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Chapter 31 Summary

A Humbug

A few days after the police arrested Filcher, Alfred Smirk becomes Black Auster’s new groom. He is a tall, good-looking fellow, but he is a “humbug.” He is never unkind to the horse; in fact, when the master is around the man does much patting and stroking of the horse. The rest of the time, however, he is not thorough. He always brushes the horse’s mane and tail with water and his hoofs with oil before the master arrives, so the horse looks shiny and well groomed. The reality is that Smirk never cleans the horse’s feet or takes care of his shoes, and he never grooms him thoroughly. The horse’s bit is allowed to stay rusty, his saddle is always damp, and his crupper is stiff and unyielding.

In contrast, the groom is quite fastidious about his own appearance, and he spends much time in front of the mirror fussing with his hair, whiskers, and necktie. The man is polite and deferential to Barry, and everyone thinks Smirk is a very nice young man whom the master is fortunate to have hired. Black Auster knows the man is selfish and conceited. It is true the horse is not being particularly mistreated; however, a horse wants more than that. He wants to be treated well.

Black Auster has a loose box and should have been quite comfortable, but the groom is too lazy to clean it out regularly. Instead he simply puts new hay over the old, smelly hay, causing the smells to rise and inflame the horse’s eyes and then causing him to lose his appetite for his food. One day the master notices the smell and calls it to the groom’s attention, telling him he should thoroughly scrub the stall. Smirk says he can do that, but it is quite dangerous for horses to have water in their stalls because they are likely to catch cold. Barry does not want his horse to catch a cold, of course, and wonders if the drains are working properly. The groom is quick to agree the smell is probably due to faulty drains.

A bricklayer comes and finds nothing wrong with the drains, so he just puts down some lime and charges the master an exorbitant fee. The smell is still strong, and now the horse’s feet are growing tender and unhealthy because his straw is damp. Barry only knows that his horse is not as sure-footed...

(The entire section is 627 words.)