WE felt that if only in justice to Ballad, after his five days’ imprisonment in the Exeter stables, we should all take a bit of an outing into the open country before the moment came when he was to take one road and we another. It was useless to deny that to two of us, at least, this inevitable separation was about to bring sadness in its train. To part with a friend is bad enough; but all human partings have at least this drop of honey in the bitter cup, there is always mingled with the grief the cheering hope of a future meeting. But with even one’s most intimate friends in the animal kingdom there can come no such soothing comfort. To bid farewell to a dog or to a beloved horse is the same as to bury him, the world is so wide and men are so fickle. The opportunity is always open, of course, to prolong an intimacy with a four-footed companion by buying him. But friendship thus paid for usually, I find, ends as do all such mercenary relationships ; when the period of cooling sets in sentiment evaporates, and the question of how much remains to be made out of a poor bargain is the ultimate result of all the fine frenzy. We had concluded, therefore, rather to part with Ballad than to run the risk of tiring of him. We preferred to leave him behind, that he, like the other features and incidents of our charming journey, might remain as an unalterable part of the delight still to come, the joy we were yet to have in retrospect.
There were two or three days spent in exploring the country about Exeter ; there were mornings in the lovely valley of the Exe, and a day and night given to Chagford, a wonderful little village set on a spur of the Dartmoor hills. These little trips gave us a series of delightful glimpses of Devon scenery, of its rusticity and its wildness, of the charm of its woodlands and the grandeur of its noble hill-country. It was as if we had undertaken, with premeditation, a review of Devonshire’s perfections. Nature and the season were in conspiracy to make these final days the harder. We were leaving a land of pure gold. The grain covered the fields like a yellow cloud. Here and there over the meadows were signs that already the harvest was garnered, amber mounds dotting the plains we passed on the last of our drives. The fields along the hill-sides were vocal with the sound of the mowers moving their scythes in rhythmic measure; and this mu-sic, which followed us into the thickly peopled Exeter streets, reminded us that if charming tours, like life itself, must come to an end, at least the harvest of pleasure is not over with the ending, but may be garnered and husbanded for future use and delight.
On one particularly sunny morning a sad little procession wended its way to the Exeter station, two, that is, out of the five composing the company, were sad. The other three, it is to be feared, took a merely perfunctory interest in the proceedings; for, like mutes at a funeral, the chief reason for their being with us at all was their hope of making some-thing out of the mourners. These unfeeling three were the hotel porter, who had come with us that he might point out the man who had placed Ballad in his box-stall in the train ; the hostler who had attended to Ballad’s physical wants while stopping at the Rougemont ; and the usual odd than who never fails to make his appearance in England when anything unusual takes place, the man who never does anything in particular, but who always contrives to get the fee for something that some one else has done. With so many escorts, much time was lost in coming to a decision on any point ; and it was quite by chance that we found ourselves close to the freight-van in which Ballad was about to be whirled away from us to Chichester. A door was opened, a window unhinged, a considerate guard lifted me into the van, and behold, Ballad’s sensitive, high bred face was confronting me. At the first he received us with a start of affright, with quivering nostrils and high-arched ears ; but at the sound of our voices the trembling ceased, his dark eyes lanced a glance of recognition, and to my caressive touch he responded by an answering whinny of glad greeting. It was hardly to be expected that the moment was as freighted with importance to him as it was to us. Even solitary confinement in a box-stall did not seem to have impressed him as the preliminary of our separation. Animals have a way of accepting the unusual, which in man would be termed philosophically stoical. I, for one, had no stoicism at my command.
I will not say that my emotion unmanned me, I did not drop a tear ; but I am quite willing to confess that I left the print of a very grateful and regretful kiss on Ballad’s high white forehead.
I have sometimes wondered during the past winter, as I have sat seeing in the flames of the open fire the vision of those six weeks of pleasure, whether Ballad retains a vestige of the memory of our happy time together; whether his adventures as an experienced traveller have brought him wisdom, or whether, like so many another tourist, lie carried no more home with him than he started out with. His gain must ever remain more or less a matter of speculation ; but this I know, that in re-turning to the world the commonplace and the practical have been vastly less tedious because of our gay holiday. Life, it appears to me, may be made very endurable indeed if its pleasures are rightly managed ; and surely, those pleasures are best that linger longest in the memory, that continue to vibrate, like cathedral chimes, long after they have ceased to be, and that are the more complete for being enjoyed with the best of companions.