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Jane Badger Books

Josephine Pullein-Thompson: Ride to the Rescue (paperback)

Josephine Pullein-Thompson: Ride to the Rescue (paperback)


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Could Mrs Hathaway be telling the truth? Could those strange noises at night be people breaking in, over and over again?

Frances and Louisa, the doctor’s daughters, are used to having to deliver medicines over the moors. One day they’re asked to take heart medication to Mrs Hathaway. She’s joined Dr Burnett’s practice after her previous one decided she was hearing things when she reported hearing intruders in her house at night.

Frances, Louisa and their friends decide to stay in her stables overnight and see.

All that riding over the moor will also give Frances the chance to see what Orlando, the horse she has on trial, is like. He's prone to spectacular bucks and alarming cavorting, but could he be the horse to replace Frances' beloved Redwing?  Perhaps their journeys over the moor to help Mrs Hathaway will help Frances find her new horse.

Not illustrated

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‘“Super show pony”,’ read my younger sister Louisa from the advertisement columns of the Baybourne and District Gazette, ‘“Bay gelding, fourteen hands, seven years. Placed thirty-six times last season including First, Bath and ‘West …” Too posh,' she said sadly. 'There's a great long list of his prizes, he'd be wasted here on the moor. There's only one possible, everything else seems to be twelve-two. Useless paper.' She tossed it, rumpled and mangled, on the nearest chair and took up Horse and Hound.

‘All the hopeful ones in there will be miles away,’ I told her gloomily. ‘East Anglia or Scotland; they’re never within a hundred miles of us and that’s as far as Mummy will go.’

‘You aren’t much help,’ said Louisa indignantly. ‘I know that you don’t really want us to find another pony, but you must see that poor Spider is going to sprain a tendon or just collapse under my great weight if we don’t do something soon.’

I had to admit to myself that what she said was true; I didn’t want another pony. It was Louisa who had suddenly shot up, become long and lanky and begun to weigh down poor little brown Spider. I had hardly grown lately and could perfectly well go on riding my beloved Redwing for at least another year. Our parents made everything worse by saying that it was entirely up to me: I could either hand Redwing over to Louisa and they would buy me a little horse of about fifteen hands or I could keep her and they would buy Louisa a new pony.
It was a horrible decision to have to make and I had been putting it off for weeks by saying, ‘Let’s wait for the holidays,’ but now the holidays were here and something would have to be done.

I knew it would be sensible to let Louisa have Redwing. She would love her and take great care of her, but it did irritate me that I always had to do the work while Louisa reaped the advantages of inheriting a schooled pony. Mummy had agreed that it was hard on me, but she said it was no use kicking against the facts of life and there were some advantages in being the older sister. If I didn’t hand Redwing on, then our parents would very likely buy Louisa a fourteen-two pony and I knew I would be very irritated to have my younger sister looking down on me. The only bright spot was that Spider had a perfect home waiting for him. A family called Brentwood, living a few miles away on the outskirts of our little seaside town, Tolbay, were longing to have him and as there were four children from ten downwards and a horsey mother, he would be happily settled for years and years.

‘Here’s a hopeful one,’ said Louisa. ‘”Absolutely genuine fourteen hand, quality, dark chestnut, mare. Lovely mover, superb temperament and manners.” Oh, it’s Warwickshire; how far’s that?’

‘Miles; two hundred at least.’

‘There’s a Connemara, a registered dun gelding, but he’s only three.’

‘Let’s go and see the Jacksons,’ I suggested. ‘If we can get it into Mr Jackson’s head that we don’t want a trekking pony he might easily find us something; he knows every horsey person for miles and he’s always at sales. I’m for letting fate decide who has the new pony. If he comes up with the perfect one for me I’ll hand over Redwing, if it’s the perfect one for you, I’ll keep her.’

‘If you’re expecting to find perfect ponies we may as well give up now,’ said Louisa without looking up from the list she was making. ‘Ponies only become perfect when you’ve had them for ages and stopped noticing their faults.’

We left the list of all the vaguely possible ponies in a prominent position on the kitchen table, to catch Mummy’s eye when she came back from her morning at the Oxfam shop in Tolbay, and went out to groom the ponies. They were in their usual tatty Easter holiday state with their coats coming out in handfuls but, as I worked away with a rubber curry comb, I discovered a few beautiful patches of red roan satin which reminded me of how elegant Redwing would look in the summer. Because she was born on the moor she is very clever and sure-footed, but she isn’t pure pony and when she loses her winter coat she is slender and gazelle-like. Spider is pure pony, brown and sturdy with a star that looks as though it has run into spidery trickles. He is an especially nice and obliging character and I had to agree that it was mean to take advantage of this and work him to death. If we were content to amble along, Louisa’s weight wouldn’t have mattered, but we like to gallop over the moor and jump stone walls and we have to ride for long distances because the places are miles apart.
It was a dampish April day with the sun making feeble attempts to shine and the green, earthy smell of early spring that fills the air before the primroses take over and the sun gets really warm. We walked along the road with the moor, still brown from the winter’s frosts and snow, stretching away on either side of us. We passed Chapel Cottages, the church, the chapel and the post office, which is just about all there is of St Dinas, and then we turned left along the lane to Black Tor Farm. It’s a small farm with poor land that was once barren moor and the Jacksons all have to struggle hard to make a living.

