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Jane Badger Books

Josephine Pullein-Thompson: Fear Treks the Moor (eBook)

Josephine Pullein-Thompson: Fear Treks the Moor (eBook)

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Disaster strikes the Hamiltons’ trekking stable when Mr Hamilton has a serious accident and ends up in intensive care. If their trekking business can't carry on, the family will be ruined, so Frances and Louisa and their friends help out. On their very first trek, a mystery boy under an assumed name is booked to ride by his school.

Who is he, and why is he there? And why is he so terrified of the men who call themselves his uncles?

As the trek winds over the moors, triumph and disaster follow them.

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It was on the second day of our summer holidays that Daddy came home after evening surgery, his long face longer than ever, and said that he was afraid he was the bearer of bad news: Mr Jackson had had a terrible accident.

The Jacksons live at Black Tor Farm which is at the other end of St Dinas to our house, Rosebank. There are four of them but Heather and Mick are our particular friends; Dawn is grown-up and married and Tracy is younger than us. We’re the Burnetts, Frances, that’s me, and Louisa.

It seemed that Mr Jackson’s own tractor had gone hopelessly wrong while he was carting his last bales of hay and rather than wait for a spare part to come out from Baybourne on the bus, or waste time going to fetch it, he had borrowed a very elderly and retired tractor from a relation. This tractor had no safety cab so, when the brakes had failed on one of his steep, stony little hillside fields and the tractor had run away and overturned, he had had no protection.

‘I sent him straight to Marlford,’ Daddy told us, ‘they couldn’t have done much for him at Baybourne, and he’s in the intensive care unit. He’s certainly fractured a thigh and there are obviously internal injuries, but we don’t know the extent of them yet. I called John Cleveland in, we can’t do better than him down here.’

Mummy seemed to know about John Cleveland and she agreed that he was the best possible person, but then she began to worry about Heather, Mick and Tracy and who would be looking after them.

Daddy said that as soon as he’d seen Mrs Jackson into the ambulance with her husband he’d got hold of Dawn’s husband and they’d arranged that Dawn should go round to the farm and break the news to Heather, Mick and Tracy when they got home from their last day at school, and get their supper and stay the night.

It was a horrible thing to happen and besides the awfulness of poor Mr Jackson being squashed and, as I could tell from Daddy’s face, very seriously ill, there was the problem of the Trekking Centre. Louisa and I both began to explain what a disaster it was for the Jackson finances, for the land at Black Tor is very poor, quite unlike the lush acres owned by our rich farming friends, the Mitchells, and every summer the whole Jackson family works hard teaching riding, looking after paying guests and caravanning families and running the Trekking Centre to make up the family income. We knew that this was the worst possible moment for things to go wrong and that they’d be desperate for cash by the winter if they didn’t manage to carry on somehow.
‘Well,’ said Daddy when we had explained it all to him, ‘you’d better do something to help. Heather and Mick are down-to-earth reliable kids and you two understand ponies and know the moor better than most people. Surely, between you, you could keep the trekking side going?’

We agreed that we could help and gradually we became quite enthusiastic at the prospect. Louisa wanted me to telephone the Jacksons at once and offer our services, but our parents thought that we ought to let them get over the shock of the accident first, so we agreed to ride over first thing in the morning.

Mummy had already begun to raid her store cupboard for useful tins and packets. ‘You can take these with you,’ she said, ‘and tell Heather I’ll cook them a chicken and some sort of pie for the weekend.’

As usual ‘first thing’ wasn’t quite as early as we had hoped, but we gobbled breakfast and groomed in a slap-dash and speedy manner. Redwing, being a roan with black points, doesn’t need a tremendous lot of grooming. She’s only half moorland pony so she has a fine coat, slender-looking legs and a beautiful head and always manages to look elegant so long as she’s not actually plastered in mud. Louisa’s Spider is a true moorland pony, he’s brown with a star which looks as though it had run when it was painted on and has an untidy trickle. He’s one of those perfect ponies, terribly obliging and willing and a good jumper for his size; his only fault is over-eating and Louisa feels quite desperate at the thought of growing out of him.

