag (for that was the colt's name) to her ways. She taught him unconsciously the rudiments of good manners; but he proved himself docile, and when he once had been reduced to his proper place he proved a fairly acceptable companion.

  During the first and second week after John Garvestad's wedding Erik had kept Lady Clare stabled, having a vague fear that the angry peasant might intend to do her harm. But she whinnied so pitifully through the long light nights that finally he allowed his compassion to get the better of his anxiety, and once more she was seen racing madly about the field with Shag, whom she always beat so ignominiously that she felt half sorry for him, and as a consolation allowed him gently to claw her mane with his teeth. This was a privilege which Shag could not fail to appreciate, though she never offered to return the favor by clawing him. At any rate, as soon as Lady Clare reappeared in the meadow Shag's cup of bliss seemed to be full.

  A week passed in this way, nothing happened, and Erik's vigilance was relaxed. He went to bed on the evening of July 10th with an easy mind, without the remotest apprehension of danger. The sun set about ten o'clock, and Lady Clare and Shag greeted its last departing rays with a whinny, accompanied by a wanton kickup from the rear——for whatever Lady Clare did Shag felt in honor bound to do, and was conscious of no disgrace in his abject and ape-like imitation. They had spent an hour, perhaps, in such delightful performances, when all of a sudden they were startled by a deep bass whinny, which rumbled and shook like distant thunder. Then came the tramp, tramp, tramp of heavy hoof-beats, which made the ground tremble. Lady Clare lifted her beautiful head and looked with fearless curiosity in the direction whence the sound came. Shag, of course, did as nearly as he could exactly the same. What they saw was a big roan horse with an enormous arched neck, squat feet, and long-tasselled fetlocks.

  Lady Clare had no difficulty in recognizing Valders-Roan. But how big and heavy and ominous he looked in the blood-red after-glow of the blood-red sunset. For the first time in her life Lady Clare felt a cold shiver of fear run through her. There was, happily, a fence between them, and she devoutly hoped that Valders-Roan was not a jumper. At that moment, however, two men appeared next to the huge horse, and Lady Clare heard the sound of breaking fence-rails. The deep hoarse whinny once more made the air shake, and it made poor Lady Clare shake too, for now she saw Valders-Roan come like a whirlwind over the field, and so powerful were his hoof-beats that a clod of earth which had stuck to one of his shoes shot like a bullet through the air.

  He looked so gigantic, so brimming with restrained strength, and somehow Lady Clare, as she stood quaking at the sight of him, had never seemed to herself so dainty, frail, and delicate as she seemed in this moment. She felt herself so entirely at his mercy; she was no match for him surely. Shag, anxious as ever to take his cue from her, had stationed himself at her side, and shook his head and whisked his tail in a non-committal manner. Now Valders-Roan had cleared the fence where the men had broken it down; then on he came again, tramp, tramp, tramp, until he was within half a dozen paces from Lady Clare. There he stopped, for back went Lady Clare's pretty ears, while she threw herself upon her haunches in an attitude of defence. She was dimly aware that this was a foolish thing to do, but her inbred disdain and horror of everything rough made her act on instinct instead of reason. Valders-Roan, irritated by this uncalled-for action, now threw ceremony to the winds, and without further ado trotted up and rubbed his nose against hers. That was more than Lady Clare could stand. With an hysterical snort she flung herself about, and up flew her heels straight into the offending nose, inflicting considerable damage. Shag, being now quite clear that the programme was fight, whisked about in exactly the same manner, with as close an imitation of Lady Clare's snort as he could produce, and a second pair of steel-shod heels came within a hair of reducing the enemy's left nostril to the same condition as the right. But alas for the generous folly of youth! Shag had to pay dearly for that exhibition of devotion. Valders-Roan, enraged by this wanton insult, made a dash at Shag, and by the mere impetus of his huge bulk nearly knocked him senseless. The colt rolled over, flung all his four legs into the air, and as soon as he could recover his footing reeled sideways like a drunken man and made haste to retire to a safe distance.

  Valders-Roan had now a clear field and could turn his undivided attention to Lady Clare. I am not sure that he had not made an example of Shag merely to frighten her. Bounding forward with his mighty chest expanded and the blood dripping from his nostrils, he struck out with a tremendous hind leg and would have returned Lady Clare's blow with interest if she had not leaped high into the air. She had just managed by her superior alertness to dodge that deadly hoof, and was perhaps not prepared for an instant renewal of the attack. But she had barely gotten her four feet in contact with the sod when two rows of terrific teeth plunged into her withers. The pain was frightful, and with a long, pitiful scream Lady Clare sank down upon the ground, and, writhing with agony, beat the air with her hoofs. Shag, who had by this time recovered his senses, heard the noise of the battle, and, plucking up his courage, trotted bravely forward against the victorious Valders-Roan. He was so frightened that his heart shot up into his throat. But there lay Lady Clare mangled and bleeding. He could not leave her in the lurch, so forward he came, trembling, just as Lady Clare was trying to scramble to her feet. Led away by his sympathy Shag bent his head down toward her and thereby prevented her from rising. And in the same instant a stunning blow hit him straight in the forehead, a shower of sparks danced before his eyes, and then Shag saw and heard no more. A convulsive quiver ran through his body, then he stretched out his neck on the bloody grass, heaved a sigh, and died.

