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The Stray Lamb
THE BATTLE OF THE CHURCH
"AN exceptionally interesting trial," mused Mr. Lamb as he ambled along High Hill Road. "If they can only get someone to corroborate that ragpicker's story, the prosecution is going to have tough sledding."
Other considerations occupied his attention. He remembered with a pang that the morning had been lamentably free from any suggestion of bacon and eggs. Few things worse could happen to Mr. Lamb.
"Horses," he continued musing, "seem to get through the day pretty well on grass, but I won't eat grass. It would seem so desperate. What would Hebe think if I ever told her I had eaten grass?"
He looked contemplatively at a near-by tuft. They were about finishing breakfast at home now, well satisfied, gorged, no doubt. Smelling agreeably of butter, they were preparing for church. Well, he would miss that in any event.
"That bit there doesn't look so bad," he thought, eyeing the tuft of grass with closer attention. "Suppose I try it just for fun?"
He glanced in either direction and approached the tuft.
"Well, here goes," he said to himself. "Might as well be a regular horse while I'm at it."
He nibbled the grass tentatively, throwing his head back the better to judge its taste.
Not at all bad," he decided. "Not bad at all. Sort of like a rugged salad."
For the better part of an hour Mr. Lamb continued along the road fastidiously selecting choice patches of grass and experimenting with various combinations of weeds, clover, and wild flowers. Some he found palatable, others were hard to down. His appetite temporarily arranged for, Lamb bent his mind on other lines of activity. He was not like other horses, content to graze all day. Furthermore, he had come across a cow cropping grass, and this had rather damped his ardour. He had no intention at present of sharing breakfast with a cow. One had to draw the line somewhere. His thoughts involuntarily strayed to Sandra, and suddenly he remembered she had told him she was going riding to-day on Simonds's horse. She had also said some rather silly things about Simonds being a lovely man.
I'll fix that horse," he muttered or attempted to mutter. " I'll make him rue this day."
With this edifying intention firmly fixed in his mind he cantered off in the direction of Simonds's home. He knew exactly where the horse passed most of its time—in a vacant lot directly back of Simonds's place. A high fence surrounded the lot, and behind this fence Simonds's horse was going about its own business. Mr. Lamb studied the innocent animal with growing animosity. He was the kind of horse Mr. Lamb most detested, a smug, plump horse, exactly like his master.
"He would have a fence to protect him," thought Lamb. "The coward. But I'll settle his hash. Wonder if I can make it?"
He backed off for some distance, gathered his powerful muscles together and made a lunge at the fence, clearing it neatly. Once on the other side he suddenly changed his tactics. Instead of rushing at the horse and demolishing it as he had intended, he decided first to indulge in a little sport. He would be more subtle in his form of attack. He would confound this horse, terrify it within an inch of its life, put it out of commission for Sundays yet unborn.
Accordingly Mr. Lamb did things, things that no horse had ever done before or had ever thought of doing. He lowered his body close to the ground and curved his legs in a most unusual manner. Throwing his head to one side, he allowed his tongue to loll out of his mouth at one comer. With that careful attention to detail that marks the true artist, he flattened his ears and rolled his eyes more unpleasantly.
"Guess I look funny enough," thought Lamb. "Wish I could foam a bit. That would be the final touch."
He tried to work up a convincing-looking foam and succeeded partially. In this manner he approached his unwary enemy.
"Love to have a snapshot of myself," he reflected. "No one would ever believe it."
But several persons did believe it, among them being Simonds himself. He was standing at his bathroom window, and his eyes were starting out of their sockets. A few pedestrians also had stopped and now stood transfixed by the fence. This was more unusual thanan appearance of Halley's comet, and years after they remembered the event far more vividly. Simonds, in a thin quivering voice, called to his wife, his son, and his daughter, and together in various stages of disarray, they witnessed the rout and almost total extinction of their horse.
When the horse first spied the strange-looking object creeping up on him he stopped what he was doing and gave his full attention to it. At first he felt no fear. The phenomenon was entirely outside his experience. But as Lamb drew nearer, a certain anxiety took the place of curiosity and surprise. And when the horse caught a glimpse of Mr. Lamb's lolling tongue and bloodshot eyes, he realised that here was something that would not improve upon closer acquaintance.
