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Black Beauty

30. A Thief
My new master was an unmarried man. He lived at Bath, and was much engaged in
business. His doctor advised him to take horse exercise, and for this purpose he bought
me. He hired a stable a short distance from his lodgings, and engaged a man named
Filcher as groom. My master knew very little about horses, but he treated me well, and I
should have had a good and easy place but for circumstances of which he was ignorant.
He ordered the best hay with plenty of oats, crushed beans, and bran, with vetches, or rye
grass, as the man might think needful. I heard the master give the order, so I knew there
was plenty of good food, and I thought I was well off.
For a few days all went on well. I found that my groom understood his business. He kept
the stable clean and airy, and he groomed me thoroughly; and was never otherwise than
gentle. He had been an hostler in one of the great hotels in Bath. He had given that up,
and now cultivated fruit and vegetables for the market, and his wife bred and fattened
poultry and rabbits for sale. After awhile it seemed to me that my oats came very short; I
had the beans, but bran was mixed with them instead of oats, of which there were very
few; certainly not more than a quarter of what there should have been. In two or three
weeks this began to tell upon my strength and spirits. The grass food, though very good,
was not the thing to keep up my condition without corn. However, I could not complain,
nor make known my wants. So it went on for about two months; and I wondered that my
master did not see that something was the matter. However, one afternoon he rode out
into the country to see a friend of his, a gentleman farmer, who lived on the road to
Wells.
This gentleman had a very quick eye for horses; and after he had welcomed his friend he
said, casting his eye over me:
"It seems to me, Barry, that your horse does not look so well as he did when you first had
him; has he been well?"
"Yes, I believe so," said my master; "but he is not nearly so lively as he was; my groom
tells me that horses are always dull and weak in the autumn, and that I must expect it."
"Autumn, fiddlesticks!" said the farmer. "Why, this is only August; and with your light
work and good food he ought not to go down like this, even if it was autumn. How do
you feed him?"
My master told him. The other shook his head slowly, and began to feel me over.
"I can't say who eats your corn, my dear fellow, but I am much mistaken if your horse
gets it. Have you ridden very fast?"
"No, very gently."
"Then just put your hand here," said he, passing his hand over my neck and shoulder; "he
is as warm and damp as a horse just come up from grass. I advise you to look into your
stable a little more. I hate to be suspicious, and, thank heaven, I have no cause to be, for I
can trust my men, present or absent; but there are mean scoundrels, wicked enough to rob
a dumb beast of his food. You must look into it." And turning to his man, who had come
to take me, "Give this horse a right good feed of bruised oats, and don't stint him."
 
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