| Parables from Nature|
|by Margaret S. Gatty|
|Parables for children inspired by nature. This collection includes all 29 stories from the first, second, third, and fourth series, originally published in separate volumes. Ages 6-12 |
"Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft."
—I SAM. xv. 23.
 THREE years of complete liberty, and then to have to
learn in three short weeks to submit entirely to the
will of other people!
This sounds a hard plan of education, and perhaps is
not the very best one possible. Still, thousands of
young colts have turned into good horses upon it; and
if there is to be a reform, it must come from above,
not from below. Reforms from below savour of rebellion,
and that is sure to lead to a reaction the wrong way
Three years of complete liberty, and then to have to learn in three short weeks to submit entirely to the will of other people.
Yet people ought not to blind themselves—those above, I
mean, any more than those below. Every man, therefore,
ought to sit from time to time in his neighbour's
chair, and look with his neighbour's eyes, from his
neighbour's position, at what he himself is about. It
is wonderful how much wiser, as well as kinder, people
grow if they do this.
And among a man's neighbours he should not be ashamed
to reckon the creatures he collects round him for his
own convenience and amusement, and calls his "domestic
animals." Why "domestic," but that he has taken them
from their own natural
 homes, and brought them to his?
And if so, surely it is not too much to ask that he
should give them, each in his degree, the comforts of a
home-citizenship, in return for the duties he exacts.
If he does this honestly, a few errors of judgment on
his part will not matter more than a few errors of
conduct on theirs; for imperfection has not only to be
struggled against, but borne in this world.
Sitting in neighbour Firefly the spirited young
chestnut colt's chair, then, it is but fair to own that
he may well have felt it queer, after three years'
luxury of doing as he liked in large grassy pastures,
to find himself suddenly cooped up in a small square
stuffy place, ceiled in instead of open to the air, and
surrounded by walls, to one particular part of which he
was fastened by a horrible contrivance that went round
his head and neck, and gave him a most unpleasant pull
whenever he tried to get away.
But yesterday he was
free as the wind, so far as the hedges extended—could
gallop from one to the other while his breath lasted;
might snort at the passengers in the road which skirted
the field as much as he pleased; throw out his legs at
everything and everybody; kick, plunge, bound, jump,
till he was tired; whinny at his companions, whether he
had anything worth saying or not; and all this at will:
while now—but the contrast is too painful to dwell
upon, for Firefly was now in a horse-breaker's stable,
with a halter round his neck.
He had one consolation, however, and it is not a small
one to most people—indeed it ought always to be a
matter of thankfulness to all—he was extremely well
fed. It is true the very delicious grain he had now
been champing at three separate
 meals to his heart's
content, with his nose bent over the manger, had been
very dearly purchased by the loss of his freedom the
morning before. The wild driving he had undergone from
the field to the stable-yard, with the treacherous
capture at the end, still rankled in his mind, and the
cruel outrage to his young heart's nervous shyness,
when hands of violent men overcame him, and the fatal
noose was slipped over his head, was not to be
forgotten. Still taste is taste; the food remained
delicious all the same, and he was so young, he could
enjoy the present, irrespective of the past or future.
But all feeds of corn come to an end at last; and at
the end of the first he began to fidget, after the
second he grew angrily impatient, and when he had
swallowed the third, he became what is called
(archaically) rampageous, for in point of fact the good
corn had begun to warm his blood. It was very high
living compared to the cold grass he had been used to.
Now, as was natural, one of the first things he did was
to call out for his old companions of the field, and
this he did in colt's fashion, of course; but what
colt's fashion really is will not be known till men
become good linguists, and have learnt other languages
besides those of their own race.
At present they are
miserably backward in that branch of learning, and have
no idea even of what flies talk about, though they hear
them murmuring away in the air, as soon as they
themselves awake every summer morning, and for nearly
all day after.
Well, in colt's fashion Firefly shouted for his
companions, and after two or three attempts, each of
them louder than the one before, must have made himself
heard; for at last he was answered, though
 from what
seemed a great distance, so smothered were the sounds.
But this was only because they came through stone
walls. In point of fact, his young friends, Whitefoot
and Silverstar by name, were very near—namely, in the
very next adjoining stable—both of them captives like
himself; both of them with halters round their necks,
one in one stall, one in another.
