Samuel Cowles And His Horse Royal by Eugene Field

Story type: Literature

The day on which I was twelve years old my father said to me: “Samuel, walk down the lane with me to the pasture-lot; I want to show you something.” Never suspicioning anything, I trudged along with father, and what should I find in the pasture lot but the cunningest, prettiest, liveliest colt a boy ever clapped eyes on!

“That is my birthday present to you,” said father. “Yes, Samuel, I give the colt to you to do with as you like, for you ‘ve been a good boy and have done well at school.”

You can easily understand that my boyish heart overflowed with pride and joy and gratitude. A great many years have elapsed since that time, but I have n’t forgotten and I never shall forget the delight of that moment, when I realized that I had a colt of my own–a real, live colt, and a Morgan colt, at that!

“How old is he, father?” I asked.

“A week old, come to-morrow,” said father.

“Has Judge Phipps seen him yet?” I asked.

“No; nobody has seen him but you and me and the hired man.”

Judge Phipps was the justice of the peace. I had a profound respect for him, for what he did n’t know about horses was n’t worth knowing; I was sure of this, because the judge himself told me so. One of the first duties to which I applied myself was to go and get the judge and show him the colt. The judge praised the pretty creature inordinately, enumerating all his admirable points and predicting a famous career for him. The judge even went so far as to express the conviction that in due time my colt would win “imperishable renown and immortal laurels as a competitor at the meetings of the Hampshire County Trotting Association,” of which association the judge was the president, much to the scandal of his estimable wife, who viewed with pious horror her husband’s connection with the race-track.

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“What do you think I ought to name my colt?” I asked of the judge.

“When I was about your age,” the judge answered, “I had a colt and I named him Royal. He won all the premiums at the county fair before he was six year old.”

That was quite enough for me. To my thinking every utterance of the judge’s was ex cathedra; moreover, in my boyish exuberance, I fancied that this name would start my colt auspiciously upon a famous career; I began at once to think and to speak of him as the prospective winner of countless honors.

From the moment when I first set eyes on Royal I was his stanch friend; even now, after the lapse of years, I cannot think of my old companion without feeling here in my breast a sense of gratitude that that honest, patient, loyal friend entered so largely into my earlier life.

Twice a day I used to trudge down the lane to the pasture-lot to look at the colt, and invariably I was accompanied by a troop of boy acquaintances who heartily envied me my good luck, and who regaled me constantly with suggestions of what they would do if Royal were their colt. Royal soon became friendly with us all, and he would respond to my call, whinnying to me as I came down the lane, as much as to say: “Good morning to you, little master! I hope you are coming to have a romp with me.” And, gracious! how he would curve his tail and throw up his head and gather his short body together and trot around the pasture-lot on those long legs of his! He enjoyed life, Royal did, as much as we boys enjoyed it.

Naturally enough, I made all sorts of plans for Royal. I recall that, after I had been on a visit to Springfield and had beholden for the first time the marvels of Barnum’s show, I made up my mind that when Royal and I were old enough we would unite our fortunes with those of a circus, and in my imagination I already pictured huge and gaudy posters announcing the blood-curdling performances of the dashing bareback equestrian, Samuel Cowles, upon his fiery Morgan steed, Royal! This plan was not at all approved of by Judge Phipps, who continued to insist that it was on the turf and not in the sawdust circle that Royal’s genius lay, and to this way of thinking I was finally converted, but not until the judge had promised to give me a sulky as soon as Royal demonstrated his ability to make a mile in 2:40.

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It is not without a sigh of regret that in my present narrative I pass over the five years next succeeding the date of Royal’s arrival. For they were very happy years–indeed, at this distant period I am able to recall only that my boyhood was full, brimful of happiness. I broke Royal myself; father and the hired man stood around and made suggestions, and at times they presumed to take a hand in the proceedings. Virtually, however, I broke Royal to the harness and to the saddle, and after that I was even more attached to him than ever before–you know how it is, if ever you ‘ve broken a colt yourself!

When I went away to college it seemed to me that leaving Royal was almost as hard as leaving mother and father; you see the colt had become a very large part of my boyish life–followed me like a pet dog, was lonesome when I was n’t round, used to rub his nose against my arm and look lovingly at me out of his big, dark, mournful eyes–yes, I cried when I said good-by to him the morning I started for Williamstown. I was ashamed of it then, but not now–no, not now.

