Hi, Ellen here again.
I'm sorry about any vague descriptions in the last story. it was due to my nervousness and the fact
that I had only been in the yard a week.
So the story telling art hadn't kicked in. I think the horses in the yard are the only
I'll never forget my mother, nor Pippa. I wonder where they are now. Well, my mother's, I'm not very religious, well, she's wherever heaven is. As for Pippa I can't be sure. I think she's still in James Neil's appalling stable complex. I hope she's getting on better than she was when I last spoke to her. Ah well, I suppose I can't live in the past. I have to move on and that's what my mother and Pippa would have wanted.
I am already hacking out with other horses. I love the freedom of the countryside around the stables. There seems to be endless fields in which to jog, loap and whatever else we do. I come to one such day in the middle of summer. The sun was out and the air was warm. The grass was springy under my hooves as I jogged over a field. My spirits were so high I nearly lost them in to space. I was feeling great, so great in fact that I couldn't keep still. My restless energy communicated itself to the other horses on the hack because they began to play up also. Rosie skipped about like an overenthusiastic foal. Domino decided to walse with a human on her back. Although I don't know what Domino's female human rider had to say about this, I didn't ask her. The Manageress was on Natasha's back and Natasha didn't seem to want to play our games. Anyway, there we were, jogging along a track Rosie up in front, she couldn't be anywhere else. Domino was jogging beside me and Natasha, well, she was back behind us with the Manageress trying to urge her on. Natasha had told us that she was feeling awful.
“But how can you feel bad on a day like today?” I had asked.
“Well Ellen, it's easy. You have a particularly bad night before and then you feel awful in the morning.” I didn't ask Natasha what she had been doing “the night before.” I didn't ask her verbally but my face told her a great deal.
“You want to know what I was doing? It's none of your bloody business!” she yelled. Then Natasha let fly with insults to the Irish that I cannot repeat on paper. This really angered me! When I get angry or excited my southern Irish accent gets very strong indeed.
“Natasha! Why do you insult
me? What have I done to you? I don't think you know what you're saying! You have no idea what those words mean do you
Natasha! You just say them for the sheer
sake of it!” I yelled. Hearing the commotion Rosie dropped back
until she was level with Natasha and myself.
She had a slight Irish accent and took our Irish traditions almost as
seriously as I did. Both her parents
were Irish but she had been born in
“I'm Irish in breed alone.” she had said. Now Rosie was walking beside me on the track, on a warm summer's day. I felt strangely honored that I should be walking shoulder to shoulder with the leader of the herd. I told her as much.
“I don't know why you put so much weight behind this leader thing. I'm a pretty quiet horse who keeps out of trouble if I can help it. I'm no different to you or any of the other horses Ellen.” she said.
“That's not what I've heard.” I said. Rosie went on the defensive.
“What have you heard?” she asked suspiciously.
“Oh nothing really just about the time you bashed Cleo and rescued the horses from a fire.” Rosie gave me a look of self deprecation.
“I was only doing my job. As I was elected Leader I have to act like one, you see what I mean?” Rosie asked.
“Well yeah, I see. But just it being your duty does not explain your courage during the fire.” I replied. Rosie looked away.
“Let's not talk about that.” she said. I saw Rosie look up towards my rider. He was the same man that used to ride Rosie. When he had been transferred from riding her to training me she had felt a little rejected. I could tell that she still felt it now. Her eyes held a wistful look.
“You enjoyed your work when he rode you didn't you Rosie.” I stated. Rosie looked sad.
“Yes, I did.” she said mournfully. She took a deep breath and shook herself. Rosie's rider swore at her.
“You bloody Sod!” My rider, Rosie's ex rider turned in his saddle and gave Rosie's rider a mouthful.
you know Martin? You've never worked
with her.” Rosie lost her temper
then. She reared up on her hind legs and
sprinted forward galloping away from us.
Ellen, let's go and relieve poor Rosie of her burden.” Martin Said.
With this I charged forward on the attack!
“He'll live.” Rosie said flatly. I noticed that her expression held no compassion for the human that had fallen five feet to the grass.
“I Hate him!” Rosie fumed. She looked at my rider with something bordering on madness.
“How can he say something like, “You've never worked with me?” It's terrible!” she yelled. Martin attempted to comfort Rosie by stroking her ears.
“Don't worry.” he said. I nudged Rosie.
“You all right?” I asked. Rosie gave me a look of sorrowing gravity.
“I wish I had your Rider.” she said sadly. I knew what she meant. My rider was gentle, too gentle sometimes. He talked to me discussing things such as Politics, there is a lot of that where I come from. I have no particular leanings towards left or right. I just hate violence and hope that the peace process started in the northern part of my homeland goes well. Enough of that, on with the story I suppose. Rosie's rider had picked himself up from the grass and was making threatening signs at Rosie. The Manageress dismounted from Natasha's back and came over to us.
“I can ride Rosie just like her current rider.”
“You've only just started today.”
“I'll bet I can ride her as well as anyone.”
“All right, but don't blame me if your over confidence lands you on the grass.”
“How are you getting on with Western style Ellen?” Natasha asked.
“All right thanks Natasha.” I replied. Rosie nudged me.
“I vote we get out of here.” she said. With this she tore across the field running away from the main string. I watched her go.
“Poor thing.” Natasha said.
“She's had a lot to deal with in these last few weeks.” I said.
“You are Rosie's replacement Ellen. How must Rosie feel walking next to you with Martin on your Back?” Natasha asked.
“There's no resentment towards me.” I said.
