Sarah and David and the New Forest Pony

By Granville Kirkup

It was one of those Fridays in the school holidays when we had to stay inside.  Raindrops were running down the front window, and my brother David was following the drops down by running his finger down the inside of the glass, making motor car noises.  David is ten and I am twelve.  Boys can be stupid a lot of the time.

It was the early afternoon, so just the test card on TV, both sides.  We watch BBC mostly, because ITV has adverts between the programs.  But really we like the adverts – David can mimic several of them.   (Army sergeant voice) “That man there!”  (Army private voice) “I’m sorry, you’ll just have to wait.  I’m finishing my Murraymint, the too good to hurry mint!”   Then he does, “Snap crackle and pop.  What’s the gayest breakfast?  Rice CRISPIES!”  He always shouts the last word, making everybody laugh.  Daddy says that the adverts are all from America.  He says, “Can’t we have English TV adverts?  What is the world coming to?”

Mommy was in the kitchen making something for tea, and the phone rang in the hall.  It was daddy calling from his office.  Mommy talked to him for a few minutes, then came and told us, “Sarah and David, we are going for a train ride tomorrow!”

“Where to?  Where to?” we shouted.

“To the New Forest I think”, said mommy.

“Can we go and look at the ponies?” I asked.  “Can we, please!” In the New Forest the ponies run wild, and you can stroke them and feed them.  Mommy says that nobody really owns the New Forest ponies.  We have been lots of times, and I have a favorite pony that I call ‘Blackie’.

We like going for train rides.  Trains never seem to go to boring places, like school, but to places you really want to go to, like the seaside, or Wales.

We like going for rides in the car too.  Our car has red leather seats and a radio, and an ‘overdrive’ button.  Daddy says it can go sixty five miles an hour on a fast road.

So the next morning we all got up very early.  Mommy made sandwiches and a flask of tea, with Vimto to drink and crisps for David and me.  (David wanted to take a Jubbly but mommy says he always spills it down his shirt or squirts it at me!)  I made sure that we had carrots for the ponies, in a big brown paper bag.

We got in the car to go to the railway station, and parked in the station car park.  The station was brown and yellow, and there was a waiting room and a parcels office.  On the other platform we could see the stationmasters office, and a porter who waved hello to us.  People stood around and waited for different trains.

Our train appeared after a few minutes, a big black steam engine blowing smoke, followed by several carriages and a guards van.  We got into the second carriage and had a compartment to ourselves.  On the wall under the luggage rack were railway adverts for BOGNOR, SKEGNESS and EDINBURGH.  Daddy lit his pipe.  A thin man got on at the next station and sat in our carriage, smoking a Woodbine cigarette. – he asked daddy for a light and called him “Guv’nor”.  He was wearing one of those jackets that horse people wear, and his hair was parted on one side with Brylcream.  He sat reading the Daily Sketch and looked slyly at me when he thought I wasn’t looking.

After about an hour, daddy looked out of the window and said we would soon be at Lymington.  So we all stood up and waited for the train to pull into the station.  David and I jumped off as soon as it was at the platform, shouting “Hurrah, we’re here!”   We ran to the exit and waited there for mommy and daddy to catch up.  We saw that the thin man in the horse coat had got off at the same station.

We all walked through the village to the edge of the common, where some ponies stood waiting for scraps.  David and I ran over and fed them some carrots.  There was a mommy and two foals, but no ponies that we had seen before.  I was disappointed.

We sat on a bench and ate our sandwiches.  Mommy got out the flask of tea and opened a Vimto each for David and me.  It was a nice sunny day, and there were lots of birds singing.  A pony came over and talked to us and I gave him a carrot, but he was not Blackie.

There was a stream nearby, so David and I went and threw sticks into the water, and then crossed back and forth using stepping stones.  We walked down the stream a little way to where a small road bridge crossed over.  We ran under the bridge several times and heard our voices echo.  Then when we came out again, we saw the thin man standing on top of the bridge.  He didn’t see us so we hid behind some bushes.  He was talking to two rough looking men in an old blue Bedford horsebox lorry. We couldn’t hear everything they were saying, but one of them said “Are you sure it’ll be that easy?”  And the thin man said, “Nothing to it, and we can get fifty quid each for these ponies at the Exeter sales.”  Then the other man said something and they all started laughing.

They were going to steal some of the ponies and sell them!  We ducked down behind the bushes so that they wouldn’t see us.   Then the thin man got into the cab of the lorry with the other men, and the lorry moved a few yards and parked under some trees.  We saw them open the windows to let the cigarette smoke out.

I wanted to hear more so I crept behind the lorry and near to the cab.  I heard them laughing that ‘six or seven ponies can make us rich!’  They were horrible men!   David crept up behind me but I knew he was lagging behind and wanted to go.  Suddenly the cab door of the lorry swung open and I saw a man’s foot come out. I grabbed David and we ducked behind the back of the lorry.  They mustn’t see us!   There was a small door in the back of the horse box and we tried that – it was open. We crept inside to hide – there was straw on the floor and a bale of hay – we lay down and hid behind that.  It smelled of horses.

