Billy Smith ran along behind his dad, tugging at his donkey jacket. “But we can’t move away from here!” he cried. “I wouldn’t be able to work at Applegate Stables at the weekends. I’d never see Drummerboy again!”
His father turned to face him. “We’re gypsies, Billy. We’re travelling people. Besides, that Mr Fawcett from the Council has decided to throw us off the site. It’s no good, lad. You’d best forget that pony.”
“But we’re entered for the cross-country race on Sunday!”
“Then you’d better make the most of it, Billy. We’ll be moving on at the end of the month.”
When Billy went to Applegate Stables that Saturday morning, Drummerboy could sense something was wrong. He looked forward to seeing the young gypsy boy - he was always so cheerful. But today, Billy hardly spoke a word.
The Saturday morning ride was all ready to leave the stable yard, and Billy was riding Drummerboy, as usual. Just as the line of horses was about to move out, a big red car swept into the yard. The horses all snorted and whinnied with fright.
Out of the car stepped a fat, smartly dressed man with grey hair - and then a young girl. She was wearing the most expensive white jodhpurs, navy blue hacking jacket, and brand new riding boots.
“That one looks the best,” said her father, pointing at Drummerboy. “You don’t mind if my Emma rides your horse, do you boy? Good.” He turned to Madge Summer, the owner of the stables, who was leading the ride. “Fawcett’s the name, Councillor Fawcett. Emma will be riding here every Saturday. See to it that she gets the chestnut pony every week, will you?” He pushed a wad of money into Madge’s hand, then drove out of the yard.
“I’m afraid you’ll have to give up your ride on Drummerboy this morning, Billy,” said Madge. “He isn’t yours, after all, and Councillor Fawcett is a very important person. He’s the man who’s presenting the trophy at tomorrow’s cross-country race.”
So Billy got off and mounted a young black colt, while Emma rode Drummerboy that morning. She did not speak once as the line of horses trotted through the fields and walked along the country roads. After an hour, Madge turned the ride for home.
“You’re a good rider,” Billy said the Emma as his pony drew level with Drummerboy, not far from the stables.
“Daddy paid for lots of lessons,” said Emma, but she did not smile or look Billy in the face. “Here he comes now, to give me a lift home.”
The big car came roaring over the brow of the hill. When Councillor Fawcett caught sight of his daughter among the riders, he sounded the car horn two, three times.
All the horses were frightened, and Drummerboy reared up, his nostrils flaring. Emma was sent flying over his tail, and landed on her back. The car screamed to a halt and the man ran towards his daughter.
“I’ll have that animal destroyed!” he bellowed. “Stupid animal - it’s obviously a killer. Look at its rolling eyes! My daughter could have been killed! I’ll have that horse put down tomorrow, I promise you.”
“I’m perfectly all right, Daddy,” said the girl, getting to her feet. “Please! I’m all right.”
But it was no good. Drummerboy’s fate was sealed. He was to be destroyed as a dangerous animal as soon as the vet could call at Applegate the next morning.
Billy went home to his grandmother’s caravan on the gypsy site and, for the first time in years, he cried.
“What can I do, Granny? He’s a good, gentle horse. Everyone knows he is. He was just frightened by that big noisy car.”
“There’s nothing for it, Billy,” the old gypsy replied after much thought. “You’ll have to do a moonlight flit.”
“A what, Granny?”
“A moonlight flit, boy. You’ll just have to run away together. We gypsies will be moving on soon, anyway - thanks to that Councillor Fawcett.”
Billy stayed awake all night thinking about what his Granny had said. The in the morning, before it was light, he slipped out of the gypsy site and ran all the way to Applegate, clutching Drummerboy’s bridle in his hand.
It was still dark when he got there, and nothing stirred in the stable yard. But, as he opened the door to Drummerboy’s stall, he could hear that someone was already in there!
A gentle sobbing was mixed with the sounds of Drummerboy’s gentle breathing. Emma, her expensive clothes all crumpled and dirty, was holding the pony’s head in her arms and crying.
“Oh Billy!” she whispered when she saw him. “Why must Daddy always be so cruel? He always wants me to be the best at everything. He always wants me to win. I came here to try and save him. I thought I’d...I’d…”
“Do a moonlight flight?” said Billy. “Yeah, that’s why I’m here, too. But listen, I’ve got a plan. You’re a good rider. But are you brave...and can you ride over jumps?”
The two of them sat down on the straw bales in Drummerboy’s box and worked out their plan. The pony, who had been restless since the disasterous ride and felt safe again now...and loved.
Just as dawn was breaking over Applegate, they saddled him up and led him out of his stall. Drummerboy didn’t make a sound. Then Emma rode him to the woods.
At midday, riders from all over the area gathered for the annual Luckton cross-country race. There were tough, wiry little ponies and tall, lanky horses. There were farmers, and riders from the local hunt. A few older boys had entered, but the course was too hard for children.
At the last minute a small chestnut pony joined the other competitors on the starting line. A pale young girl sat in the saddle, scratching the pony’s head between his ears.
People in the crowd said, “She’s much too young. Whoever is she?”
The flag dropped. The race was on. A hundred hooves thundered over fields, grassy tracks and round Applegate hill. The brushwood jumps were battered down as the sweating horses leaped them. Some riders fell over as the horses galloped across the river in a storm of spray.
Drummerboy had never been in a proper race before, and he was thrilled. But Emma’s hands were gentle on the bridle. Billy had entrusted her to Drummerboy. Now the pony was determined to carry her safely past the finish - and to get there first.
Councillor Fawcett waited anxiously at the winning post. He had no idea that Emma was in the race. He was worried sick because she had not been seen all morning.
He saw the leading pony in the race when it was still a good way from the finish - a little cehstnut pony with a tiny jockey on its back in a navy blue hacking jacket and dirty jodhpurs.
“Emma!” he exclaimed. And before he could say much more she tundered past him to the cheers of the crowd.
Councillor Fawcett hardly knew what to say as he presented the trophy to his own daughter, and pinned the blue rosette on Drummerboy’s lucky gypsy bridle.
“I know how you like me to win, Daddy,” said Emma in a whisper.
Madge Summers stood nearby and Emma’s father turned to her. “I’ll buy that pony from you. He’s a good little racer.”
By now Madge had heard the whole story from Billy. She was very rpoud of the boy for giving up his chance of racing - and saving Drummerboy’s life for a second time!
“Oh, I’m afraid the horse doesn’t belong to me,” she said, beckoning Billy over. “He belongs to Billy here. But I’m sure he’ll let Emma ride the horse every Saturday.”
Billy gulped in amazement. Madge had given him the pony! Madge had given him Drummerboy for his very own! But he thought quickly. He looked up at Mr Fawcett, who was trying to smile now and be friendly. “I’m terribly sorry, sir. But I’ll be taking Drummerboy away at the end of the month. I’m a gypsy and the Council is closing our caravan site.”
The Councillor turned pale. “Oh, um, well we, er, we can’t let that happen, can we? Not when my Emma is so fond of the pony. I’ll see what I can do…”
In the end, the gypsies did not have to leave their site - and Billy did not have to leave Applegate. He went on working there - and Emma became as good a friend to Billy as Drummerboy. Well, almost as good.