My Friend Prince (part 3)

["My Friend Prince" was written by Sibyl (Croly)(Hanchett) Schneller, sometime after 1940.]

The two cows had the run of the place except at grape-picking and raisin-drying time. Cows will usually come in to be milked at night, but not always when the milker is ready for them. It was Prince’s job to get in the cows. One evening the place was under a blanket of tule fog. It was impossible to see ten feet. My father told Prince to go and get the cows. He stood in the middle of the yard, one paw off the ground ready to go, and both ears sharply cocked. The cows might be anywhere in eighty acres. He waited several minutes. Then from a great distance there came one little plink of a bell. He was off like a shot and brought the two cows in through all that murk. You see why a ranch has to have a dog.

Those tule fogs! Once a tramp came to the door out of the fog. My father did not approve of feeding tramps, and he would never allow one to sleep in the barn, as they sometimes asked to do, for fear of fire. But in this dismal weather my mother could not turn the man away hungry, for the fog was not only dark but bone-chilling. So she gave him something to eat and he went away. My sister went to the piano and played a tune of Mendelssohn’s and sang it, “Lonely and footsore and far from his home, Laden with sins unforgiven,” and I cried. In about half an hour the man came again. He had forgotten that he had been there, had sat down to rest and had lost his direction and reversed his route. I do not know what they told him. My memory of the whole thing stops at that point. It was so sad.

Do they still have tramps in the country places? Or has skid row absorbed them all? My father had a horror of them, and I know now that he never had an easy moment when I had to walk the two miles to school, most of the way alone. His fears seemed absurd to me then. Didn’t he know that God was taking care of me?

My sister? And I said I was an only child. My mother had a daughter and my father a son by previous marriages. Both of them were twenty-one years older than I, which really made me an only child. They both lived away from us, but my sister came home to visit occasionally. Once she brought us a beautiful white cat. We had to think hard for a name worthy of him. We had exhausted the Jungle Book, but my mother found a name in “Undine”. Undine had an uncle named Kuhleborn, who was a white water spirit. And as the cat had flooded my sister’s lap on the train, causing the red plush of the seat to stain the back of her tweed skirt in a way that must have been very embarrassing, the name seemed applicable.

Kuhleborn was really the best cat we ever had, though I loved all the others just as much. He was clever, too. He discovered that he had no chance at all of catching a bird out in the open, but if he camoflaged himself in the midst of a flock of white chickens when the birds came down to share their food it was very easy.

We were keeping white Plymouth Rocks then. Before that we had Black Minorcas. One of the black hens hatched a brood of chicks of which two turned out to be white. She would have nothing to do with them and picked at them until she was about to kill them. My sister dyed the tops of their heads and their backs with black dye and by the time it wore off their mother had forgotten that she had ever discriminated against them.

Kuhleborn lived with us, loved and pampered, until my sister’s baby came. Then he disappeared and we never saw him again. Many a baby has cost the family a good cat.

Prince was expert at rounding up cows, but I had two animals that resisted him. One was a lamb my father bought for me. The sheep men used to drive their flocks up into the hills to feed when the valley began to dry up. Sometimes a flock passed our place. Half a mile away we could hear the baaing and see the cloud of dust they raised. The herders stopped for water, and left us this weakling lamb which they feared would not survive the trek. He did not remain a weakling or a lamb very long, and I have no recollection of any such sentimental attachment as Mary’s. I do remember being unmercifully butted. While he was little he had the run of the house. An old Irish lady who was our nearest neighbor, on hearing of this, said, “But — doesn’t he leave — coffee?” Sure he left coffee. But that you can sweep out. Not like chickens…

The other animal that Prince could not drive was my pony, named Owney. In summer she was turned out to pasture. If I wanted to ride her I had to walk a hot quarter mile and catch her. I took along a pan of barley to shake at her. Sometimes she would come for it and sometimes she wouldn’t, but never if Prince was with me. Shaking the barley and with one hand concealing a rope behind me I would sneak up on her and if all went well, get the halter on while she was eating. Then I had to lead her home and saddle her with a punch in the ribs to make her let out her breath while I fastened the girth, because a loose girth might let the saddle turn over with me. It was a big heavy side-saddle, probably the last one any girl ever used, because my mother thought it unladylike to ride astride. At first she made me wear a long skirt to ride, but I got out of that soon.

My mother really was a lady, and she tried to make me one. For one thing she hated to have me go barefoot. Most of the children did, in summer, especially the boys, whom I admired most. Some of them had leather soles growing on them. Nice little girls wore long black lisle stockings and high laced or buttoned shoes. I wore my first oxfords when I was fourteen, and my first light colored stockings when I was over thirty.

Owney had never been really broken to ride. For a while she had been with a circus, then she had a milk-route, so she had a number of funny little tricks. So did I, now that I think of it. We taught each other quite a bit. I learned that I could not get her out of sight of home unless she wore a jointed bit. A horse can bite down on a straight bit and do anything he pleases. So Owney would cheerfully go around two sides of the place and then refuse to go any farther unless she was wearing a jointed bit, which enabled me to give her a little punishment. There is a more cruel bit called a curb bit, but my father would not have one around. Owney was an ornery little cayuse until she had a serious illness, from being allowed to fill up on cold water when she was hot and sweaty. My mother nursed her through it and she was afterward as gentle as a lamb — more gentle than any lamb I have personally known.

The story of Prince is also a story of the horses, which he owned jointly with my father. There was Dottie, a “bay mair,” my mother’s driving horse; Old Tom, the patriarch plow horse; Jud, the moron; two Percherons for heavy hauling whose names I have strangely forgotten; and little Dave, Aunt Bertha’s riding horse, who was sent to us from time to time to recuperate from the Sacramento cobblestone pavements. There is a story about every one of these.

We left the ranch when I was fifteen and moved to San Jose. The only animal that accompanied us was Prince. He was old and deaf and unused to towns and one day I came home from school to learn that he had been killed by a street-car.

If I had the ordering of things I would provide a dog and cat heaven, where persons like Price and Kuhleborn and Bagheera and Barney and Petie would wait happily to welcome us.

The entire contents of “My Friend Prince” can be seen in these posts:

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