"Black Beauty" is the autobiography of a horse. Written by Anna Sewell, it was published in 1877, had a big readership by man and beast, and didn't fool anybody. I tried to read it in my youth, but at the second spavin I shifted to more spicy stuff and began to study "Little Women." "Black Beauty" and "The Faerie Queen" are a couple of my blind spots.
I mention "Black Beauty" now because I got to thinking about Earl Buck. Nothing has ever made me think again about "The Faerie Queen." I was told one time that only two people are known to have read "The Faerie Queen," but I didn't hear why.
Mr. Buck was an elderly resident of the Down-East town where I was fetched up, and to all appearances might have been described by Thoreau as living in quiet desperation. He and Mrs. Buck lived at the end of Cushing Street, next beyond Will Fish, the undertaker, and I believe there were no children. I think I never saw her. She didn't socialize and probably never joined anything or met with other ladies.
Mr. Buck, however, was easy to meet and could be seen almost any time about the village watching somebody paint a shed or helping to get a cat down from a tree. He had been variously employed during his working days and retired from the job of gate tender for the Maine Central Railroad at the important Bow Street crossing.
He was an eager conversationalist and yarn spinner. He knew everybody, and everybody knew him, and I found him helpful as I gathered news items for the paper. As crossing tender, he was also in charge of hanging the daily postal pouch on the yardarm to be caught at 90 miles an hour by Train 8 just short of midnight.
Train 8 also hove an incoming pouch out the mail-car door just after catching the outgoing bag, and this one came to rest somewhere within four to six miles. Mr. Buck's search for it up and down the tracks gave me many items.
Mr. Buck was a good source. He had been a town constable in his time and a volunteer fireman, dog officer, truant officer, and sealer of weights and measures, hence a public official to be respected.
He was also the owner of a somewhat famous racehorse named Evelyn W. Evelyn W. was long since retired from the track, but as a trotter held something like l7 world records and was in the books.
Let me explain.
Our town had several sporty gentlemen who kept and raced trotting-hosses, and it was not something that didn't raise eyebrows from time to time.
These gentlemen retained trainers and handlers. They kept drivers, and spent much time at the fairs. Sometimes wagering sums of money was discussed. Mr. Buck was not one of these gentlemen.
Mr. Buck came to own Evelyn W. when she was too old to trot, and he knew nothing about the track. He had merely wanted always to have a pet horse, and he could own her for $10 because she was all done at the races.
I asked him one time if he knew the lady the horse would be named for, and he said, "No. Prolly no breakfast or no supper."
This means New Brunswick or Nova Scotia, after the initials on boat transoms, as many Maine racehorses were foaled in the maritime provinces of Canada. Mr. Buck didn't even have the papers of Evelyn W. She was all the same a pretty girl, her lines supporting her records.
Earl kept her groomed, and she lived like a queen. She followed Earl like a dog, even coming to the post office with him, and they took regular hikes up into the woods beyond Cushing Street.
Earl would carry sandwiches for himself and a nose bag of oats for Evelyn W. It was a rare companionship, and the whole town rejoiced to see such happiness as they shared.
I wouldn't want you to suppose Earl Buck was the only man in our town it was pleasant to know, and who contributed to my knowledge and understanding as I grew up. We had all manner of gentlemen who were worthy of attention and emulation, and I was a happy fledgling journalist as I dipped my bucket and relished their company and friendship.
We had the only pauper who left an estate, a man who'd known Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, a sea captain who knew Haitian patriot Toussaint L'Ouverture, a gentleman who swallowed frogs in the circus, and all manner of other people I may tell about any moment.
But Earl Buck was a special favorite of mine, and I'm glad he came to mind.
Every evening after supper, while Mrs. Buck gathered the supper dishes and washed them at the sink, Earl would pull on a pair of overalls and go to the barn to take care of Evelyn W. He would clean the stall, put enough hay in the manger to last the night, and put her ration of oats before her.
As she began on the oats, he'd brush her down, comb her mane and tail, and give her the usual sugar cube from the open palm of his hand.
Then he would push a stool into position, right in front of Evelyn W., and as she looked over his shoulder, he would read her a chapter from "Black Beauty."