Rough was a Donkey

HE was a donkey, and we called him Rough. He belonged to Gerald and me. We didn’t keep him for his useful qualities, and we certainly didn’t keep him for his moral qualities; and I don’t know what we did keep him for, unless, for the best reason in the world, that we loved him.

He was always getting us into scrapes, the most renowned of which was one Rough’s enemies were fond of alluding to.

We were bidden to a christening one fair spring morning; and we not only accepted the invitation, but promised to bring apple-blossoms, to fill the font and make the church look gay. We had an old apple orchard, that bore beautiful blossoms, but worthless fruit; and of these blossoms we had leave to pick as many as we chose.

So we filled the donkey-cart with them, and set forth for the christening, which was to be at a little church about a mile or more distant from our farm. Rough’s enemies will tell how we arrived when the christening was all over, and our apple blossoms faded.

We were never so happy as when we had a whole leisure afternoon to go off with Rough in the donkey-cart, and our little sister Daisy by Gerald’s side, on the board that served as seat, and I lying on my back on the bottom of the cart, with my heels dangling out of it. So I would lie for hours, whistling and looking up at the drifting clouds, or with my hat over my eyes to keep out the sun.

One afternoon, early in March, when the roads were almost knee deep in mud, and the last of the melting snow made a running stream on either side of the road, we were slowly travelling along after the manner I have described. We were going to take a longing look at the skating pond, two miles from our farm. We were forbidden to try the dangerous ice, but meant only to look upon the scene of our winter’s delight.

“Some one’s in the pond!” cried Daisy.

“How do ye know?” said I, not removing my hat from my face.

You see Daisy was only six years old, and I hadn’t much faith in her observation.

“Cos I sees ’em with my own eyes.”

I jumped up and looked. It was only  a hat I saw. Gerald meanwhile said nothing, but had pulled up Rough (who not only stopped, but lay down in the mud), and looked. I watched him, to see what he thought, or proposed to do.

A child collecting flowers together

People had a way of trusting to Gerald’s judgment rather than their own, and were generally better off for it.

“It is some one in the pond,” said Gerald; and then followed a short discussion as to whether we should leave Daisy alone to the mercies of Rough, which resulted in our leaving Rough, and taking Daisy along with us down to the pond.

We could see a boy, apparently about Gerald’s age, swimming and striving to keep up, and catching at the ice, which broke as he clung to it. He swam feebly, as if benumbed and wearied.

“Keep a brave heart!” roared Gerald; “we’ll save you!” and then began to take off his boots and coat. The boy sank—under the ice, this time. We could see it bobbing up and down as he swam beneath it.

“Stay here till I call you,” said Gerald to me, as he stepped from the shore on to the ice, and walked out towards where the swimmer was hidden by the ice. I stood breathless, with my eye on Gerald.

The ice began to crack under him. He lay down on his stomach, and pulled himself forward with his hands. Up came the swimmer not far from him.

“Keep up! Gerald will save you!” cried Daisy.

The poor fellow cast one despairing look at Gerald, and sank again. Gerald had gone as far as was practicable on the ice. I could hear it cracking all over,  and see the white cracks darting suddenly over ice that had looked safe.

Up came the boy again.

“Keep up! keep up!” cried Daisy, in an excited treble. “Gerald will save you!”

But the boy could hear nothing. He had his eyes closed, and seemed to have fainted. Gerald reached out, and clutched him by the arm. How the ice cracked all about him! My heart was in my mouth; I thought he was in. I began to take my coat off.

“A scarf!” said Gerald, speaking for the first time.

I took off my own, and picked up Gerald’s from the ground, and tied them firmly together. I saw that they were too short. Daisy offered hers. I took it, with an inward fear, if the child should catch cold; it seemed paltry to think of it at such a moment. I stepped out on the ice, and went a few steps, when Gerald cried,—

“Stop!”

I obeyed like a soldier.

“Throw it now!”

I threw the long string of scarfs. Gerald dexterously caught it, and upholding the poor boy with one hand, with the other passed the string under his arms, and tied the ends of it to his own arm. Then he paused a moment before attempting the hazardous work of coming ashore, and looked at me speculatively. I knew what he meant. There was a shadow of trouble in his face that had nothing to do with his own danger. He was weighing the possibility of his falling in, and my doing the same in trying to save him, and Daisy alone on the shore. I gave a cheering “Go ahead, old fellow!” and he began to push himself back again, dragging his senseless burden after him by the scarf tied to his arm.

