T HREE years of complete liberty, and then to have to learn in three short weeks to submit entirely to the will of other people!
This sounds a hard plan of education, and perhaps is not the very best one possible. Still, thousands of young colts have turned into good horses upon it; and if there is to be a reform, it must come from above, not from below. Reforms from below savour of rebellion, and that is sure to lead to a reaction the wrong way again.
Yet people ought not to blind themselves—those above, I mean, any more than those below. Every man, therefore, ought to sit from time to time in his neighbour's chair, and look with his neighbour's eyes, from his neighbour's position, at what he himself is about. It is wonderful how much wiser, as well as kinder, people grow if they do this.
And among a man's neighbours he should not be ashamed to reckon the creatures he collects round him for his own convenience and amusement, and calls his "domestic animals." Why "domestic," but that he has taken them from their own natural homes, and brought them to his? And if so, surely it is not too much to ask that he should give them, each in his degree, the comforts of a home-citizenship, in return for the duties he exacts. If he does this honestly, a few errors of judgment on his part will not matter more than a few errors of conduct on theirs; for imperfection has not only to be struggled against, but borne in this world.
Sitting in neighbour Firefly the spirited young chestnut colt's chair, then, it is but fair to own that he may well have felt it queer, after three years' luxury of doing as he liked in large grassy pastures, to find himself suddenly cooped up in a small square stuffy place, ceiled in instead of open to the air, and surrounded by walls, to one particular part of which he was fastened by a horrible contrivance that went round his head and neck, and gave him a most unpleasant pull whenever he tried to get away.
But yesterday he was free as the wind, so far as the hedges extended—could gallop from one to the other while his breath lasted; might snort at the passengers in the road which skirted the field as much as he pleased; throw out his legs at everything and everybody; kick, plunge, bound, jump, till he was tired; whinny at his companions, whether he had anything worth saying or not; and all this at will: while now—but the contrast is too painful to dwell upon, for Firefly was now in a horse-breaker's stable, with a halter round his neck.
He had one consolation, however, and it is not a small one to most people—indeed it ought always to be a matter of thankfulness to all—he was extremely well fed. It is true the very delicious grain he had now been champing at three separate meals to his heart's content, with his nose bent over the manger, had been very dearly purchased by the loss of his freedom the morning before. The wild driving he had undergone from the field to the stable-yard, with the treacherous capture at the end, still rankled in his mind, and the cruel outrage to his young heart's nervous shyness, when hands of violent men overcame him, and the fatal noose was slipped over his head, was not to be forgotten. Still taste is taste; the food remained delicious all the same, and he was so young, he could enjoy the present, irrespective of the past or future.
But all feeds of corn come to an end at last; and at the end of the first he began to fidget, after the second he grew angrily impatient, and when he had swallowed the third, he became what is called (archaically) rampageous, for in point of fact the good corn had begun to warm his blood. It was very high living compared to the cold grass he had been used to.
Now, as was natural, one of the first things he did was to call out for his old companions of the field, and this he did in colt's fashion, of course; but what colt's fashion really is will not be known till men become good linguists, and have learnt other languages besides those of their own race.
At present they are miserably backward in that branch of learning, and have no idea even of what flies talk about, though they hear them murmuring away in the air, as soon as they themselves awake every summer morning, and for nearly all day after.
Well, in colt's fashion Firefly shouted for his companions, and after two or three attempts, each of them louder than the one before, must have made himself heard; for at last he was answered, though from what seemed a great distance, so smothered were the sounds. But this was only because they came through stone walls. In point of fact, his young friends, Whitefoot and Silverstar by name, were very near—namely, in the very next adjoining stable—both of them captives like himself; both of them with halters round their necks, one in one stall, one in another.
Conversation was difficult under such circumstances, and could not be carried on for long. What they did say, when they discovered they were near each other, amounted to about this:—
"So you are somewhere hereabouts, too, Whitefoot and Silverstar. Why don't you come where I am? Where are you?"
"We don't know where we are. Where are you? Why don't you come to us?"
"Because something twitches my head if I try to move away: so I can't."
