Chapter 19 Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 550

Only Ignorance

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Black Beauty is not sure how long he has been ill, but the horse doctor, Mr. Bond, comes to see him every day. One day he bleeds the horse as John holds the pail. After that, Black Beauty feels quite faint and thinks he is going to die; those around him seem to think so, too. Ginger and Merrylegs are moved to the other stable so that the Black Beauty's environment will be quieter; his fever makes him quite sensitive to sound.

One night John has to give Black Beauty some medicine, and Thomas Green, Joe’s father, comes to help him. After giving the medicine, John makes the horse comfortable and plans to stay for half-an-hour to see how the medicine settles; Thomas wants to stay, as well. The pair sits on a bench that has been brought into Merrylegs’ stall. They set the lantern on the floor so that the light will not disturb their patient.

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After sitting in silence for a while, Thomas asks John if he will “say a bit of a kind word” to Joe, for he feels utterly responsible for Black Beauty’s condition. The boy is quite broken-hearted and cannot eat or smile; he believes no one will ever speak to him again if the horse dies. This is breaking his father’s heart, so he asks John to give the boy some words of comfort, as he is a good boy. John pauses slowly before speaking. He asks Thomas not to be too hard on him, for while he knows Joe is not a bad boy and he meant no harm, Black Beauty is “the pride of his heart.” This horse is also the favorite of the Gordons, and thinking that his life "may be flung away in this manner" is a burden John does not want to bear. John does agree to speak a kind word to the boy tomorrow—if Black Beauty is better.

Thomas thanks him, adding that he is glad John understands that Joe acted only out of ignorance. John is provoked by the statement and practically shouts that ignorance is the “worst thing in the world,” next to evil. People do awful things in the name of ignorance, he says, and he gives several examples. Martha Mulwash pleaded ignorance when she killed her baby with the wrong medicine and was tried for manslaughter. Bill Starkey did not mean any harm when he dressed up like a ghost and chased his brother in the moonlight; the boy literally lost his wits and will never be what he should have been, all because of his brother’s ignorance. Several weeks ago, John reminds him, Thomas himself was angry when some young ladies left the door to his hothouse open, ruining many of his plants. Thomas agrees these examples are certainly awful, and he recalls he was furious when his plants had died. Yet, says John as he makes his point, he is sure the young ladies meant no harm: "[I]t was only ignorance."

Black Beauty sleeps all night, in part because of the medicine John and Thomas had given him. He feels much better in the morning. As he comes to know more of the world, he often thinks about the men’s conversation that night.

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