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A Plague Of All Cowards
by [?]

There are persons who, when in your company on a country walk, will steal apples, not with a decent caution from a tree along the fence, but far afield. If there are grapes, they will not wait for a turn of the road, but will pluck them in the open. Or maybe in your wandering you come on a half-built house. You climb in through a window to look about. Here the stairs will go. The ice-box will be set against this wall. But if your companion is one of valor’s minions, he will not be satisfied with this safe and agreeable research–this mild speculation on bath-rooms–this innocent placing of a stove. He must go aloft. He has seen a ladder and yearns to climb it. The footing on the second story is bad enough. If you fall between the joists, you will clatter to the basement. It is hard to realize that such an open breezy place will ever be cosy and warm with fires, and that sleepy folk will here lie snugly a-bed on frosty mornings. But still the brazen fellow is not content. A ladder leads horribly to the roof. For myself I will climb until the tip of my nose juts out upon the world–until it sprouts forth to the air from the topmost timbers: But I will go no farther. But if your companion sees a scaffold around a chimney, he must perch on it. For him, a dizzy plank is a pleasant belvedere from which to view the world.

The bravery of this kind of person is not confined to these few matters. If you happen to go driving with him, he will–if the horse is of the kind that distends his nostrils–on a sudden toss you the reins and leave you to guard him while he dispatches an errand. If it were a motor car there would be a brake to hold it. If it were a boat, you might throw out an anchor. A butcher’s cart would have a metal drag. But here you sit defenseless–tied to the whim of a horse–greased for a runaway. The beast Dobbin turns his head and holds you with his hard eye. There is a convulsive movement along his back, a preface, it may be, to a sudden seizure. A real friend would have loosed the straps that run along the horse’s flanks. Then, if any deviltry take him, he might go off alone and have it out.

I have in mind a livery stable in Kalamazoo. Myself and another man of equal equestrianism were sent once to bring out a thing called a surrey and a pair of horses. Do you happen to be acquainted with Blat’s Horse Food? If your way lies among the smaller towns, you must know its merits. They are proclaimed along the fences and up the telegraph poles. Drinking-troughs speak its virtues. Horses thrive on Blat’s Food. They neigh for it. A flashing lithograph is set by way of testament wherever traffic turns or lingers. Do you not recall the picture? A great red horse rears himself on his hind legs. His forward hoofs are extended. He is about to trample someone under foot. His nostrils are wide. He is unduly excited. It cannot be food, it must be drink that stirs him. He is a fearful spectacle.

There was such a picture on the wall of the stable.

“Have you any horses,” I asked nervously, jerking my thumb toward the wall, “any horses that have been fed on just ordinary food? Some that are a little tired?”

For I remembered how Mr. Winkle once engaged horses to take the Pickwickians out to Manor Farm and what mishaps befell them on the way.

“‘He don’t shy, does he?’ inquired Mr. Pickwick.

“‘Shy, sir?–He wouldn’t shy if he was to meet a vagginload of monkeys with their tails burnt off.'”

But how Mr. Pickwick dropped his whip, how Mr. Winkle got off his tall horse to pick it up, how he tried in vain to remount while his horse went round and round, how they were all spilt out upon the bridge and how finally they walked to Manor Farm–these things are known to everybody with an inch of reading.