Slowly and deliberately Lamb circled round his enemy until he had reduced him to a state of abject terror. The horse's nerves were shot to pieces. He was trembling in every limb. Then Mr. Lamb, rolling his head drunkenly from side to side, his tongue sliding and slithering revoltingly between his bared teeth, began to close in on the aghast object of his enmity.
"A pretty picture I must make," thought Lamb, as he prepared for the final coup.
Within a few yards of the wretched horse, he paused and horrified the air with a series of heart-searing shrieks. The Simondses drew back from the window, the pedestrians hastily abandoned their points of vantage on the fence. The enemy almost swooned, but some half-numbed instinct warned him that to remain longer in the presence of that animal from hell was certain and painful death. Comparative safety lay only in flight, and flee the horse did. Thrice round the lot he sped, fear increasing his ambition to break all established speed records. Lamb, now at full height, followed just closely enough to keep the edge on the horse's terror.
On the third lap the horse decided that the enclosure was altogether too small to accommodate both of them. He made a dash at the fence. This time Lamb was not forced to jump, the enemy having gone clear through the fence and cleared the way. Out into the streets of the town the chase debouched. Fairfield Avenue swam past Mr. Lamb's vision like a dream. They came to a beautifully kept lawn and tore across it. The enemy rounded the corner of the house and came suddenly upon a breakfast party on the rear lawn. It was either his life, or the party's comfort, decided the horse. The party had to be sacrificed. Too late for turning now. Through the breakfast party the panting animal ploughed, scattering table and dishes to the four winds. Lamb noticed as he passed through that one of the ladies had lost her kimono and was rushing about with the table-cloth over her head. He knew the people, but had no time to apologise. His interest in the scene had caused him to lose slightly, and he now redoubled his efforts. The ground fairly thundered beneath his hoofs as he dashed down the broad, quiet street at the end of which was situated the stately church he attended. This place of worship had broad doors on either side and a huge main entrance. They were all open to the breezes on this balmy July morning.
The fleeing horse, either mistaking the church for a stable or else deciding as a last resort to seek sanctuary, disappeared into the main entrance, paused in bewilderment, then as if realising that this was no place for aim, made a swift exit through one of the side doors.
Lamb in the heat of the pursuit followed without considering. He found the congregation in a state of wild confusion that was in no wise lessened by the sudden and tremendous appearance of a second and even more terrible horse. Protected by his pulpit the preacher looked boldly down upon his seething flock and for some odd reason began to sing "Nearer My God To Thee." Several women, believing he was summing up the situation altogether too mildly, fainted and lay in the aisles. All of the sleepers were wide awake and convinced that they would never sleep again.
It was at this moment that Lamb's better nature asserted itself. AR he surveyed the scene of carnage he had been so instrumental in creating, his conscience smote him and he promptly sat down, hoping thereby to restore peace and harmony to the congregation.
Observing how quiet he was, one of the ushers timidly approached him and attempted to lead him out. Lamb resisted with dignity, and when the fellow persisted, he placed a hoof gently against his chest and gave him a slight push. The usher slid down the aisle as if it had been greased and brought up with a thump against a pew. No more attempts were made to expel Mr. Lamb. He remained quietly seated in the rear of the church, paying strict attention to his own affairs. True, he was breathing hard, but so were many other members of the congregation, including the preacher himself.
"This horse," announced the good man, peering at Mr. Lamb with puzzled eyes, "seems to be rather a different type of horse. I don't think he will disturb us, and evidently he intends to stay. Who knows? Perhaps he is the first of equine converts."
Lamb's shoulders shook in encouraging mirth, and a polite noise issued from his throat. Several people turned and regarded him with timid reproval, and Lamb waved a placating hoof in their direction. Mistaking his meaning they immediately turned back and looked at him no more.
Yes," continued the preacher as if in a dream, " a strangely odd horse. Never in my long experience—well, let's get on with, the service."
