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Mark Twain > A Horse's Tale > Chapter IX

A Horse's Tale

Chapter IX


SOLDIER BOY AND SHEKELS AGAIN



"Well, this is the way it happened. We did the escort duty; then
we came back and struck for the plain and put the Rangers through a
rousing drill - oh, for hours! Then we sent them home under
Brigadier-General Fanny Marsh; then the Lieutenant-General and I
went off on a gallop over the plains for about three hours, and
were lazying along home in the middle of the afternoon, when we met
Jimmy Slade, the drummer-boy, and he saluted and asked the
Lieutenant-General if she had heard the news, and she said no, and
he said:

"'Buffalo Bill has been ambushed and badly shot this side of
Clayton, and Thorndike the scout, too; Bill couldn't travel, but
Thorndike could, and he brought the news, and Sergeant Wilkes and
six men of Company B are gone, two hours ago, hotfoot, to get Bill.
And they say - '

"'GO!' she shouts to me - and I went."

"Fast?"

"Don't ask foolish questions. It was an awful pace. For four
hours nothing happened, and not a word said, except that now and
then she said, 'Keep it up, Boy, keep it up, sweetheart; we'll save
him!' I kept it up. Well, when the dark shut down, in the rugged
hills, that poor little chap had been tearing around in the saddle
all day, and I noticed by the slack knee-pressure that she was
tired and tottery, and I got dreadfully afraid; but every time I
tried to slow down and let her go to sleep, so I could stop, she
hurried me up again; and so, sure enough, at last over she went!

"Ah, that was a fix to be in I for she lay there and didn't stir,
and what was I to do? I couldn't leave her to fetch help, on
account of the wolves. There was nothing to do but stand by. It
was dreadful. I was afraid she was killed, poor little thing! But
she wasn't. She came to, by-and-by, and said, 'Kiss me, Soldier,'
and those were blessed words. I kissed her - often; I am used to
that, and we like it. But she didn't get up, and I was worried.
She fondled my nose with her hand, and talked to me, and called me
endearing names - which is her way - but she caressed with the same
hand all the time. The other arm was broken, you see, but I didn't
know it, and she didn't mention it. She didn't want to distress
me, you know.

"Soon the big gray wolves came, and hung around, and you could hear
them snarl, and snap at each other, but you couldn't see anything
of them except their eyes, which shone in the dark like sparks and
stars. The Lieutenant-General said, 'If I had the Rocky Mountain
Rangers here, we would make those creatures climb a tree.' Then
she made believe that the Rangers were in hearing, and put up her
bugle and blew the 'assembly'; and then, 'boots and saddles'; then
the 'trot'; 'gallop'; 'charge!' Then she blew the 'retreat,' and
said, 'That's for you, you rebels; the Rangers don't ever retreat!'

"The music frightened them away, but they were hungry, and kept
coming back. And of course they got bolder and bolder, which is
their way. It went on for an hour, then the tired child went to
sleep, and it was pitiful to hear her moan and nestle, and I
couldn't do anything for her. All the time I was laying for the
wolves. They are in my line; I have had experience. At last the
boldest one ventured within my lines, and I landed him among his
friends with some of his skull still on him, and they did the rest.
In the next hour I got a couple more, and they went the way of the
first one, down the throats of the detachment. That satisfied the
survivors, and they went away and left us in peace.

"We hadn't any more adventures, though I kept awake all night and
was ready. From midnight on the child got very restless, and out
of her head, and moaned, and said, 'Water, water - thirsty'; and
now and then, 'Kiss me, Soldier'; and sometimes she was in her fort
and giving orders to her garrison; and once she was in Spain, and
thought her mother was with her. People say a horse can't cry; but
they don't know, because we cry inside.

"It was an hour after sunup that I heard the boys coming, and
recognized the hoof-beats of Pomp and Caesar and Jerry, old mates
of mine; and a welcomer sound there couldn't ever be.

Buffalo Bill was in a horse-litter, with his leg broken by a
bullet, and Mongrel and Blake Haskins's horse were doing the work.
Buffalo Bill and Thorndike had lolled both of those toughs.

"When they got to us, and Buffalo Bill saw the child lying there so
white, he said, 'My God!' and the sound of his voice brought her to
herself, and she gave a little cry of pleasure and struggled to get
up, but couldn't, and the soldiers gathered her up like the
tenderest women, and their eyes were wet and they were not ashamed,
when they saw her arm dangling; and so were Buffalo Bill's, and
when they laid her in his arms he said, 'My darling, how does this
come?' and she said, 'We came to save you, but I was tired, and
couldn't keep awake, and fell off and hurt myself, and couldn't get
on again.' 'You came to save me, you dear little rat? It was too
lovely of you!' 'Yes, and Soldier stood by me, which you know he
would, and protected me from the wolves; and if he got a chance he
kicked the life out of some of them - for you know he would, BB.'
The sergeant said, 'He laid out three of them, sir, and here's the
bones to show for it.' 'He's a grand horse,' said BB; 'he's the
grandest horse that ever was! and has saved your life, Lieutenant-
General Alison, and shall protect it the rest of his life - he's
yours for a kiss!' He got it, along with a passion of delight, and
he said, 'You are feeling better now, little Spaniard - do you
think you could blow the advance?' She put up the bugle to do it,
but he said wait a minute first. Then he and the sergeant set her
arm and put it in splints, she wincing but not whimpering; then we
took up the march for home, and that's the end of the tale; and I'm
her horse. Isn't she a brick, Shekels?

"Brick? She's more than a brick, more than a thousand bricks -
she's a reptile!"

"It's a compliment out of your heart, Shekels. God bless you for
it!"

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