Author Topic: Slugger and the medals.  (Read 4383 times)

Offline MidnightZodiac

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Slugger and the medals.
« on: July 29, 2012, 07:50:13 AM »
Over the years, I've written several short stories, all of course based around horses. I wrote three based around the characters of Follyfoot, but lost two due to a meltdown (the computer's... not mine), although by a strange quirk of fate, the one that survived was my favourite of the three. I keep thinking about ideas for Follyfanfiction based on either Steve's departure at the end of series three.... or alternatively Steve's non departure at the end of series three. How I wish there'd been another series that tied up all the loose ends, but I suppose that like everything else in the world of entertainment, Follyfoot was ruled not by those that loved it, but by accountants that could only see figures for potential sales balanced against production costs.


A tale based on characters from Follyfoot, created by Monica Dickens.

The smell of frying bacon wafted across the yard… From within the small stone farmhouse kitchen, Slugger’s voice called to the three of them.
“Breakfast… Come and get it…”
Dora, Steve and Ron put the final finishing touches to the yard and after putting away the brooms and forks, raced each other to the kitchen door in a fit of childish giggles.
“Oh “said Slugger in mock surprise “You managed to tear yourselves away from work and ‘orses then…”
The three of them ignored him, their high spirits still evident as they jostled for a place round the table.
“Here we go then, ladies first” announced Slugger as he planted a plate immediately in front of Dora.  She looked down at the meal packed onto the willow pattern. Slugger may have his faults, but cooking a full English breakfast was not among them. There in front of her were bacon, sausage, eggs, mushrooms picked from Follyfoot’s own fields, fried bread, and tomatoes. Good food, good friends and a yard full of good horses, what more could the modern 70s girl want she mused to herself.

By the time she picked up her knife and fork, Ron and Steve were half way to finishing theirs, but at least between mouthfuls they managed to thank Slugger for his efforts...
“Yes, thanks Slugger” echoed Dora, slightly embarrassed that she had been last to thank the cook. Slugger sat down at the table and attacked his own breakfast. In between mouthfuls of food, and swigs of a hot, dark brown liquid, that he optimistically called tea, he announced in a rather theatrical voice,
“For my next trick I shall produce an identical breakfast at the same time tomorrow morning, tadaaaaa” Then in a more serious tone he turned to Dora, “I hope you’re goin’ into town today gel, I have a list of supplies a mile long, and nothing in the fridge for the day after tomorrow.”

Dora’s heart sank, she knew that the monthly trip to the bank was imminent, but as always she had put it off or as long as possible. She also knew that this coming Friday was payday for Ron, Steve and dear old Slugger, so she had no alternative but to face the monthly ordeal, of bank clerks, bookkeeping and bill paying.
“Yes of course Sluggs” she smiled “Let me have the list and I’ll take care of it this morning.”
By now the two boys had finished their breakfast, and started to disappear from the kitchen with slices of bread coated thickly with the homemade strawberry jam that Slugger had been given by a lady friend, concerned by his bachelor lifestyle.
“Hold on you two, whose turn is it to wash up?” Dora demanded, an edge of strictness in her voice. Steve turned and checked the penciled chart on the wall.
“Yep” He smiled “Just as I thought, Ron is today’s washer up”
“Bloomin Heck” Grumbled Ron, almost under his breath “I’m sure my blinkin names on that list more than anyone else’s. What is it, be kind to horses, but cruel to Ron week?”
“Do you want to borrow me Marigolds?” enquired Slugger with a grin. Ron merely growled and started to run the tap.

A short while later, Dora was in the Land Rover heading for town. At the bottom of her wicker basket was Slugger’s shopping list, the Follyfoot chequebook, and the bills she had to pay. Being midweek, she was able to park near the town square. Picking up her basket from the passenger seat, she walked toward the office of the National Provincial Bank. Luckily the bank was almost deserted as she sat in the foyer and wrote out a cheque for the substantial amount that she would need to see Follyfoot through the coming month. She approached the counter and handed the cheque to the cashier.
“Thank you Miss Maddocks” The cashier scrutinized the cheque “Won’t keep you a moment”.
The cashier took the cheque across to a rather overweight, bald headed man. She showed him the cheque and the two of them whispered to each other, occasionally casting a look in Dora’s direction.

Slowly, and almost with great effort, the bald man left his chair and made his way to the counter.
“Good Morning Miss Maddocks” He beamed. “I’m afraid we won’t be able to pay this cheque.”
”But” Said Dora “There should be funds transferred to this account from my uncle, Colonel Geoffrey Maddocks. He sees to it every month…”
”Well” the bald man replied “I am aware of that Miss Maddocks, but there has been no transfer this month, and taking into account that you are already seven pounds and ninety three pence overdrawn without an overdraft facility, I cannot honour this cheque.”
“Well, can you find out where my uncle’s transfer has gone? Can’t you just ring someone, or something?” pleaded Dora, “I really need that money to pay bills and the staff.”
But the assistant manager was unmoved, he merely told her what branch of Barclays in London the transfer usually came from, but added that as it was her uncle and not her that held the account there, they would probably be unwilling to discuss his account with a stranger.

Dora left the bank with the impression that in truth, they really didn’t want to handle the Follyfoot account, though she couldn’t understand why. They were doing important welfare work, helping horses that would otherwise have been in dire straits. Yes they operated on a shoestring, but that was unimportant, they were a lifeline for those horses that had nowhere else to go, for those that had slipped through the net. It wasn’t until she got halfway back to Follyfoot Farm that she realised the awful truth… To most people horse welfare was simply not an important issue.
"We shape horses, then they shape us, but, we must be what we want our horses to become."

Offline MidnightZodiac

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Re: Slugger and the medals.
« Reply #1 on: July 29, 2012, 08:10:55 AM »

As she pulled into the dusty drive that led to the Follyfoot yard and house, Dora could see Ron and Steve in one of the far paddocks. Accompanied by the Fordson Major and trailer, they were picking up horse droppings and piling them in the trailer.  It lifted her to see them working together, for she knew that the two of them didn’t always see eye to eye. Ron Stryker was red haired, brash and self centered; she knew that while he was good with the horses, he’d be equally at home working in a garage or driving a van. Steve Ross, on the other hand, was the complete opposite. Dark haired, quiet, almost bashful. But he had a way with him that made horses trust him from the first time they met. Several times she had seen him work his magic on a frightened or violent horse, and frankly she was impressed, almost slightly jealous of his talents.

Steve’s one weakness was Dora herself. Although she was largely inexperienced in matters of men and the heart, she couldn’t fail but notice the amount of interest he paid her. Mind you, she had to admit that this attention boosted her ego… and if she was totally honest, there had been times when she was alone late at night working on the Follyfoot accounts, when she had practiced signing the name Mrs. Dora Ross…Though as the daughter of a diplomat, currently serving in South America, she really couldn’t see her parents approving of a white wedding to someone like Steve. But there again, she had already broken away from her family and the pampered lifestyle, to do what she felt was her calling. Perhaps she and Steve together could make things better for horses in the future… Currently though, it was the present that worried her.