“Perhaps Rosie's not showing it.” Natasha said. I looked at the horse that only ten minutes ago had been insulting me in unforgivable terms.
“I don't think I should be talking to you.” I said.
“Why not?” Natasha asked.
“Well, you were insulting me ten minutes before. Remember that Natasha?” I asked. Natasha looked downcast.
“I'm sorry Ellen. But what's my business is mine alone and you shouldn't pry.” she said aggrievedly. I left it. I wasn't going to try and educate Natasha on the meanings of the insults she had thrown at me. I looked at Rosie standing rigidly against the background of the hedge. She looked tense and worried. I shook my head and made signs to my rider that I wanted to go across to her. I walked across the field towards my leader. I saw that Rosie's face held a look of total exhaustion.
“You can't begin to guess what it's like to have a total bozo on your back!” she screamed. I nuzzled her shoulder.
“Come on Rosie dear. Don't think about him.” Rosie looked over my head at my rider.
“I wish I had your rider Ellen!” she whimpered. I felt so sorry for Rosie. She had been used to a gentle, kind, thoughtful man who knew horses. Despite the problems this man had they had got on fine. Now, all had changed, I had the man, Rosie had the “bozo” as she put it. Rosie's massive head turned my way.
“Ellen, can I confide something in you?” Rosie asked.
“Why yes Rosie, please talk to me.” I replied. Rosie looked far more upset than I had ever seen her.
“I'm getting too old for this! Only good riders can keep me out of pain.”
“What pain?” I asked.
“I'm getting increasingly arthritic. My legs keep seizing up. Your rider is gentle. He lets me go at my own speed.” She said. I felt awful. How could a horse of eighteen years, a picture of health and energy be experiencing such torment? It upset me to think of Rosie unable to work. My expression must of told Rosie far more than I wanted. I've never seen Rosie cry, but she was now. Tears weld in her eyes and ran down her nose.
“Rosie!” I said gently. Rosie rubbed her now wet nose against mine.
“Sorry Ellen.” she sobbed. Martin Took hold of Rosie's reigns and led her back to the stable yard. We must have looked strange. A horse and rider as normal, with another horse walking slowly alongside. Rosie had her head hung in shame. It must have taken a lot for Martin to trust me. I had only worked with him for a week and I could have done anything. But he trusted me as he had trusted Rosie. I'm not going to abuse that trust. We walked into the yard and Rosie dissolved into fresh tears.
“I cannot deal with this.” she wailed.
“Rosie, don't cry love.” Jinja said gently. Rosie looked at her husband with despair.
“Thanks Jinja.” she said. She walked over to him and nuzzled his ear and rubbed herself against him. As a rule Jinja didn't like horses but he had always had a soft spot for Rosie. I watched them, I felt strange, as if I had known these horses all my life. Jinja caught sight of me.
“Hi Ellen.” he said suddenly. I knew him by sight , but Jinja had never met me.
“How do you know that's Ellen?” Rosie asked.
“Ellen's the only newcomer to the yard.” Jinja said. He walked over to meet me.
“How you doing Ellen?” He asked. I looked at him. He was a lot smaller than Rosie. I wondered stupidly how they could ever get on.
“Love transcends all.” I thought. Jinja looked at me watching him.
“Finding me interesting are we?” he asked.
“No, I mean yes, oh you know what I mean.” I faltered. Jinja smiled.
“Yes Ellen.” he said. Rosie had stopped crying and was stamping about, her face showing her distress at malfunctioning limbs. Jinja looked at his wife with concern.
“I'm sorry Rosie.” he said gently. What else could he say? I looked at Rosie's distress.
“What's going to happen to me?” she asked plaintively.
“There are a few things we can do.” Jinja said.
“Don't tell me, it's going to be a serious thing.” Rosie said nervously.
“No, it's a cream actually. I was reading a paper yesterday.” Jinja replied. He walked over to Martin and whispered into his ear. The human patted Jinja's neck and gave him the thumbs up sign. Jinja walked towards us saying,
“That's settled then. I've asked our friend to get us some of the cream stuff I read about.” he said.
Sure enough the human with the problem that I couldn't quite put my hoof on, returned with the cream for Rosie. He massaged it into the joints that were affected. Rosie seemed to enjoy this, I couldn't blame her really. Jinja watched this in silence. Rosie suddenly tossed her head.
“My legs have gone all hot!” she said.
“Don't worry Rosie love.” Jinja said soothingly. The human that had applied this treatment read the label.
“Jinja, this is deep heat type stuff.” he said. I was interested.
“What's deep heat?” I asked.
“Muscle relaxant. It warms strained muscles to get them working again. It might help for a bit but what you really need is the proper stuff for this.” the human replied. Jinja looked stupid.
“Hell, I didn't know.” he said.. I smiled.
“You tried to help. You can't be blamed for that.” I said. Rosie looked at her husband with pitiful intensity.
“You mean this is not working?” she asked Jinja.
“No, well, I don't know, I don't know.” Jinja was almost crying. Tears threatened to overcome him. It was obvious to me that Jinja felt for Rosie. This touched me deeply. I looked at the two of them. My expression told Rosie and Jinja that I was upset. I nearly cried myself. I sniffed.
“There's no use in crying. It's not going to solve anything.” I said. Rosie knew this, Jinja did also. My human friend had disappeared for another week. Rosie looked me up and down.
“You've only been here for a few weeks but I feel like I've known you for a long time.” she said. I nuzzled her shoulder and nipped her ear.
“Hey!” she shouted. Rosie butted me hard in my shoulder. I engaged with Rosie in a rough and tumble type game. We were stopped by Jingle who came round the corner from her box.
