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Dora, An Ostler's Story by Alfred H. Miles

 

Tell you a story, Master 'Arry? Ah! there's only one story as ought to be told in this yer stable, and that's the old un as allus hupsets me to tell. But I don't mind a-goin' over the old ground once ag'in, Master 'Arry, as you know werry well, if these yer gents 'as a mind to listen to a hold man's yarn. It beats all the printed stories as ever I see, but then, as I ain't no scholar, and can't see werry well neither, p'raps that ain't no much wonder arter all. Reading ain't much in my line, yer see, sir, and, as the old master used to say, “Bring up yer boys to the prerfishuns yer means 'em to foller.” 'Osses is my prerfishun, sir, and 'osses I was brought up to.

Excuse me just a minute, sir, if yer don't mind a-settin' on this yer stool. I don't like to see nobody a-leanin' ag'in that there post. That were “Snowflake's” stall, sir, in the old time, and “Snowflake” were little Dora's pony.

My father were os'ler here, sir, afore I were born, and I growed up to the stable, Master 'Arry, just as your ole father growed up to the 'All. It were in ole Sir Markham's time, this were—ole Sir Markham, whose picture hangs above the mantel in the dinin'-'all, as fine a hold English gen'leman as ever crossed a 'unter and follered the 'ounds. The first time as ever I see Sir Markham were when I were about four year old. O' course, we lived on the estate, but I don't know as I'd ever been up to the 'All till that partickler mornin', when I came wi' a message for my father, and meets ole Sir Markham in the park. Now, yer know, Sir Markham were a queer ole chap when he liked. He didn't take no nonsens from nobody, he didn't. I've seen him thrash the keeper afore now with his own ridin' whip, and he wouldn't 'a' stood partickler about a boy or two, and as there'd been a deal of fruit stole out o' the orchard about that time, he thought he'd jist up and frighten me a bit. So he hollers out—“Hi! there, you boy, what right 'a' you got in my park?” but I see a sort o' twinkle in his eye, so I knowed he weren't real cross, and so I up and says, “Ain't boys got a right to go where their fathers is?” He didn't say nothing more to me then, but when he sees my father he says, “That's a smart boy o' yours, Jim,” he says, “and when he's a bit older yer must 'ave 'im up 'ere to 'elp.”

Well, sir, I got a bit older in time, and I come up 'ere to 'elp, and, 'ceptin' for a very little while, I've been 'ere ever since.

I were a boy of fourteen when the things 'appened as make up the rest o' my story. Sir Markham he were a matter o' sixty year old, I should say, and Miss Dora, as I see it said in a book, once, “sweet, wery sweet, wery, wery sweet seventeen.”

I allus 'ad a hadmiration for Miss Dora. “Darling Dora” they called 'er at the 'All, and so did I, when nobody wasn't listenin'. Nobody couldn't know 'er without admirin' 'er, but I 'ad a special sort of hadmiration for 'er as 'ad made me do any mortal thing she asked me, whatever it might 'ave costed.

Yer see, when I were quite a little chap, and she were no much bigger, she ses to me one day, when I were a bit scolded, she ses, “Never mind, Jim,” she ses, “cheer up; you'll be a man o' some sort some day;” and I tell you, though I allus 'ad a hidea that way myself, when she said it I grow'd a hinch straight off. If yer believes in yourself, Master 'Arry, yer can do a lot, but if somebody else believes in yer there ain't nothink in the whole world what yer can't do.

My particler business in the stable were Miss Dora's pony, Snowflake, darling Dora's darling, as it got called o' times. She rode out a great deal, did Miss Dora, and she rode well, and I generally 'ad to foller 'er on the bay cob. She'd spend a lot o' time about this yer stable, one way and another, and we got to be werry partickler friends. Not as I presum'd, mind yer, nor as she forgot 'er station; she were just a hangel, she were, what couldn't be spoilt by nobody's company, and what couldn't 'elp a-makin' o' other people wish as they were summut in the hangel line, too.

But yer a-gettin' impatient I see, gents, and I ax yer pardon for a-ramblin' a bit.

Well, it were Chris'mas time, as it might be now, and young Markham (that were your father, Master 'Arry) he were 'ome from Oxford for 'is 'olidays, with as nice a young fellow as ever stepped, as 'ad come with him to spend Chris'mas at the 'All. They called 'im the “Captain,” not that he were a harmy captain, or anythink of that, he were a captain of summut at the college—maybe football or summut else. Somehow he often came 'ome with young Markham at 'oliday times, and 'im and Miss Dora was partickler friendly like.

