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"Pete, the Circassian Horse" from Saturday Evening Post

by Ellis Parker Butler
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from Saturday Evening Post
Pete, the Circassian Horse
by Ellis Parker Butler

My friend, Sam, was the most enthusiastic boy I ever knew, and I was constantly surprised by the length, breadth and depth of his knowledge. You could not mention a thing, from the aurora borealis to fish bait, that he did not know more about than any one else, and he always had some plan to make a lot of money out of whatever was mentioned. I remember that once, when our back yard was full of plaintain that had gone to seed, he enthusiastically convinced me that we could make a fortune by gathering the plantain-seed and drying it and selling it as bird-seed. We worked a week gathering the seed, and had made about forty dollars, as Sam figured it, which was I found him painting a very hairy horse on a sheet of manila wrapping paper. pretty good profit for two boys, before I thought of trying the plantain-seed on our canary. I never saw a living being so indifferent to food as that canary was to that plantain-seed. It refused to eat it -- it would not even look at it. We lost in one minute the forty dollars we had worked a week for, and all because an ignorant little yellow bird had its own silly ideas about food! When I told Sam he said pshaw; he knew that, but it had got out of his mind somehow, and we would have to look out for some kind of animal that did like plantain-seed and then we would sell the seed easily. But we never gathered any more seed.

One day my father went out in the country to collect a debt a farmer owed him, and he came back with a horse that he had taken in payment. The debt was only twelve dollars, but Peter was that kind of a horse, and father said he felt as if he had given the farmer a discount from the amount of the bill at that. He brought Peter in the back way, so as not to excite comment -- for father was a dignified man -- and put him in the barn. Then he called me and gave Peter to me.

"Edward," he said, "here is a horse for you. And mind you feed him and water him regularly, or I'll give you such a thrashing you will never forget it!"

I could see disappointment struggling with enthusiasm in his face.

I thanked father soberly, for there was not, so far as I could see, anything about Peter to grow enthusiastic over.

Our town had many horses, but I had never seen one like Peter. I had never seen a horse as old as Peter. I doubt if there ever was another horse quite as old -- he was in his second colthood. He had a chipper, frisky manner that suggested a gay-hearted, frolicsome camel. But most of all, I am sure I never saw such a woolly horse as Peter. The horses in our town were mostly clipped, and those that were not were so curried and rubbed that they were as slick and smooth as a silk hat, but Peter was like an old buffalo robe, or a piece of unplucked beaver, if you know what that is. Part of his hair was woolly and curled, and part was long and straight, and he had a few bare patches that had no hair at all, and his fur was mussed and fuzzed in all directions, with little chunks of burdock burrs here and there. He looked as if a strong wind was constantly blowing him.

A boy of the age I was then would take almost any kind of a horse and be proud of it, but I was not proud of Peter. He looked too different from the horses I had known. I felt that his coat must be some kind of a disease -- that he must be a very sick horse -- and I was ashamed to own him. I did not know that a winter-pastured horse grows a crop of that kind of hair and that all Peter needed was elbow-grease applied with a currycomb.

It is hard for a boy to keep from bragging, and of course I could not keep Peter a secret from Sam, so I made a brag of him.

"Ha!" I boasted. "I've got a horse!"

"Say! -- Is that so?" said Sam. His eyes sparkled with eagerness.

"That's bully, Ed! We've needed a horse, bad, all the time. Why, we can make a raft of money with a horse -- piles of it! We'll go into the trucking business, and we can hire the horse out --! Say, we'll make a lot now we've got a horse!"

I couldn't become enthusiastic over Peter.

"It isn't a very good horse,"

I said deprecatingly. "I don't believe it is a very strong horse, Sam. It is rather thin and it don't look very nice."

But Pete sat down and looked around so resentfully that Sam said it touched his heart.

"Pshaw!" Sam cried. "Oats! That's all it needs. Give a horse plenty of oats and it will fat up in no time, and get strong as an ox. I guess your horse has had too much hay. A horse can't get fat and strong on hay, any more than a man can on lettuce. Let's have a look at the horse. I'll tell you what it needs. I know all about horses. I used to have an uncle who had a horse before I was born."

I led the way to the barn rather reluctantly, and as I unfastened the latch I warned Sam again.

"Sam," I said, "I guess this horse is sick. I never saw any well horse like him. He's as fuzzy as a muff."