Lamb followed the service closely, rising when the congregation rose and sitting when it sat. His kneeling was an artistic achievement and created such a stir that few people listened to the prayer in their efforts to observe his contortions. Even the preacher became distrait and found himself repeating toward the end of the prayer, "God, what a horse! God almighty, what a horse!"
When the plate was passed for the offering, Mr. Lamb involuntarily reached for his change. The gesture was eloquent but futile. He averted his gaze, hoping no one had noticed the slip.
At the close of the service he was the first one to leave the church and, as was his custom, he waited outside for his family. He had gone this far, he thought to himself, he might as well see the thing through. He little reckoned however, on his reception by Mrs. Lamb.
The docility of the horse throughout the service, his obvious reverence and piety, had somewhat reassured this lady. She thought she knew how to deal with any person or creature who actually believed in God and took Him seriously. Consequently, as Lamb followed her and her daughter along the sidewalk, taking his proper place on the outside, she continually tried to "shoo" him, until Lamb in his exasperation gave vent to a piercing shriek.
That settled Mrs. Lamb. From then on Mr. Lamb was perforce accepted as one of the party, much to Mrs. Lamb's humiliation. Time after time she passed acquaintances who in spite of their manners could not refrain from asking her what she was doing with a horse. Mrs. Lamb disclaimed any ownership of or responsibility for the animal. Lamb on his part invariably stepped courteously aside and gave the impression of following the conversation with polite attention. From time to time he nodded his head as if in agreement.
His wife particularly disliked this. It seemed to place her on a social level with a horse, and that was not to be tolerated. However, Lamb asserted his rights, and Mrs. Lamb no longer had the heart to challenge them. Hebe stuck to her father like a soldier, enjoying the situation with a maliciousness not at all compatible with her recent departure from a house of God. Toward the end of their progress the walk developed into a race, Mrs. Lamb endeavouring to leave the horse and Hebe behind, and the pair of them obstinately refusing to be left.
It was at this stage of the game that they encountered Sandra Rush. Mr. Lamb stopped in his tracks and fixed the girl with a triumphant eye. She met his gaze wonderingly for a moment, then turned to Hebe.
"Why, what a peculiar horse you have," she said. "For some reason he reminds me of your father. Something about the eyes. By the way, where is your father, the attenuated Lamb?"
Hebe was startled by her friend's instinctive recognition of the horse. Mrs. Lamb was returning reluctantly to join the conversation.
"I don't know exactly," she hastened to reply. "He's probably trailing about somewhere, or else just sitting. The major's an odd duck."
"A nice duck," said Sandra.
"What's this about ducks?" inquired Mrs. Lamb, as she joined the group in spite of the presence of the horse.
"I don't know," replied Sandra innocently. "I was just telling Hebe that I intended to go horse-back riding this afternoon."
"On whose horse?" asked Hebe, and Mr. Lamb became immediately alert.
"That man Simonds's," said Sandra. "I ride on his horse each Sunday. Such a lovely horse."
"Well, he's far from a lovely horse now," replied Hebe sorrowfully. "From the glimpse I caught of him, that horse is a mental case. It will be many a long Sunday before he regains his reason, not to mention his health."
Sandra desired enlightenment, and Hebe told her all she had seen and heard of the chase. At the end of the stirring recital, Sandra turned and let her reproachful eyes dwell on Mr. Lamb. She found him looking noble and unrepentant, but under the pressure of her gaze, the great animal gradually wilted, until finally his head hung low to the ground. Mrs. Lamb was outraged to see this demon stallion thus subjugated by this rather questionable friend of her daughter. As a matter of fact Mrs. Lamb resented Sandra's existence entirely. There were so many reasons—all of them good. Sandra was all that Mrs. Lamb would like to be and more than she had ever been.
"Why don't you ride this chap?" suggested Hebe. "It's all his fault."
"I shall," replied Sandra firmly. "I'll ride the devil to death. Simonds will lend me a saddle."
So, much to Mrs. Lamb's relief, the horse followed Sandra, and was subsequently saddled and tethered in front of her house. When she came out from luncheon she found him leaning philosophically against a tree, his forelegs jauntily crossed.
