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Authors: Scilla James

Ponies at Owls' Wood

BOOK: Ponies at Owls' Wood
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Ponies

at

Owls' Wood

Ponies

at

Owls' Wood

SCILLA JAMES

Swift Publishing Ltd,

145-157, St John Street,

London,

EC1V 4PW

This book is a work of fiction. People, places, events and situations are the
product of the author's imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons,
living or dead, or historical events, is purely coincidental.

© Copyright Scilla James. All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or
transmitted by any means without the written permission of the author.

First published by Swift Publishing in May 2013

ISBN: 978-0-9568148-2-1

ebook ISBN: 978-9568148-3-8

Contents

  1

Wanted: Kind Hungry Horse

  2

High Farm

  3

Jack

  4

Jess

  5

Pete

  6

Gran

  7

Stolen Ponies

  8

Distracting Pete

  9

Midnight at Owls' Wood

10

Dirty White Scarf and Miss Lycra

1

Wanted: Kind Hungry Horse

The notice was ready. It looked OK. The red paint had run slightly so it wasn't absolutely clear whether it was a horse or a house that was wanted, but Hannah Matthews was pleased with her handiwork. Leaving her father entangled in a sheet in the kitchen (he was sorting out the washing), she grabbed a carrier bag and put the notice into it. It could swing from the handlebars of her bike.

‘Better not swear, Dad!', she called as she slammed the front door, ‘I'm off to see Polly.'

I'll go and pick up some chocolate first though, for strength,
she said to herself, heading for the village shop. But as she propped her bike against the shop window, she remembered that she'd lent her last 50p to her brother Liam the night before. Failing to follow her own advice to her father, not to swear, she swung her bike around, crashing at once into something soft and pink. Her bike hit the ground as she became aware of a pair of fat mottled legs and, looking up, the rest of an unpleasant-looking woman she'd never seen before. Hannah's first thought was, how had the woman had ever squeezed into the pink Lycra shorts she was wearing? Before she remembered her manners.

‘I'm really sorry,' she said, ‘you came out of the shop so quickly.'

‘Watch where you're going you stupid child,' the woman snapped. ‘You've hurt my leg!'

Before Hannah could say any more, the woman jumped into a battered blue Ford Focus and drove off at high speed. Mr Berkeley, the shop's owner, came out of the shop shaking his head.

‘Friendly type,' he said, ‘rude to me as well. She's looking for ponies to buy. You should have been here five minutes earlier Hannah, and you might have been able to direct her into the next county.' He stomped back into the shop, muttering about people not buying his doughnuts.

I wouldn't want to be her pony
, thought Hannah.
I hope she doesn't find any. How dare she call me a child! She's probably after some posh little thoroughbred for her daughter to win lots of prizes on.
Although she hadn't looked posh.

Hannah felt embarrassed as she cycled off. What a horrible person! And what horrible shorts! She wondered whether she really had hurt the woman's leg, and felt sure that she hadn't.

It was a steep 2-mile bike ride to the field where Hannah's pony lived; a twice-daily challenge for her. The upside was that the run back down was quick. As she forgot about the woman and pedalled off up the hill, the carrier bag with her precious notice banged her knees. She decided to walk and push.

A natural optimist, Hannah was nevertheless beginning to feel jaded. All she needed now was for 13-year-old Tom to be lurking about when she got to Polly's field, with his flash remarks and designer t-shirts. He knew nothing about ponies and failed to appreciate the problem she had with Polly's weight. Nor did he understand how it felt to have a mother who'd gone off for five weeks on a stupid trip, leaving her family to fend for themselves.

Sure enough, Tom was there. He lived with his parents in a smart converted barn opposite the field, and Hannah always wondered why he hadn't got anything better to do than make pointless comments and worry her about Polly.

‘She's still eating,' he said this morning. ‘Have you got the notice?'

In spite of herself, Hannah had not been able to keep her troubles from this irritating person. Tom seemed to spend his life by her pony's field gate and now that the summer holidays had started, she guessed that she'd see him more than ever. Being new to the area, he didn't have any friends of his own.
So he has to drive me nuts,
she thought. ‘Yes,' she said instead, as she produced her notice from the carrier bag.

Tom looked at it for a second or two.

‘Did you
choose
that red paint?'

‘It's what there was,' said Hannah coldly.

He could be a pain: he might say he was 13, but he was bossy enough to be at least 20.

He helped her put the notice up though, and it looked fine.

WANTED:
HUNGRY HOUSE OR
PONY TO SHARE FIELD
MUST BE KIND

Hannah's name and mobile number were painted underneath.

‘I just hope someone will see it,' she said. The farrier had been warning her for weeks that her pony was dangerously overweight, but the field's owner, a fussy old woman called Mrs Walters who lived in a bungalow halfway between Hannah's house and Polly's field, would not allow her to get her dad to limit the area Polly had for munching.

‘My husband loved that field and he loved his sheep,' Mrs Walters had said. ‘Tatty electric fence all over the place? He'd turn in his grave.'

