THE RACE AT LEFT BOWER
by Ambrose Bierce
"It's all very well fer you Britishers to go assin'
about the country tryin' to strike the trail o' the
mines you've salted down yer loose carpital in,"
said Colonel Jackhigh, setting his empty glass on
the counter and wiping his lips with his coat sleeve;
"but w'en it comes to hoss racin', w'y this pisen
little beast o' mine'll take the bit in her teeth
and show 'em the way to the horizon like she was
takin' her mornin' stroll and they was tryin' to
keep an eye on her to see she didn't do herself
an injury--that's w'at she would! And she haint
never run a race with anything spryer'n an Injun
in all her life; she's a green amatoor, she is!"
"Oh, very well," said the Englishman with a quiet
smile; "it is easy enough to settle the matter.
My animal is in tolerably good condition, and if
yours is in town we can have the race tomorrow
for any stake you like, up to a hundred dollars.
"That's jest the figger," said the colonel; "dot
it down, barkeep. But it's like slarterin' the
innocents," he added, half-remorsefully, as he
turned to leave; "it's bettin' on a dead sure
thing--that's what it is! If my cayuse knew wa't
I was about she'd go and break a laig to make the
race a fair one."
So it was arranged that the race was to come off
at three o'clock the next day, on the mesa, some
distance from town. As soon as the news got abroad,
the whole population of Left Bower and vicinity
knocked off work and assembled in the various bars
to discuss it. The Englishman and his horse were
general favorites, and aside from the unpopularity
of the colonel, nobody had ever seen his "cayuse."
Still the element of patriotism came in, making
the betting very nearly even.
A race-course was marked off on the mesa and at
the appointed hour every one was there except the
colonel. It was arranged that each man should ride
his own horse, and the Englishman, who had acquired
something of the free-and-easy bearing that
distinguishes the "mining sharp," was already atop
of his magnificent animal, with one leg thrown
carelessly across the pommel of his Mexican saddle,
as he puffed his cigar with calm confidence in the
result of the race. He was conscious, too, that he
possessed the secret sympathy of all, even of those
who had felt it their duty to bet against him. The
judge, watch in hand, was growing impatient, when
the colonel appeared about a half-mile away, and
bore down upon the crowd. Everyone was eager to
inspect his mount; and such a mount as it proved
to be was never before seen, even in Left Bower!
You have seen "perfect skeletons" of horses often
enough, no doubt, but this animal was not even a
perfect skeleton; there were bones missing here
and there which you would not have believed the
beast could have spared. "Little" the colonel had
called her! She was not an inch less than eighteen
hands high, and long out of all reasonable proportion.
She was so hollow in the back that she seemed to
have been bent in a machine. She had neither tail
nor mane, and her neck, as long as a man, stuck
straight up into the air, supporting a head without
ears. Her eyes had an expression in them of downright
insanity, and the muscles of her face were afflicted
with periodical convulsions that drew back the corners
of the mouth and wrinkled the upper lip so as to
produce a ghastly grin every two or three seconds.
In color she was "claybank," with great blotches of
white, as if she had been pelted with small bags of
flour. The crookedness of her legs was beyond all
comparison, and as to her gait it was that of a blind
camel walking diagonally across innumerable deep
ditches. Altogether she looked like the crude result
of Nature's first experiment in equifaction.
As this libel on all horses shambled up to the
starting post there was a general shout; the
sympathies of the crowd changed in the twinkling
of an eye! Everyone wanted to bet on her, and the
Englishman himself was only restrained from doing
so by a sense of honor. It was growing late,
however, and the judge insisted on starting them.
They got off very well together, and seeing the
mare was unconscionably slow the Englishman soon
pulled his animal in and permitted the ugly thing
to pass him, so as to enjoy a back view of her.
That sealed his fate. The course had been marked
off in a circle of two miles in circumference and
some twenty feet wide, the limits plainly defined
by little furrows. Before the animals had gone a
half mile both had been permitted to settle down
into a comfortable walk, in which they continued
three-fourths of the way around the ring. Then the
Englishman thought it time to whip up and canter
But he didn't. As he came up alongside the "Lightning
Express," as the crowd had begun to call her, that
creature turned her head diagonally backward and
let fall a smile. The encroaching beast stopped
as if he had been shot! His rider plied whip, and
forced him again forward upon the track of the
equine hag, but with the same result.
The Englishman was now alarmed; he struggled
manfully with rein and whip and shout, amidst
the tremendous cheering and inextinguishable
laughter of the crowd, to force his animal past,
now on this side, now on that, but it would not
do. Prompted by the fiend in the concavity of
her back, the unthinkable quadruped dropped her
grins right and left with such seasonable accuracy
that again and again the competing beast was
struck "all of a heap" just at the moment of
seeming success. And, finally, when by a tremendous
spurt his rider endeavored to thrust him by,
within half a dozen lengths of the winning post,
the incarnate nightmare turned squarely about
and fixed upon him a portentous stare--delivering
at the same time a grimace of such prodigious
ghastliness that the poor thoroughbred, with an
almost human scream of terror, wheeled about,
and tore away to the rear with the speed of the
wind, leaving the colonel an easy winner in
twenty minutes and ten seconds.
~~~~~~~ THE END ~~~~~~~