By Una Howell (USA - circa 1880)
Chapter 21 - Domestic Animals
Copyright Scott Dunbar 2010
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The odor of honeysuckle at dusk clings to my memories of my first home as vividly as the small dark red calcycanthus buds I used to carry in my hand to warm into fragrance. These little buds, shaped like a tuberose, were my delight. For years we had none on our place and I knew their odor only when a schoolmate gave me one. Honeysuckle, however, grew in profusion over our trellis. At evening when the dew fell, Mother used to wander about watering the shrubs and pinching dead leaves from the rosebushes. Glow-worms darted about, lightning bugs we called them, and sometimes we captured them and imprisoned them in bottles. There were toads too, and moles that burrowed in the soft earth. Father would dash about with a spade, watch where the soil pushed up, and dig Mr. Mole out. Father kept our lawn in nice condition and had a pride in the neatness of the whole place. Wood was stacked primly at the back of the lot until it was cut to fireplace size, then removed to the woodhouse to be kept dry for winter use.
When September arrived the public schools opened and from nine to four o’clock we were imprisoned in classrooms. Playtime was shortened by the mile walk and we were always hungry when we reached home
“Let’s go over to my house and get some bread and butter and molasses, shall we?”
Nellie Eberhart asked in her most engaging manner, one afternoon as she, Mary and I climbed the stairs from our dark, earthy cellar, each with a big yellow apple in her hand. Every fall Father bought two barrels of apples – one of Bellflowers the other of white Pearmains. They were stored in the cellar and we children we allowed to eat as many as we liked. The result was that we didn’t care much for either. Mother held the opinion that if we were hungry between meals, apples or bread and butter were all that we needed. If we wanted something fancy, that was the dictate of appetite, not hunger. Nellie’s invitation included molasses on the bread and butter. It was redundance to persuade us to gastronomic delights for we were always hungry. The only drawback being that we were not supposed to eat at other people’s houses, without permission.
“Your Mother’s away and we can play at my house awhile and then come back here,”
Nellie added, leading the way confidently as she saw the effect of her words. If we had been determined to be virtuous and set temptation behind us, our cool decision wilted under the fires of Nellie’s tact and without losing another moment we parked our hats in the woodhouse and ambled out the big gate beyond the barn and across the road.
Market Street had no sidewalks so we cut into the Eberhart’s by way of the stable. In choosing this route we had to go through the barn-lot where Reddy, the heifer, waited for Bill Snow, their man-of-all-work, to feed her. Mary and I were both wary around cows, which is a polite way of saying that we were afraid of them. Reddy had discovered our fears a long time before but apparently they had ceased to interest her, and she paid little attention as we picked out way across the lot and through the bars that divided it from the yard. We followed Nellie across the lawn to the kitchen door and stood hungrily by while Ede, the Eberhart cook, spread three slices of ‘light bread’ with butter and sorghum, the molasses we children loved like an old Missourian, but which our parents excluded from our diets. Now that we had bagged our palatable plunder we were ready to return to our house, Nellie included, and as we walked towards the cow-lot we had fewer fears than usual. No one noticed that Reddy was not so indifferent this time to our trespassing on her sacred territory. Suddenly she uttered a mild “moo” and started toward me and my bread. Nellie, who was more familiar with bovine eccentricities, now unloosed her blandishments and with a ‘nice Reddy,’ held out her hand with flattering emphasis. The ruse failed to work. Reddy looked at her but continued walking toward me. She was so near that I could smell her breath and let out a nervous ‘yipe.’ I dropped my precious handout and changed my course. My feet fairly floundered in the wet manure as Reddy hustled over to nose my abandoned sandwich. Disappointed and startled, I scrambled through the stable gate that led to Market Street, Mary and Nellie close at my heels. They had dropped the sticky snacks also, in propitiation, and we were all very sober as we looked at one another and counted our losses.
Mary and I had no doubt that this was punishment for getting food at someone else’s house, and we were very solemn as we turned into our back gate. Nellie offered to get a second supply of provender (Nell was quick on the recovery) but no one had the appetite.
As if she knew we were needing consolation, Tood, our cat, met us and nosed our legs. She was a welcome diversion at the moment. Our feet were covered with muck and we couldn’t have been too fragrant. Even a cat’s interest was comforting. We were feeling pretty guilty as we walked toward the woodhouse to claim the hats we had left there, and as we formulated excuses, Mother came to the door.
“What do you think,”
she said, suppressed excitement in her voice.
“Tood has eaten another of Mrs. Cathright’s chickens!”
Tood was a common, tabby-striped, alley cat but we had owned her for years and she was a great pet. She was one of Brother’s feline gifts to the family circle. She had been on probation now for some time and Mother had given warning that if she did not cease her unneighborly depredations, Father would have to dispose of her. Apparently the probationary period was over and, as we arrived, dramatics were about to begin. Mother had not even noticed our unsavory feet.
Father was home and I watched him load his revolver. Father was softhearted and it took him a long time to get ready for the ordeal. Tood was one of his pets and he had so succumbed to her wiles that he would allow her to sit on his knee at the dinner table. Occasionally she would take a piece of meat from his fork in a dainty and mannerly way. Disposing of her was an emotional challenge. The idea of administering an anaesthetic to the kitty seems not to have entered the minds of my pioneering parents.
“You children run in the house now,”
“And stay until we call for you.”
We gave a backward glance at Father, who was already looking strained, and obeyed. Then standing with our fingers stuck in our ears, we waited for the sound of the shot.
I think it may have been wishful thinking that made Father miss the target. Then he was so unnerved, he said,
“Oh, let’s wait until tomorrow.”