We saddled and bridled and then at last we set off with the useful food in a rucksack digging into my back. We paused outside number three of the Chapel Cottages and shouted ‘Jane’, without much hope of finding anyone at home for we knew that Mrs Shaw would be at work in Baybourne and Jane, who is an early riser with an industrious nature, had probably been up at six and already given Bellboy a show pony grooming before setting out.

Everyone at Black Tor Farm was very subdued. Even the dogs were slinking about with their tails at half mast. Tracy hid in the cowshed when she saw us ride into the yard. We found Heather, who had red eyes, and asked her for news. She said that her mother had stayed at the hospital all night and telephoned this morning to tell them that there was ‘no change’.

We handed over Mummy’s useful food and explained about the chicken and pie on Sunday and then added that we had come to offer our services to the Trekking Centre.

‘I’ll fetch Mick, he’s indoors, telephoning,’ said Heather. While she was away we tied our ponies in one of the long stables and found Jane’s Bellboy nodding peacefully in one of the stalls.

‘Yes, she came round at eight offering to help,’ Heather told us. ‘She’s over at the caravans giving Dawn a hand with the cleaning up. One family’s just left and another one’s coming in tomorrow.’

Mick looked a bit dazed. ‘Trouble is Dawn’s expecting,’ he added, ‘she mustn’t do too much. I’ve been putting off the P.G.s, explaining what’s happened.’

‘But if you put off the P.G.s you won’t have any trekkers,’ objected Louisa.

Heather sat down on the edge of the water trough. ‘We couldn’t cope,’ she said. ‘It’s bad enough when Mum’s in charge. It’s chaos sometimes with the breakfasts and then the packed lunches and she’s hardly cleared up when it’s time to start on the teas. If Dawn wasn’t expecting and Tracy was a bit older we could manage, but Mick and I can’t do it all so we decided to go on with the trekking and stop the P.G.s.’

‘They’re getting fixed up gradually,’ said Mick. ‘Mrs Grant at Chapel Cottages is taking two girls and the family—the Barlows—have got fitted in at Seaview where Miss Sackville and the engaged couple were staying anyway. It’s just N. Hutchinson we’ve got stuck with.’

‘N. Hutchinson?’ I asked, intrigued by the initial.

‘Yes, he’s a boy of twelve,’ explained Heather gloomily. ‘His school booked for him. We’ve tried to put him off but they say that his father’s abroad and it’s impossible for them to make changes. We suggested he stayed at Seaview but they said that was out of the question, his father had particularly asked for him to stay on an isolated farm.’

‘I told them it wouldn’t be much fun here with Mum away and us all worried stiff,’ Mick went on, ‘I finished up talking to the headmaster himself, but he wouldn’t budge. Said it would do the boy good to rough it and he’d come and collect him as soon as he got back from his holiday, which means that we’ve got to have him for at least two weeks.’

‘It’s funny really,’ said Heather thoughtfully, ‘well, fishy. Why should someone want his son to stay on an isolated farm so specially?’

‘Perhaps he’s a bit dotty, or disabled,’ I suggested. ‘Or terribly small for his age, or can’t bear to be stared at.’
‘He might have a terrible birthmark,’ added Louisa.
Heather groaned, ‘If N. Hutchinson turns out to be a nut it’ll just about finish us off. It’d be the last straw on top of everything else.’

‘Well we’re willing to help with the trekkers,’ I reminded her. ‘I know there’s the milking and the rest of the farm and we couldn’t help much there, but we do know about the moor and about ponies.’

‘Yes you do,’ agreed Heather, ‘just as much as we do. But trekkers aren’t much fun, you know. They grumble and some of them are terrible riders and can barely trot.’

‘That’s all right,’ Louisa answered quickly, ‘we’re not doing it for fun, we really want to help.’

‘It would be great then,’ Heather looked at Mick. ‘You see Dad had booked up the caravaners and quite a lot of odd kids staying in Tolbay for lessons on top of the trekkers. We’ve hardly enough ponies to go round, much less instructors. Tracy likes leading out the six-year-olds and I don’t mind teaching the older ones, but if Mick’s on his own with the trekkers and something goes wrong …’

‘The milking’s all right,’ said Mick reflectively. ‘Uncle Geoff’s taking it over and he says he’ll take a regular look round the sheep in case I miss anything. Mr Mitchell called in early this morning to say we weren’t to worry about our oats, he’s going to send his combine over when they’re ready and all we’ll have to do is to cart the straw. So, now we’ve put off all the P.G.s for two weeks our only problems are N. Hutchinson and the other trekkers.’

