SMUDGE

Smudge was a little man. He inspected his new surroundings curiously and not without suspicion. But he found he had nothing to complain about. This was quite unprecedented, and for a minute he was at a loss.

His room was large, light and airy, and they had even provided him with a door to suit his stature. He looked out onto a rolling green orchard, sloping down to a tinkling stream on the right, and bound on the far side by a forest. It was a pleasant prospect altogether.

This was too good, he thought, there must be a catch somewhere. No doubt he would be worked until he dropped, and no thanks for it either. He was no chicken, he knew all about people and their foibles and it made him sick to be dependent on them. He coughed disagreeably. Then he cocked his head.

Three children were approaching across the orchard. Smudge liked children but was surprised to see only three. They crowded round him, jumping up and down, waving their arms.

‘Oh, aren’t you small!’

‘Isn’t he sweet – and so smart!’

Then the little boy came and stood in front of him. He stood there, gazing right into his face.

‘I like you,’ he said. Just that. Smudge grunted and touched the boy on the shoulder.

When they had gone, Smudge turned his attention to his neighbour, an ugly man twice his size, who, after a first curious glance, took no further notice of him. This annoyed Smudge, although he was well used to being slighted.

‘Just you an’ me, eh?’

‘Yeah – that’s it,’ Copper grunted back.

‘No girls to worry us?’

Mr. Copper’s silence told Smudge all he wished to know.

Work started the next day. ‘Can’t they even wait for a fella to settle in properly?’ Smudge grumbled to his neighbour as he went out.

However, the children were keen to start and were quite nice to him, so he got down to business willingly enough. He enjoyed their attentions. Although he knew he was a fine specimen of a man, it was nice being told this so often.

As time passed it became quite obvious that he was fast becoming ‘Someone of Importance’. Then he began to forget himself and would behave a bit rudely towards them out of sheer boredom.

One day, when he was peacefully eating his meal, and his mouth was full, the boy came bursting in on him. Smudge never liked being disturbed when eating, and without thinking, he turned his back in a menacing way.

It could have been nasty. The boy burst into tears and ran away. Smudge was immediately sorry, but it was too late.

Then a lady arrived.

At the best of times, females were the bane of Smudge’ life. He loved them, and was, deep down, a very friendly soul. But they always ignored him utterly.

He was curious and friendly towards the newcomer, Ms Fandango. He quivered with excited anticipation at meeting her. But, apart from a first cursory glance, his overtures were blatantly ignored. She took an instant liking to Mr. Copper, and Smudge brooded miserably.

However, one day, he had to escort Fandango to an important function while Copper stayed behind. His little heart pulsated with pleasure. When they left home, she was nervous, and he enjoyed soothing her fears. His heart thrilled when she lost him in the crowd and frantically called for him. She really did need him, and was not afraid of admitting it, either. She wasn’t a bad looking lady either.

Then she won a prize, and everybody was overjoyed, including Smudge who offered his sincere congratulations.

‘Oh – thank you.’ She stared over his shoulder, and then she turned her back on him. Smudge seethed with indignation and hurt pride.

Soon afterwards the boy approached and began making preparation for a competition, but Smudge refused to concentrate. When the boy tried to make him do something, Smudge dug his toes in. The onlookers gasped in dismay and the boy broke into tears of frustration.

Alone, later, he brooded miserably. Of all the homes he had been to, this was the happiest; but he had been discarded for lesser sins before, and he feared the worst.

‘I don’t know what’s happened to Smudge,’ he overheard the little boy complain, ‘why doesn’t he want to co-operate anymore?’

                    ‘He may get over it, but we’ll have to do something about it if he doesn’t.’ The words sounded ominous to Smudge, who suddenly realised the harm he was doing. He tried to improve his behaviour, but the boy was now frightened of him.

Then, to his surprise, he was given another chance. It was the Open Championship on the final day of the show. Tentatively, he co-operated, although at one point in the proceedings he almost rebelled. Then came his turn to show off.

Resplendent in his gleaming skewbald coat, Smudge trotted forward. With neck arched and tail proudly flowing, he glided round the arena bearing the boy carefully on his back. Faultlessly he performed numerous intricate movements, and then came to a proud halt before the judges. There was no question about the result. The multi-coloured rosette was produced and tied onto Smudge’ bridle and a Challenge Cup presented to the boy.

The crescendo of clapping from the crowd deafened them. It was a memorable moment … and then Smudge forgot himself. Carried away by the glory of the occasion, he lowered his head and gave a buck of triumph; and then another one … and another. The trophy clanged noisily to the ground, its black base rolling separately away. The crowd hushed into a hiccough of silence.

Then through the air the little boy’s voice rang thinly, “Come on Smudge – let’s go!”

With one final buck, and the boy clinging to his mane, Smudge galloped the length and breadth of the arena. He slithered to a stop, fearing the worst. But the boy rolled off laughing tears, and smothered him with pats.

Back home, Fandango’s eyes widened with admiration when she saw his enormous trophy and nickered an adoring welcome over her stable door.

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