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Mark Twain > A Horse's Tale > Chapter V

A Horse's Tale

Chapter V


GENERAL ALISON TO MERCEDES



She has been with us a good nice long time, now. You are troubled
about your sprite because this is such a wild frontier, hundreds of
miles from civilization, and peopled only by wandering tribes of
savages? You fear for her safety? Give yourself no uneasiness
about her. Dear me, she's in a nursery! and she's got more than
eighteen hundred nurses. It would distress the garrison to suspect
that you think they can't take care of her. They think they can.
They would tell you so themselves. You see, the Seventh Cavalry
has never had a child of its very own before, and neither has the
Ninth Dragoons; and so they are like all new mothers, they think
there is no other child like theirs, no other child so wonderful,
none that is so worthy to be faithfully and tenderly looked after
and protected. These bronzed veterans of mine are very good
mothers, I think, and wiser than some other mothers; for they let
her take lots of risks, and it is a good education for her; and the
more risks she takes and comes successfully out of, the prouder
they are of her. They adopted her, with grave and formal military
ceremonies of their own invention - solemnities is the truer word;
solemnities that were so profoundly solemn and earnest, that the
spectacle would have been comical if it hadn't been so touching.
It was a good show, and as stately and complex as guard-mount and
the trooping of the colors; and it had its own special music,
composed for the occasion by the bandmaster of the Seventh; and the
child was as serious as the most serious war-worn soldier of them
all; and finally when they throned her upon the shoulder of the
oldest veteran, and pronounced her "well and truly adopted," and
the bands struck up and all saluted and she saluted in return, it
was better and more moving than any kindred thing I have seen on
the stage, because stage things are make-believe, but this was real
and the players' hearts were in it.

It happened several weeks ago, and was followed by some additional
solemnities. The men created a couple of new ranks, thitherto
unknown to the army regulations, and conferred them upon Cathy,
with ceremonies suitable to a duke. So now she is Corporal-General
of the Seventh Cavalry, and Flag-Lieutenant of the Ninth Dragoons,
with the privilege (decreed by the men) of writing U.S.A. after her
name! Also, they presented her a pair of shoulder-straps - both
dark blue, the one with F. L. on it, the other with C. G. Also, a
sword. She wears them. Finally, they granted her the SALUTE. I
am witness that that ceremony is faithfully observed by both
parties - and most gravely and decorously, too. I have never seen
a soldier smile yet, while delivering it, nor Cathy in returning
it.

Ostensibly I was not present at these proceedings, and am ignorant
of them; but I was where I could see. I was afraid of one thing -
the jealousy of the other children of the post; but there is
nothing of that, I am glad to say. On the contrary, they are proud
of their comrade and her honors. It is a surprising thing, but it
is true. The children are devoted to Cathy, for she has turned
their dull frontier life into a sort of continuous festival; also
they know her for a stanch and steady friend, a friend who can
always be depended upon, and does not change with the weather.

She has become a rather extraordinary rider, under the tutorship of
a more than extraordinary teacher - BB, which is her pet name for
Buffalo Bill. She pronounces it BEEBY. He has not only taught her
seventeen ways of breaking her neck, but twenty-two ways of
avoiding it. He has infused into her the best and surest
protection of a horseman - CONFIDENCE. He did it gradually,
systematically, little by little, a step at a time, and each step
made sure before the next was essayed. And so he inched her along
up through terrors that had been discounted by training before she
reached them, and therefore were not recognizable as terrors when
she got to them. Well, she is a daring little rider, now, and is
perfect in what she knows of horsemanship. By-and-by she will know
the art like a West Point cadet, and will exercise it as
fearlessly. She doesn't know anything about side-saddles. Does
that distress you? And she is a fine performer, without any saddle
at all. Does that discomfort you? Do not let it; she is not in
any danger, I give you my word.

