A Donkey In A Police Court
( Originally Published Ealry 1900's )
A TRUE STORY
MY master had had a more than usually successful morning's round; my load was disposed of, and we were returning leisurely down Regent street, when he was suddenly accosted by a man who was walking on the pavement. Being in a particularly good humor, my master returned the greeting cordially enough, and the two friends soon agreed to go together to some saloon near, to take a glass to keep out the cold, and to drink to their mutual prosperity.
" Here, you see to the donkey, Tom," said my master to a boy who generally went his rounds with him; " and do not you let nobody touch him nor the cart till I come back again. Do you hear, Tom?"
" Yes, I hear," was the somewhat sulky reply; and, drawing me up close to the curbstone, where I should be as much as possible out of the way, my master, saying he should not be gone long, turned up a narrow street with his companion, and was soon out of sight.
Tired with my morning's round, and having had but a scanty breakfast, I was glad enough of the rest, and was just composing myself to a quiet sleep, when I suddenly heard a voice, which made every limb in my body tremble with joy, exclaim, eagerly:
" Why, Neddy, Neddy ! dear Neddy ! Do you remember me? "
Remember her ! my own dear, dear mistress ! Could I ever forget her? Half-wild with delight, I forgot where I was, and, dragging the cart after me on to the pavement, I began a series of ecstatic brays, rubbing my nose at the same time against the kind hand that was held out to me, and endeavouring to show, by every means in my power, my unbounded joy at again beholding my beloved mistress.
" Oh, look, papa, papa ! " exclaimed my mistress " Neddy knows me ! Neddy remembers me! Good Neddy ! Dear old Neddy!"
In her delight at seeing me, my mistress had, like myself, forgotten that Regent street, in the middle of the day, is rather a public place in which to give way to out-bursts of affection. Already a crowd had gathered around us, some wondering, some laughing, some standing by in silent curiosity to see what would be the end of this strange greeting; cabmen drawing up to enjoy the fun; omnibus drivers and conductors lingering on their way, and looking back to see what all the confusion was about; every moment the mob increased, swelled, as it was sure to be, by the crowd of dirty boys and idle loungers that in London springs up at a moment's notice, no one knows how, no one knows from where.
" Annie, my dear Annie, this is no place for you! " exclaimed a voice that I did not recognize; and, looking up, I saw a fine, tall, handsome-looking man, who drew my mistress's hand away from me, and placed it on his own arm.
" Papa, dear, will you see about Neddy? " said my mistress, looking around, evidently frightened and bewildered by the confusion around her, and endeavouring to make her way through the crowd of bystanders.
But having so lately discovered her, I was in no humour to let her go; and utterly disregarding every impediment in my way, I pushed on, braying loudly as I went. Peals of laughter greeted my attempt.
" Make way for the lady ! make way for the donkey ! " " Hurrah, Neddy, hurrah ! " " Do it again, Neddy ! do it again! " shouted the boys; while, encouraged by their cheers, I pushed and pushed more strenuously than before.
Louder and louder rose the peals of laughter; higher and higher swelled the cheers; and, thinking I was doing the most appropriate thing possible I redoubled my efforts to keep up with my mistress, when, just at this moment, who should come down the street but my late master !
" Halloo ! " he exclaimed, with a coarse oath; " what Is all this row about? Who is interfering with my property? " and he put out his hand to seize me fiercely by the rein.
" Stay ! stay ! " said Mr. Morton, in a voice so calm and firm that I felt the hand upon my bridle tremble. " I rather think it is you, my man, who have been interfering with my property. Here," added Mr. Morton, turning to two or three of the police, who had by this time made their way to the spot, and were actively employed in keeping back the crowd, " I want your assistance, for I have reason to believe that this donkey, which belongs to my daughter, was stolen from me three years ago by this man. I give him into custody on this charge, and require that you meantime should take the donkey into safe keeping."
It would be impossible to describe the man's rage as he listened to these words. He swore, he stamped, he abused Mr. Morton in every angry epithet he could think of; and yet all the time he trembled, and did not once dare to look his accuser in the face. Directing the police-men to bring their prisoner to a police station, where he could substantiate his charge, Mr. Morton jumped into a cab, and was driven quickly from the spot, leaving me in the hands of the policemen, and bewildered by the rapidity of events which, long as they have taken to tell, passed in the space of a few minutes.
