One of the animals wagged an ear and cleared his throat threateningly. Mules are capable of strong affections, but they hate snobs, are the enemies of caste, and this pair had always seemed to detect in Claude what his father used to call his "false pride." When he was a young lad they had been a source of humiliation to him, braying and balking in public places, trying to show off at the lumber yard or in front of the post office.
At the end manger Claude found old Molly, the grey mare with the stiff leg, who had grown a second hoof on her off forefoot, an achievement not many horses could boast of. He was sure she recognized him; she nosed his hand and arm and turned back her upper lip, showing her worn, yellow teeth.
"Mustn't do that, Molly," he said as he stroked her. "A dog can laugh, but it makes a horse look foolish. Seems to me Dan might curry you about once a week!" He took a comb from its niche behind a joist and gave her old coat a rubbing. Her white hair was flecked all over with little rust-coloured dashes, like India ink put on with a fine brush, and her mane and tail had turned a greenish yellow. She must be eighteen years old, Claude reckoned, as he polished off her round, heavy haunches. He and Ralph used to ride her over to the Yoeders' when they were barefoot youngsters, guiding her with a rope halter, and kicking at the leggy colt that was always running alongside.
When he entered the kitchen and asked Mahailey for warm water to wash his hands, she sniffed him disapprovingly.
"Why, Mr. Claude, you've been curryin' that old mare, and you've got white hairs all over your soldier-clothes. You're jist covered!"
If his uniform stirred feeling in people of sober judgment, over Mahailey it cast a spell. She was so dazzled by it that all the time Claude was at home she never once managed to examine it in detail. Before she got past his puttees, her powers of observation were befogged by excitement, and her wits began to jump about like monkeys in a cage. She had expected his uniform to be blue, like those she remembered, and when he walked into the kitchen last night she scarcely knew what to make of him. After Mrs. Wheeler explained to her that American soldiers didn't wear blue now, Mahailey repeated to herself that these brown clothes didn't show the dust, and that Claude would never look like the bedraggled men who used to stop to drink at her mother's spring.
"Them leather leggins is to keep the briars from scratchin' you, ain't they? I 'spect there's an awful lot of briars over there, like them long blackberry vines in the fields in Virginia. Your madder says the soldiers git lice now, like they done in our war. You jist carry a little bottle of coal-oil in your pocket an' rub it on your head at night. It keeps the nits from hatchin'."
Over the flour barrel in the corner Mahailey had tacked a Red Cross poster; a charcoal drawing of an old woman poking with a stick in a pile of plaster and twisted timbers that had once been her home. Claude went over to look at it while he dried his hands.