But my fun was all the keener, I guess, when I came home at vacation times. Then we had it, up hill and down dale–Royal and I did! In the summer-time along the narrow roads we trailed, and through leafy lanes, and in my exultation I would cut at the tall weeds at the roadside and whisk at the boughs arching overhead, as if I were a warrior mounted for battle and these other things were human victims to my valor. In the winter we sped away over the snow and ice, careless to the howling of the wind and the wrath of the storm. Royal knew the favorite road, every inch of the way; he knew, too, when Susie held the reins–Susie was Judge Phipps’ niece, and I guess she ‘d have mittened me if it had n’t been that I had the finest colt in the county!

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The summer I left college there came to me an overwhelming sense of patriotic duty. Mother was the first to notice my absent-mindedness, and to her I first confided the great wish of my early manhood. It is hard for parents to bid a son go forth to do service upon the battlefield, but New England in those times responded cheerfully and nobly to Mr. Lincoln’s call. The Eighth Massachusetts cavalry was the regiment I enlisted in; a baker’s dozen of us boys went together from the quiet little village nestling in the shadow of Mount Holyoke. From Camp Andrew I wrote back a piteous letter, complaining of the horse that had been assigned to me; I wanted Royal; we had been inseparable in times of peace–why should we not share together the fortunes of war? Within a fortnight along came Royal, conducted in all dignity by–you would never guess–by Judge Phipps! Full of patriotism and of cheer was the judge.

“Both of ye are thoroughbreds,” said he. “Ye ‘ll come in under the wire first every time, I know ye will.”

The judge also brought me a saddle blanket which Susie had ornamented with wondrous and tender art.

So Royal and I went into the war together. There were times of privation and of danger; neither of us ever complained. I am proud to bear witness that in every emergency my horse bore himself with a patience and a valor that seemed actually human. My comrades envied me my gentle, stanch, obedient servant. Indeed, Royal and I became famous as inseparable and loyal friends.

We were in five battles and neither of us got even so much as a scratch. But one afternoon in a skirmish with the rebels near Potomac Mills a bullet struck me in the thigh, and from the mere shock I fell from Royal’s back into the tangle of the thicket. The fall must have stunned me, for the next thing I knew I was alone–deserted of all except my faithful horse. Royal stood over me, and when I opened my eyes he gave a faint whinny. I hardly knew what to do. My leg pained me excruciatingly. I surmised that I would never be able to make my way back to camp under the fire of the rebel picketers, for I discovered that they were closing in.

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Then it occurred to me to pin a note to Royal’s saddle blanket and to send Royal back to camp telling the boys of the trouble I was in. The horse understood it all; off he galloped, conscious of the import of the mission upon which he had been dispatched. Bang-bang-bang! went the guns over yonder, as if the revengeful creatures in the far-off brush guessed the meaning of our manoeuvering and sought to slay my loyal friend. But not a bullet touched him–leastwise he galloped on and on till I lost sight of him. They came for me at last, the boys did; they were a formidable detachment, and how the earth shook as they swept along!

“We thought you were a goner, sure,” said Hi Bixby.

“I guess I would have been if it had n’t been for Royal,” said I.

“I guess so, myself,” said he. “When we saw him stumblin’ along all bloody we allowed for sure you was dead!”

“All blood?” I cried. “Is Royal hurt?”

“As bad as a hoss can be,” said he.

In camp we found them doing the best they could for him. But it was clearly of no avail. There was a gaping, ragged hole in his side; seeking succor for me, Royal had met his death-wound. I forgot my own hurt; I thrust the others aside and hobbled where he lay.

“Poor old Roy!” I cried, as I threw myself beside my dying friend and put my arms about his neck. Then I patted and stroked him and called him again and again by name, and there was a look in his eyes that told me he knew me and was glad that I was there.

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How strange, and yet how beautiful, it was that in that far-off country, with my brave, patient, loyal friend’s fluttering heart close unto mine, I neither saw nor thought of the scene around me.

But before my eyes came back the old, familiar places–the pasture lot, the lane, the narrow road up the hill, the river winding along between great stretches of brown corn, the aisle of maple trees, and the fountain where we drank so many, many times together–and I smelled the fragrance of the flowers and trees abloom, and I heard the dear voices and the sweet sounds of my boyhood days.

Then presently a mighty shudder awakened me from this dreaming. And I cried out with affright and grief, for I felt that I was alone.

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