On a Horse-and-Carriage

THE CONTRIBUTORS’ CLUB

THE farmer’s boy is bringing it over for you this morning. You know that it is coming because you can hear the quick click-clack of the horse’s hoofs as they slow up on the hard cement, road; the creak and grind of the wheels against the sides as they turn in the driveway; the softened thud of hoofs and squeak of springs as the carriage rolls over the grass and comes to a stop below the terraces beside the well. To improve his time, the lean horse droops his head forward and crops, crops, crops at the short, burned grass, takes a step or two, and, munching a delicious, salivary quid, turns to look at you as you approach. When a cow does this, you hesitate. Horses are very different from cows.

I am sorry, indeed, for those who have not had, or have by chance forgotten, all the sensations of using a horse-and-carriage. You back the horse away a little, and turn the front wheel out more, so that you can step up between the wheels; you raise your foot and fit it neatly to the little corrugated iron square; you step, and feel the springs give toward you, and are a little nervous for fear the horse will start while you are in mid-air. A second later, and you are safely established on the burning leather seat. No procedure on earth is attended by a more characteristic sensation than that of settling one’s self in a carriage. The rough texture of the upholstery exhales the leathery, stably, but somehow clean, smell of sleek horses and hay and harness; the axles squeak a little in spite of the grease which you so carefully avoided in stepping over the wheels; and when you have unknotted the reins from the whip-handle, and arranged them in parallel lines along the horse’s back, and flapped them once and clucked a little, the horse starts forward, straining to gain impetus up the grassy slope; and the wheels grit on the gravel and then run smartly out on the macadam road behind the metallic click of the horse’s shoes as he settles into a trot. There is a feeling of soul in the motion, because a horse has breathing power which cannot be expressed in a chemical formula and a muffler cut-out. He steps briskly along, trot-trot, trot-trot, shaking his mane from time to time and indulging in those ecstatic little horseheaves and whiskings of tail that cut the coarse horsehairs across your face.

There does not seem to be much room for a simple horse-and-carriage on the double-plated, reënforced editionde-luxe expanse of slate highway. It is annoying to jolt off and on the high little margin-edge, in order to make room for the touring-cars and motortrucks charging to and fro. There is a country road ahead on the left, and you aim toward it, steering carefully in, ploughing through a sandy curve at a slow walk, and on up over a rise to a soft dirt road which is dark underfoot in shady spots and white with dust for long sunny spaces. Trot-trot, trot-trot, trot-trot — the delicious smells of the countryside are all around you, delicate trailing of wild grapevines, the tang of meadows where daisies and Queen Anne’s Lace run riot, intervals of hay couchant and buckwheat rampant, with serried rows of corn-banners filing rank on rank between stone-wall divisions. It is summer: breath of sweet air, simmering noises of insects, shrill locusts high in the foliage, heavy bees wading from milkweed to clover, and a vast range of motions surging through the seeming stillness, the vibrations of hummingbirds, the shimmering of heatwaves over the grass-fields, and, above, the vast piling of the clouds. You sniff great healthy, dusty sniffs, and watch the horse’s little pointed ears twitch, now forward, now back, in response to noises that you cannot hear, while his shabby flanks rise and fall under the leather trappings.

And why do I insist upon a carriage behind your horse? Does it spoil the picture of my summer day to see yourself sitting primly upright in a wagon, with all the commonplace ness of its wagging shafts, its blistering varnish, its twinkling wheels, and its cheerful rattle? Would you have preferred yourself a sporting equestrian, with artful crooks to your fingers and elbows and scientific set to your shoulders and a pressure to your knees, a tailored habit, a stock, a crop, and a series of paces, trots, and canters? If so, please step aside. I cannot paint you thus. This horse has never heard of a riding academy, and as for being ridden, the farmer’s boy has tried racing him bareback to the pasture once or twice, and has rubbed his ribs with straddling off and on, and torn his mane with hanging to it. Is that what you call riding? He has a very small opinion of it: he prefers people at a distance, behind a dashboard if possible; and as for pulling a wagon behind him — why, it is always easier to draw than to carry, as anyone will tell you.

And now are you content to stay where you are, with my horse-andcarriage, to jog on and on through the countryside in your clouds of dusty glory, with your heavenly hosts of swallows darting among the haycocks? Ah, you find it very delightful, or you are not the person I take you for. And where are you going? Does it matter? Perhaps to the yellow farmhouse yonder, for a basket of peaches and a jar of cream; perhaps to the white farmhouse under the hill, for the week’s crisp laundry and the tiger-kitten with the pink nose, which they have promised you.