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Bert Lloyd's Boyhood
Chapter XXV. About two kinds of Ponies

IN due time the Sable Island ponies arrived, and were announced to be sold by auction, at the Government Wharf. Taking Bert with him, Mr. Lloyd went down in time to have a good look at the shipment before the sale commenced, so that he might have his mind made up before beginning to bid. They certainly were a queer lot of little creatures. Not a curry-comb had touched their hides since they were born, nor had the shears ever been near their manes or tails. Their coats were long, thick, and filled with dirt; their manes and tails of prodigious length, and matted together in inextricable knots. They were of all colours, and within certain limits of all sizes. Brown, bay, black, piebald, grey, and sorrel. There was no lack of variety; and Mr. Lloyd and Bert wandered up and down the long line as they stood tethered to the wall, scrutinising them closely, and sorely puzzled as to which to decide upon.

It was, of course, quite impossible to tell anything as to disposition, for all the ponies seemed equally wild and terrified at their novel situation; but, after going over them carefully, Mr. Lloyd decided upon a very promising-looking black pony that stood near the middle of the row. He was of a good size, seemed to be in better condition than many of those around him, had a well-shaped head, and altogether presented about as attractive an appearance as any in the lot.

There were numerous bidders at the auction, and Bert grew deeply interested in the selling, as pony after pony was put up, and after a more or less spirited contest, according to his looks, was knocked down to the person that bid the highest for him. By the time the pony his father had selected was reached, he was fairly trembling with excitement. He was full of apprehension lest somebody else should take him away from them, and when the bidding began, he watched every movement and word of the auctioneer with breathless anxiety, raising quite a laugh at one time, by answering his oft-repeated question “Will anybody give me five? I have thirty—will anybody give me five?” with an eager “I will!” that was easily heard by everybody in the crowd. It was an immense relief to him, when, at length, after what seemed to him most unnecessary persistence in trying to get more, the auctioneer called out “Going, going, going, at thirty-five dollars. Will you give me any more? Going at thirty-five—going, going, gone; and sold to Mr. Lloyd.”

Thirty-five dollars does not seem very much to give for a pony; but considering that this pony had everything to learn, and nobody to guarantee his good behaviour, it was a fair enough price for him. The getting him home proved to be quite a serious undertaking. The strange sights and sounds of the city streets did not merely frighten him—they positively crazed him for the time; and it took two strong men, one on either side of his head, to guide him in safety to the stable. Once securely fastened in the stall, he quieted down in time, but not one bite of food would he touch that day, nor the next, although Bert tried to tempt him with everything of which Brownie had been fond. This troubled Bert very much. He began to fear his new pony would starve to death. But his father reassured him.

“Don’t be alarmed, my boy. The pony will find his appetite all right so soon as he gets used to his new quarters,” said Mr. Lloyd.

And sure enough on the third morning, Bert, to his great relief, found the oat box licked clean, and the pony looking round wistfully for something more to eat. After that, the difficulty lay rather in satisfying than in tempting his appetite. He proved an insatiable eater. But then nobody thought of stinting him, especially as his bones were none too well covered.

It was with great difficulty that he could be persuaded to allow himself to be groomed. He would start at the touch of the curry-comb, as though it gave him an electric shock, and Michael, who combined in himself the offices of groom and gardener, declared that “of all the pesky, fidgety critters that ever stood on four legs, he never did see the like of this ’ere Sable Islander.” Michael’s opinion was not improved when he came to break the little Sable Islander in, for he led him such a dance day after day that his stout heart was well-nigh broken before the pony’s will showed any signs of being broken. However, patience and kindness, combined with firmness, eventually won the day; and Michael, with considerable pride announced that “Sable,” as it had been decided to call him, was ready for use.

Mr. Lloyd thought it best to ride Sable for a week or two before Bert should mount him, and to this arrangement Bert was nothing loath, for the pony’s actions while in process of being broken in had rather subdued his eagerness to trust himself upon him. As it chanced, Mr. Lloyd came very near paying a severe penalty for his thoughtfulness. He had been out several mornings on Sable, and had got along very well. One morning while he was in the act of mounting, the gate suddenly slammed behind him with a loud bang. The pony at once started off at full gallop. Mr. Lloyd succeeded in throwing himself into the saddle, but could not get his feet into the stirrups, and when the frightened creature upon which he had so insecure a hold swerved sharply round at the end of the street, he was hurled from his seat like a stone from a catapult, and fell headlong, striking his right temple upon the hard ground.

A few minutes later Mrs. Lloyd was startled by a hasty rap at the door, and on opening it beheld her husband supported between two men, his face ghastly pale, and stained with blood from a wound on his forehead. She was a brave woman, and although her heart almost stood still with agonised apprehension, she did not lose control of herself for an instant. Directing Mr. Lloyd to be carried into the parlour and laid gently upon the sofa, Mrs. Lloyd bathed his head and face while Mary chafed his hands; and presently, to their unspeakable joy, he recovered consciousness. Fortunately, his injuries proved to be comparatively slight. Beyond a cut on his forehead, a bad headache, and a general shaking up, he had suffered no material injury, and he would not listen to Mrs. Lloyd’s finding any fault with Sable for the accident.

“Tut! tut! Kate,” said he; “the pony was not to blame at all. Any horse might have been frightened by a gate banging to at his heels. The fault was mine in not seeing that the gate was shut before I mounted. No; no, you must not blame poor, little Sable.”