“I want to go home now”, said David,  I told him to be quiet and we can go home soon.  There were voices again, one of them said “Just down this lane”, and a door banged, and the lorry started moving.  There was a little window in the side of the horsebox, so we looked out.  We weren’t going fast, just along a lane.  I wondered whether mommy & daddy had missed us yet.

The lorry pulled up suddenly, and we heard doors banging.  Then the big doors on the back of the horsebox were opened.  We lay down behind the bale of hay and hid.  Someone said “I hope they’re all going to be this easy”, and the other men laughed.  Then a pony was led in.  They had thrown a rope around his neck and were leading him roughly up the ramp.  As soon as he was inside, they closed the big doors after him.  Someone said, “We’ll get the rest tonight”.

The lorry moved off again.  The pony started nibbling at the hay, and I stood up unsteadily and stroked his nose and ears.  David was crying.  A few minutes later, the lorry stopped, and we heard the cab doors bang shut and then silence.  We looked out of the little window, and we were outside a pub called ‘The Bell’.  It was getting dark, and there were lights inside.  “Come on”, I said, “we have to get out of here!”   We tried the small door and it was not locked, so we jumped down into the lane and closed it behind us.   But the thin man was still standing beside the lorry, smoking a cigarette.

“What the…”, he said as he saw us jump down from the horsebox.  “You kids can’t play in there.  What’s your game?  Hey come back!”  We ran off as fast as we could, me pulling David along. He shrieked but he can run quite fast.  The thin man ran after us, but we crossed a road and ran round a corner, and we lost him.

It looked as though we were at the edge of the village, so we ran as fast as we could towards some houses, and then some shops.  I saw a red phone box!   I had no money, but I dialed 999 to call the police.  A man’s voice answered and I told him breathlessly about the stolen ponies.  “Now slow down miss”, he said, speaking really slowly as if that might help.

“First of all, give me your name and address.  Where are you calling from?  And how old are you?”

I told him that as quickly as I could, and said “But they are at The Bell public house, with a stolen pony in a horsebox lorry.  They might get away if you don’t go and catch them!”

“Very well miss”, he said, “I’ll see if we can send someone along.”

“But we are lost.” I said, “We left our parents on the common, they must be looking for us.  My brother is with me.”  I was still out of breath.

“Oh, you are the lost children then!”, he said.  That seemed to explain everything to him.
We waited by the phone box, and in a few minutes a black police car pulled up, flashing a blue light.  “Yes that’s them sergeant!”  said a voice.  It was daddy!   The policeman hustled us into the car.  It seemed warm, and there was the crackling noise of a two way radio inside.  He picked up a black telephone and said “Yes, we found them, they are fine and dandy.”

They took us to the police station, where mommy was waiting.  She cried when she saw us, but was glad that we had been found.  The policeman asked if we wanted a cup of tea, but David asked for a Tizer, so I got one too.  The policeman said there was “paperwork to fill out”, and we sat in a waiting room.  But we heard the policeman say that we ‘would be needed.”   Later there was a commotion as they brought in the thin man and the two other men, with three big policemen behind them.  The sergeant asked me “Are these the men that you saw?”

I said,  “Yes, they were going to steal the ponies!”  I was angry.

“Very good work”, said the police sergeant, “This is the Exeter pony gang and we’ve been trying to catch them red-handed for a long time.”

The thin man sneered and said “Bah!  You wouldn’t have caught us if it wasn’t for these meddling kids!”   They led the horrible men away to the cells.

It was dark now and we had missed our last train, so we got to ride in the police car home.  But first we stopped at the edge of the common for a last look at the ponies.  The policeman shone his light on a group of ponies standing beside a tree.

I was sure I saw a familiar face, a black pony with a little white blaze on his nose.  It was Blackie, waiting for us!  He shook his head from side to side.  “Look mommy”, I shouted, “It’s Blackie… he sees us!”

He came trotting over before we could even get to him.  We had no carrots, but the police sergeant gave me some sugar lumps that he kept in his car “just for occasions like this.”  He kept rubbing his head against me.  “All I ever want is a pony like Blackie”, I said, “Can I have one some day?”   Daddy just smiled and said “We will have to see.”  He always says things like that.  But I didn’t care, I was just happy to see Blackie again, and I knew that he was happy to see me too.

We reluctantly had to leave Blackie on the common with the other ponies, and the policeman drove us all the way home.  On the way he let David press a button which made the bell go “Rinng Rinng”, which was exciting.  But then we fell asleep, and didn’t wake up until we got home.

I was in bed a lot later than the usual time that night, but I knew that before I went to sleep I would think some more about Blackie my very own New Forest pony.  It had been a really exciting day!

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