By Victor Sullivan © 2015 As Tough as Leather
The owner of the neighbouring farm was about to return to the hayfield with his horse and cart for the final load of hay while ominous black clouds built up overhead, threatening to put a stop to the operation. The brilliant lightning-flash and simultaneous thunder-clap startled the horse and it bolted past Gills farmhouse, its anxious owner helplessly running after the terrified animal and the wildly swaying, out-of-control cart. At the first bend, just beyond Gill's house, both cart and horse were capsized, fortunately causing only minimal damage to the horse. The cart also survived unscathed but there was extensive damage to the leather harness.
Thomas Gill and his two strong sons were quickly on the scene and Richard sat on the horse's head while the remaining damaged tackle was released. Once the struggling horse was safely back on four legs and was being carefully examined for injury by its anxious owner, Richard ran to get Nancy, tackled her quickly to her own cart, found a hay-fork and headed quickly into the neighbour's hayfield. The interrupted job had to be completed before the darkening clouds and imminent downpour ruined what hay remained to be brought home for his worried neighbour. It was done without hesitation or even asking for permission to enter the field. A neighbour in trouble was everyone's problem. Richard began to load the cart with hay.
Johnnie, attracted by the commotion, dragged himself along on Eureka to survey the damage. Apart from a couple of small cuts and some invisible bruises, the neighbour's horse had been extremely lucky. Johnnie eyed the damaged harness lying across the stone wall while its owner continued to calm his still agitated animal.
"The harness got off worst, by the look of it." Johnnie commented.
"'Tis torn bad!" came the dismal response, "'Twill take time…. and money to fix it…. "
Johnnie had pulled the heavy harness down on top of himself from the wall and was working his hands along the leather of the britchen. A distant rumble of thunder agitated the nervous horse once more, demanding its owner's full attention for several minutes while Johnnie conducted a closer inspection of the broken harness.
"'Tisn't as bad as you think. The leather isn't damaged anywhere. Only the stitching. That stitching was never up to much anyway, wherever you got it. Look!" and he pulled out one end of a dirty bit of heavy thread and shredded it with his fingers.
"Rotten! Useless! That stitching could have given way at any time when you were going down a steep hill with a heavy load. It probably saved that horse from being badly injured when the harness ripped apart so easily." Johnny pointed out. "Yourself too." he added.
Johnnie Gill was always ready to exploit new opportunities. Here was one staring him in the face. By the time Nancy returned from the hayfield with the final load of rescued hay, Johnnie had arranged to re-stitch the horse's harness for his grateful neighbour.
He went home on Eureka with the broken harness piled on top of himself and later that same evening he prepared dozens of long strands of strong, 'wax-ends' of linen thread by drawing each one over a lump of black wax. Then he twisted several together and ran the result across the wax several more times. His father provided advice where he could, having watched the process many times but never having actually stitched anything heavier than his own boots. Surrounded by four candles, a couple of awls, a special needle and the general purpose, razor-sharp knife he had named Queen Mave, Johnnie worked through the night and as dawn was breaking he made the journey along the lane to his neighbour's house on Eureka. He deposited the repaired and now much stronger harness outside the front door and departed. Good job done!
The exciting idea of using Nancy to tow Eureka directly, without the encumbrance of a cart, had been a much processed thought in Johnnie's head, ever since he had launched Eureka onto the roads and lanes of the countryside. His early attempts at controlling the horse from beneath a cart by yelling the usual horse instructions had been met with a total lack of co-operation by Nancy. Vocal orders from beneath her were just that, beneath her, and she chose to ignore them. When Johnnie traveled on the floor of the cart, holding the reins in the usual way, Nancy responded obediently to his simple, direct orders. So….? Could long distances with Nancy without a cart be possible? The future was looking much brighter. It would be worth trying.
The cartless horse-towing trial took place in secret and it must have been a dismal and possibly a painful or startling failure. Cartless horse-towing was never again attempted behind Nancy, or behind any other horse.