Jill and the Lost Ponies: Chapter 15

Susan had taken pity on us and arranged for Ann to go round to get some bread, milk and butter from Rosalie’s, so we didn’t have quite such a bleak breakfast as yesterday. I must say, cooking for ourselves was proving to be more of a problem than we’d thought. At home, food seemed to appear in the pantry as if by magic, although of course I knew that Mrs C bought it, or someone delivered it on a bicycle from the grocer’s. Ann said what we needed was some organisation, and when I pulled a face she said well, would I rather we get organised or did I want to give up and go and stay with Aunt Primrose? Because I’d certainly get fed there. Of course I knew the reason we didn’t have food was because we’d been so busy running about trying to find Black Boy, and Ann had been a saint about coming with me so really I did need to try and combine the two, but goodness, it was hard.

We sat down and wrote ourselves a plan, and divided up who was going to do the shopping. Unfortunately there were an awful lot of eggs in our menu, but we didn’t have much choice because all the nice things like cheese and chicken were more than our budget would stretch to. As Ann said, we’d survive, but our days of lean, together with the long unrelenting days of shorthand, typing and secretarial practice, and then a bit more shorthand practice for me because I was so behind, certainly made us look forward to our trip to Harringay even more.

On the day of the show, Captain Cholly-Sawcutt picked us up in his shooting brake, which was a half-timbered affair that you could have fitted half the college into. Although he wasn’t riding, the Captain had passes to the stable area, so we got there early to look round. I was so excited I felt I’d float off any minute, like a balloon. Ann kept looking at me, and smirking.

“Whatever is the matter with you?” I asked, after the fourth time I’d caught her with a very strange look on her face.

“Oh, nothing,” she said. “Nothing at all.”

If you believe that, I thought, you’ll believe anything. Anyway, we carried on our tour of the stables. Of course everyone knew Captain Cholly-Sawcutt, and wanted to talk to him and find out why he wasn’t riding. Ann and I thought we’d died and gone to heaven. We were introduced to Pat Smythe, and stroked Flanagan, and saw the notice that Colonel Llewellyn had stuck on Prince Hal’s door after he bit him, saying “The Vampire – Feed This Horse on Fresh Blood,” (Pat wasn’t pleased), and then Colonel Llewellyn turned up and showed us Foxhunter, who was appearing in the Cavalcade of Horses with Prince Hal.

We walked down the next aisle, which was filled with Pony Club ponies and their riders, who were competing for a new gymkhana competition called the Prince Philip Cup. Ann and I felt very sore that we were too old for this, as we could both see ourselves dashing down the arena on our ponies.

“I tell you what,” said Ann, “this lot make me feel as old as Methuselah. I’ve never seen such a lot of frighteningly capable people in all my life, and they’re all years younger than us.”

And gosh, she was right. People who looked about twelve were whizzing round being frightfully efficient on ponies who had that lean look that only the best trained ponies do. We were dodging the kids on their ponies going down to the collecting ring to practise, when I caught sight of a blue roan head that looked familiar.

I nudged Ann.

“I say – don’t you think that horse looks familiar?”

Ann stared in a witless way, and said “What?”

“Look,” I said, and pointed. Ann looked the other way. “No, can’t see a soul I know.”

With every step we took, I was more and more sure. I knew that horse.

“You must recognise her,” I said to Ann.

“Mmm?” said Ann, vaguely.

“Look!” I yipped. “It’s Blue Smoke!”

“Oh, so it is,” said Ann. “Who’d have thought?”

“You,” I said, “From the look on your face.”

Ann grinned. We walked up to Blue Smoke, who was having her hooves picked out, and she turned her head towards us and blew at us in a friendly manner. The person picking out her hooves stood up, and it was James.

“Hello,” he said. Ann’s grin grew even wider.

“What are you doing here?” I gasped.

“I’m riding Blue Smoke for Mrs Darcy in the Novice Championships.”

“Gosh,” I said, temporarily lost for words. James had always been keen on competing, and I couldn’t believe I knew someone who was actually going to jump at Harringay.

