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Jane Badger Books

Christine Pullein-Thompson: Three to Ride (paperback)

Christine Pullein-Thompson: Three to Ride (paperback)

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David has had to give up the riding school after his partner Pat left to become a debutante. David has left the stables and Oxfordshire. He's found a job as a working pupil at Major Seely’s stables. It's not easy. The stud groom who runs the stables takes an immediate dislike to David. Mr Booth makes David's life so difficult when Major Seely is abroad that he leaves.

But just when everything seems darkest, life starts to change.

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MRS. SMITH packed for David.

“You’d better take all your clothes; it’s not as though you’ve so many,” she said.

“Yes, I suppose so,” he replied.

Now that the moment had come, he didn’t want to leave. He was filled with doubts. He couldn’t believe that Major Seely would find him satisfactory, that he could ride well enough to become a working pupil in such a distinguished stable.

He went to the familiar mirror above the old wash handstand with its faded jug and bowl patterned with roses and smoothed his hair. He was on the small side for his sixteen years, and with his dark hair, which fell naturally and persistently over his forehead, and his brown eyes, he looked kind, a little bewildered, someone unsure of himself, and perpetually in a dream.

It was his last afternoon at home. Outside the cottage carefully tended flowers bloomed; he could smell them now as he moved to the window, and in every tree there seemed to be a bird singing. May had come with a west wind, and now she warmed the cottage’s thatched roof, and the dry soil outside. It was and always had been a wonderful month, thought David, letting his thoughts wander back, trying to remember himself as a little boy first learning to ride at the riding school across the Common. Afterwards there had been Sinbad, the bad-tempered pony he had been lent by Colonel Lewisham, and the beginning of his friendship with Pat Lewisham. But that was over now; even the Elm Riding School which they had run together was finished. Standing there, he didn’t want to remember that part of his life, but a hundred images came rushing to his mind—the first time he had ridden Folly, their success together at the Royal Windsor Show, the wonderful feeling of knowing that she was his own; Pat and himself riding together, hunting together, having tea together in the Hall. Planning the riding school, their first pupils, buying Tornado at a sale, realising that Pat was tired of their riding school, the beginning of the end …

“I’ll have to darn these. You’re so hard on your socks, David. And the leathers need sewing on your jodhpurs,” his mother said.

They had sold their ponies—all of them except Tornado, Folly, and Pat’s Swallow. The selling had been the worst part of all. Colonel Lewisham had insisted that Sinbad and Mistletoe must go; and there seemed no point in keeping little skewbald Suzy. They hadn’t sold them very well, and Pat had cried into Mistletoe’s mane, which David couldn’t understand, because, if she hadn’t preferred to be a debutante, nothing need have changed. But then he never had understood Pat.

And now she was going to London and he was going to his first job, and the sign which read The Elm Tree Riding School was in the shed behind the cottage, because David was sentimental and couldn’t bear to imagine one of the gardeners at the Hall chopping it for fire-wood.

“We’re going to miss you, David; it’ll be funny not to hear you clumping down the stairs in the morning. It’s like we’re getting old,” said Mrs. Smith, shutting the suitcase he had bought to take with him.

He turned to his mother, who stood looking at him, her hair pinned behind her ears, wearing a faded pinafore. She had always backed him whenever he had made a decision. She had shared in his joys and sorrows. She had the wisdom of someone who has lived for many years in the country, observing other people, bringing up a family.

“It’ll be quieter,” David said, searching for words to express what he felt.

“Are you going to say good-bye to her?” asked Mrs. Smith with a sniff.

Pat Lewisham had become “her” to Mrs. Smith from the moment she had decided to become a debutante. Mrs. Smith couldn’t forgive her for letting down David.

“Might as well. I’ve got to feed Tornado.” He turned away from the window and his mother. Much still remained to be done. There was his tack to be given a last polish, everything to be put ready for the horse-box which would come in the morning to take himself and Tornado from the gentle fields and dreaming rivers of Oxfordshire to Devon, which he knew nothing about, but which he imagined abounded with tea shops and amenities for tourists.

“It’s such a long way,” said Mrs. Smith for the twentieth time. “But we’ll be thinking of you, your Dad and me. It’ll seem funny without you.”

