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Day 104 – Five O’Clock Charlie

Marguerite Henry was born on April 13, 1902 and in honor of what would have been her 114th birthday this week, we read one of her best loved stories, “Five O’Clock Charlie”.  It is an irresistible and soothing book about an old draught horse who is not entirely ready to be put out to pasture. Adding to the comforting feel of the story are Wesley Dennis’ familiar pencil and watercolor illustrations that signal to you from the cover that you are in for a treat. Still frisky as a colt despite his twenty-eight years, Charlie makes his own plans for retirement, and in acting on those plans he finds happiness and a brand new purpose in life.
charlie
For years, Charlie has worked for Mr. Spinks on his farm in Shropshire, UK. Mr. Spinks is a tough yet tender man, and when he decides that Charlie’s working days are over he sets Charlie loose in his own paddock – free to frolic or relax as he pleases. It must seem like a pretty good deal to Mr. Spinks, but Charlie is a social animal who misses the busyness of his working days; not only does he feel terribly bored on his own, he also feels completely useless. Perhaps most of all, he misses his daily trips to the Boar’s Head Tavern in town. Every afternoon promptly at five o’clock, the cook at the Boar’s Head – Birdie – rings her bell and people come swarming – on foot, or horseback, and in carriages – to gobble up her delicious apple tarts. While the farmers enter the pub by the front door, Charlie would always saunter around back to socialize with the other horses, and to wait for Birdie to bring him his own apple tart at the swing-in/swing-out window.

After months in his lonely paddock, with nothing ever changing, Charlie is jolted into action one afternoon by the sound of the five o’clock bell. He jumps the fence, breaking the top rail on the way out, and surprises Birdie at the window. She is delighted to see him! From that day forward, Charlie heads into town every afternoon at five…to the point where he becomes a sort of alarm clock for Birdie, reminding her to ring the bell. In fact, eventually Charlie even gets to ring the bell himself! Of course, Mr. Spinks is wise to Charlie’s antics, but with a wink and a nod he is more than happy to look the other way – telling his wife when she complains about the broken fence rail: “Quite right, my dear. One day I’ll fix it.”

We first happened on Ms. Henry’s “Misty of Chincoteague” several years ago, and fell in love with the story immediately. Ever since that discovery, we have been impressed to learn how many authors whose work we enjoy list Ms. Henry among their inspirations. What a legacy to leave.