My first feeling at finding that my dear mistress had again departed was one of unmitigated terror, and I looked around in trembling dread that now, being once more at the mercy of my brutal master, I should be made to suffer some horrible punishment for having thus given way to my delight at seeing my long-lost friend. But I soon found that, for the present, at any rate, I had nothing to dread. Struggle as he would, my master was in stronger hands than his own. He might curse and swear at me, but he had no power to do more, as, led along gently by a tall, grave, powerful-looking man, and followed by a crowd of noisy, hooting, cheering boys, I slowly made my way down street after street, until, finally, I was stopped before the door of one of the largest police stations of the metropolis. Here my master disappeared, while I remained standing in the street, under the charge of my grave-looking conductor, and surrounded by a continually increasing crowd, to whom I was evidently an object of the greatest amusement and curiosity.
Some time had passed in this manner, when the police-man who led me was joined by one of his companions, who, having said some words very quickly to him, of which I only caught " donkey and cart," there was a renewed bustle and stir around me, and then the traces that fastened me to the cart were unhooked, and I was led through the crowd, now cheering louder than before, toward a doorway, so blocked up by people that I felt quite frightened, and refused to go on.
" Come, Neddy, come along," said the policeman who had held me hitherto. " There is no one who will hurt you here ; you need not be afraid." And at the same time he desired his companion to go on, and make a way through the crowd.
Encouraged by the kind voice in which he spoke, and by seeing that the people fell back right and left at the orders of his companion, I plucked up my courage, and stepped through the door into a passage, broad and paved with stones like those on which people walk in the streets of London. I had never been in such an odd place before, and I did not half like it, and was more than once inclined to turn back; but the man kept a firm but gentle hold of me, leading me on, till at last two great doors were thrown open, and I found myself in a large room filled with people, sitting on benches raised one above another. I was quite bewildered at the sight of so many heads,more especially as at my first coming in there was a general buzz of voices, and all eyes were evidently fixed on myself.
A loud cry of " Silence ! silence ! " gave me a moment to recover myself, and then I heard a grave voice say:
" Let the donkey judge for himself. You are at liberty to call him," added the gentleman, turning to my late master, whom I now for the first time perceived standing in an open space in the centre of the room.
" Here, Neddy—Neddy—come here, Neddy. There is a good donkey, come here," said the man in a voice of the most insinuating gentleness ; but as I had never heard him speak so before, no wonder I did not recognize its tones, and the only answer I made was to hang down my ears and plant my tail very firmly between my legs.
There was a general burst of laughter that not the presence of that grave-looking gentleman, nor the reiterated cries of " Silence ! silence in the court, there ! " could in any measure suppress; while a voice exclaimed: " He has had the donkey, that is clear enough, for the poor brute thinks he is going to beat him now. Hush ! hush ! See what he is going to do next. Here comes the lady. Silence ! Hush ! hush ! "
" Now, madam, it is your turn," I heard the grave-Iooking gentleman say; and in another moment I saw my dear mistress rise up from a seat by his side, and, leaning on the arm of her father, come down into the open court.
" Neddy! dear Neddy! " she said, just in the way that she used to call me up to the fence years ago. I forgot all my past misery, and, thinking only of my joy at seeing her, I set up such a bray as I had never brayed in al! my life before! Oh, how the people shouted with laughter! The very judge could not resist the infection of their merriment, and gave way in spite of himself.
Why, what had I done that was so ridiculous? I could only express my joy with the voice which nature, had given me. If it was not so sweet and gentle as some of theirs, that was not my fault. At any other moment my self-love might have been seriously wounded; but now t could only think of my delight, and, breaking away from the policemen who held me, I went right up to my mistress, and, rubbing my nose against her hand, I whinnied out my happiness, entreating her as best I could to let me stay with her now and for ever.
There was no laughter in the court then; and I have heard my mistress say since that there were tears in many an eye. Real, genuine affection is somewhat rare in this world, and, when it is found, it goes straight to the heart even of the most hardened; and there are few so bad that they will make fun of the evidence of pure, unselfish love.