  Lady Clare, seeing Shag killed by the blow which had been intended for herself, felt her blood run cold. She was strongly inclined to run, for she could easily beat the heavy Valders-Roan at a race, and her fleet legs might yet save her. I cannot say whether it was a generous wrath at the killing of her humble champion or a mere blind fury which overcame this inclination. But she knew now neither pain nor fear. With a shrill scream she rushed at Valders-Roan, and for five minutes a whirling cloud of earth and grass and lumps of sod moved irregularly over the field, and tails, heads, and legs were seen flung and tossed madly about, while an occasional shriek of rage or of pain startled the night, and re-echoed with a weird resonance between the mountains.

  It was about five o'clock in the morning of July 11th, that Erik awoke, with a vague sense that something terrible had happened. His groom was standing at his bedside with a terrified face, doubtful whether to arouse his young master or allow him to sleep.

  "What has happened, Anders?" cried Erik, tumbling out of bed.

  "Lady Clare, sir——"

  "Lady Clare!" shouted the boy. "What about her? Has she been stolen?"

  "No, I reckon not," drawled Anders.

  "Then she's dead! Quick, tell me what you know or I shall go crazy!"

  "No; I can't say for sure she's dead either," the groom stammered, helplessly.

  Erik, being too stunned with grief and pain, tumbled in a dazed fashion about the room, and scarcely knew how he managed to dress. He felt cold, shivery, and benumbed; and the daylight had a cruel glare in it which hurt his eyes. Accompanied by his groom, he hastened to the home pasture, and saw there the evidence of the fierce battle which had raged during the night. A long, black, serpentine track, where the sod had been torn up by furious hoof-beats, started from the dead carcass of the faithful Shag and moved with irregular breaks and curves up toward the gate that connected the pasture with the underbrush of birch and alder. Here the fence had been broken down, and the track of the fight suddenly ceased. A pool of blood had soaked into the ground, showing that one of the horses, and probably the victor, must have stood still for a while, allowing the vanquished to escape.

  Erik had no need of being told that the horse which had attacked Lady Clare was Valders-Roan; and though he would scarcely have been able to prove it, he felt positive that John Garvestad had arranged and probably watched the fight. Having a wholesome dread of jail, he had not dared to steal Lady Clare; but he had chosen this contemptible method to satisfy his senseless jealousy. It was all so cunningly devised as to baffle legal inquiry. Valders-Roan had gotten astray, and being a heavy beast, had broken into a neighbor's field and fought with his filly, chasing her away into the mountains. That was the story he would tell, of course, and as there had been no witnesses present, there was no way of disproving it.

  Abandoning, however, for the time being all thought of revenge, Erik determined to bend all his energies to the recovery of Lady Clare. He felt confident that she had run away from her assailant, and was now roaming about in the mountains. He therefore organized a search party of all the male servants on the estate, besides a couple of volunteers, making in all nine. On the evening of the first day's search they put up at a saeter or mountain chalet. Here they met a young man named Tollef Morud, who had once been a groom at John Garvestad's. This man had a bad reputation; and as the idea occurred to some of them that he might know something about Lady Clare's disappearance, they questioned him at great length, without, however, eliciting a single crumb of information.

  For a week the search was continued, but had finally to be given up. Weary, footsore, and heavy hearted, Erik returned home. His grief at the loss of Lady Clare began to tell on his health; and his perpetual plans for getting even with John Garvestad amounted almost to a mania, and caused his father both trouble and anxiety. It was therefore determined to send him to the military academy in the capital.

  Four or five years passed and Erik became a lieutenant. It was during the first year after his graduation from the military academy that he was invited to spend the Christmas holidays with a friend, whose parents lived on a fine estate about twenty miles from the city. Seated in their narrow sleighs, which were drawn by brisk horses, they drove merrily along, shouting to each other to make their voices heard above the jingling of the bells. About eight o'clock in the evening, when the moon was shining brightly and the snow sparkling, they turned in at a wayside tavern to order their supper. Here a great crowd of lumbermen had congregated, and all along the fences their overworked, half- broken-down horses stood, shaking their nose-bags. The air in the public room was so filled with the fumes of damp clothes and bad tobacco that Erik and his friend, while waiting for their meal, preferred to spend the time under the radiant sky. They were sauntering about, talking in a desultory fashion, when all of a sudden a wild, joyous whinny rang out upon the startled air.

  It came from a rusty, black, decrepit-looking mare hitched to a lumber sleigh which they had just passed. Erik, growing very serious, paused abruptly.