"That's just what happens to us; so we can't."
"It's very distressing."
"I wonder what it means! I am very angry."
"We wonder too, but it can't be helped."
Here the dialogue ended, for the colts were not the only inhabitants of the two stables. In the one, with Whitefoot and Silverstar, was a good-tempered, middle-aged, Welsh pony, known all over the country-side as good old Taffy. In the other, with Firefly, was an old, half-bred white Arabian mare, whose mother had been brought from the East.
Old people who talk to young ones should think of the young ones more than themselves. If they want to gossip and grumble, and let off vexed feelings, let them do it to each other. Life is very trying sometimes as age comes on, and those of the same age can understand the feelings of the age, and make allowance for the groanings of the natural man. But young creatures may easily be led away by a few sad or passionate words into believing all sorts of nonsense. I say, then, let old people unburden their personal feelings to each other, but never talk anything but useful sense, or pleasant nonsense, to a child.
Had the old white mare in the stable thought of this, it would have been better for Firefly—perhaps, at least, he would not have had the same encouragement to turn out unmanageable which she now gave him. For no sooner had he uttered the words, "I wonder what it means! I am very angry," to his companion next door, than she shook her own halter till the rattle roused his attention, and then observed, in a tone of melancholy which was of itself quite impressive:—"I can tell you what it means, but I am afraid when you know you will not be less angry than now, but rather more."
Firefly's quick blood ran quicker at the startling announcement.
"Oh, dear, what makes you say so? Who can you be?" cried he in excitement.
"One who ought to know something, if age and experience can instruct," answered the sorrowful old mare, adding in a lower tone still, "or if unusual opportunities in early life have not been lost upon her."
"I am almost afraid of hearing, yet suspense is intolerable," cried Firefly. "Where am I? What is going to happen?"
"You are a prisoner, at the mercy of those who shut you up," answered the old mare, to whose monotonous existence the power of lashing a young colt up to indignation was rather an amusing novelty. "It is the first time this has happened to you, I suppose?"
"It is the first time I was ever made fast in this way," groaned Firefly. "If I was ever in an enclosure before, it was loose by my mother's side. My memory is confused so far back."
"I, too, had a mother once," murmured the old mare, Egeria; and her grief in thinking how long ago made her pause.
"Tell me about her," exclaimed Firefly; "what became of her? I want to know."
"What a tone you speak in," answered Egeria. "You want to know! You forget you are a prisoner, and must learn to want nothing but what is given you."
"I shall never learn that," cried he; "and why am I a prisoner? tell me that."
"Because the people you belong to want to make you useful—useful to them, that is."
"And why must I be useful to them? Why may I not please myself as I have done before? What are they to me?"
"Ask them," said Egeria coldly. "They will tell you—masters, superiors."
"You provoke me," cried Firefly, stamping into the straw at his feet. "Tell me why I am here, as you promised. My former history is short enough, as you shall hear. I——"
"Spare yourself the trouble," interrupted Egeria. "Our histories in this country are all alike. We are left to ourselves for nearly three years, and are taught nothing; then our superiors get hold of us, by fright and force, and in three weeks make us learn everything they want."
"And then?" gasped Firefly.
"And then it depends upon the people into whose hands one falls, whether one is well or ill-used."
"And you have borne all this in patience?" asked Firefly.
"I had no heart to act otherwise," sighed Egeria. "I felt no spirit to resist."
"But I feel plenty of spirit, and shall resist," cried the young chestnut, straining against the halter as hard as he could bear, and dashing his legs against the sides of the stall, first on one side, then on the other.
"But what can you do?" whined Egeria, a little startled by his violence.
"Do?" shouted Firefly; "why, I shall kick, kick, kick!" And each time he uttered the words he struck out against the wooden partition between the stalls. Egeria began to be alarmed.
"I do not advise it," she said; "I assure you it will do no good. You had better bear it all as well as you can."
"Oh, that is all very well for those who can receive it, old lady," exclaimed Firefly: "I can't. I can't stand injustice; and what's more, I won't. Why, my blood is boiling already. Only to think of the way they drove us along before they got us here. Of course, if I had known, I should never have left the field. And the still worse fright those men gave me when they all laid hold of me and threw this horrible thing over my head! It's all treachery and injustice from beginning to end."