"That's bad," said Sam, "that's an awful bad sign, but don't worry. I can cure him up. You remember how I cured up my dog?"

I did. The dog died, but Sam always insisted it died of a different disease than the one that was being cured, and I could not dispute it. Sam got a reputation by curing that dog.

I led Sam around to the stall, and threw open the board window so that Sam could see. For a full minute he stood speechless before Peter. I could see disappointment struggling with enthusiasm in his face. Enthusiasm won. His eyes began to sparkle and he turned to me with words bubbling up in him.

"Ed," he said, "we've got a fortune! Has anybody seen this horse yet?"

"No, I guess not. I haven't shown him to anybody."

"Well, don't! Shut that window and keep it shut."

I shut the window.

"He is rather woolly, isn't he?" I said.

"Woolly!" exclaimed Sam. "I should say he is! And mighty good for us, too! Do you know what kind of a horse that is?"

"What kind?" I asked, for Sam's enthusiasm was beginning to work in me, too.

"That's a Circassian horse!" Sam declared. "You can't fool me! Look at his hair! Did you ever see a common horse with hair like that? No, you didn't. Hardly anybody ever did. But I have."

"Where?" I asked breathlessly.

"In a side-show," he said. "I paid ten cents to see it: Sultan, the Long-Haired Horse; but that horse only had a long mane and tail. This horse of yours, Ed, has long hair all over, all but the tail and mane, and that's good, too. People that saw Sultan wouldn't want to see another just like him, but they will want to see this horse. Millions of people will want to. How much is a million people at ten cents apiece?"

"A hundred thousand dollars!" I said.

"Pshaw!" said Sam; "that's nothing! Everybody will want to see this horse. There's eighty million people in America alone, and then we'll take him abroad. We'll go to Europe with him. I'll bet we'll make a million dollars out of this horse before we are through. We can show him for years and years. We won't have to do anything all our lives but show this Circassian horse. But I won't work when I'm past forty. When we're forty we'll sell the horse. We ought to get a lot, cash down, for him."

"Sam," I said, doubtfully, "do you think this horse will live that long? He looks pretty old now."

"That's right!" he said. "I should have thought of that. I would have thought of it in a minute or two. I always do think of everything. We've got to get right to work showing the horse before he dies. We can't waste any time. Every day is worth a lot of money to us now. We ought to have a tent and one of those big painted banners to string up before it with Pete, the Circassian Horse, on it, but we've got to get along with this barn, and I'll paint up the best showbill I can to tack up. The first thing you want to do is to get a currycomb and comb that horse good. We couldn't show him the way he is. You buy a currycomb and a brush and get right to work, and I'll go home and paint up a showbill."

I did not waste any time. I bought a currycomb with some money I had been saving for the opening of the marble season, which was near, and began to curry Peter.

Peter seemed surprised and vexed, especially when I combed out the burr mats, but that did not worry me. What did worry me was that every stroke of the comb brought out a handful of the long hair. Even my coat, where it brushed against Peter, brought away quantities of the long hair. I began to fear that we should have to exhibit Pete as the Hairless Horse. I then threw down the currycomb and hunted up Sam. I found him painting a very hairy horse on a sheet of Manila wrapping-paper. I told him what was the matter. To my surprise he did not seem downcast by the news. If anything, he was pleased.

"Good!" he cried. "That explains it! I was just wondering, when you came, why that farmer let such a valuable horse go for a twelve-dollar debt. I couldn't understand it, but I see it now. He thought the horse was getting bald. I had an uncle who began to get bald just that way when he was forty, and that is just about as old as that horse is. That's where we are better off than that farmer. I know how my uncle stopped his hair from coming out. Was there any dandruff when you combed the horse?"

I thought there was, but I was not sure.

"Of course there was!" declared Sam. "There always is. Uncle had it. What we have got to do to that horse is to cure its dandruff, and then the hair will stop falling out. We have got to treat that horse's hair just the way my uncle treated his hair or that horse will be clean bald, and we've got to be quick about it. We've got to shampoo that horse."

Sam rolled up the showbill and went into the house to find a cake of soap. The best he could do was to get a cake of brown laundry soap, but he said that would do, because the horse's hair was coarse.

