Billy C. Clark, il. Harold Eldridge
1964, G.P. Putnam's Sons
I felt like bragging that mule against something - something like a tractor. Wasn't a fair brag; a tractor was a dead thing, mute as a handful of old clay. It took a key instead of a heart to make it move. You couldn't make it happy or you couldn't make it sad.
Isaac is 14 when he meets Kate, a small and elderly mule cast off from her former owner and living by her wits in the summer tangles of the Kentucky hills. Lonely and not looking forward to starting school in 'the city,' Isaac happily befriends the clever equine, and the two have a good time sneaking corn from a neighbor's fields, swimming and generally wandering the woods.
They have a little trouble with the neighbor, Simm Johns, who hates all mules and is particularly irked at one who's learned to steal corn and conceal her thefts. Isaac's father manages that crisis, and Kate is saved. Until autumn. Isaac goes off to the town school, followed by a lonely mule. The ruckus that ensues lands Kate in jail, and Isaac in the position of being her lawyer.
And then I felt the softness touch the back of my neck. I felt the old head go into my arms. It was Kate, looking at me like I had come at last to take her home to the hills. Like it had been a long wait.
This largely autobiographical story from a regional author is a pleasant read which goes on slightly too long, but which convincingly portrays a rural, early 20th century childhood. Isaac is a mostly appealing narrator, and Kate is a very appealing mule.
The Jesse Stuart Foundation, a regional press, has reprinted all Clark's books.
Born in Catlettsburg, Kentucky, he maintained a lifelong loyalty to his home state, becoming a strongly regional writer.
Harold Eldridge is a familiar name from early editions of the Black Stallion books. He seems to have illustrated several of Clark's books.
A Long Row To Hoe 1960
Song Of The River 1960
Champion of Sourwood Mountain 1966
Sourwood Tales 1968
By Way Of The Forked Stick
Miss America Kissed Caleb
The Trail Of The Hunter's Horn 1957
Mooneyed Hound 1958
Useless Dog 1961
Creeping From Winter
To Leave My Heart In Catlettsburg