A Smile from the past and other stories




The telegraph boy rang the bell, and was greeted with a chorus of barks from the Rainers’, three dogs.

Shut up, Pongo ! Mutto, back ! Come here, Nobody !,”

Prakash, pulled back the barking dogs and opened the gate.

Taking the telegram, he hurried back into the house and handed it to his mother.

Must be from father, telling us when to leave”, he remarked.

Mrs. Rainer opened the envelope quickly, and took out the buff form and scanned it.

You’re quite right”, she said. “It’s from your father. He’s got accommodation fixed up for us in England. He wants us to leave here on the 12th”.

Prakash whistled.

On the 12th ! That doesn’t leave us much time, does it, ?”

Time for what ? I’ve had everything packed and ready for the last month”, his mother replied.

Prakash’s answer was prevented by the arrival of the two younger children. Gopal immediately spotted the telegraph form in his mother’s hand.

From Daddy ?” he asked.

Mrs. Rainder nodded.

Yes. He wants us to leave here on the 12th”, she replied.

Gopal gave a whoop of delight, while Lakshmi jumped into the air and clapped her hands.

There’s one I think you’ve all forgotten”, Prakash said soberly as the others turned their faces towards him. “What about Podge?”

There was a minute’s disconcerted silence.

Oh dear ! We had forgotten about Podgy ?” Lakshmi lamented.

How are we going to find him a home within five days, when we’ve been trying for so long?”

Don’t worry”, his mother tried to put on a cheerful face. “We’ve found a good home for the dogs., haven’t we? We’re sure to find someone for a dear little pony like Podge”.

But we’ve already advertised him”, Prakash pointed out, “and we didn’t get a single answer”.

That was probably only because the right person didn’t see the advertisement”, answered his mother soothingly.

But how are we going to find the right person ?” Lakshmi wailed. “We don’t want to leave Podgy with just anyone who might be unkind to him?”

Her voice wobbled at the very thought, and she ran quickly into the house to get a piece of sugar for her beloved pony.

There wasn’t any doubt about the Rainer’s love for their pony, but now with their coming departure so near, it became more and more imperative that Podgy should be found a good home quickly.

It was just two days before they were due to leave, that Mrs. Rainer called her children into a cunsultation with her.

It’s Podgy”, she began. “Padam Ram is very keen to have him. Of course he can’t afford to pay for him, but I think he’ll look after him all right”.

Padam Ram ? But he’s a dhobi !” Gopal objected. “Won’t he load poor Podgy up with clothes till he can hardly stand, just like all the other dhobis do ?”

I don’t think so”, Mrs. Rainer said optimistically. “He’s a kind old man. Look at the old dog, Moti, he had for years. He looked after it very well, and he was crying when it died”.

But a pony isn’t a dog – “Lakshmi was beginning, but her mother interrupted her.

It’s no use, children. We’re leaving the day after tomorrow, and there isn’t time now to wait and find the perfect home for Podge. We must just hope that Padam Ram will look after him properly. And I am sure he will”, she added hopefully.

And so it was that two days later, Podge the much-loved pony of the Rainer family, descended the social ladder and became a dhobi’s pony. Hard work was something he had never done before, but Padam Ram fed him well, so after a while he became resigned to his fate.

Padam Ram, as Mrs. Rainer had said, was a kind old man, and if Podgy had been able to remain with him, no doubt things would have been all right, but after about a year, the old man fell ill, and handed over the work to his son, Jagdish. It was then that Podgy began to feel in full the hardship of being a dhobi’s pony. He was now habitually over-loaded, and when he did not do his work quickly enough, often felt the weight of a stick on his flanks. It was on one of these occasions that slipping on some damp mud, he fell, soiling the clothes and spraining his ankle.

Jagdish was furious with him for spoiling the clothes, and even more furious to find that when he got up he was limping badly. Since Podgy now seemed completely incapable of carrying the load he was given, Jagdish turned him out to grass, which at that time of the year when all the grass had dried up, was the same as turning him out to starve. Looking for anything green he could find to eat, Podgy gradually wandered further and further away.