"I didn't get any towels," he said as we went along, "because it's handier for you to get them. We want a lot of them. Get all you can, and get a lot of hot water. It will take an awful lot of towels."

I would have liked it better had Sam furnished the towels and let me furnish the soap. I had a feeling of diffidence about asking my mother for enough towels to shampoo a horse, and when we reached our barn I asked Sam if we couldn't make some pieces of old rag carpet that lay in the barn serve as towels. He thought they would do. In fact, he decided they would be a great deal better than towels, being rougher.

He looked Pete over and plucked out several handfuls of hair. Pete did not seem to feel it at all.

"It's a pretty bad case," said Sam gladly. "We've got to work like sixty if we want to cure it. We can't get at the shampoo a minute too soon. It's a wonder to me the hair stayed in so long. I never saw such loose hair. It is a great deal looser than my uncle's was. You had better hurry and put some water on to heat. Did you ever see a shampoo?"

I had not.

"It's soapsuds," he explained. "You rub it in with your hands. There are two kinds, a wet shampoo and a dry one. Uncle had both. They both begin the same way, but in a wet shampoo the man puts his head under a spigot to wash off the suds, and in a dry shampoo you wipe them off with a towel. This is going to be a dry shampoo."

It took a good while to heat the water, for we needed a wash-boiler full, and it was lots of work to pump it, quite like washday. But Sam stood by and encouraged me, which made it easier. When the water was warm we carried the boiler out to the barn and began shampooing.

I don't believe the soap was the right kind of soap for shampooing. It was very hard to make suds on Pete, and it was awkward getting at him. We had to lean over the sides of the stall, and he moved around so much that he was usually out of our reach. Otherwise he did not seem to mind it, but if you ever want to know how much surface there is to a horse just try shampooing one. It is a large job, and by the time we had sudsed him and rubbed the suds in, and rubbed him dry with the old carpet, we were tired out, and he had much less long hair than when we began. It came out by handfuls as we shampooed him.

Pete watched the preparations and gazed at us over his shoulder as if doubtful of our intentions.

The next day Sam said a dry shampoo was too much work -- that a wet shampoo was every bit as good, and that, in his opinion, heating the water was all nonsense. He said he was strong as any man in town, but that there was no use wasting strength, and that we would take Pete down to the creek and give him a wet shampoo.

We covered Pete with a blanket, so that no one would get a free view of the Circassian horse, and took him to the creek the back way. Pete went willingly enough, but when we got to the swimming-hole he looked anxious, and he seemed much relieved when we began to shampoo him. We had a bucket with us, and we gave him a good cold shampoo and got him all lather and then invited him to step into the pool and wash off the lather.

I took hold of the halter and pulled, and Sam encouraged Pete by saying "Ged-dup!" But he refused to enter the water. The bank sloped gradually enough, but Pete would not move. Sam said he would push, and he got behind Pete and tried that while I pulled, and we did move him a little, but Pete sat down, and looked around so resentfully that Sam said it touched his heart. He said he could easily push Pete in single-handed, if he wanted to, but that when a horse looked at him that way he didn't have the heart to do it, so we took the bucket and soused water over Pete, and rubbed him down thoroughly, and by the time we got through the horse had hardly any hair left except the usual short kind.

Sam was very sober on the way home, and whenever he thought I was not looking he felt the muscles of his arms. I know how mine ached! When we had tied Pete in his stall Sam sat down and let me know what he had been thinking about. He looked sick.

"Ed," he said, "I don't mind this shampoo business a bit, so far as the muscle part goes. You know how strong my muscles are. It isn't half a job for anybody as strong as I am, and I could keep it up for a year, but I don't want to tire you all out. You might get sick, and then where would we be? What I was thinking was that this shampoo business is taking all the Circassian hair off Pete, and even if it does start a new crop, like it did on my uncle, we can't afford to wait. It may take years for Pete to grow another crop. Pete isn't a young horse any more, and maybe he hasn't enough vitality left to grow much hair. My uncle was an awful vital man, and it took him a couple of years to get a good crop growing. What we want is to keep his hair in, and we've got to do it. Now don't you shampoo Pete any more to-night, and tomorrow I'll tell you what to do."

"How are you going to find out, Sam?" I asked.

"Well," he said, "it's your horse and you have a right to know. I'm going to ask Billy Smitt, the barber. I won't say it's for a horse. I'll just ask as if it was my uncle, or anybody. Billy will tell me.