It were not a werry snowy Chris'mas that year, though there were plenty of frost, and the lake in the park would 'a' borne the London coach and four without a crack. Young Markham and the Captain and Miss Dora did a deal o' skatin', and ole Sir Markham invited a lot o' friends to come and stay Chris'mas for the sake o' the sport. They did say as Aunt Dorothy as Miss Dora were called arter 'ad been a-preachin' at 'im for a-neglectin' o' Miss Dora and a-keepin 'er at the 'All without no society, and I s'pose that's why Sir Markham were a-aggitatin' himself a bit cos' we never 'ad no fuss at Chris'mas as a rule.

Well, we was werry busy at that time, I can tell yer; several of the wisitors brought their own 'osses with them, and me and my father had plenty to do a-lookin' arter 'em.

Among the wisitors as come from London were a real military hofficer, a reg'lar scaff'ld pole he were, for length and breadth, with mustaches as 'ud 'a' done for reins, if 'e'd only been a 'oss. He weren't no favourite o' mine, not from the fust. He were a bit too harbitry for me. He were a-thinkin' he were a-goin' to hintroduce 'is harmy regerlations into our stables; but he allus 'ad to wait the longest, for all 'is hinterferin'. But what used to rile me the most with him were 'is nasty, sneerin' ways at young Markham's friend, the Captain. Yer see, sir, he were a real harmy captain, and so I s'pose he were a bit jealous o' our young Captain, as was a lot better than 'im, arter all. O' course I didn't see it at the time, but I've said to myself lots o' times since, it were a reg'lar plant, that's what it were, that Aunt Dorothy 'ad brought the big soldier down o' purpose for Miss Dora to fall in love with; but 'e were just a little bit too late.

Well, yer know, gents, I told yer as I were quite a youngster at the time, and though ole Sir Markham said as I were werry sharp, I must confess as I didn't quite understand 'ow things were a-goin' on. I noticed that the two captains kept pretty clear of each other, and that Miss Dora never came near the stables for three days together, which were a werry unusual thing for 'er; and one of the ole servants at the 'All told me as the hofficer 'ad been hasking Sir Markham if he might pay his addresses to Miss Dora, and that Sir Markham 'ad said he might.

My ole father were a-hactin' a bit queer about that time, too; he kept a-hasken' me if I'd like to be a postboy, or drive the London coach, or anything o' that, cos', he ses, “Yer know, Jim, Miss Dora 'll be marryin' somebody one o' these days, and maybe you'll 'ave to find summut else to do when Snowflake's gone.” “Well,” I ses, “if Miss Dora got married and go'd away, I reckon she'd take me with 'er to look arter 'er 'osses, so I sha'n't want no postboy's place, nor coachun's neither, as I sees.” And father he seemed pretty satisfied, he did, only 'e says, “If ever you should want to drive to Scotland, Jim,” he ses, “you go across the moor to the Burnley Beeches, and then yer bears off to yer right by the Ambly Arms, three mile along you'll fine the great North Road, and there yer are.”

Well, I didn't take no notice of this, though father he kept on sayin' o' summut o' the sort all day long, and when it came to evenin', bein' Chris'mas Eve, we went up to the 'All to 'ave supper in the kitchen, and drink ole Sir Markham's 'elth. Sir Markham come down in the servants' 'all and made a speech, and some o' the gents come down too; but while things were a-goin' at their 'ighest, my father he says to me, “Jim,” 'e says, “if ever you want to go to Scotland you go across the moor to the Burnley Beeches, and then yer bears off to yer right by the Ambly Arms, three mile along you'll fine the great North Road, and there yer are.” “All right,” I says, angry like, “I don't want no Scotland; what d'yer want to bother me for with yer Burnley Beeches, and yer Ambly Arms?” “Jim,” 'e ses solemn, “yer never know how useful a bit of hinformation may come in sometimes; now,” he says, “you'd better run over to the stables, and see if all is a-goin' on right.” Well, I see it was no use argifyin', so off I starts. I sees as I comes near the stables as there were a light there, as ought not to be, and o' course, I run back'ard to tell my father, but lor, I thought he were off 'is 'ed, for all he ses was, “If ever you wants to go to Scotland, Jim, it's across the moor to the Burnley Beeches, off to yer right, by the Ambly Arms, three mile along you'll fine the great North Road, and there yer are.”

