« НазадПродовжити »
but it must be admitted that a closer inspection somewhat spoils the romance with which distance invests it. You scramble across an intervening meadow ; you trespass at this spot on the premises of a railway company who have sliced their right of way from the previously not over large and ancient horse-field, and here you are at the very verge of the arena. Then you discover that all this horrible din—all this roaring and raving — this Bedlamitish shrieking and howling - is simply the accompaniment of the sale of certain harmless and inoffensive quadrupeds. In the distance it looked a fierce struggle between the four-legged and the two-legged — a struggle in which the chances of victory were about equal ; but a nearer inspection at once destroyed this pleasant delusion. At a glance it became certain that the two-legged brutes had the best of it. It is a fact no less remarkable than melancholy, that when human nature sinks to the extreme of abasement, so that its blunted intellect is but little superior to what is called instinct, it takes infinite delight in torturing animals that are only beneath it in so far that they go on four legs.
The horse especially is an object of this impish hostility. Anyone who recollects old Smithfield market, or, for that matter—for we have not improved in this respect to the extent some folks may thinkany one whose misfortune it has been to pass through the northern market of Islington on a horse-market day - cannot fail to have observed the pleasure which certain savages of the human species take in ill-using any unlucky nag that is there trotted out to display its paces. It has to run up and down a lane edged on either side with enemies, each one of whom thinks himself unlucky, and deprived of a treat, unless he can
administer to the bewildered animal a prod with a spiked stick, or a slash with a sharp-thonged whip. Should he be baulked in this, he seeks solace in shouting and yelling after the escaped victim, as though it were some satisfaction to affright him.
The cruel propensity of this barbarous tribe is held somewhat in check by the presence of the police and the market inspectors. But at Barnet these are wanting. It is a grand day with the horse-torturing fraternity. They gather on the horse-field hundreds strong, with no man to check them in their wicked freaks. It must be a dreadful day for the poor beasts. One can easily imagine that dreary company of worn-out horses standing under the shed in Mr Atcheler's yard, and, while they wait their turn to be fetched into the poleaxing department, beguiling the tedious time by telling stories of their past experiences. There are horses whose knees have been broken in omnibuses ; horses that can recount dreadful experiences of night cabs ; one, perhaps, that brings tears into the eyes of the others by relating the harrowing story of a blind horse in a brick field. But presently one that has not yet spoken says, in a hoarse whisper, “Friends, were you ever at Barnet? Was it ever the fate of anyone here to spend a livelong day in that field of horror ?” They have heard dark rumours of it, some of them ; but now they lay their heads together, and listen with staring eyes till the horrifying narrative is at an end; and then, with a shiver of sympathy, they resign themselves to their fate, blessing their stars that they have been spared such an infliction, and edging quite cheerfully towards the door that will be presently opened by a man with a red axe in his fist.
I do not mean that this is so—I merely submit the
possibility of such equine communing. Horses are wonderful creatures. Everybody has heard of the Arab steed that gnawed his tether through with his teeth, and then, seizing his master bound hand and foot, carried him in triumph off the battle field to the bosom of his family. It is said to be on the records of the Veterinary College that an equine patient of theirs committed suicide by dashing his brains out against the wall, unable any longer to endure the pangs of toothache. Just imagine then, a creature capable of such reasonable behavioura helpless, friendless victim in Barnet field in the hands of his persecutors. I am afraid to make a guess at the number of horses that were in that one field. Probably there were a couple of thousand, exclusive of the immense droves of ponies, unkempt and fresh from the Welsh mountains. Closely huddled together, however, as were horses and men, space had yet to be made in which to shew them off, as possible purchasers came up, and then ensued the demoniac spectacle already hinted at. Let the reader imagine a row of horses, tethered so closely by each other that their sides touch, and further that there is a grey horse among them. Some one wishes to view the grey horse, and straightway its head is loosed, and it is backed out. Then the fun begins. To the calm observer it seems that what the possible purchaser desires to be convinced of is that the grey horse is of such a patient disposition that no amount of goading or exasperation can drive him raving mad. If this is so, the test is as honestly severe as can be desired. A long and strong rope is affixed to the creature's headstall, and the first mancuvre is to give a tremendous tug at this, and at the same time, a cruel sting with the whip, and then, when the poor beast starts back in terror, “Yah ! hi ! hi! yah! is shrieked
in insulting mockery at his frantic efforts to break away.
But by this time other demons appear on the scene, and now I learn the secret of the flags before mentioned. They were not pennons attached to pikestaffs, but simply yards of stout coloured calico made fast to long hazel sticks. Experience has proved that with this ingenious instrument a horse, purblind with age, and desperately indifferent to blows, may be startled out of its wits, and made to exhibit a frantic activity which the unsuspecting buyer may be persuaded arises from the skitishness of youth. While the unhappy grey is resenting these tugs at the rope which threaten to tear away its upper lip, another tormentor rushes at him behind, and, by a dexterous movement of his red flag, causes it it to go snap, snap, with a noise like so many pistol shots. So urged, the grey springs round, and encounters a yellow flag snapped before its eyes, with a fiendish yell of “Yah! hi ! yah! hup!” and if he has any spark of spirit in him he now rears on his haunches, only to be speedily brought to his four feet again by a tug at the rope.
All the time that the tortured and terror-stricken animal is panting and sweating under these various injuries, there are eight or ten of the gang performing a dance about him, yelling out sounds indescribable, and with their sticks executing a lively imitation of the drum on their hard felt hats and caps. And be it understood, this is going on in twenty different parts of the field at one and the same moment. Of course, these trials do not invariably result in a sale, but when the transaction does so terminate, it appears to be the custom to celebrate it in the same manner. “Sold again! Yah! hi! yah! hip! Sold again!” and the con
federates engage in a dance of delight, flapping their flags, rattling their sticks, and Alinging their cap, or that of any bystander, for they are not in the least particular, up in the air.
But I think the most curious spectacle, and the most amusing, only that there was a touch of pity in it, was to be seen among the Welsh ponies. They are disreputable, shabby looking, shaggy little animals, with tangled manes, and their ears exhibiting that interior fluffiness that bespeaks the uncultivated colt. Wild as · they are, however, they are not tethered. They stood in droves of, say, fifty each, and the most scientific picketing would have failed to bring them closer together or more compact. They made a ring, with their noses towards the centre, and their tails outward ; and there they stood, shifting a little way to the right or left when the great roaring mob came pressing against them, but remaining as firmly side by side as though they were strung together. So docile and quiet did they seem, that any one unacquainted with their peculiarities might have wagered that he would have fetched out one and led it home as quiet as a sheep. He would have speedily discovered his mistake, however. As I gazed on the apparently timid flock, and mused on the gentleness of nature in all things mountain-born, an individual who was standing by inquired of Mr Reece, the proprietor, the price of a bay pony, the size of a small donkey. Eight pounds was the price asked, and Mr Reece cryed to his man Davis to fetch the animal out. Davis was a stiff-built young fellow, with broad shoulders and a weight that must have almost equalled the pony's; and it surprised me to see him “pull himself together," as the vulgar saying is, and take up another hole in his waist strap before he commenced the job.