The Story of Horace

"The Story of Horace" was written by Katherine E. Wheatley, a Professor of French at the University of Texas at Austin, specifically for the purposes of linguistic elicitation. In addition to using words that are subject to a variety of different pronunciations based on a speaker's dialect, the story includes several place-names specific to Texas which serve as key indicators of speakers' familiarity with the state. The story describes an ordinary man who, bored with his life, makes a hasty mistake but corrects it in the nick of time. Willard appears to have presented slightly different variations on the text to participants recorded at different times, and some participants ad lib throughout the story.

The Story of Horace

Horace was twenty years old. He had always longed for a college education. He did various chores around the farm, but he had plenty of leisure. He liked to read. His cousin, Walter Duncan, had given him some books. Walter was a student in the University of Texas. He was studying journalism. He intended to be a reporter on a newspaper. Horace didn't know much about literature, but he liked poetry. He enjoyed reading Milton out loud. He particularly liked Omar. He used to declaim verses like the following: "The bird of time has but a little way to flutter, and the bird is on the wing."

Horace was a lonely lad. His mother had died the year before. She had been a hard, nagging woman. Horace thought all women must be like that. Horace lived on a farm near Washington -- Washington, Texas, not the capital of the United States. This little town of Washington was near Dallas, but Horace scarcely ever went to Dallas. He hadn't been to the city more than once or twice in his life. It seemed very, very far away. The girls in Washington didn't pay much attention to Horace. They thought him peculiar. He never had any extra money. He never offered to buy them a hamburger and a beer.

Lillian was the prettiest girl Horace had ever met. He thought she looked like a Dresden doll. He had found that phrase in a book, and that was his idea of beauty. He and Walter were in Austin. They were walking along the drag. This girl was coming towards them. She seemed surprised and glad to see Walter.

"Hello, Walter," she said. "How are you?"

"Hello," said Walter. "I didn't know you were in school. I thought you were in Fort Worth."

"Oh, no, this is my third year."

"You like school, don't you?"

Before she could answer, Walter remembered Horace and introduced them. They went into a drugstore and had something to drink at the soda fountain. Lillian had orange juice, and Horace had a malted milk. Then they went driving in Walter's Ford. That was before he got his new Chevrolet. They turned off the cement highway into a side road to go by an interesting old church and cemetery, but they never saw the church. They got stuck in the mud. They had to wait for hours. Finally, some men came along with a horse and wagon and pulled them out. Lillian was awfully mad. She didn't care what she said. She fairly shouted.

"Here I am in the middle of nowhere, with a norther coming up and a fog rising. I've missed my train, too."

Walter offered to drive her to Mexia where she intended to spend the weekend.

"My God! You expect me to go 175 miles in that thing? You call that an automobile? I'm not going any farther than I have to in that wreck."

Walter drove her back to town. The parting certainly was cool. When Walter tried to start the car in front of Lillian's house, he found that the battery was dead. He had the car towed to a garage to have the battery recharged. He asked them to grease the car, too. The next time Horace saw Lillian, she pretended not to recognize him. When she saw him coming, she turned around and entered a bank. Horace thought this curious, but it didn't worry him, not much, anyway. He didn't intend to grovel. It made no material difference to him. He never saw her again.

Lillian was the only girl Horace had ever liked except Virginia. But that was long ago. He was only seventeen. Virginia was the daughter of an old friend of Horace's mother. Horace called her cousin Mary. Virginia's parents lived in Memphis, Tennessee. One year, Virginia visited Horace's family. She stayed from April 'til June. Then she went back home. Soon afterwards, she married a man from California.

Well, after Lillian snooted him, Horace went back to his reading. It was his duty to study. He was tired of living in a hovel. That's what they called their house. It wasn't a palace, but it wasn't a hovel, not by a long shot. But Horace was discouraged. He thought he had never had a chance. He wanted to take a correspondence course, but he couldn't afford the fee. It cost forty-four dollars. His father had just spent his last cent on lightning rods. Horace thought this was a stupid thing to do, particularly this year when everything had gone wrong. They had a big black land farm, but this year the crop was poor. There had been a bad drought, and part of the time there wasn't even enough water for the stock. The ponds and bogs had dried up.