Conversation was difficult under such circumstances,
and could not be carried on for long. What they did
say, when they discovered they were near each other,
amounted to about this:—
"So you are somewhere hereabouts, too, Whitefoot and
Silverstar. Why don't you come where I am? Where are
"We don't know where we are. Where are you? Why don't
you come to us?"
"Because something twitches my head if I try to move
away: so I can't."
"That's just what happens to us; so we can't."
"It's very distressing."
"I wonder what it means! I am very angry."
"We wonder too, but it can't be helped."
Here the dialogue ended, for the colts were not the
only inhabitants of the two stables. In the one, with
Whitefoot and Silverstar, was a good-tempered,
middle-aged, Welsh pony, known all over the
country-side as good old Taffy. In the other, with
Firefly, was an old, half-bred white Arabian mare,
whose mother had been brought from the East.
Old people who talk to young ones should think of the
young ones more than themselves. If they want to gossip
and grumble, and let off vexed
 feelings, let them do it
to each other. Life is very trying sometimes as age
comes on, and those of the same age can understand the
feelings of the age, and make allowance for the
groanings of the natural man. But young creatures may
easily be led away by a few sad or passionate words
into believing all sorts of nonsense. I say, then, let
old people unburden their personal feelings to each
other, but never talk anything but useful sense, or
pleasant nonsense, to a child.
Had the old white mare in the stable thought of this,
it would have been better for Firefly—perhaps, at
least, he would not have had the same encouragement to
turn out unmanageable which she now gave him. For no
sooner had he uttered the words, "I wonder what it
means! I am very angry," to his companion next door,
than she shook her own halter till the rattle roused
his attention, and then observed, in a tone of
melancholy which was of itself quite impressive:—"I can
tell you what it means, but I am afraid when you know
you will not be less angry than now, but rather more."
Firefly's quick blood ran quicker at the startling
"Oh, dear, what makes you say so? Who can you be?"
cried he in excitement.
"One who ought to know something, if age and experience
can instruct," answered the sorrowful old mare, adding
in a lower tone still, "or if unusual opportunities in
early life have not been lost upon her."
"I am almost afraid of hearing, yet suspense is
intolerable," cried Firefly. "Where am I? What is going
"You are a prisoner, at the mercy of those who
 shut you
up," answered the old mare, to whose monotonous
existence the power of lashing a young colt up to
indignation was rather an amusing novelty. "It is the
first time this has happened to you, I suppose?"
"It is the first time I was ever made fast in this
way," groaned Firefly. "If I was ever in an enclosure
before, it was loose by my mother's side. My memory is
confused so far back."
"I, too, had a mother once," murmured the old mare,
Egeria; and her grief in thinking how long ago made her
"Tell me about her," exclaimed Firefly; "what became of
her? I want to know."
"What a tone you speak in," answered Egeria. "You want
to know! You forget you are a prisoner, and must learn
to want nothing but what is given you."
"I shall never learn that," cried he; "and why am I a
prisoner? tell me that."
"Because the people you belong to want to make you
useful—useful to them, that is."
"And why must I be useful to them? Why may I not please
myself as I have done before? What are they to me?"
"Ask them," said Egeria coldly. "They will tell
"You provoke me," cried Firefly, stamping into the
straw at his feet. "Tell me why I am here, as you
promised. My former history is short enough, as you
shall hear. I——"
"Spare yourself the trouble," interrupted Egeria. "Our
histories in this country are all alike. We are left to
ourselves for nearly three years, and are taught
nothing; then our superiors get hold of
 us, by fright
and force, and in three weeks make us learn everything
"And then?" gasped Firefly.
"And then it depends upon the people into whose hands
one falls, whether one is well or ill-used."
"And you have borne all this in patience?" asked
"I had no heart to act otherwise," sighed Egeria. "I
felt no spirit to resist."
"But I feel plenty of spirit, and shall resist," cried
the young chestnut, straining against the halter as
hard as he could bear, and dashing his legs against the
sides of the stall, first on one side, then on the
"But what can you do?" whined Egeria, a little startled
by his violence.
"Do?" shouted Firefly; "why, I shall kick, kick, kick!"
And each time he uttered the words he struck out
against the wooden partition between the stalls. Egeria
began to be alarmed.