Slugger was the father figure that kept everything together. He had worked for the Colonel for years, thinking him to be one of the noblest men he’d ever met. He too had noticed the attraction that Steve felt for Dora, but never mentioned it directly and certainly never used it as a weapon against Steve, as Ron often did. No, Slugger was a bit of an enigma, he only ever revealed tiny parts of his past… No one even knew if there had ever been a Mrs. Slugger, or whether he had any family, or how he’d come to meet and work for the Colonel in the first place… Dora mused that he was like the lightning tree that stood in the yard, strong, silent and always having been there. In a way, she thought him to be all that her own father was not. Oh, it wasn’t that her father didn’t care for her, just that diplomacy and foreign embassies were more his line than problem daughters obsessed with horses. In fact it had been quite a relief to him when his older brother, the Colonel, had suggested that Dora came and stayed with him at his home and Follyfoot for a while.

Dora stopped the Land Rover and climbed out. She wasn’t surprised to see Slugger’s head, complete with knitted tea cosy hat, appear round the barn door… “Well gel, you look like you’ve had a bad day… Wanna’ cuppa and confide in your ol’ mate Sluggs?”

Over a cup of Slugger’s infamous brew, Dora poured out the whole story. How the Colonel’s transfer of funds hadn’t arrived, how the bank had refused to allow her to draw any further money from the Follyfoot account and how she’d only got £1.27 in her purse which wasn’t going to get them very far. Slugger rubbed his chin and appeared deep in thought.
“Well, the Colonel wouldn’t let you down; he’s a man of his word. But,” he continued ”That bank manager has been after having your uncle’s account for a long time. He knows the Colonel’s worth a bob or two, and it sticks in his craw that the only thing he’s got is the Follyfoot account. And we all know there’s not a lot to be earned from that…”
“Still leaves me in a mess though.” Sighed Dora “What am I going to tell the others?”
“Is there petrol in the Land Rover?” enquired slugger.
“Yes, way over half full” Dora replied.
“Right then, don’t worry, keep quiet, leave it with me and I’ll be back when I can…”
A couple of minutes later, she saw Slugger walking out to the Land Rover with a polished wooden casket under his arm. He climbed in, started the engine, and then disappeared down the track in a cloud of dust.
"We shape horses, then they shape us, but, we must be what we want our horses to become."

Offline MidnightZodiac

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Re: Slugger and the medals.
« Reply #2 on: July 29, 2012, 08:13:33 AM »
At the end of the working day, Ron and Steve emptied the trailer, parked the tractor and returned to the farmhouse for a wash and well earned cup of tea. Secretly they were both delighted to learn that Slugger was away on business, and that Dora herself had made the brew, though for entirely different reasons. For Steve it was a chance to get closer to Dora, but for Ron it was another chance to gather ammunition for use at another time. Both asked where Slugger had gone, but Dora deflected the questioning by serving up another cup of tea, accompanied by slices of bread and butter smothered in the last of Slugger’s strawberry jam. Dora secretly wished that wherever Slugger had gone, he wouldn’t be away for too much longer.

As they sat in the kitchen drinking the last of their tea, there came a soft knocking at the door. Dora went to see if it was Slugger returning, but instead she found an elderly man dressed in clean pressed clothes that would have been fashionable in the 1940s, topped off with the typical Yorkshire flat cap.
“Good afternoon Miss” said the stranger removing his cap “I’m sorry to bother you, and I don’t even know if I’m in the right place, but is this t’farm that ‘elps unwanted ‘orses?”
It was clear from the old man’s apologetic stance that he was unused to talking to those that he considered higher up the social ladder.
“Yes it is” Dora used her most charming voice to put him at ease “What can we do for you?”
“Well Miss its Cyril you see… He’s retiring and I can’t afford to keep him see… Not that he eats a lot… “
Dora gave the man one of her smiles, and gently asked him to start the tale from the beginning, adding that it might be easier if he came in, sat down and joined them in a cup of tea. She felt sure that there was just enough strength in the tealeaves to make just one more cup.
“Oh, right, yes. Thank you Miss.” After seating himself at the table, and accepting the tea she made for him, the elderly man started to tell her of how he and Cyril, a black Shetland pony, had been together through thick and thin. But now he faced being redundant, and at his age he knew he’d never find another job that would pay enough for him to care for Cyril. Although he didn’t want to let him go, he knew that it would be unfair to keep the pony without enough money for vet and farrier visits, and though it was breaking his heart, he had to find somewhere for Cyril to spend the rest of his days that would be safe and loving.

Dora rather wished that the old man hadn’t come and asked them about taking Cyril. She knew that the Colonel had forbidden her to take any more horses in while he was away, also given the precarious state of Follyfoot’s bank account, making long term plans didn’t seem like a good idea.

She had to make a decision, without giving away too much to Ron or Steve, so she began by starting to tell the old man that at present they really didn’t have room for another horse, no matter how small he was. Just as the old man was starting to realise that Cyril was not going to be able to live out his days at Follyfoot, Steve jumped in with a plan…
“I reckon, that if we move the two mares from High Oak, to Brook Paddock, then move the older geldings from Brook Paddock to Pinetrees, then the three ponies that are on there could go to High Oak, and there’s more than enough grazing at High Oak for four ponies…”
Secretly Dora had been thinking along similar lines, but still trying to hide the financial problems she started to mention the lack of a stable for the Shetland should the need arise. Once again Steve outflanked her,
“Well, we can use the old cart shed, there’s a lot of old timbers in there that we can use to put a front on it and make a door of sorts…. Might need to patch the roof, but the stonework is sound…”
Luckily neither Steve nor Ron picked up on Dora’s reluctance to take the pony, or they might have found it rather strange…

“Well” she smiled at the old man “Looks like Cyril’s found himself a new home… When do we expect him?”
“Oh that’s champion… Thank you Miss, Thank you lads” the old man beamed “I’m hoping that I can get him here as soon as possible, not that I want to see him go you understand, just that now t’decision’s been made, I really would…” his voice faltered at the thought of saying goodbye to his faithful pony.
“Oh we understand” said Dora taking over the conversation “We know that it’s best to get these things over and done with quickly, so we’ll expect Cyril sometime over the next couple of days… But please remember that you’ll be welcome to come and visit him whenever you feel like it.”
“That would be right lovely Miss; it’s just that the ol’ bugger and me have been together so long it’s gonna be right strange wi’out him…”
The old man never finished his sentence; instead he pulled on his cap, and slowly walked across the yard to the track… Rude, some might have thought, but Dora knew better, she knew that his eyes were full of tears, but he was too ashamed to show that in front of someone he didn’t know.