"Ah! if we were but in my mother's country!" sighed Egeria.
"Why, what then?" enquired Firefly.
"Oh, my poor young friend, I'm afraid it will do more harm than good to tell you," said Egeria, "yet, if you wish it so very much, I hardly know how to refuse."
The old goose, to consent to tell what she felt might do harm! But she was vain of knowing more than other people on the subject, which she really did. Besides which, she wanted to stop Firefly's kicking and plunging, by holding his attention. So said she—
"The people there—in the East, I mean—treat young colts quite differently from the people here. As soon as ever they can leave their mothers, they are brought among the tents, where the men, women, and children live, and the women take care of them, and feed them, and pet them. So they get used to their masters from the first, and there is not the fright and horror and startling change to go through which we suffer so much from at the end of our first three years; and so the halter, and teaching, and all that sort of thing, come much easier—though, of course, restraint is restraint everywhere. But, for pity's sake, don't begin to kick again," concluded Egeria, interrupting herself at the sound of renewed struggles on Firefly's part. "I have been telling you my mother's story to keep you quiet."
"Quiet!" shouted the miserable colt. "I won't be quiet, to please anybody. How can I be quiet, when I want to get away from this savage country, and go to that other one—that East you talk of—where colts are properly managed?"
"But my dear young friend, consider—it's too late," expostulated Egeria. "You can't begin life over again. You really mustn't let your feelings run away with you in this foolish way. People here don't mean badly, altogether. They are tolerably kind, on the whole; at least, some of them are. They feed you well, as you see; and after you have learnt what they teach, you will be glad, though you won't like it while it's going on."
"Then it shan't go on!" shouted Firefly. "They shan't teach me! I won't learn! I won't have their food, or their kindness! If they had brought me up properly, I could have submitted as well as anybody; but they have been unjust, and now I won't! I'll do something—I'll go to the East; and if I can't go to the East, I'll kick!"
"Oh, hush!—do, pray, hush!" said Egeria, who, to do her justice, had merely wanted to excite a sympathetic grumble, not to rouse a storm. "You go much too far, I assure you."
"You say that, because you have no spirit, you poor old creature!" exclaimed Firefly. "You know you haven't—you said so yourself just now; but that's no rule for me."
"If I have not much spirit," remarked Egeria, "I may have some sense, and I want you to have some too. You can't get away, to begin with—so the East is out of the question; and you cannot resist these people to any purpose—so, take my advice, submit and have done with it. I can tell you from long experience, that kicking is never of any use."
"Then I shall go on kicking, out of spite, because it's of no use," cried Firefly; and as he announced this grand resolution, he broke out all over into a profuse sweat from excitement.
At which moment the stable-door opened, and the horsebreaker stepped in, just to have a look at the colt; and after doing so, and observing his irritable and uneasy condition, said he to himself, "I shall have a good deal of trouble with this one, I'm afraid."
Now, in saying this, he was making a sort of comparison between Firefly and the other two; for he had just been in the next stable, and seen Whitefoot and Silverstar unusually placid and quiet—for fresh-caught colts, that is to say; nobody expects from a kitten the gravity of a cat. But what wonder? Besides that they were greys, and therefore easier-tempered by nature than was to be expected from a chestnut (for in horses, colour and disposition are apt to go together), they had been hearing nothing but good advice ever since they were shut up—and, what is more, they had actually been attending to it!
But then, good old Taffy gave his good advice in such a very pleasant way! "My dear friends," cried he, when he heard them plunging about in their stalls at first, "I do feel so sorry for you—so very, very sorry—because I know so well what you suffer. Just the same was done with me when I was your age."
"Oh, how did you bear it?" asked the colts.
