Goosey Gander’s head was framed fittingly between master and man. Now he rubbed it against one and now against the other. They led him to the water-trough and stood over him as he drank with nibbling lips, shaking the oppressive collar from his shoulders. Jim Silver at the gate watched the little group with quiet content. The three seemed so perfectly at home together that between them was no need for words.
* * * * *
Monkey Brand was a cockney.
He had been born in the River Ward of Hammersmith in that blind alley known to the police and the inhabitants as Tiger Bay.
His father’s ice-cream business never had any fascination for the lad; but from the first his spirit drew him to the long-eared shaggy mokes of certain of the neighbours. While the other urchins from the River Ward spent their days in and out of the river dodging the coppers, at the draw-docks on Chiswick Mall, or down by the coal-wharves under the bridge, Monkey’s happiest hours were passed leading a coster’s cart laden with green stuff up and down the alleys. When possible he slept with Mary, the donkey he had in charge. She was fond of him, too; and the Joes, who owned her, found that the long-eared lady, when in one of her stubborn moods, would give to the boy’s persuasions what she refused to the big stick.
To the Joes Monkey proved himself invaluable.
He was industrious and reliable; and he had his reward when young Joe jaunted across London for fish at Billingsgate or greens at Covent Garden and took the lad with him.
The great day of the boy’s life came when the Joes took him to Epsom for the Derby week.
Old Joe, young Joe’s missus, and the kids, stowed away in the body of the cart; while young Joe balanced on one shaft and Monkey on the other. The party crossed Barnes Common in the small hours of the Monday morning, and dossed on Banstead Downs that night. Next day they joined the great stream of traffic rolling out of London Epsomward. Young Joe, whose strength lay in his powers of sympathetic intuition, let Monkey drive. And the urchin took his place with pride in that vast stream of char-a-bancs, ’buses, hansoms, and drags rolling southward; and no four-in-hand coachman of them all held up his hand to stay the following traffic, or twiddled his whip with lordlier dignity than the dark lad who sat on the shaft and drove Mary up the hill on to the course.
There for the first time young Monkey saw thoroughbred horses. They were a revelation to the lad. He stood and gaped at their beauty.
“Don’t ’alf shine neever!” he gasped. “I reck’n our Mary couldn’t ’old ’em.”
At the end of the week the Joes returned to Tiger Bay without their coachman.
“Where’s my Monkey then?” cried his mother.
“Stayed along o’ the ’orses,” young Joe answered, unharnessing.
Indeed there was but one walk in life for which the boy was fitted; and the fates had guided him into it young.