Gradually Podgy’s ankle mended, but by this time he was too far way for Jagdish to find him, and such a bag of bones into the bargain that it was doubtful that he could have carried the type of bundle that Jagdish was apt to load on his back.

For seven or eight months, Podgy wandered the roads alone on a endless quest for food. When the rains came and the grass grew thick and lush he was at last able to fill his tummy, and his bones began to protrude less sharply.

It was at this stage that he was picked up by a wandering tinker who saw in the little pony a means of moving his wares from place to place, with less inconvenience to himself. The tinker had much the same mentality as Jagdish, and once again the little pony was heavily over-laden, over-worked, and under-fed.

And so two long and weary years went by years devoid of any pleasures, and not even enough food to look forward to at the end of the day. He had got past noticing where he was driven, past noticing and past caring, when one day the smell of new mown grass suddenly made him lift his head and scent the air. They were passing a garden which seemed strangely familiar, and as they reached the open gate, Podgy suddenly remembered that he had been there before. He stopped for a moment and looked wistfully through the gate. His master, arrogant and impatient, urged him forward with a heavy blow. The ill-balanced load on his back swayed dangerously, and trying to save it, Podgy stumbled and fell, while the goods he was carrying fell with a clatter to the ground. With an angry oath his master tugged at this bridle, beating him brutally in an attempt to make the pony rise.

It was at this moment that a taxi drove up at the gate. A taxi laden with luggage and containing five people – a husband and wife and their three children. Five pairs of eyes took in the situation simultaneously.

The brute ! He’s beating his pony to death !” It was Prakash Rainer who spoke Prakash, a boy no longer but now after nearly four years abroad, already a young man.

Here – let me get out !”

Suiting action to his words, Prakash was already out of the taxi and wrestling with the tinker for his whip. He was followed at speed by his brother an sister, and while Gopal helped to wrench the whip away from the tinker, Lakshmi knelt down beside the exhausted pony.

By this time Mr. And Mrs. Rainer were also out of the taxi, and the tinker, now realizing himself outnumbered, was groveling before them, protesting his innocence and his abject poverty.

It was Lakshmi, who squatting beside the pony with his head on her lap, made the startling disclosure.

Mummy ! Daddy !” she cried, in a voice which trembled with excitement, “Do you know who this pony is ? It’s Podgy ! Our own poor darling Podgy !”

Her mother hurried over to her side.

But Lakshmi, how can it be ? How do you know ?”

I’ve just found the little scar on his neck where he caught it once on some barbed wire. Don’t you remember ?”

Her mother nodded and knelt down beside her to examine the scar.

My dear, I do believe you’re right ! What an extraordinary coincidence !” She rose and turned to her husband.

Darling, do go up to the house with the luggage and pay off the taxi, and when they’ve finished, get the servants to come and help to carry in our poor little

Podgy. Oh, and you’d better ring up the police as well. We should make a charge against this horrible man”.

Mr. Rainer went off to do as his wife had asked, but the man hearing the word ‘police’, gathered up his things at high speed and made off in a hurry.

Podgy, weak from exhaustion and lack of food, opened his eyes and looked up at the faces looking down at him, He did not know who they were but they struck some chord in his memory, and he knew that he had seen them before.

Half an hour later, bedded down on some fresh straw, with a bucket of warm bran mash and a bundle of sweet grass beside him, Podgy, if he had ever heard of Heaven, would have wondered if he was there ! For a little while he closed his eyes and dozed in blissful contentment till a slight sound wakened him. He opened his eyes. Three faces, the same three faces he had seen before looked down at him with loving concern. A warm glow seemed to envelop his entire body. With a little whinny he struggled to rise and three pairs of willing hands helped him to his feet. He knew now that he belonged to them and they to him. He was at home again, and he was going to stay there for ever and ever.

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