The notice-board announcing Black Tor Trekking Centre had been retrieved from the nettles where it had lain all winter and nailed back on its post. It must be Mick’s work, we decided; Mr Jackson never mends anything. He’s a real muddler who drives his children mad. He’s always booking more trekkers than they have ponies, mixing good riders with complete beginners, buying saddles with broken trees and ancient, rusty bits and stirrups because they’re cheap.

We could see Heather instructing some pupils in the school, a patch of moor from which they’ve cleared the stones, building them into a low wall in the traditional way, and we found Mick standing in the middle of the yard looking worried. His face brightened when he saw us. ‘Have you come to join the search party?’ he asked. I groaned, ‘Who’s lost?’ The visitors and tourists in our part of the world are maddening. They are always going out on the moor in the wrong clothes and without maps, they fall down, they lose themselves and then the locals are expected to stop whatever they are doing and go out in search parties.

'Danny, Danny Kyle,' answered Mick. 'He's not exactly lost, we think he's run away; he had a bit of a dust-up with his mum and walked out last night. Hasn't been seen since and she's getting worried.'

'He's the boy Heather's been teaching, the one she said was a "natural", who's just come to live at Chapel Cottages?'

'That's right; they've rented Mrs Grant's two rooms. I’m waiting for Heather to finish and then we're going out on the moor to look for him. If he fell in the dark and hurt himself he could be lying out there somewhere; that's what his mum's afraid of. The police think he may be trying to get back to Reading, where they came from.'

'I can't imagine leaving St Dinas for Reading,' said Louisa, 'especially if he's horsey.'

‘His grandparents live there,' explained Mick. 'It's his grandma who pays for his riding lessons.’

‘What did Danny and his mother quarrel about?’ I asked.

'Oh, I dunno. He doesn't have much of a life; no father, mother at work so, in the holidays, he's on his own all day. Heather reckons he could be useful to us. Now that Tracy's always over at Dawn's helping with the baby we've no one to school the little ponies and though he hasn't ridden for long, Danny's quite good. He's plenty of nerve. Trouble is Dad takes so long to make up his mind about things …’

Heather's pupils came riding into the yard at that moment and Mick broke off as he went to help them water and unsaddle their ponies.

'Hullo, have you come to search?' asked Heather, looking pleased.

‘Not on Spider,' said Louisa firmly. 'Look, my feet are nearly touching the ground. It's cruelty to ponies, so unless you've one that needs exercising …’

'We have,' Mick interrupted, 'take your pick; they've all to be got fit for the summer.'

As he and Louisa vanished into the long stable, I tackled Heather about our horse situation and asked her to ask Mr Jackson to see what he could do. She said she would, but I didn't think she was really listening, and as soon as I stopped talking she went back to the subject of Danny. 'If you and Louisa would do West Moor it would be great,' she said. 'Mick and I are sick to death of riding there and Middle Moor will make a change. No one knows which way he went.’

I agreed to search West Moor, but a bit reluctantly because Penhydrock, where the Hamiltons live, and Chilmarth, the Mitchell's house, are on opposite edges of Middle Moor and I would have been quite glad of an excuse to ride round and see if they were back for the holidays yet. Felix, Toby and Huw all go to a very progressive school in the Home Counties near where they used to live, and the Mitchells, whose father has a large and prosperous farm, go to conventional single-sex boarding schools at vast expense. The rest of us go to local schools in Tolbay or Baybourne.

'What about Jane,' I asked, 'will she help?'

'I doubt it. Now she's made friends with Marion Brewster she's gone right off riding.'

'Well, we'll start as soon as we've collected some lunch and a first aid kit,’ I told Heather, as Louisa emerged from the stable mounted on Crackers, black, strong and obviously as fiery as ever. I quite like riding him, but he doesn't suit everyone and Mr Jackson had failed to sell him at the end of the last trekking season.

'Will you lead Spider home?' asked Louisa, already sounding breathless as Crackers, refusing to stand still for a second, twirled her round the yard.

Mick gave me Spider's reins and said, 'Ring the post office and the Tolbay police station if you have any luck.' I set off after Louisa who had vanished down the lane.
At home, we left Crackers twirling in the stable while we put Spider in the field and found some lunch. We packed bread, cheese, apples and biscuits into the first aid rucksack and left a note for Mummy explaining what had happened.

I held Crackers down while Louisa mounted and then we were off again.

Page length: 162

Original publication date: 1979

Who's in the book?

Humans: Frances and Louisa Burnett, Felix, Toby and Huw Hamilton, Mick and Heather Jackson, Danny and Cindy Kyle, Mrs Hathaway, Bruce Campbell

Equines: Orlando, Redwing, Spider, Crackers, Dickon, Biscuit, Minstrel, Patchy, Speedwell, Strongbow

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