There was a minute's pause, and then I heard the grave man say, in tones of such kindness as showed his interest in my fate:
" I am quite satisfied, madam. No witnesses that could be produced could speak half so strongly to the truth of your case as does the affectionate remembrance of the poor dumb beast. That the donkey is the one that was stolen from you three years ago, there can be no doubt. All that remains to be proved is, who did the deed; and that, I am afraid, with all his sagacity, the animal will not be able to tell us. I shall send the case to trial; and in the meanwhile," turning to Mr. Morton, " it is for you to produce the evidence that the man now charged with the theft was the person who stole the donkey."
" I have no doubt whatever that I shall be able to do so," replied Mr. Morton.
" You can remove the donkey out of court," said the grave gentleman, and then he turned to my late master, who was standing dogged and silent, in charge of two of the police, and proceeded to address him in terms which I did not understand, my whole attention being now fixed upon myself, and upon the thought of being separated from my dear mistress, whom I had vainly hoped I was never to leave again. In my anxiety to remain by her side, I quite forgot that I was in a court of justice, and that, as a well-bred donkey, it was my duty to submit myself to the laws of my land, and I struggled hard to pull away from the policeman's hold, and to follow my mistress, who was now led back by her father to the seat from which she had risen.
I do not know how the struggle might have ended; but, seeing that my endeavours to get free were disturbing the whole court, my mistress once more came up to me, and, patting me gently on the forehead: " Oh, Neddy," she said, " this is very naughty of you ! Come with me." How could I disobey?
" You may leave him," she said to my conductor; " he will go away with me directly."
Go away with her ! Of course I would, to the world's end. My first journey, however, was destined to be a much shorter one; for, no sooner had I quietly walked by her side through the court-house into the passage than, placing my rein in the hand of the policeman :
" He will follow you now, I think," she said. " Go, Neddy; there is a good Neddy. I will come to see you very soon. Good-bye, Neddy! " and, patting me kindly, before I had time to look around, she was gone.
A crowd, little less than that which had accompanied me to the court, was awaiting my return, and eager inquiries greeted my conductor as to the result of the trial. Every one talked so fast and so loud that I could not make out much of what was said; but I gathered sufficient to make me very happy in the feeling I should soon be restored to my pleasant home, and that meanwhile I was to be left in the care of my present guardian, whose kindness toward me had already impressed me greatly in his favour.
I gleaned, too, from what I heard, that the result of the trial depended mainly on the evidence of some man who was supposed to have seen me soon after I was stolen from my dear mistress.
I was one day musing, in a discontented state of mind, when I heard the door of the stable open. Thinking, however, it was only one of the men come to attend to their work, I did not even trouble myself to turn my head, until suddenly I felt a hand laid on my shoulder, and heard a voice I thought I remembered say, sadly enough:
" Why, Neddy ! who would have thought that you and I should have met again in such a place as this; and you so altered? Poor old Neddy! how badly you have been used ! "
Old Neddy, indeed ! My heart swelled with such mortified vanity at the name that for the moment—ungrateful that I was! — I felt more vexation than pleasure as I recognized Thomas standing by my side. But it was only a momentary feeling, and, looking up in his face, I endeavoured to show my pleasure at seeing any one connected with old times.
" Ah, Neddy ! " continued Thomas, " so you know me, do you? It is more than I should have done by you. You do look dreadfully bad. I shall never get that rough, shaggy coat of yours right again. No, not though I groom you for hours at a time."
Thomas groom me again ! I never thought of the rudeness of the speech in my exceeding joy at hearing I was to be again in his care. Ah! then I must be free from my detested master. I must be going back to the home. and the mistress I loved so well.
" So it is all over, is it? " inquired a policeman, who at that moment entered the stable and proceeded to unfasten my bridle.
" Yes; it was decided some hours ago," said Thomas. " It was a queer trial, was it not? "
The queerest I have ever heard," returned the policeman; " and that is saying a good deal, for strange stories come to our ears. If it had not been for this donkey here, ten to one your master would never have gained his cause. The man told a wonderful plausible tale. But this dumb beast here told a better. You should have been in court that day. It was a sight to remember, and there was many a one who thought it no shame to be seen with tears in their eyes; and as to Mr. Wickharde, I never seed him so moved in all my life. That donkey is a first-rate witness. For my part, I would rather have him than half the men:I know."