“Oh well” said Ron “There goes the Colonel’s instructions about taking in more horses… I have a feeling you will no longer be his favourite niece when he gets back.”
Oh don’t start Ron” Steve jumped in “You know we never turn away a horse in distress if we have a chance to help… That’s what Follyfoot’s all about.”
“Huh, I‘ll leave you two to explain it to the Colonel then, just don’t forget to tell him I was against taking…”
”That’s enough from the pair of you” snapped Dora “It’s my responsibility, and I’ll tell the Colonel. If there’s any trouble I’ll be the one that’s in it, not you.”
Both the lads were shocked by Dora’s sudden outburst. Steve tried to speak but nothing came out, meanwhile Ron kicked his elderly motorbike into life and rode off home. In the confusion no one noticed the Land Rover returning until a familiar cheery voice came through the kitchen door,
“Blimey, he’s in a rush, ’ave you two been fighting again.”
Slugger was back.
"We shape horses, then they shape us, but, we must be what we want our horses to become."

Offline MidnightZodiac

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Re: Slugger and the medals.
« Reply #3 on: July 29, 2012, 08:15:25 AM »

After Steve had said goodnight and wandered up to his bedroom above the barn, Slugger reached into his back pocket and pulled out £200 in used five pound notes and pushed it towards Dora.
“Where did that come from?” she whispered even though now they were alone. “I hope you didn’t do anything silly…”
She’d never have believed that Slugger could lay his hands on so much so quickly.
“Here take it gel…” he beamed “Just consider it an interest free loan, until the Colonel’s money comes in.”
“Slugger I couldn’t possibly…” she started, but Slugger cut her dead,
“You don’t think I’d let the Colonel’s niece and Follyfoot run into trouble while I have the power to stop it do you... Besides I know the Colonel transfers £250 each month to cover all Follyfoot’s expenses and I know that those costs are paid for out of his own pocket.”
Dora was a little surprised that her uncle had told Slugger so much about his financial contributions towards the farm.
“Don’t look so surprised gel.” Slugger continued “The simple fact of the matter are that I’ve know your uncle these last thirty odd years or so… and now and again, secrets passed between us for the simple reason that there was no one else here to discuss these things with.”
Dora nodded, despite her being of tender years, she immediately realised that her uncle and Slugger must have far more in common than was immediately apparent.

“Before I take this Slugger, I have to ask how you were able to raise this amount of money…. Did it have anything to do with that wooden box you were carrying when you left here?”
Sluggers face immediately changed… “Don’t worry gel, that’s honest money and that’s all you need to know for now… But, when I’ve known you as long as I’ve known your uncle, I’ll tell you all about it… Now gel, run along get the bookwork up to date, and get the wages ready… You know I like a little drink at the ‘Flying ‘Orse’ of a Friday evening.
Dora went through to the small sitting room that her uncle referred to as ‘the office’; and sat behind the desk, with Slugger’s £200 in front of her. She still felt guilty about taking it, and she tried several times to start dividing it between the wages and the bills. It eased her conscience a little when she decided not to take any pay for herself. She really didn’t need anything this coming week and if she ran out of deodorant, then she’d just have to smell like a horse for a few days.

It was getting on for one in the morning when she finally locked the office door, but even at that time sleep evaded her. As she closed her eyes, all she could think of was how close Follyfoot had come to disaster. What she needed was a way she could raise funds independently of the Colonel’s monthly transfer, but how? They didn’t have space to take in liveries; she didn’t think there were any more locals who wanted to learn to ride. Each and every idea she came up with she discounted almost immediately. All they knew were horses, usually old, broken down horses at that.

The next couple of days passed without incident. Dora visited the bank again just after opening on Friday, but still there was no news about the Colonel’s transfer of funds, nor had the bank made any effort to find if the transfer had somehow gone astray. Biting her lip, Dora politely thanked the cashier, turned on her heels and left. Slugger had managed to produce quite a hearty breakfast that morning, but even his secret supply of goodies wasn’t inexhaustible, so Dora lashed out on enough basic foodstuffs to last them for nearly a fortnight. Then on the way home she settled both the vets and feed merchant’s bills. About half of the loan from the Bank of Slugger had already gone and to make matters worse, she had to lash out another three pounds at the village garage to top up the Land Rover.

When she arrived back at Follyfoot, she caught her first glimpse of Cyril, the farm’s latest resident. The old man was back, with the little jet black pony. Cyril’s coat gleamed in the morning sun, and although a little worried about what was happening, he reveled in being the center of attention. Slugger was busy cutting up an apple and feeding slices to the pony and even Ron had to admit that Cyril had a better shine on him than any other Follyfoot resident. They had spent quite a while moving the horses round the previous afternoon, and High Oak was ready to take its new resident… They only hoped that the other three ponies would accept this stranger too. They all walked Cyril up to High Oak, with the old man having a firm grip on the pony’s lead rope. When they reached the pasture Slugger opened the gate and the old man led the pony onto the lush green grass “There you go old mate” he said to the Shetland “Have a good time, but don’t pinch too much o’ t’grass, or thy feet’ll swell.”
Sadly he reached around Cyril’s neck, released the head collar and stood watching as Cyril wandered off to start his new life. Quietly the group wandered back to the yard, where the old man shook hands with everyone, thanking them for giving Cyril a home.

“Don’t forget” said Dora brightly “Anytime you want to visit, just turn up, you’ll always be welcome here”
“Thank you Miss, I might just do that. But I’ll give him a while to settle first, the last few days has been a wrench for t’pair of us and no mistake.” He could tell by the warm smile on Dora’s face that her offer was genuine, and he knew in his heart that although he was going to miss Cyril, he had made the right choice for him.
“Could we offer you a lift home? Dora enquired; her face still bright.
“That’s very kind Miss I’m sure, but if it’s all the same to thee, I’d just like to be alone for a while…  With me thoughts like….”
The old man’s voice trailed away to near silence. Dora understood instinctively, and she watched as the man turned and shuffled out of the yard. He seemed to have aged twenty years in the last few minutes.
"We shape horses, then they shape us, but, we must be what we want our horses to become."

Offline MidnightZodiac

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Re: Slugger and the medals.
« Reply #4 on: July 29, 2012, 08:17:59 AM »
The rest of the day was quiet and uneventful. Steve and Ron once again battled with the never ending piles of droppings on the pastures, and Slugger spent the afternoon clearing timber from the cart shed ready for it to be rebuilt into Cyril’s stable. When Dora took round the pay packets she found him covered in dust and cobwebs.
“Thanks gel.” He smiled as he took the small brown envelope that contained his wages.
“I feel such a fraud.” Replied Dora. “All I’m doing is giving you your own money back.”   
“Oh, never mind that … Tell you what, why don’t you join us at the Flying ‘Orse tonight, you know bit of a sing song… “
“Thanks Slugger.” She replied “But truthfully I’m not very good company at the moment. I have so many things going round in my head….”
“Yeah, I know gel” said Slugger “Not always easy being in charge is it? But you’ve done OK so far…” Slugger turned back to his task after firmly tucking his pay into his back pocket…
“Remember” he called after Dora “You don’t have to be perfect and the invite to the ‘Orse still stands…”