‘Jane has offered to help too,’ said Heather, ‘but she’s not a very experienced rider and she’s new to the moor, so I think she’ll be more help to me in the school, that’s the sort of riding she’s been used to in London.’

‘Well, that’s settled then,’ I told them. ‘You just tell us what time you want us and what to bring.’

‘I just hope they’ll be a nice lot,’ observed Heather gloomily.

‘I hope they’ll do as we say.’ Louisa sounded anxious.

‘They’re usually O.K.,’ Mick told her. ‘They can see you know how to ride and they don’t so they’ll generally listen and then the moor looks pretty big and wild to them, so they like to stick to you. You get the odd big-headed one, but mostly they’re all right. Mind you I always add a couple of years to my age.’

‘Right, I’ll be sixteen,’ I said.

We discussed routes and Mick explained that they always began with a short and easy trek. We began to discuss ponies and Heather went to the cupboard in the tack shed where horse medicines, mostly in ancient, dusty, label-less bottles are kept, and brought out the exercise book in which Mr Jackson had noted the bookings and stuffed the letters from would-be trekkers. They had written giving their heights and weights and describing their riding ability; we had to match them with ponies.

As usual Mr Jackson had been buying and selling and there were quite a few changes in the pony population since the Easter holidays. Mick’s Silver Sand had gone and he was riding Strongbow, a clever, lively dun, one of the best of the ponies that we’d helped break in at Easter. Heather had taken over the other good one, Speedwell, a bright bay mare with a blaze, when her father sold Bellboy, whom she’d schooled for ages, to Jane. Louisa and I always feel that it must be terrible to have your pony snatched from you and sold to some complete stranger, but the Jacksons have learned to accept it as part of farming: their schooled ponies are ready for sale just as ripe corn is harvested and fat lambs sent to market.

We matched Mr Barlow, whose wife’s letter admitted that he wasn’t much of a rider and weighed twelve stone, up with Trudy, a wide, well-upholstered dun who always moves sedately. Mrs Barlow was given Misty, another steady pony. The engaged couple, Steve and Lyn, were to have Drummer, the young piebald, with a heavy head and drooping lower lip, and Juniper, a well-bred chestnut, who had been dismally thin at Easter but now looked quite reasonable.

The teenage girls, Helen and Susie, mentioned that they rode once a week in Wimbledon so we decided that they could manage Crackers and Kismet. Miss Sackville, who gave her weight very precisely as eight stone seven, had been a member of the BBC Riding Club for many years and sounded experienced, but rather old, so we gave her Pedlar, another grey who was narrow and a nice ride, but steady.

That left the Barlow children, Jason and Samantha, aged ten and eleven, who had been riding once a week for a year, and the mysterious N. Hutchinson. Mick said Poppy, Gipsy and Tinker, but Heather, who had been adding up the bookings for lessons, began to protest. She said that she had got to have seven sensible ponies, including a tiny one for the real babies. She said that we could have Dickon, who, though quiet to hack, wasn’t much use in the school and what about Pirate, wouldn’t he do for N. Hutchinson?

I argued that at twelve N. Hutchinson would be too tall for him, unless he really was very small, and that anyway Pirate’s horrible habits, swerving, grazing and biting chunks out of other ponies, would put any boy off riding for life. Louisa backed me up saying that it wasn’t fair to give someone who couldn’t go home for the holidays, and might or might not have a birthmark or other disadvantages, the beastliest pony they had, he ought to have the best, to compensate.

Page length: 128

Original publication date: 1978

Who's in the book?

Humans: Frances and Louisa Burnett, Felix, Toby and Huw Hamilton, Mick and Heather Jackson, Nadeem, his 'uncles', Mrs and Mrs Barlow, Jason and Samantha Barlow, Miss Sackville, Steve and Lynn, Helen and Susie

Equines: Redwing, Spider, Trudy, Misty, Drummer, Juniper, Crackers, Kismet, Pedlar, Peat, Bristol, Dickon, Biscuit, Minstrel, Patchy

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