"Well, well, I was very impatient just at the beginning," answered Taffy; "for my Welsh blood made me chafe at the confinement, and I was alone, and had nobody to explain the meaning of it all to me, so it was hard work; and this makes me particularly glad to be here just now to help you. I can tell you a great deal that will comfort you, and plenty more that will surprise and amuse you very much. There are two sides to everything, even to things that vex one, I assure you! But, quiet!—quiet! dear friends, I do beg," continued he, as he heard more plunging and shaking of halters, "or I shall not be able to say another word!"
"We will be quiet," cried the colts, for they liked the idea of being surprised and amused, as who does not?
Then Taffy told them they were not brought here to be teased to death, as they had perhaps supposed, but to prepare them for being taught a thousand nice things which they would never be able to do if they were not taught, and which it was immensely jolly to be able to do, when the teaching was once over; and he proceeded to hold forth on the pleasures of trotting, cantering, and galloping over the country, with a good feed of corn, a comfortable stable, and a valet to rub one down at the end; as also the delightful excitements of racing and hunting, which even he had enjoyed, though only as a looker on; but he added that they couldn't have a share in all this, without first learning to obey their masters, and love them a little bit too.
Whereupon both colts shuddered all over, for the fright of the men who had shut them up was very great, and love seemed perfectly impossible.
"Ah! you can't bear the thought of this, I see," cried Taffy. "Well, of course, if it could be, one would like to have no master but oneself—eh, my friends?"
To which both Whitefoot and Silverstar agreed, with a whinny of satisfaction.
"But what is the use of fretting oneself, by wishing for what can't be," pursued Taffy. "These men and women are, though I don't know how, or why, our masters and superiors, and I know from my own experience, that we are happiest when we submit to their wishes with a good grace; when we struggle and resist we are miserable."
"But suppose they wish something cruel and unjust?" sighed Silverstar.
"But who is to decide what is so?" asked Taffy in return. "Many things seem so that are not; your being here against your will for instance—you will be so glad about it by and by, when the teaching is finished."
"It is comfortable to hear that," murmured Silverstar. "Is the teaching itself very unpleasant?" asked Whitefoot.
"Very," cried Taffy at once, at the mere recollection of it, and the colts shuddered again. "But here I am," he continued, "none the worse, and all the better, and as happy as possible, with a man or woman, or a little child on my back three or four times a week, and a pet with all the family. Oh! you have no notion how good-natured these men very often are—bringing one tit-bits both in the stable and field—bread, or apples, or carrots, or clover, which one takes out of their hands. But for pity's sake don't begin kicking again," cried he, as he heard them flinging wildly about, at the notion of men coming so near. "Why, you surely wouldn't kick at kindness? You must meet it halfway, when it's offered, you foolish fellows, or you may live to want it before you die! But, don't alarm yourselves! You won't be able to be on these intimate terms with masters and superiors, till you've learnt to be well-mannered and obedient. But my experience tells me they are kind when we are good; and where they seem otherwise, I try to believe it is because we don't understand the meaning of what they are doing;—with superiors one can't expect that one should."
A word spoken in season, how good it is! The colts grew calmer and calmer as Taffy went on, and when, in conclusion, he told them a story about a good-natured lady, who used to bring him handfuls of oats in reward of a pretty trick he learnt of opening the stable door with his nose, they half began to believe that these men and women were not, after all, such dreadful creatures as they had supposed.
And as it was just then that the horsebreaker entered the stable to look at them, it is not to be wondered at that they bore his presence with only about half the horror they would otherwise have felt, and so kept tolerably quiet.
And thus a week went on, Taffy encouraging them by his own example and experience to bear what was coming with patience and in hope.
And he could but speak from his own experience, poor Taffy! Let us trust, then, that in these "days of advance" there are fewer and fewer exceptions to the rule, that a docile horse makes a kind master. Shame on the master if it does not!
It was at the end of the first week that the real trial began for all three colts, and a trial indeed it was! They have hard hearts who would deny it. Those heavy iron bits forced into the young tender mouths; so stiff against their teeth, so cold against their flesh, how horrible they were! And the bridles that pulled at them, forcing the poor heads to turn hither and thither, for mere whim's sake, as it seemed (for whatever reason there was for it, they could not find it out)—what a cruel contrivance! Then the long whips, which kept them at one distance all the time, so that, as they were forced to move on continually, they had no choice but to go round and round in a circle for ever—how irritating! My heart bleeds when I think of it, and imagine the two long hours of struggle on that first dreadful day. How severe the trial must have been to them,—must ever be to all!