I said it was a good idea.

The next day Sam was stiff but happy when he came to the barn.

"It's all right," he said. "Billy told me. We can do any one of four things -- they are all good."

"Go ahead and tell me, why don't you?" I asked when he hesitated.

"Well," he said, "first, Billy says that there is nothing better than a good hair tonic to keep the hair in, and he says the one he makes is best of the lot. It is clean and nice and smells dandy. He let me smell it. That is what I would use if it was my horse, but you have to do the saying.''

"What do you say, Sam?" I asked. "What would you do if you was me?"

"I'll tell you, Ed," he said. "We are going to make a lot of money out of Pete if we can keep his hair on him, so it is worth spending a little to keep it on. It's just whether you want to spend it or not. Billy's hair tonic is a dollar a bottle, but he 'says, seeing that I always get my hair cut there twice a year, he will let me have twelve bottles for ten dollars. You would save two dollars right there on every dozen bottles, and in the long run you would save a lot that way, for it will take a lot to cure Pete. About ten dozen, I should say."

I shook my head. I had only twelve cents.

"Oh, well," said Sam, "I didn't think you would want to use the hair tonic. That's why I asked Billy if there was any other way. He says an egg shampoo is good."

"How do you do it?" I asked.

"I guess it's like a soap shampoo, only with eggs," Sam explained.

I looked at Pete. I hated to think how many eggs I would have to rub into him to give him an egg shampoo. Sam did not wait for me to say it.

"I don't recommend it," he said. "He wouldn't have any hair left when we got through, and the third way isn't any better. Billy says when he has a bad case of hair falling out he shaves the head, but it would be an awful job to shave Pete. And we would have to wait until the hair grew in. But there is one other way that is good. Billy says the latest thing is to singe."

"Singe? What's that?" I asked.

"They burn off the ends of the hairs," explained Sam, "and that closes the pores and keeps the roots healthy. I think it's just what Pete needs. You catch up some of the hair in a comb and burn just the ends.''

I got a comb -- my mother missed it the next morning -- and some matches, and we began. Pete watched the preparations suspiciously and gazed at us over his shoulder as if doubtful of our intentions. He had never been singed before, and he had an idea he was too old to begin being singed now. As soon as Sam struck the first match, Pete doubled himself up in the opposite corner of the stall, and the match burned down and burned Sam's fingers before I could get the comb in the hair again.

We backed Pete all around the stall and burned twenty matches and did not singe one hair. Sam quit in disgust.

"If you are so anxious to singe this horse, Ed," he said reproachfully, "go ahead and do it. I won't. I think it's cruel."

"What shall we do then?" I asked.

"It's no go!" said Sam. "We can't show this horse as a Circassian horse. What we've got to do is to get at him with the currycomb and brush, and brush all of the hair off of him, and in a while all his hair will fall out and he'll be as bald as an egg."

He got up and walked around Pete.

"That's it!" he exclaimed, his enthusiasm rising. "We'll exhibit him as Pete, the Bald Horse, the Only One in Captivity. It will be a great hit. I never thought much of that Circassian idea, anyway. Pete never was woolly enough. A Circassian horse ought to have hair a foot long. But a bald horse is new. I never even heard of one. As soon as Pete is bald we will begin raking in the money. You get at him with the currycomb and I'll go and paint a poster. Ten cents was enough to charge to see the Circassian horse, but a bald horse --! We'll charge a quarter! I would give a quarter any day to see a horse as bald as Pete will be."

He went away and I curried. I worked three days, and the long winter hair came off Pete until there was left only his shiny brown summer coat. This did not come off at all, and I began to foresee that it would be long before Pete was a hairless attraction.

I was rubbing away with the brush at Pete's side when my father entered the barn. He walked around Pete and examined him carefully.

"Huh!" he said, "he looks better."

He went out and a little later he returned with Miggs, our grocer, and before me he completed a bargain by which Miggs became the owner of the recent Circassian horse for fifteen dollars.

As my father rolled up the money and put it in his pocket, Miggs glanced around the barn, and his eye alighted on the currycomb.

"Does the currycomb go with the bargain?" he asked.

"Oh, yes!" said my father very good-naturedly. "Take it along!"

And I had paid for it!



Saturday, October 07 at 1:04:22am USA Central
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