"I do not advise it," she said; "I assure you it will
do no good. You had better bear it all as well as you
"Oh, that is all very well for those who can receive
it, old lady," exclaimed Firefly: "I can't. I can't
stand injustice; and what's more, I won't. Why, my
blood is boiling already. Only to think of the way they
drove us along before they got us here. Of course, if I
had known, I should never have left the field. And the
still worse fright those men gave me when they all laid
hold of me and threw this horrible thing over my head!
It's all treachery and injustice from beginning to
"Ah! if we were but in my mother's country!" sighed
 "Why, what then?" enquired Firefly.
"Oh, my poor young friend, I'm afraid it will do more
harm than good to tell you," said Egeria, "yet, if you
wish it so very much, I hardly know how to refuse."
The old goose, to consent to tell what she felt might
do harm! But she was vain of knowing more than other
people on the subject, which she really did. Besides
which, she wanted to stop Firefly's kicking and
plunging, by holding his attention. So said she—
"The people there—in the East, I mean—treat young colts
quite differently from the people here. As soon as ever
they can leave their mothers, they are brought among
the tents, where the men, women, and children live, and
the women take care of them, and feed them, and pet
them. So they get used to their masters from the first,
and there is not the fright and horror and startling
change to go through which we suffer so much from at
the end of our first three years; and so the halter,
and teaching, and all that sort of thing, come much
easier—though, of course, restraint is restraint
everywhere. But, for pity's sake, don't begin to kick
again," concluded Egeria, interrupting herself at the
sound of renewed struggles on Firefly's part. "I have
been telling you my mother's story to keep you quiet."
"Quiet!" shouted the miserable colt. "I won't be quiet,
to please anybody. How can I be quiet, when I want to
get away from this savage country, and go to that other
one—that East you talk of—where colts are properly
"But my dear young friend, consider—it's too late,"
expostulated Egeria. "You can't begin life over again.
You really mustn't let your feelings
 run away with you
in this foolish way. People here don't mean badly,
altogether. They are tolerably kind, on the whole; at
least, some of them are. They feed you well, as you
see; and after you have learnt what they teach, you
will be glad, though you won't like it while it's going
"Then it shan't go on!" shouted Firefly. "They shan't
teach me! I won't learn! I won't have their food, or
their kindness! If they had brought me up properly, I
could have submitted as well as anybody; but they have
been unjust, and now I won't! I'll do something—I'll go
to the East; and if I can't go to the East, I'll kick!"
"Oh, hush!—do, pray, hush!" said Egeria, who, to do her
justice, had merely wanted to excite a sympathetic
grumble, not to rouse a storm. "You go much too far, I
"You say that, because you have no spirit, you poor old
creature!" exclaimed Firefly. "You know you haven't—you
said so yourself just now; but that's no rule for me."
"If I have not much spirit," remarked Egeria, "I may
have some sense, and I want you to have some too. You
can't get away, to begin with—so the East is out of the
question; and you cannot resist these people to any
purpose—so, take my advice, submit and have done with
it. I can tell you from long experience, that kicking
is never of any use."
"Then I shall go on kicking, out of spite, because it's
of no use," cried Firefly; and as he announced this
grand resolution, he broke out all over into a profuse
sweat from excitement.
At which moment the stable-door opened, and the
horsebreaker stepped in, just to have a look at the
colt; and after doing so, and observing his
and uneasy condition, said he to himself, "I shall have
a good deal of trouble with this one, I'm afraid."
Now, in saying this, he was making a sort of comparison
between Firefly and the other two; for he had just been
in the next stable, and seen Whitefoot and Silverstar
unusually placid and quiet—for fresh-caught colts, that
is to say; nobody expects from a kitten the gravity of
a cat. But what wonder? Besides that they were greys,
and therefore easier-tempered by nature than was to be
expected from a chestnut (for in horses, colour and
disposition are apt to go together), they had been
hearing nothing but good advice ever since they were
shut up—and, what is more, they had actually been
attending to it!
But then, good old Taffy gave his good advice in such a
very pleasant way! "My dear friends," cried he, when he
heard them plunging about in their stalls at first, "I
do feel so sorry for you—so very, very sorry—because I
know so well what you suffer. Just the same was done
with me when I was your age."
"Oh, how did you bear it?" asked the colts.
