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Jane Badger Books

Patricia Leitch: The Horse from Black Loch (eBook)

Patricia Leitch: The Horse from Black Loch (eBook)

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It was a being from a lost age, proud, powerful and alien ...

Kay and her cousins are on their way to Deersmalen House in the Highlands of Scotland. It's the first time they've been to their ancestral home. Life there is like nothing they've ever known: Highland ponies, treks across the moors, and then The Horse. How could anyone want to trap something so wonderful?

Set in 1960s Scotland, this swirling together of fantasy and adventure is one of Patricia Leitch's earliest books.

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Read a sample

High above me a single swan flew like an unshriven ghost through the lucid lime-yellow glow of the Highland evening. Swiftly the beat of its powerful wings carried it from my sight as I hung out of the train window watching it.

The little train chugged over the bare Scottish moorland and my eyes lost the black speck of the swan against the brightness of the sunset glow. I pulled myself back into the compartment where my cousins, Sara and Edgar, were moaning about the slowness of the journey and the emptiness of their stomachs.

“The only thing I want is for this train to reach Gartleven,” Sara was saying. “We’re two hours late already.”

Even as she spoke the train shuddered to a grinding halt.

“Not again!” Edgar exclaimed.” I’m starving. There’s nothing here to make them stop.”

“You’d think they’d want to hurry up themselves,” I said, staring out over the bleak moorland. On the far skyline mountains were clumbered together in massed greys and blacks and all around us stretched a wilderness of bracken and purple heather which flowed like the tide washing around the grey outcrops of rock. The glow of the evening was gradually fading into the first cold coming night.

“Say there’s no one to meet us?” I asked.

“There must be,” Sara said. “I remember when Daddy and I were here before they met us at the station and it took hours to reach Deersmalen. We couldn’t possibly get there by ourselves.”

“We might have to,” Edgar said. “Good job I’ve got my compass.”

“Compass!” snorted Sara. “You and your compass. You couldn’t even find your way down the garden with it.”
“I could so. Peter Truman and I went for a hike one day with only my compass to guide us.”

“Bet you just went round the rugby pitch,” Sara narked.

“’Course we didn’t. We went through Branley and past the toll …”

Edgar was well launched on one of his endless, boring accounts of what he did at school. I studied my cousins. It had been Christmas when I had seen them last and now it was the middle of August, but they hadn’t changed. Sara, at fifteen, was pink and fat with soft, brownish hair that hung loosely down her back. Edgar was twelve. He was very like Sara, clean and pink, and keen on his school.

I am fourteen. Unlike my cousins I am thin and small with straight black hair cut in a fringe across my forehead. I have grey eyes and the kind of face that makes people say, “What’s the matter with you, Kay?” when all I’m doing is thinking.

Our fathers are brothers, and normally the Innes families spend their summer holidays together, usually at the seaside in Cornwall. But this year our parents had decided to tour the Continent uncluttered by their children and had packed us off to stay with our uncle in the north of Scotland. I was glad really. Even the thought of spending weeks in a car made me feel sick.
“And when we got back Mr. Kerr, our housemaster, said we’d put up a pretty good show,” Edgar finished triumphantly.

“Don’t believe you.” Sara remained unconvinced. “Hey! We’re off again.”

The train shook violently then with a tremendous effort lurched forward and we resumed our slow progress across the moor.

“I never knew you’d been to Deersmalen before,” I said to Sara.

“It’s a while ago,” she replied. “Daddy and I stayed three nights there. I only went with him because Mummy was in Chester nursing Gran and I couldn’t be left alone. It rained all the time and you couldn’t see a thing for mist.”

“Then you’ve met them all, Aunt Sadie and Uncle Vincent and the children?”

“Yes. Aunt Sadie was nice, round and twinkly, but Uncle Vincent was terrifying. Not a bit like our fathers. He’s got a huge black beard.”

“How old are the children?” Edgar asked.

“Shona will be thirteen now and Jamie is a year older, I think. Caroline is the eldest. She’ll be fifteen or maybe sixteen by now. I liked her the best. The other two just ran wild. I don’t think they even went to school.”

“Good for them,” I said. “But they must go to school now, mustn’t they?”

“I don’t think so. Uncle Vincent and the local minister teach them.”

“I’m absolutely starving,” Edgar groaned. “My stomach is aching and rolling like nothing on earth. Has no one anything left? Even an old, dried up cough sweet would be smashing.”