Horace couldn't catch any more frogs. He liked frog legs. His father had said yesterday that they would be lucky if they didn't starve. Horace thought he'd rather starve than eat any more pork sausages and ham. He was tired of vegetables, too. They had cauliflower and cabbage and turnips and spinach in the garden. Horace didn't like spinach. They had onions and radishes and lettuce, too. Horace didn't like onions, either. He never ate any kind of salad. Sometimes they had cornbread and syrup for dessert. Horace's father called syrup molasses. Every once in a while he shot a squirrel or a dove, but usually he had to eat sausage or ham or souse. Sometimes they had eggs, but not often. They had lost a good many chickens. Hawks attacked them, and possums got into the chicken coops, to say nothing of hungry negroes with a hankering for chicken stew. Some of the cows were dry, and they didn't give much milk, and what they had wasn't very rich. It was true they had to stint themselves, but they had enough nourishing food to keep from starving.

But food isn't cash, and Horace wanted cash. He just couldn't resist temptation any longer, and what did he do but forge a check. Then he was horrified at what he had done. He had broken the law. He had always stood in awe of the law. This thought haunted him. He had cheated at cards once, and had never played cards since. He couldn't even go to a card party or a forty-two party, and now he was a forger, a criminal. It was horrible. He couldn't work at all. He kept saying to himself, "Lord, God almighty, this is the end. I can't go on. I can't!"

Horace was the sort of boy that took things to heart. He was always worrying about things, much less serious things than this. This was dead serious. He tried to think. The house was in an uproar. His little sisters were quarreling upstairs. He went into the kitchen and shut the door, but his brain wouldn't clear. He could hear his little brother shouting. They had caught a horned frog. The hired man had finished his lunch and was playing a merry tune on a mouth organ.

Horace decided to end it all. First, he thought of poison. He looked in the medicine cabinet, but the only thing there was laudanum. Horace didn't know whether that was poison or not. The bottle wasn't marked poison. Gas was his next thought, but gas has a terrible smell, especially natural gas. Then he considered hanging himself, but he couldn't find any cord. So he went to his father's room to look for a gun. He found an automatic in the bureau drawer. He put it in his pocket and went out to the backyard. He drew a bucket of water. If anybody saw him, they'd think he was going to water the horses.

He went to the barn, took hold of a beam, and hoisted himself into the hayloft. It was peaceful there. The hay smelled good. Horace could hear the hens clucking as they sunned themselves. Horace began to wonder if he hadn't just dreamed that he was a forger. No, he had done it, all right, and he must carry out his purpose. He put the automatic to his forehead. His finger was on the trigger. Then he had an idea. The postman had a rather long route, and he probably hadn't gotten to the post office yet with Horace's letter.

Horace jumped down from the loft, grabbed a bridle, and slipped it over the sorrel horse's head. He would have to hurry. He didn't bother about a saddle. He liked to ride bareback. He didn't like stirrups. He made good time to the post office and got there just before the postman came in. Horace asked for his letter and got it. The old sorrel trotted back to the farm. Horace hurried across the gallery and made for the living room fireplace. He squatted down and struck a match to the envelope. Soon it was reduced to ashes.

As he rose with a sigh of relief, he caught sight of his face in the mirror above the mantel. His hair was tousled and full of hay, and his forehead was streaked with soot. But he was the happiest boy in the world. He laughed and went to the kitchen to wash his face and hands. As he turned on the faucet, he began to hum the same merry tune that had got on his nerves less than an hour before. He rinsed out the dirty handkerchief and dried his hands with a dishtowel and went upstairs to read.

This is the end of the story of Horace, the homespun hero. What a man!

