Old Ned

by Timothy Shay Arthur

Not many years ago, Farmer Jones had an old horse named "Ned," who appeared to have almost as much sense as some people. Ned was a favorite with his master, who petted him as if he were a child instead of a animal. The horse seemed to understand every word that the farmer said to him, and would obey him quite as readily and with as much intelligence as Rover, the house dog. If his master came into the field where he was grazing, Ned would come galloping up to meet him, and then caper around as playfully, though not, it must be owned, as gracefully, as a kitten.

Farmer Jones, on these occasions, generally had an ear or two of corn in his pocket; and Ned, after sweeping around his master two or three times, would stop short and come sideling up, yet with a knowing twinkle in his eye, and commence a search for the little tidbit that he had good reason for knowing, lay snugly stored away in the pocket.

If anyone besides his master went into the field and tried to catch Ned, he was sure to have a troublesome time of it; and if he succeeded in his object before circling the field a dozen times in pursuit of the horse, he might think himself lucky. But a word or a motion of the hand from Farmer Jones was all-sufficient. Ned would become, instantly, as docile as a child, trot up to his side, and stand perfectly still to receive the saddle and bridle.

When Farmer Jones was on the back of Ned, or sitting behind him in the old carriage, no horse could be more steady in his gait, or more orderly in all his movements. But it wasn't safe for anyone else to try the experiment of riding or driving him. If he escaped without a broken neck he might think himself exceedingly fortunate; for the moment anyone but his master attempted to govern his actions in any way, he became possessed with a spirit which was sometimes more than mischievous. He would kick up, bite, wheel suddenly around, rear up on his hind feet, and do almost everything except go ahead in an orderly way, as a respectable horse ought to have done.

Ned was too great a favorite with his master, for the latter to think of trying very hard to correct him of these bad practices. He would talk to him, sometimes, about the folly of an old horse like him prancing about, and cutting up as many antics as a young colt; but his words, it was clear, went into one of Ned's ears and out of the other, as people say for Ned did not in the least mend his manners, although he would nod his head in a knowing and obedient way, while his master was talking to him.

Ned spent at least two thirds of his time, from the period when the grass sprung up, tender and green, until it became pale and crisp with frost in a three-acre field belonging to his master, where he ate, walked about, rolled himself on the soft sward, or slept away the hours, as happy as a horse could be. Across one corner of this field, a little boy and his sister used every day to go to school. The little boy was a namesake of the horse; but he was usually called Neddy. One day Neddy felt rather mischievous, as little boys will feel sometimes. He had a long willow switch in his hand, and was whipping away at everything that came within his reach. He frightened a brood of chickens, and laughed merrily to see them scamper in every direction; he made an old hog grunt, and a little pig squeal, and was even so thoughtless as to strike a little lamb with his slender switch, that lay close beside its mother on the soft grass.

"Don't, don't, Neddy!" Jane, his sister, would say.

But the little fellow gave no heed to her words. At last, in crossing the field, they came to where the old horse lay under the shade of a great walnut tree. The temptation to let him have a taste of the switch, was too strong for Neddy to resist; so he passed up close to the horse, and gave him a sharp whip across the shoulders.

Now that was an indignity to which the old fellow was not prepared to submit. Why, it was at least ten years since the stroke of a whip had been felt upon his glossy skin. Whip and spur, were of the times long since gone by. Springing up as quickly as if he were only a colt, instead of an old horse, Ned elevated his mane, and swept angrily around the now frightened lad, neighing fiercely, and striking out into the air with his heels at a furious rate. Jane and Neddy ran, but the horse kept up, and by his acts threatening every moment to kill them. But, angry as the old fellow was, he did not really intend to harm the children, who at length reached the fence toward which they were flying. Jane got safely over, but just as Neddy was creeping through the bars, the horse caught hold of his loose coat, with his teeth, and pulled him back into the field, where he turned him over and over on the grass with his nose, for half a dozen times, but without harming him in the least and then let him go, and went trotting back to the cool, shady place under the old walnut tree, from which the switch of the thoughtless boy had aroused him.

Neddy, you may be sure, was dreadfully frightened, and went home crying. On the next day, when they came to the field in which Ned lived at his ease and enjoyed himself, the old horse was grazing in a far-off corner, and the children thought they might safely venture to cross over. But they had only gained half the distance, when Ned espied them, and, with a loud neigh, gave chase at full gallop. The children ran, in great alarm, for the fence, and got through, safely, before the horse came up.

After this, whenever they ventured to cross the field, Ned would interfere. Once he got Neddy's hat in his mouth, and ran off with it. But he didn't harm it any, and after keeping the children waiting at the fence for about half an hour, came and threw it over; after which he kicked up both his heels in a defiant manner, and giving a "horse laugh," scampered away as if a locomotive were after him.

At last, Neddy's father complained to Farmer Jones of the way in which his old horse was annoying the children, who had to pass through the field, as they went to school, or else be compelled to go a long distance out of their way. The farmer inquired the cause of Ned's strange conduct, and learned that the little boy whipped him across the shoulders with a willow switch.

"Ho! ho!" said he, "that's the trouble, is it? Ned won't bear a stroke from anyone! But I will make up the matter between him and the children. So let them stop here on their way from school this evening."

The children stopped accordingly. Ned was standing in the barnyard, the very picture of innocence. But when he saw little Neddy and his sister, he pricked up his ears, shook his head, and neighed loudly.

"Come, come, old boy!" said the farmer, "we've had enough of that. You must learn to forgive and forget. The little fellow was only playing with you."

Ned appeared to understand his master, for he looked a little ashamed of himself, and let his pointed ears fall back again to their old places.

"Now, my little fellows," said Farmer Jones, "take up a handful of that sweet new hay, and call him to the bars."

"I'm afraid," returned Neddy. "He'll bite me."

"Not he. Why the old horse wouldn't harm a hair of your head. He was only trying to frighten you as a punishment for the stroke you gave him. Come. Now's your time to make friends."

Neddy, thus encouraged, gathered a handful of the sweet new hay that was scattered around, and going up to the fence, held it out and called to the horse

"Here! Ned, Ned, Ned!"

The horse shook his head, and stood still.

"Come along, you old horse!" said Farmer Jones, in a voice of reproof. "Don't you see the lad's sorry for the whipping he gave you? Now walk up to the bars, and forgive the little fellow, as a sensible horse ought to do."

Ned no longer hesitated, but went up to the bars, where Neddy, half trembling, awaited him, and took the sweet morsel of hay from the child's hand. Jane, encouraged by this, put her hand on the animal's neck, and stroked his long head gently with her hand, while Neddy gathered handful after handful of hay, and stood close by the mouth of the old horse, as he ate it with the air of one who enjoyed himself.

After that, the children could cross the field again as freely as before, and if Ned noticed them at all, it was in a manner so good-natured, as not to cause them the slightest uneasiness.