An early horse story: 1908
"It was early in the morning, and yet Trix had set out three other shrubs, superintended the planting of half a dozen trees, seen to the strawberry bed, overhauled the stable and dairy and written about 50 checks. The day was yet before her, she felt, and the day would be full..... Later there would be Tim and his spelling-lesson, her new habit-skirt, the colts, the farm, that man from Barboursville to see about the contract for timber in Hickroy Mountain, her runabout to varnish - above all, the sick mare to see after."
I have read very little other American literature of the same period with which to compare this, and I am busy resisting the temptation to start as it might be an idea if I finished off some of the many other articles I have in the pipeline, but I would be interested to know if such female phenomena are common. There is no doubt whatsoever about who is in charge of the estate: it's Trix, and thereby lies some of the problem.
The twin vehicles for the uneasiness about the colt are Trix's Mammy, Mammy Henny, and Sidney's nanny, Alison Stark, a Scot. Both these two talk at epic length in extraordinarily irritating dialogue meant to convey their accents:
" I 'clar' I dun'no' what you after, Mis' Stark," said Mammy Henny. "I ain done tuk away no wuds, nor put 'em in nuther."
"There's naebody sae blind as them what wunna see," said Alison, tersely; "but a' thae things ye black folk sing gar me scunner."
I find this sort of literary device quite spectacularly irritating. I know perfectly well that these two are going to have Southern and Scottish accents respectively, and I can usually fill that in for myself. When you have page after unending page of it, as much of the plot is driven forward by these two arguing, I began skipping it, only to find that in all the pages of verbiage were a couple of sentences I actually needed to have read to understand the plot. So girding my loins, I knuckled down and got on with reading it properly.
I would note in passing that Alison's attitude, as expressed in the quotation above, is roundly rebutted by Mammy Henny.
It turns out that Trix is pregnant (though she hasn't actually told anyone this). I did wonder if the way this is made very plain would have been strong meat for its time. Certainly even in Elsie J Oxenham's books about young women, published in Britain a decade of so later from Trix, one was unable to dance for a while, but that was the only clue readers had about pregnancy until the baby appeared some chapters later.
Both Mammy and Alison are full of disapproval and fear for Trix: she will, they think, be at the very least seriously injured by the colt if she rides him at a show, when the atmosphere will drive him to behave badly. Trix takes no notice, and lies to her husband when he extracts a promise from her not to ride at the local show. Eventually, Alison takes matters into her own hands. Convinced Trix will be killed by the colt, she befriends Over-the-Moon (having on him the sort of effect pony mad girls in coming decades would have longed for), but in the dead of night, she sneaks out and kills the colt by cutting his jugular, convinced this is the only way she can save Trix. She herself does not survive the killing long. She falls and spends a night outside; which carries her off in a long and rather satisfying deathbed scene where Mammy and Alison reveal the affection that has underlain their decades of battles, and Trix forgives her.
This is quite an extraordinary book: it went through many reprints so must have been very popular. The denoument took me by surprise: it actually seems quite a logical thing for Alison to do. Deathbed scenes involving horses never seem to have attracted quite the aversion that deathbed scenes involving humans do: people very rarely die in horse and pony books, but the poor equine hero does meet his end. From Ginger's pathetic hooves lolling over the edge of the cart as her corpse is taken away in Black Beauty, to Seaspray's awful struggles in the grips of Tetanus in Diana Pullein-Thompson's A Pony To School, horses die, but I can think of not a single one who is killed in order to save his mistress.
There is no authorial comment on the death, though Alison is smitten with horror at what she has done. Trix's behaviour though, is summed up thus:
"Trix shed the bitterest tears of her short, self-willed life next morning, sitting on the ground, regardless of the dreadful mess of blood, with the stark head of her favourite on her lap.
And she went through a very black and human phase of blind rage against Alison. Later on in the day, however... the sense of justice that was the backbone of her sturdy nature made her see things, differently , even touched her in an odd way."
With the exception of the Southern and Scottish dialogue, the book is well written, and is really, I suppose, a tragedy. It is a portrait of a very gifted and capable woman, who is too used to getting her own way to see that she is endangering far more than just herself, and in the end it leads to the death of her beloved horse.
If you can get hold of a copy - the book is not hard to get hold of - I'd recommend you read it. It is a fascinating example of an early horse story, and of the lengths to which humanity will go in defence of those it loves.