Author's Note: This takes place late in Season Two.
If there was one animal that Siegfried Farnon understood on an instinctive level, it was horses.
Years of schooling and then work as a qualified veterinary surgeon had certainly augmented his understanding of horses and their needs. However, even as a boy, he had had an intrinsic sense about horses. About their manner, their feelings and their condition even though he couldn't always articulate or define what he knew. That only came with the passage of time and the experience of life.
Looking out over the field where a pony listlessly milled around its enclosure, Siegfried knew that the veterinary eye would chalk up its behavior to neglect and lack of exercise, both of which were certainly accurate. If this had been any other horse, Siegfried probably would have been satisfied with that diagnosis as well.
However, in this instance, Siegfried knew that there was another reason why this pony was acting the way that it was: because somehow it knew that its beloved owner was never coming back.
Siegfried had first met the pony four months ago. His owner, a young boy named Derry Ross, had just moved to Darrowby to live with his brother Dale on Dale's farm. Their parents had died two weeks previously in a house fire while Derry had been at school. At only twelve years old, Derry still needed someone to look after him and Dale was now his only living relative.
The only possessions Derry had when he arrived on his brother's pig farm were the clothes on his back and his pony which some neighbors of the boy's parents had kindly arranged to have transported to Derry's new home.
A week after he had moved in, Derry had showed up in the waiting room of the surgery at Skeldale. Siegfried had been watching it that morning and was surprised to find the quiet, skinny boy sitting and waiting patiently for someone to notice him.
"Well hello there," Siegfried had said as the boy stood up and approached him. "And what can I do for you today?"
"Are you Mr. Farnon?" Derry said in a low voice with a hint of a lisp.
"I heard you know about horses."
"That I do. Is something the matter with your horse?"
"Yes sir," Derry said, nodding. "My pony, Clyde, he's trembling and sweating and I think it might be summat awful. Please come look at him."
"All right," Siegfried said, taking off his white coat. "We'll go at once. I'll just let my housekeeper know where we will be going and then we can take off in my car."
When he arrived, Dale Ross had been less than enthusiastic to see him.
"And how much is this going to cost me, Farnon?" he had harrumphed.
Siegfried blinked in surprise. He hadn't had many dealings with Dale Ross, but whenever he did come out to check on his pigs, Dale had seemed reasonable if also rather curt. Thus, he wasn't surprised by the bluntness of the question, but was somewhat confounded by Dale's sudden concern about cost.
"Most likely, not as much as it would have if the problem had been allowed to go on," Siegfried replied coolly. "Your brother was right to call me in at the first sign of trouble."
Dale let out another haughty snort and walked off. Dale was a short, stocky man with a head of dark red hair that was the same shade as Derry's and was twenty years Derry's senior. He had moved to Darrowby not long after Derry was born and managed to grow his farm from just a handful of pigs to a thriving business that provided a large portion of the pork found in the butcher shops in the area.
Derry led Siegfried to the barn where he had been keeping Clyde and it only took a minute for Siegfried to figure out the problem.
"I'm afraid it's laminitis, Derry. You may have also heard it referred to as founder."
"Founder?" Derry echoed. "Don't that…don't that make ponies lame? Not even able to stand up?"
Siegfried beamed at him. "So you know something of ponies, do you? Bright lad. Yes, it can lead to that if it's not treated early enough. Fortunately, I believe we've caught it before it had a chance to progress into true founder."
Derry let out a soft sigh of relief while Siegfried continued to smile and patted the pony a couple of times. "I just need to get some things from my car and I can start treatment. Tell me, how did you happen to come by your pony?"
"Old man Soams had some foals he didn't want," Derry answered as they walked together toward the car. "I'd work'd for him every summer for um, five years in his stables. So he said I could have one so I'd learn more about ponies."
"That was very generous of him," Siegfried replied. "You like them a lot, don't you? Horses and ponies."
"Oh yes," Derry said, his face brightening at last. "Mom said, ever since I could walk, I was runnin' o'er to Soams' so I could hang around his stables. When I grow up, I'd like to run some stables of my own. Train horses and take care of 'em."