“Just look at you two.” she said. Rosie looked at Jingle.
“What's the matter Jingle dear?” she asked.
“You and Ellen are acting like a couple of foals.” Jingle replied.
“What's wrong with that?” I asked.
“Nothing wrong with it.” Jingle said. I detached myself from the fight and approached Jingle.
“Why are you called Jingle?” I asked her. Jingle smiled suddenly.
“You can't notice it, but humans can. When I talk to you it's quite normal. But most horses don't talk in words to humans. They think it's a waste of time. But I do. I talk to them. I get a better response that way. I started “talking” when my sight was getting worse. It attracted humans to me and made sure that I wasn't left out of the action. My whinny is my strong point. I am contracted to work for radio stations. I help to create Jingles. That's why I'm called Jingle.” she explained.
“Oh right, that's it is it?” I asked.
“Pretty much.” Jingle replied. I followed Jingle on her invitation to meet the horses in her “street” as she called it. Jingle's street was more of a close. It was blocked off by an unoccupied loose box. Jingle turned right into the covered area. As I walked in, one of the horses in the area said,
“Oh hi Rosie,,,” Then the horse that had spoken took another look.
“Oh it's not Rosie, sorry!” she said. I looked at the horse that had made the mistake. A black and white horse, small with bright eyes. We regarded each other for a few minutes.
“What's your name?” I asked. The piebald horse looked at me steadily.
“Domino, but why? Who are you?” Domino seemed nervous.
“I'm no-one really, my name's Ellen and I'm an Irish Draft horse. I'm not going to do anything to you.” I reassured her. Domino sighed,
“yeah, you can't be to careful though.” she said. Jingle gave Domino a “Don't say anything out of term” look. She said,
“Domino, you're to treat Ellen with respect. I know you're frightened of her, but don't insult her.” Domino knew what Jingle meant. But I hadn't a clue.
“Domino's prone to saying what comes into her head. In light of your Irish origins I am trying to limit the anti Irish sentiments that Domino may blurt out if she's frightened.” Jingle said. Domino's face showed sad resignation.
“You're easily frightened then Domino.” I observed.
“Well, yes, I suppose so.” she replied. Another horse spoke up then.
“Hey Ellen, how are you finding it here?” she asked. Jingle gave the horse a sharp look. I gathered that if a horse spoke to a newcomer without being introduced first it was judged to be impolite. This new speaker had done just that and Jingle was furious.
“Cleo, you know the rules!” she snapped. Jingle looked at my face to see if I was offended.
“It's all right.” I said. I looked at Cleo. She stared back impassively.
“I'm doing fine thanks Cleo.” I replied at last. Fudge proceeded to break the rules once again to Jingle's annoyance. So proceeded a lively chat with Jingle trying to restore order and failing at it. She stormed back into her box strangely furious with all of us. I liked them all. Domino and fudge in particular. Domino because of her simple attitude to things. as for my reasons for liking Fudge, well I don't know why. This didn't mean in any way that Jingle and Cleo were second rate, no horse is second rate. Well, that's what I thought. I was to be told very differently the very next day.
The morning dawned clear and bright. I hadn't slept the night before. My brain was fizzing with impressions, ideas, imagist. I was so strung up I couldn't even think straight. I wanted to get out of my box, to walk about. I tried my door. I lifted the bolt and pushed it back. I gave the door a hard kick and it opened.
“Easy.” I thought. I walked out into the yard and round to where A field joined the yard. I looked round the field and saw a herd of horses. I called over to them.
“Hey! I've never met you lot before. Can you help me?” I asked. One raised his head and looked at me.
“You're that new Irish horse aren't you?” I didn't like the way he stressed the “Irish” part.
“Well yes,,,” He interrupted with,
“You cow! Get out of our country you bitch!” I was shocked!
“That's not the way to win friends and influence people.” I said. The large horse said,
“I don't care!” With that he tried to bite me. I backed off wondering what the hell I had got myself in to.
“Who are you?” I asked. The large aggressive horse spat on the grass.
“None of your bloody business!” was the reply. I was out of my depth. I opened the gate and walked in to the field. One mistake I'll never make again. The moment I was over the threshold the large horse attempted to attack me. He flew at me with teeth bared and hooves flying. I was caught totally off guard. I squealed in terror!
“Help! someone Help! I'm being,,,” The large horse hit me one almighty blow on the head with a well aimed kick and I was sprawling on the grass unconscious. My shouts had roused Rosie from sleep and caused her to batter her door down. She sprinted across the yard and through the gate of the field. She finished the horse who had attacked me. I was told this afterwards.
Feeling returned fuzzily. I felt the grass under me, the wind through my mane, and bruises all over. I moaned involuntarily.
“Ellen? Ellen?” Rosie asked urgently. I couldn't answer her, I felt sick. I groaned as my head started throbbing.
“Oh God!” I whimpered. Someone asked,
“Is she all right?” I gave vent to the most unhorse like wail of pain.
“Ellen? It's Domino, can you get up?” The voice called Domino urged me to my feet. Rosie chipped in,
“Don't force her Domino.” she warned. Domino rubbed my nose with her's.
“You were attacked by the leader of the field horses. What were you doing in there?” Domino asked. I struggled onto my chest with much swearing. When I finally managed it I told her.
“It sounds to me as if you didn't know what you were walking in to.” another horse said. I looked at the horse who had spoken.
“You look like Domino's double.” I commented.
