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Jane Badger Books

Diana Pullein-Thompson: Only a Pony (eBook)

Diana Pullein-Thompson: Only a Pony (eBook)

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Augusta and Christina ride again in the fourth part of the series.

Augusta's mother has gone to hospital to have a baby, and Augusta and Christina are staying in the cottage with a French girl to look after them. Mignon bails out pretty much as soon as Augusta's mother has gone, but the girls think they'll cope.

Then something happens neither of them expect. A runaway boy, complete with his pony, turn up in the stables. Their first instinct is to ring the police, but they listen to Nico's pleading. He's desperate for his mother to come back and find him, and almost as desperate for his father not to sell his pony. Nico's father says she's only a pony, after all.

This decision has far-reaching consequences as Augusta wrestles with the prospect of being a sister, dealing with her aunt and her cousins, and trying to decide what to do with Nico. And his pony.

This book was written nearly 30 years after A Pony to School, and its tone is quite different. But Augusta is growing up, and we can see that and sympathise with her dilemmas.

 

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Read a sample

When my mother was taken away in an ambulance to hospital I wanted to cry, which was silly because she went for a joyful reason. Perhaps it wasn’t really the parting which upset me, but the sight of the waiting pram in the hall, making me feel that I might be supplanted. Maybe I had been an only child for too long, and with Daddy away so much the cottage had seemed complete with just my mother and me. In my heart of hearts I did not want an addition.

“Come on,” said Christina. “Let’s go and saddle up.”
Inside the brick and flint stable, Serenade and Daybreak waited patiently, each resting a leg, with a few strands of hay hanging from their mouths. We put on their tack.
“We had better tell Mignon that we are going out,” I said.
The French girl, who had come to look after us, was turning the pages of a fashion magazine. Lean, languid and dark, with eyes like pools of brown water in the strange whiteness of her face, she had been recommended by Madame Dupont, our governess, as the daughter of a good family who spoke impeccable French.

“So you ride,” she said, stubbing out a cork-tipped cigarette. “English girls always ride. Horses are not my interest, but it is good that you enjoy yourselves while I rest. Goodbye then—you will be back at five o’clock, yes?”

We said we would, and a few moments later we were clattering away down the road at a brisk walk.
“It’s going to be terribly dull. I hope you won’t be bored,” I said.

“Listen,” said my rich friend, Christina. “It will be quite a change for me, cooking, washing up, grooming my own pony; you know I’m not allowed to do that sort of thing at home. There always seem to be eyes watching me—Mummy’s, Daddy’s, Cook’s, O’Neill’s. I shouldn’t mind, but sometimes I do.”

We came to a bridle-path and galloped. My pony, Daybreak, is a beautiful iron grey, obliging and kind. Christina’s Serenade is a trained show jumper, a bay with a white star and a long, effortless stride. She has won countless cups and is worth hundreds of pounds, but I don’t think she is half as nice as Daybreak. Needless to say, she took the lead, flinging mud in my face, her black tail streaming out behind her like a flag trailed from a car.
Christina, who rides tremendously well, looked part of her mount and in comparison I felt, as usual, loose and untidy.

Christina had come to stay for a few days to keep me company while Mummy had her baby in hospital. Daddy was in the Middle East on business, and, as we were only thirteen, Mignon had been employed to improve our French and to keep an eye on us since our parents seemed to think that we could not be left alone. It had soon seemed to us, however, that we were actually more competent than the French girl, who was more inclined to practise her English than to improve our French.
Presently we were in the woods. They were as still and awe-inspiring as an empty cathedral; vast with long, straight tracks like aisles and a beautiful bluish light shot by brighter shafts, where the trees parted to let us glimpse the wide, sunny sky. The birds were singing and everywhere the bluebells lay like a carpet over last year’s leaves. I love the woods. I love them more than the wide and open spaces, or even the hills which roll into each other further on, like the green bulges of a feather-filled quilt. There is something so special about the grandeur of the bare brown trunks which stand row on row, older than us, older than the houses, the roads, or the fences, smooth as rhinoceros skin, silent as stones.

Christina started to talk about the shows in which we hoped to compete that summer, then Daybreak stumbled over a root and I fell forward and hit my nose on his neck. It started to bleed, and I found that I had no handkerchief. Christina obliged with one of hers, but the blood still dripped, red as holly berries, sticky and horrible.

“We had better go back to your place,” Christina said. “You need lots of cold water.”

“It’s only a little blood vessel that’s broken,” I told her. “It’s my fault. I should have been firmer in the saddle. I don’t keep my knees in.”

“You’re a natural rider,” Christina remarked. “You stay on by balance.”

When we reached home we found Mignon packing her suitcase.

“Where are you going? What are you doing?” I asked, on my way to the bathroom.

“What does it look like?” she asked.

“Caught in the act. Are you deserting us?” enquired Christina. “You promised to stay.”

“I do not like this place. It smells of animals. It is too far away. There are no people. Who am I to talk to all day when you go out riding? Who?”

“There are people further up the road—the Murrays.”

“And what do the Murrays care about me? I go to London. You are quite old enough to manage on your own. I should never have come. It was a big mistake. If I stay I shall go mad. Besides, I hear that Anton is in London and if I do not see him I die. He is so beautiful. Perhaps I come back tomorrow or the next day. And I leave a telephone number—then if you have trouble, you ring.”

“But our French,” I called from the basin. “What about our French?”

“Ach, the way to learn the language is to come to the country. Besides, you do not care. It is always the horses you want. Ah, there is the taxi! Now, let me write down my address, then I am available if anything goes badly wrong, you understand. I do not desert you. I just leave for a day or two to see my Anton who arrived this afternoon from Paris.”

The cold water had begun to slow my bleeding, so I came downstairs with a wet flannel held to my nose to say goodbye.

“Don’t you think you’ve let us down?” I asked.

“I think it was silly to ask me, and I have no contract, nothing signed. I am actually free, free as—how do you say it?—free as air.”

She picked up her suitcase, a tall, elegant figure whose style I secretly envied. Could I ever be as smart, as grown-up as Mignon? I doubted it.

“I could phone my parents and tell them what you are doing,” threatened Christina.

“Ah, but you are too nice to do that,” replied Mignon with her wonderfully radiant smile. “You are not that sort of girl. Goodbye, be good.” She blew kisses, her lips red and glossy as enamel, an elegant decoration in a face that was paper-pale. “I come back to hear about the baby.”

“Well, I’ll be blowed,” said Christina. “What a nerve!”

“What shall we do?” I asked, sniffing back the last traces of blood. “We should have stopped her, grabbed her suitcase. We’ve been astonishingly feeble.” Of course now, when it was too late, we mulled over all the things we should have said and done.

“Let’s have tea anyway,” I suggested at last. “That will build up our strength so that we can decide what to do.”

Page length: 106

Original publication date: 1980

Who's in the book?

Humans: Augusta Thorndyke, Christina Carr, Mrs Thorndyke, Mignon, Aunt Margaret, Jill, Stephen, Barbara, Nigel, Piers, Tilly, Nico
Equines: Daybreak, Rainbow, Punch, Serenade

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