Read A Horse Called Hero Online
Authors: Sam Angus
Wolfie was taking his time so Dodo peered inside. Two women stood by the sacks of loose goods. They were silent, watching Wolfie. Wolfie, gloriously unaware, was on tiptoe by the shelf of canned
goods, a hand reaching first to one sweet, then another.
‘Come on, Wolfgang, hurry.’ She used the name she always used to sound most stern.
Wolfie was placing the sweets, six eggs and a postcard on the counter. The woman at the counter folded her arms and smiled a grim smile at the two women by the sacks. Wolfie asked for a penny
stamp. He fumbled for coins, then dropped a clatter of them on the counter. She waited with a portentous smile and the sighing forbearance of all the saints. On tiptoe, Wolfie separated out the
coins and began to count them.
‘One, two . . .’
Certain he’d counted right, he pushed the pile towards her, pocketing the rest.
, Wolfgang,’ called Dodo
The shopkeeper watched, with folded arms, in silence. Wolfie, bewildered, looked up at her, then began to count the coins again.
‘I will not,’ she began. ‘I, who have a husband and a brother in the army, will not accept the custom of families of deserters . . .’
‘What’s a “deser—”?’ began Wolfie.
Dodo rushed in and grabbed his arm. ‘Wolfie. Come
Wolfie pulled away. ‘But—’
‘Come, come.’ A voice called from the back of the shop, where the Post Office scales were kept. Miss Lamb stepped out with a parcel in her hands.
‘But I haven’t got my sweets,’ said Wolfie to Dodo.
‘And I will not take
The cash drawer was slammed shut.
‘Come, come,’ said Miss Lamb again. ‘He’s a
, Mrs Potter. You can’t refuse to serve a child. You can’t weigh the sins of the father on the
‘I will not . . .’ began Mrs Potter, then, seeing the speaker, hesitated.
‘And how is your husband, Mrs Potter?’
things in the Catering Corps?’ continued the calm and pleasant voice of Miss Lamb as Dodo dragged Wolfie out. She marched him past the roan mare, and on to the
‘Is he injured? Is Pa injured?’ Wolfie was asking as she pulled.
‘No.’ Dodo stopped on the bridge, released his arm and took his hand. They stood in silence for a while.
They looked up. It was Miss Lamb on the roan mare, her hand extended. ‘Here’re your sweets and your card.’
She smiled kindly, then urged the gentle roan mare into a trot.
Wolfie turned to Dodo. ‘He’ll come down and see us before he goes back to war, he’ll see Hero, won’t he, Dodo?’
She yanked him, swung him round to face her, her eyes burning. ‘He’ll never go back, Wolfie.’
‘But have we won . . . ?’
She shook her head.
‘Then why . . . ?’
‘He ran away, Wolfie. He RAN AWAY.’
Wolfie stared up at her for a few seconds, then shook his hand free of hers. She spun round and marched away. When she turned to call him, from the other side of the bridge, she saw his brimming
eyes, the trembling lower lip.
‘Isn’t he brave any more? Isn’t Pa—?’
Dodo marched on. ‘Don’t you see?’ she said. ‘There’s a punishment for running away . . .’
What the punishment was, Dodo wasn’t sure, but there was something she dimly remembered, something too terrible to frame in her mind.
Wolfie stood alone on the bridge. His eyes were starry and fierce as he said, ‘No. . . No, he didn’t. Pa wouldn’t . . . ever.’
At the start of the school day everyone huddled round the stove, the room filling with the friendly fug of steaming wool. Dodo, as one of the few older girls, was helping Miss
Lamb collect books and pencils from a storeroom. Wolfie dropped his satchel and hung it on the pegs where the Causey sisters stood whispering.
Miss Lamb rang the bell. Wolfie admired Miss Lamb. She wore tall lace-up boots and a tweed cape, and had what Pa called ‘a good, brave head’, by which he meant a strong nose and high
forehead. Pa was keen on noses and foreheads.
Dodo’s face turned white. As everyone took their places cross-legged on the floor, smallest at the front, oldest at the back, she remained, frozen, by the door. Wolfie followed her eyes.
On her peg, next to where Dodo’s friend Chrissie Causey had been standing, was her school bag, the buckles undone, with a copy of the
Wolfie watched Dodo all day, saw her eyes flicker from her work to that bag on the peg. In the afternoon she sat a little apart from the rest of her age group, head bent over a drawing. She sat
at the front, as close as she could to the teacher, and Wolfie knew that was because she felt safer there, that no one could say anything to her without Miss Lamb hearing. Wolfie was drawing a
young horse. He didn’t like drawing, and, unlike Dodo, had no gift for it. If he did have to draw, he’d always draw a horse. Hero would whinny to him now when he heard Wolfie’s
step, and he was thinking of that, longing to be there, longing to hear that whinny.