It was nearly half past eight by the time that Slugger entered the saloon bar of the Flying Horse. He half hoped that Dora would appear, but strangely half hoped that she wouldn’t. Not that he disliked her, far from it, just that sometimes he felt she took things a little too seriously. Take this money business for example; he’d raised the cash to help her by pawning some things that belonged in his past. They belonged to a different Slugger, one that had been dead for years now, and one that the new Slugger wasn’t particularly proud of… Although the things he’d pawned were of quite some financial value, he was almost glad to see the back of them. If he were a braver man, he’d have taken the box down the cut years ago, and thrown the bloomin’ lot in, celebrating as they sank beneath the murky waters. But he wasn’t brave, he didn’t have the courage to throw them away, he just kept telling himself that he was justified in keeping them for a rainy day…

The clock in the snug chimed nine, and Slugger was just on the point of ordering another pint, when he became aware of quite a ruckus coming from the public bar. He was just about to find out what the commotion was all about when the snug doors burst open. In came a large man dressed in an Abercrombie coat, a huge cigar between his fingers, and most shocking of all, Slugger’s polished wooden box under his arm.
“Hello Slugger. Just ‘aving a laugh with some of your mates next door… Thought you might like to join us… “
Slugger’s heart sank to his boots… There in front of him was a ghost from his past, much older and certainly fatter was his arch rival from years ago Jim ‘Hurricane’ Jarvis, one of the nastiest, meanest human beings ever to walk the earth.
"We shape horses, then they shape us, but, we must be what we want our horses to become."

Offline MidnightZodiac

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Re: Slugger and the medals.
« Reply #5 on: July 29, 2012, 08:20:40 AM »

“Well after all these years…”Jarvis continued, “Slugger Jones and I meet face to face once again.”
“Did you think you’d outwitted me Slugger, disappearing off the fight scene all those years ago?”
Jarvis laid the polished box on the snug table….
“And look here, I have all your worldly goods, in a tiny wooden box… Apt really Slugger, you always was tiny...”
Slugger looked at the box in dismay “How did you get your hands on those….”
“Well” started Jarvis blowing a cloud of cigar smoke at Slugger “You know how I always like to help the community, sort of lending funds to those poor unfortunates that are in need… I own a chain of pawn shops across the country now and…”
“Oh, that’s about your level Jarvis” interjected Slugger “Making money out of the poor and needy.”

Jarvis ignored Sluggers outburst and continued “When Mickey, the manager of my Harrogate shop, rang and told me that he’d taken in a load of boxing and military medals, the coincidence was too great... I knew they had to be yours…. “Another puff of smoke wafted across the table toward Slugger. “Then it was a simple matter of checking the address you’d given, and sending one of the boys down to ask a few questions of the locals…”
Slugger got up to leave…
“Going so soon Slugger” Jarvis sneered “Sit down and listen to what I have to say…”
Reluctantly Slugger settled his frame back into the carved wooden chair once again.
“The last time I listened to you I was banned by the Boxing Board of Control, for taking a dive…”
“Yes” said Jarvis “That was unnnnforttttunate” He almost hissed the last word as though he was deliberately trying to stress the point.

“I’ll get right to the point… I want these boxing medals for my own collection… My shop has already advanced you £200 against them… so just keep the money and I’ll have these…” Jarvis opened the box and caressed some of the gold and silver shapes inside.
“What, so you can have some backstreet jeweller engrave your name over mine…. “ started Slugger “So it looks like you were the champion, and can impress all your mates… I’d rather take them to Bridlington and hull them off the pier…”
“Mmmm want more money Sluggs…we all have a weakness… let’s say £300….” Jarvis’ tone was soft, but carried an underlying sense of menace. ”After all, wouldn’t want anything to happen to that Army Major you live with”
“He’s a Colonel” corrected Slugger…
“And that daughter of his, Dora isn’t it…. So very pretty, it would be such a shame if she was thrown off her pony in the middle of nowhere…. Someone could bleed to death before they were found Sluggs”
“She’s ‘is niece” Slugger corrected once again “And nothing is gonna happen to her or…”
“Or what Slugger… you’ll fight me… again…” Jarvis started to laugh… he laughed so hard that the ash fell from his cigar and rolled down the front of his expensive coat…  But it was in that instant that Slugger had a germ of an idea….

“All right then” said Slugger “I accept…. “
It took a few seconds for Jarvis to finish the last of his mirth... “Accept what?” he chuckled.
Slugger leaned forward across the table. “I accept your proposal for a fight… One last clash between two mortal enemies…. Still up for it are you…. Or money made you soft?”
Jarvis fell quiet, he was used to threats of violence… That came with his lifestyle, but outside of a boxing ring he always had his ‘lads’ to prevent trouble reaching him, but this time he’d be on his own… He eyed Slugger up and down and his confidence grew, there was no way an elderly overweight horse feeding cook could trouble him… Just a few punches and the medals would be his… simple as that.
“I beat you all those years ago Slugger, doing it once more shouldn’t be a problem… And just to add a little spice, a financial incentive if you like, you win I give you the medals back and you keep the money I lent on them…. But if I win, as I expect to, I keep this box of beauties and you pay me back the £200… Agreed?”
“Agreed” nodded Slugger, adding “And the fight will be at Follyfoot Farm, in the comfort of the hay barn at eight o’clock this Sunday evening…”

Jarvis collected up the box and tucked it under his arm, and with a curt nod to Slugger swept out of the snug to round up his group of ‘lads’ from the public bar…Slugger could hear that already the news of the fight was spreading like wildfire, and shortly after he was approached by Kenny Simmonite, who was well known throughout the area for his illegal bookmaking activities. “Well Slugger” Kenny started “Looks like you’ve got a fight on your hands old mate…. But errr, tell me this, can you beat him…”
Slugger buried his head in his hands, and just mumbled back to Kenny…. Something along the lines of snowballs and Hell. In his imagination Slugger could see Kenny gleefully rubbing his hands together as he worked out the odds.
"We shape horses, then they shape us, but, we must be what we want our horses to become."

