What an excitement!
Janet decided to go and get Peter before all the excitement was over. He’d never, never forgive her if she didn’t. So she flew upstairs at top speed, and shook him awake. ‘Peter! Come quickly! We’ve got horse-thieves in the stable! Tolly fought them, and now the police are here and Daddy and Mother and everybody’s fighting in the stables!’
‘Don’t be silly! You’ve just had a bad dream!’ said Peter, astonished and cross. ‘Go back to bed. Fancy waking me with a silly story like that!’ And he turned over to go to sleep again. Janet shook him hard.
‘Sit up, sit up!’ she shouted. ‘Then you can hear the row. You’ll miss all the excitement. Anyway. I’m going to watch from the window!’
By this time Peter began to think there might be something in what Janet was shouting about. So he leapt out of bed and ran to the window with her. Good gracious! What a row — what shouts — what bids and scuffles — what barks from Scamper and excited neighs from the horses!
‘Come on!’ said Peter, and without waiting to put on his dressing-gown or slippers he fled downstairs, out into the yard, and into the stable. Whew, what an excitement!
Most of the trouble was over now. But what a fight it had been! Tolly had gone for the thieves with a pitchfork, and made them dance in pain. They had tried to let out the horses, but the brave beasts had stood their ground, and Brownie had done quite a bit of snapping and kicking. The men were terrified of him. He had got one of them into a corner, and the man did not dare to move, and was glad when a sturdy policeman came up to handcuff him! ‘Take that horse away from me,’ begged the man. ‘He’s just about broken my ankle with a kick, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s bitten my ear off.’
‘I hope he has,’ said the policeman, grimly, and pushed the man roughly into the next stall, where two other men had also been imprisoned. One had been lucked on the arm, and was nursing the wounded limb, his face angry and fierce. The third man had been knocked down when Tolly had flung himself on him, and had a badly cut head.
‘Are the horses hurt?’ Janet asked Tolly, who, breathless with the fight, was standing holding on to one of the thieves.
‘No, Miss — not hurt at all,’ panted Tolly. ‘Old Brownie’s enjoyed the shindy. My, my — the way he pranced about, and kicked out with those big hooves of his! I began to feel sorry for these horse-thieves! I was knocked down once, but old Brownie came up and almost snapped the man’s arm off. Good old Brownie. He wasn’t a bit afraid, Miss. He was clever too. He never so much as snapped at a policeman — only at the thieves!’
With a lot of shoving and pushing the horse-thieves were taken to the police cars. They were difficult to handle, and, to Peter’s delight, he saw that every thief had a good stout policeman sitting down hard on him. There certainly would be no escape for them!
‘Everything seems very quiet suddenly,’ said Mother. ‘My word, what an adventure! What a good thing you were awake, Janet, and heard the thieves.’
‘Er — well, actually I was still reading,’ confessed Janet. ‘And the moonlight was so lovely I decided to go out in it with Scamper — and heard the noise in the stables. Are you hurt, Tolly? Fancy — you thought horse-thieves might be coming some night, and you were right. What a good thing you sleep with the horses!’
‘I wouldn’t sleep anywhere else if I knew horse-thieves were about!’ said Tolly, brushing himself down.
The horses were restive and uneasy. ‘I think, sir, if it’s all right with you I’ll take them all out for a quiet canter,’ said Tolly. Then they’ll probably settle down quietly for the rest of the night.’
‘Right, Tolly. And thanks for all your help tonight,’ said Peter’s father. ‘I’ll see you get some reward for it. It’s good to have a man like you on the job.’
‘Tolly — what exactly happened?’ asked Janet, excitedly.
‘Well, Miss, I bedded down in the straw on my old mattress, in the stall next to old Brownie, see? And the horses, they went to sleep, seemingly, because I didn’t hear much stamping or whinnying. And then, some time later on, old Brownie here he whinnied right in my ear — leaned over my stall and whinnied, he did. Quiet-like, as if he wanted to whisper.
‘Well, I sat up, of course, and there he was looking down at me anxious-like. The moonlight was shining into the stable and it was as bright as day, Miss. Then I heard another noise — and that wasn’t a noise made by any horse, Miss. It was a man sneezing, and trying to stop his sneeze. And I thought to myself, Oho, Here we go! Horse-thieves, or I’ll eat my old cap!’
‘What then?’ asked Janet, breathlessly, her heart still beating fast.
‘Well, then up I gets, pushes open the half-door, and stands up to see what was what. And I saw a man undoing the latch of Major’s stall, up there, see. And old Major he began to carry on alarming. He snorted and whinnied and stamped till I thought he’d bring the stable down. How that man got him out of his stall, I don’t know — but I do know that as soon as Major had room to kick out, he did — and that fellow went flying from one end of the stable to the other! Then I saw more chaps and I went mad. I picked up that there pitchfork and they struggled with me like madmen. They didn’t want to get pricked by that sharp old fork. But there’s one of them won’t be able to sit down for a fortnight, that he won’t!’