This testimony in my favor seemed to raise me in the estimation of Thomas, for he patted me far more kindly than before, saying: " Poor old Neddy! He will be glad enough to be amongst his old friends again."
How did the trial go? " asked the policeman. I wanted to hear the end; but I was on duty here this morning, and could not manage it. I almost thought they would have sent for the donkey, and I meant to have taken him down myself."
It did not last long," returned Thomas; "there was no question about the donkey being Mr. Morton's property. The only point was whether Jackson stole him or not; fortunately, he had been met by one of master's own workmen the morning after the theft. Jackson was riding the donkey at that moment, and Mills felt sure he recognized it by the star on its forehead. It is a very peculiar mark, you see," continued Thomas, as he turned my head to the light, and pushed back some shaggy hairs. " Jackson had never thought of concealing it; and it was rare and lucky for Neddy he did forget.
The idea of freedom was still so new to me that I could hardly realize the fact that I was safe from the brutal treatment of the man whom, for the last three years, I had been forced to call my master; and, as Thomas led me out of my place of confinement, and I found myself once more in the streets of London, I turned and looked about me in nervous dread, fearing that I should suddenly hear the sound of Jackson's hated voice, and feel myself in the grasp of his powerful hand.
" So, whoa, Neddy ! gently, my man ! " exclaimed Thomas, in the reassuring voice of old times. " No need to be afraid now; there is nobody coming to hurt you. Come on, old fellow, come on. Come, make haste, and do not put your tail between your legs in that miserable way. I ain't a-going to flog you, Neddy. Why, you are making a sight of yourself and me, too ! "
True enough. I felt I looked a pitiful, craven-spirited wretch; but I had been so long accustomed to find that a word and a blow went together that it had become a sort of habit of nature to endeavor to protect myself from the assault, and I could have no more helped cowering down and holding my tail tight between my legs than I could have prevented myself from blinking if I had been forced to look suddenly at the sun.
However, seeing that Thomas was vexed at my miserable appearance, and not wishing to mortify the kind-hearted old man, I endeavored to pluck up courage, and to, trot along by his side with somewhat of the air and spirit of bygone days; and, as I found that we passed street after street, and square after square, without stop or molestation, I began gradually to acquire confidence, and to believe in the reality of my deliverance. After going a considerable distance, we at length arrived at the entrance to one of the great railway stations.
" Now, my man," said Thomas, as he pulled me up for a moment, and gave me an encouraging pat, " do not you go for to make a fool of me and yourself ; you are going to see queer sights and hear queer sounds, so make up your mind to behave like a sensible beast, as you are. There, do you hear that? that is one of them," added Thomas, as a shriek was suddenly heard close by our side, followed by screeches, a little less discordant, ending in a series of agitated puffs, as if some mighty monster was giving up the ghost.
Do you hear that, eh, Neddy? " repeated Thomas, as he turned my head in the direction of the noise, as if to accustom me to the sound.
Hear it? Of course I did; but what did I care for it? Had I not been accustomed to almost every railway in the kingdom? and did not I know the sound of a loco-motive, bursting for very spite at being stopped in its mad career?
I always envied them their strength and powers of endurance. I afraid of them? I should think no, indeed; and, quite proud to have an opportunity of reinstating myself in Thomas's good opinion, I held up my head, and, shaking my ears with an air of supreme indifference, I walked with dignified unconcern right into the shed where the engine was showering out a perfect cloud of white breath.
" Well done, Neddy ! good donkey ! said Thomas, patting me approvingly; and then he proceeded to lead me up the platform to where a great square box was standing with its doors wide open. Into this dark, uncomfortable-looking cage he bade me enter; and now I confess a feeling of terror came over me, putting all my boasted courage at once to flight, and, turning around, I struggled hard to escape from Thomas's hold.
" Whoo, hoo gently, stoopid ! What is the matter? " said Thomas, crossly. " Why, what are you afraid of now? Who is going to hurt you, Neddy? "
Ah, indeed, who 7 " How am I to tell," thought I, " shut up all alone in that dark prison? Who is to say whether I shall ever make my escape alive, or, if I am so fortunate, whether it may not be only to fall into the hands of my tormentor ; or, worse still, who can say that he is not hidden in some dark corner of the box? "
" Why, Neddy, one would think that you expected to find your late master there," added Thomas, in a milder tone.
