RANTON HILLS, NOW an up-to-today city, coming to that point of motorizing all city apparatus, had just a last, solitary company of that class which an inhabitant frantically calls to a burning building—Company Four, in our big shopping district; all apparatus of which was still animal drawn; four big, husky chaps: two blacks and two roans. Any thought of backing in any sort of motor apparatus onto this floor, upon which this loyal four had, during many’ months, stood, champing at bits, pawing and whinnying to start out that big door, in daylight or night-gloom, calm or storm, — was mighty tough for old Dowd and Clancy. A man living day and night with such glorious, vivacious animals, grows to look upon such as almost human. Bright, brainy, sparkling colts can win a strong hold on a man, you know.
And now!! What form of disposal was awaiting “Big Four”, as Clancy and Dowd took a fond joy in dubbing this pair of blacks and two roans? Clancy and Dowd didn’t know anything but that a mass of cogs, piping, brass railings, an intricacy of knobs, buttons, spark-plugs, forward clutch and so forth was coming tomorrow.
“Aw!!” said Dowd, moaningly, “you know, Clancy, that good old light shifting about and that light ‘stomping’ in that row of stalls, at night; you know, old man, that happy crunching of corn; that occasional cough; that tail-swatting at a fly or crazy zigzagging moth; that grand animal odor from that back part of this floor.”
“I do,” said Clancy. “And now what? A loud whizz of a motor! A suffocating blast of gas! and a dorn thing a-standin’ on this floor, wid no brain; wid nothin’ lovin’ about it. Wid no soul.”
“Um-m-m,” said Dowd, “I dunno about an animal havin’ a soul, but it’s got a thing not so dom far fromit.”
As Clancy sat worrying about various forms of disposal for Big Four, an official phoning from City Hall, said just an ordinary, common word, which had Clancy bopping up and down, furiously mad.
“What’s all this? What’s all this?” Dowd sang out, coming from a stall, in which a good rubbing down of a shiny coat, and continuous loving pats had brought snuggling and nosing.
“Auction!!” said Clancy, wildly, and sitting down with a thud.
“Auction? Auction for Big Four? What?
Put up on a block as you would a Jap urn or a phony diamond ?”
“Uh-huh; that’s what City Hall says.
An awful calm slunk insidiously onto that big smooth floor, as Dowd and Clancy, chins on hands, sat,—just thinking! Finally Clancy burst out with:-
“Aw! If an alarm would only ring in, right now, to stop my brain from cracking! Auction! Bah!!”
* * * *
A big crowd stood in City Park, including His Honor, many a Councilman, and, naturally, Old Bill Simpkins, who was always bound to know what was going on. A loud, fast-talking man, on a high stand, was shouting:— “All right, you guys! How much? How much for this big black? A mountain of muscular ability! Young, kind, willing, smart! How much? How much?”
Bids abominably low at first, but slowly crawling up; crawling slowly, as a boa constrictor crawls up on its victim. But, without fail, as a bid was sung out from that surging, gawking, chin-lifting mob, a woman, way in back, would surpass it! And that woman hung on, as no boa constrictor could! Gadsby, way down in front, couldn’t fathom it, at all. Why should a woman want Big Four? A solitary animal, possibly, but four!So His Honor, turning and making his way toward that back row, ran smack into Nancy.
“Daddy! Lady Standish is outbidding all this crowd I”
“Oho! So that’s it !”
So Gadsby, pushing his way again through that jam, and coming to that most worthy woman, said:-
“By golly, Sally! It’s plain that you want Big Four.”
“John Gadsby, you ought to know that I do. Why! A man might buy that big pair of roans to hitch up to a plow! Or hook a big black onto an ash cart!”
“I know that, Sally, but that small back yard of yours is—”
“John!! Do your Municipal occupations knock all past days’ doings out of your skull? You know that I own a grand, big patch of land out in our suburbs, half as big as Branton Hills. So this Big Four will just run around, jump, roll, kick, and loaf until doomsday, if I can wallop this mob out of bidding.”
As Lady Standish was long known as standing first in valuation on Branton Hills’ tax list, nobody in that crowd was so foolish as to hang on, in a war of bidding, against that bankroll. So Gadsby shook hands, put an arm about Nancy, walking happily away, as a roar of plaudits shot out from that crowd, for that loud, fast-talking man was announcing:— “Sold! All four to Lady Standish!!”
As Gadsby and Nancy ran across Old Bill Simpkins, Gadsby said:—
“Bill, you know that grand old day.
Look! A building is burning! A patrolman has put in an alarm! And now look! Corning down Broadway! Two big blacks, and following on, two big roans! What grand, mighty animals! Nostrils dilating; big hoofs pounding; gigantic flanks bulging; mighty lungs snorting; monstrous backs straining; thick, full tails standing straight out. Coming, sir! Coming, sir!! Just as fast as brain and brawn can! And that gong-clanging, air-splitting, whistling, shining, sizzling, smoking four tons of apparatus roars past, grinding and hanging on Broadway’s paving! You saw all that, Bill.’’
“Uh-huh,” said Simpkins, “but a motor don’t hurt our paving so much.”
As Nancy took His Honor’s arm again, Gadsby said:— “Poor, cranky old Bill! Always running things down.’
But how about Clancy and Dowd? On moving out from that big park, that happy pair, if Knighthood was in bloom today, would bow low, and kiss fair Lady Standish’s hand.