“yes, I'm her Son. My name's Dominic.” the horse said. Dominic was a huge horse with muscles I would usually credit a body builder with. But he seemed not to take any extra exercise than the rest of us. I think I would have felt safe if he was with me when I made my journey into death's jaws. Dominic carried his large frame and presence with as much ease as Rosie or I did. I grimaced as I staggered to my feet.
“I know the feeling.” Rosie said. I took a couple of experimental steps and wished I hadn't. My head swam with dizzy sickness. Dominic watched me stagger and leant his shoulder against me to support my weight. I was eternally grateful.
“Thanks Dominic.” I said. Dominic smiled at me.
“It's no problem.” he said gently. I staggered back to the yard and into my box feeling, if you can excuse the pun, like I had been kicked by a horse! Sorry about that. I grew stiff and my bruises became black and grew stiffer still. I felt really busted! I told Jingle and anyone else about the thumping I had received from the leader of the field horses. They had already received the news from Dominic. I walked about the yard working my stiffened joints and feeling totally useless. I turned a corner and came face to face with Balugue. She jumped a mile when she caught sight of me.
“I, I, I don't, I mean I didn't see you coming round the corner Ellen.” she stammered.
“Don't worry Balugue.” I reassured her. I received a friendly snuffling from Balugue who hadn't met me before.
“Sorry. she said as she realised what she was doing.
“It's all right Balugue, don't worry about it.” I reassured her. Balugue looked at me, surprise in her eyes.
“You look almost identical to Rosie.” she remarked.
“We're not related. Well, I don't think we are.” I replied.
“All right, I suppose it's too much to hope.” she said.
“What do you mean?” I asked. It transpired that Rosie had a sister.
“What was Rosie's sister's name?” I asked.
“Jess.” Balugue replied. I stared at her.
“What's the matter Ellen?” Balugue asked.
“Jess was my mother's name.” I said faintly.
“I'll ask Rosie.” Balugue promised.
I was dreading the day when Rosie came to me with the answer. I felt sick with apprehension. When the answer came it was as bad as I had forecast. Rosie did indeed have a sister who was transported to Ireland three years before I was born. When I quizzed Rosie on her sister's markings she described my mother exactly. I tried to break it to her gently that her sister, my mother was dead. Rosie was devastated.
“Oh God! I can't think, I'm so, so sorry.” she faltered. I knew what the next question would be.
“How did she die?” Rosie asked. I must have looked as uncomfortable as I felt.
“bolt.” I said flatly.
Rosie squealed in sudden pain. She collapsed on the grass and shook violently. I sank down on my knees to see if she was all right.
“Rosie!” I yelled. The motionless form on the grass didn't move. No reaction at all. I began to panic. I thumped Rosie with my nose until she shouted at me.
“stop! stop!” she yelled. I relented then.
“What the hell do you think you were doing?” Rosie asked angrily.
“You collapsed after I,,,” Rosie burst into tears. I cradled her head on my shoulder until she had calmed down.
“That's horrible. Dying like that.” she said. I didn't tell her why my mother had died. I knew she would ask however and she did. I couldn't beat around the bush about it. I came straight out with the truth and nothing else. To say Rosie was shocked would be an understatement. Her eyes were on stalks and she was panting for breath.
“Oh no! No! No!” she sobbed.
“Rosie, I know how you feel.” I said gently.
“Yeah, she was your Mother.” Rosie dried her eyes and suddenly smiled.
“Hey, that makes me your aunt then Ellen.” she said suddenly.
“I suppose it does Rosie.” I replied. This news cheered Rosie up no end. She almost danced into the yard. Soon the news spread round the yard and there was the jokes also. Rosie and I didn't mind in the least. My stiffened state continued for a week longer.
The day came when I had to be shod. That is a strange but not unpleasant experience. That is of course if you can stand having iron rimmed hooves at the end of it. The farrier was gentle and seriously overworked. He patted me as the Manageress led me towards the mobile forge. The farrier was standing there with a small furnace beside him. My old shoes were knocked off and he cast new ones from templates he had ready. I suppose the worst part of the whole thing is when he knocks the nails into my hooves. It doesn't hurt but the vibrations travel right up my leg, that's not very pleasant. I always marvel at the weight of my hooves as I walk away. They seem not to belong to me for a few hours. I remembered the time when I had my first set of shoes. My hooves felt so heavy I shuffled rather than walked back to my box. But now it was different. Three and a half years down the line.
So there I was, once again waiting to be shod. Strangely enough Rosie was having her shoes re‑fitted in front of me. She whinnied at me as I came into sight.
“Friend is she?” the farrier asked.
“Well, yeah, you could say that.” Rosie replied. I rubbed my nose against her's as she passed.
“See you in a minute.” Rosie said. So it was my turn. The farrier picked up one hoof and tapped the shoe until the loose nails fell out. The shoe fell on the ground with a clatter. Then he picked up the new shoe and tried it for shape and size. He then made final adjustments until he was satisfied and finally drove the nails home. The Farrier did this for all four feet and then I was allowed to go. I played about for a few seconds pretending that I couldn't lift my feet from the ground. The reason for this horseplay was to see how the Manageress would react. She just patted my neck and massaged my ears telling me in a friendly tone to,
“Stop playing about.” I stopped playing about and went in search of Rosie.
I found her in her box munching on straw. She looked up as I approached.
“Hi Ellen dear, how're the new shoes?
“Heavy.” I replied.
“And yours?” I asked.
“Same as you.” Rosie answered. I bashed at her door with my nose and one newly shod fore foot.
“Do you want to come in by any chance?” Rosie asked.
“yeah, I wouldn't mind.” I replied. Rosie unbolted her door and let me into her box.