And old Tolly went off into a hoot of laughter that made all the horses turn round and look at him.
‘Go on, Tolly. This is a tale worth telling,’ said Peter’s father, looking grim and amused at one and the same time.
‘I don’t rightly know what I did next,’ said Tolly, scratching his head. ‘I do know I saw one of them with my old Brownie again, and I caught hold of Brownie’s head, swung him round and told him to kick the fellows out — send them flying. And old Brownie, he’s always obedient, you know. My word, he sent two of them flying! One cracked his head on a door — and didn’t he howl! “Shame on you,” I said, “you’ll wake up all the bobbies in the district” — and bless me, sir, at that very minute the police came and joined the fight. Like magic, it was!’
‘Well, you’ve done a grand and a brave job tonight, Tolly,’ said Peter’s father. ‘I hope you’ll regard yourself as on my permanent staff now — head of the stables — and over any of the younger staff. I can do with a man like you here! Why that fellow Dinneford let you go, I don’t know! Well — see to the horses for a while and quieten them and then bed down yourself. Good night.’
And with that he put his arm round his wife’s shoulders, motioned to the two excited children to go on in front and shepherded everyone back inside the house, including a most excited Scamper.
‘How any of us are going to sleep tonight, I don’t know!’ he said. ‘Too exciting for words! Well — we’ll yarn about it in the morning — and now — good night, Peter, good night, Janet. Sleep well!’
The children didn’t want to go back to bed. They wanted to stay and talk and talk about all that had happened. They wanted to go and speak to each of the horses, they wanted to talk to Tolly — in fact, they wanted to do anything but go to bed.
But their father was determined. ‘I said “Go back to bed” and I meant it. You’ll catch frightful colds staying out here with so little on, after being in warm beds — and you’re missing your night’s sleep. If you don’t go back to bed straight away now I shall forbid you to go near Tolly or the stables tomorrow, and that you won’t like at all!’
‘All right, Daddy — we’re going,’ grinned Peter. ‘Goodness, what a night! I’ve never had an adventure like this before — in our very own home. What in the world will the other members of the Secret Seven say when we tell them tomorrow!’
‘Off you go, for the last time!’ said his father, giving him a firm push. ‘Go and think about it in bed.’
At last the two children were safely in bed, shouting remarks to one another from their different rooms. Then suddenly Peter had no answer to his questions and knew that Janet was asleep!
Both children slept late when morning came, and didn’t even hear the breakfast gong. Their mother let them lie in bed, remembering how late they had been the night before. But they were cross when they got up at last and found that quite a bit of the morning had gone. ‘Oh, Mother! We wanted to go round and call the Secret Seven to another meeting!’ grumbled Peter. ‘They must know all that happened last night. It was so very, very exciting.’
‘Will you please finish your breakfast and stop grumbling, Peter dear?’ said his mother. ‘You’ve the whole day to call a meeting. I shall clear away your breakfast in exactly ten minutes’ time, so if you want a good breakfast you’d better get on with it.’
It was exciting to talk about the night before. Immediately breakfast was over they went to talk to Tolly. He was rubbing down one of the horses, whistling between his teeth. He grinned at the two children.
‘Well — we had a night of it, didn’t we?’ he said. ‘They nearly got my old Brownie! Ah, they didn’t know how loudly he could hrrrrrrrrumph! Woke me up at once, he did.’
‘They didn’t know that you slept in the stable with the horses, either, else they’d have been more careful,’ said Janet. ‘You’re very fierce, aren’t you, Tolly? I felt quite scared of you last night when I saw you with that hay fork.’
‘I reckon they feel scared of me this morning too,’ said Tolly, wringing out his cloth in the horse-pail. ‘I keep thinking of that chap that won’t be able to sit down for a week — and the other one, he won’t be able to walk for a fortnight!’
‘A jolly good thing too!’ said Peter.
‘Well, it’s what horse-thieves deserve!’ said old Tolly. ‘I remember the last tune I had to do with a horse-thief. He came stealing past my cottage into the stables I was in at that time, and I saw his shadow on my blind. Well, me and Codger, we got up at once, and I took my old pail with me — and I told Codger to chase the man to the old pump — and my, when I got there too, I worked the pump and filled my pail, and over the fellow’s head went the icy-cold water. He couldn’t get away — Codger saw to that — and I threw five more pails of water over him. Laugh! I had to sit down on the old wall to get my breath, I’d such a stitch in my side.’