Available Files

Creators: Rudolph Willard, Carmelita Klipple

Interviewers: Rudolph Willard, Katherine E. Wheatley, Carmelita Klipple, Unknown

Speakers: Winston Adair, Jane Addison, J. C. Calhoun, L. Cruse, Dorothy Dowdy, Naomi Fay English, E. G. Fletcher, K. Ganz, Wilma Glenny, Frank Goodwin, Leighton "Harlan" Harrelan, Mr. Ives, Howard Johnson, Barbara Ketchum, Jack C. McGuire, Donalda McLean, Norman "Brownie" McNeil, Townsend Miller, Joe S. Moore, R. Moss, Ms. Neiser, George Rayburn, Pauline Serger, Billie Simmons, Marion S. Smith, Orissa Stevenson, Hal Tucker, Ms. Vaughan, Marilynn Wacker, Rudolph Willard, R. H. Worston, Jr., Nell Dean Wright, Unknown

Speaker: Winston Adair

TELL ID: 0326

Creator: Rudolph Willard

Interviewers Heard on Recording: None

Date: 1920-1948

Language: English

Dialectal Influences:

United States

Sex: Male

Age: Unknown

Race: Unknown

Education: Unknown

Occupations: Unknown

Original Recording Location: Box 7, Disc 12, Side 2

Additional Files with Duplicate Content: 0120. To hear this file, please contact TELL.

Speaker: Jane Addison

TELL ID: 0243, 0244

Creator: Rudolph Willard

Interviewers Heard on Recording: None

Date: August 7, 1941

Language: English

Dialectal Influences:

College Station, Brazos County, Texas

San Antonio, Bexar County, Texas

Sex: Female

Age: 17-19

Race: Unknown

Education: High school, College

Occupations: College student

Original Recording Location: Box 6, Disc 11

Additional Files with Duplicate Content: None

Speaker: J. C. Calhoun

TELL ID: 0269, 0524

Creator: Rudolph Willard

Interviewers Heard on Recording: None

Date: 1941

Language: English

Dialectal Influences:

Rusk, Cherokee County, Texas

Dawson, Navarro County, Texas

Corsicana, Navarro County, Texas

Sex: Male

Age: 56-57

Race: White

Education: Unknown

Occupations: Oilman; Mayor of Corsicana, Texas; Texas Democratic State Chair

Original Recording Location: Box 6, Disc 19, Side 2;

Box 9, Disc 31, Side 2, Track 7

Additional Files with Duplicate Content: None

Speaker: L. Cruse

TELL ID: 0005

Creator: Rudolph Willard

Interviewers Heard on Recording: None

Date: Unknown

Language: English

Dialectal Influences:

United States

Sex: Male

Age: Unknown

Race: Unknown

Education: Unknown

Occupations: Unknown

Original Recording Location: Box 1, Disc 3, Side 1

Additional Files with Duplicate Content: None

Speaker: Dorothy Dowdy

TELL ID: 0003

Creator: Rudolph Willard

Interviewers Heard on Recording: Rudolph Willard

Date: Unknown

Language: English

Dialectal Influences:

Louisiana

Sex: Female

Age: Unknown

Race: Unknown

Education: Unknown

Occupations: Unknown

Original Recording Location: Box 1, Disc 2, Side 1

Additional Files with Duplicate Content: None

Speaker: Naomi Fay English

TELL ID: 0169

Creator: Carmelita Klipple

Interviewers Heard on Recording: None

Date: 1940

Language: English

Dialectal Influences:

Spicewood, Burnet County, Texas

Sex: Female

Age: 13-14

Race: Unknown

Education: Unknown

Occupations: Unknown

Original Recording Location: Box 4, Disc 10

Additional Files with Duplicate Content: 0169 is a noise-reduced file. To hear the original, please contact TELL.

Speaker: E. G. Fletcher

TELL ID: 0049

Creator: Rudolph Willard

Interviewers Heard on Recording: None

Date: October 5, 1940

Language: English

Dialectal Influences:

United States

Sex: Male

Age: Unknown

Race: Unknown

Education: Unknown

Occupations: Unknown

Original Recording Location: Box 2, Disc 4, Side 1

Additional Files with Duplicate Content: None

Speaker: K. Ganz

TELL ID: 0075

Creator: Rudolph Willard

Interviewers Heard on Recording: None

Date: Unknown

Language: English

Dialectal Influences:

United States

Sex: Male

Age: Unknown

Race: Unknown

Education: Unknown

Occupations: Unknown

Original Recording Location: Box 2, Disc 14, Side 2, Track 3

Additional Files with Duplicate Content: None

Speaker: Wilma Glenny

TELL ID: 0006

Creator: Rudolph Willard

Interviewers Heard on Recording: None

Date: Unknown

Language: English

Dialectal Influences:

Iowa

Sex: Female

Age: Unknown

Race: Unknown

Education: Unknown

Occupations: Unknown

Original Recording Location: Box 1, Disc 3, Side 2

Additional Files with Duplicate Content: None

Speaker: Frank Goodwin

TELL ID: 0061

Creator: Rudolph Willard

Interviewers Heard on Recording: None

Date: November 11, 1941

Language: English

Dialectal Influences:

King County, Texas

Sex: Male

Age: Unknown

Race: Unknown

Education: Unknown

Occupations: Unknown

Original Recording Location: Box 2, Disc 10, Side 1

Additional Files with Duplicate Content: None

Speaker: Leighton "Harlan" Harrelan

TELL ID: 0063 [Story], 0064 [Biographical]

Creator: Rudolph Willard

Interviewers Heard on Recording: Rudolph Willard

Date: October 17 (1940 or later)

Language: English

Dialectal Influences:

Richmond, Virginia

Newport News, Virginia

Carson, Prince George County, Virginia

Dinwiddie County, Virginia

Salem, Roanoke County, Virginia

Farmville, Prince Edward or Cumberland County, Virginia

Madison County, Virginia

Bassett, Henry County, Virginia

Albemarle County, Virginia

Sex: Male

Age: Unknown

Race: Unknown

Education: Some schooling

Occupations: Unknown

Original Recording Location: Box 2, Disc 11, Side 1

Additional Files with Duplicate Content: None

Speaker: Mr. Ives

TELL ID: 0109

Creator: Rudolph Willard

Interviewers Heard on Recording: None

Date: October 15, 1940

Language: English

Dialectal Influences:

United States

Sex: Male

Age: Unknown

Race: Unknown

Education: Unknown

Occupations: Unknown

Original Recording Location: Box 3, Disc 2, Side 1

Additional Files with Duplicate Content: None

Speaker: Howard Johnson

TELL ID: 0051

Creator: Rudolph Willard

Interviewers Heard on Recording: Katherine E. Wheatley

Date: Unknown

Language: English

Dialectal Influences:

Nacogdoches, Nacogdoches County, Texas

Sex: Male

Age: Unknown

Race: White

Education: College

Occupations: College student

Original Recording Location: Box 2, Disc 5, Side 1

Additional Files with Duplicate Content: None

Speaker: Barbara Ketchum

TELL ID: 0102

Creator: Rudolph Willard

Interviewers Heard on Recording: None

Date: Unknown

Language: English

Dialectal Influences:

United States

Sex: Female

Age: Unknown

Race: Unknown

Education: Unknown

Occupations: Unknown

Original Recording Location: Box 2, Disc 21, Side 2

Additional Files with Duplicate Content: None

Speaker: Jack C. McGuire

TELL ID: 0150, 0121

Creator: Rudolph Willard

Interviewers Heard on Recording: None

Date: 1940

Language: English

Dialectal Influences:

Texas

Sex: Male

Age: Unknown

Race: Unknown

Education: Unknown

Occupations: Unknown

Original Recording Location: Box 4, Disc 5, Side 1;

Box 3, Disc 5, Side 1, Track 2

Additional Files with Duplicate Content: None

Speaker: Donalda McLean

TELL ID: 0065 [Story], 0066 [Biographical]

Creator: Rudolph Willard

Interviewers Heard on Recording: Katherine E. Wheatley, Rudolph Willard

Date: October 18 (1940 or later)

Language: English

Dialectal Influences:

Arran, Livingston No. 331, Saskatchewan, Canada

Saskatoon, Saskatoon County, Saskatchewan, Canada

Oak Park, Cook County, Illinois

Evanston, Cook County, Illinois

Wheaton, DuPage County, Illinois

Texas

Sex: Female

Age: Unknown

Race: Unknown

Education: High school

Occupations: Unknown

Original Recording Location: Box 2, Disc 11, Side 2

Additional Files with Duplicate Content: None

Speaker: Norman "Brownie" McNeil

TELL ID: 0324

Creator: Rudolph Willard

Interviewers Heard on Recording: None

Date: 1940

Language: English

Dialectal Influences:

San Antonio, Bexar County, Texas

Austin, Travis County, Texas

Sex: Male

Age: 24-25

Race: White

Education: College, Graduate school

Occupations: Graduate student; Folklorist

Original Recording Location: Box 7, Disc 11, Side 2

Additional Files with Duplicate Content: None

Speaker: Townsend Miller

TELL ID: 0122, 0525

Creator: Rudolph Willard

Interviewers Heard on Recording: None

Date: April 8, 1941

Language: English

Dialectal Influences:

Austin, Travis County, Texas

Sex: Male

Age: 22

Race: Unknown

Education: Unknown

Occupations: Writer

Original Recording Location: Box 3, Disc 5, Side 2;

Box 9, Disc 31, Side 2, Track 8

Additional Files with Duplicate Content: None

Speaker: Joe S. Moore

TELL ID: 0002

Creator: Rudolph Willard

Interviewers Heard on Recording: Rudolph Willard

Date: Unknown

Language: English

Dialectal Influences:

United States

Sex: Male

Age: Unknown

Race: Unknown

Education: Unknown

Occupations: Unknown

Original Recording Location: Box 1, Disc 1, Side 2

Additional Files with Duplicate Content: None

Speaker: R. Moss

TELL ID: 0072

Creator: Rudolph Willard

Interviewers Heard on Recording: None

Date: Unknown

Language: English

Dialectal Influences:

United States

Sex: Male

Age: Unknown

Race: Unknown

Education: Unknown

Occupations: Unknown

Original Recording Location: Box 2, Disc 14, Side 1

Additional Files with Duplicate Content: None

Speaker: Ms. Neiser

TELL ID: 0024, 0025

Creator: Rudolph Willard

Interviewers Heard on Recording: None

Date: Unknown

Language: English

Dialectal Influences:

Austin, Travis County, Texas

Sex: Female

Age: Unknown

Race: Unknown

Education: Unknown

Occupations: Unknown

Original Recording Location: Box 1, Disc 12, Side 1;

Box 1, Disc 12, Side 2, Track 1

Additional Files with Duplicate Content: None

Speaker: George Rayburn

TELL ID: 0305, 0264

Creator: Rudolph Willard

Interviewers Heard on Recording: None

Date: Unknown

Language: English

Dialectal Influences:

Corsicana, Navarro County, Texas

Sex: Male

Age: Unknown

Race: Unknown

Education: Unknown

Occupations: Unknown

Original Recording Location: Box 7, Disc 7, Side 2;

Box 6, Disc 17, Side 2, Track 2

Additional Files with Duplicate Content: None

Speaker: Pauline Serger

TELL ID: 0057

Creator: Rudolph Willard

Interviewers Heard on Recording: None

Date: October 1940

Language: English

Dialectal Influences:

Texas

Dane, Major County, Oklahoma

Sex: Female

Age: 17-18

Race: White

Education: Unknown

Occupations: Unknown

Original Recording Location: Box 2, Disc 8, Side 1

Additional Files with Duplicate Content: None

Speaker: Billie Simmons

TELL ID: 0484

Creator: Rudolph Willard

Interviewers Heard on Recording: None

Date: Unknown

Language: English

Dialectal Influences:

Mexia, Limestone County, Texas

Sex: Female

Age: Unknown

Race: Unknown

Education: Unknown

Occupations: Unknown

Original Recording Location: Box 9, Disc 20, Side 1

Additional Files with Duplicate Content: None

Speaker: Marion S. Smith

TELL ID: 0018

Creator: Rudolph Willard

Interviewers Heard on Recording: None

Date: Unknown

Language: English

Dialectal Influences:

United States

Sex: Male

Age: Unknown

Race: Unknown

Education: Unknown

Occupations: Unknown

Original Recording Location: Box 1, Disc 9, Side 2

Additional Files with Duplicate Content: None

Speaker: Orissa Stevenson

TELL ID: 0019

Creator: Rudolph Willard

Interviewers Heard on Recording: Katherine E. Wheatley

Date: Unknown

Language: English

Dialectal Influences:

Houston, Harris County, Texas

Sex: Female

Age: Unknown

Race: White

Education: Unknown

Occupations: Unknown (Wife of U.S. Representative Robert C. Eckhardt)