“You heard the latest?” Rosie asked.
“No, what?” Rosie looked suddenly depressed.
“We're losing one of our longest residents.”
“Who?” I asked.
“Figaro's retiring.” Rosie said flatly. I think her flat tone was to disguise her real feelings of loss. She respected Figaro and knew why he was retiring.
“I can't believe it.” I said. Figaro stood in high regard with all the horses in the yard. I was unknown to him but felt the loss as keenly as Rosie or any other horse that had known Figaro for years. I was confused,
“Why?” I asked.
“He's got something wrong with his leg. It won't clear up and the Manageress thinks he'll be lame for six months. They've decided to retire him.” Rosie explained. I felt so empty inside I couldn't explain it. Rosie knew how I felt.
“He'll not worry about it. Don't remind him
Ellen. If you don't he won't get upset.”
“Is Figaro upset?” I asked.
“Devastated.” Rosie replied. The stuffing had been knocked out of the day for me. Rosie knew this and tried to comfort me.
“Figaro's going to be a pet for a family. He'll live in a field with four other horses.” she reassured me.
“That's good.” I said numbly. I walked away from that Horse box feeling battered in the emotional department. I trailed back to my box resisting an urge to go and talk to Figaro. I did look in however and saw that he was depressed. I couldn't just leave him could I! Forgetting all previous resolve to leave well alone I walked to his box.
“Hi!” he said airily. I knew this outer sheen was masking turbulent chaos inside. I looked at Figaro trying to disguise my emotions from him. He was too smart for that however and guessed that I was upset.
“I suppose you've heard.” this was a statement. A horse must have been on Mars if they hadn't got the news by now.
Figaro looked over at Fleur.
“I'm having to leave you.” he said shakily. Fleur tried to comfort him the best she could.
“You'll love it there. It sounds great! I'd love it, you know, standing in a field with other horses. Being groomed, fed, and no work!” she emphasised this part. Figaro wasn't the one to laze about though.
“I'm not a lazy horse.” he said finally. Fleur shook her head,
“No your not, but you've got to slow down someday. You're fifteen for hell's sake.” she said. Figaro's reply was,
“Rosie's eighteen, she's still working!” Fleur knew why mares were kept and didn't enlarge on the reasons. She didn't want to upset her friend any more. I looked at her.
“Fleur?” I asked.
“Ellen?” she replied.
“How did you get on with
that strange man?” I knew that Martin had a problem, but I couldn't work out what. He didn't bother to tell us about corners etc. Rosie had worked it out and had told us at a meeting. But I couldn't remember what she had said.
“Oh fine!” Fleur was excited.
“He's funny, I don't mean that in a horrid way, He's trusting, really friendly.” she concluded. She shook her head hard. She smiled suddenly and said,
“I kept searching for polos. He found that funny.”
“The man's name's Martin if you would prefer to use it.” I said. Fleur nodded.
“Yeah, I know.” she replied. I looked at Fleur thinking how attractive she was. Fleur had an almost blonde mane and a steel grey coat. Her tail was much the same colour as her mane.
It was said that she was thick and couldn't add two and two together. But she was kind, thoughtful, and generous. These were worth more than any amount of brain power. Fleur had a long mane and this gave her a beauty that I would have done anything to possess. But I wasn't resentful, not in the slightest. Fleur rubbed her nose against mine.
“Tell me about Ireland.” she said. So I told her, all of it, leaving nothing out. To say Fleur was shocked at my description of James Neil's place would be a sorry understatement. She stared at me with her mouth wide open.
“Close your mouth Fleur. You look silly.” I told her. Fleur closed it. I hadn't finished with her yet. I told her about Pippa and I running away. I told her of the swim across the river. I described my mother, her joy at seeing me again, and our plans for a new life. Then, the crunch! I described the attack too vividly for Fleur. She leant against me for support and buried her head in my shoulder. I saw she was trying to fight back tears.
“No, no more!” she sobbed,
“I can't take any more!” she said. I tried to comfort Fleur as best I could.
“You seem very, Oh, I don't know how to put it.” Fleur said.
“I know what you mean, and, it's not true. I'm not able to talk about it really.” I told her.
“But why do you if it hurts you so much?” Fleur asked.
“You asked me, anyway, it's good to talk to someone about it.” I replied. I didn't tell her about Rosie's connection with my mother.
“That would only upset her more.” I reasoned. Fleur asked the one question I hoped she wouldn't.
“Rosie and you are very much alike Ellen. Are you related?” My face told her too much, far too much! Fleur may have been thought of as thick, In many respects she was not the brain of Britain nor that of the stable yard. But she had a talent for reading facial expressions and driving straight to the heart of the matter. But this matter upset her greatly.
“Rosie is related to you, she is! I know it!” she wailed. I knew her pain was not because Rosie and I were related. No, it was because I had lost my mother, and Rosie had lost her sister. I thought that now Fleur knew the truth I would finish it.
“Rosie's my aunt. That's the connection, don't you see Fleur?” I need not have asked. Fleur suddenly burst out!
“Why do days have to be so awful? First Figaro's leaving, then you come along and I ask you a simple question Ellen, and, you tell me a horror story!” she yelled.
“I'm sorry Fleur.” I replied.
“Nothing to be sorry about really. You didn't know how I would react. Then again, I did ask you to tell me. It's my own fault I've got myself into this state.”
Fleur looked at Figaro with pain in her eyes.