Next morning, Judy our Negro girl, came running into the house.
“There are three dead cats in the yard,”
She said excitedly. Father couldn’t believe it.
“You must have killed three with one shot,”
“But not Tood.”
“Seven at one blow like the little tailor. You’re getting good!”
Brother explained. Father didn’t like the implications of such remarks but it was several days before he had nerve enough (‘time’ he called it) to try again. Then Mrs. Cathright reported another casualty in the chicken yard, so Father stalked Tood and ended her ravages. The job left him unstrung so Mother told us not to talk about it but we all forgot. For days after, some one would rush in and say,
“Papa, I saw Tood today,”
and Father would turn sick. The next day another would suggest,
“Tood isn’t dead, Papa, I saw her back of the woodhouse, I know I did.”
Once or twice Father went on a hunt himself. Then the mystery wore itself out. There were too many Toods.
Somehow we never excelled at animal culture. We had a sporadic go at dogs and we youngsters went about with torn stockings and scratches till poison administered by friendly neighbors, or accident, ended the canine dynasty. Then there were canaries that sang at all the wrong times and were finally eaten by gentle kitties. The cats reigned triumphantly for quite a spell, until the surplus became too large for distribution. If we drove outside town and dropped them, by some strange magic they arrived home before we did. No one had sufficient stamina to drown them, and the narcotics short route remained unexplored. After attempts to reduce their number, we would temporarily succumb until the place seemed alive with felines. Once for a time we fostered a three-legged kitten whose mother had passed the pale of maternal ethics and deprived it of its fourth leg. After that Tood came along. Tood, the pet to end all pets and, with her demise, pussies passed out of the picture.
The climax with domestic animals reached its peak when Father acquired Barney, our colt, and several weeks later undertook to break him in. The tryout was set for late afternoon in the month of August. The long summer vacation was drawing to a close and school days were imminent. Father had come home early from the office and changed his clothes. He had bought himself a pair of knickers and a jolly cap with a visor. He looked very natty as he walked toward the barn to assume command. We children ranged ourselves along the side of the yard by the currant bushes to watch the fun. With his usual thoroughness, Father had invested in a light sulky and harness. One couldn’t do a good job without proper tools. He may have been slightly nervous at the prospect, too, for a long stretch of years lay between his farm experience and the acquisition of Barney.
Up to this moment, Barney’s chief function had been as a threat, which had proved itself a complete flop at the first time it was tried out. I had been playing alone in the yard one day when the back gate was unlatched and a huge bearded man came up the gravel walk to the back door.
“Is your mother in?”
He inquired in his best style after I had chased to the back door to see what he wanted. Like clockwork I clicked the answer Mother had given us.
“No sir, but Barney is in the barn.”
“Oh, Is he?”
Said the big stranger and laughed uproariously. I was somewhat frightened at his failure to make the prescribed exit when he said,
“Don’t you know your Uncle Dave, Una?”
And he leaned over and picked me up. I was elated beyond words to find my uncle under the red beard. After that, whenever he saw me he would say,
“Well, how’s Barney today?”
And I generally answered,
“He’s all right.”
We had thought he was all right until the tryouts.
Barney was a spirited-looking reddish-brown colt. Father had taken him on a debt, most of our horses we acquired through a lien, and Father looked forward happily to driving him about town hitched to the sulky, once Barney had learned who was master.
Maynard had completed the introductory chore of putting a halter on the beast. Now he led him out of the barn with the intention of giving him over to Father’s care. It never quite reached that stage, however, for Barney, sensing a conspiracy, made a quick wheel-about and with one swift blow kicked the cigar from Father’s mouth into a dozen pieces. We children were so horrified we backed into the thorny, spiny gooseberry bushes. It was not what one might call a fortuitous beginning. It left Father as unnerved as Brother. Barney, with soft words crooned into his ear, was lured back into his stall. The second trial on the following day resulted in the complete destruction of the sulky. After that the family refused audience, and Father’s enthusiasm blew a fuse.
Cymric Strain, by Una Howell (USA - circa 1880)
Chapter 1 - Introduction
Chapter 2 - Father
Chapter 3 - Dartmouth
Chapter 4 - Killolog
Chapter 5 - America
Chapter 6 - Arrival
Chapter 7 - Gracious Living
Chapter 8 - I Am Born
Chapter 9 - My Name
Chapter 10 - Neighbors
Chapter 11 - The Cyclone
Chapter 12 - The Old Cemetary
Chapter 13 - Music
Chapter 14 - Religion
Chapter 15 - The Circuit
Chapter 16 - Hero No. 1
Chapter 17 - Pageantry
Chapter 18 - Mommy
Chapter 19 - Mental Quirks
Chapter 20 - Decoration
Chapter 21 - Domestic Animals
Chapter 22 - Episode
Chapter 23 - Barn Life
Chapter 24 - Vanities
Chapter 25 - Happy Hollow
Chapter 26 - New Horizons
Chapter 27 - Disciplines
Chapter 28 - An Experimenter
Chapter 29 - Health
Chapter 30 - Murder
Chapter 31 - Misunderstandings
Chapter 32 - Charm
Chapter 33 - Problems
Chapter 34 -Coming Events, Etc.
Chapter 35 - The Wedding
Chapter 36 - At Home
Chapter 37 - Cross Currents
Chapter 38 - A Baby
Chapter 39 - Dr. Winston
Chapter 40 - The Visitor
Chapter 41 - Buffetings
Chapter 42 - Agenda
Chapter 43 - David
Chapter 44 - Exit