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The Lazy Tour of Two Idle Apprentices by Charles Dickens

Part 3 out of 3

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as easily as a horse? Does he not sprain his fetlock, for all his
appearance of superior strength, as easily as I sprained my ankle!
Furthermore, to take him from another point of view, what a
helpless wretch he is! No fine lady requires more constant
waiting-on than a horse. Other animals can make their own
toilette: he must have a groom. You will tell me that this is
because we want to make his coat artificially glossy. Glossy!
Come home with me, and see my cat,--my clever cat, who can groom
herself! Look at your own dog! see how the intelligent creature
curry-combs himself with his own honest teeth! Then, again, what a
fool the horse is, what a poor, nervous fool! He will start at a
piece of white paper in the road as if it was a lion. His one
idea, when he hears a noise that he is not accustomed to, is to run
away from it. What do you say to those two common instances of the
sense and courage of this absurdly overpraised animal? I might
multiply them to two hundred, if I chose to exert my mind and waste
my breath, which I never do. I prefer coming at once to my last
charge against the horse, which is the most serious of all, because
it affects his moral character. I accuse him boldly, in his
capacity of servant to man, of slyness and treachery. I brand him
publicly, no matter how mild he may look about the eyes, or how
sleek he may be about the coat, as a systematic betrayer, whenever
he can get the chance, of the confidence reposed in him. What do
you mean by laughing and shaking your head at me?'

'Oh, Thomas, Thomas!' said Goodchild. 'You had better give me my
hat; you had better let me get you that physic.'

'I will let you get anything you like, including a composing
draught for yourself,' said Thomas, irritably alluding to his
fellow-apprentice's inexhaustible activity, 'if you will only sit
quiet for five minutes longer, and hear me out. I say again the
horse is a betrayer of the confidence reposed in him; and that
opinion, let me add, is drawn from my own personal experience, and
is not based on any fanciful theory whatever. You shall have two
instances, two overwhelming instances. Let me start the first of
these by asking, what is the distinguishing quality which the
Shetland Pony has arrogated to himself, and is still perpetually
trumpeting through the world by means of popular report and books
on Natural History? I see the answer in your face: it is the
quality of being Sure-Footed. He professes to have other virtues,
such as hardiness and strength, which you may discover on trial;
but the one thing which he insists on your believing, when you get
on his back, is that he may be safely depended on not to tumble
down with you. Very good. Some years ago, I was in Shetland with
a party of friends. They insisted on taking me with them to the
top of a precipice that overhung the sea. It was a great distance
off, but they all determined to walk to it except me. I was wiser
then than I was with you at Carrock, and I determined to be carried
to the precipice. There was no carriage-road in the island, and
nobody offered (in consequence, as I suppose, of the imperfectly-
civilised state of the country) to bring me a sedan-chair, which is
naturally what I should have liked best. A Shetland pony was
produced instead. I remembered my Natural History, I recalled
popular report, and I got on the little beast's back, as any other
man would have done in my position, placing implicit confidence in
the sureness of his feet. And how did he repay that confidence?
Brother Francis, carry your mind on from morning to noon. Picture
to yourself a howling wilderness of grass and bog, bounded by low
stony hills. Pick out one particular spot in that imaginary scene,
and sketch me in it, with outstretched arms, curved back, and heels
in the air, plunging headforemost into a black patch of water and
mud. Place just behind me the legs, the body, and the head of a
sure-footed Shetland pony, all stretched flat on the ground, and
you will have produced an accurate representation of a very
lamentable fact. And the moral device, Francis, of this picture
will be to testify that when gentlemen put confidence in the legs
of Shetland ponies, they will find to their cost that they are
leaning on nothing but broken reeds. There is my first instance--
and what have you got to say to that?'

'Nothing, but that I want my hat,' answered Goodchild, starting up
and walking restlessly about the room.