“I'll miss you.” she said quietly. Figaro actually let himself go and cried. I released Figaro and Fleur's box bolts and they walked through the yard together. I stayed behind watching them. I didn't want to disturb them. I felt very unhappy myself. I hardly knew Figaro but all the same, the wrench was awful. Sure enough that very next Saturday Figaro was led into the transporter lorry thing and driven out of the yard with Fleur's cries of anguish following him. I had stayed with her while they had led Figaro out of his box and loaded him into the lorry. Fleur knew that he wouldn't come back. Figaro knew this also and dragged his feet as much as he could. He whinnied and bucked but it was no good. Protesting bitterly Figaro was tied into the lorry and the door was closed. Fleur rested her head on my shoulder sobbing as if her heart were broken. That isn't a useless string of words in this case. Fleur really was heartbroken at Figaro's departure. I tried to comfort her as much as possible.
“He's only going down the road. A few miles that's all.” I said gently. I added,
“You'll be able to visit him, I'm sure of that.” But I didn't believe it, and neither did she. Fleur put her feelings into words.
“I feel lost. Figaro gave me some sort of protection. I loved him for that. I suppose he loved me.” she said. I nodded.
“I see what you mean.” I said.
“Ah, Well.” Fleur sniffed, she almost choked on her words.
“I suppose I'd better get on with life.” she said sadly. Fleur took her weight off of my shoulder and looked out over the half door.
“I wonder who's.” She looked disgusted,
“I hate this expression. Who's going to replace Figaro?” Fleur spat the word “Replace” out as if it was a hot potato.
“I've met her.” I said.
“Met Who?” Fleur asked.
“Figaro's, well, sorry, err, replacement.” I said quickly. Fleur swallowed hard and took a few deep breaths.
“What's this new horse like?” she asked frostily.
“Well, she's, oh, I can't pronounce her breed. Anyway, her name's Carmen...” Fleur stopped me.
“That's Caramel I think you'll find.” she said.
“No, it's Carmen, Short for Calm, n, collected. Which she isn't at the moment.” I said. Fleur was laughing helplessly.
“Why that? Why choose a name for a horse in that way?” I was mystified.
“Search me. I don't know, but I'm sure Carmen won't approve of it.” I replied.
“No, I don't think she will.” Fleur said. I finally left Fleur's box and returned to the main yard. I put my head in at Rosie's box to see if she was home but she wasn't.
“In the school no doubt.” I thought. Then I paid a visit to Carmen.
She looked at me with a frightened expression on her face.
“Who are you?” she asked timidly.
“My name's Ellen. I'm a resident here.” Carmen shook from nose to tail with fright.
“Who, what, get away from me!” she yelled. I took a pace backwards and tried to calm her down.
“Definitely not Calm and collected.” I thought. Carmen stared at me trying to fight her urge to scream with terror.
“What are you frightened of Carmen?” I asked gently. Carmen's eyes were almost popping out of her head.
“I'm in this new place, I'm among horses I don't know, I'm faced with one of the largest horses I've ever seen in my life, and, humans keep trying to touch me! I hate it! I hate it!” she wailed. I tried to sooth her shattered nerves.
“Carmen, I'm not going to hurt you, I'm trying to help you, please, please, let us help you settle in. You can't do it all yourself. Let us try to do something to help you.” I pleaded. Carmen stared at me for a few minutes. Fleur then appeared at my back.
“That's Carmen is it?” she asked.
“Yes, and she's frightened Fleur. Can you work your magic with her?” I asked. Fleur stood a good few yards back from Carmen while she spoke in a lilting, soothing voice to her.
“come on Carmen, don't let us frighten you. We're not going to harm you.” she whispered. Carmen seemed to relax visibly.
“Carry on Fleur, it's working.” Jingle said softly. I watched Carmen stretch her nose out towards Fleur. Fleur continued to talk to her.
“Good girl Carmen, that's better.” she said. Carmen looked relieved and I saw the beginning of a smile in her eyes.
“I see you're not going to hurt me.” she said faintly. Fleur smiled at Carmen.
“Do you feel up to coming to meet some of the other horses?” I asked. Carmen looked at me as if she hadn't seen me before.
“Ellen, well, yeah, all right.” she finally replied. I unbolted her door and Fleur Followed Carmen and I into the sunshine. We walked across to Rosie's box. She was being re‑stabled and she saw us as we approached.
“Hi Ellen, Fleur, Carmen. How we doing then. I see that you've shaken your fear.” When Rosie referred to “you” she meant Carmen. Carmen actually smiled.
Yes, I don't know what came over me... I don't know what to call you?” Carmen said suddenly.
“How about Rosie.” Rosie suggested. Carmen laughed,
“Sounds good enough for me.” she said.
“That's settled then.” Rosie said. Carmen watched a human or two go past on their business. Then a human we recognised came round the corner. Carmen freaked out!
“Hell! who's that?” she squealed.
“He's harmless Carmen, he's my friend.” Fleur said gently. She was gambling that Carmen was so attached to her at this point that whatever she said Carmen would accept. This was the case. Carmen viewed Fleur as her protector and guide. Fleur attempted to get the human to come to her.
“Hey Martin! Over here!” she shouted.
“He doesn't know who you are.” I told her. Fleur nodded,
“It's Fleur.” she shouted again. The man came over to Fleur and started stroking her. Fleur nudged Carmen.
“Is this the human that frightened you?” she asked. Carmen replied,
“Let him stroke you.” Fleur suggested. Despite her fears Carmen did.
“It's good, very good.” she said with surprise.
“He's not going to hurt you Carmen. Quite the reverse in fact.” I reassured her. Carmen was lapping up the fuss being made of her within ten minutes.
