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Jane Badger Books

Josephine Pullein-Thompson: Ghost Horse on the Moor (eBook)

Josephine Pullein-Thompson: Ghost Horse on the Moor (eBook)

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It’s not the first time Frances Burnett and her friends have had to search the moor for a lost horse and rider. This one is different; the horse has been seen on the moor, tacked up but with no rider. Some people are convinced the horse is a ghost, wandering the moor looking for its lost master.

Dr Burnett is far more worried about the horse’s rider, possibly lying wounded out there on the moor. Frances and Louisa agree to help, wondering if they’re wasting their time over a horse that doesn’t actually exist. And Frances is beginning to realise that she likes Felix Hamilton, their friend, but he is spending all his time with the glamorous and wealthy Natasha.

Will they find the ghost horse? And its rider? And will Frances overcome her jealousy of Natasha?

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Read a sample

‘A ghost horse?’ Felix Hamilton repeated doubtfully.

‘That’s what they’re saying,’ Heather told him. ‘It’s been heard in St Crissy’s the last two nights. No end of people heard the sound of hoofs—shod hoofs, so it couldn’t have been a pony strayed off the moor—and the two or three who got up and looked out saw a ghostly looking grey horse wandering about the village.’

‘The moor’s always been a haunted sort of place,’ I pointed out, ‘and the real moor people, the ones whose families have lived here for generations, believe in ghosts.’

‘Yes, well they’ve mostly had a granny or an uncle who’s seen the Moaning Pedlar,’ Mick Jackson agreed with me, ‘and no one in their senses goes near Tolkenny Castle after dark. But the Kenny ghosts have never been known to come down to St Crissy’s before.’

‘The police are convinced that it’s a real horse,’ Heather told us. ‘Mr Weston was round first thing this morning asking if we could organise a search for the missing rider. The horse is tacked up, you see, so they think the rider has come off and is lying injured somewhere on the moor.’

‘And, if that’s so, it’s a bit of a mystery,’ added Mick, ‘because they’ve rung round all the stables and trekking centres and the horsy farmers and no one’s lost a horse and no one’s heard of a horse and rider going missing.’

‘I suppose it could be someone from miles away who was trekking across the moor on their own,’ suggested my younger sister, Louisa.

‘Could be,’ agreed Mick. ‘It’s a daft thing to do, riding across a wild moor like this on your own, but people are daft …’

‘Are we going to search this morning then?’ asked Louisa, who is always public-spirited.

‘We can’t,’ answered Heather. ‘We told P.C. Weston we’d keep a look out, but I’m giving lessons. Twelve kids in two rides. Mick’s got to hold down the ponies for Charlie Cort—he’s coming to shoe them for the first trek—and Dad’s taking sacks of feed and buckets round to the pubs where the trekkers are going to stop for lunch.’

‘What about you?’ I asked Felix, who, looking even taller and thinner than last holidays, sat limply on brown Minstrel, his feet dangling by the pony’s knees.

‘No, we can’t either,’ he answered. ‘In fact I only came over to ask if the Jacksons could hire a pony to a friend of ours for the holidays. She’s called Natasha Billington, she rides quite well and her father’s incredibly rich—he’s putting up the money for my father’s next film—and they’ve taken a house in Tolbay for the summer holidays.’

‘Hire a pony?’ Mick and Heather looked at each other. ‘You’ll be lucky, this is our busiest time of year.’

‘Yes, I know. The idiots didn’t tell us they wanted one until last night. But you know what very rich people are like, they expect to have anything they want because they can pay extra. Their idea,’ Felix looked a bit embarrassed, ‘is that you’ll keep the pony, groom it and everything and have it available so that Natasha can ride any time she likes. She’d telephone first.’

Mick laughed. ‘That will cost her something.’

‘I know, but you can charge whatever you like. Money means nothing to the Billingtons, they’re absolutely loaded.’

‘We’d better ask Dad.’ Heather sounded doubtful.
‘Let’s look at the diary first,’ suggested Mick. ‘Dad’s sure to say yes if there is cash to be made, but we don’t want to find we’ve got a twelve-stone trekker on Dickon or a complete beginner on one of the youngsters.’

Felix dismounted, handed me Minstrel’s reins, and followed the Jacksons into their tack shed. Orlando, my elegant, bright bay, part-bred Arab five-year-old, began to gnaw Minstrel’s mane. The morning sun was hot on our backs and all around us in the yard of Black Tor Farm, chickens, cats and terriers were sunbathing. The thick-coated collies lay panting in the shade of the barns and stables and, in every one of the stone-built buildings, rows of ponies dozed, whisking their tails automatically.

‘If the Jacksons and Hamiltons can’t search I suppose we’d better go out on our own,’ said Louisa. ‘It would be awful if there was a rider lying somewhere hurt and no one even looked.’

I didn’t feel like a long dreary search on our own; it would be no fun. ‘Perhaps it is a ghost horse,’ I said hopefully. ‘I wonder whether the tack was ancient or modern. The early Kennys might have had trappings or at least emblazoned saddlecloths.’

Louisa’s answer was lost in a sudden shemozzle. Orlando, bored with mane gnawing, played one of his practical jokes and bit Minstrel’s neck quite hard. Ears flat back, Minstrel retaliated, Orlando fled in pretended terror and seized the excuse to burst into one of his wild bucking fits. Leaping, plunging, bucking and caprioling, we shot round the yard. The sunbathing cats and dogs fled, the chickens rushed cackling for cover; the dozing ponies woke and began to tug at their headcollar ropes. I let go of Minstrel and concentrated on staying in the saddle. Then, as usual, Orlando stopped his bucking as suddenly as he had started it. He became a mild-looking horse again. Louisa had caught Minstrel. She led him back as Felix came out of the tack shed.

