Fairy Rider By Leonie Roderick
Dillon calls the horse – not that the horse is listening. But as soon as he holds out the piece of bread heaped with fish-paste the horse lifts his head and it looks as if he is sniffing the air before trotting up to the two boys.
Peacy laughs delightedly. Dillon has explained some math problems to him and as soon as he rides off on his horse, Peacy can go and work on those sums. He is sure learning a lot from his new friend.
Dillon and his parents took him in and when Peacy’s mother arrived to talk to them she decided to stay on as well. There is no actual housing shelter. Dillon’s parents are going to build them a small place near their own home so that they can share electricity with them. Richard and Meav Young explained to his mother how he was going to need a computer for school and especially when he attends college. The younger children would also benefit from it. It will take time to get the place built and in the meantime he is staying with his mother in the township.
Dillon saddles the horse without any difficulty and Peacy is again surprised, remembering how the horse liked to play up and the trouble he used to cause.
It really is something to watch boy and horse together. They look happy and fit, as if born to ride together over the warm earth.
Peacy turns away from Dillon and goes back to the kitchen door where his mother is working. He will get something to eat before tackling the math problems.
Dillon rides off and lifts his head, enjoying the hot sun baking down on his face. He feels happy and even peaceful. All he really wants is a visit from Dream-Girl – then life would be perfect.
He rides off to the bush. He will turn away and ride to the border of the farm as soon as he gets to the brush. He doesn’t want to ride Darling into the dense woods. He doesn’t know his way that well and is afraid the horse could step in a burrow and hurt a leg.
When they reach the brush he pulls softly at the bridle to turn to go to his right. The horse has other plans. He lifts his head and shakes it as if he wants to get rid of the bridle. His front legs tread the earth softly. He does everything slowly and softly as if he doesn’t want to scare his rider.
“You want to take me places, Darling? I think you want to show me a special place. Take your time and please, don’t hurt yourself,” Dillon tells the horse.
The horse turns back and gracefully, makes his way through the brush until he swerves to his left. Dillon watches in silence as the horse slowly twists. It’s darker here with only patches of dappled sunshine coming through the green leafy roof. On the ground the layers of leaves are like a thick carpet, smothering the sound of the horse’s hooves.
Dillon sits back and wonders what is going on. He watches the way the horse is going and softly pats the black neck.
The bush is quiet, with only birds’ chirpings, sounding up now and then.
At last the horse stops and Dillon looks around him. They are in a small clearing with bright sunlight pouring down on them. In front of him is a big baobab-tree, one of the biggest he has ever seen.
“Is this what you wanted me to see, Darling?” he asks softly and slides down to the ground.
The surrounding trees nearly hide the big, old tree. The trunks of the trees are thickly covered with grey-green moss. His footsteps sound up loudly in the sanctified silence, stopping the bird song. Through the silence his heart hammers. His mouth is dry, his breath racing audibly in excitement.
He walks slowly around the tree. It’s like all baobab-trees, with a few limbs reaching like waving ghost arms into the air. Its leaves are sparser than other trees. He stands looking up into the air, wondering how old the tree is.
The trunk is thick and he rests against it spreading his arms wide. Dillon stands back and can’t help but laugh at himself. It would take quite a few people to circle the trunk with their outstretched arms.
“Darling, did you want to show me the tree? What do you want me to do?”
The horse ignores him. His ears are shifting slightly and he turns his head as if listening to unheard voices.
“What do you hear, Darling?” Dillon turns his head from side to side and tries to pick up the slightest sound but he can’t hear anything other than the soft breeze blowing along the long grass.
He slowly circles the tree and then stops. There is a neat door built into the trunk. Not a modern door, but a handmade contraption with a rough handle and chain fastening onto a hook. The chain is rather the worse for wear. Sliding the chain off the hook he pushes at the rough slated wood. The door slowly swings open with a creak. He watches in fascination but the door doesn’t open all the way. The door lets a small shaft of light into the trunk – enough for Dillon to make out an open space. Then he remembers reading somewhere that there was once a tree that was used as a bar in the gold digging days. This space is big enough for a man to walk through without difficulty. He slowly takes a few steps back and tries to figure out what he is seeing. Then he goes forward more boldly and pulls the door open until the hinges protest with a harsh cracking of wood. Dillon jumps back, waiting for the tree to start toppling over. When this doesn’t happen he starts laughing uncontrollably.
“Reaction,” he assures himself out loud and it’s as if his voice brings calmness to his shaken joints.