"Well, well, I was very impatient just at the
beginning," answered Taffy; "for my Welsh blood made me
chafe at the confinement, and I was alone, and had
nobody to explain the meaning of it all to me, so it
was hard work; and this makes me particularly glad to
be here just now to help you. I can tell you a great
deal that will comfort you, and plenty more that will
surprise and amuse you very much. There are two sides
to everything, even to things that vex one, I assure
you! But, quiet!—quiet! dear friends, I do beg,"
continued he, as he
 heard more plunging and shaking of
halters, "or I shall not be able to say another word!"
"We will be quiet," cried the colts, for they liked the
idea of being surprised and amused, as who does not?
Then Taffy told them they were not brought here to be
teased to death, as they had perhaps supposed, but to
prepare them for being taught a thousand nice things
which they would never be able to do if they were not
taught, and which it was immensely jolly to be able to
do, when the teaching was once over; and he proceeded
to hold forth on the pleasures of trotting, cantering,
and galloping over the country, with a good feed of
corn, a comfortable stable, and a valet to rub one down
at the end; as also the delightful excitements of
racing and hunting, which even he had enjoyed, though
only as a looker on; but he added that they couldn't
have a share in all this, without first learning to
obey their masters, and love them a little bit too.
Whereupon both colts shuddered all over, for the fright
of the men who had shut them up was very great, and
love seemed perfectly impossible.
"Ah! you can't bear the thought of this, I see," cried
Taffy. "Well, of course, if it could be, one would like
to have no master but oneself—eh, my friends?"
To which both Whitefoot and Silverstar agreed, with a
whinny of satisfaction.
"But what is the use of fretting oneself, by wishing
for what can't be," pursued Taffy. "These men and women
are, though I don't know how, or why, our masters and
superiors, and I know from my own experience, that we
are happiest when we submit to their wishes with a good
grace; when we struggle and resist we are miserable."
 "But suppose they wish something cruel and unjust?"
"But who is to decide what is so?" asked Taffy in
return. "Many things seem so that are not; your being
here against your will for instance—you will be so glad
about it by and by, when the teaching is finished."
"It is comfortable to hear that," murmured Silverstar.
"Is the teaching itself very unpleasant?" asked
"Very," cried Taffy at once, at the mere recollection
of it, and the colts shuddered again. "But here I am,"
he continued, "none the worse, and all the better, and
as happy as possible, with a man or woman, or a little
child on my back three or four times a week, and a pet
with all the family. Oh! you have no notion how
good-natured these men very often are—bringing one
tit-bits both in the stable and field—bread, or apples,
or carrots, or clover, which one takes out of their
hands. But for pity's sake don't begin kicking again,"
cried he, as he heard them flinging wildly about, at
the notion of men coming so near. "Why, you surely
wouldn't kick at kindness? You must meet it halfway,
when it's offered, you foolish fellows, or you may live
to want it before you die! But, don't alarm yourselves!
You won't be able to be on these intimate terms with
masters and superiors, till you've learnt to be
well-mannered and obedient. But my experience tells me
they are kind when we are good; and where they seem
otherwise, I try to believe it is because we don't
understand the meaning of what they are doing;—with
superiors one can't expect that one should."
A word spoken in season, how good it is! The
 colts grew
calmer and calmer as Taffy went on, and when, in
conclusion, he told them a story about a good-natured
lady, who used to bring him handfuls of oats in reward
of a pretty trick he learnt of opening the stable door
with his nose, they half began to believe that these
men and women were not, after all, such dreadful
creatures as they had supposed.
And as it was just then that the horsebreaker entered
the stable to look at them, it is not to be wondered at
that they bore his presence with only about half the
horror they would otherwise have felt, and so kept
And thus a week went on, Taffy encouraging them by his
own example and experience to bear what was coming
with patience and in hope.
And he could but speak from his own experience, poor
Taffy! Let us trust, then, that in these "days of
advance" there are fewer and fewer exceptions to the
rule, that a docile horse makes a kind master. Shame on
the master if it does not!
It was at the end of the first week that the real trial
began for all three colts, and a trial indeed it was!
