N. E. Fixture was one of the early settlers in Wheatland.   He homesteaded one of the prize parcels of land in a very attractive settlement.   His bulging muscles and tanned face indicated that he was not afraid of work or the great outdoors.   From the very beginning of the community, N. E. Fixture was one of the most stable, most aggressive and loyal supporters of anything that advanced the general good of the area.   His neighbors affectionately shortened his name to “Any” for his initials were N. E.   He was respected, reliable and highly esteemed resident and neighbor.
“Any” Fixture had two loves.   He loved his church and never failed to attend all the services, in good weather or bad, whether during busy season or not, you could rely on N. E. Fixture.   His voice could be heard in singing the lovely hymns.   He led out in prayer and testimony, and he took his place on the Board of Trustees.   He was a staunch supporter of the pastor, both financially as well as moral support.   “Any” Fixture loved his horses.   He owned one of the most prized outfits in the neighborhood.   Brother Fixture’s horses worked hard in the field, and he lavished exceptional care upon them by keeping them well fed and groomed.   The horses responded with honest toil that soon made N. E. Fixture’s farm the show place in the community.
The years went by. N. E. Fixture got married to Annie Thrifty, and it wasn’t very long until a number of little Fixtures were added to the family.   This, of course, added to the cost of living, but Annie was frugal and “Any” was a good manager, so they were always modestly tidy and presented a picture of contentment.
Something happened one day that made a marked change in N. E. Fixture.   It was just a chance happening and its effect was quite unintentional.   It happened that “Any” bought more land a few miles from the family homestead, to keep pace with the growing demands of his family.   “Any” was plowing this land one day when he heard the clear throaty sound of a horse’s whinny.   “Any” gazed in the direction from which the sound came and he saw a most beautiful bay gelding.   He arched his neck and his flowing mane caught the breeze as he cavorted in playful exuberance.   “Hmmm,” said “Any”, “I haven’t seen that horse before.   Looking a bit farther he espied a lovely dapple grey horse near by.  “I wonder whose horses they are.”   “Whoa,” he said, almost mechanically, “I’ve got to investigate.”
Leaving his tired and now aging horses in the field, “Any” went up to his wagon and helped himself generously to a pail full of his best oats.   Soon he was shaking the pail temptingly within earshot of the stray horses.   The horses gaily trotted around, snorted, gave a muffled whinny as if to say, “please,” and finally succumbed to the bait---they ate all the oats.  “Any” was delighted.   He returned to his plowing, seized the reins and shouted an impatient, “Giddap, you old nags---get going.”   He had never spoken to his horses that way before.   In fact he had never really noticed before that his outfit was getting somewhat “shopworn” with age and constant work.   “Any” began to think his horses were not doing quite the job they should.
Next day, the stray horses were bolder.   They found a “hole” in the fence and brazenly trotted in.   With arched necks they pranced and loped about until
“Any” stopped his horses again.   Once more he took a generous supply of oats to feed the strays and this time they even let “Any” stroke them on the neck.  “What lovely horses,” mused “Any”.  “I do believe they can out-run and look better than anything I’ve seen.  I’am going to feed them and see if I can make friends with them.”   When he returned to his outfit, he picked up a mean switch and when he said, “Giddap,” he applied some smarting persuasion with the command.   His horses lunged into their collars and did their best.   At dinner time he cut them down a little on their feed.   He reasoned that they were not doing work like they used to, and that he would have some for the strays.
Time went on.   Harvest came.   The crop was not quite as good as usual.   His land was not quite as well worked as usual either.   However, “Any” was satisfied.   In fact he seemed happier than he had ever been.   The stray horses were so tame they would come up to him in the yard or field and gently nuzzle him as he fed them tempting and sometimes expensive delicacies.   One day a neighbor strolled over to the fence where “Any” was working, and asked him if he was experiencing some trouble.  “Not on you life,” said “Any” somewhat irritated, “What gave you that idea?”   “Well,” said the neighbor hesitantly, “You are getting behind in your work and your farm isn’t showing the care it used to have.   What’s the matter, “Any?” said the neighbor solicitously.   “Nothing at all is the matter,” said “Any” crisply, “I just do things my own way.   I don’t need any advice from you or anyone else,” was the curt reply.   The neighbor smarted under the rebuff, but went away saying, “Something is
wrong---but what?”
Meanwhile farming was not the only thing about N. E. Fixture that changed.   He often missed church, or if he did attend, it was to some neighboring church where something special was going on.   Sometimes it was many miles away.   Thus he didn’t support his pastor as he did before.   His wife often scolded him for giving his tithes away to anything that had an appeal.   Oh, Fixture gave a little to help keep things going, but it was grudging and never regular.   He had the same regard for his horses now.   He didn’t care for them as he once did.   Often at night after a hard days work, he turned them out where the poor creatures sought to satisfy their hunger from the grudging soil in the parched pasture.   They began to fail until they refused to respond under the severest threats and lashings.   At last they stopped altogether.   One of the horses just laid down and refused to budge.
Brother Fixture went to investigate.   He saw that the horse had no more work left in him, so he unhitched him and slowly went to the barn.   There he spied the stray horses and an idea came to his mind.   “Why not work them---I’ve been feeding them a long time.   Now they’ll be glad to work for me.”   So saying, he reached for his oat pail, and the strays came trotting to their favorite stall.   This time, however, “Any” fastened a halter on the horse’s head and tied him to the manger.   So far, so good, said Fixture to himself.   Then he tried on a collar---just the right fit, he gloated.   The stray began to fidget and act strange as it lowered its ears and stomped ominously.   But “Any” loved the stray horses and was determined that it should work for him, so he brought the rest of the harness and was about to toss it on the horse’s back when the horse reared and kicked viciously, hitting Fixture “a knockout blow” that sent him senseless into a corner of the barn.   The horse reared and broke the halter, pranced out of the barn and through an open gate, and was gone never to be seen again.
The same kind neighbor, who Fixture had rebuffed so curtly before, happened to be going by and he realized something was wrong.   He raced into the barn and saw Fixture’s body crumpled in the corner.   He made a pallet of soft new mown hay, and made Fixture as comfortable as he could and then hitched up his old team and wagon and raced to the hospital.   After several days, “Any” began to talk.   His pastor was at his bedside holding his hand and praying earnestly for him.   “God bless you, brother Fixture, you will be alright,” He said.   “Just trust in God and all will be well.   If it wasn’t for that faithful team of horses, you wouldn’t be here today.”   A strange light came into Fixture’s eyes.   It was a kind moist light.   It took quite an effort to talk, but he said, “Pastor, I want to tell you something.   I’ve learned an expensive lesson.   All I own, I owe to those faithful horses of mine.   They broke up my land and gave their lives for me.  I’ve been ungrateful, selfish and covetous.  I have treated the stray horses that did nothing for me, better than my own horses.  I thought they loved me, but it was just the oats they were after.
Pastor, farm work is team work.   Stray horses come for the oats, but not for work.   Pastor, it’s the same in church work.   It’s the team that counts and gets the job done.   When I get out of here, I want to be part of the team.   “Any” turned his head and gave vent to his feelings.   As he sobbed, his broad shoulders shook convulsively with anguish and regret.   “All that misplaced substance---all that wasted effort,” he wailed.   “Pastor, forgive me.   From now on…no more stray horses for me.”   The kind pastor concealed a tear by wiping it on his threadbare sleeve.   He knew by the warm familiar handshake that “Any” meant every word of it.



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