Curiously enough, Bert had a somewhat similar experience shortly after he began to ride Sable. At a little distance from the house was a hill up which the street led, and then down the other side out into the country. The ascent was pretty steep, the descent not so much so, and Bert liked to walk his pony up to the top, and then canter down the other side. One afternoon, just as he reached the summit, a little street boy, probably by way of expressing the envy he felt for those who could afford to ride, threw a stone at Sable, which struck him a stinging blow on the hindquarters. Like an arrow from the bow, the pony was off. Taking the bit in his teeth, and straightening his head out, he went at full speed down the hill, Bert holding on for dear life with his heart in his mouth, and his hat from his head.

In some way or other, he himself never knew exactly how, he got both his feet out of the stirrups, and it was well for him he did, for just at the bottom of the hill, when he was going like a greyhound, Sable stopped short, lowered his head, flung up his heels, and, without the slightest protest or delay, Bert went flying from the saddle, and landed in the middle of the dusty road in a sitting posture with his legs stretched out before him. The saucy pony paused just long enough to make sure that his rider was disposed of beyond a doubt, and then galloped away, apparently in high glee.

Bert was not hurt in the least. He had never sat down quite so unexpectedly before, but the thick dust of the road made an excellent cushion, and he was soon upon his feet, and in full cry after the runaway. Thanks to a gentleman on horseback who had witnessed the whole scene, and went immediately in chase of Sable, the latter was soon recaptured, and Bert, having thanked his friend in need, and brushed some of the dust from his clothes, remounted his mischievous steed, and rode him for the rest of the afternoon.

After those two somewhat unpromising performances, Sable settled down into very good habits, and during all the rest of the time that he was in Bert’s possession did not again disgrace himself by running away or pitching any one off his back. He never became the pet that Brownie had been, but he was, upon the whole, a more useful animal, so that Bert came to feel himself well compensated for his loss.

About this time Bert made the acquaintance of a pony of a very different sort. How, indeed, it came to have this name does not seem to be very clear, for what natural connection can be established between a diminutive horse, and a discreditable method of reducing the difficulties of a lesson in Latin or Greek? It would appear to be a very unjust slur upon a very worthy little animal, to say the least.

Bert’s first knowledge of the other kind of pony was when in the course of his study of Latin he came to read Sallust. Caesar he had found comparatively easy, and with no other aid than the grammar and lexicon he could, in the course of an hour or so, get out a fair translation of the passage to be mastered. But Sallust gave him no end of trouble. There was something in the involved obscure style of this old historian that puzzled him greatly, and he was constantly being humiliated by finding that when, after much labour, he had succeeded in making some sort of sense out of a sentence, Dr. Johnston would pronounce his translation altogether wrong, and proceed to read it in quite another way.

As it happened, just when Bert was in the middle of those difficulties, Mr. Lloyd was called away from home on important business which entailed an absence for many weeks, and consequently Bert was deprived of his assistance, which was always so willingly given.

He had been struggling with Sallust for some time, and was making but very unsatisfactory headway, when one day, chancing to express to Regie Selwyn his envy of the seeming ease with which the latter got along, Regie looked at him with a knowing smile, and asked:

“Don’t you know how I get my translation so pat?” "No,” replied Bert; “ tell me, won’t you?”

“Why, I use a pony, of course,” responded Regie.

“A pony!” exclaimed Bert, in a tone of surprise. “What do you mean?”

“Oh, come now,” said Regie, with an incredulous smile. “Do you mean to say that you don’t know what a pony is?”

“I do, really,” returned Bert. “Please tell me, like a good fellow.”

“Come along home with me after school, and I’ll show you,” said Regie.

“All right,” assented Bert; “I will.”

Accordingly, that afternoon when school had been dismissed, Bert accompanied Regie home, and there the latter took him to his room, and produced a book which contained the whole of Sallust turned into clear, simple English.

“There,” said he, placing the volume in Bert’s hands; “that’s what I mean by a pony.”

Bert opened the book, glanced at a page or two, took in the character of its contents, and then, with a feeling as though he had touched a serpent, laid it down again, saying:

“But do you think it’s right to use this book in getting up your Sallust, Regie?”

Regie laughed and shrugged his shoulders. “Where’s the harm, my boy. If you can’t translate old Sallust by yourself, you can’t, that’s all, and you’ve got to wait for Dr. Johnston to do it for you. Now, mightn’t you just as well get it out of this book at once, and save all the trouble,” he argued, glibly.

This was very fallacious reasoning, but somehow or other it impressed Bert as having a good deal of force in it. The simple truth was that he was willing to be convinced. But he did not feel quite satisfied yet.

“Then, of course, you never look at it until you have done your best to get the lesson out without it?” he asked.

“That depends. Sometimes I do, and sometimes I don’t,” answered Regie, in a tone that implied very plainly that the latter “sometimes” occurred much more frequently than the former.

Bert took up the book again and fingered it thoughtfully.

“Could I get one if I wanted to?” he asked, presently.

“Why, of course,” answered Regie. “There are many more at Gossip’s where I got this, I guess.”

Bert said no more; and the two boys soon began talking about something else.

For some days thereafter Bert was in a very perplexed state of mind. It seemed as though “the stars in their courses” were fighting not against, but in favour of his getting a “pony” for himself. His father’s absence was indefinitely prolonged, the Sallust grew more and more difficult, and demanded so much time, that Bert’s chance of winning one of the prizes for general proficiency was seriously jeopardised.

Instead of dismissing the subject from his mind altogether, he fell to reasoning about it, and then his danger really began, for the more he reasoned, the weaker his defences grew. There seemed so much to be said in favour of the pony; and, after all, if he did not resort to it until he had done his best to work out the translation unaided, what would be the harm?

Clearly Bert was in a perilous position. Right and wrong were strongly contending for the victory, and much would depend upon the issue of the conflict.

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