"You'll have to cut this foolishness out," the girl said severely. "Only fake horses act like that. Don't make a spectacle of me."
Mr. Lamb turned an idle head and surveyed her long and approvingly. If she was as nice as that in riding togs, he considered, what wouldn't she be in underwear?
When Sandra had released the halter, he crouched close to the ground and peered round his shoulders at her. This proved a little too much for Sandra. The girl began to laugh, and Mr. Lamb shook himself impatiently. It was not the easiest position in the world to hold.
"I'll fix her," he said to himself.
When she finally decided to accept his grotesque invitation, Mr. Lamb crawled hastily forward, and the girl found herself sitting on her rump. She sat there only a moment before she slid slowly, but inevitably, to the street. Lamb rose to his full height and looked down at the young lady.
"That," she said from the gutter, "was a peculiarly snide trick. I don't know what sort of a horse you are, but if you were a human being I fancy you'd pull chairs from beneath people."
Mr. Lamb executed a neat little dance step and waited. This time Sandra mounted him in the accepted manner, and Mr. Lamb immediately set off backward, looking round from time to time to take his bearings.
"If you have any gentlemanly instincts at all," said Sandra at last, "you'll give up all this shilly-shallying and do your stuff like an honest-to-God horse."
Her mind was in a state of confusion. She had ridden all her life and met all types and conditions of horses, but she had never encountered one that had behaved so incredibly as this one. In its very resourcefulness there was something almost human.
At the girl's plea Mr. Lamb reversed his position and went forward majestically through the town. Sandra felt as if she were leading a circus parade. When they reached a dirt road he abandoned his little conceits and settled down to real business. He carried her swiftly, smoothly, and effortlessly over the ground. He was experiencing a sense of freedom and power—a total lack of responsibility save for the safety of thegirl on his back. Sandra had never felt so exhilarated. Her mount was self-conducted. She had hardly to touch the reins. Presently they came to a fence that bordered a long rolling meadow Lamb slowed down and looked back inquiringly at his passenger.
"It's all right with me, old boy," said Sandra. "Can you make it?"
Lamb showed her he could. He landed on the other side of the fence as if he were equipped with shock-absorbers, then stretching his body he streamed away across the meadow. Sandra had a sensation of flying, and Lamb himself felt that his hoofs were touching the ground only on rare occasions. After half an hour of swift running, Lamb came to a halt and sat down abruptly. The girl slid to the grass. When she attempted to rise, Lamb pushed her back with his nose and stood over her. For a moment she looked at the horse with startled eyes, then grinned.
"At it again," she said, pressing a cheek against his silky skin and giving him a small soft kiss.
Mr. Lamb stepped back a few paces and regarded the girl with heavy dignity. He was at a loss to know what to do about it. She had kissed him in broad daylight and made other affectionate advances. A stop should be put to this. Then something, some long restrained impulse seemed to snap in Mr. Lamb, and he began to prance joyously. He performed a dance of great vigour and elaboration, after which he went racing round the meadow to give the girl some indication of what he could do when he set his mind to it. When he returned she was calmly reading a book she had fished from her pocket, Green Mansions, and as Lamb, now adept at reading horsewise, followed several pages over her shoulder, he became absorbed in the narrative and placed a restraining hoof against the margin of the page to prevent her from turning over before he had caught up with her.
In this manner some time slipped by, the horse reading over the girl's shoulder, until at last growing tired of the heavy breathing in her ear, she pushed his nose away and laid aside the book. Thereupon Lamb dropped to the grass beside her and placed his head in her lap, opening one large eye and looking up at her owlishly. Sandra picked up the book and continued to read. Lamb nudged her, and she gave him a sharp slap. He nudged her again and she commenced to read aloud. Lamb settled down to listen. The situation was much to his liking.
An hour later when it was time to return home, the girl had to pummel him to get him to wake up. Still half asleep, he struggled to his feet and automatically reached for a cigarette, then remembering he was a horse, frowned thoughtfully upon his companion. It was all too bewildering Lamb decided, but it had been an altogether satisfactory afternoon. Even while he had slept he had been deliciously aware of the closeness of the girl's body. Lamb was not insensitive to such things.
