Ben Saves The Day

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Footsteps, yarns and little fibs
Ben wasn't concerned when he didn't win the prize, but he made his mother proud.

Submitted: March 11, 2017

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Submitted: March 11, 2017

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Friday was going to be pet day at Otepopo Primary School, which was a village occasion and this year, there was going to be a special prize for the best pony. This was important because while usually the village kids walked to school, that is the ones who lived handy, the others who had some distance to travel, either had their own pony or at least there was a family one. Actually some were plough horses, or hacks and even retired packhorses. The school had a pony paddock where the ponies grazed during school. Everyone used to watch when the Stringer twins tried to catch their old hack after school, somehow he used to always step away at the last moment. This made them late home nearly every day, but gave everyone a good laugh!

Ben lived over the hill to the south, a good three and a half miles walk away. He was the only one who didn’t have a pony. His mother was widowed when he was just three, and between them they managed to scrape up a living on their five acres by rearing hens, milking a cow and fattening two pigs for the market. Ben had never tasted pork because the pigs were always sold.

Old Claude owned the farm next door, but his house wasn’t close, it was across the river and up a long track. The village people, especially the kids were scared of old Claude because when he rode his big white horse up to the village for stores or pipe tobacco, he looked like a baddie from the wild west with his sundowner hat, puttees wound around his trouser bottoms to keep grass seed out of his socks, and a long-rifle in its scabbard!

The strange thing was that when Ben’s mum needed help, old Claude would arrive, sort of out of the blue, and he would help her solve whatever problem she had at the time. Which is why Old Claude became a sort of mentor to Ben. Not a father figure, a mentor. Telling him about the old ways and showing him practical stuff. Both Ben and old Claude knew the quickest was to the village was through the rail tunnel, albeit a dangerous route. They knew because old Mrs. Doak was deaf, and she used to walk the line looking for spilt coal – she just wasn’t aware of the coming train!

Following the road was not very direct and as well, from each side the hill there was a long, slow climb, which made walking tiresome. Old Claude took Ben with a slasher each to open up a walking track through the gorse alongside the rail line. The railway men had formed the track when they were widening the tunnel. He had tried walking anyway along the track but it was awkward for Ben because he had to more or less jump or skip from sleeper to sleeper. So with the track open, the walk was almost flat to where the tunnel went through, but there, there was an easy bulldozed track that came out on Glencoe Road.  From there it was an easy stroll to the school. The track took three days for the pair to clear, the hard work soothed by conversation and cold oatmeal water.

Old Claude knew about pet day and the pony contest so the Saturday previous, he told Ben that he could ride his white horse to the school that day and enter him in the competition. Ben had ridden the horse many times before, most times under the watchful eye of old Claude, but for the rest of the weekend Old Claude had Ben practice riding around barrels and curry-combing the horse. They checked his feet and teeth as well and applied boot polish to his hooves. They decided it was best not use a saddle so Old Claude cut a chaff-sack-blanket for Ben to sit on. All the horse needed was a rope bridle.

The ride to school was uneventful and the horse performed beautifully around the barrels and Ben threw three out of five balls into the bucket of water from the horses’ back. Equal Herb Welsh, they were the best! But Gertie Granger won best pony, probably because she was dressed in frilly pink and she had dressed her pony with ribbons the same colour. The other students had laughed when Ben wrote on the board that the horse’s name was Ammo. He thought to quite appropriate because old Claude’s surname was Gunner! Ben reckoned the kids laughing put the judge off!

He wasn’t disappointed, he was just happy he had ridden Ammo to school, so the other kids could see that he was a proficient rider. Ammo seemed happy to be heading home and trotted along briskly, but Ben brought him to a halt when Pat Gibson’s foxy, Kim, stood his ground in the way, looking glum. Ben dismounted, and knowing Ammo would not stray, left him standing there. He followed the small dog into the kitchen to find the widow waking from unconsciousness but lying in a pool of blood. She had a large gash on her head and she had obvious fallen from the stool when the jam-pan she was reaching for clonked her on the head. He found a clean tea towel, soaked it in water and after washing the wound, he told Pat to hold the towel firmly over the gash to stop the bleeding. The told her he would return presently with his mum.

Ben mounted the white horse and galloped home. His mother quickly gathered disinfectant and other materials she thought would be useful and they were just going out the door when old Claude arrived. The three soon arrived at Pat’s house and the assessment was quickly made that she needed stitches! Old Claude told Ben to take Ammo and gallop up to the township to call Dr. Stubbs. He told Ben to give the horse his head and he would get there in quick time, his word was true.

Dr. Stubbs was pruning his roses, and after an out-of-breath Ben’s explanation of the situation, the doctor cranked his jalopy and drove off in a cloud of smoky dust – accompanied by the odd banging of back-fire! Meanwhile Ben steered Ammo back down their track and arrived back at Pat’s house as the last stitch was being tied off. His mother had made Pat comfortable with blankets and cushions and had brewed tea for everyone. Dr. Stubbs told them that Ben’s good sense had indeed saved the day for Pat, and he sternly shook Ben’s hand. He assured them that Pat was going to fine after the stitches were removed after about a week.

At Monday morning assembly, the head teacher called Ben to the front! The lad went red while the teacher repeated to the assembly what Dr. Stubbs had told him about Ben’s heroics. And he reddened again, not knowing where to look when the school clapped. But the surprise came when the teacher presented Ben with two shiny half-crowns that Dr. Stubbs had said he thoroughly deserved!


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