" And so I do," thought I; but how was I to tell him so?
" You need not be afraid, old donkey," continued Thomas; "he is far enough away now. He cannot get to you. Come, Neddy, come along ; you will be quite safe and comfortable in there, and I will give you some grain to eat, and you may amuse yourself with it during your ride. Come, Neddy, come along."
It was impossible to misdoubt the kind tones of Thomas's voice.
" If he meant any treachery against me, he would never speak like that," thought I. " Besides, have not I always found him, a true, good friend? and is it not very wrong not to trust him now? " and I turned around and looked into the box. It did not look pleasant, certainly; but, after all, I had lived in worse places; and so, summoning up my resolution, I put one step on the sloping board that led up to the cell. Dear me ! how hollow my footfall sounded! I did not like it at all, and was about to draw back again; but Thomas was by my side, and for very shame I did not dare act the part of a faithless coward ; so I took another step, and then another. Still that hollow, hollow sound. But it was over now, and I stood inside the box, and looked around, half in terror, half in surprise. It was not so very bad, after all.
There were nice, soft-looking sides to the stall, and plenty of clean straw to lie upon; and Thomas remembered his promise, and put some food in the manger, and then, tying me up quite tight, he bade me goodbye. The doors were shut, and I was left alone in the darkness. Soon came a whistle, a shriek, and then a tremulous motion. Oh, how my heart sank within me ! But there was no escape. I had but to submit, and bide my fate. Then my prison swang from side to side, and rush—rush---rush — roar — ro-r-r — ro-r-r-r — where were we going? I knew nothing—remembered nothing—till suddenly a vibration, a stop. Whirr — whirr — whirr — fainter grew the sound till now all again was silence. My box swings around—I feel quite sick with fright, when open fly the doors, and there stands Thomas, looking so kind and pleasant. I had never loved his face so well before.
" Well, Neddy," he said, as he undid my halter, " it is all over. We shall soon be at home again. Ay, do you remember the old place? " he added, as, leading me out of my prison, I stood still, sniffing in with delight the pure fresh air of heaven.
Remember it? I should think so. I knew every inch of the ground as we drew toward home; and, forgetting all my troubles and sorrows, I kicked and jumped about as if I was once again the frolicsome donkey of years gone by. Even gruff old Thomas seemed moved by this evidence of my delight; and, throwing off his usual dry, hard manner, he spoke to me so kindly that my heart leaped again and again with joy. But when at length the gates of my own dear, dear home came in sight, I could no longer contain myself, and trotted on as fast as my legs could carry me, Thomas letting go the rein, saying, with a smile: You know your way now, old fellow, I guess, and will not run away again, I fancy."
Open went the gates, and then the avenue was before me, straight now up to the doorsteps; and there was my mistress, her father, and the strange gentleman. Oh, how I kicked up my heels with joy, and then galloped up the drive as I never thought my old legs could have galloped more !
You should have heard my mistress's merry laugh. It was the pleasantest sound my ears had listened to for many a long day past; and you should have seen how she patted and caressed me, and called me her " dear old Neddy—her good, faithful donkey;" adding: " We will never part again—no, never. Will we, Neddy? "
I could only rub my nose against her soft white hand, and whinny out my joy and gratitude. My heart was too full; I almost thought it must have burst from my excess of happiness. And then, when she led me she, my own dear mistress herself to the field where I had spent all the first happy years of my existence, who may describe the emotions which overpowered me? First, I galloped around and around the field ; then I threw myself down on the soft green grass, and rolled, and rolled, and rolled myself again and again in my ecstacy. Then, at last, rising up, and looking around me, I seemed as if I could never tire of gazing at all the well-remembered spots. Every twig in the hedges seemed like some old familiar friend; and as the birds sang out their merry songs from the boughs of the trees which had so often sheltered me, it sounded to me as if they, too, were carolling forth my welcome home.
Home ! Ah ! those who have never lost it can never fully appreciate its value; and, as I lay down to rest that night, it was with feelings of such overflowing gratitude as I know not how to express.