“Gosh,” I said again. “James, I know I should ask you how you are and all that sort of thing, but I’m desperate to know. How is Rapide?”

“Ruling the roost,” said James. “He has Diana’s pony at his beck and call. She worships him. The worse faces he pulls, the more she likes it. Whenever he’s taken out, she stalks up and down the fence, bellowing, until he comes back.”

I could just imagine this, but something was puzzling me. “So who’s riding Rapide?” I asked, “if Sylvia is being left behind?”

“Diana,” said James.

“Why not you?” I asked. “I thought you were desperate to ride him.”

James looked sheepish. “He bucks me off. Every single time, and then comes and pulls faces at me. I’ve never got him within sniffing distance of a fence.”

Captain Cholly-Sawcutt laughed, and we all did too. This is the sort of thing that James absolutely hates, because he likes to think he can ride anything, and generally he can. Rapide is one of those ponies who has a sense of humour, and I could just see him deciding that it would be frightfully amusing to buck James off every chance he got. It was lovely to hear how Rapide was doing, but I have to say it gave me a very funny feeling, because every word that James said about reminded me Rapide wasn’t mine anymore.

“Have you heard anything about Black Boy?” James asked. “I do rather feel I wasted a perfectly good box of chocs.”

“Oh no,” I said. “It was kind of you to think of it. It wasn’t your fault that the people who bought him gave a false address. I don’t suppose you happened to see them?”

“Afraid not,” James said. “They’d put Black Boy at the start of the sale, and he’d gone by the time we got there. I’ve thought, and thought, and so has Diana, and we’ve asked everyone we know, but no one knows anything. Wherever he is, I think it’s safe to say he’s not in Chatton or anywhere near it.”

I had thought this would be the case, because if I’d known anyone from Chatton was looking for their pony who’d been sold by mistake, I’d have kept my eyes peeled and I knew all my friends would have done it too, but there was a tiny bit of me that hoped that perhaps James had been told something but had simply forgotten to tell me. I started to gulp a bit, and James looked at me strangely, so I hurriedly asked him when he was riding.

“Not for ages,” he replied. “They’re building the course for the first event now. Shall we go and look? I need someone to pick me up when I faint from fright.”

I couldn’t imagine anyone less likely than James to faint from fright, and Ann agreed.

“You haven’t a nerve in your body, James, so don’t pretend you have,” she said.

James laughed and said, she’d be surprised. Then he said now I’d have to come down and stay and get a respite from London, which was very kind of course, but somehow I couldn’t quite muster up any enthusiasm for the idea, because the moment I saw Rapide it would drive home the fact I’d lost both my ponies. Ann gave me a speaking look, and I made a huge effort and said that would be absolutely wonderful, and I couldn’t wait to see Rapide again.

James looked relieved, and said of course I must come and stay for the weekend, and Diana was longing to see me and their father had always said what a splendid girl I was so feel free to come any time. I must say I’d always had the impression from Mr Bush that he thought I was a mere worm who was distracting his children from the greater good of farming, but perhaps I’d had that wrong. Ann gave me one of those encouraging-the-infants smiles she does when she thinks I’ve overcome my baser self. My baser self was wanting to crawl into the nearest stable and howl, but I pulled myself together and put on a smile.

My face was beginning to wobble with the strain of keeping up my expression when I was saved by Blue Smoke, who was by now bored with the lack of attention. She nudged me, and gave an enormous sigh. If a horse could have drooped, she drooped. She picked up her off fore, dangled it pathetically, and looked at me with an expression that said save me from this misery. James laughed and gave her a slap on the shoulder. Blue Smoke snorted and put her foot back on the floor.

“You old fraud,” James said. “You can’t fool me.” He looked at me and laughed.

“I don’t know what you’re laughing about,” I said. “We all thought she was dying.”

“What do you mean, dying?” Susan had chosen this moment to appear with Rosalie. “Why didn’t I know about this? I never knew you’d nearly killed Blue Smoke.”

