We boys used to stand outside the church and do as our elders did— size up the people that arrived after us. We judged by appearances, and they all knew it. The cripple made himself look smaller than ever so as to hide in the crowd; the dandies ran the gauntlet of both friendly and unfriendly eyes, and pretty women looked down and smiled. We youngsters searched the gathering throng for someone to admire, some heroic figure we should like to resemble when we ourselves one day should be grown up.
There was the new teacher, for instance, stalking along in his homespun with his coat buttoned tight, with a white necktie, top hat, and umbrella. He was at least one stage above the farmer. Not a doubt about it, we too were going to attend the normal school. §0 we thought, at any rate, until a butcher came up from the city, wearing a suit of blue duffle, a white waistcoat with a gold watch-chain, cuffs, a dazzling white collar, and a straw hat. He was a perfect revelation. With such an exemplar before us it was easy to decide that we were to become butcher’s apprentices as soon as we were old enough.
Many were the magnates that paraded through our day dreams. Still it was with no ordinary emotion that we laid eyes for the first time on a city lawyer. His was a truly royal presence. Even his nose had its appropriate ornament, a pair of gold eye-glasses. Our ambitions soared beyond all bounds. Whatever our hopes of higher education might be, most of us were bent on carrying our studies far enough to impair our vision and so to justify the use of gold-rimmed glasses.
Then came Skobelef. And Skobelef was a horse.
For weeks busy little feet had been bringing the tidings to all corners of the parish. Peter Lo had bought a registered stallion that was not simply a horse but a whole Arabian Nights’ entertainment. It took six men to lead him ashore from the steamer. Only one man could have turned the trick alone, and that was Peter Lo himself. For the most part the horse walked on his hind legs. He kept whinnying even in his sleep. He was so fierce that he had already killed a number of men. His name was Skobelef. And what do you suppose they fed him? It was neither hay nor oats nor bran; not much! Skobelef’s fodder was nothing less than eggnog, made with whiskey, at that. It was common talk that Peter Lo and the stallion munched this provender together out of the same crib. They required stimulants, the two of them.
To return to that particular Sunday—we were standing at the church keeping an impatient lookout across the parish. Peter Lo was bound for the house of worship, driving none other than Skobelef himself.