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15. The Old Hostler
After this it was decided by my master and mistress to pay a visit to some friends who
lived about forty-six miles from our home, and James was to drive them. The first day we
traveled thirty-two miles. There were some long, heavy hills, but James drove so
carefully and thoughtfully that we were not at all harassed. He never forgot to put on the
brake as we went downhill, nor to take it off at the right place. He kept our feet on the
smoothest part of the road, and if the uphill was very long, he set the carriage wheels a
little across the road, so as not to run back, and gave us a breathing. All these little things
help a horse very much, particularly if he gets kind words into the bargain.
We stopped once or twice on the road, and just as the sun was going down we reached
the town where we were to spend the night. We stopped at the principal hotel, which was
in the market-place; it was a very large one; we drove under an archway into a long yard,
at the further end of which were the stables and coachhouses. Two hostlers came to take
us out. The head hostler was a pleasant, active little man, with a crooked leg, and a
yellow striped waistcoat. I never saw a man unbuckle harness so quickly as he did, and
with a pat and a good word he led me to a long stable, with six or eight stalls in it, and
two or three horses. The other man brought Ginger; James stood by while we were
rubbed down and cleaned.
I never was cleaned so lightly and quickly as by that little old man. When he had done
James stepped up and felt me over, as if he thought I could not be thoroughly done, but
he found my coat as clean and smooth as silk.
"Well," he said, "I thought I was pretty quick, and our John quicker still, but you do beat
all I ever saw for being quick and thorough at the same time."
"Practice makes perfect," said the crooked little hostler, "and 'twould be a pity if it didn't;
forty years' practice, and not perfect! ha, ha! that would be a pity; and as to being quick,
why, bless you! that is only a matter of habit; if you get into the habit of being quick it is
just as easy as being slow; easier, I should say; in fact it don't agree with my health to be
hulking about over a job twice as long as it need take. Bless you! I couldn't whistle if I
crawled over my work as some folks do! You see, I have been about horses ever since I
was twelve years old, in hunting stables, and racing stables; and being small, ye see, I
was jockey for several years; but at the Goodwood, ye see, the turf was very slippery and
my poor Larkspur got a fall, and I broke my knee, and so of course I was of no more use
there. But I could not live without horses, of course I couldn't, so I took to the hotels. And
I can tell ye it is a downright pleasure to handle an animal like this, well-bred, well-
mannered, well-cared-for; bless ye! I can tell how a horse is treated. Give me the
handling of a horse for twenty minutes, and I'll tell you what sort of a groom he has had.
Look at this one, pleasant, quiet, turns about just as you want him, holds up his feet to be
cleaned out, or anything else you please to wish; then you'll find another fidgety, fretty,
won't move the right way, or starts across the stall, tosses up his head as soon as you
come near him, lays his ears, and seems afraid of you; or else squares about at you with
his heels. Poor things! I know what sort of treatment they have had. If they are timid it
makes them start or shy; if they are high-mettled it makes them vicious or dangerous;
their tempers are mostly made when they are young. Bless you! they are like children,
train 'em up in the way they should go, as the good book says, and when they are old they
will not depart from it, if they have a chance."