The End of a Journey
A tale of an unbreakable bond between a master and his horse
By Linda Hammerschmid
As the golden rays of the sun penetrated through the cold grey mist of the early morning, the familiar sound of horse’s hoofs, “clippity-clop, clippity-clop” could be hear along the worn cobblestone streets. The horse was chestnut in colour and a thin white streak slid down her narrow forehead ending in the form of a droplet between her nostrils. Behind her she pulled a yellow and blue delivery wagon on the side of which, in bold black letters, was printed, “Jersey Bread”.
Perched on the front seat of the wagon was Fred Thornton. He was an elderly man now, who had been working this bread route for the last twenty years, and he had become a permanent fixture, or so it seemed, in the old neighbourhood. Fred, in his sixties now, had been grey at the temples for almost ten years but he still possessed all his youthful charm and spirit, which attracted people to him. Sitting in his seat, his back slightly hunched with time, he would wave to everybody who passed by and call out to all the children in the park that was on his route. All the children loved both Fred and Arabelle, the faithful horse who had been on this route as long as Fred.
All the children loved both Fred and Arabelle, the faithful horse who had been on this route as long as Fred.
In fact, Arabelle had become so familiar with their route that she was able to stop at every house that took bread from them without any indication from Fred. Moreover, she was able to navigate her way around the neighbourhood turning right on this street and left on that street. This gave Fred a chance to catch up on his sleep. Therefore, the only remaining task left to do was to deliver the bread to the houses and this was Fred’s job. He knew the orders of every family by heart as they always took the same number of loaves every morning. Mrs. Freedman always took two double crusties and one loaf of sandwich bread while Mrs. Eastwood, who lived by herself in an old grey stone house, had for the past fifteen years taken one loaf of raisin bread, just one loaf, nothing more, nothing less. And so it went for all the others in the neighbourhood, as their orders were the same as they had been ten and twenty years before. Fred could deliver all the orders with his eyes shut as he knew the layout of the houses as well as he knew that night followed day. So the job of delivering bread on this route had been simplified by Fred and Arabelle down to the letter.
Even the parents of some of the children could remember back when they had been children and Fred and Arabelle were just starting out delivering bread in Westmount. The only difference that the parents could see now was that Arabelle, and Fred, were slowing down. Arabelle was having increasing difficulty when it came to pulling the wagon behind her as her hind legs were getting stiff with old age, and then there was Fred. Lately his eyesight had been failing him. He had been to the doctor’s only a month ago and when he came out he seemed older and sadder. For it seemed that in a matter of weeks Fred would go blind and there was nothing that could be done for him.
‘… the job of delivering bread on this route had been simplified by Fred and Arabelle down to the letter.’
That day he spent by himself thinking over what had to be done. He would lose his job if Mr. Winggate discovered that Fred was blind and then what would happen to Arabelle? Some young driver would take over the reins that he had so tenderly handled for more than two decades. But why should anyone find out thought Fred? Arabelle knew the route perfectly, down Western, up Victoria, along Sherbrooke, right on Grosvenor and back up Roslyn. He knew the orders of each family so why couldn’t he continue with his job? So he decided that day to carry on with his job and make sure that nobody learnt the truth. It’d be easy he thought and then he and Arabelle wouldn’t have to part. He loved Arabelle and she loved him. Even the slightest thought of their separation tore Fred apart. Together they were a team, inseparable, a unit. To be divided, Fred thought, would be like death itself.
So each day in the following weeks Fred and Arabelle delivered bread as they had been doing for so many years before, Fred’s eyesight dwindling more and more with each passing day, Arabelle’s strength fading more and more. Yet the two kept on, each giving each other strength, but then a few months later after work Fred was called into Mr. Winggate’s office at the bakery.
“You called for me, Mr. Winggate, Sir?” Fred uttered as he entered the small office.
The young man, not more than forty, had inherited the bakery from his late father, the man who had hired Fred some twenty years before. He wore a blue serge suit, a white starched shirt and a black tie. He was pacing the bar tile floor and puffing on a cheap five cent cigar when Fred had walked into the cubicle.
“Yes, come in Fred and take a seat. I want to talk to you about some complaints that I have received from some of the customers on your route. It seems that every morning you keep delivering their bread later and later and the people you keep waiting are getting understandably upset. Is there any particular explanation you have for these complaints Fred?”
‘Together they were a team, inseparable, a unit. To be divided, Fred thought, would be like death itself.’
“Me and Arabelle, Sir, well, we’re not as fast as we use to be Sir.”
“You’ve been with us now how many years Fred?”
“Twenty years Sir.”
“Twenty years, that’s a long time, and your service up to now has always been unimpeachable. Never even one complaint, so I have decided that what you need is a new horse. I had your regular horse examined by a veterinarian the other day and he recommends, and I agree, that she be put away Fred. I’m sorry Fred but we have to keep up with the pace of things and…”
“But Sir, Arabelle and…”
“Fred, Arabelle is in great pain when she pulls the wagon. Now we don’t want that do we? Of course not. Now I have to go. I really wish there could be another way but, well you know how it is Fred.”
Fred stood there stunned. Did he know how it was? He left the office and went over to Arabelle’s stall. Twenty years, twenty, living for each other and now it was to be struck out like a match. In all his life he had never cared for anyone as much as he cared for Arabelle and now they were going to put her away.
Without Arabelle life was void of all meaning. He didn’t want a new horse, he wanted Arabelle. He was blind. A new horse wouldn’t know the route, and he couldn’t see to show the horse. All was lost.
He stood by Arabelle stroking her neck and with tears rolling down his weather beaten face he turned and walked away.
“You know how it is Fred.”These words burned in his mind. His life was empty, useless, over. As he walked down the sidewalk he was oblivious to all that was happening around him. When he came to the curb he stepped out to cross the street but that was the wrong time to cross. A screech of brakes and a crunching sound were all that was heard. Swarms of people quickly gathered around
“Did you see?” asked one bystander.
“He just walked out in front of the truck”, replied another.
“Is he dead?” shouted a voice from the crowd.
Yes, Fred knew how it was. Now he could again join Arabelle and together they would always be a team. In life or in death nothing would ever separate them, not now, not ever, never.
Read also: King of the Wind… or Basashi with Rice?
Me Linda Hammerschmid is an attorney and has been practicing Family Law since 1982. She is the Senior Partner at Hammerschmid & Associates at 1 Westmount Square, Suite 1290. She is a founding and current member, and past Secretary (28 years) of The Family Law Association of Quebec. She is a frequent guest on CBC TV/Radio, CTV and CJAD, providing commentary on Family Law. You can also hear her regularly on the CJAD show “Passion” with Dr. Laurie Betito, the last Thursday of each month. She and her dog Mac are members of Therapeutic Paws giving joy to the less fortunate. Me Hammerschmid can be reached at (514) 846-1013 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. All inquiries will be treated confidentially.
Great short story. Pulls at the heartstrings.
Most often we hear the perceived wisdom “Suicide is a Permanent Solution to a Temporary Problem”
This is clearly not the case in this short story, filled with properly prenned description, places reader in the midst of it all.