They have hard hearts who would deny it. Those heavy
iron bits forced into the young tender mouths; so
stiff against their teeth, so cold against their flesh,
how horrible they were! And the bridles that pulled at
them, forcing the poor heads to turn hither and
thither, for mere whim's sake, as it seemed (for
whatever reason there was for it, they could not find
it out)—what a cruel contrivance! Then the long whips,
which kept them at one distance all the time, so that,
as they were forced to move on continually, they had no
choice but to go round and round in a circle for
ever—how irritating! My heart bleeds when I think of
it, and imagine the
 two long hours of struggle on that
first dreadful day. How severe the trial must have been
to them,—must ever be to all!
Worse still, however, when in the course of a few days,
the corners of the mouths became sore from the pressure
of the iron, and there was, for a time, the pain of a
raw wound, as well as a day-by-day longer time of
restraint to endure.—Masters and superiors, verily,
there is a great responsibility in your hands!
Nevertheless, it is not for the colts to sit in
Now, then, how fared the three colts under the terrible
but, at present, in some way or other, necessary
training? (For even Egeria could not answer Firefly's
maddened enquiries, by saying that in the East the bit
and bridle and whip can be dispensed with.) Well,
Whitefoot and Silverstar set out by intending to submit
if possible, and therefore, though more or less
cheerfully at some times than others, and with more or
less pain to themselves, they contrived to manage it at
Firefly, on the contrary, started by a sort of
resistance-on-principle plan. Wishing to resist, in
fact, he always found a reason for resisting. If people
treated him properly he could submit as well as any one
else, he was sure; but if they ill-used him, what could
they expect but that he should kick—kick—kick? And as
to what proper treatment was, he made himself the sole
judge. Certainly the training process just described
was not proper, but on the contrary cruel and unjust,
and accordingly kick, kick, kick he went, whenever it
In vain Egeria begged him to forbear, seeing too late
how much mischief her folly had done.
"It is so senseless to resist when you can't help
yourself," said she.
 "It is so mean to yield to an unjust necessity!" cried
And she dared not contradict herself so far as to
suggest, that it might not be so unjust as it seemed.
"Will you listen to me once more?" asked she one day.
"If you talk sense, yes," replied Firefly, "not
otherwise, old lady."
Egeria sighed; for his part folly was but a
stretched-out shadow of her own. Imperfect judgments;
judgments formed on half-known grounds; judgments
formed by the lesser intelligence concerning a greater
which it cannot comprehend—what rebellion and ruin have
they not caused!
"It is sense, if you have sense to find it out," cried
Egeria, sharply. "It is downright wisdom. What I am
going to say is truth and fact."
"I hear you; go on," said Firefly, impatiently.
"Well, if you go on kicking in this manner, every time
you think you have—I beg your pardon—every time you
have a reason for kicking, you know, you will get into
such a habit of kicking, that you will do it whether
you have a reason or not."
"Shall I!" shouted Firefly, with contempt.
"Yes, you will though!" persisted Egeria, vexed alike
by his obstinacy and ridicule. "If you kick every time
you can find or make an excuse, you will be very apt to
kick on when you have none."
"I have never yet kicked without a reason, old lady,
and I don't intend to do so," answered Firefly.
"I know, I know," replied Egeria, "so far you have
always proved yourself right to yourself; what the
horsebreaker thinks is another matter. But, dear
friend, try and believe me,—habits are such tremendous
things! If you don't get into a habit
 of giving way,
you mayn't be able to give way when you want, that's
what I am afraid of. Those who indulge themselves in
kicking at all, will sometimes kick when they would
give worlds to forbear."
"How can that happen to me, when I never kick without a
reason?" cried Firefly.
At which moment he was fetched from the stable for a
morning's lesson, and Egeria was left to fret alone.
For fret she did, not being a bad creature on the
whole, but such an inconsiderate old simpleton, both in
her way of viewing life and talking about it to others!
And alas! there was but too much cause for fretting,
when at the end of five weeks Firefly remained still
untamed—still in the horsebreaker's hands! A fortnight
ago both Whitefoot and Silverstar had taken leave of
the place, had finished their education with
respectability, and gone out into the world on their
There are plenty of good masters to be
found for docile, well-taught creatures, and they had
been picked up at once by two neighbouring families,
and often met in their rides, and talked over old
times. Egeria heard this from Taffy, who, from being
constantly out, learnt all the news of the
country-side, and had once or twice met his friends
himself; and it must be owned she regretted Firefly's
conduct all the more, that she feared she had had some
share in it herself.