They'd been a-drinkin' a bit 'ard some of 'em, and I ses to myself father's been a'elpin' of 'em, and I tears off to the stables to see what was up.

Well, when I gets here, I comes in at that there door behind yer, sir, and what should I see, but Miss Dora in Snowflake's stall, a-kissin' and a-cryin' over 'im like mad. She didn't take no notice o' me no more'n if I hadn't been there at all, and I came and stood ag'in that there post as you were a-leanin' ag'in just now, sir. Little Dora were a-sobbin' as if 'er 'art would break, and she were a-tryin' to say “Good-bye.” They're only little words, sir, at the most, but werry often they're the 'ardest words in all the world to say.

Well, sir, to make a long story short, it were just this: Sir Markham had told 'er as she mustn't think nothink of young Markham's college friend, 'cos 'e were poor and 'adn't nothink but 'is wits and 'is learnin' to live on, and that the tall soldier 'ad been a-haskin' for 'er, and he'd promised 'er to 'im; and it 'ad clean broke 'er 'art, and so she 'ad come down to this yer stable where everythink loved 'er to tell 'er sorrows to her old pet Snowflake, to bury her face in his snowy neck, and wipe 'er eyes on his flowin' mane.

But, afore I 'ad time to say anythink, who should foller me in at the door but the young Captain hisself, and 'e come and stood by me a moment without sayin' a word. He were werry pale, and 'is eyes shone like fire, and at last he ses, in a hoarse sort of a whisper, “Jim,” 'e ses, “they wants to marry darling Dora to the big swaggerin' soldier, and I want yer to 'elp me prewent 'em.” “'Elp yer prewent 'em,” I ses; “why, I'll prewent 'em myself. I ain't werry big, p'r'aps, and maybe I couldn't reach 'is bloated face, but a stone 'ud find 'is head as quickly as it did the big Bible chap as David killed; and maybe I can shie.” I hadn't practised on ole Sir Markham's apples for nothink.

Well, sir, I needn't say as it didn't come to that. The fact is, everythink were arranged. It were a matter o' seventy miles to Scotland by the road, and they'd made up their minds to start for Gretna Green as soon as the wisitors 'ad gone to bed. Father were in the swim, and that's why he'd been a-'intin' to me all day and 'ad sent me to see what the light meant. My father 'e were a artful ole man, 'e were; he knowed better nor to 'ave anythink to do with it hisself. Why, I b'leave Sir Markham 'ud a murdered 'im if he 'ad, but me, o' course,—I was only a boy, and did as I were told.

Well, sir, a-hactin' under horders, I were a-waitin' with the post-chaise at them Burnley Beeches at eleven o'clock. I'd been a-waitin' some time, and I begun to be afraid as they weren't a-comin'. At last I see a white somethink comin' along, and in another minute they was alongside. I shall never forget that night. Miss Dora fainted directly she were inside the carriage, and to me she looked as if she were dead. “For God's sake, and for Dora's sake, drive for your life, Jim!” said the young Captain, and I just did drive for my werry life. It was werry dark and I couldn't see much, and it must a bin a-rainin' or summut else,—anyhow there were a preshus lot o' water got in my eyes, till I couldn't see nothink. Father had taken care to git the 'osses in good condition, and they went away as though they knew as they were a-carryin' their darlin' Dora from death to life.

From the Burnley Beeches I drove as I 'ad been directed, past the Ambly Arms, and three mile further I found the great North Road, and there I wore. You never know how useful a bit o' information may come in sometimes. It were pretty straight work now, and the only thing I 'ad to fear was a-wearin' out me 'osses afore we reached the Border. At two o'clock we stopped and baited, and the young Captain he give me the tip. He says, “Don't go too fast,” he ses; “they won't be arter us for an hour or two yet, if they come at all. I've given 'em summut else to look for fust,” 'e ses, “and it'll take 'em all their time.”

Weil, there ain't no need to make a long story out o' our run to Scotland; we got there safe enough arter imaginin' as we was follered by highwaymen, and goblins, and soldiers, and hall sorts o' other hevil sperits, which were nothink but fancy arter all.