Crack! crack! crack! went the ice all about him, and little tides of water flooded it. At last it seemed a little firmer. Gerald rose to his feet, and dragging the boy still in the water after him, began to walk slowly towards the shore, not seeming to notice how the sharp edges of the ice cut the face and forehead of the poor half-drowned boy.

Again the ice began to crack and undulate. Gerald stood still for a moment, and the piece on which he stood broke away from the rest, and began to float out. He jumped to the next, which broke, and so to the next, and the next, till he neared the shore. Then he paused a moment, and looked at me.

“Go ashore!” he roared like a sea captain.

Then I noticed that I stood on a detached piece of ice, but nearer land than Gerald. I found no difficulty in gaining the shore.

“Now stand firm and give a hand!” said Gerald.

I grasped his hand, and he jumped ashore, and together we lifted the boy out of the water. Daisy burst into tears, crying,—

“O, Gerald, Gerald, I thought you’d be drowned!”

Gerald very gently put her clinging arms away from him, saying, firmly,—

“Don’t cry, Daisy. We have our hands full with this poor fellow.”

I got the skates off the “poor fellow,” and gave them to Daisy to hold. She, brave little woman, gulped down her tears, and only gave vent to her emotion, now and then, by a little suppressed sob. Gerald began beating the hands and breathing into the mouth and nostrils of the seeming lifeless form before us.

“Is he dead, Gery?” said I.

“No!” said Gerald, fiercely. It was evident that he wouldn’t believe he had gone through so much trouble to bring a dead man ashore. “Look for his handkerchief, and see if there’s a mark on it.”

 I fished a wet rag out of the wet trousers pocket, and found in one corner of it the name “Stevens.”

“There’s a farmer of that name two miles farther on. I don’t know any one else of that name. Must be his son. We’ll take him home;” and he began wrapping his coat about the poor boy; but I insisted on mine being used for the purpose, as Gerald was half wet, and his teeth were already chattering. “We must get him off this wet ground as soon as possible,” said Gerald; and together we lifted him, and slowly and laboriously bore him to the donkey-cart in the road.

By this time Gerald had only strength enough to hold the reins, and we set out forthwith for the Stevens farm, I, with what help Daisy could give, trying to bring some show of life back to the stranger. Perhaps the jolting of the cart helped,—I don’t know,—but by and by he began to revive, and at last we propped him up in one corner of the cart, with his head supported by Daisy’s knee.

I shall not soon forget how long the road seemed, and how I got out and walked in deep mud, and how, when poor Rough seemed straining every muscle to make the little cart move at all, Gerald insisted on getting out, too, and leading Rough; how the sun set as we were wading through a long road, where willow trees grew thick on either side, and Daisy said, “See; all the little pussies are out!” how, at last, we reached the Stevens farm, and restored the half-drowned boy to his parents. I remember, too, how they were so utterly absorbed, very naturally, in the welfare of their boy, as to forget all about us, and offer us no quicker means of return home than our donkey-cart.

They came to call on us the next day, and to thank us, and specially Gerald, with tears of gratitude. And Gerald was a hero in the village from that day forth.

I remember well how dark it grew as we waded slowly and silently home, and how poor little Rough did his very best, and never stopped once.

I think he understood the importance of the occasion; but those who were not Rough’s friends, believe it was a recollection, and expectation of supper, that made him acquit himself so honorably.

As we neared our home, we saw a tall figure looming up in the dark, and soon, by the voice, we knew it was Michael, one of the farm hands, sent to seek us.

“Bluder an nouns,” he exclaimed, “it is you, Mister Gery! An’ yer muther, poor leddy, destroyed wid the fright. An’ kapin’ the chilt out to this hair. Hadn’t ye moor sense?”

We explained briefly; and Daisy begged to be carried, as the cart was all wet.

With many Irish expressions of sympathy, Michael took the child in his arms; and so we arrived at home, and found father and mother half distracted with anxiety, and the farm hands sent in all directions to look for us. We were at once, all three of us, put to bed, and made to drink hot lemonade, and have hot stones at our feet, and not till then tell all our experiences, which were listened to eagerly.

Daisy escaped unhurt, I with a slight cold, but Gerald and poor little Rough were the ones who suffered. Gerald had a severe attack of pneumonia, from which we had much ado to bring him back to health, and Rough was ill. They brought us the news from the stable on the next morning. We couldn’t tell what was the matter; perhaps he had strained himself, perhaps had caught cold. We could not tell, nor could the veterinary surgeon we brought to see him. Poor Rough lay ill for weeks, and one bright spring morning he died.

They told us early in the morning, before we were out of bed, how, an hour ago, Rough had died.