"I see," Siegfried said. "So no ambitions for farming like your brother, then?"
Derry's face fell. "No sir, Mr. Farnon. That is, I…I don't think I'd be any good at it anyhow."
There was a nervousness that Siegfried couldn't help but notice. "I don't suppose your brother had his hopes set on your carrying on his legacy?"
Derry shook his head and Siegfried felt a twinge of sadness as those dark, hopeless eyes met his.
"I don't think it'd matter much to my brother one way or another."
Siegfried fetched the needed equipment from the trunk of his car and then patted Derry on the shoulder. "What I'm going to do, Derry, is trim some of Clyde's hooves and hopefully that will keep this from progressing. I'll also give you some medicine that will help with any pain he's experiencing."
"Thank you, Mr. Farnon."
"You're very welcome, Derry. Now tell me, have you been letting him graze in these side pastures unattended?"
"Yes sir," Derry answered. "I let him out 'fore I start on my morning chores. Dale don't usually give me that many in the mornings so I got time to let him back in before I head off to school."
"Ah see, that's the problem," Siegfried said. "I imagine the fields around your old home were rather spare. The pastures on your brother's farm, however, are lush with grass. Which can lead to overgrazing, especially as the weather gets colder."
"I see," Derry nodded. "Will I have to graze him somewhere else, then?"
"Oh I don't think that will be necessary," Siegfried said. "Just limit Clyde's grazing time and there should be no more problems on that front. Now, let's see about these hooves."
Derry watched in silence as Siegfried trimmed and reshaped the affected hooves. As he worked, he explained the process as best he could, first to reassure him and by the end, to instruct him as he was certain that Derry was eager to absorb the information. When he was done, he pulled out a small bottle from his bag.
"All right, Derry, just give him a couple spoonfuls of this twice a day for a week, and he should be feeling better in no time. And remember what I said. Make sure he doesn't have a chance to graze too much on this grass."
"Yes sir, Mr. Farnon," Derry said. "I won't forget, I promise."
Derry stuffed the bottle into his pocket and walked over to rub Clyde's neck. Siegfried smiled again and walked out of the barn to find Dale waiting for him.
"A simple case of the beginnings of founder, Mr. Ross," Siegfried reported. "I've taken care of the problem, and it should clear up soon. Your brother is quite an observant lad to spot the trouble so quickly."
"Aye, only because he's always frittering away his time with that pony of his rather than getting on with his chores," Dale responded. Derry came up beside Siegfried, and Dale turned his attention onto him. "Chores which he's already late on."
Derry hung his head. "Sorry. I, I'll get to 'em."
"See that you do," Dale said. "And don't you dare step foot in that house until they're done. You'll not get your supper one minute before."
Derry nodded and ran off. Dale watched him go, shaking his head. "Useless whelp."
"He's your brother, Mr. Ross," Siegfried said, carefully hiding his disgust. "And he's still a boy. A boy who just lost his parents."
"Aye, I miss them too," Dale said, his features softening for a moment. Then the moment passed, and a harsh scowl appeared on his face. "But Derry's always been like that. Not doing his chores and wasting his time on that pony. I've had to be at him every hour of the day ever since he's been here, and I've got plenty of my own work to do."
"Naturally, you must expect a period of adjustment," Siegfried replied. "But I'm sure it will be nothing that is insurmountable. Derry just needs time."
"I never wanted children," Dale added. "Got no place for them here. And now, I've got another mouth to feed and can't hardly get any work out of him. 'Sides, what would you know about it, Farnon? I don't see you looking after any children that'd been dropped into your lap."
"On the contrary, I know quite a bit about what you're experiencing," Siegfried said. "You've met my brother, Tristan. Circumstances made it so that it was necessary for me to look after him while he was still a child. In fact, he was just a touch younger than Derry is now at the time. So I do know indeed what it's like to care for a boy while struggling to establish yourself. But I can assure you that any difficulties you may encounter are very small indeed compared to the rewards you and your brother could enjoy from each other's company. Especially during this difficult time."