. He walks back to the opening and stops in the door – still careful. He is no fool!
With his head pushed through the entrance he observes the inside. Someone has taken time to hollow out the trunk of the tree. Against one trunk wall there is a sort of stool made of rough wood. On the seat is a lantern covered with dust. It’s a lantern like none he has never seen before. It must be very old. He slowly enters and lifts it and blows the dust and cobwebs from it. Turning it in his hand he tries to see if there is a name printed on it? If there was one it was worn off long ago. Turning he sees a package wrapped in leather. He picks it up and the leather feels old and brittle in his hands. By this time his curiosity is over powering. He opens it up, three books spill from his hands and he bends down and picks them up and tries to read the inscriptions. Even in the near darkness he can see the books must be very old and are in bad condition.
The covers feel slick and damp and the pages are fragile. Some pages are even stuck together, words faded to near nothingness. Deterioration has got to them and he softly closes them and wraps them in the leather before taking them out of the hidden cabin in the trunk. Luckily there is no human skeleton or skeletons of any other animal. The place is infested with numerous insects and mouse droppings. The spiders must love the cabin. Their webs are like excessive Christmas decorations, all over the rough sponge-like walls. He looks around him but there is nothing else to help him identify who has lived in or used this special cabin.
What a neat hiding place this is! This would have made an ideal cubbyhole or meeting place or den for a gang. He can imagine the wonderful times he and his friends could have had here. Instead it looks as if nobody has been here in decades.
“Darling is this what you wanted me to see? Do you think we are going to need this hiding place? We’ll take the books back home where we can study them, but I think we must keep this a secret for a while. There must be a reason why you brought me here. If someone may need this in the future, it would be better if not too many people knew about it. It should be cleaned out thoroughly before a person could enter with safety.”
Dillon slips the books beneath his T-shirt and then mounts the horse. He can only hope his body heat will not harm the books but there is no other way to get them home without any saddle-bags.
At home Peacy appears but Dillon waves him away.
“I’ve got this, go and do your maths and we’ll talk when you’ve finished.”
He quickly unsaddles Darling and leads him to the trough.
Once in his room he closes the door behind him and takes out the books. In the light he can see they are in a worse state than he thought and he is actually shivering with the thought of having had the books next to his skin. He carefully places the books on his bed and rushes to the bathroom. A quick shower will do.
Once back in his room and dressed again he sits down on the bed and opens the books. The text is nearly illegible from the damp, in spite of having been covered by the leather pouch.
In one book he makes out a name written on the first page. Someone named B. den Haak or den Baak. Even looking through a magnifying-glass he can’t make it out.
There is a date printed beneath the name. It looks like 1935 or 38. Well, at least it shows the books must be very old, as is the hiding place.
He must remember to ask Peacy if Darling has ever been on their farm and the nature of the baobab tree.
Dillon sits with one of the books in front of him when there is a soft knock on the door and Peacy enters the room with an exercise book in his hands.
Dillon closes the book and puts it on his desk, pushing it out of harm’s way.
“Peacy, do you know the history of this farm? Did people by the name of den Baak or Haak ever lived here or somewhere in town?”
“I don’t think so. I can ask my mom, or one of the older people – but I’ve never heard that name.”
“I found a book with the name written in it and I wondered.”
“I’ll ask around. Do you want to look at my work?”
With a smile Dillon opens Peacy’s book and starts looking over the sums he wanted Peacy to do. His smile broadens as he reaches the end of the pages.
“You did well. I don’t know why you were so afraid your work was not up to standard.”
“You took your time to explain it to me before I started the exercise.”
“Tomorrow you’ll do more sums and in the meantime I’ll give you work to read. Mr Baltimore sent me some books which the school in town is going to use and I did some reading. It would also help you if you knew some of the work beforehand. We can discuss it tomorrow when we do some chores.”
“Thank you Dillon. My mom told me how she prayed for me to find help. She wanted me to continue school but she didn’t know how it could be done when my father died. I remember how she stayed up at all hours after his death and how afraid we were.”
“We’ll both have to work hard once school starts again. We must do really well. I want to be admitted to the university near where I used to live. You must get into some college or wherever you want to go – and we can only do that if our scores are high. As you know there are many pupils competing to get into all the facilities that are available – and only the pupils with the highest marks will be allowed to enter.”
“I want to become a good teacher, but what do you want to do once you’ve
finished with school?”
“I envy you because I don’t know what I want to do. I think I would like to study medicine like my dad but sometimes I wonder how it would be to be an attorney.”
