40 Poor Ginger
One day, while our cab and many others were waiting outside one of the parkswhere music was playing, a shabby old cab drove up beside ours. The horse was an old worn-out chestnut, with an ill-kept coat, and bones that showed plainly through it, the knees knuckled over, and the fore-legs were very unsteady. I had been eating some hay, and the wind rolled a little lock of it that way, and the poor creature put out her long thin neck and picked it up, and then turned and looked about for more. There was a hopeless look in the dull eye that I could not help noticing, and then, as I was thinking where I had seen that horse before, she looked full at me and said, “Black Beauty, is that you?”
It was Ginger! but how changed! The beautifully arched and glossy neck was now straight, and lank, and fallen in; the clean straight legs and delicate fetlocks were swelled; the joints were grown out of shape with hard work; the face, that was once so full of spirit and life, was now full of suffering, and I could tell by the heaving of her sides, and her frequent cough, how bad her breath was.
Our drivers were standing together a little way off, so I sidled up to her a step or two, that we might have a little quiet talk. It was a sad tale that she had to tell.
After a twelvemonth’s run off at Earlshall, she was considered to be fit for work again, and was sold to a gentleman. For a little while she got on very well, but after a longer gallop than usual the old strain returned, and after being rested and doctored she was again sold. In this way she changed hands several times, but always getting lower down.
“And so at last,” said she, “I was bought by a man who keeps a number of cabs and horses, and lets them out. You look well off, and I am glad of it, but I could not tell you what my life has been. When they found out my weakness they said I was not worth what they gave for me, and that I must go into one of the low cabs, and just be used up; that is what they are doing, whipping and working with never one thought of what I suffer – they paid for me, and must get it out of me, they say. The man who hires me now pays a deal of money to the owner every day, and so he has to get it out of me too; and so it’s all the week round and round, with never a Sunday rest.”
I said, “You used to stand up for yourself if you were ill-used.”
“Ah!” she said, “I did once, but it’s no use; men are strongest, and if they are cruel and have no feeling, there is nothing that we can do, but just bear it – bear it on and on to the end. I wish the end was come, I wish I was dead. I have seen dead horses, and I am sure they do not suffer pain; I wish I may drop down dead at my work, and not be sent off to the knackers.”
I was very much troubled, and I put my nose up to hers, but I could say nothing to comfort her. I think she was pleased to see me, for she said, “You are the only friend I ever had.”
Just then her driver came up, and with a tug at her mouth backed her out of the line and drove off, leaving me very sad indeed.
A short time after this a cart with a dead horse in it passed our cab-stand. The head hung out of the cart-tail, the lifeless tongue was slowly dropping with blood; and the sunken eyes! but I can’t speak of them, the sight was too dreadful. It was a chestnut horse with a long, thin neck. I saw a white streak down the forehead. I believe it was Ginger; I hoped it was, for then her troubles would be over. Oh! if men were more merciful they would shoot us before we came to such misery.
41 The Butcher
I saw a great deal of trouble among the horses in London, and much of it might have been prevented by a little common sense. We horses do not mind hard work if we are treated reasonably, and I am sure there are many driven by quite poor men who have a happier life than I had when I used to go in the Countess of W – – ‘s carriage, with my silver-mounted harness and high feeding.
It often went to my heart to see how the little ponies were used, straining along with heavy loads or staggering under heavy blows from some low, cruel boy. Once I saw a little gray pony with a thick mane and a pretty head, and so much like Merrylegs that if I had not been in harness I should have neighed to him. He was doing his best to pull a heavy cart, while a strong rough boy was cutting him under the belly with his whip and chucking cruelly at his little mouth. Could it be Merrylegs? It was just like him; but then Mr. Blomefield was never to sell him, and I think he would not do it; but this might have been quite as good a little fellow, and had as happy a place when he was young.
I often noticed the great speed at which butchers’ horses were made to go, though I did not know why it was so till one day when we had to wait some time in St. John’s Wood. There was a butcher’s shop next door, and as we were standing a butcher’s cart came dashing up at a great pace. The horse was hot and much exhausted; he hung his head down, while his heaving sides and trembling legs showed how hard he had been driven. The lad jumped out of the cart and was getting the basket when the master came out of the shop much displeased. After looking at the horse he turned angrily to the lad.
“How many times shall I tell you not to drive in this way? You ruined the last horse and broke his wind, and you are going to ruin this in the same way. If you were not my own son I would dismiss you on the spot; it is a disgrace to have a horse brought to the shop in a condition like that; you are liable to be taken up by the police for such driving, and if you are you need not look to me for bail, for I have spoken to you till I’m tired; you must look out for yourself.”
During this speech the boy had stood by, sullen and dogged, but when his father ceased he broke out angrily. It wasn’t his fault, and he wouldn’t take the blame; he was only going by orders all the time.
“You always say, `Now be quick; now look sharp!’ and when I go to the houses one wants a leg of mutton for an early dinner and I must be back with it in a quarter of an hour; another cook has forgotten to order the beef; I must go and fetch it and be back in no time, or the mistress will scold; and the housekeeper says they have company coming unexpectedly and must have some chops sent up directly; and the lady at No. 4, in the Crescent, never orders her dinner till the meat comes in for lunch, and it’s nothing but hurry, hurry, all the time. If the gentry would think of what they want, and order their meat the day before, there need not be this blow up!”