‘Thank you very much,’ he was saying in a relieved voice, ‘and could you look out some fairly decent tack? I think she’d be a bit shattered by those pink bathmats your father likes under the saddles.’

‘We’ll do our best,’ said Heather, ‘but are you sure it wouldn’t be better to hire from the Coopers at Redbridge? They have so much posher horses and tack than we do.’

‘We did suggest it to her,’ admitted Felix, ‘but I’m certain she’ll like Speedwell and she particularly wants to ride with us.’

My heart sank as I heard this. The holidays were going to be ruined. I looked miserably across at Louisa. Her face, which like Daddy’s, is rather long and serious, looked longer and glummer than ever.

‘Could you and Toby and Huw join a search party this afternoon?’ I asked Felix as he mounted.

‘No.’ He shook his head. He still looked worried, as though afraid that he had forgotten some vital part of his commission. ‘We’re all going to Tolbay. The Billingtons are giving a huge luncheon party with masses of film people coming down from London.’

‘They’re not staying in one of the holiday cottages then?’ asked Heather.

‘No,’ Felix sounded rather shocked at the idea. ‘They’ve rented the biggest of the Regency houses on the front, the one with the conservatory and swimming pool and tennis court.

‘Look, we may be able to search tomorrow. Can I ring you, Frances, when I know what Natasha’s plans are? I must go.’ He trotted out of the yard, not even turning to wave before he vanished down the narrow lane that leads to St Dinas.

‘Perhaps she’ll turn out better than she sounds,’ said Louisa gloomily.

‘You oughtn’t to have given up Speedwell to her,’ I told Heather, ‘now you won’t have anything to ride.’
‘Well I don’t have much time with all these kids to teach,’ Heather pointed out. ‘Anyway, Speedy’s more or less schooled now; I expect Dad will sell her at the end of the holidays, so I may as well get interested in one of the new youngsters. We’ve persuaded him to buy us a couple of bigger ones at last.’

Louisa and I left Black Tor Farm, feeling that we had no friends left. As they grew older the Jacksons were becoming more and more involved in their father’s trekking centre, and Heather’s unofficial riding school, added to the breaking and schooling of ponies, meant that neither of them ever had a free moment. Two more of our riding moorland friends, Carolyn and William Mitchell, had become show mad and spent their entire holidays in horseboxes, rushing from one show to the next, and now the Hamiltons were going to desert us.

‘We could go and visit Mrs Hathaway,’ suggested Louisa, ‘but I suppose now that Danny and his mother live there and Bruce comes down most weekends, she doesn’t really need visitors.’

‘We’d better look for the ghost horse and its rider,’ I said drearily. ‘At least we’ve got time to spare and Orlando needs exercise.’

‘Redwing’s terribly unfit,’ Louisa patted the slim roan neck in front of her. ‘Let’s hope that Natasha’s so shattered by the scruffiness of the Jackson tack that she takes herself straight back to London.’

We rode over the moor, not really searching, but keeping our eyes open for any sign of the ghost horse and for an injured rider. We asked the people we met, campers, walkers and farmers, whether they had seen a grey horse, tacked up, but riderless, or heard any cries for help, but they all answered with a very definite no. We left the moor to jump two stone walls and a stream, which cheered us up a lot, and then we rode home slowly, for the sun was high and our steeds were feeling the heat.

We were late for lunch, but Mummy, who’d been doing her morning at the Oxfam shop in Tolbay, was late too and Daddy had left a message with Miss Gurney at the surgery that he’d been called to the cottage hospital at Redbridge and would be back about two.

‘Fantastic management,’ I said sarcastically. ‘For once the whole Burnett family will eat together.’

Having a father who is a doctor, particularly a G.P. in a remote country district like ours, is a great trial. A lot of people can’t get to the surgery because they are old or too sick or don’t have cars, so the doctors have to do a lot of driving about and visiting. Daddy, who rather enjoys putting other people before himself, never objects to the long irregular hours. Louisa, who means to be a doctor, thinks he is right, Mummy has grown to accept life as it comes and I am the only one who complains that we take second place to the patients.

We made salad, boiled new potatoes and got out lots of ice for cooling drinks, as we told Mummy about the Billingtons and the revoltingly rich and demanding Natasha.

Mummy, who seemed rather snappish—it was probably the heat—said that we couldn’t dislike someone we’d never met simply because she was richer than we were. ‘It’s irrational,’ she said, ‘and just as silly as disliking people who are poorer, believe in a different religion or have a different coloured skin.’

Louisa began to argue, saying that Natasha sounded horrible from Felix’s description, but luckily Daddy walked in and, as we were all starving, we stopped talking and ate.

By the time we’d reached the fruit, cheese or ice cream stage we were all feeling more agreeable and Daddy was telling us what he had heard about the ghost horse, though, having a scientific nature, he doesn’t believe in ghosts. He said that the police had telephoned all the local doctors and hospitals to ask if any patients suffering from amnesia or concussion had been brought in, but, so far, no loss of memory cases had been reported.

‘You had better collect some of your friends together and start searching this afternoon,’ he told us.

Page length: 117

Original publication date: 1980

Who's in the book?

Humans: Frances and Louisa Burnett, Felix, Toby and Huw Hamilton, Natasha Billington, Mick and Heather Jackson, Danny Kyle, Colin and Kirsty

Equines: Orlando, Redwing, Mermaid, Crackers, Peat, Twilight, Honey, Minstrel, Patchy, Speedwell, Strongbow

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