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Black Beauty

25. Reuben Smith
Now I must say a little about Reuben Smith, who was left in charge of the stables when
York went to London. No one more thoroughly understood his business than he did, and
when he was all right there could not be a more faithful or valuable man. He was gentle
and very clever in his management of horses, and could doctor them almost as well as a
farrier, for he had lived two years with a veterinary surgeon. He was a first-rate driver; he
could take a four-in-hand or a tandem as easily as a pair. He was a handsome man, a good
scholar, and had very pleasant manners. I believe everybody liked him; certainly the
horses did. The only wonder was that he should be in an under situation and not in the
place of a head coachman like York; but he had one great fault and that was the love of
drink. He was not like some men, always at it; he used to keep steady for weeks or
months together, and then he would break out and have a "bout" of it, as York called it,
and be a disgrace to himself, a terror to his wife, and a nuisance to all that had to do with
him. He was, however, so useful that two or three times York had hushed the matter up
and kept it from the earl's knowledge; but one night, when Reuben had to drive a party
home from a ball he was so drunk that he could not hold the reins, and a gentleman of the
party had to mount the box and drive the ladies home. Of course, this could not be
hidden, and Reuben was at once dismissed; his poor wife and little children had to turn
out of the pretty cottage by the park gate and go where they could. Old Max told me all
this, for it happened a good while ago; but shortly before Ginger and I came Smith had
been taken back again. York had interceded for him with the earl, who is very kind-
hearted, and the man had promised faithfully that he would never taste another drop as
long as he lived there. He had kept his promise so well that York thought he might be
safely trusted to fill his place while he was away, and he was so clever and honest that no
one else seemed so well fitted for it.
It was now early in April, and the family was expected home some time in May. The
light brougham was to be fresh done up, and as Colonel Blantyre was obliged to return to
his regiment it was arranged that Smith should drive him to the town in it, and ride back;
for this purpose he took the saddle with him, and I was chosen for the journey. At the
station the colonel put some money into Smith's hand and bid him good-by, saying,
"Take care of your young mistress, Reuben, and don't let Black Auster be hacked about
by any random young prig that wants to ride him -- keep him for the lady."
We left the carriage at the maker's, and Smith rode me to the White Lion, and ordered the
hostler to feed me well, and have me ready for him at four o'clock. A nail in one of my
front shoes had started as I came along, but the hostler did not notice it till just about four
o'clock. Smith did not come into the yard till five, and then he said he should not leave
till six, as he had met with some old friends. The man then told him of the nail, and asked
if he should have the shoe looked to.
"No," said Smith, "that will be all right till we get home."
He spoke in a very loud, offhand way, and I thought it very unlike him not to see about
the shoe, as he was generally wonderfully particular about loose nails in our shoes. He
did not come at six nor seven, nor eight, and it was nearly nine o'clock before he called
for me, and then it was with a loud, rough voice. He seemed in a very bad temper, and
abused the hostler, though I could not tell what for.
 
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