  A second whinny, lower than the first, but almost alluring and cajoling, was so directly addressed to Erik that he could not help stepping up to the mare and patting her on the nose.

  "You once had a horse you cared a great deal for, didn't you?" his friend remarked, casually.

  "Oh, don't speak about it," answered Erik, in a voice that shook with emotion; "I loved Lady Clare as I never loved any creature in this world——except my father, of course," he added, reflectively.

  But what was the matter with the old lumber nag? At the sound of the name Lady Clare she pricked up her ears, and lifted her head with a pathetic attempt at alertness. With a low, insinuating neighing she rubbed her nose against the lieutenant's cheek. He had let his hand glide over her long, thin neck, when quite suddenly his fingers slid into a deep scar in the withers.

  "My God!" he cried, while the tears started to his eyes, "am I awake, or am I dreaming?"

  "What in the world is the matter?" inquired his comrade, anxiously.

  "It is Lady Clare! By the heavens, it is Lady Clare!"

  "That old ramshackle of a lumber nag whose every rib you can count through her skin is your beautiful thoroughbred?" ejaculated his friend, incredulously. "Come now, don't be a goose."

  "I'll tell you of it some other time," said Erik, quietly; "but there's not a shadow of a doubt that this is Lady Clare."

  Yes, strange as it may seem, it was indeed Lady Clare. But oh, who would have recognized in this skeleton, covered with a rusty-black skin and tousled mane and forelock in which chaff and dirt were entangled——who would have recognized in this drooping and rickety creature the proud, the dainty, the exquisite Lady Clare? Her beautiful tail, which had once been her pride, was now a mere scanty wisp; and a sharp, gnarled ridge running along the entire length of her back showed every vertebra of her spine through the notched and scarred skin. Poor Lady Clare, she had seen hard usage. But now the days of her tribulations are at an end. It did not take Erik long to find the half-tipsy lumberman who was Lady Clare's owner; nor to agree with him on the price for which he was willing to part with her.

  There is but little more to relate. By interviews and correspondence with the different parties through whose hands the mare had passed, Erik succeeded in tracing her to Tollef Morud, the ex-groom of John Garvestad. On being promised immunity from prosecution, he was induced to confess that he had been hired by his former master to arrange the nocturnal fight between Lady Clare and Valders-Roan, and had been paid ten dollars for stealing the mare when she had been sufficiently damaged. John Garvestad had himself watched the fight from behind the fence, and had laughed fit to split his sides, until Valders-Roan seemed on the point of being worsted. Then he had interfered to separate them, and Tollef had led Lady Clare away, bleeding from a dozen wounds, and had hidden her in a deserted lumberman's shed near the saeter where the searchers had overtaken him.

  Having obtained these facts, Erik took pains to let John Garvestad know that the chain of evidence against him was complete, and if he had had his own way he would not have rested until his enemy had suffered the full penalty of the law. But John Garvestad, suspecting what was in the young man's mind, suddenly divested himself of his pride, and cringing dike a whipped dog, came and asked Erik's pardon, entreating him not to prosecute.

  As for Lady Clare, she never recovered her lost beauty. A pretty fair-looking mare she became, to be sure, when good feeding and careful grooming had made her fat and glossy once more. A long and contented old age is, no doubt, in store for her. Having known evil days, she appreciates the blessings which the change in her fate has brought her. The captain declares she is the best-tempered and steadiest horse in his stable.

科目名称 主讲老师 课时 免费试听 优惠价 购买课程
英语零起点 郭俊霞 30课时 试听 150元/门 购买
综艺乐园 ------ 15课时 试听 100元/门 购买
边玩边学 ------ 10课时 试听 60元/门 购买
情景喜剧 ------ 15课时 试听 100元/门 购买
欢乐课堂 ------ 35课时 试听 150元/门 购买
趣味英语速成 钟 平 18课时 试听 179元/门 购买
剑桥少儿英语预备级 (Pre-Starters) ------ ------ 试听 200元/门 购买
剑桥少儿英语一级 (Starters) ------ ------ 试听 200元/门 购买
剑桥少儿英语二级 (Movers) ------ ------ 试听 200元/门 购买
剑桥少儿英语三级 (Flyers) ------ ------ 试听 200元/门 购买
初级英语口语 ------ 55课时 ------ 350元/门 购买
中级英语口语 ------ 83课时 ------ 350元/门 购买
高级英语口语 ------ 122课时 ------ 350元/门 购买
郭俊霞 北京语言大学毕业,国内某知名中学英语教研组长,教学标兵……详情>>
钟平 北大才俊,英语辅导专家,累计从事英语教学八年,机械化翻译公式发明人……详情>>

  1、凡本网注明 “来源:外语教育网”的所有作品,版权均属外语教育网所有,未经本网授权不得转载、链接、转贴或以其他方式使用;已经本网授权的,应在授权范围内使用,且必须注明“来源:外语教育网”。违反上述声明者,本网将追究其法律责任。