Worse still, however, when in the course of a few days, the corners of the mouths became sore from the pressure of the iron, and there was, for a time, the pain of a raw wound, as well as a day-by-day longer time of restraint to endure.—Masters and superiors, verily, there is a great responsibility in your hands! Nevertheless, it is not for the colts to sit in judgment.
Now, then, how fared the three colts under the terrible but, at present, in some way or other, necessary training? (For even Egeria could not answer Firefly's maddened enquiries, by saying that in the East the bit and bridle and whip can be dispensed with.) Well, Whitefoot and Silverstar set out by intending to submit if possible, and therefore, though more or less cheerfully at some times than others, and with more or less pain to themselves, they contrived to manage it at last.
Firefly, on the contrary, started by a sort of resistance-on-principle plan. Wishing to resist, in fact, he always found a reason for resisting. If people treated him properly he could submit as well as any one else, he was sure; but if they ill-used him, what could they expect but that he should kick—kick—kick? And as to what proper treatment was, he made himself the sole judge. Certainly the training process just described was not proper, but on the contrary cruel and unjust, and accordingly kick, kick, kick he went, whenever it was possible.
In vain Egeria begged him to forbear, seeing too late how much mischief her folly had done.
"It is so senseless to resist when you can't help yourself," said she.
"It is so mean to yield to an unjust necessity!" cried he.
And she dared not contradict herself so far as to suggest, that it might not be so unjust as it seemed.
"Will you listen to me once more?" asked she one day.
"If you talk sense, yes," replied Firefly, "not otherwise, old lady."
Egeria sighed; for his part folly was but a stretched-out shadow of her own. Imperfect judgments; judgments formed on half-known grounds; judgments formed by the lesser intelligence concerning a greater which it cannot comprehend—what rebellion and ruin have they not caused!
"It is sense, if you have sense to find it out," cried Egeria, sharply. "It is downright wisdom. What I am going to say is truth and fact."
"I hear you; go on," said Firefly, impatiently.
"Well, if you go on kicking in this manner, every time you think you have—I beg your pardon—every time you have a reason for kicking, you know, you will get into such a habit of kicking, that you will do it whether you have a reason or not."
"Shall I!" shouted Firefly, with contempt.
"Yes, you will though!" persisted Egeria, vexed alike by his obstinacy and ridicule. "If you kick every time you can find or make an excuse, you will be very apt to kick on when you have none."
"I have never yet kicked without a reason, old lady, and I don't intend to do so," answered Firefly.
"I know, I know," replied Egeria, "so far you have always proved yourself right to yourself; what the horsebreaker thinks is another matter. But, dear friend, try and believe me,—habits are such tremendous things! If you don't get into a habit of giving way, you mayn't be able to give way when you want, that's what I am afraid of. Those who indulge themselves in kicking at all, will sometimes kick when they would give worlds to forbear."
"How can that happen to me, when I never kick without a reason?" cried Firefly.
At which moment he was fetched from the stable for a morning's lesson, and Egeria was left to fret alone. For fret she did, not being a bad creature on the whole, but such an inconsiderate old simpleton, both in her way of viewing life and talking about it to others!
And alas! there was but too much cause for fretting, when at the end of five weeks Firefly remained still untamed—still in the horsebreaker's hands! A fortnight ago both Whitefoot and Silverstar had taken leave of the place, had finished their education with respectability, and gone out into the world on their own account.
There are plenty of good masters to be found for docile, well-taught creatures, and they had been picked up at once by two neighbouring families, and often met in their rides, and talked over old times. Egeria heard this from Taffy, who, from being constantly out, learnt all the news of the country-side, and had once or twice met his friends himself; and it must be owned she regretted Firefly's conduct all the more, that she feared she had had some share in it herself.