'You shall have it in a minute,' rejoined Thomas. 'My second
instance'--(Goodchild groaned, and sat down again)--'My second
instance is more appropriate to the present time and place, for it
refers to a race-horse. Two years ago an excellent friend of mine,
who was desirous of prevailing on me to take regular exercise, and
who was well enough acquainted with the weakness of my legs to
expect no very active compliance with his wishes on their part,
offered to make me a present of one of his horses. Hearing that
the animal in question had started in life on the turf, I declined
accepting the gift with many thanks; adding, by way of explanation,
that I looked on a race-horse as a kind of embodied hurricane, upon
which no sane man of my character and habits could be expected to
seat himself. My friend replied that, however appropriate my
metaphor might be as applied to race-horses in general, it was
singularly unsuitable as applied to the particular horse which he
proposed to give me. From a foal upwards this remarkable animal
had been the idlest and most sluggish of his race. Whatever
capacities for speed he might possess he had kept so strictly to
himself, that no amount of training had ever brought them out. He
had been found hopelessly slow as a racer, and hopelessly lazy as a
hunter, and was fit for nothing but a quiet, easy life of it with
an old gentleman or an invalid. When I heard this account of the
horse, I don't mind confessing that my heart warmed to him.
Visions of Thomas Idle ambling serenely on the back of a steed as
lazy as himself, presenting to a restless world the soothing and
composite spectacle of a kind of sluggardly Centaur, too peaceable
in his habits to alarm anybody, swam attractively before my eyes.
I went to look at the horse in the stable. Nice fellow! he was
fast asleep with a kitten on his back. I saw him taken out for an
airing by the groom. If he had had trousers on his legs I should
not have known them from my own, so deliberately were they lifted
up, so gently were they put down, so slowly did they get over the
ground. From that moment I gratefully accepted my friend's offer.
I went home; the horse followed me--by a slow train. Oh, Francis,
how devoutly I believed in that horse I how carefully I looked
after all his little comforts! I had never gone the length of
hiring a man-servant to wait on myself; but I went to the expense
of hiring one to wait upon him. If I thought a little of myself
when I bought the softest saddle that could be had for money, I
thought also of my horse. When the man at the shop afterwards
offered me spurs and a whip, I turned from him with horror. When I
sallied out for my first ride, I went purposely unarmed with the
means of hurrying my steed. He proceeded at his own pace every
step of the way; and when he stopped, at last, and blew out both
his sides with a heavy sigh, and turned his sleepy head and looked
behind him, I took him home again, as I might take home an artless
child who said to me, "If you please, sir, I am tired." For a week
this complete harmony between me and my horse lasted undisturbed.
At the end of that time, when he had made quite sure of my friendly
confidence in his laziness, when he had thoroughly acquainted
himself with all the little weaknesses of my seat (and their name
is Legion), the smouldering treachery and ingratitude of the equine
nature blazed out in an instant. Without the slightest provocation
from me, with nothing passing him at the time but a pony-chaise
driven by an old lady, he started in one instant from a state of
sluggish depression to a state of frantic high spirits. He kicked,
he plunged, he shied, he pranced, he capered fearfully. I sat on
him as long as I could, and when I could sit no longer, I fell off.
No, Francis! this is not a circumstance to be laughed at, but to be
wept over. What would be said of a Man who had requited my
kindness in that way? Range over all the rest of the animal
creation, and where will you find me an instance of treachery so
black as this? The cow that kicks down the milking-pail may have
some reason for it; she may think herself taxed too heavily to
contribute to the dilution of human tea and the greasing of human
bread. The tiger who springs out on me unawares has the excuse of
being hungry at the time, to say nothing of the further
justification of being a total stranger to me. The very flea who
surprises me in my sleep may defend his act of assassination on the
ground that I, in my turn, am always ready to murder him when I am
awake. I defy the whole body of Natural Historians to move me,
logically, off the ground that I have taken in regard to the horse.
Receive back your hat, Brother Francis, and go to the chemist's, if
you please; for I have now done. Ask me to take anything you like,
except an interest in the Doncaster races. Ask me to look at
anything you like, except an assemblage of people all animated by
feelings of a friendly and admiring nature towards the horse. You
are a remarkably well-informed man, and you have heard of hermits.
Look upon me as a member of that ancient fraternity, and you will
sensibly add to the many obligations which Thomas Idle is proud to
owe to Francis Goodchild.'