When Firefly was led out of the stable after Egeria had
spoken, he had, for a few minutes, a misgiving that
there might be some truth in what she had said. But the
first crack of the horsebreaker's whip made his heart
as hard as ever. He had accustomed himself for so long
to look upon it
 and him and the whole affair as a
system of barbarous injustice, that he could not have
rid himself of the notion without a strong effort, and
there was one great difficulty to his making it—namely,
that he must acknowledge himself to have been in the
And alas! he did not make it; and so
another week went on, at the end of which the
horsebreaker lost patience, and told Firefly's owner he
was a hopeless kicker, and a very ill-conditioned
animal as to temper, though otherwise with many good
points, and a valuable beast.
It was not very pleasant news to the owner, but Firefly
was so handsome in appearance, and moreover, so strong
and able to work, that he was undertaken at last by a
very fearless young squire, who cared for little but
pace and beauty, had a seat like a rock, put his faith
in a strong curb, and had no scruple in using his
What Firefly underwent in his hands I do not wish to
describe, though, even there, if he would but have
submitted, his fate would not have been bad, for if the
master loved his galloping, so did Firefly himself. But
again and again he would refuse to obey the curb if it
checked or turned him suddenly when his face was set
elsewhere; and then like an instinct came the impulse
to kick, kick, kick! and he followed it.
For an hour
sometimes the two would battle together—the spur and
the whip and the curb, against that insane
determination to kick, kick, kick! And as to be
conquered by main force and exhaustion is not to be
reformed, Firefly was led away bleeding and
foam-covered to his stable, as savage as when he left
it, and still repeating the old strain—
 "If people
treat me properly, I can submit as well as any one
else; but if they don't, what can they expect but that
I shall kick, kick, kick?"
Like the horsebreaker's whim
of driving him round in an everlasting circle, seemed
the young squire's whim of checking him, and turning
him round when he didn't expect it, and wanted to go
straight on. He kicked, therefore, strictly on
principle, and all the more when the injustice was
enforced by the spur and the lash. So the squire got
tired of his purchase, and Firefly was sold again.
But this time to a very knowing hand, a country doctor,
who after trying different plans in turn—low feed and
good feed, kindness and severity, and finding both
unsuccessful, took him back to the horsebreaker. "He
seems very hopeless at present," remarked he; "he kicks
for nothing. But there is one more chance. Break him in
for harness. Kicking-straps will perhaps bring him to
his senses. At any rate try; he has many good
qualities, and is a fine fellow. I hope he'll do well."
The horsebreaker shook his head, and led Firefly back
to his old stable. Another colt occupied his former
stall, but there were still two vacant. He was led into
the middle one, and before nightfall Egeria was brought
into the third.
Firefly told his story at length, and was too eager to
hear Egeria's shuffles of impatience. "How unfortunate
some people are!" observed she, when he ended; but
there was a slight mockery in her tone.
"I have been so all along," said he; "I believe I am
fated to ill-usage."
"People always are who will go nobody's way but their
own," was Egeria's answer; "why don't
 you do what is
wanted? Go the way your master pulls you, and give up
fighting for your own."
"If people treat me properly, I can submit—"
"Oh, do stop!" cried Egeria, "I've heard that much too
often. You never do submit."
"Because they never—"
"Oh, they, they, they! Would they be masters, if you,
and not they, were to lead the way?"
"Oh, as to masters, perhaps I have my own opinion,"
cried Firefly; "I wonder who has been master of the two
I have had! But no matter about that. I could have
borne leading, but I wouldn't be dragged. It was the
curb and spurs and whip of that young squire I kicked
"And of your last master, the doctor, when he was
kind?" asked Egeria.
"He wasn't always kind," muttered Firefly.
"But when he was?" insisted the old mare.
"Fool!" murmured Firefly, between his teeth; "was I
likely to go his fidgety way—stopping at one house
then at another; no sooner started than having to stop;
twisted down one lane and up another, never having a
good run all the time; I, who had galloped over half a
country-side in a morning with the squire? Kick? why
who wouldn't kick at a life like that?"
"It is as I feared," exclaimed Egeria. "Anybody who
wants to kick, can find a reason for it, of course."
And she spoke not another word, for she did not
understand the matter to the bottom, as Taffy did, and
her way of argument was, therefore, not convincing.