When Firefly was led out of the stable after Egeria had spoken, he had, for a few minutes, a misgiving that there might be some truth in what she had said. But the first crack of the horsebreaker's whip made his heart as hard as ever. He had accustomed himself for so long to look upon it and him and the whole affair as a system of barbarous injustice, that he could not have rid himself of the notion without a strong effort, and there was one great difficulty to his making it—namely, that he must acknowledge himself to have been in the wrong before.
And alas! he did not make it; and so another week went on, at the end of which the horsebreaker lost patience, and told Firefly's owner he was a hopeless kicker, and a very ill-conditioned animal as to temper, though otherwise with many good points, and a valuable beast.
It was not very pleasant news to the owner, but Firefly was so handsome in appearance, and moreover, so strong and able to work, that he was undertaken at last by a very fearless young squire, who cared for little but pace and beauty, had a seat like a rock, put his faith in a strong curb, and had no scruple in using his spurs.
What Firefly underwent in his hands I do not wish to describe, though, even there, if he would but have submitted, his fate would not have been bad, for if the master loved his galloping, so did Firefly himself. But again and again he would refuse to obey the curb if it checked or turned him suddenly when his face was set elsewhere; and then like an instinct came the impulse to kick, kick, kick! and he followed it.
For an hour sometimes the two would battle together—the spur and the whip and the curb, against that insane determination to kick, kick, kick! And as to be conquered by main force and exhaustion is not to be reformed, Firefly was led away bleeding and foam-covered to his stable, as savage as when he left it, and still repeating the old strain—
"If people treat me properly, I can submit as well as any one else; but if they don't, what can they expect but that I shall kick, kick, kick?"
Like the horsebreaker's whim of driving him round in an everlasting circle, seemed the young squire's whim of checking him, and turning him round when he didn't expect it, and wanted to go straight on. He kicked, therefore, strictly on principle, and all the more when the injustice was enforced by the spur and the lash. So the squire got tired of his purchase, and Firefly was sold again.
But this time to a very knowing hand, a country doctor, who after trying different plans in turn—low feed and good feed, kindness and severity, and finding both unsuccessful, took him back to the horsebreaker. "He seems very hopeless at present," remarked he; "he kicks for nothing. But there is one more chance. Break him in for harness. Kicking-straps will perhaps bring him to his senses. At any rate try; he has many good qualities, and is a fine fellow. I hope he'll do well."
The horsebreaker shook his head, and led Firefly back to his old stable. Another colt occupied his former stall, but there were still two vacant. He was led into the middle one, and before nightfall Egeria was brought into the third.
Firefly told his story at length, and was too eager to hear Egeria's shuffles of impatience. "How unfortunate some people are!" observed she, when he ended; but there was a slight mockery in her tone.
"I have been so all along," said he; "I believe I am fated to ill-usage."
"People always are who will go nobody's way but their own," was Egeria's answer; "why don't you do what is wanted? Go the way your master pulls you, and give up fighting for your own."
"If people treat me properly, I can submit—"
"Oh, do stop!" cried Egeria, "I've heard that much too often. You never do submit."
"Because they never—"
"Oh, they, they, they! Would they be masters, if you, and not they, were to lead the way?"
"Oh, as to masters, perhaps I have my own opinion," cried Firefly; "I wonder who has been master of the two I have had! But no matter about that. I could have borne leading, but I wouldn't be dragged. It was the curb and spurs and whip of that young squire I kicked against."
"And of your last master, the doctor, when he was kind?" asked Egeria.
"He wasn't always kind," muttered Firefly.
"But when he was?" insisted the old mare.
"Fool!" murmured Firefly, between his teeth; "was I likely to go his fidgety way—stopping at one house then at another; no sooner started than having to stop; twisted down one lane and up another, never having a good run all the time; I, who had galloped over half a country-side in a morning with the squire? Kick? why who wouldn't kick at a life like that?"
"It is as I feared," exclaimed Egeria. "Anybody who wants to kick, can find a reason for it, of course." And she spoke not another word, for she did not understand the matter to the bottom, as Taffy did, and her way of argument was, therefore, not convincing.