Here, fatigued by the effort of excessive talking, disputatious
Thomas waved one hand languidly, laid his head back on the sofa-
pillow, and calmly closed his eyes.

At a later period, Mr. Goodchild assailed his travelling companion
boldly from the impregnable fortress of common sense. But Thomas,
though tamed in body by drastic discipline, was still as mentally
unapproachable as ever on the subject of his favourite delusion.

The view from the window after Saturday's breakfast is altogether
changed. The tradesmen's families have all come back again. The
serious stationer's young woman of all work is shaking a duster out
of the window of the combination breakfast-room; a child is playing
with a doll, where Mr. Thurtell's hair was brushed; a sanitary
scrubbing is in progress on the spot where Mr. Palmer's braces were
put on. No signs of the Races are in the streets, but the tramps
and the tumble-down-carts and trucks laden with drinking-forms and
tables and remnants of booths, that are making their way out of the
town as fast as they can. The Angel, which has been cleared for
action all the week, already begins restoring every neat and
comfortable article of furniture to its own neat and comfortable
place. The Angel's daughters (pleasanter angels Mr. Idle and Mr.
Goodchild never saw, nor more quietly expert in their business, nor
more superior to the common vice of being above it), have a little
time to rest, and to air their cheerful faces among the flowers in
the yard. It is market-day. The market looks unusually natural,
comfortable, and wholesome; the market-people too. The town seems
quite restored, when, hark! a metallic bray--The Gong-donkey!

The wretched animal has not cleared off with the rest, but is here,
under the window. How much more inconceivably drunk now, how much
more begrimed of paw, how much more tight of calico hide, how much
more stained and daubed and dirty and dunghilly, from his horrible
broom to his tender toes, who shall say! He cannot even shake the
bray out of himself now, without laying his cheek so near to the
mud of the street, that he pitches over after delivering it. Now,
prone in the mud, and now backing himself up against shop-windows,
the owners of which come out in terror to remove him; now, in the
drinking-shop, and now in the tobacconist's, where he goes to buy
tobacco, and makes his way into the parlour, and where he gets a
cigar, which in half-a-minute he forgets to smoke; now dancing, now
dozing, now cursing, and now complimenting My Lord, the Colonel,
the Noble Captain, and Your Honourable Worship, the Gong-donkey
kicks up his heels, occasionally braying, until suddenly, he
beholds the dearest friend he has in the world coming down the
street.

The dearest friend the Gong-donkey has in the world, is a sort of
Jackall, in a dull, mangy, black hide, of such small pieces that it
looks as if it were made of blacking bottles turned inside out and
cobbled together. The dearest friend in the world (inconceivably
drunk too) advances at the Gong-donkey, with a hand on each thigh,
in a series of humorous springs and stops, wagging his head as he
comes. The Gong-donkey regarding him with attention and with the
warmest affection, suddenly perceives that he is the greatest enemy
he has in the world, and hits him hard in the countenance. The
astonished Jackall closes with the Donkey, and they roll over and
over in the mud, pummelling one another. A Police Inspector,
supernaturally endowed with patience, who has long been looking on
from the Guildhall-steps, says, to a myrmidon, 'Lock 'em up! Bring
'em in!'

Appropriate finish to the Grand Race-Week. The Gong-donkey,
captive and last trace of it, conveyed into limbo, where they
cannot do better than keep him until next Race-Week. The Jackall
is wanted too, and is much looked for, over the way and up and
down. But, having had the good fortune to be undermost at the time
of the capture, he has vanished into air.

On Saturday afternoon, Mr. Goodchild walks out and looks at the
Course. It is quite deserted; heaps of broken crockery and bottles
are raised to its memory; and correct cards and other fragments of
paper are blowing about it, as the regulation little paper-books,
carried by the French soldiers in their breasts, were seen, soon
after the battle was fought, blowing idly about the plains of
Waterloo.

Where will these present idle leaves be blown by the idle winds,
and where will the last of them be one day lost and forgotten? An
idle question, and an idle thought.; and with it Mr. Idle fitly
makes his bow, and Mr. Goodchild his, and thus ends the Lazy Tour
of Two Idle Apprentices.

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