Tolly knew how to tell a story very well, and the children could have listened for ages. But Tolly had work to do.
‘Wait a minute, Tolly, wait,’ said Peter. ‘We’re going to spend some of that money on a birthday party for Brownie, and all of us — you too — are to come. We’ll get some very special oats for Brownie, and a whole pound of sugar lumps and . . .’
‘Now look here, Master Peter, nobody’s going to give my Brownie a pound of sugar lumps!’ said Tolly, in alarm. ‘He’d be as fat as an old cow in no time — and his poor back legs would have even more weight to carry. He . . .’
‘It’s all right, Tolly. We shall give you the sugar lumps to dole out to him!’ said Peter. ‘Or you can dole them out to us to give him. We promise not to make him fat. He’s exactly right as he is!’
No notes needed to be written to call the Secret Seven to a meeting. When the news ran round Peterswood that horse-thieves had been to Peter’s house, the rest of the members came rushing down to find out what had happened! Peter took them all down to the little meeting-shed.
The members sat down expectantly, all agog to hear everything. ‘The milkman told me,’ said Pam. ‘And I rushed round and told the others — but most of them knew, Peter, what happened? Are the horses safe?’
‘Perfectly,’ said Peter. ‘But I have a fresh piece of news for everyone. The night before they came to us, they went to Mr Dinneford’s — and took his three best horses! And nobody knows where they are yet.’
‘Serve him right,’ said George, and the others nodded in agreement. ‘Horrid man! Well, he lost Tolly through his bad temper and meanness — and now he’s lost three of his horses. Will the horses be all right?’
‘Oh yes — they are too valuable to be ill-treated by the thieves — they’ll be all right except for a fright. But goodness knows where the thieves have taken them to — or who has bought them!’
‘Well — I just can’t feel sorry for Mr Dinneford,’ said Peter. ‘When I think how he spoilt dear old Brownie’s hind legs through making him work with an overloaded cart, I just think to myself, “Well, serve him right!” ’
‘I think we all feel like that,’ said Barbara. ‘Peter, did you find out when Brownie’s birthday is?’
‘Oh yes — that’s really what I wanted to call a meeting about,’ said Peter. ‘It’s on Friday. I’ve spoken to Dad about it, and he says he’d like to join in too, and make it a real good day for Brownie and Tolly. And don’t you think we ought to ask Bob too? It was he who told us about Brownie and Tolly.’
‘Yes — of course ask him — fine!’ said George, and the others nodded in complete agreement.
‘Dad says that he thinks it would be a good idea to spend most of the money we have left on helping to buy a decent saddle for Brownie,’ said Peter. ‘Then Tolly can ride him in comfort, and Brownie will love that. Dad also said that we must get a really good one, and so he will put some money towards the saddle too, as he feels so grateful to Tolly for saving our horses last night.’
‘Good idea!’ cried everyone, very pleased, and Colin added, ‘Jolly decent of your father!’
‘Well, there’ll be plenty of money left for a very fine party,’ said Peter. ‘I vote we have it in the stable yard, so that all the horses can look out of the stable — and see us — and we can give them sugar lumps so that they can feel they’re in the party too.’
‘Hurray!’ cheered everyone, getting really excited. ‘Hurray!’
And that is why they are now all sitting down to a long table set out in the stable yard. Brownie’s birthday has arrived. He is thirteen years old today, though he doesn’t know it. He can’t imagine why everyone is making such a fuss of him — and look at the garland of flowers he’s wearing — doesn’t he look fine! Dear old Brownie — everyone loves you!
Hanging in the stable is a fine new saddle, just right for Brownie to wear. That’s what Peter’s father and the children bought for Tolly — and he’s so proud of it that he can hardly wait to put it on Brownie’s back and ride him.
There’s a birthday cake too, with ‘Happy Birthday, Brownie!’ on it. Well, well — if ever a horse could be proud, Brownie could be today!
But he’s not at all conceited. There he stands, look, his big brown eyes as kind as ever, his coat shining beautifully. Ah — sugar lumps! Good! And a slice of iced cake — even better! And a fine handful of the very best corn from Tolly’s horny hand — a very nice titbit indeed.
‘Hrrrumph, hrrrumph, hrrrumph!’ says Brownie, and everyone laughs as Brownie nods his head politely.
‘He says “Thanks, thanks, thanks!” ’ says Janet. ‘Tolly — I really do think he’s the nicest horse in the world!’
‘You’re right there, Missy you’re right!’ said Tolly, taking Brownie another piece of cake, and look, Brownie is nuzzling into his ear, just as if he is whispering to the old man.
‘He says he reckons there’s no children like you!’ reported Tolly, and that made everyone laugh.
Well, I think Brownie’s right, Secret Seven. I really do think he’s right!
to be continued…