J. Thorne Smith (1892-1934) was the author of “Topper / The Jovial Ghosts,” “Topper Takes a Trip,” “The Night Life of the Gods,” “Turnabout,” “The Glorious Pool,” etc.
“The Stray Lamb” was published in 1929.
Public Domain in countries where copyright is Life+70.
Mild-mannered investment banker, cuckold, and dipsomaniac T. Lawrence Lamb gains perspective on the human condition during a series of mysterious transformations into various animal forms. Lamb, his daughter Hebe, her boyfriend Melville Long, and Hebe's friend Sandra Rush (a twentyish lingerie model who becomes Lamb's love interest) pursue many adventures, most of which fall well outside the perimeter of law and order. Lamb has, like many Thorne Smith heroes, a shrewish (and in this case adulterous) wife who at one point tries to murder him (at the time he's a goldfish). As in many Thorne Smith novels, a courtroom scene involving the protagonists and an exasperated judge provides a climax to the characteristically tipsy action.
Mr. and Mrs. Lamb occupied adjoining rooms, though the advantage therein had for some time ceased to exist. It was through her mother’s room that Hebe gained access to her father’s.
This morning, as usual, she appeared in a flaming dressing-gown and softly opened her father’s door. Sapho was still asleep, her temperament entirely abandoned. The girl looked into her father’s room gloatingly. She was going to disturb someone. Then gradually her expression changed. She cocked her head on one side like a puzzled dog and continued to look, her eyes growing rounder and rounder. At last she turned quietly to her mother’s bed.
“Sapho!” she whispered. “Sapho! Wake up. There appears to be a horse in father’s bed.”
There was an element of urgency sharpening the edges of Hebe’s whisper that penetrated Sapho’s vast unresponsiveness to mundane considerations. This woman of many parts and poses sat up in bed and looked upon her daughter as a glacier would regard a rose.
“Your humor, Hebe, is extremely mal à propos,” she brought forth.
“Sapho,” replied Hebe, “I’m not trying to be funny. Things are funny enough. There’s a horse or something very much like a horse in the major’s bed.”
Sapho, still light-headed from a heavy sleep, strove to adjust her brain to the reception of this extraordinary announcement. No good. The brain refused to accept it. “What do you mean, there’s a horse in your father’s bed?” she achieved after an effort.
“Exactly that,” answered her daughter calmly. “Either father has turned into a horse or a horse has turned into father. It comes to the same thing. There’s one other possibility. Some horse might have run father out of bed and taken his place or else gone to sleep on top of him.”
“As if we didn’t have enough on our hands with the Vacation Fund affair tonight,” Mrs. Lamb complained as she sought for her robe and slippers. “If it isn’t a horse, Hebe, I’ll be very much vexed.”
“And if it is?” Hebe inquired.
“God knows,” sighed Mrs. Lamb, tiptoeing across the room.
Together they looked upon Mr. Lamb’s bed and beheld a horse. As much of the covers as possible were over this horse, its head was upon the pillows, yet much remained exposed and dangling. Hoofs and legs were eloquently visible. It was obvious that only the most determined of horses would have been willing to sleep in such a cramped position merely for the sake of a bed.
“My God,” breathed Mrs. Lamb. “What will the servants say?”
Under the scrutiny of the two women the horse stirred uneasily and opened one eye. It was enough. Mrs. Lamb indulged in a gasp, Hebe was merely interested. Not satisfied with this demonstration, the horse raised his head from the pillows and looked inquiringly at Hebe and Mrs. Lamb. Then his lips curled back in a sardonic grin displaying a powerful set of vicious-looking teeth. He rolled his eyes until only the whites remained, and thrust one curved foreleg at Mrs. Lamb, a gesture eloquently suggestive of his intention to inflict some painful injury upon her body and person. Mrs. Lamb hastily withdrew to her bed, where she took refuge beneath the covers.
“You do something about it, Hebe,” came her muffled voice. “Get the creature out of the house without the servants knowing. It would never do to have them think your mother had a horse in the next room. You know what servants are.”
The horse was listening intently, ears pitched forward, and at this last remark he winked slowly and deliberately at Hebe. The girl was amazed. It was her father all over. At that moment she accepted the fact that something strange had occurred.
Then after a few minutes of thoughtful consideration, looking this way and that as if to determine the best way of procedure, Mr. Lamb cautiously got himself out of bed, but not without considerable clattering and convolutions. Hebe watched him with amused interest. She knew it was her father.
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