Why, bless yer, we 'adn't no real need to fear; the young Captain he were one too many for 'em, he were, in more ways nor one. Afore he came away he smashed a big hole in the ice, in the middle of the lake, and put 'is 'at and Miss Dora's muff on the edge of the hole; and they were a-breaking up the ice and dragging the lake all Chris'mas Day instead of a-follerin' us.

Next thing came the weddin' in the blacksmith's shop, where the young Captain took our darling Dora all to hisself, with ne'er a bridesmaid but me to give 'er away and everythink else. Poor little Dora, she fainted right off ag'in directly it were all over; and the young Captain he flushed up regular, like one o' them hero chaps as they put in books. I never see such a change in any one afore or since. 'E seemed as if 'e could do anything now Miss Dora were hall 'is own. I tell yer, sir, you can't fight nothing like 'arf so 'ard for yourself as yer can if you've got some one else to fight for.

After the weddin', the Captain put up at the “Blacksmith's Arms,” where 'e writes a long letter to ole Sir Markham, and one to your father, Master 'Arry, which he give me to deliver, and with which I started 'ome ag'in.

Ole Sir Markham never forgave the young Captain for a-runnin' off wi' Miss Dora, and if it 'adn't 'a' bin for your father, Master 'Arry, I shouldn't never 'a' come back to the 'All. Arter that they went abroad to some foreign place as I never heerd of, and they lost track of 'em up at the 'All too arter a bit; though I know as your father, Master 'Arry, used to send 'em lots o' things without Sir Markham a-knowin' anythink about it. And then came the letter with the black edge as said as our Dora 'ad died o' one of them furren fevers as I didn't even know the name of, and arter that we never heard no more. Poor ole Sir Markham began to break up werry soon arter that. He were not like the same man arter Miss Dora went, and werry soon 'e kept to the 'ouse altogether, and we never saw nothink of 'im out o' doors.

Next thing we 'eard as he were ill, and everybody were a-wishin' as Miss Dora 'ud come back and comfort 'im. At last, when he were really a-dyin', 'e kep' on a-callin' her, “Dora, Dora,” in 'is wanderin's like, and nobody couldn't answer 'im, their 'arts was that full as there weren't no room for words. I remember that night, sir, as if it were yesterday, and yet it were forty year ago, Master 'Arry, ten year afore you were born. It were Chris'mas Eve, and ole Sir Markham he were keepin' on a-haskin' for Miss Dora, and I couldn't stand it no longer, so I come over 'ere to smoke my pipe and be to myself, yer see, and bide my feelin's like. Well, I were a-sittin' on a stool in that there corner, a-thinkin' about ole Sir Markham and our darlin' Dora, when I looks up, and as true as I ever see anythin' in my life I see her a-standin' there afore me. She didn't take no notice of me, though, but she run into Snowflake's stall there, sir, and buried her pretty face in 'is neck and stroked his mane and patted his sides, then she laughed one o' her silv'ry laughs and clapped 'er 'ands and calls out, “'Ome again, 'ome again at last; happy, happy 'ome. Jim, Jim, where's that lazy Jim?” But lor', sir, she were gone ag'in afore I could get up off the stool. I rushed up to the 'All like lightnin', I can tell yer, and I see a bright light a-shinin' in ole Sir Markham's bedroom. I never knowed 'ow I got up them stairs, but I heerd ole Sir Markham cry out as loud as ever I heerd 'im in my life, “Dora, Dora, come at last; darling Dora, darling!” 'E never said no more, did ole Sir Markham, she had taken 'im away.

       * * * * *

You'll excuse me a-haskin' you not to lean ag'in that post, won't you, sir? It's a kind o' sort o' friend o' mine. There ain't a sorrow as I've ever had these forty year that I haven't shared with that post. It 'ave been watered by little Dora's tears, and it 'ave been watered by mine, and there ain't nothink in the 'ole world as I walues more. It ain't for the likes o' me to talk o' lovin' a hangel like 'er, sir, but I 'av'n't never loved no one else from that day to this, and maybe when my turn comes at last, Master 'Arry, to go where there ain't no difference between rich and poor, I may 'ear 'er bright sweet voice cry out ag'in to me: “'Ome ag'in, Jim: happy, happy 'ome!”

 
 
 

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