Offline MidnightZodiac

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Re: Slugger and the medals.
« Reply #6 on: July 29, 2012, 08:22:58 AM »
It was late by the time Slugger got back to Follyfoot. Dora had retired for the night, and Slugger saw her bedside light go out as he crossed the yard. Steve’s bedroom over the top of the barn was in darkness too and despite the hour, Slugger knew he’d have to wake Steve to enlist his help. Gently he tapped on Steve’s wall until he got a response. Steve was still almost asleep when he sat up in bed rubbing his eyes, “What is it Sluggs, trouble with one of the horses?”
“No.” said Slugger “It’s far worse than that mate… I’m in trouble and need your help…. Can I come in?”
Absent mindedly Steve pointed to the bed and as Slugger perched himself on the end Steve grabbed his shirt and jeans. He dressed quickly then stood spellbound as Slugger told of the chain of events that had led to tonight’s confrontation.
“So, what you’re saying.” Said Steve “Is that Dora and Follyfoot were in real trouble till you stepped in with the loan?”
“Yes” replied Slugger “But I’m sure that the Colonel’s monthly transfer of money has simply gone astray somewhere… He wouldn’t just abandon us and stop paying for all our work….”
“No Slugger, you’re right. The Colonel was the one man prepared to give me a chance… so if I have to repay that by helping you…” Steve looked deep in thought “But what exactly is it you want me to do?”
“Well ….” started Slugger, choosing his words carefully. “Ron’s off for the next couple of days, and he told me he’s taking one of the village girls to a pop concert down south…”
“If his bike gets that far.” interrupted Steve.
“The thing is he’s out of the way at least till Monday morning… But I really need you to take care of Dora….”
Slugger pressed a five pound note into Steve’s hand. “I see that new film ‘Love Story’ is on at the flicks… and as Dora was talking about wanting to see it…. You’ve got to ask her out…”
Steve spluttered “Oh come on Sluggs, I mean she’s the boss…. And besides we’re from different backgrounds… and”
“Steve you don’t have to hold out your little pinky when drinking a bottle of cola in the fleapit….Besides, I’ve seen the way you two look at each other… All that’s happening is that I’m giving nature a little helping hand…. A sort of gentle shove like...”
“But Sluggs, five pounds is half a week’s wages….”
“Then take her to the village local on the way home, but not the Flying ‘Orse, buy her a glass of wine and talk about ‘orses... That subject alone should keep you busy till closing time…”
“But, how do you know she’ll even come out with me?”
“She will, it’ll do the gel good to get away for a few hours. Just make sure that she’s away from here by seven on Sunday evening… and back here as late as possible…”
“Alright, I’ll try…” nodded Steve.
“No, don’t try…do it.” Said Slugger “And while we’re on the subject, we’ll need to have those bales of hay tidied in the barn down below. Dora did say they needed to be moved ready for the new stuff…. So we’ll just be one step ahead of her for once.”

The next morning broke bright and early. It was Saturday but as all horsey folk know, there is never really time off when horses are in your blood. The three of them sat round the table and were just finishing their breakfast when Slugger turned to Dora and started, “Steve was telling me only the other day that he’d like to see that new film too…”
“Really Steve.” Dora immediately perked up, “Are you a fan of Ryan O’Neal too?”
“Of course he is Dora… he was only saying that he’d seen all his films and was looking forward to going this very Sunday evening to see his latest…” Slugger was now at his most charming and chatty. “In fact I think it would do the two of you good to see the film. Why don’t you go together…? I’m sure I can stand the strain of looking after Follyfoot on my own for a few hours.”
Both Dora and Steve had glowing red cheeks, but Steve’s almost matched the tomatoes that Slugger had fried to perfection as part of the breakfast.
“Errr yes” Steve stammered “Would you like to, Dora, I mean we could, if it’s OK, I’ll pay…”
“Yes I’d love to.” said Dora, kindly putting Steve out of his misery.

After breakfast Steve left to go and start the yard work, but Dora hung back. When she and Slugger were alone, she turned to him and asked,
“Am I really that bad Slugger that grown men can’t ask me something outright?”
“No gel, you ain’t that bad” said Sluggs “But the same qualities that make him good with ‘orses, makes him backward with ladies… ‘course if you’d prefer ‘im loud and brash…..”
 A smile lit up Dora’s pretty face, partly hidden behind her long dark hair, “No thanks Sluggs… I think I like him the way he is.”
"We shape horses, then they shape us, but, we must be what we want our horses to become."

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Re: Slugger and the medals.
« Reply #7 on: July 29, 2012, 08:24:42 AM »

The remainder of the weekend passed quite quickly, until at last it was Sunday evening. They did the last of the horse work, but both Steve and Dora declined when Slugger asked if they’d care for a cooked Sunday tea. “Nerves” he thought to himself as the pair of them retired to their respective bedrooms to prepare for their evening together. Dora had been very pleased with Steve and Slugger when they revealed that they had already cleared and swept the hay barn ready for the deliveries of fresh hay that would soon be arriving. Little did she realise, or even begin to suspect the real reason why the pair had cleaned the place to perfection.

At quarter to seven Dora appeared. She was wearing the camel coat with the big collar and tie belt, topped off with a newly purchased wide brimmed straw hat, complete with a broad silk band and fake roses.
“Ah” said Slugger “Looks like you ain’t dressed for ‘orse care tonight gel.”
Dora gave a gentle blush at Slugger’s compliment.
“Well I don’t dress up very often nowadays.” She said “This sort of thing is from my old life.”
Steve appeared from the barn, more smartly dressed than anyone had ever seen him before.
“Run along now you two…. You look the perfect couple, and I’ve even swept the Land Rover out so you’ll stay clean” Slugger grinned, forgetting for a few seconds the ordeal that was facing him.

Almost as soon as the Land Rover cleared Follyfoot’s drive, a convoy of vehicles started to pour in. Word of the fight had spread, and besides Jarvis’ Bentley, there were vehicles carrying spectators from all points. Despite, or possibly because of, his wealth, Jarvis was not popular, and most of the assembled crowd was there only to see him get his comeuppance. While Slugger went off to his bedroom to prepare for the fight, a ring with canvas floor was being hastily assembled in the now empty barn. As soon as it was ready, the spectators filed in, till the barn was a seething mass of humanity. There were villagers, including a couple of grooms from the neighboring stables, ladies and gents, some in full evening attire, all packed like sardines into the barn.

In one corner of the ring, seated on a small wooden stool was Jarvis. His two seconds helping him to tie the strings of his soft leather gloves that were to do so much damage to Slugger. Across the back of his matching shorts and dressing gown, his nickname ‘Hurricane’ was embroidered in a dark contrasting style. Despite his years and the extra weight he was carrying, he still looked every inch the boxer. If image counted for anything the fight was already won. When Slugger appeared at the barn door, the whole barn fell silent. Then cruelly a ripple of laughter passed round the spectators. There he stood, khaki army PT shorts, grey vest and prewar style gloves on his fists, the strings still dangling on the ground for he had been unable to tie them on his own. But most comically of all, his tea cosy hat was still firmly perched on his head. One of the spectators stepped forward, offered to act as second for Slugger, and then made a start by tying the laces on his old well worn gloves.
“Trying to make me look stupid?” Jarvis’ voice boomed across the ring. “Mind you, probably just as well you never bothered to dress for the occasion, you won’t be here that long, and bloodstains are so very difficult to remove…”
Slugger was unmoved by the taunts coming from across the ring. “Let’s just get on with it.” He growled.
The referee, a small man who was a stranger to Slugger talked them briefly through the rules, then suddenly a bell sounded somewhere behind Slugger and the fight was on. Jarvis advanced and fired a couple of blows at Slugger, one missed by a mile but the second connected, and winded him. Before Slugger could return a punch, Jarvis backed off slightly, and then attacked again, this time his blows hitting Slugger in the face and chest. Once again Jarvis backed off, but the bell sounded before he could repeat his attack.
"We shape horses, then they shape us, but, we must be what we want our horses to become."

