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Black Beauty

31. A Humbug
My master was not immediately suited, but in a few days my new groom came. He was a
tall, good-looking fellow enough; but if ever there was a humbug in the shape of a groom
Alfred Smirk was the man. He was very civil to me, and never used me ill; in fact, he did
a great deal of stroking and patting when his master was there to see it. He always
brushed my mane and tail with water and my hoofs with oil before he brought me to the
door, to make me look smart; but as to cleaning my feet or looking to my shoes, or
grooming me thoroughly, he thought no more of that than if I had been a cow. He left my
bit rusty, my saddle damp, and my crupper stiff.
Alfred Smirk considered himself very handsome; he spent a great deal of time about his
hair, whiskers and necktie, before a little looking-glass in the harness-room. When his
master was speaking to him it was always, "Yes, sir; yes, sir" -- touching his hat at every
word; and every one thought he was a very nice young man and that Mr. Barry was very
fortunate to meet with him. I should say he was the laziest, most conceited fellow I ever
came near. Of course, it was a great thing not to be ill-used, but then a horse wants more
than that. I had a loose box, and might have been very comfortable if he had not been too
indolent to clean it out. He never took all the straw away, and the smell from what lay
underneath was very bad; while the strong vapors that rose made my eyes smart and
inflame, and I did not feel the same appetite for my food.
One day his master came in and said, "Alfred, the stable smells rather strong; should not
you give that stall a good scrub and throw down plenty of water?"
"Well, sir," he said, touching his cap, "I'll do so if you please, sir; but it is rather
dangerous, sir, throwing down water in a horse's box; they are very apt to take cold, sir. I
should not like to do him an injury, but I'll do it if you please, sir."
"Well," said his master, "I should not like him to take cold; but I don't like the smell of
this stable. Do you think the drains are all right?"
"Well, sir, now you mention it, I think the drain does sometimes send back a smell; there
may be something wrong, sir."
"Then send for the bricklayer and have it seen to," said his master.
"Yes, sir, I will."
The bricklayer came and pulled up a great many bricks, but found nothing amiss; so he
put down some lime and charged the master five shillings, and the smell in my box was
as bad as ever. But that was not all: standing as I did on a quantity of moist straw my feet
grew unhealthy and tender, and the master used to say:
"I don't know what is the matter with this horse; he goes very fumble-footed. I am
sometimes afraid he will stumble."
"Yes, sir," said Alfred, "I have noticed the same myself, when I have exercised him."
Now the fact was that he hardly ever did exercise me, and when the master was busy I
often stood for days together without stretching my legs at all, and yet being fed just as