“You’ll get used to it in time. You’ll have less to do; that’s one thing. No dirty jodhpurs and dungarees to wash.”
“I wonder who’ll do your washing,” mused Mrs. Smith.

“I’m lodging with one of the grooms,” said David, and wondered whether he would have a room to himself. He went down the stairs ahead of his mother, who was talking about his socks again.

“I’d better go and see Tornado now,” he said, looking round the cottage, at its shining black range, at the large scrubbed table, and the mantelpiece, where the cups he had won stood, polished by his mother so that you could see your face in them.

“Don’t be too late,” said Mrs. Smith.

He crossed the Common living old memories. Here he had first learned to vault on to Melody’s narrow brown back; here he had hurried in a thunderstorm praying that all his pupils were safe after a runaway. How often he had crossed the Common on his way to the Hall, thousands and thousands of times, and perhaps, except for to-morrow morning this was the last time for many months.

He reached the road, and presently passed the lane and the notice which said To The Kennels, which brought back other memories of himself, much younger, working among the hounds as a kennel boy. He felt now that he had lived a great many years; yet the days before he started riding remained an insignificant blur. What had he done then? He couldn’t even remember. He turned down the stable drive. There were few hoofprints now on the gravel. Nothing seemed to stir …

Once he had seemed to belong here, but now, because Pat had grown tired of their riding school, he felt quite alien, as he had the first time, when as a small boy he had gone to tea at the Hall.

Only one horse looked over the loose-box doors, and that was Tornado. The Hunt horses were out. Austin, the stud groom, was having an easy time; the other groom was helping on the farm.

He had hoped that Pat would be in the yard waiting for him. But there was no sign of her anywhere, and the saddle-room they had used looked empty with only three saddles and a couple of bridles.

Tornado was lonely and restless. She was sound now after her fall at the One Day Event where David had met Major Seely. David stood looking at her and felt a sense of happiness creep over him; at least he still had a horse, and Folly was only on loan, so she was still his too. He fetched a rubber and polished her bay coat. She was very fit, though since the One Day Event she had had no oats. She was a difficult horse; she trusted David, but if a stranger rode her she lost her head and became a bucking bronco.

“We go to-morrow,” David told her now. “And you’ve got to behave, do you hear?”

In reply she nuzzled his pockets.

“It’s the beginning of a new era for us,” continued David, “Perhaps our big chance.”

Outside there were footsteps on the gravel.

“Hullo,” said Pat. “I thought you would be here.” She had blue eyes, and chestnut hair which glinted copper in the sun; but David hated to look at her now, because she had changed. Once she had had an uncared-for, windswept look. Now she made him think of people in shiny magazines, people who moved in a different world than his. There was a barrier now between them, which he often felt nothing would break. And because they had spent so much time together he missed the old Pat.

“Are you all packed?” she asked.

“Yes. Mum’s packed.”

“Excited?”

They were making conversation like strangers.

“Yes and no,” he said.

“I’m going to look out for you in Horse and Hound. You know: Promising young David Smith is now riding for ….” she said.

“Don’t kid yourself,” he cried, suddenly wishing that Pat would go, so that he could forget that once there had been horses of their own in the yard, not just Tornado, and pupils, and a telephone in the saddle-room; that once it had been alive, seething with activity, instead of shut up, dead till the hunting season started, as it was now.

“You’re miserable, aren’t you?” Pat asked.

“No; I’m not,” he said, suddenly determined not to care.

“That’s all right, then.”

He fetched Tornado hay and water. Pat was wearing a flowered cotton dress and high-heeled, sling-back shoes. He supposed that was how she would always dress now—no more dungarees and open-necked shirts.

“Well, I really came to say good-bye—you know, good-bye, good luck and everything. And I brought you this,” she said, pressing a small parcel into his hand. He started to open it, but she said, “Not now. Later. Good-bye.”

A moment later Pat had disappeared and it seemed another chapter of his life had ended. Inside the package he found a small statuette of a horse in beaten copper.
He stood and looked at it for a long time before he put it in his pocket and started for home.

Page length: 186

Original publication date: 1958

Who's in the book?

Humans: David Smith, Mr and Mrs Smith, Pat Lewisham, Major Seely, Jimmy Bates, Sheila, Olive Bates, Mr Booth, Muriel Page, Sid Page
Equines: Tornado, Jolly Roger, Sandstorm

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