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Re: Slugger and the medals.
« Reply #8 on: July 29, 2012, 08:26:43 AM »
The man acting as Slugger’s second dabbed at his face with the towel, handing Slugger a small bottle of water and the bucket that he might rinse his mouth. The bell sounded all too soon and round two was underway. Slugger took even more punishment in the second round, and was relieved to hear the bell that meant a few seconds rest. Jarvis sat on his stool in the opposite corner, completely unmarked by Slugger’s gloves, and so confident of victory that he was even managing to laugh despite the bulk of the gum shield in his mouth. Round three went the same way as the previous two, but with the added danger of Slugger taking a blow to the left side of his head, and dropping to the canvas just before the bell sounded for the end of the round. On the verge of unconsciousness Slugger dragged himself back to his corner, where his stand in second was preparing to throw in the towel… “No” he gasped; “Let me finish my last fight in the ring…”

The bell sounded for the start of the last round of the night. Jarvis advanced on Slugger intending to finish him off as quickly as he could, and as soon as he was in range let fly with a vicious right to Slugger’s temple. However, just as the punch had started the journey towards it’s target, Slugger staggered slightly, as though he were about to pass out, and the gloved fist sailed safely past Slugger’s head until it stopped at the very limit of  Jarvis reach.

They do say that at times of great stress the human brain is capable of acting much faster than usual, and in the time that it took Jarvis’ fist to travel between Slugger’s head and the limit of his reach, he realised that he’d made a serious mistake. He’d left his body completely unguarded, and in an instant Slugger landed two blows to his stomach that completely winded him. Inexperience led him to do next exactly what Slugger was counting on; Jarvis lowered both his gloved hands to protect his now tender belly, leaving his upper half undefended. Jarvis’ seemed to be in a sort of slow motion, he could see Slugger’s glove coming toward him, but his own limbs couldn’t work fast enough to block the punch. In fact, that was his last memory of the fight…

With a sickening crunch the glove connected with Jarvis’ chin, sending his head backwards in a graceful arc. Then his entire upper body followed lifting both his feet slightly off the canvas. His full weight hit the ropes, which stretched till they could give no more, and then contracted, reversing his direction of travel… Until with a thud, he lay unconscious at Slugger’s feet, a small trickle of blood starting to stain the canvas. The bell sounded continuously and a great cheer rose up from the crowd. Jarvis’ seconds picked up their man and struggled off with him as the referee took Slugger’s hand and held it aloft. Before he had chance to avoid it, a group of spectators had swamped the ring, and lifted Slugger up on to their shoulders way above the crowd.

With good grace, Slugger accepted the adoration of the crowd, but deep down all he really wanted was to get Follyfoot cleaned up, and lick his wounds. As the crowd started to dwindle and the cars started to leave, Slugger was approached by one of Jarvis’ lads; he immediately recognized the polished box that he was carrying. “Good Evening Mr. Slugger, I’m James Jarvis Jr, errr I’ve been sent by my father, he wants you to have this back, and for you to know that the money advanced against it has been marked as paid up.” 
It was obvious that Jarvis Jr was having a great deal of trouble handling his father’s defeat, but he handed the polished box to Slugger….
"We shape horses, then they shape us, but, we must be what we want our horses to become."

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Re: Slugger and the medals.
« Reply #9 on: July 29, 2012, 08:29:08 AM »
By the time that Dora and Steve drove the Land Rover back into the yard, there was no trace of anything being out of the ordinary… In fact Dora could have sworn that the yard looked tidier in the Land Rover’s headlights than it had done for ages. The lights were still burning in Slugger’s bedroom, and after saying thanks and goodnight to Dora for a pleasant evening, Steve lightly knocked….
“Who is it?” came the question from within.
“It’s me, Steve, let me in…” Steve whispered in reply.
Silently the door swung open, and Steve entered only to see Slugger bathing the cuts and bruises on his face.
“Don’t worry boy…” Slugger started “There’s only a few cuts, I’ve have a lot worse a lot of times… Besides, I’ll bet that ‘Hurricane’ Jarvis feels a little windy….”
“So you beat him then?” asked Steve almost with a sense of wonder in his voice. Slugger nodded, and then Steve asked “How come you got involved with Jarvis in the first place then?”

Slugger bade him sit down, and started to tell him of his past, first swearing him to secrecy. “Well it’s like this, my folk come from the country, but when the war broke out in 1914, my mum and I moved to the East End… My Dad had volunteered for the army, and mum got a job in the munitions factory to help make ends meet so to speak. As I grew up, my mum got me into the local Boys club and that’s where I learned to box…. And you know what Steve, I loved it…. Not that I liked hurting people, just that boxing got me charabanc and train rides to other parts of London when we boxed against other boys clubs.” Slugger paused and his eyes glazed slightly as the memories flooded back. “As I got bigger my boxing got better and better, until at last I started winning county and regional championships….”
“Hence the medals….” Steve said.
“Yeah that’s right.” Slugger continued. “Anyway eventually I turned professional… I won fight after fight, but there was another boxer…”
“Jarvis?” enquired Steve.
“Yeah Jarvis… He was good, but to make sure he won his fights he put pressure on the other lads to loose… Bribery or threats, we all had our weaknesses…”
“Even you?”
“Yes, even me I’m sorry to say….We were gonna fight for the Light Heavyweight title, the current champion decided to retire you see. Now, with the money Jarvis had made out of boxing, he bought properties in the East End, including the block that my parents lived in…. He said that if he didn’t win the title, I’d likely find my family homeless by the time the fight was over…. So I had no choice, I had to let him win…. But, the judges who had seen me fight before knew that I wasn’t fighting anywhere near my best…. I had to admit that I was taking a dive, and my career was over… a life ban…”
“That’s a little harsh Sluggs…”
“Well things were different then Steve, but you know what, they ruled the fight null and void so Jarvis never got the title either, but in revenge he threw my parents out anyway… He simply wasn’t up to it if he couldn’t make threats or bribes… Anyway, after I was banned I worked fairgrounds and circuses in the boxing booth, taking on all comers…… Until that is, war broke out again, and I was enlisted into the army…Where I met the Colonel and became his batman.”

“I would never have believed all that of you if I hadn’t heard it for myself…” Steve started “By the way, how are you going to explain to Dora about the damage to your face?”
Slugger smiled as best he could. Reaching under the bed, he pulled out a box of empty beer bottles.
“Off you go Steve; shortly I’m gonna have a quick swig from this full one, then make noise on the stairs… Dora will think I fell down while drunk…Especially with a few of these empties lying around.”

As Steve was climbing the stairs to his hay barn bedroom, he heard an almighty crash followed by groaning coming from the farmhouse. Looking out of the tiny window that over looked the yard and house he saw lights on all over the house… So far it looked like Slugger’s ruse had worked.
"We shape horses, then they shape us, but, we must be what we want our horses to become."

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Re: Slugger and the medals.
« Reply #10 on: July 29, 2012, 08:30:51 AM »

For the next couple of days the atmosphere at Follyfoot could have been cut with a knife. Dora wasn’t actually avoiding Slugger, but it was plain that she didn’t approve of him falling down the stairs in a drunken stupor and damaging his face. On the other hand, it had been completely out of character and part of her wondered if he had perhaps had bad news or similar that might have made him go off the rails in that way.

