Billy Could Ride


O THE way that Billy could ride!
You should hear Grandfather tell of the lad —
For Grandfather was a horseman too,
Though he couldn't ride now as he used to do,
It yet was his glory and boast and pride,
That he'd " back " Billy for all he had —
And that's a cool million, I'll say to you! —
And you should hear him, with all his praise
Of this boy Billy, and his wild ways; —
The way that he handled a horse, and the way
He rode in town on election day —
The way he bantered, and gaffed, and guyed,
And the ways he swapped, and the ways he lied,
And the way he'd laugh at his victims grim,
Till half of the time they would laugh with him,
Forgetting their anger, and pacified —
Seeing the way that Billy could ride!


Billy was born for a horse's back! —
That's what Grandfather used to say: —
He'd seen him in dresses, a-many a day,
On a two-year-old, in the old barnlot,
Prancing around, with the bridle slack,
And his two little sunburnt legs outshot
So straight from the saddle-seat you'd swear
A spirit-level had plumbed him there!
And all the neighbors that passed the place
Would just haul up in the road and stare
To see the little chap's father boost
The boy up there on his favorite roost,
To canter off, with a laughing face. —
Put him up there, he was satisfied —
And O the way that Billy could ride!


At celebration or barbecue —
And Billy, a boy of fifteen years —
Couldn't he cut his didoes there? —
What else would you expect him to,
On his little mettlesome chestnut mare,
With her slender neck, and her pointed ears,
And the four little devilish hooves of hers?
The " delegation " moved too slow
For the time that Billy wanted to go!
And to see him dashing out of the line
At the edge of the road and down the side
Of the long procession, all laws defied,
And the fife and drums, was a sight divine,
To the girls, in their white-and-spangled pride
Wearily waving their scarfs about
In the great " Big Wagon, " all gilt without
And jolt within, as they lumbered on
Into the town where Billy had gone
An hour ahead, like a knightly guide —
O but the way that Billy could ride!


" Billy can ride! Oh, Billy can ride!
But what on earth can he do beside? "
That's what the farmers used to say,
As time went by a year at a stride,
And Billy was twenty if he was a day!
And many a wise old father's foot
Was put right down where it should be put,
While many a dutiful daughter sighed
In vain for one more glorious ride
With the gallant Billy, who none the less
Smiled at the old man's selfishness
And kissed his daughter, and rode away, —
Till one especially rich old chap —
Noted for driving a famous bay —
Gave poor Billy so sharp a rap
Regarding HIS daughter, that Billy replied
By noising it over the country wide,
That the old curmudgeon was simply mad
Because he (Billy) undoubtedly had
A faster horse than the famous bay,
And that was all that he had to say! —
Touched his horse in the flank — and zipp! —
Talk about horses and horsemanship! —
Folks stared after him just wildeyed. . . .
Oomh! the way that Billy could ride!


Bang the cymbals! and thump the drum!
Stun the guineas! and pound the gong!
Mr. Bull, git up and come!
And beller and paw for five days long!
Whoop and howl till you drown the band
That hoots and toots in the " Judges' Stand! "
For this is the term of the county fair,
And you bet Billy will be there! —
And watch him there, old horsemen, all!
And judges, you, in your lifted stall!
And gamblers, you, as you clap and clack,
As the order is heard to clear the track!
And watch him, you, by the " Floral Hall; "
With sweet face, pink as the parasol
You wave as you stand on the buggy-seat! —
And you, young man, as you feel her hand
Tremble in yours, as there you stand!
And watch him, too, you old man gray,
With your houses, lands, and your wealth complete —
Not forgetting the famous bay
You ride with him in the race today! —
And lash, as you start there side by side!
Lash! for the sake of your bay defied!
Lash! for the proof of your boasted pride!
Lash! as you'd lash a cur that lied!
Lash! but watch him with both eyes wide —
For O the way that Billy can ride.


Side by side in the open track
The horses stood — such a glossy pair! —
Trim as sparrows about to fly —
Plumage of mane and song of eye!
Ho! They were beautiful! — bay and black —
The sunshine glittered along each back —
Glanced at the shoulders, and flickered and run
In dapples of light that would daze the sun! —
The veins of their limbs like tremulous vines
The breeze blows through, and the vibrant lines
Of their nostrils like to the lips of the cups
Of the gods, brimmed over with roseate sups —
From swish of tail to the toss of mane,
Pharaoh's favorites lived again! —
Lived, and served, and as nobly, too,
As they sprang to the race, and onward flew!
Ho! but the sight of them side by side! —
Their masters' faces seemed glorified
As they flashed from view — in an instant gone,
And you saw but their shoulders, as they rode on,
Narrowing — narrowing — less and less —
As you gazed after in breathlessness.


Shoulder to shoulder, and neck to neck —
And the hearts of the crowd spun round with them
As they dwindled away to the selfsame speck —
When sudden — a flash — like the flash of a gem
That had dropped in the dust, while onward came
But one wild rider, who homeward led,
So mad with delight that he shrieked his name —
And it was not " Billy " — but all the same,
Though far behind, he was far ahead! —
As the one rode in on " his famous bay, "
His gray hair streaming beneath his hat,
And the wind-blown, upturned brim of that
Flat on his forehead — was no acclaim, —
The crowd was looking the other way!
Where, far in the distance, and through the mist
Of the dust, you saw where a hand was kissed
As in hasty adieu — nor was that all,
But, fairly and clearly and sharply defined,
You saw the black horse, with Billy astride,
With a sweet little witch of a woman behind,
Gaily waving a pink parasol,
And the crowd answered roundly with cheer upon cheer,
As the horse lightly wheeled with their manifold weight,
And dashed from your gaze through the big lower gate,
While back down the track, midst a tumult of jeers,
Was seen to rack out, on a " winded " bay,
An aged parent — amazed — irate —
On a race that might not end for years. —
But end it did. . . . " " Who WON the race!" "
Grandfather paused, with a graver face, —
" Well, Billy won — but the reason why,
Was the bay was " blowed" — and so was I!

" Fizzles in everything else he's tried —
But O the way that Billy can ride! "
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