“Oh! And you choose that time for grazing?” said the young mule.
“That time or any other. Eating is always good. We eat till we are yoked up again and tug the gun back to where Two Tails is waiting for it. Sometimes there are big guns in the city that speak back, and some of us are killed, and then there is all the more grazing for those that are left. This is Fate. None the less, Two Tails is a great coward. That is the proper way to fight. We are brothers from Hapur. Our father was a sacred bull of Shiva. We have spoken.”
“Well, I’ve certainly learned something tonight,” said the troop-horse. “Do you gentlemen of the screw-gun battery feel inclined to eat when you are being fired at with big guns, and Two Tails is behind you?”
“About as much as we feel inclined to sit down and let men sprawl all over us, or run into people with knives. I never heard such stuff. A mountain ledge, a well-balanced load, a driver you can trust to let you pick your own way, and I’m your mule. But—the other things—no!” said Billy, with a stamp of his foot.
“Of course,” said the troop horse, “everyone is not made in the same way, and I can quite see that your family, on your father’s side, would fail to understand a great many things.”
“Never you mind my family on my father’s side,” said Billy angrily, for every mule hates to be reminded that his father was a donkey. “My father was a Southern gentleman, and he could pull down and bite and kick into rags every horse he came across. Remember that, you big brown Brumby!”
Brumby means wild horse without any breeding. Imagine the feelings of Sunol if a car-horse called her a “skate,” and you can imagine how the Australian horse felt. I saw the white of his eye glitter in the dark.
“See here, you son of an imported Malaga jackass,” he said between his teeth, “I’d have you know that I’m related on my mother’s side to Carbine, winner of the Melbourne Cup, and where I come from we aren’t accustomed to being ridden over roughshod by any parrot-mouthed, pig-headed mule in a pop-gun pea-shooter battery. Are you ready?”
“On your hind legs!” squealed Billy. They both reared up facing each other, and I was expecting a furious fight, when a gurgly, rumbly voice, called out of the darkness to the right—”Children, what are you fighting about there? Be quiet.”
Both beasts dropped down with a snort of disgust, for neither horse nor mule can bear to listen to an elephant’s voice.
“It’s Two Tails!” said the troop-horse. “I can’t stand him. A tail at each end isn’t fair!”
“My feelings exactly,” said Billy, crowding into the troop-horse for company. “We’re very alike in some things.”
“I suppose we’ve inherited them from our mothers,” said the troop horse. “It’s not worth quarreling about. Hi! Two Tails, are you tied up?”
“Yes,” said Two Tails, with a laugh all up his trunk. “I’m picketed for the night. I’ve heard what you fellows have been saying. But don’t be afraid. I’m not coming over.”
The bullocks and the camel said, half aloud, “Afraid of Two Tails—what nonsense!” And the bullocks went on, “We are sorry that you heard, but it is true. Two Tails, why are you afraid of the guns when they fire?”
“Well,” said Two Tails, rubbing one hind leg against the other, exactly like a little boy saying a poem, “I don’t quite know whether you’d understand.”
“We don’t, but we have to pull the guns,” said the bullocks.
“I know it, and I know you are a good deal braver than you think you are. But it’s different with me. My battery captain called me a Pachydermatous Anachronism the other day.”
“That’s another way of fighting, I suppose?” said Billy, who was recovering his spirits.
“You don’t know what that means, of course, but I do. It means betwixt and between, and that is just where I am. I can see inside my head what will happen when a shell bursts, and you bullocks can’t.”