“It must be difficult for you with so many choices. My dad told me to learn to be a teacher from my youngest age and I never thought of becoming anything else.”
“Peacy, as I see it, you have the world at your feet and if we can work together, you will have as many choices as you want to make. Dream-Girl told me once I should never stop learning. That is the value of education; you can continue to learn, even if you never open a book. She said life was a school and each day a page to learn from…”
Dillon grins “It’s a long story and someday I’ll tell you about it. That reminds me: Have you ever heard of a ghost rider in the bush?”
Peacy nods his head silently.
“Please tell…” Peacy is invited.
“Some of our people said they saw a girl riding a big black horse in the middle of the night. They were coming from a wedding and took a short-cut over the farm next door. They swear they saw a girl riding in the bush. Now no-one will go near Land’s End when it’s getting dark.”
“What about the people who work there? I understand it’s an old man and his wife.”
“They have lived there a long time and they say they never want to leave. Mrs O’Shea is very good to them. They leave the farm seldom except when they visit the family once or twice a year. We asked about the ghost but they only laugh, saying those people must have been drinking too much at the wedding.”
“Do you know two cousins, Peter and Norma Baintree?”
A small smile plays around the black mouth, flashing the white teeth. “I know them. You will never find them talking to me like you are doing, Dillon. Their family has farmed here for generations and they think they are better than others because of it.”
“I met them at church on Sunday and didn’t like them. They want to organise a ghost hunt. They want to go to Land’s End and stake it out. I don’t know what to do. I don’t like telling tales but I think I should warn Mrs O’Shea what they’re planning.”
“I think you should tell her, Dillon. I know Mrs O’Shea doesn’t encourage visitors and even my auntie and uncle who work there obey her wishes. We don’t go and visit them – ever. I don’t like to think of those two going to spy on her and her farm.”
“Thanks Peacy, you cleared up a difficult problem for me. Tell me about Darling.”
“I told you all there is to know about that horse.”
“I want to know if the horse was ever brought here, to this farm,” Dillon asks.
“Why do you ask? I told you he was born there at Mr Smith’s stud-farm and never left until we brought him over.”
Dillon watches the other boy with a frown, trying to make up his mind if he should tell him about that den in the old baobab-tree.
“Peacy, how glad are you to be here?”
Now Peacy is frowning. “I told you how grateful I am, Dillon.”
“Are you grateful enough not to speak of a secret if I ask you not to?”
“Do you want to tell me something, Dillon?”
“I want to tell you of something that happened this morning but I want you to keep it between us.”
“If you ask me I will never speak of it, I promise.”
“When Darling and I went riding, I wanted to go around the bush but he wouldn’t. He walked right into it and I let him have his way. He stopped at a really big baobab-tree.”
“I didn’t know there was a baobab-tree there in the bush. I thought I knew where all the big trees are but I’ve never heard of this one.”
“Darling stopped and I felt he wanted to show me something. I got down and walked around the tree. There was an opening at one side and it was dug out or carved out into a den. There was even a sort of a chair in it and an old-fashioned lamp and some books.”
“I knew that horse was meant for you. He wanted to take you to this secret den. I wonder why?”
“How is it possible that such a carved-out tree can exist?”
Then he remembers. It’s not that scarce. The baobab tree is probably the most written about tree in Africa because of its big and monstrous look.
He tells Peacy what he has read and about the one that was used as a bar in the good old days when prospectors were looking for gold. It must have been real funky at the time.
The baobab-tree is a funny sort of tree. They don’t have the same root system as other trees do, with a main one going deep into the ground. Their trunks are like cork and fibrous.”
Telling Peacy a bit of the history of the tree he read about he says lightly: ‘’That explains so much. I can now understand how it is possible to have that den, snug in a tree.”
Once he is alone he knows he can’t postpone the call to Delia O’Shea.
It’s somewhat of an ordeal for Dillon. He isn’t used to going where he promised not to.
“Mrs O’Shea,” he explains as soon as she answers. “This is Dillon Young. I want to ask if I can come to see you some time. It’s sort of important. At least, I think it’s important.”
She hesitates a few seconds before she invites him softly:
“I shall expect you tomorrow morning. How will you get here?”
Dillon grins delightedly.
“I have a horse and shall ride over.”
“I’ll be waiting…” she tells him and puts the phone back on the cradle.
Chapter 13 is one of my personal favourites in the book because I have been inside a similar tree once.