Study Guide

Black Beauty Chapter 31

By Anna Sewell

Chapter 31

A Humbug

  • Beauty's new groom arrives, a man named Alfred Smirk. (Again this name does not bode well, does it?) And apparently Beauty's master is really bad at hiring grooms, because Beauty says, "[…] if ever there was a humbug in the shape of a groom, Alfred Smirk was the man" (31.1).
  • He treats Beauty well, especially in front of Beauty's master, but he does a terrible job at grooming. Alfred Smirk himself is very vain and loves looking in the mirror (we're totally picturing him smirking at himself), but although he gives Beauty's master a very good impression, Beauty thinks he's "[…] the laziest, most conceited fellow I ever came near" (31.2).
  • Worst of all, Smirk doesn't clean Beauty's stall. It smells awful and starts to affect Beauty's health. The master comes in to ask about it, and Smirk actually says it's dangerous to clean and might give the horse a chill. Smirk suggests maybe there's something wrong with the drain.
  • Someone comes to fix the drain, but of course that's not the problem; Beauty's feet start to become "unhealthy and tender" (31.9) from standing on wet ground. His master starts commenting on Beauty's ill health, and Beauty explains that besides his feet, he's not exercised enough and fed the wrong kind of food.
  • Beauty's feet get bad enough that he starts to stumble, and his master stops at a farrier to find out what's wrong. The farrier diagnoses Beauty with "thrush"—which is like bad athlete's foot for horses—and says it's a problem found in foul, unclean stables.
  • At last Beauty's feet are healed and his stable is cleaned out, but Beauty's master is fed up with grooms, and decides that owning a horse is too much trouble. So Beauty is sold yet again.

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