“I wish to goodness they would,” said the butcher; “‘twould save me a wonderful deal of harass, and I could suit my customers much better if I knew beforehand – But there! what’s the use of talking -who ever thinks of a butcher’s convenience or a butcher’s horse! Now, then, take him in and look to him well; mind, he does not go out again to-day, and if anything else is wanted you must carry it yourself in the basket.” With that he went in, and the horse was led away.
But all boys are not cruel. I have seen some as fond of their pony or donkey as if it had been a favorite dog, and the little creatures have worked away as cheerfully and willingly for their young drivers as I work for Jerry. It may be hard work sometimes, but a friend’s hand and voice make it easy.
There was a young coster-boy who came up our street with greens and potatoes; he had an old pony, not very handsome, but the cheerfullest and pluckiest little thing I ever saw, and to see how fond those two were of each other was a treat. The pony followed his master like a dog, and when he got into his cart would trot off without a whip or a word, and rattle down the street as merrily as if he had come out of the queen’s stables. Jerry liked the boy, and called him “Prince Charlie”, for he said he would make a king of drivers some day.
There was an old man, too, who used to come up our street with a little coal cart; he wore a coal-heaver’s hat, and looked rough and black. He and his old horse used to plod together along the street, like two good partners who understood each other; the horse would stop of his own accord at the doors where they took coal of him; he used to keep one ear bent toward his master. The old man’s cry could be heard up the street long before he came near. I never knew what he said, but the children called him “Old Ba-a-ar Hoo”, for it sounded like that. Polly took her coal of him, and was very friendly, and Jerry said it was a comfort to think how happy an old horse might be in a poor place.
42 The Election
As we came into the yard one afternoon Polly came out. “Jerry! I’ve had Mr. B – – here asking about your vote, and he wants to hire your cab for the election; he will call for an answer.”
“Well, Polly, you may say that my cab will be otherwise engaged. I should not like to have it pasted over with their great bills, and as to making Jack and Captain race about to the public-houses to bring up half-drunken voters, why, I think ‘twould be an insult to the horses. No, I shan’t do it.”
“I suppose you’ll vote for the gentleman? He said he was of your politics.”
“So he is in some things, but I shall not vote for him, Polly; you know what his trade is?”
“Well, a man who gets rich by that trade may be all very well in some ways, but he is blind as to what workingmen want; I could not in my conscience send him up to make the laws. I dare say they’ll be angry, but every man must do what he thinks to be the best for his country.”
On the morning before the election, Jerry was putting me into the shafts, when Dolly came into the yard sobbing and crying, with her little blue frock and white pinafore spattered all over with mud.
“Why, Dolly, what is the matter?”
“Those naughty boys,” she sobbed, “have thrown the dirt all over me, and called me a little raga – raga – ”
“They called her a little `blue’ ragamuffin, father,” said Harry, who ran in looking very angry; “but I have given it to them; they won’t insult my sister again. I have given them a thrashing they will remember; a set of cowardly, rascally `orange’ blackguards.”
Jerry kissed the child and said, “Run in to mother, my pet, and tell her I think you had better stay at home to-day and help her.”
Then turning gravely to Harry:
“My boy, I hope you will always defend your sister, and give anybody who insults her a good thrashing – that is as it should be; but mind, I won’t have any election blackguarding on my premises. There are as many `blue’ blackguards as there are `orange’, and as many white as there are purple, or any other color, and I won’t have any of my family mixed up with it. Even women and children are ready to quarrel for the sake of a color, and not one in ten of them knows what it is about.”
“Why, father, I thought blue was for Liberty.”
“My boy, Liberty does not come from colors, they only show party, and all the liberty you can get out of them is, liberty to get drunk at other people’s expense, liberty to ride to the poll in a dirty old cab, liberty to abuse any one that does not wear your color, and to shout yourself hoarse at what you only half-understand -that’s your liberty!”
“Oh, father, you are laughing.”
“No, Harry, I am serious, and I am ashamed to see how men go on who ought to know better. An election is a very serious thing; at least it ought to be, and every man ought to vote according to his conscience, and let his neighbor do the same.”
43 A Friend in Need
The election day came at last; there was no lack of work for Jerry and me. First came a stout puffy gentleman with a carpet bag; he wanted to go to the Bishopsgate station; then we were called by a party who wished to be taken to the Regent’s Park; and next we were wanted in a side street where a timid, anxious old lady was waiting to be taken to the bank; there we had to stop to take her back again, and just as we had set her down a red-faced gentleman, with a handful of papers, came running up out of breath, and before Jerry could get down he had opened the door, popped himself in, and called out, “Bow Street Police Station, quick!” so off we went with him, and when after another turn or two we came back, there was no other cab on the stand. Jerry put on my nose-bag, for as he said, “We must eat when we can on such days as these; so munch away, Jack, and make the best of your time, old boy.”
