Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 27.djvu/116

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104
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

one another, with heads stretched forward, as if sniffing the air suspiciously in search of enemies. The horses would certainly excite unfavorable comment at Newmarket. Their "points" are undoubtedly coarse and clumsy: their heads are big, thick, stupid, and ungainly; their manes are bushy and ill-defined ; their legs are distinctly feeble and spindle-shaped ; their tails more closely resemble the tail of the domestic pig than that of the noble animal beloved with a love passing the love of women by the English aristocracy. Nevertheless, there is little (if any) reason to doubt that my very old master did, on the whole, accurately represent the ancestral steed of his own exceedingly remote period. There were once horses even as is the horse of the prehistoric Dordonian artist. Such clumsy, big-headed brutes, dun in hue and striped down the back like modern donkeys, did actually once roam over the low plains where Paris now stands, and browse off lush grass and tall water-plants around the quays of Bordeaux and Lyons. Not only do the bones of the contemporary horses, dug up in caves, prove this, but quite recently the Russian traveler Prjevalsky (whose name is so much easier to spell than to pronounce) has discovered a similar living horse, which drags on an obscure existence somewhere in the high table-lands of Central Asia. Prjevalsky's horse (you see, as I have only to write the word, without uttering it, I don't mind how often or how intrepidly I use it) is so singularly like the clumsy brutes that sat, or rather stood, for their portraits to my old master, that we can't do better than begin by describing him in propria persona.

The horse family of the present day is divided, like most other families, into two factions, which may be described for variety's sake as those of the true horses and the donkeys, these latter including also the zebras, quaggas, and various other unfamiliar creatures whose names, in very choice Latin, are only known to the more diligent visitors at the Sunday Zoo. Now everybody must have noticed that the chief broad distinction between these two great groups consists in the feathering of the tail. The domestic donkey, with his near congeners, the zebra and co., have smooth, short-haired tails, ending in a single bunch or fly-whisk of long hairs collected together in a tufted bundle at the extreme tip. The horse, on the other hand, besides having horny patches or callosities on both fore and hind legs, while the donkeys have them on the fore-legs only, has a hairy tail, in which the long hairs are almost equally distributed from top to bottom, thus giving it its peculiarly bushy and brushy appearance. But Prjevalsky's horse, as one would naturally expect from an early intermediate form, stands half-way in this respect between the two groups, and acts the thankless part of a family mediator ; for it has most of its long tail-hairs collected in a final flourish, like the donkey, but several of them spring from the middle distance, as in the genuine Arab, though never from the very top, thus showing an approach to the true horsey habit without actually attaining that final pinnacle of equine glory. So far as one