The following is an excerpt from A Horse’s Tale by Mark Twain, edited and with an introduction by Charles C. Bradshaw, afterward by Shelley Fisher Fishkin (Bison Books, 2020).
Three: General Alison to His Mother
I am glad to know that you are all well, in San Bernardino.
. . . That grandchild of yours has been here—well, I do not quite know how many days it is; nobody can keep account of days or anything else where she is! Mother, she did what the Indians were never able to do. She took the Fort—took it the first day! Took me, too; took the colonels, the captains, the women, the children, and the dumb brutes; took Buffalo Bill, and all his scouts; took the garrison—to the last man; and in forty-eight hours the Indian encampment was hers, illustrious old Thunder-Bird and all. Do I seem to have lost my solemnity, my gravity, my poise, my dignity? You would lose your own, in my circumstances. Mother, you never saw such a winning little devil. She is all energy, and spirit, and sunshine, and interest in everybody and everything, and pours out her prodigal love upon every creature that will take it, high or low, Christian or pagan, feathered or furred; and none has declined it to date, and none ever will, I think. But she has a temper, and sometimes it catches fire and flames up, and is likely to burn whatever is near it; but it is soon over, the passion goes as quickly as it comes. Of course she has an Indian name already; Indians always rechristen a stranger early. Thunder-Bird attended to her case. He gave her the Indian equivalent for firebug, or fire-fly. He said:
“’Times, ver’ quiet, ver’ soft, like summer night, but when she mad she blaze.”
Isn’t it good? Can’t you see the flare? She’s beautiful, mother, beautiful as a picture; and there is a touch of you in her face, and of her father—poor George! and in her unresting activities, and her fearless ways, and her sunbursts and cloudbursts, she is always bringing George back to me. These impulsive natures are dramatic. George was dramatic, so is this Lightning-Bug, so is Buffalo Bill. When Cathy first arrived—it was in the forenoon—Buffalo Bill was away, carrying orders to Major Fuller, at Five Forks, up in the Clayton Hills. At mid-afternoon I was at my desk, trying to work, and this sprite had been making it impossible for half an hour. At last I said:
“Oh, you bewitching little scamp, can’t you be quiet just a minute or two, and let your poor old uncle attend to a part of his duties?”
“I’ll try, uncle; I will, indeed,” she said.
“Well, then, that’s a good child—kiss me. Now, then, sit up in that chair, and set your eye on that clock. There—that’s right. If you stir—if you so much as wink—for four whole minutes, I’ll bite you!”
It was very sweet and humble and obedient she looked, sitting there, still as a mouse; I could hardly keep from setting her free and telling her to make as much racket as she wanted to. During as much as two minutes there was a most unnatural and heavenly quiet and repose, then Buffalo Bill came thundering up to the door in all his scout finery, flung himself out of the saddle, said to his horse, “Wait for me, Boy,” and stepped in, and stopped dead in his tracks—gazing at the child. She forgot orders, and was on the floor in a moment, saying:
“Oh, you are so beautiful! Do you like me?”
“No, I don’t, I love you!” and he gathered her up with a hug, and then set her on his shoulder—apparently nine feet from the floor.
She was at home. She played with his long hair, and admired his big hands and his clothes and his carbine, and asked question after question, as fast as he could answer, until I excused them both for half an hour, in order to have a chance to finish my work. Then I heard Cathy exclaiming over Soldier Boy; and he was worthy of her raptures, for he is a wonder of a horse, and has a reputation which is as shining as his own silken hide.