The first thing in the morning, however, Firefly spoke
to her. He had a question to ask. Did she know what
kicking-straps were? Perfectly; what made him want to
 He repeated what the doctor had said.
"Capital!" said Egeria. "If you are put into those you
will never be able to kick again."
"We shall see about that," groaned Firefly, grinding
his teeth as if he were champing oats.
"Masters—masters—masters indeed! . . . "
In which state of mind he was taken out, two hours
afterwards, put into kicking-straps, and had his first
lesson of going into harness. The plan answered at
first; but this was only while the shock of surprise
and helplessness lasted. Still, being rather less wild,
the horsebreaker returned him as "fit for harness, if
driven in kicking-straps;" and Egeria twitted him when
he left her, as being "fairly caught at last." "We
shall see about that," muttered Firefly, fuming to
himself, as the doctor drove him home. But the
kicking-straps were amazingly strong, and he restrained
himself. Nevertheless, the first principles of
submission had not entered his head, and Egeria's folly
and ridicule had done all that an unwise friend could
do to confuse the truth.
The truth? Ah, we can only get at that by sitting in
our neighbour's chair, and looking with his eyes. Had
Firefly done this, he would have known why the
kicking-straps were added to his harness, and have laid
the blame on the right shoulders. As it was, he laid
the blame on the doctor, and considered himself the
victim of injustice.
So, one unlucky day, after a round of rather tiresome
visiting, a very slight correction for impatience set
his blood working; and, without thinking either of
kicking-straps or consequences, he took the bit between
his teeth, laid his ears down, close to his head,
muttering; "Masters indeed!" to
him-  self, and pulling
madly at the reins, dashed at full speed down the
narrow country lane. They stopped him at last at a
turnpike-gate, and as the kicking-straps had given way
soon after he started, he concluded the day's work by
smashing the splashboard to pieces, his master escaping
So he was sent back to the market town, and resold.
It is impossible to pursue him through all his
adventures; they were all, so to speak, variations upon
the same set of notes—the battle of authority with one
who refused to acknowledge its claims. A miserable
struggle, whether of man or beast; whether against the
powers ordained of God, or the God of power Himself;
whether breaking out into open contest, or indulged in
by inward repining.
At last, poor Firefly fell into the hands of a regular
horsedealer, who forwarded him to a neighbourhood where
his tricks were not known, and after some weeks of low
diet and constant work, sold him (more shame for the
fact) to a quiet country clergyman, for a birthday
present for his daughter, just bursting into the beauty
Now, by this time, our friend Firefly had had
experience enough to discover that his habit of
opposition was constantly bringing him into trouble.
And though he was not sick of the bad habit, he was
decidedly sick of the trouble, and every now and then
was vexed with himself for giving way to it. And now
and then he recalled Egeria's words, "Those who indulge
themselves in kicking at all, will sometimes kick when
they would give worlds to forbear."
Still, he could not
remember a single case in which he had kicked without a
very good reason—as it seemed to him—so he assured
himself at least, and tried
 to forget that Egeria had
also said, "Anybody who wants to kick can find a reason
for kicking, of course!"
Now at last, however, came Firefly's halcyon days. What
more could heart of horse desire than to belong to a
gentle young girl, who was ready to love him, not only
as her servant but companion and friend? Egeria's tales
of Eastern kindness came back to his mind again and
again, as his new mistress brought him delicate morsels
which she would fain have had him eat from her hand;
and when, as was generally the case, he could not
overcome his repugnance, but started back from her
caresses, all she said was, the poor fellow was nervous
and shy; perhaps—who knew?—he had at some time or other
been harshly used.
"This is as it should be," remarked Firefly; and he
began to think better than ever of himself. The few
misgivings he had lately had went to sleep. "I
was right, and not Egeria," thought he, as he bore his
light burden over her favourite haunt, the Downs.
"I was right, and Egeria wrong. I told her I had never
kicked without a reason, and never should. It was
nonsense about not being able to leave off."
And so he really believed, till, alas! the renewed good
living brought back the impatience as well as fire into
his blood, and what had he to restrain them with, who
had not got the law in his heart? There followed one
other week of self-confidence and enjoyment, and then . . .