It was Hannah's private opinion that Mrs Walters had gone a bit weird lately. She'd organised all the flowers in her garden in dead straight rows, as if they were about to march off and fight.

Thinking about the farrier's last visit, Hannah remembered that he'd also warned her to get a lock for the field gate.

‘There are some dodgy people about, believe me,' he'd said, although seeing the look on her face he'd added, ‘but you're probably all right up here, with a place opposite. I'd think about it though, if I were you.'

Hannah had asked her dad the same day, and he'd promised to get her a padlock, but so far that hadn't happened.

As Hannah stood back to look at her notice, she wondered for the hundredth time why some ponies just seemed to have no sense of how much they should eat. She supposed that in the wild they would have to search around in the scrub for bits of hedge and poor grass, whereas people tended to keep them in lush green fields where they could stuff themselves till they looked like hairy mountains. She'd be the same if she just ate cakes all day, she thought. But then again, eating a few cakes sounded like a great idea. She bit her lip as a vision of her mother stacking hot chocolate brownies onto a wire tray came vividly into her mind.

‘What's up with you?' asked Tom, who didn't usually seem to notice how Hannah was feeling.

‘Oh, nothing,' she said, thinking that she might try and ring her best friend Charley when she got home.

‘You thinking about your mum?' asked Tom, but his voice was quite kind for once and Hannah looked at him in surprise.

‘I'm OK,' she said, ‘thanks.' Although she hadn't meant to tell Tom much about her life, she realised that she'd probably said quite a lot. He was always asking nosy questions, and with Charley gone as well as her mum, it was tempting to answer them, just to talk to someone.

‘She'll be back,' said Hannah, wondering why the fact that her mother was away for a few weeks made her feel so bad. She missed her best friend, too. Charley had gone to live in Derbyshire with her father after he and her mother had divorced. And she'd taken her pony, Delia, with her, leaving Polly with a whole field to herself.

Hannah often thought of the happy times they'd all spent together, Charley and Delia, herself and Polly, riding along the river or racing around the edges of the fields. Then chilling out with Charley, eating chocolate and looking at saddle catalogues in her bedroom. Hannah couldn't bear the thought that those days were over. Both girls thought it outrageous that parents were allowed to get away with wandering off in the way they did. They'd had their children, after all, and surely should be made to stick around for more than five minutes to look after them.

Without Delia to share Polly's grass, Hannah had been left with Polly's weight problem too.

Tom was still standing by the gate.

‘Not many people come past, you know,' he said with his customary superior expression back on his face. ‘I've seen the odd horsebox and last week there was an oil tanker, but you'll be lucky to get anyone. Plus, yours isn't exactly a posh horse, is it? You're not going to attract the racing community. And it's really fat. Perhaps you should have advertised for a carthorse to go with it.' He fell about laughing at his own joke.

Hannah glared at him. ‘Are they all like you in London?'

‘What d'you mean?'

‘No brains.'

‘Ha ha,' he laughed. ‘I'm only speaking the truth.'

‘Well, I'm going to talk to my
perfect pony,
who is a
she
not an
it
.'

Hannah wondered how Tom could seem alright one minute and so stuck up the next. She couldn't make him out.

She opened the gate and went to find Polly. She guessed she'd be behind the shed, where the best grass grew and there was shade under the trees. She explained to Polly about the notice and how she hoped it might attract a new companion for her.

‘It's true that you are fat,' Hannah told her, ‘but we'll get you sorted out. And I do know that you're lonely because I am, too.' She gave her a hug. ‘Keep your hooves crossed that we find someone nice. And please Polly, stop eating just for an hour or two? You are my one true friend and I need you to be fit and well.' She stroked her pony's soft nose and planted a kiss on her warm neck. The neck smelt wonderful.

‘I know,' she said, ‘let's go for a ride. We'll have a canter along the river and that should get a bit of your weight off.' Then she remembered that she'd left her bridle at home to be cleaned. ‘I'll just have to whiz home and get it then,' she told her pony, ‘you wait here.'

Polly nuzzled Hannah's open hand, and seemed cheered at the prospect of going out. This, in turn, cheered Hannah.

2

High Farm

Hannah Matthews lived in an ordinary house in the small village of West Brook, but dreamed of being on a farm with paddocks around her. A farm where Polly would be able to graze within her sight, and she would be able to make her own decisions about how much her pony could eat.

She had tried to talk to her father about her worries, but he didn't understand. Her mother would have listened and helped her find a solution. Hannah knew that she would be able to ring her at the weekend, but ever since Mrs Matthews had appeared on TV as part of an experiment to persuade people who knew nothing about music to learn to sing, she had become completely engrossed in a choir that had formed as a result of the programme's success. Now the choir was away on a summer tour.

Hannah had gone with her father to see her mother off on the coach, trying to hide her resentment as her mother waved and the coach began to pull away on its long drive across Europe.

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