Selling the horse – a John Dunn story

John Dunn 2005by John Dunn

“Time to go,” George said. We got up to leave his office, and to walk  down a block and a half to the headquarters building. It was Monday  morning, and the regular staff meeting was to be held in the Director’s office at 9:30 a.m.

“You haven’t met the Doctor yet, have you?” George enquired as we stepped out on the street.

“Not yet, although I’ve heard of him,” I replied.

“You never know what he’s thinking,” George said. “I’ve known him for ten years, and there’s no way I can tell what’s on his mind. But I like him a lot for all that, and I’m sure you’ll like him too.”

We came to the intersection, waited for the light to change before we crossed, and then entered the headquarters building.

“Why do you refer to him as ‘The Doctor’?” I asked George, emphasizing the title.

“Well,” George began, “he used to be the principal of the Teachers’ College, and I think he got his PhD in Education somewhere along the line since the end of the war.”

“Anyway”, he laughed, “you can be sure of one thing: his title doesn’t represent excellence in the field of medicine or any of the practical sciences. Sometimes I wonder if he remembers to eat breakfast before coming to work.”

We took the elevator to the sixth floor, and walked along the corridor on the south side of the building until we came to the Doctor’s office. Dorothy, his secretary, greeted us with a warming smile, saying, “Go right in. You two are the first to arrive for the meeting.”

George knocked, and we entered. I was introduced to the Doctor, and then we sat down.

“If you’ll just excuse me for a moment, I’d like to finish this note before the meeting,” said the Doctor, and lowering his glasses from his forehead to the bridge of his nose, he continued his writing. He was a man of nearly fifty years of age, a former lieutenant-colonel, Director of Army Education. He was short in stature, with hair thinning on top, and a round face, almost baby like, with calm, deliberate, unruffled eyes. A thinker.

He stopped writing for a moment, pushed the glasses up on his forehead, and said: “George, you’d know all about these things, I’m sure.”

“What things?” said George, alert to uncertainty.

“How would you go about selling a horse?”

“Put an ad in the paper.”

The response came from George with the finality of his proven success in selling Packard limousines to retired, but wealthy ladies. In comparison to which, well, selling a horse was child’s play.

“Yes, I suppose that would be one way to do it.” The Doctor reflected for a moment as he absorbed the idea, and then, lowering the glasses, he returned to his writing.

In a few moments, the other members of the staff arrived and the meeting commenced. The Doctor sat there with folded hands, resting them on the glass-topped desk, a benign expression on his face registering approval of the strong participation of everyone in the discussion taking place. Occasionally, he would add some little thought, but for the most part, he just listened quietly. At 11:00 a.m., the meeting broke up, and the members dispersed to their offices. As we walked back along the corridor to the elevators, George’s curiosity leaped to the surface.

“I wonder what he meant by that?” he said.

“Meant by what?” I asked.

“About selling a horse,” George explained. “Surely anyone who wanted to sell a horse would know enough to put an ad in the paper”, he went on. “But, then, as I said when we were walking over for the meeting, you can’t ever tell what’s going on in his mind.”

“We work together as a team,” he explained. “He gets the ideas, and I put them into practice. But a horse…..” he chuckled.

“How would you go about selling a horse?” Another chuckle.

We arrived back at the office where George left me with this final thought. “I think I’d better find out if he really has a horse first, even though it’s none of my business.” And he laughed at the very thought of it.

The next morning at mid-morning break time, George was stirring the sugar in his coffee when he suddenly stopped and said: “Say, about that horse, do you know what?”

“No idea.” I said. “What?”

“He really does have a horse. And what’s more, he does intend to sell it.”

“Good grief, what would the Doctor want to keep a horse for?” I asked incredulously.

“You learn more about him every day,” George began. “He and his wife had no children, and yet both of them have enormously big hearts, big and bursting with kindness and thoughtfulness for other others, but especially for little children.”

“Four years ago,” he went on, “a neighbour of theirs, a squadron-leader in the Air Force crashed in a CF-100 and was killed. He left a widow and a little girl, who was then four years old. One day, about two months after this accident, the Doctor thought that every little girl should have a horse, and without a moment’s further thought, he simply went out and bought her a horse.”

“Once a month,” he continued, “the Doctor would take the little girl out to the private ranch where the horse was kept. But, unfortunately, she was simply terrified of the huge beast, and flat refused to go anywhere near the horse. The Doctor was prepared to wait a reasonable period of time to overcome this hardship, but, after four years, and still no signs of a change, the Doctor thought he might as well give it up. He had been paying for board and room for the horse for four years, and then he decided to sell the horse. That’s why he asked me the question.”

Two weeks later, we returned for the regular staff meeting. Dorothy again greeted us, and again invited us to go right in since we were first on the scene again. George’s curiosity was working.

“Dorothy,” he asked, “do you know if the Doctor put an ad in the paper about selling a horse?”

“Selling a horse?” and she laughed. “I thought I knew most of his business since he doesn’t dictate at all, but just opens the briefcase in the morning and hands me all his correspondence written out in longhand. But, I assure you, George, there’s been nothing in the correspondence lately about any horse.”

We knocked and entered. The Doctor pushed the glasses up to his forehead with the left hand, and said quietly:

“Morning, George.”

“Morning, John.”

Down came the glasses and he returned to his notes. The horse was bothering George. Curiosity would not let him remain silent.

“Did you sell the horse?” He dropped the question right there, plunk.

Up went the glasses.

“The horse.” The Doctor said it almost questioningly, as if reluctant to latch onto a strange notion. “Oh, yes. Well, George, I did as you suggested. Yes. I put an advertisement in the newspaper.”

Down came the glasses.

“Did you get any replies?” George persisted, but quietly.

“Yes, George. A man did phone one night,” the Doctor said, as if he found the recollection painful, and would like to forge the incident. His gaze returned to his notes but before he got started down with the glasses, George pushed in to press his advantage.

“What did the man say?” he asked.

The Doctor gazed far out the window into the distance, hesitated, returned his gaze, and focused on us.

“George, a man phone and asked me ‘Are you the gent that’s got the horse for sale?’ And I told him that I was indeed the owner of a horse which I wished to sell. He then asked me ‘How much you askin’ for it?’”

“George,” the Doctor pleaded, “the man asked me the price of the horse, and I really didn’t know how much my horse was worth. Still, the man wanted to know, he had asked me the question, and I had to tell him something. He paused, his gaze wondered again and slowly returned.

“Well, George, I thought for a moment, and then I told him ‘Two hundred and fifty dollars.’” A sigh escaped the Doctor.

“What did the guy say?” George demanded.

“I think, George, that I interrupted him at his prayers, for all he said was ‘Jesus Christ. ’”