The first thing in the morning, however, Firefly spoke to her. He had a question to ask. Did she know what kicking-straps were? Perfectly; what made him want to know.
He repeated what the doctor had said.
"Capital!" said Egeria. "If you are put into those you will never be able to kick again."
"We shall see about that," groaned Firefly, grinding his teeth as if he were champing oats. "Masters—masters—masters indeed! . . . "
In which state of mind he was taken out, two hours afterwards, put into kicking-straps, and had his first lesson of going into harness. The plan answered at first; but this was only while the shock of surprise and helplessness lasted. Still, being rather less wild, the horsebreaker returned him as "fit for harness, if driven in kicking-straps;" and Egeria twitted him when he left her, as being "fairly caught at last." "We shall see about that," muttered Firefly, fuming to himself, as the doctor drove him home. But the kicking-straps were amazingly strong, and he restrained himself. Nevertheless, the first principles of submission had not entered his head, and Egeria's folly and ridicule had done all that an unwise friend could do to confuse the truth.
The truth? Ah, we can only get at that by sitting in our neighbour's chair, and looking with his eyes. Had Firefly done this, he would have known why the kicking-straps were added to his harness, and have laid the blame on the right shoulders. As it was, he laid the blame on the doctor, and considered himself the victim of injustice.
So, one unlucky day, after a round of rather tiresome visiting, a very slight correction for impatience set his blood working; and, without thinking either of kicking-straps or consequences, he took the bit between his teeth, laid his ears down, close to his head, muttering; "Masters indeed!" to himself, and pulling madly at the reins, dashed at full speed down the narrow country lane. They stopped him at last at a turnpike-gate, and as the kicking-straps had given way soon after he started, he concluded the day's work by smashing the splashboard to pieces, his master escaping with difficulty.
So he was sent back to the market town, and resold.
It is impossible to pursue him through all his adventures; they were all, so to speak, variations upon the same set of notes—the battle of authority with one who refused to acknowledge its claims. A miserable struggle, whether of man or beast; whether against the powers ordained of God, or the God of power Himself; whether breaking out into open contest, or indulged in by inward repining.
At last, poor Firefly fell into the hands of a regular horsedealer, who forwarded him to a neighbourhood where his tricks were not known, and after some weeks of low diet and constant work, sold him (more shame for the fact) to a quiet country clergyman, for a birthday present for his daughter, just bursting into the beauty of girlhood.
Now, by this time, our friend Firefly had had experience enough to discover that his habit of opposition was constantly bringing him into trouble. And though he was not sick of the bad habit, he was decidedly sick of the trouble, and every now and then was vexed with himself for giving way to it. And now and then he recalled Egeria's words, "Those who indulge themselves in kicking at all, will sometimes kick when they would give worlds to forbear."
Still, he could not remember a single case in which he had kicked without a very good reason—as it seemed to him—so he assured himself at least, and tried to forget that Egeria had also said, "Anybody who wants to kick can find a reason for kicking, of course!"
Now at last, however, came Firefly's halcyon days. What more could heart of horse desire than to belong to a gentle young girl, who was ready to love him, not only as her servant but companion and friend? Egeria's tales of Eastern kindness came back to his mind again and again, as his new mistress brought him delicate morsels which she would fain have had him eat from her hand; and when, as was generally the case, he could not overcome his repugnance, but started back from her caresses, all she said was, the poor fellow was nervous and shy; perhaps—who knew?—he had at some time or other been harshly used.
"This is as it should be," remarked Firefly; and he began to think better than ever of himself. The few misgivings he had lately had went to sleep. "I was right, and not Egeria," thought he, as he bore his light burden over her favourite haunt, the Downs. "I was right, and Egeria wrong. I told her I had never kicked without a reason, and never should. It was nonsense about not being able to leave off."
And so he really believed, till, alas! the renewed good living brought back the impatience as well as fire into his blood, and what had he to restrain them with, who had not got the law in his heart? There followed one other week of self-confidence and enjoyment, and then . . .