You said that if my heart was old and tired she would refresh it,
and you said truly. I do not know how I got along without her,
before. I was a forlorn old tree, but now that this blossoming
vine has wound itself about me and become the life of my life, it
is very different. As a furnisher of business for me and for Mammy
Dorcas she is exhaustlessly competent, but I like my share of it
and of course Dorcas likes hers, for Dorcas "raised" George, and
Cathy is George over again in so many ways that she brings back
Dorcas's youth and the joys of that long-vanished time. My father
tried to set Dorcas free twenty years ago, when we still lived in
Virginia, but without success; she considered herself a member of
the family, and wouldn't go. And so, a member of the family she
remained, and has held that position unchallenged ever since, and
holds it now; for when my mother sent her here from San Bernardino
when we learned that Cathy was coming, she only changed from one
division of the family to the other. She has the warm heart of her
race, and its lavish affections, and when Cathy arrived the pair
were mother and child in five minutes, and that is what they are to
date and will continue. Dorcas really thinks she raised George,
and that is one of her prides, but perhaps it was a mutual raising,
for their ages were the same - thirteen years short of mine. But
they were playmates, at any rate; as regards that, there is no room
for dispute.

Cathy thinks Dorcas is the best Catholic in America except herself.
She could not pay any one a higher compliment than that, and Dorcas
could not receive one that would please her better. Dorcas is
satisfied that there has never been a more wonderful child than
Cathy. She has conceived the curious idea that Cathy is TWINS, and
that one of them is a boy-twin and failed to get segregated - got
submerged, is the idea. To argue with her that this is nonsense is
a waste of breath - her mind is made up, and arguments do not
affect it. She says:

"Look at her; she loves dolls, and girl-plays, and everything a
girl loves, and she's gentle and sweet, and ain't cruel to dumb
brutes - now that's the girl-twin, but she loves boy-plays, and
drums and fifes and soldiering, and rough-riding, and ain't afraid
of anybody or anything - and that's the boy-twin; 'deed you needn't
tell ME she's only ONE child; no, sir, she's twins, and one of them
got shet up out of sight. Out of sight, but that don't make any
difference, that boy is in there, and you can see him look out of
her eyes when her temper is up."

Then Dorcas went on, in her simple and earnest way, to furnish
illustrations.

"Look at that raven, Marse Tom. Would anybody befriend a raven but
that child? Of course they wouldn't; it ain't natural. Well, the
Injun boy had the raven tied up, and was all the time plaguing it
and starving it, and she pitied the po' thing, and tried to buy it
from the boy, and the tears was in her eyes. That was the girl-
twin, you see. She offered him her thimble, and he flung it down;
she offered him all the doughnuts she had, which was two, and he
flung them down; she offered him half a paper of pins, worth forty
ravens, and he made a mouth at her and jabbed one of them in the
raven's back. That was the limit, you know. It called for the
other twin. Her eyes blazed up, and she jumped for him like a
wild-cat, and when she was done with him she was rags and he wasn't
anything but an allegory. That was most undoubtedly the other
twin, you see, coming to the front. No, sir; don't tell ME he
ain't in there. I've seen him with my own eyes - and plenty of
times, at that."

"Allegory? What is an allegory?"

"I don't know, Marse Tom, it's one of her words; she loves the big
ones, you know, and I pick them up from her; they sound good and I
can't help it."

"What happened after she had converted the boy into an allegory?"

"Why, she untied the raven and confiscated him by force and fetched
him home, and left the doughnuts and things on the ground. Petted
him, of course, like she does with every creature. In two days she
had him so stuck after her that she - well, YOU know how he follows
her everywhere, and sets on her shoulder often when she rides her
breakneck rampages - all of which is the girl-twin to the front,
you see - and he does what he pleases, and is up to all kinds of
devilment, and is a perfect nuisance in the kitchen. Well, they
all stand it, but they wouldn't if it was another person's bird."

Here she began to chuckle comfortably, and presently she said:

"Well, you know, she's a nuisance herself, Miss Cathy is, she IS so
busy, and into everything, like that bird. It's all just as
innocent, you know, and she don't mean any harm, and is so good and
dear; and it ain't her fault, it's her nature; her interest is
always a-working and always red-hot, and she can't keep quiet.
Well, yesterday it was 'Please, Miss Cathy, don't do that'; and,
'Please, Miss Cathy, let that alone'; and, 'Please, Miss Cathy,
don't make so much noise'; and so on and so on, till I reckon I had
found fault fourteen times in fifteen minutes; then she looked up
at me with her big brown eyes that can plead so, and said in that
odd little foreign way that goes to your heart,

"'Please, mammy, make me a compliment."

"And of course you did it, you old fool?"

"Marse Tom, I just grabbed her up to my breast and says, 'Oh, you
po' dear little motherless thing, you ain't got a fault in the
world, and you can do anything you want to, and tear the house
down, and yo' old black mammy won't say a word!'"

"Why, of course, of course - I knew you'd spoil the child."

