“He Done It Arright!”
“He Done It Arright!”
A few decades ago, when the stock market was a bit more stable and our heavenly fathers at the Windham Foundation showered the Old Tavern with what now seem to be inconceivable luxuries, we kept an antique carriage collection, a pair of Belgian draft horses and a carriage master. Carriage rides leaving from the inn were available both mornings and afternoons and provided the public a unique and delightful way to see the town.
The elderly carriage master, a Mr. Reynes, was heir to the wisdom of generations of Vermont farmers, and while a bit bent with age, his calloused hands were strong and knowing. His quiet but certain manner was understood and respected by the great beasts that drew the carriage even as he, having worked with such animals all his life, understood and respected them.
Mr. Lord was the boss of Mr. Reynes, and Mr. Lord knew very little about horses and probably even less about Mr. Reynes, whose quiet nature he interpreted as a sign of stupidity. For this reason, his commands were issued with cold abruptness (rudeness, some might think) but were received without resentment by Mr. Reynes who immediately set about doing whatever had been demanded. It should be said that Mr. Lord did have some impressive talents which helped to balance his lesser side, and in this story, it was his skill in antique restoration that concerns us.
During one of our classic Vermont winters, while Mr. Reynes and his faithful team, day after day, pulled a sled full of cheery folk through the snow-covered fields of Grafton, Mr. Lord was working on a masterpiece. It was a magnificent antique carriage – a spacious four-seater with a fringed canopy. With painstaking care, Mr. Lord restored the venerable vehicle, taking until early spring to complete the work, and, once the end was in sight, invitations were sent to area dignitaries to celebrate the unveiling. The response was enthusiastic, and the event was scheduled for a Sunday afternoon in late May. Champagne and hors d’oeuvres were to be served.
As it happened, the day was perfect, and Mr. Reynes spent most of the morning grooming his Belgians and polishing the leather harness and brass hardware until nothing remained on which to improve. Even the horses hooves had been washed and shined. By 3 p.m., about 50 dignitaries, dressed in the height of summer fashion, had assembled by the entry way to the Windham Foundation offices. Corks popped. Waitstaff poured wine and passed trays of delicious nibbles. Mr. Lord was in his glory, describing in exact detail many of the most challenging aspects of the restoration, when down the street came Mr. Reynes and the carriage. He turned in the driveway, executed a semi-circle and backed up the carriage at a 45 degree angle to the assembly. The carriage itself had been draped in four white sheets which had been stitched together, and now fluttered tantalizingly in the breeze. Mr. Reynes climbed down and stood respectfully off to the side.
The then-president of the Windham Foundation gave a short speech describing the work of the organization and its desire to preserve a “country way of life” for the generations to come. In particular, he praised Mr. Lord for his expertise in the matter of carriages and horses. As the speech ended, Mr. Lord stepped up and pulled the drape off the carriage. The crowd drew an audible breath at the spectacle before them, and, as the applause swelled, the horses came to rigid attention. They shifted their hooves nervously and snorted once or twice, and no one seemed to notice as Mr. Reynes stepped up, stroked their necks and spoke to them soothingly. When the audience had quieted down, Mr. Lord suggested that some of the company might enjoy trying the carriage. At this point, a voice in the crowd (someone HAD been observing the horses) asked Mr. Lord if he was entirely confident in the two great beasts. “Oh, heavens, yes!”he answered, “They’re as docile as sheep.”
And with that, he reached into a trash container at hand, picked out a soda can and tossed it towards the horses. It bounced lightly off the haunch of one, causing both to give a nervous jerk. The harness jostled. At this point, so softly that hardly anyone could hear, Mr. Reynes spoke. “I wouldn’t do that if I was you, sir.”
Mr. Lord had been corrected by an underling!!!
Instantly, he was beside himself with rage, and, in a moment of irrational defiance, he plucked another can from the trash and sent it flying. This can did not have the thoughtful direction of the other, and with a resounding “boink,” struck one of the Belgians right on the head. Both horses reared up, jerking the halter from Mr. Reynes’ hand, and even before their front legs hit the ground, the carriage was in forward motion. As the frightened animals tore off, they jerked suddenly a few feet to the left, managing to situate between them one of the granite posts that lined the drive. That carriage might just have well been made of tissue paper. The sharp cracking of the front axle and the disemboweling of the carriage happened in a second. Wood went flying in all directions. The front wheels careened off and flopped over on the lawn, and the horses, left with only the shafts attached to them, continued running until they disappeared behind the Foundation barns. The company was frozen in place. Astonished, embarrassed and confused, they stared ahead, some at the wreckage, some at Mr. Lord who seemed totally immobilized by what he had done.
Suddenly, a male voice, affecting the earthy Vermont accent of Mr. Reynes, came from the hitherto silent guests.
“Well…..he done it, sir; he done it arright!”