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32. A Horse Fair
No doubt a horse fair is a very amusing place to those who have nothing to lose; at any
rate, there is plenty to see.
Long strings of young horses out of the country, fresh from the marshes; and droves of
shaggy little Welsh ponies, no higher than Merrylegs; and hundreds of cart horses of all
sorts, some of them with their long tails braided up and tied with scarlet cord; and a good
many like myself, handsome and high-bred, but fallen into the middle class, through
some accident or blemish, unsoundness of wind, or some other complaint. There were
some splendid animals quite in their prime, and fit for anything; they were throwing out
their legs and showing off their paces in high style, as they were trotted out with a leading
rein, the groom running by the side. But round in the background there were a number of
poor things, sadly broken down with hard work, with their knees knuckling over and their
hind legs swinging out at every step, and there were some very dejected-looking old
horses, with the under lip hanging down and the ears lying back heavily, as if there were
no more pleasure in life, and no more hope; there were some so thin you might see all
their ribs, and some with old sores on their backs and hips. These were sad sights for a
horse to look upon, who knows not but he may come to the same state.
There was a great deal of bargaining, of running up and beating down; and if a horse may
speak his mind so far as he understands, I should say there were more lies told and more
trickery at that horse fair than a clever man could give an account of. I was put with two
or three other strong, useful-looking horses, and a good many people came to look at us.
The gentlemen always turned from me when they saw my broken knees; though the man
who had me swore it was only a slip in the stall.
The first thing was to pull my mouth open, then to look at my eyes, then feel all the way
down my legs, and give me a hard feel of the skin and flesh, and then try my paces. It
was wonderful what a difference there was in the way these things were done. Some did
it in a rough, offhand way, as if one was only a piece of wood; while others would take
their hands gently over one's body, with a pat now and then, as much as to say, "By your
leave." Of course I judged a good deal of the buyers by their manners to myself.
There was one man, I thought, if he would buy me, I should be happy. He was not a
gentleman, nor yet one of the loud, flashy sort that call themselves so. He was rather a
small man, but well made, and quick in all his motions. I knew in a moment by the way
he handled me, that he was used to horses; he spoke gently, and his gray eye had a
kindly, cheery look in it. It may seem strange to say -- but it is true all the same -- that the
clean, fresh smell there was about him made me take to him; no smell of old beer and
tobacco, which I hated, but a fresh smell as if he had come out of a hayloft. He offered
twenty-three pounds for me, but that was refused, and he walked away. I looked after
him, but he was gone, and a very hard-looking, loud-voiced man came. I was dreadfully
afraid he would have me; but he walked off. One or two more came who did not mean
business. Then the hard-faced man came back again and offered twenty-three pounds. A
very close bargain was being driven, for my salesman began to think he should not get all
he asked, and must come down; but just then the gray-eyed man came back again. I could
not help reaching out my head toward him. He stroked my face kindly.
"Well, old chap," he said, "I think we should suit each other. I'll give twenty-four for