Wednesday morning dawned bright, with a warm wind that blew fluffy clouds across an endless sea of blue. As the four of them were putting the finishing touches to Sluggers well prepared breakfast, the sound of a small motor bike puttered into the yard. After a few seconds there came a knock at the door and Slugger, being closest, got up to see who it was. They could hear muffled voices, then Slugger returned brandishing a hastily stuck down envelope. In his finest theatrical voice he announced,
“Telegram for Miss Dora Maddocks.” Then bowing low he enquired, “Will there be a reply madam?”
His antics brought a smile to even Dora’s face as she tore open the flimsy envelope.

She studied the telegram for a while then told Slugger that there wouldn’t be a reply, so he once again disappeared to the door. Then came the sound of the motor bike as it started its journey back to the village. Dora looked up from the typed sheet to see three faces all looking expectantly.
“Oh it’s from my uncle, the Colonel.” She beamed. “His government work is taking longer than expected; in fact he says that he will be away for six months longer than he hoped and that means he may not even be back till the middle of next year…”

After Ron and Steve had set off to take care of yet more muck picking, Dora cornered Slugger by the kitchen sink.
“There’s more in the telegram Slugger.” She confided. “The Colonel says that funds were definitely transferred to Follyfoot from his account at Barclays… So I’ll go and demand some answers from that bank.”
“Yes that’s it gel don’t take any nonsense from them.”
Dora looked hard into Sluggers lined face.
“Sluggs, you would tell... I mean if there was something wrong… Well you could always….”
Slugger smiled and stroked the side of her face, as a father would touch his daughter,
“Yeah, I know gel, I know…. But you don’t have to worry, everything’s settled now, and there’ll be no more falling downstairs…promise.”

As the day wore on things rapidly started getting back to normal, whatever had been gnawing at Dora since the weekend had obviously started to wear off.
“Well.” Teased Ron “It’s obvious she’s in love….. Probably withdrawal symptoms at not goin’ away with me for the weekend…. Jealously does terrible things to a woman like her.”
He ducked as lumps of horse droppings sailed past his head…
“Oi” he shouted at Steve, who was rapidly loading his fork for another shot.
Dora watched the antics from a distance, she was glad that she had stopped being so judgmental towards Slugger. Lifting her mood had made everyone a little cheerier.
"We shape horses, then they shape us, but, we must be what we want our horses to become."

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Re: Slugger and the medals.
« Reply #11 on: July 29, 2012, 08:33:53 AM »
As the boys unloaded the contents of the trailer onto the muck heap, they were interrupted by the arrival of a large grey Ford Zodiac saloon car as it swept past them into the yard. At the wheel was a younger man, in suit and tie who they had never seen before, but sitting alongside him was the old man who had donated Cyril the Shetland. Thinking that the younger man was obviously his son, Steve and Ron moved towards the car, and Steve opened the passenger door so the old man could alight.
“Hello, come to see Cyril?” Steve enquired. “He’s doing really well, settled in a treat…”
“Are you the manager?” the younger man barked at him.
“No, just one of the hands. Why?”
“Never mind the questions.” came the sharp reply “Just tell me where I can find the manager.”
Dora had been attracted by the arrival of the car, and crossing the yard quietly she was almost behind the younger man..
“Actually” she started “I’m the manager of this establishment.”
The man spun round on his heels as Dora held out her hand in away that had the man confused, for a second he wasn’t sure if he should shake it, or get down on one knee and kiss it.

“Maddocks.” She started. “Miss Dora Maddocks, what can I do for you?”
Dora’s inflection and obvious breeding immediately told the man that he was not dealing with a foolish, horse crazy teenager.
“Well Miss Maddocks, my name is Oliver Henderson, and I represent the National Coal Board… I’m here to find some of the Board’s property that’s gone missing. Namely pony number three five seven one nine, a black Shetland that answers to the pet name of Cyril.”
“Oh.” said Dora, now somewhat crestfallen. “When we took him in we had no idea that he didn’t belong to this gentleman…” she indicated the old man who had originally brought Cyril to Follyfoot.
“I’m sorry Miss.” started the old man “But t’truth o matter is that t’ponies are being got rid of, and I couldn’t bear to part wi’ Cyril. You see he an’ I ave been in’t pit together since he were mere slip of a lad… “
Dora knew she should have been angry with the man for deceiving her in this way, but part of her understood. What if it had been Cobbler’s Dream, would she have hidden him in an effort to keep him from being taken away…

The old man was keen to continue and to justify his actions in removing the pony, but Henderson motioned him to be quiet.
“Now if we may Miss Maddocks, I would like to go and see three five seven one nine, to make sure he is still in good order, and make arrangements to have him returned.”
The old man fell silent, it was obvious that this whole matter was rapidly becoming more than he could bear.
“Well. I’m sure that Cyril would be more than pleased to see his friend again.” Dora lifted the rather somber mood that had fallen. “After all, if they spent all that time underground together, I’m sure they both have many tales to tell…”
Henderson clearly wasn’t taking the hint, and remained quite quiet during the walk up to High Oak. As they walked Dora continued to talk to Henderson, giving him the background to all the horses that they passed and she was most relieved when, without exception, all of the horses came to their respective fences as the party passed.

As they reached High Oak Cyril and the other ponies came to greet them too. Dora noticed a small tear start to run down the old man’s cheek as he started to stroke Cyril over the fence.
“Well, here we are.” She said brightly. “As you can see, Cyril, sorry three five seven one nine, is in the best of health. But frankly, it is going to be rather a wrench for him to go back to a life underground now.”
“Well.” Henderson admitted. “I don’t really know that much about horses, but he does seem to be in as good a state now, as he was when he was stolen…” The word stolen seemed to stab Dora straight in the heart.
“Well I think stolen is a little harsh Mr. Henderson.” She countered. “More like to trying to save the life of an old and dear friend.”
“No perhaps you are right Miss Maddocks, but three five seven one nine is still the property of the National Coal Board, and as such has to be accounted for… We simply can’t have employees walking out the pit gate with Coal Board property hidden under their coats.”
Dora suppressed a giggle, the idea of the old man smuggling a chubby Shetland through the gates of the local pit rather tickled her….
“I’m glad you think it so funny Miss Maddocks...” Henderson started, trying to sound stern, but by now his mind’s eye was starting to see a secreted Shetland’s head poking out over the top button of a miner’s raincoat. It wasn’t long before the two of them were grinning like Cheshire Cats, each trying to outdo the other with ridiculous visions of undercover Shetland ponies.

While she was on the winning side she invited Henderson and the old man back to the farmhouse kitchen, where the three of them sat and supped a mug of Slugger’s infamous tea, while Slugger hovered behind them like a maid in not so fancy dress..
“Now Miss Maddocks” Henderson started between mouthfuls of the huge slice of homemade cake that Slugger had passed round. “The thing is that the local pit, plus the one at Brackenthorp are having to be dug deeper in order to extract the last of the coal reserves.”
Dora nodded.
“This means that the increased length of the galleries will exclude the use of existing underground transport facilities…”
By now Dora looked at a loss.
“What ‘e means miss, is that coal face will be too far for’t ponies t’pull coal tubs back t’liftshaft… It’ll need machines like….”
Dora’s face brightened immediately. “Ah, I see, and that’s why you wanted somewhere to hide Cyril, so that when the ponies were redundant he wouldn’t be taken away…”
“That’s it exactly miss, all t’miners love t’ponies… and think that luck’ll leave t’pit when they go like….”