I found I had a good feed of crushed oats wetted up with a little bran; this would be a treat any day, but very refreshing then. Jerry was so thoughtful and kind – what horse would not do his best for such a master? Then he took out one of Polly’s meat pies, and standing near me, he began to eat it. The streets were very full, and the cabs, with the candidates’ colors on them, were dashing about through the crowd as if life and limb were of no consequence; we saw two people knocked down that day, and one was a woman. The horses were having a bad time of it, poor things! but the voters inside thought nothing of that; many of them were half-drunk, hurrahing out of the cab windows if their own party came by. It was the first election I had seen, and I don’t want to be in another, though I have heard things are better now.
Jerry and I had not eaten many mouthfuls before a poor young woman, carrying a heavy child, came along the street. She was looking this way and that way, and seemed quite bewildered. Presently she made her way up to Jerry and asked if he could tell her the way to St. Thomas’ Hospital, and how far it was to get there. She had come from the country that morning, she said, in a market cart; she did not know about the election, and was quite a stranger in London. She had got an order for the hospital for her little boy. The child was crying with a feeble, pining cry.
“Poor little fellow!” she said, “he suffers a deal of pain; he is four years old and can’t walk any more than a baby; but the doctor said if I could get him into the hospital he might get well; pray, sir, how far is it; and which way is it?”
“Why, missis,” said Jerry, “you can’t get there walking through crowds like this! why, it is three miles away, and that child is heavy.”
“Yes, bless him, he is; but I am strong, thank God, and if I knew the way I think I should get on somehow; please tell me the way.”
“You can’t do it,” said Jerry, “you might be knocked down and the child be run over. Now look here, just get into this cab, and I’ll drive you safe to the hospital. Don’t you see the rain is coming on?”
“No, sir, no; I can’t do that, thank you, I have only just money enough to get back with. Please tell me the way.”
“Look you here, missis,” said Jerry, “I’ve got a wife and dear children at home, and I know a father’s feelings; now get you into that cab, and I’ll take you there for nothing. I’d be ashamed of myself to let a woman and a sick child run a risk like that.”
“Heaven bless you!” said the woman, and burst into tears.
“There, there, cheer up, my dear, I’ll soon take you there; come, let me put you inside.”
As Jerry went to open the door two men, with colors in their hats and buttonholes, ran up calling out, “Cab!”
“Engaged,” cried Jerry; but one of the men, pushing past the woman, sprang into the cab, followed by the other. Jerry looked as stern as a policeman. “This cab is already engaged, gentlemen, by that lady.”
“Lady!” said one of them; “oh! she can wait; our business is very important, besides we were in first, it is our right, and we shall stay in.”
A droll smile came over Jerry’s face as he shut the door upon them. “All right, gentlemen, pray stay in as long as it suits you; I can wait while you rest yourselves.” And turning his back upon them he walked up to the young woman, who was standing near me. “They’ll soon be gone,” he said, laughing; “don’t trouble yourself, my dear.”
And they soon were gone, for when they understood Jerry’s dodge they got out, calling him all sorts of bad names and blustering about his number and getting a summons. After this little stoppage we were soon on our way to the hospital, going as much as possible through by-streets. Jerry rung the great bell and helped the young woman out.
“Thank you a thousand times,” she said; “I could never have got here alone.”
“You’re kindly welcome, and I hope the dear child will soon be better.”
He watched her go in at the door, and gently he said to himself, “Inasmuch as ye have done it to one of the least of these.” Then he patted my neck, which was always his way when anything pleased him.
The rain was now coming down fast, and just as we were leaving the hospital the door opened again, and the porter called out, “Cab!” We stopped, and a lady came down the steps. Jerry seemed to know her at once; she put back her veil and said, “Barker! Jeremiah Barker, is it you? I am very glad to find you here; you are just the friend I want, for it is very difficult to get a cab in this part of London to-day.”
“I shall be proud to serve you, ma’am; I am right glad I happened to be here. Where may I take you to, ma’am?”
“To the Paddington Station, and then if we are in good time, as I think we shall be, you shall tell me all about Mary and the children.”
We got to the station in good time, and being under shelter the lady stood a good while talking to Jerry. I found she had been Polly’s mistress, and after many inquiries about her she said:
“How do you find the cab work suit you in winter? I know Mary was rather anxious about you last year.”
“Yes, ma’am, she was; I had a bad cough that followed me up quite into the warm weather, and when I am kept out late she does worry herself a good deal. You see, ma’am, it is all hours and all weathers, and that does try a man’s constitution; but I am getting on pretty well, and I should feel quite lost if I had not horses to look after. I was brought up to it, and I am afraid I should not do so well at anything else.”
“Well, Barker,” she said, “it would be a great pity that you should seriously risk your health in this work, not only for your own but for Mary’s and the children’s sake; there are many places where good drivers or good grooms are wanted, and if ever you think you ought to give up this cab work let me know.”
Then sending some kind messages to Mary she put something into his hand, saying, “There is five shillings each for the two children; Mary will know how to spend it.”
Jerry thanked her and seemed much pleased, and turning out of the station we at last reached home, and I, at least, was tired.
Go to Chapters 44 and 45 here.