At the end of the day Dodo stayed where she was, bowing her head deeply over her paper as everyone raced to collect bags and coats and rushed out. She looked up as Wolfie approached and, seeing
that the room was empty, she said, ‘No one’ll remember what Pa did once, no one will remember Moreuil Wood . . . They only know, Wolfie, they only know . . .’ She broke off, her
anger confused by so much that she didn’t know. ‘They won’t talk to me, Wolfie. No one’ll talk to me . . .’
Wolfie saw her flashing eyes, heard the anger in her voice and thought how her sunniness had gone, how she was a tangle of thorns, a box of darkness, all shredded inside.
‘They’ll call us names
we go.’ She stared venomously at the bag on her peg, leaped up and stormed over to it. In the empty school room she unrolled the
paper on the cooling stove and read in furious, halting words:
DISGRACE OF CAPTAIN REVEL. OFFICER & V.C. UNDER SUSPICION OF DESERTION
Dodo snatched up her bag and stormed out, Wolfie running along behind her, coat half on, half off, satchel unbuckled and trailing.
They stayed with Hero for a long while. Wolfie added an egg to Hero’s bucket and stirred in some honey, hoping that the honey might take away the taste of goat.
‘See? He has a silver tip to his tail, and his eye is good and dark.’ Wolfie rumpled the soft milky skin of Hero’s muzzle. ‘And a dark mouth. That’s important for a
Hero drank deeply and Wolfie looked on with pride. The foal didn’t need the honey or the eggs any more but it was kind to spoil an orphan who lived alone and had to drink goat’s
Dodo watched Wolfie, wondering what on earth would become of them both, where they’d go, who’d have them now, who would look after Hero.
Wolfie picked an old dandy-brush off its nail by the door. It was soothing to brush Hero’s soft coat, to see the particles of dust flurry in the slanting light from the door. If you
brushed hard and kept brushing it felt as though you could brush away the things you didn’t want.
Hero snuffled Wolfie’s shoulder, enjoying the attention.
‘A girl, a boy, a young horse, a father under arrest,’ Dodo said to herself.
At dusk they made their way back to Hollowcombe. Mrs Sprig was waiting in the low porch.
‘Go upstairs.’ Seeing the look in her eyes, Dodo urged Wolfie on, pushing him past Mrs Sprig.
‘No, he’ll stay and hear what I’ve to say and no harm it’ll do him,’ said Mrs Sprig, backing up to the door. ‘I’ll not turn you out tonight, but
I’ll be seeing the billeting officer and she’ll do what she can with you . . . I’ll not have you staying here and have people thinking badly of me for giving
‘It’s not charity!’ Dodo burst out. ‘Father and the government give you an allowance of ten shillings and sixpence for keeping each of us.’
‘I don’t need it and I’ll not have my son insulted by you being here.’
‘We’ll not risk your reputation by staying, Mrs Sprig. We’ll leave in the morning,’ said Dodo elegantly.
‘But . . .’ Wolfie was hissing, stricken, his eyes filling, ‘we
. . .’
In the morning Mrs Sprig was a tornado of tidying and straightening things as if to purge her house. Two suitcases stood ready at the door.
‘Get your hair brushed and your coats on.’
‘But where?’ asked Wolfie. ‘Where’re we going?’
‘Where you end up’s no concern of mine. Where I’m taking you, in the first instance, is to church, then to the billeting officer.’
Wolfie and Dodo, who carried her own suitcase, held hands, walking slowly behind Mrs Sprig, who swung Wolfie’s bag determinedly to and fro. Dodo cringed as they walked
through the village, ashamed to be seen escorted away like this, bags in hand.
‘Hero,’ whispered Wolfie at the old bridge. ‘He – he hasn’t – the milk . . .’
They trailed behind Mrs Sprig into the churchyard. Wolfie nudged Dodo, grateful to see Miss Lamb’s roan mare tethered at the gate. They went up the path between the sheep
that nibbled amidst the gravestones – marvellous sheep with deep hill-country coats and ancient faces. Mrs Sprig dropped Wolfie’s bag in the porch, as if relieving herself of something
distasteful. Leaving hers beside it, Dodo followed her inside. The church was half full, the service not yet begun. Mrs Sprig ushered them sniffingly to one pew, establishing herself, in a
bustling, noisy sort of way, in another, further forward. She fell at once to her knees, sighing and bowing her head deeply.
