The Christmas season takes us back to childhood and stories, and amongst my books Peter Please's ' The Chronicles of the White Horse' is one I pick up and read again. It is a small story not in the league of great tales, but it features a boy and his adventures with a detective mole.
There is an air of mystic about it, the boy has to learn to be 'not there' invisible, to become like a stone, his mind has to become stilled so that there is 'no thinking', in this state he becomes at one with the world of nature around him.
The Great Iron age hillfort, that belonged to the people of the''White Horse'
The story rests on mystery and mists and eventually takes them to Wayland's Smithy; one night there is a full moon shining directly over the old stones and in the words of the story.."Creeping moss, whorled ferns, lichens, dead branches, grass clumps, shone on its back and side", in the party are the boy, Ben the mole detective and the White Rook. It is at this point that the drama of the story unfolds, the horror of something unseen begins to make itself felt. At first there is a low humming noise whistling through the trees, and slowly bats begin to appear dancing over the silvered moonlit meadow, but they are not quite bats they achieve sinister shapes, then they hear the padding of claws across the frozen grass. The little group have taken refuge in the longbarrow, in its cavelike interior, and they start to tremble as a great yellow-eyed monster appears in front of the stones.
Ben tells them to think marigolds, and slowly the monster disappears so that there is only a layer of leaves in front of the stones, a marigold starts to grow, and as suddenly dies. Followed by a whole host of other marigolds but they too die. The small group trapped in the cave of the barrow, start to imagine into life childhood horrors, the rook, a great eagle.
The story culminates in a shooting star falling to earth, and the great white horse, that is forever galloping across the downs, to once more take flight and gather the dead in...
"I could see it reining on a bridle of light, caught in mid gallop, halting awhile as it has always done and always will. The light barely touching the earth. I heard the sound of the star breaking. The night finished here. I was at the door of the manger. I could see its bloodstained hooves. I heard them pounding between the standing stones. Calling the night, calling the dead and all the things which have ended. Calling them home, no longer free to wander, choke and haunt the living... the night-mare had passed"
And a print of Jane Tomlinson's which hangs on my wall;