“Oh, nothing so dramatic,” I said. “We were looking after Blue Smoke while Mrs Darcy was away. Blue Smoke is the most terrific actress and she convinced us all she was dying. Wendy and I were in a terrible state, because we were convinced we’d hurt her by letting James jump her. Of course the moment the vet turned up she recovered.”

“Oh,” said Susan, unimpressed. “I see. Well, do you have time to come and look at the arena with us, James? I’m dying to have a good look at all those enormous fences.”

James put Blue Smoke back in her box, gave her an affectionate pat, and we all set off towards the arena. James nudged me. “Look at that,” he said. I turned round and looked at Blue Smoke, who was standing with her head drooping pathetically over the box door, the picture of equine misery. Two grooms had stopped, and were attempting to cheer her up with carrots.

***

It was such a treat to get there early, and see the course being built. The jumps were enormous. Some of them were taller than me. There were people rushing around carrying poles from place to place, other people measuring distances, and a little gaggle of people for whom something had obviously gone wrong.

A tall man in tweeds (London seemed to have an inexhaustible supply of them), who appeared to be trying to calm the group down turned round and saw Captain Cholly-Sawcutt and waved.

“Hello Bill. What on earth’s going on?” asked Captain Cholly-Sawcutt, who seemed to know everyone who wore tweeds.

“Bit of a crisis,” said the tweedy man, looking grim. “Our flower supplier has let us down. Usually they supply us with a load of florists to get everything arranged, but the whole lot have gone down with a virulent form of athlete’s foot, so I’m left with a lorryload of plants and flowers, no decorations round the boxes or the jumps, and no one spare to do anything. I wouldn’t mind if it were a normal show, but it is rather expected that at the Horse of the Year Show we will, well, put on a show.”

I noticed Ann was staring hard at me. “Go on,” she hissed. “Say something!”

I was feeling jolly uncomfortable, because in all my long career of dreaming about taking part at the Horse of the Year Show, I’d never dreamed of offering to arrange the flowers. I don’t expect you have, either. If you’re anything like me, your dreams have involved soaring over a five-foot oxer on your Grade A show jumper while the British team selectors look on admiringly, and not arranging flowers.

“What’s the matter, Jill?” asked Captain Cholly-Sawcutt. “Do you know someone who could help?”

“Um,” I said.

“What she means is,” said Ann, “That she’s a jolly good flower arranger, and she’s just the right person to help you out.”

I could feel myself turning scarlet as everyone turned round to look at me.

“Gosh, Jill,” said James. “You really do have hidden depths, don’t you?”

Susan giggled.

“Oh dry up Susan,” said Rosalie. “Jill’s jolly good.”

“Yes, she is,” said Ann, nobly coming to my defence.

“All right,” I said, giving myself a shake. “I’ll do it. But you lot can jolly well help me.”

“I’ll help,” said Captain Cholly-Sawcutt.

So he did, and so did everyone else. Once I’d done one jump, it was quite easy to see what worked where. James and Captain Cholly-Sawcutt sorted out the little fir trees, and Susan arranged the plants while I got on and did an arrangement for the Royal Box, and re-did the ones that Ann and Rosalie had done. I have to say, it all looked jolly smart once we’d finished.

Captain Cholly-Sawcutt’s friend Bill was virtually prostrate with gratitude.

“I must say,” he said, “You have a real talent for this. I can’t thank you enough. There’s a box spare this evening, so I’d like you and your friends to take it. Supper’s included, of course.”

It just goes to show, you never know how life will turn out. We had the most wonderful evening. Pat Smythe won the speed class, and Ted Williams won the evening’s big class on Pegasus. Blue Smoke managed to forget her dramas for long enough for James to get a clear round in the Novice Championships, though sadly he lost out in the jump off. The evening was so splendid, I almost forgot to eat. We were wafted off in a taxi at the end of the evening, and Ann and I were floating on such a cloud of bliss we could have been returning to a palace, not the college and our freezing cold eyrie.

Jill and the Lost Ponies: Chapter 14

15th December 2018

Jill and the Lost Ponies: Chapter 16

15th December 2018

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