. . . She was not in the least to blame—that beautiful
young girl who had been so kind to him. He admitted
this even to himself, when he saw her stretched at his
feet; the eyes that had looked so kindly at him,
closed; the rich black hair surrounding
 the white
cheeks and forehead like a pall—the groom so
horror-struck when he came up, that he never thought of
even laying hold on Firefly's bridle.
They had been out for a morning ride on the Downs, and
she had wished to canter. For a day or two past, some
evil spirit (evil spirits are so ingenious) had been
whispering in his ear, that to be patronised was all
very well, if it were not another form of unjust
restraint. Masters? had he not proved himself the
master in every case yet? And so he had done here—here,
where, as Egeria had prophesied, he would have given
worlds to forbear.
Now rose before him the only
half-valued tenderness, the anxiety for his daily
comfort, the little personal sacrifices in his favour,
and this as the conclusion; that because the canter had
been prolonged, and she had wished to rest, and so
checked him with the bridle, the old habit had proved
too strong for him, and prompted him to kick, kick,
kick!—and he had kicked until she was stretched at his
feet. . . .
More than an hour passed, and Firefly stood by her
still. Stood in the same spot, seeing the same sight,
without care to go his own way, now that he might have
done it at will.
And then came the trampling of feet, horses and other
men, and among them all a father in the first agony of
despair. But no one noticed Firefly—he was nothing to
his masters then, and so he stood on there like a horse
of marble, in the same old place, looking at what he
But presently some one who had been touching her wrist
and had sprinkled her with water whispered, "She is
coming to herself!"
And it was true. Firefly's mistress had been
and one arm was hurt, but she awoke again to life; and
when the poor father had wept out his joy on her neck,
and she had looked up, she smiled to see so near them
the creature who had caused this evil. Yes, there he
stood, and his eye watched hers, as it first glanced at
him, and then fixed on her father's face anxiously,
while she murmured, "Promise me one thing, dear father.
Let poor Firefly go to Rarey to be cured."
Masters?—They may well be masters and superiors, in
whom the abiding spirit of forgiveness and love is
triumphant! So Firefly was taken to Rarey; but what
then happens to horses must be looked for in other
books. This does not contain an argument on the merits
of the different methods of horsebreaking; only thus
much as regards Rarey's process is the turning point of
The object aimed at is the subjection of the
will, not merely the control of the body,—the full and
complete recognition of the mastership and superiority
of man. This, and this only, is what is wanted when the
legs are tied up, and struggles rendered powerless by
force, so that the indignant animal is brought through
exhaustion of body to submission of feeling. He has
plunged, he has kicked, he has reared, for hours
together, if he will have it so; but the man stands by
him unscathed, unruffled, and still kind:—his master
and superior—the terrible discipline proves it; but
still kind—and the kindness proves it too.
All this Firefly went through; and when the
Rarey-breaker "gentled" him all over his miserable
frame, as he lay panting and overpowered on the
sawdust, conquered and convinced at last, all his
mistakes and misconceptions of other people came
him, as plainly as if Taffy himself had spoken them; so
plainly, that he wondered at himself.
his old and all-too-firmly-adhered-to resolution to
kick, kick, kick, whenever he was vexed, a fresh
outbreak of perspiration astonished the breaker so
much, that he "gentled" and soothed the troubled spirit
more and more tenderly, till Firefly could think of
nothing like it but the father and daughter comforting
each other on the Downs, that terrible day of his
And thus at last, he learnt that it was possible for
submission and love and happiness to go hand in hand
together. Firefly was cured.
And then he was taken back to a home which he helped in
his degree, however humble, to make what a home should
be;—a circle in which animals, superior and inferior,
should all work together, each after its measure and
kind, for the comfort and pleasure of all.
At last, therefore, he gave a willing obedience to
every touch of his dear young lady's rein: and yet he
feared her no longer as before; and yet he loved her
more! Which is a great mystery, but the world repeats
it in a thousand forms.
Animals under man—servants under masters—children under
parents—wives under husbands—men under
authorities—nations under rulers—all under God,—it is
the same with all:—in obedience of will is the only
Happy the colts who learn submission without a lifetime
of personal struggle! Happy the men and women who find
in the lesser obediences a practice-field of the
greater; for assuredly the words of Egeria are true:
"Those who indulge themselves in kicking at all, will
sometimes kick when they would give worlds to forbear."
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