Chapter 4 Summary

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Birtwick Park

After he has been broken, Darkie stands in the stable and gets brushed every day until his coat shines like the wings of a rook. In early May, one of Squire Gordon’s men comes to take him away. His master tells him to be a good horse and do his best; Darkie responds by putting his nose into the master’s hands before leaving his first home.

Squire Gordon’s park borders the village of Birtwick and can only be entered through a large iron gate. One must pass several lodges before arriving at the house and gardens, beyond which lie a paddock, an old orchard, and the stables. Darkie’s home stable is roomy, with four good stalls and a large swinging door which opens into the yard and makes the place pleasant and airy.

The first stall is large and square with a low rack for hay and a low manger for corn; it is called a “loose box” because a horse in this stall is not tied up, able to do as he likes. Every horse wishes for a loose box. When Darkie arrives at Squire Gordon’s, he is placed in the first stall. He is given nice oats, gentle pats, and kind words before being left alone to examine his new surroundings. It is the best place he has ever been. After he eats a bit, he looks around and sees a fat little gray pony. He has a thick mane and tail and a pert nose.

Darkie speaks through the iron rails at the top of his stall and asks the horse’s name. The gray pony says his name is Merrylegs, and he tells Darkie a little about himself. Merrylegs carries the young ladies around on his back. Sometimes he takes the mistress out in her low chair. Everyone here likes him, and he hopes that if Darkie will be living here, he is good-tempered and does not bite. Suddenly another horse peers over the stall next to Merrylegs’. It is a tall chestnut mare, with a long beautiful neck, who looks rather ill-tempered. She tells Darkie he took her stall from her, something she thinks no young colt should do to a lady.

Of course, Darkie asks her forgiveness. He says he has no choice in the matter of his lodgings. He tells her he is not a colt but a grown-up horse, and he wishes only to live peacefully with those around him. The mare says that has yet to be seen, and she has no desire to “have words with a young thing like you." When she leaves that afternoon, Merrylegs tells Darkie that her name is Ginger, and she has a habit of biting and snapping. One day she bit James, the stable hand, and made him bleed. After that, Miss Flora and Miss Jessie were afraid to come into the stable to see Merrylegs. They used to bring him treats, but after Ginger was placed in the first stall, they dared not come to see him. Merrylegs misses them and hopes they will visit him once again if Darkie does not bite or kick.

Darkie assures his new friend he bites nothing but hay, grass, and corn and cannot see how anyone would derive pleasure from biting someone. Merrylegs says Ginger does not enjoy biting; it is simply a bad habit which developed because she had been ill-treated before coming here. Though everyone here treats her kindly and no one uses a whip on her, she continues her bad habits. It is Ginger’s fault, he says, that she is no longer in the first stall.

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