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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Louisa May Alcott (1832–1888)

Street Scenes in Washington

From “Hospital Sketches”

THE MULES were my especial delight; and an hour’s study of a constant succession of them introduced me to many of their characteristics; for six of these odd little beasts drew each army wagon and went hopping like frogs through the stream of mud that gently rolled along the street. The coquettish mule had small feet, a nicely trimmed tassel of a tail, perked-up ears, and seemed much given to little tosses of the head, affected skips and prances; and, if he wore the bells or were bedizened with a bit of finery, put on as many airs as any belle. The moral mule was a stout, hard-working creature, always tugging with all his might, often pulling away after the rest had stopped, laboring under the conscientious delusion that food for the entire army depended upon his private exertions. I respected this style of mule; and, had I possessed a juicy cabbage, would have pressed it upon him with thanks for his excellent example. The histrionic mule was a melodramatic quadruped, prone to startling humanity by erratic leaps and wild plunges, much shaking of his stubborn head, and lashing out of his vicious heels; now and then falling flat and apparently dying à la Forrest; a gasp—a squirm—a flop, and so on, till the street was well blocked up, the drivers all swearing like demons in bad hats, and the chief actor’s circulation decidedly quickened by every variety of kick, cuff, jerk, and haul. When the last breath seemed to have left his body, and “doctors were in vain,” a sudden resurrection took place; and if ever a mule laughed with scornful triumph, that was the beast, as he leisurely rose, gave a comfortable shake, and, calmly regarding the excited crowd, seemed to say—“A hit! a decided hit! for the stupidest of animals has bamboozled a dozen men. Now, then! what are you stopping the way for?” The pathetic mule was, perhaps, the most interesting of all; for, though he always seemed to be the smallest, thinnest, weakest of the six, the postilion with big boots, long-tailed coat and heavy whip was sure to bestride this one, who struggled feebly along, head down, coat muddy and rough, eye spiritless and sad, his very tail a mortified stump, and the whole beast a picture of meek misery, fit to touch a heart of stone. The jovial mule was a roly-poly, happy-go-lucky little piece of horseflesh, taking everything easily, from cudgeling to caressing; strolling along with a roguish twinkle of the eye, and, if the thing were possible, would have had his hands in his pockets and whistled as he went. If there ever chanced to be an apple-core, a stray turnip, or wisp of hay in the gutter, this Mark Tapley was sure to find it, and none of his mates seemed to begrudge him his bite. I suspected this fellow was the peacemaker, confidant, and friend of all the others, for he had a sort of “Cheer-up-old-boy-I’ll-pull-you-through” look which was exceedingly engaging.

Pigs also possessed attractions for me, never having had an opportunity of observing their graces of mind and manner till I came to Washington, whose porcine citizens appeared to enjoy a larger liberty than many of its human ones. Stout, sedate-looking pigs hurried by each morning to their places of business, with a preoccupied air, and sonorous greeting to their friends. Genteel pigs, with an extra curl to their tails, promenaded in pairs, lunching here and there, like gentlemen of leisure. Rowdy pigs pushed the passer-by off the sidewalk; tipsy pigs hiccoughed their version of “We won’t go home till morning” from the gutter; and delicate young pigs tripped daintily through the mud as if they plumed themselves upon their ankles, and kept themselves particularly neat in point of stockings. Maternal pigs, with their interesting families, strolled by in the sun; and often the pink, babylike squealers lay down for a nap, with a trust in Providence worthy of human imitation