. . . She was not in the least to blame—that beautiful young girl who had been so kind to him. He admitted this even to himself, when he saw her stretched at his feet; the eyes that had looked so kindly at him, closed; the rich black hair surrounding the white cheeks and forehead like a pall—the groom so horror-struck when he came up, that he never thought of even laying hold on Firefly's bridle.
They had been out for a morning ride on the Downs, and she had wished to canter. For a day or two past, some evil spirit (evil spirits are so ingenious) had been whispering in his ear, that to be patronised was all very well, if it were not another form of unjust restraint. Masters? had he not proved himself the master in every case yet? And so he had done here—here, where, as Egeria had prophesied, he would have given worlds to forbear.
Now rose before him the only half-valued tenderness, the anxiety for his daily comfort, the little personal sacrifices in his favour, and this as the conclusion; that because the canter had been prolonged, and she had wished to rest, and so checked him with the bridle, the old habit had proved too strong for him, and prompted him to kick, kick, kick!—and he had kicked until she was stretched at his feet. . . .
More than an hour passed, and Firefly stood by her still. Stood in the same spot, seeing the same sight, without care to go his own way, now that he might have done it at will.
And then came the trampling of feet, horses and other men, and among them all a father in the first agony of despair. But no one noticed Firefly—he was nothing to his masters then, and so he stood on there like a horse of marble, in the same old place, looking at what he had done.
But presently some one who had been touching her wrist and had sprinkled her with water whispered, "She is coming to herself!"
And it was true. Firefly's mistress had been stunned and one arm was hurt, but she awoke again to life; and when the poor father had wept out his joy on her neck, and she had looked up, she smiled to see so near them the creature who had caused this evil. Yes, there he stood, and his eye watched hers, as it first glanced at him, and then fixed on her father's face anxiously, while she murmured, "Promise me one thing, dear father. Let poor Firefly go to Rarey to be cured."
Masters?—They may well be masters and superiors, in whom the abiding spirit of forgiveness and love is triumphant! So Firefly was taken to Rarey; but what then happens to horses must be looked for in other books. This does not contain an argument on the merits of the different methods of horsebreaking; only thus much as regards Rarey's process is the turning point of the tale.
The object aimed at is the subjection of the will, not merely the control of the body,—the full and complete recognition of the mastership and superiority of man. This, and this only, is what is wanted when the legs are tied up, and struggles rendered powerless by force, so that the indignant animal is brought through exhaustion of body to submission of feeling. He has plunged, he has kicked, he has reared, for hours together, if he will have it so; but the man stands by him unscathed, unruffled, and still kind:—his master and superior—the terrible discipline proves it; but still kind—and the kindness proves it too.
All this Firefly went through; and when the Rarey-breaker "gentled" him all over his miserable frame, as he lay panting and overpowered on the sawdust, conquered and convinced at last, all his mistakes and misconceptions of other people came before him, as plainly as if Taffy himself had spoken them; so plainly, that he wondered at himself.
But remembering his old and all-too-firmly-adhered-to resolution to kick, kick, kick, whenever he was vexed, a fresh outbreak of perspiration astonished the breaker so much, that he "gentled" and soothed the troubled spirit more and more tenderly, till Firefly could think of nothing like it but the father and daughter comforting each other on the Downs, that terrible day of his guilt.
And thus at last, he learnt that it was possible for submission and love and happiness to go hand in hand together. Firefly was cured.
And then he was taken back to a home which he helped in his degree, however humble, to make what a home should be;—a circle in which animals, superior and inferior, should all work together, each after its measure and kind, for the comfort and pleasure of all.
At last, therefore, he gave a willing obedience to every touch of his dear young lady's rein: and yet he feared her no longer as before; and yet he loved her more! Which is a great mystery, but the world repeats it in a thousand forms.
Animals under man—servants under masters—children under parents—wives under husbands—men under authorities—nations under rulers—all under God,—it is the same with all:—in obedience of will is the only true peace.
Happy the colts who learn submission without a lifetime of personal struggle! Happy the men and women who find in the lesser obediences a practice-field of the greater; for assuredly the words of Egeria are true: "Those who indulge themselves in kicking at all, will sometimes kick when they would give worlds to forbear."