Dora tried hard to visualise the common struggle of both the men and the ponies that worked together underground, sharing the dangers of working deep in the earth. She suddenly thought too, that despite all the wise words she’d read about the proper care of horses, the most important thing was not endless green grass... it was love, pure and simple. In a heartbeat everything became clear, things she had never even thought of before… Rag and Bone men’s horses kept in dingy yards in city backstreets, horses that had pulled heavy carts, shunted railway wagons and towed canal barges along those narrow towpaths... None of those were ideal conditions… but once again the horses thrived, and the horsemen gave the one thing that cost nothing, affection and a kind word.   Man and Horse united against a common enemy…life.

She was brought back to reality when Mr. Oliver Henderson put forward a suggestion that would change Follyfoot forever.
“The thing is Miss Maddocks; we at the Coal Board are not insensitive to the problems that will be faced by both our miners, and the ponies who have grown up working alongside them, but like all industries we must move on. This leaves me with the problem of what to do with the redundant ponies… Could you take forty?”
"We shape horses, then they shape us, but, we must be what we want our horses to become."

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Re: Slugger and the medals.
« Reply #12 on: July 29, 2012, 08:38:04 AM »

The two boys and Slugger had been more than a little surprised when during the course of the meeting with Oliver Henderson; Dora had calmly accepted his offer to care for forty redundant pit ponies. Following his departure they all had things to say to her regarding the amount of work involved, the need for extra feed and land, not to mention the Colonel’s express wish that no more horses be admitted to Follyfoot in his absence. However, over the next few days, the three of them saw a change in the girl who was so dedicated to the welfare of the horses at Follyfoot.

Slugger and Ron were surprised, and more than a little impressed that Dora had switched roles so easily. From the jeans and jumper wearing horse lover, she changed into someone that now had the inner courage to deal with life and business head on. She had sorted out the local bank, which by initially losing Follyfoot’s monthly transfer had caused Slugger’s little problem… She arranged and signed a lease on several acres of grazing especially for the pit ponies, and in addition, bullied the local feed merchant into giving a substantial discount… Based of course, on the increased amount of his products they would be buying to keep the new arrivals full and contented.

The only person not impressed with this new efficient Dora, was Steve.

 Late one evening, as Slugger was putting some things into the dustbin, he saw Steve leaning against the fence staring out over the paddocks, seemingly a million miles away.
“She’s still the same girl… “ he announced to Steve as he approached.
“Mmmm maybe, maybe not, I really don’t know any more. Anyway how did you know I...”
“Even a blind man could see what you were thinking about boy” Slugger gently chided him.
“And besides,” Slugger continued, “If you didn’t care you wouldn’t be out here staring at the stars…”
“The thing is Sluggs; she’s no longer the girl I used to fancy… she’s now so different. So …. So… Oh I don’t know, she’s just not Dora anymore.”
Slugger laid a fatherly hand on Steve’s shoulder,
“Yes she is, she’s exactly the same… The gel still has the same hopes and fears, the same desires, likes and dislikes that she’s always had. It’s just that now Follyfoot’s gonna be bigger and harder to run with all these ponies. “
Steve felt Sluggers grip on his shoulder slightly tighten.
“Thing is, she’s made a decision that could either make or break this place, and she’s dealing with her fears by acting tough… Like any good boxer she’s trying to shorten the odds and win the fight with words before she’s even got in the ring … But take my word, she’s frightened inside and still needs her friends around her…especially you.”
“Me…” started Steve.
“Yes you, you twit… She needs you more than anyone else. Are you the only one that can’t see it?”
“But …”Steve spluttered.
“Cor Blimey.” Countered Slugger, “She needs you to tell her that she’s doing fine… That no matter what happens you’ll always be there to back her up… That even if taking all these ponies turns out to be a bad move, you fully support her decision…”
Slugger’s tone dropped to one of gentleness, and he half whispered to Steve.
“Look it’s late, but her bedroom light is still on…. She’s probably laying there worrying about things… Just knock on her door and talk to her, tell her that everything will be OK, that’s what she needs to hear right now...”
“Do you think so?” Asked Steve, trying to delay the moment.
“What I think doesn’t matter, what matters is what you and she think… But if you don’t tell her, how’s she ever gonna know.” Slugger replied, gently pushing Steve toward the farmhouse.

Slugger lingered by the fence for a while, enjoying the solitude, stars and occasional quiet neigh from Follyfoot’s contented horses. Although not really a smoker, he lit up the remains of a cigar that the Colonel had given him ages before.  He inhaled the deep blue smoke, smiling gently to himself as he watched Dora’s bedroom light go out. “Good Luck” he whispered quietly to himself. That night was to be Dora’s first experience. All doubts and thoughts of horses pushed from her mind; she lived only for the moment … A moment she would remember for the rest of her life.

The next morning dawned bright and clear and after early stables the four of them sat round the farmhouse table as they devoured one of Slugger’s legendary fry up breakfasts. Both Dora and Steve were bright and vocal, neither giving away any hint of the previous nights happenings. Over a cup of Slugger’s dark brown tea, Dora suddenly announced that everyone was having a pay rise. Not much, she told them, only one pound per week each, but bearing in mind the extra work that the ponies entailed she considered it only fair that the three she depended on most should be rewarded.

While she was in the mood to keep them updated on Follyfoot’s financial state, she went on to explain how the NCB was paying them the sum of twenty five shillings, sorry one pound twenty five new pence, per pony per week, and that even with paying for the lease on the extra grazing, plus the feeds and the wage increase, Follyfoot was now almost self financing. Of course what the three of them immediately realised was that Dora’s little speech meant there was going to be more money to rescue more horses… the ones that couldn’t pay for themselves.

As they finished their tea, the hiss of airbrakes in the yard announced the arrival of the Coal Board’s immaculate horse box, and the last of the forty pit ponies.
“Oh well” said Slugger “No rest for the wicked I suppose…. Oh, and by the way Dora, a few weeks ago a friend of mine popped in for a look at the place… it was while you and Steve were out that evening… He was so impressed he said to keep his two hundred pound donation…”
“In fact...” continued Slugger “He was so impressed, you might say he was really knocked out by what he saw here…”
Steve and Slugger started to laugh, and did so till tears ran down their cheeks… Ron and Dora weren’t in on the joke, but the laughter was infectious and pretty soon all four were giggling and laughing as they emerged from the kitchen to unload the box of its precious cargo.

Follyfoot, home to equine (and human) waifs and strays, and to a tree that all hoped would start to sprout even after being struck by lightning, was going to be just fine… Well, at least until the next crisis came along……

"We shape horses, then they shape us, but, we must be what we want our horses to become."