“You see what Ellen means?” Fleur asked.
“Yes, I do, I’m stupid aren't I.” Carmen said. Misty called over to Carmen.
“No you're not stupid. The place you came from wasn't so open as this is I suppose. Now, you're having to adjust to it.” Fleur shook her head making her long mane fly in the breeze.
“Let's all go and see Jinja.” Rosie suggested.
“Who's Jinja?” Carmen asked.
“He's my husband.” Rosie replied.
“Is he as large as you?” Carmen asked.
“Oh no, no, he's not by a long chalk.” Rosie replied patiently. So we all trooped down to the field to pay a visit to Jinja.
Jinja was standing in a field on his own. Carmen commented on this.
“He prefers it this way.” Someone said. Carmen whipped round to see Jingle standing behind her. She jumped a mile.
“Jingle! You gave me a fright!” Carmen exclaimed. Jingle replied in her most disarming tone,
“Sorry about that Carmen dear.” Carmen seemed to be soothed by Jingle's manner. Jinja had caught sight of us by now and was engaged in galloping across the field towards us.
“Hi you lot!” he whooped. Carmen, poor easily frightened Carmen looked very uncomfortable with this type of address. It didn't help when Jinja tried to hug her. This was a friendly gesture of his. He may not like horses for permanent company but he was unfailingly courteous towards ladies.
“Don't worry about Jinja. He's totally harmless.” Rosie reassured Carmen. Jinja sensed that he was unwanted. He backed off with many apologies.
“I'm not used to this.” Carmen said.
“used to what?” Fleur asked.
“Respect. In my old home you had to fight for the smallest scrap of respect.” Carmen replied.
“Don't worry Carmen. Here we take you as you are.”
“You also help me to get over my fears.” Carmen added.
“It's all free, and there are no strings attached to a family are there.” Jinja said. Carmen gulped back tears. I don't think she had ever been referred to as part of a family since she was taken from her mother. This reference to her being part of a family touched Carmen and we had our first real look at the horse behind the frightened shell. I saw that Carmen just wanted to be loved, that's all. She had had endless love from humans, but she hadn't been loved by horses. Fleur decided to eat some of the grass growing in the field.
“Hey that's mine!” Jinja wined.
“Finder's keeper's.” was Fleur's reply. Carmen watched this display with growing interest. She had noticed that when Fleur had taken a mouthful of grass Jinja had told her off. But this was different to anything she had heard before. The telling off wasn't really meant as such. Jinja was playing with Fleur and her with him. Carmen realised that Jinja wasn't going to attack her, spit at her or isolate her for every little thing she did that might be taken in two ways. She copied Fleur in eating some of the sweet grass. Jinja smiled at her.
“Go right ahead. There's plenty of it.” he said gently. Fleur nuzzled Carmen in an attempt to show affection. Carmen was still frightened however and shied away from Fleur. She charged away across the field. We watched her go with a mixture of resignation and sorrow.
"Hummm, we'll have to work on her a little more. Well done anyway Fleur, you've tried your best." Rosie said.
Carmen had finally come to rest beside a beach hedge on the other side of the field. I approached her carefully so I didn't cause her undue distress. Carmen trembled visibly as I approached.
"I don't think she'll last much longer if this carries on." I thought. Carmen suddenly raised her head and gave vent to the most terrifying whinny I had ever heard.
"She's coming to get me!" Carmen screamed.
"No I'm not you stupid bozo!"
"Don't call me that Ellen!" Carmen shrieked.
"Carmen, Calm down! Calm down!" Rosie pleaded. Carmen stared at Rosie in terror!
"I'm frightened of you all!" she shouted.
"Why? What have we done to frighten you Carmen?" Carmen didn't answer that, the truth was she didn't know how. Her fear was unexplainable in words. I tried anyway.
"Is it that you're in a new place, you're with new people, and you feel that you can't cope?" I asked softly.
"That's right Ellen." Carmen replied faintly.
Carmen wasn't used to unconditional love. She had had to work for any respect. So, now she was in a herd where love and affection was unconditional, she wasn't able to cope with it. We knew then that we would have to build her confidence in us. Carmen shook herself and looked at Jinja.
“You're the reason why I went mad.” she said. Jinja's shock at this accusation touched me. He is a caring compassionate horse who wouldn't hurt anything, and this newcomer insulting him like this was too much.
“I was being friendly, that's all Carmen!” he whimpered. I saw the hurt in his face as he looked towards me. Jinja then did something I have never seen a grown horse do before. He walked up to Rosie and hugged her. Rosie returned the complement and then realised why Jinja had done it. Carmen had upset him and he was looking for comfort. Rosie nuzzled her husband.
“Don't worry Jinj. She'll come round soon.” Rosie said softly. Jinja was sobbing into Rosie's fur. Fleur shot Carmen a disgusted look. She snapped,
“How do you feel now Carmen? You've upset Jinja.” Carmen's eyes were full of terror.
“I didn't mean to! I really didn't. I don't know what came over me.” she said quickly. Jinja looked at her from tear filled eyes.
“I don't know what to make of you Carmen.” he said. Carmen tried to hug Jinja but Rosie wouldn't let her.
“Get away from him! You've hurt him enough today!” she snarled. Carmen ran away across the field, out of the gate, and back to her box. Jingle watched her go.
“Sorry about that Jinj.” she said.
“It's not your fault, why do you always think it is?” Jinja asked. Jingle didn't answer that. She turned back towards the yard and started back to her box, we followed.
I returned to the barn where Fleur was stabled. Cleo now stood where Figaro had just three days ago.