Original Recording Location: Box 1, Disc 9, Side 2

Additional Files with Duplicate Content: None

Speaker: Hal Tucker

TELL ID: 0448

Creator: Rudolph Willard

Interviewers Heard on Recording: Katherine E. Wheatley

Date: Unknown

Language: English

Dialectal Influences:

San Augustine, San Augustine County, Texas

Sex: Male

Age: Unknown

Race: Unknown

Education: Unknown

Occupations: Unknown

Original Recording Location: Box 9, Disc 13, Side 2

Additional Files with Duplicate Content: None

Speaker: Ms. Vaughan

TELL ID: 0059

Creator: Rudolph Willard

Interviewers Heard on Recording: None

Date: Unknown

Language: English

Dialectal Influences:

Houston, Harris County, Texas

Sex: Female

Age: Unknown

Race: Unknown

Education: Unknown

Occupations: Unknown

Original Recording Location: Box 2, Disc 2, Side 1;

Box 2, Disc 9, Side 1

Additional Files with Duplicate Content: 0045. To hear this file, please contact TELL.

Speaker: Marilynn Wacker

TELL ID: 0438, 0439

Creator: Rudolph Willard

Interviewers Heard on Recording: None

Date: Unknown

Language: English

Dialectal Influences:

San Antonio, Bexar County, Texas

Sex: Female

Age: Unknown

Race: Unknown

Education: Unknown

Occupations: Unknown

Original Recording Location: Box 9, Disc 10

Additional Files with Duplicate Content: None

Speaker: Rudolph Willard

TELL ID: 0054, 0055

Creator: Rudolph Willard

Interviewers Heard on Recording: Rudolph Willard

Date: November 12, 1940

Language: English

Dialectal Influences:

Sofia, Bulgaria

Oberlin, Lorain County, Ohio

Coldspring, San Jacinto County, Texas

New Haven, New Haven County, Connecticut

France

Wellesley, Norfolk County, Massachusetts

Austin, Travis County, Texas

Sex: Male

Age: 47

Race: White

Education: College, Graduate school

Occupations: Salesman; Teacher; Principal; Superintendent; Assistant Professor of English, Yale University; Visiting Professor of English, Wellesley College; Professor of English, University of Texas at Austin

Original Recording Location: Box 2, Disc 7, Side 1;

Box 2, Disc 7, Side 2, Track 1

Additional Files with Duplicate Content: None

Speaker: R. H. Worston, Jr.

TELL ID: 0047 [Story], 0048 [Biographical]

Creator: Rudolph Willard

Interviewers Heard on Recording: Unknown

Date: 1946 or later

Language: English

Dialectal Influences:

Charleston, Charleston County, South Carolina

Durham, Durham County, North Carolina

Austin, Travis County, Texas

Sex: Male

Age: Unknown

Race: White

Education: College

Occupations: Apprentice Shipfitter; U.S. Engineers Surveyor; Transportation Student

Original Recording Location: Box 2, Disc 3

Additional Files with Duplicate Content: None

Speaker: Nell Dean Wright

TELL ID: 0485

Creator: Rudolph Willard

Interviewers Heard on Recording: None

Date: Unknown

Language: English

Dialectal Influences:

Hubbard, Hill County, Texas

Sex: Female

Age: Unknown

Race: Unknown

Education: Unknown

Occupations: Unknown

Original Recording Location: Box 9, Disc 20, Side 2

Additional Files with Duplicate Content: None

Speaker: Unknown

TELL ID: 0060

Creator: Rudolph Willard

Interviewers Heard on Recording: None

Date: Unknown

Language: English

Dialectal Influences:

Fort Worth, Tarrant County, Texas

Menard, Menard County, Texas

Sex: Male

Age: Unknown

Race: Unknown

Education: Unknown

Occupations: Unknown

Original Recording Location: Box 2, Disc 2, Side 2;

Box 2, Disc 9, Side 2

Additional Files with Duplicate Content: 0046. To hear this file, please contact TELL.

Sources:


Klipple, C. (1945). The speech of Spicewood, Texas. American Speech, 20(3), 187-191. https://www.jstor.org/stable/486723
Image Credit: "Man with pack horse, Norway." Retrieved from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Man_with_pack-horse,_Norway.jpg