The stallion's appearance at the Vacation Fund affair that night was not an unqualified success. He first presented himself at the dining-room window where his wife and daughter and the leading actor, Mr. Leonard Gray, were indulging in a late, cold supper. Already the tables on the lawn were occupied.
Other points of vantage were rapidly filling up. Cocktails were circulating freely. All those who dwelt on the right side of the tracks knew exactly the class of people for whom the Prohibition Act was intended. They themselves were certainly not meant to be included. That went without saying.
Mr. Lamb announced his presence by thrusting his head through the window and unloosing a piercing scream. The dining-room was filled with horror . . . . It took several minutes to find Mr. Gray, and several more to induce him to crawl from under the grand piano, where he had apparently taken up permanent residence. Mrs. Lamb herself was none too well. When she and her leading man attempted to resume their dinner, their knives and forks clattered so violently against their plates, it sounded as if they were playing at beating the drum. The situation was saved by Hebe. That young lady of infinite composure, gathering up practically all the salad, made a quick exit through the window and led her father round behind some box bushes that encircled the field of activity. There was a convenient opening in the bushes at this spot, through which, unobserved, Lamb could get an idea of what was going on.
Lamb thought the salad delicious. He had never tasted anything quite so whole-heartedly satisfying in his life. And when Hebe returned with a cocktail he felt that life was opening up indeed. A slight difficulty arose here, however. Lamb was unable to drink from so small a glass. He spilled most of its contents. His daughter, with admirable resourcefulness, thereupon fetched a bucket, a bottle of gin, some ice and oranges. While Mr. Lamb looked on approvingly, she mixed this mighty cocktail and placed it before him. Lamb speedily inserted his nose, swallowed several cupfuls and sank back with a sigh.
"All set now?" asked Hebe.
Lamb nodded enthusiastically.
"When it's empty, I'll fill it up," she assured him. "Sprawl here and get an eyeful. I'll send Mel around with a tray of sandwiches. This affair is going to be a riot."
At the time she little realised the remarkable accuracy of her prognostication.
When Melville Long appeared with the sandwiches he found Mr. Lamb nose-down in the bucket, which from the sucking sounds that issued from it, he judged to be empty. Mr. Lamb withdrew his head and received his visitor graciously. He literally beamed upon him, extending a hoof which Long seized and shook vigorously.
"A nice chap," thought Lamb. "One of the best. Wonder if he could mix me another cocktail? Everyone else is having a good time."
With the aid of an eloquent nose he drew the young man's attention to the dispiriting state of the bucket. The youth was not long in catching Mr. Lamb's meaning. With a curt "We'll fix that," he hastened away. When he returned he was carrying two bottles of gin and an armful of oranges.
"Hebe's bringing the ice," he explained as he poured the gin in the bucket and rapidly squeezed the oranges. "Didn't have room myself."
Together the young people arranged Mr. Lamb satisfactorily, then left him to his own devices, their presence being required elsewhere. Mr. Lamb was feeling remarkably well-disposed. He thrust his head through the aperture and eyed the lawn. At the unexpected appearance of the head an elderly lady jumped with the agility of a girl.
"God bless me!" she cried, spilling her cocktail down her dress. " Did you see that, Helen?"
Helen, her daughter, fortunately had not seen. She regarded the hole in the bushes nervously. It was empty. Turning back to her trembling mother, she endeavoured to soothe her, but the old lady had been profoundly shocked. Mr. Lamb did not like this old lady nor was he exceedingly fond of her daughter. Arranging his face in its most demoniacal expression, he bided his time. When the two women were once more gazing nervously at the hole he suddenly popped his head through with instantaneous effect. Clinging to each other for support, mother and daughter cut a swathe through the lawn party, uttering frightened little cries in their flight. Not until they were safely ensconced in their limousine and being driven rapidly home did they release their hold on each other. Then they sat up very erect and kept tapping their hands distractedly.
"I never saw such a face in my life. What was it?" asked the mother.
"Those eyes," intoned the daughter, and tightly closed her own.
Mr. Lamb's next opportunity to annoy someone came when a gentleman moved his chair close to the aperture and carelessly tossed his cigarette through it.