She brushed away her tears, and said with dignity:

"Spoil the child? spoil THAT child, Marse Tom? There can't ANYBODY
spoil her. She's the king bee of this post, and everybody pets her
and is her slave, and yet, as you know, your own self, she ain't
the least little bit spoiled." Then she eased her mind with this
retort: "Marse Tom, she makes you do anything she wants to, and
you can't deny it; so if she could be spoilt, she'd been spoilt
long ago, because you are the very WORST! Look at that pile of
cats in your chair, and you sitting on a candle-box, just as
patient; it's because they're her cats."

If Dorcas were a soldier, I could punish her for such large
frankness as that. I changed the subject, and made her resume her
illustrations. She had scored against me fairly, and I wasn't
going to cheapen her victory by disputing it. She proceeded to
offer this incident in evidence on her twin theory:

"Two weeks ago when she got her finger mashed open, she turned
pretty pale with the pain, but she never said a word. I took her
in my lap, and the surgeon sponged off the blood and took a needle
and thread and began to sew it up; it had to have a lot of
stitches, and each one made her scrunch a little, but she never let
go a sound. At last the surgeon was so full of admiration that he
said, 'Well, you ARE a brave little thing!' and she said, just as
ca'm and simple as if she was talking about the weather, 'There
isn't anybody braver but the Cid!' You see? it was the boy-twin
that the surgeon was a-dealing with.

"Who is the Cid?"

"I don't know, sir - at least only what she says. She's always
talking about him, and says he was the bravest hero Spain ever had,
or any other country. They have it up and down, the children do,
she standing up for the Cid, and they working George Washington for
all he is worth."

"Do they quarrel?"

"No; it's only disputing, and bragging, the way children do. They
want her to be an American, but she can't be anything but a
Spaniard, she says. You see, her mother was always longing for
home, po' thing! and thinking about it, and so the child is just as
much a Spaniard as if she'd always lived there. She thinks she
remembers how Spain looked, but I reckon she don't, because she was
only a baby when they moved to France. She is very proud to be a
Spaniard."

Does that please you, Mercedes? Very well, be content; your niece
is loyal to her allegiance: her mother laid deep the foundations
of her love for Spain, and she will go back to you as good a
Spaniard as you are yourself. She has made me promise to take her
to you for a long visit when the War Office retires me.

I attend to her studies myself; has she told you that? Yes, I am
her school-master, and she makes pretty good progress, I think,
everything considered. Everything considered - being translated -
means holidays. But the fact is, she was not born for study, and
it comes hard. Hard for me, too; it hurts me like a physical pain
to see that free spirit of the air and the sunshine laboring and
grieving over a book; and sometimes when I find her gazing far away
towards the plain and the blue mountains with the longing in her
eyes, I have to throw open the prison doors; I can't help it. A
quaint little scholar she is, and makes plenty of blunders. Once I
put the question:

"What does the Czar govern?"

She rested her elbow on her knee and her chin on her hand and took
that problem under deep consideration. Presently she looked up and
answered, with a rising inflection implying a shade of uncertainty,

"The dative case?"

Here are a couple of her expositions which were delivered with
tranquil confidence:

"CHAPLAIN, diminutive of chap. LASS is masculine, LASSIE is
feminine."

She is not a genius, you see, but just a normal child; they all
make mistakes of that sort. There is a glad light in her eye which
is pretty to see when she finds herself able to answer a question
promptly and accurately, without any hesitation; as, for instance,
this morning:

"Cathy dear, what is a cube?"

"Why, a native of Cuba."

She still drops a foreign word into her talk now and then, and
there is still a subtle foreign flavor or fragrance about even her
exactest English - and long may this abide! for it has for me a
charm that is very pleasant. Sometimes her English is daintily
prim and bookish and captivating. She has a child's sweet tooth,
but for her health's sake I try to keep its inspirations under
cheek. She is obedient - as is proper for a titled and recognized
military personage, which she is - but the chain presses sometimes.
For instance, we were out for a walk, and passed by some bushes
that were freighted with wild goose-berries. Her face brightened
and she put her hands together and delivered herself of this
speech, most feelingly:

"Oh, if I was permitted a vice it would be the GOURMANDISE!"

Could I resist that? No. I gave her a gooseberry.

You ask about her languages. They take care of themselves; they
will not get rusty here; our regiments are not made up of natives
alone - far from it. And she is picking up Indian tongues
diligently.


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