‘There,’ whispered Dodo, seeing the tweed cape. ‘Miss Lamb’s at the organ.’
A priest with a white beard and walrus whiskers crossed the transept, bowed his head, turned and gave a brief introduction, his eyes alive with intelligence and humour. During the sermon Wolfie
dug in his pocket, found Captain and placed him beside his hymnal.
After the last hymn was announced, ‘O God, Our Help in Ages Past’, and the priest had given the blessing, they filed out with the rest of the congregation, their heads bowed. In the
porch Dodo collected their cases and they walked down the path, between the sheep and gravestones, towards the gate. Halfway between the gate and the porch, three figures, a family group, were
standing in wait on the path: Mrs Sprig’s cousin Mary, arm in arm with what must be her husband, and, beside them, Ned Jervis. So
! The father was
as white-haired as his son, but more meanly made, the whole of him lean as a whip. Mary’s darting gimlet eyes glittered with venom. Dodo and Wolfie stopped before the sinister trio. Mary
whispered to her husband, who gave the merest nod in return, and moved, awkward, lame-legged, a step forward. Ned hung back.
Dodo continued tentatively, Wolfie at her side. Mr Jervis stepped forward and spat. The vicious bauble fell by Dodo’s shoes. Dodo and Wolfie recoiled in shock. Behind them, Mrs Sprig and
the priest, deep in talk, facing each other, had seen nothing. Dodo took Wolfie’s hand and turned her back on the Jervis family.
‘I’ll not have them back,’ Mrs Sprig was saying to the priest. ‘Your daughter assists the billeting people, she can . . .’
‘Well, Mrs Sprig, I’m sorry you feel you cannot help these two children . . .’
‘Henry’d feel insulted – when he’s out there doing his bit for his country, for his God . . .’ Mrs Sprig was visibly swelling, inflating with pride and
Miss Lamb came out of the church into the shade of the porch and took the elderly priest by the arm. ‘They must come, mustn’t they, Father, to Lilycombe?’ She stepped into the
sunlight. ‘We ourselves are not so Christian, are we, that they can’t stay with us?’
‘No, Hettie, we are not,’ he answered, smiling at his daughter. His voice rose and he added, clear and sure as a bell, ‘
don’t, in fact, see that the Christian
faith and warmongering
so easily share a house.’
Wolfie crept up to Miss Lamb.
She took him by the hand and said, ‘Would you like that? Would you come to us?’
Wolfie, standing on tiptoe, whispered back, ‘I’ve got a horse.’
‘Be quiet,’ said Dodo.
Miss Lamb smiled again, amused. ‘Well, your horse must come too.’
‘You’ll find your eggs missing – and other things.’ Mrs Sprig was shifting, discomforted to find her cause not so readily embraced by the church as she’d
‘Petticoat government. I do what Hettie says.’ Father Lamb’s blue eyes twinkled.
‘Do you have eggs?’ enquired Wolfie.
They set off down the path towards the gate, a deflated, diminished Mrs Sprig following behind. There were no Jervises on the path now to bar their way.
‘And what is Hero?’ asked Father Lamb, placing a hand over the saddle of the roan mare.
‘My horse. He’s going to be a cavalry horse. He might be a Scots Grey.’
‘I see. And why’s he called Hero?’
‘Because Pa is a hero but the newspapers say he isn’t any more and no one will talk to us.’
‘I see. And where’s Hero now?’
‘He’s hiding in a barn,’ said Wolfie.
,’ hissed Dodo, nudging Wolfie to silence him.
When they reached the gate, Father Lamb paused while Miss Lamb tucked a Bible into her father’s saddlebag.
‘He likes condensed milk,’ said Wolfie.
‘Well, now I know. You’ve a Scots Grey with a very sweet tooth hidden in a barn.’ Father Lamb was smiling as he eased himself on to the roan mare. ‘Come along, Sunday
–’ he caressed her ears – ‘matins in the next parish.’ He waved to his daughter. ‘Hettie, Sunday and I will deliver matins, and be home for lunch.’
Rough grazing stretched right to the walls of Lilycombe. Sheep-bitten smooth as a lawn in parts, in others embroidered with gold gorse, it lay like an altar cloth before a
long, low stone house. There was no boundary, no fence, only the mown path along which they walked. A tangle of rugged hill ponies, each almost identical in marking, ran alongside in a wild
scuffle. Dodo paused to admire them. A young one, ears flat, eyes wide with suspicion, cowered belly down, mealy nose flaring, like a light against its dark bear-like fur, then suddenly shied away,