“HI!” Cleo said airily.
“Afternoon Cleo.” We replied. Cleo looked at Fleur with admiration.
“I'd love to have a coat like yours.” Cleo said. Fleur smiled.
“Thanks for the complement.” she replied. I shook my head to rearrange my mane. It had got tangled and I was sick of it.
“I'll have to remind the Lads to groom me.” I thought. Fleur's coat still looked as clean and neat as ever. I wondered how she managed it.
“Is there some new shampoo you've been using on the quiet Fleur?” I asked. despite her attempts to keep a straight face Fleur started to smile. In the face of such comment I think I would. She finally answered my question.
“No, nothing special. Just a good grooming that's all.” Cleo sighed heavily.
“You okay Cleo?” Fleur asked. Cleo fought her emotions. She swallowed and said,
“I know I've only just moved here. But, can I ask something of you Fleur?” Fleur nodded,
“Yes, well, within reason of course.” she replied airily. But Cleo's enquiry was anything but casual.
“I've heard you're good at unscrambling nerves.” Cleo began. Fleur stayed calm as Cleo continued:
“I've never told anyone about this, well, not in very much detail. It all started eight years ago.” Fleur and all the other horses in the yard had heard of Cleo's mother's accident, and any other horse, including me I must say would have jumped in with a comment such as,
“Yes, what about the accident?” But Fleur didn't. She had more sense than that. Brainy she might not have been, but sensitive she surely was. Cleo then came to describe the accident itself.
“My mother and I were pulling a coach sort of thing along a road one day. The weather was fine, like today really. My mother was in high spirits because of the weather. She always reacted like this to sunshine.” Cleo laughed slightly as she said this last bit. Pausing slightly for breath she continued, but now her voice held a note of dread. I knew she was screwing herself up to tell something she had blocked out of her mind for eight years.
“The car came round the corner. It was on the wrong side of the road. I think the driver was drunk. The car smashed into the coach and ploughed into my mother and I. We were knocked down and battered by the car. Then the car backed away and drove off!” Cleo was almost sobbing.
“The driver of the coach got down and tried to revive my mother. I knew she was dead! I just knew she was!” Cleo buried her face in Fleur's shoulder letting go totally.
I had never heard such an appalling story. Okay, I'm hearing you shout something about my story being just as bad. It was, but there's always worse. Pippa and I knew about the dangers we were putting ourselves into, my mother knew the danger she put herself into by stepping in front of the bolt. But Cleo and her mother didn't know. They had no idea that the car was going to hit them. Now facts had to be faced however. Cleo's problem was out in the open and Fleur's job was to try and help Cleo deal with it. Cleo had stopped crying after a little while. I had gone through the same stages. Crying seemingly endlessly and then finding that I didn't want to cry any more. The grief I felt was a sickening loss in my heart. As if I had lost a part of me. Fleur rubbed her nose against Cleo's. Cleo and Fleur opened their doors and they both walked out into the yard, turned right and headed for the fields. The Manageress came into view around the side of the barn. She watched the two horses go. She came into the barn and spotted me.
“Ellen, Carmen's in a hell of a state.” the Manageress said.
“She was acting strangely today I'll vouch for that.” I replied. Rosie looked in as she passed the barn.
“You coming for a cup of tea?” she asked. I turned and followed her towards the restaurant. The Manageress followed us saying something like,
“I'll never know how these two do it.” We walked towards the restaurant and opened the door. We caused pandemonium in the well ordered human sanctuary.
“What're two horses doing in here?” Someone asked. The Manageress couldn't answer, she was laughing helplessly.
“They're impossible aren't they.” she said.
“Can we have some tea please?” I asked. The Manageress started laughing again.
“Yeah, Ellen, you can have tea if you can make it. Second thoughts, someone make tea for these two. Make that three.” she added. So we got our Tea. Two great big Mixing bowls of the stuff for Rosie and myself. The Manageress watched us drinking the brown liquid with some amusement.
“So you'll be in here often?” she asked.
“Well yeah, I don't see why not.” Rosie replied. She glanced over at me.
“How's your tea Ellen?”
“Warm and wet.” I replied.
“Oh ha ha, very funny I don't think.” Rosie said.
“Thanks very much auntie.” I said. Rosie wailed,
“Don't call me that!”
“All right then Bozo.” I replied.
“I'll draw the line at that also.” Rosie said. I finished off with,
“Don't allow much do you.” Rosie thumped me.
“Be quiet Ellen.” she said playfully. We backed out of the restaurant and headed for our boxes. The Manageress followed us and disappeared into the office.
“Probably gone to fix an appointment with the Psychologist for us.” Rosie commented.
“There's nothing wrong with wanting a cup of tea is there?” I enquired.
“There is when a horse: one, wants a cup of tea in the first place, and, two, goes into a restaurant to get it.” Rosie replied. Fleur stopped me as I entered the barn.
“Enjoy our tea did we?” she asked.
“Yes, it's good stuff you know.” I replied. Fleur wrinkled her nose.
“Ugh, I tried the stuff once and it made me sick.” she said. I walked back to my box passing Natasha and Candy's on the way. I had moved only a few days before and I had noticed that Natasha kept looking for me.
“I can't get used to you not being here Ellen.” she said as I passed.
“I'm only round the corner.” I replied. Natasha smiled at me.
“I know that Ellen.” Natasha said.
I suppose I had better bring this story to an end. I'll rite soon I promise. See you sometime soon.
I, MARTIN WILSHER, here by assert and give notice of my right under section 77 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of the foregoing article.
© Copyright Martin Wilsher 1998-2000
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