The still lighted cigarette fell on Lamb's nose and burned it just a little. It was quite enough for Lamb. He promptly shot his head through the hole again and took a good look at the offender. Lamb did not like this man either. In his present state of liquor Lamb hated the very sight of him. Therefore he withdrew his head and, thrusting a long leg through the hole, placed it against the chair and gave a tremendous shove. Man and chair parted company, but continued in the same general direction. The chair knocked the legs from under an innocent bystander, and its erstwhile occupant, passing completely through a group of ladies, came to rest on a rosebush. Extricating himself from this he hurried back to the hole and looked about for an enemy. None was to be found save an old gentleman quietly observing the colourful scene.
"Did you do that?" demanded the man in a hostile voice.
"Do what? asked the old man amicably.
"Give me a clout just now," replied the other.
"Go away," said the old man deliberately. " You're drunk—drunker than you realise."
The assaulted man had reason to believe him, and quickly withdrew from the party. He did not feel quite drunk, but he imagined he must be. Those cocktails. They were strange concoctions. Just the same someone had given him a clout. There was no denying that. Drunk or sober, he knew when he had received a clouting.
This supine activity, in spite of its pleasing results, began to pall on Mr. Lamb. He yearned for larger fields. Taking another swig at his monolithic cocktail,he rose and, fording a gate in the box bushes, mingled with the party on the lawn. Although a trifle unsteady, he managed to maintain his dignity. He conducted himself as he conceived a gentle and unobtrusive horse should. The guests were rather surprised, some even alarmed, but after a short time they accepted him as a part of the evening's entertainment. Mrs. Lamb was so advanced.
From afar Mr. Lamb observed two particularly pretty girls in intimate conversation. Approaching the girls quietly he nipped one of them in an extremely ungentlemanly manner. The girl gave a startled exclamation and, heedless of the onlooker, tenderly rubbed the injured spot. Then she turned and saw the horse looking at her roguishly.
"My dear," she said to her companion, "you should know what that horse just did. Why, the creature's almost human."
When Lamb next tried this unmannerly trick the afflicted lady gave the gentleman she was conversing with a resounding slap in the face and followed it up with a piece of her mind. The poor man looked thoroughly mystified and wretched. The husband of the lady hurried to the spot, and upon learning what had occurred, drew back mightily and knocked the man down. He was literally dragged out. To-day he is still wondering why.
Sapho had more than a suspicion that all was not going well with her party. The Vacation Fund affair was threatening to become a shambles. It was all the fault of that hell-born horse. Nothing could induce it to go away. She decided to put on the final act—the pièce de résistance of the night. Her act. In the meantime, having become bored with his surroundings, Mr. Lamb sat down and, leaning against a tree, fell into a light doze.
When he next opened his eyes the curtains had been parted on the flimsily constructed stage. His wife in his best pyjamas was wallowing about in the arms of Leonard Gray, who was saying something about being "far from my own glade," in a high, complaining voice. This bored Lamb beyond endurance. With a shriek of utter abandon he galloped toward the stage. Mr. Gray cast one horrified look at the speeding horse, then with amazing expedition got even farther from his own glade. Sapho also left at once, virtuously clutching the pants of Lamb's pyjamas.
Springing to the stage, Lamb gave a drunken exhibition of a horse's idea of clog dancing. The audience was in confusion. In the midst of his hurricane efforts the stage collapsed, and Lamb disappeared beneath a small avalanche of scenery, planks, and trappings. Those who lingered to look back saw only a horse's head projecting from the ruins. The horse was either dead or asleep.
Later that night Lamb feebly dug himself out and sought his bucket. Someone had thoughtfully replenished it. He drank avidly and made his way to the front of the house. He had some vague idea about sleeping in the hammock, but failed to retain it. Resting his head on the first step, he draped himself across the lawn and drifted off.
Mrs. Lamb was awakened the next morning by the maid announcing that a passer-by had stopped to inform her that there was a dead horse on the lawn.
"I hope to God he is," said Mrs. Lamb, as she pulled the covers more securely over her head. Her only regret was that the animal was not buried and well out of sight.
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