Beautiful Joe
Chapter 31


Please be aware that this book was originally published in 1894 and may contain words, descriptions, or other passages that may be considered offensive today.


"Isn't it a strange thing," said Miss Laura, "that a little thing like a fly, can cause so much annoyance to animals as well as to people? Sometimes when I am trying to get more sleep in the morning, their little feet tickle me so that I am nearly frantic and have to fly out of bed."

"You shall have some netting to put over your bed," said Mrs. Wood; "but suppose, Laura, you had no hands to brush away the flies. Suppose your whole body was covered with them, and you were tied up somewhere and could not get loose. I can't imagine more exquisite torture myself. Last summer the flies here were dreadful. It seems to me that they are getting worse and worse every year, and worry the animals more. I believe it is because the birds are getting thinned out all over the country. There are not enough of them to catch the flies. John says that the next improvements we make on the farm are to be wire gauze at all the stable windows and screen doors to keep the little pests from the horses and cattle.

"One afternoon last summer, Mr. Maxwell's mother came for me to go for a drive with her. The heat was intense, and when we got down by the river, she proposed getting out of the phaeton and sitting under the trees, to see if it would be any cooler. She was driving a horse that she had got from the hotel in the village, a roan horse that was clipped, and check-reined, and had his tail docked. I wouldn't drive behind a tailless horse now. Then, I wasn't so particular. However, I made her unfasten the check-rein before I'd set foot in the carriage. Well, I thought that horse would go mad. He'd tremble and shiver, and look so pitifully at us. The flies were nearly eating him up. Then he'd start a little. Mrs. Maxwell had a weight at his head to hold him, but he could easily have dragged that. He was a good dispositioned horse, and he didn't want to run away, but he could not stand still. I soon jumped up and slapped him, and rubbed him till my hands were dripping wet. The poor brute was so grateful and would keep touching my arm with his nose. Mrs. Maxwell sat under the trees fanning herself and laughing at me, but I didn't care. How could I enjoy myself with a dumb creature writhing in pain before me?

"A docked horse can neither eat nor sleep comfortably in the fly season. In one of our New England villages they have a sign up, 'Horses taken in to grass. Long tails, one dollar and fifty cents. Short tails, one dollar.' And it just means that the short-tailed ones are taken cheaper, because they are so bothered by the flies that they can't eat much, while the long-tailed ones are able to brush them away, and eat in peace. I read the other day of a Buffalo coal dealer's horse that was in such an agony through flies, that he committed suicide. You know animals will do that. I've read of horses and dogs drowning themselves. This horse had been clipped, and his tail was docked, and he was turned out to graze. The flies stung him till he was nearly crazy. He ran up to a picket fence, and sprang up on the sharp spikes. There he hung, making no effort to get down. Some men saw him, and they said it was a clear case of suicide.

"I would like to have the power to take every man who cuts off a horse's tail, and tie his hands and turn him out in a field in the hot sun, with little clothing on, and plenty of flies about. Then we would see if he wouldn't sympathize with the poor, dumb beast. It's the most senseless thing in the world, this docking fashion. They've a few flimsy arguments about a horse with a docked tail being stronger-backed, like a short-tailed sheep, but I don't believe a word of it. The horse was made strong enough to do the work he's got to do, and man can't improve on him. Docking is a cruel, wicked thing. Now, there's a ghost of an argument in favor of check-reins, on certain occasions. A fiery, young horse can't run away, with an overdrawn check, and in speeding horses a tight check-rein will make them hold their heads up, and keep them from choking.

"But I don't believe in raising colts in a way to make them fiery, and I wish there wasn't a race horse on the face of the earth, so if it depended on me, every kind of check-rein would go. It's a pity we women can't vote, Laura. We'd do away with a good many abuses."

Miss Laura smiled, but it was a very faint, almost an unhappy smile, and Mrs. Wood said hastily, "Let us talk about something else. Did you ever hear that cows will give less milk on a dark day than on a bright one?"

"No; I never did," said Miss Laura.