Montreal is a very large city, but, like all large cities, it has some very small streets. Streets, for instance, like Prince Edward Street, which is only four blocks long, ending in a cul de sac. No one knew Prince Edward Street as well as did Pierre Dupin, for Pierre had delivered milk to the families on the street for thirty years now.
During the past fifteen years the horse which drew the milk wagon used by Pierre was a large white horse named Joseph. In Montreal, especially in that part of Montreal which is very French, the animals, like children, are often given the names of saints. When the big white horse first came to the Provincale Milk Company he didn`t have a name. They told Pierre that he could use the white horse henceforth. Pierre stroked the softness of the horse`s neck; he stroked the sheen of its splendid belly and he looked into the eyes of the horse.
“This is a kind horse, a gentle and a faithful horse,” Pierre said, “and I can see a beautiful spirit shining out of the eyes of the horse. I will name him after good St. Joseph, who was also kind and gentle anf faithful and a beautiful spirit.”
Within a year Joseph knew the milk route as well as Pierre. Pierre used to boast that he didn`t need reins – he never touched them. Each morning Pierre arrived at the stables of the Provincale Milk Company at five o`clock. The wagon would be loaded and Joseph hitched to it. Pierre would call “Bon jour, vieille ami,” as he climbed into his seat and Joseph would turn his head and the other drivers would smile and say that the horse would smile at Pierre. Then Jacques, the foreman, would say, “All right, Pierre, go on,” and Pierre would call softly to Joseph, “Avance, mon ami,” and this splendid combination would stalk proudly down the street.
The wagon, without any direction from Pierre, would roll three blocks down St. Catherine Street, then turn right two blocks along Roslyn Avenue; then left, for that was Prince Edward Street. The horse would stop at the first house, allow Pierre perhaps thirty seconds to get down from his seat and put a bottle of milk at the front door and would then go on, skipping two houses and stopping at the third. So down the length of the street. Then Joseph, still without any direction from Pierre, would turn around and come back along the other side. Yes, Joseph was a smart horse.
Pierre would boast at the stable of Joseph`s skill. “I never touch the reins. “He knows just where to stop. Why, a blind man could handle my route with Joseph pulling the wagon.”
So it went for years – always the same. Pierre and Joseph both grew old together, but gradually, not suddenly. Pierre’s huge walrus mustache was pure white now and Joseph didn’t lift his knees so high or raise his head as much. Jacques, the foreman of the stables, never noticed that they were both getting old until Pierre appeared one morning carrying a heavy walking stick.
“Hey, Pierre”, Jacques laughed. “Maybe you got the gout, hey?”
“Mais oui, Jacques,” Pierre said a bit uncertainly. “One grows old. One’s legs get tired.”
“You should teach that horse to carry the milk to the front door for you,” Jacques told him, “He does everything else.”
He knew every one of the forty families he served on Prince Edward Street. The cooks knew that Pierre could neither read nor write, so instead of following the usual custom of leaving a note in an empty bottle if an additional quart of milk was needed they would sing out when they heard the rumble of his wagon wheels over the cobbled street, “Bring an extra quart this morning, Pierre.”
“So you have company for dinner tonight,” he would call back gaily.
Pierre had a remarkable memory. When he arrived at the stable he’d always remember to tell Jacques, “The Paquins took an extra quart this morning; the Lemoines bought a pint of cream.”
Jacques would note these things in a little book he always carried. Most of the drivers had to make out the weekly bills and collect the money, but Jacques, liking Pierre, had always excused him from this task. All Pierre had to do was to arrive at five in the morning, walk to his wagon, which was always in the same spot at the curb, and deliver his milk. He returned some two hours later, got down stiffly from his seat, called a cherry “Au ‘voir” to Jacques, and then limped slowly down the street.
One morning the president of the Provincale Milk Company came to inspect the early morning deliveries. Jacques pointed Pierre out to him and said: “Watch how he talks to that horse. See how the horse listens and how he turns his head toward Pierre? See the look in that horse’s eyes? You know, I think those two share a secret. I have often noticed it. It is as though they both sometimes chuckle at us as they go off on their route. Pierre is a good man, Monsieur President, but he gets old. Would it be too bold of me to suggest that he be retired and be given perhaps a small pension?” he added anxiously.
“But of course,” the president laughed. “I know his record. He has been on this route now for thirty years and never once has there been a complaint. Tell him it is time he rested. His salary will go on just the same.”
But Pierre refused to retire. He was panic-stricken at the thought of not driving Joseph every day. “We are two old men,” he said to Jacques. “Let us wear out together. When Joseph is ready to retire – then I, too, will quit.”
Jacques, who was a kind man, understood. There was something about Pierre and Joseph which made a man smile tenderly. It was as though each drew some hidden strength from the other. When Pierre was sitting in his seat, and when Joseph was hitched to the wagon, neither seemed old. But when they finished their work, then Pierre would limp down the street slowly, seeming very old indeed, and the horse’s head would drop and he would walk very wearily to his stall.
Then one morning Jacques had dreadfull news for Pierre when he arrived. It was a cold morning and still pitch-dark. The air was like iced wine that morning and the snow which had fallen during the night glistened like a million diamonds piled together.
Jacques said, “Pierre, your horse, Joseph, did not wake up this morning. He was very old, Pierre, he was twenty-five and that is like being seventy-five for a man.”
“Yes,” Pierre said slowly. “Yes. I am seventy. And I cannot see Joseph again.”
“Of course you can,” Jacques soothed. “He is over in his stall, looking very peaceful. Go over and see him.”
Pierre took one step forward, then turned. “No... no... you don’t understand, Jacques.”
Jacques clapped him on the shoulder. “We’ll find another horse just as good as Joseph. Why, in a month you’ll teach him to know your route as well as Joseph did. We’ll...”
The look in Pierre’s eyes stopped him. For years Pierre had worn a heavy cap, the peak of which came low over his eyes, keeping the bitter morning wind out of them. Now Jacques looked into Pierre’s eyes and he saw something which startled him. He saw a dead, lifeless look in them. The eyes were mirroring the grief that was in Pierre’s heart and his soul. It was as though his heart and soul had died.
“Take today off, Pierre,” Jacques said, but already Pierre was hobbling off down the street, and had one been near one would have seen tears streaming down his cheeks and have heard half-smothered sobs. Pierre walked to the corner and stepped into the street. There was a warning yell from the driver of a huge truck that was coming fast and there was the scream of brakes, but Pierre apparently heard neither.
Five minutes later and ambulance driver said, “He’s dead. He was killed instantly.”
Jacques and several of the milk-wagon drivers had arrived and they looked down at the still figure.
“I couldn’t help it,” the driver of the truck protested, “he walked right into my truck. He never saw it, I guess. Why, he walked into it as though he was blind.”
The ambulance doctor bent down. “Blind? Of course the man was blind. See those cataracts? This man has been blind for five years. “He turned to Jacques, “You say he worked for you? Didn’t you know he was blind?”
“No... no...” Jacques said, softly. “None of us knew. Only one knew – a friend of his named Joseph... It was a secret, I think, just between those two.”
Quentin James Reynolds (1902-1965)