Sara and I searched our pockets but found nothing to eat.

“Not a thing,” I said. “We must be nearly there by now.” The dark was closing in and only the heather glowed a luminous purple.

“Just think of the parents rotting in luxury in some French hotel,” Sara said longingly.

“I’d rather be here,” I said, and I meant it.

“I’d rather be anywhere where there’s food,” brooded Edgar.

“Steak and chips,” I suggested, making my mouth water.

“I can remember one night at Deersmalen,” Sara told us, “they had a huge dinner with wine and everything. I was too young to stay up for it but after we were meant to be in bed Jamie and Shona took me to a balcony where you could look down on the dining-hall and watch them eating. There was a great log fire with the flames roaring up into the blackness of the chimney, candles on the table and dead animals staring down at them from the walls and the wine burned like jewels in the cut crystal glasses.”

“Dead animals,” repeated Edgar in amazement.

Sara didn’t seem to hear him. Her blue eyes were bright with excitement almost as if she could see what she was describing to us.

“There were heavy swords and round shields hanging from the walls and they gleamed bright in the shadows. Along one side of the room the curtains hung down to the floor, deep, heavy, maroon velvet. Uncle Vincent was at the head of the table carving the meat. You could see the black hairs on the back of his hands and his black beard and his nose jutting out from his face like an eagle’s beak. Then a clock struck and he put down his carving knife and said something we couldn’t make out from the balcony. Everyone stood up and lifted up their glasses. ‘To the One of the Black Loch,’ Uncle Vincent said and they all raised their glasses and drank the toast. Then they sat down again and Daddy was smiling and shaking his head as if he’d been caught doing something silly.”

“But the animals, the dead animals, why were they there?” Edgar demanded again.

“Oh do be quiet, Edgar,” I said but it was too late. Sara had heard him.

“What?” she said. “What’s that?” and she looked at Edgar as if he had woken her from a dream.

“What dead animals? You know. You said they were hanging from the walls.”

“Oh, stuffed heads, deer and foxes and a wild cat, as well, I think. They’d all got glass eyes which shone in the candlelight. Do you know I’d forgotten all that until I started talking and then it all came back. Queer.”

“Yes,” I said. “Very.” But I believed her for I’d never heard Sara talk about anything really interesting in her life before. All she normally talked about was hockey and party frocks and how she became tired quicker than most people.

“It must be a colossal house to have a dining-hall. I’d no idea it was as big as that.”

“It’s stone with towers and pointed windows and masses of outbuildings all rotted and decaying. I can’t remember much about the grounds, except for the pine trees. They seemed to be everywhere, stretching up into the mists.”
“You’d think we’d have been to stay there before this,” I said. “It sounds a super place for holidays.”

“Uncle Vincent,” said Edgar knowingly. “We heard Mum and Dad discussing whether they would let us come and stay this time. There was a frightful row when Dad left Deersmalen years ago and he’s only been back once since he left. That time when he went with Sara to sign some papers or something.”

I wondered if my father too had fought with Uncle Vincent because although I knew he had been born and brought up in the Highlands at the house called Deersmalen he hardly ever talked about his childhood there and although we always sent birthday and Christmas presents to our cousins at Deersmalen I knew nothing at all about them. They were the Deersmalen children, as remote and mysterious as children from another land, another world almost.

“Perhaps Jamie or Shona will know more about it,” I suggested hopefully.

As I spoke the train started to slow down. Edgar lowered the window and looked out.

“It’s a station,” he yelled. “Do you think it’ll be ours?”

“Bound to be,” I said.

“I should think it will be,” Sara said with more authority but less vigour.

All our luggage was in the guard’s van. The only thing we had with us was a shopping bag that had once held our lunch and a varied selection of magazines and comics which, by now, were mostly coming to pieces and going tatty round the edges.

“I’ll just take the comics with us,” Edgar said, cramming them into the shopping bag. “You never know whether there’ll be anything to read here or not.”

The train stopped and by the asthmatic flickering of a gas lamp we were able to make out the word “Gartleven” painted in faded white letters on a blue board.

“This is it,” Edgar shouted and swinging open the door he jumped down.

Page length: 206

Original publication date: 1963

Who's in the book?

Kay, Sara, Edgar, Jamie, Shona and Caroline Innes, Uncle Vincent, Aunt Sadie, Fergus, Andrea and Pilkie, Buffy

The Horse, Hansel, Biddy, Polly, Turk, Maggie

Other titles published as

Black Loch

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