Dale snorted. "Not with him. Not Derry." He took a deep breath and shook his head before gesturing toward a barn further up the field. "Since you're here, charging me for your services anyway, could you have a look at this new batch of piglets? Probably about due for their shots soon."
Siegfried nodded, figuring it would save a trip for himself or James in the future. Although he was sorry that he wouldn't be able to have this chore in reserve for Tristan for when his little brother needed another lesson in work ethic. Still, there were plenty of pigs on Ross' farm, and it wouldn't be long before more inoculations were needed. He'd have to keep it in the back of his mind.
After he was finished examining the piglets, he set up an appointment to follow up with the shots and check on Clyde at the same time. As he drove back to Skeldale, he thought about Derry again and decided that maybe he would bring Tristan along with him for his next visit after all. If only so he could pawn off the more menial work to his brother and spend some more time getting to know Derry.
Over the next few weeks, Siegfried visited the Ross farm regularly.
Clyde recovered from his laminitis quickly, something he attributed to Derry's devoted care. With his diet and exercise regimens adjusted, Clyde was growing into a fine pony.
Unfortunately, Derry was not doing as well as Clyde. He always greeted Siegfried with a smile and was eager to talk about horses or to just listen to Siegfried teach him new things about them. However, when he wasn't actively engaged in one of their equine themed conversations, Derry seemed listless. Weariness was etched into his face.
A couple of times, Siegfried tried to invite him and his brother to Skeldale so they could talk some more, but Derry always turned down the offer immediately.
"My brother is awfully busy, Mr. Farnon," Derry would say in rushed, nervous voice. "And I've got these chores to do. Well, you know Dale wouldn't like it if I fell behind…."
On its own, it seemed innocuous enough. Siegfried knew that most of the farmers in the area faced mountainous amounts of work every day. Work which often required that the children of a household pitch in as much as possible.
But Ross was not one of those farmers who was struggling to remain afloat. In fact, Ross' farm was so successful, Dale was able to hire men to attend to most of the actual labor while he mainly took an administrative and supervisory role in the running of it. Thus, there seemed to be little reason to work Derry so hard when even the hired hands had more leisure time by comparison.
Still, even though Siegfried disapproved of how he had seen Dale treat Derry, he was reluctant to do much more than occasionally drop pointed hints to Dale to be a little kinder toward his brother. During the years that he had spent taking care of Tristan as a boy, Siegfried knew that there were those who didn't approve of the choices he had made regarding his little brother's upbringing, one of primary ones being his decision to have his brother live with him the first place. More than once he had heard vague whispers about how it had been "inappropriate" to take Tristan away from his mother to live with someone who was a bachelor as well as a busy vet.
While those murmurs of disapproval rankled him, Siegfried had always been able to brush those criticisms aside with his firm belief that the people who said such things couldn't possibly know Tristan as well as he did and had no inkling of what was best for him. Not to mention their ignorance of the amount of work he put into making sure that his little brother would grow up healthy, happy, and with plenty of opportunities to make a good future for himself.
Consequently, Siegfried felt conflicted about telling Dale how to raise his own little brother. Perhaps things weren't as bad as they might look on the surface. Or maybe they would improve over time.
At least Siegfried hoped they would. For Derry's sake.
During one of his visits, Siegfried made the suggestion to Derry that he might try looking for work in one of the stables around Darrowby, a suggestion Derry pounced onto.
"It sounds like a dream, Mr. Farnon," Derry said. "But are you sure? I mean, that I could get work like that."
"I can't see why you couldn't," Siegfried assured him. "There are a lot of stables in the area. And they are often looking for young boys who will apply themselves. And the way you've taken care of Clyde is proof enough that you would do well in such a setting. Just continue to work hard, and if I hear of any opportunities, I'll be sure to recommend you."
"Thanks for that, Mr. Farnon," Derry said. "Do you think I could find work here soon? Maybe in a week?"
"I'm afraid that's not likely, Derry," Siegfried said. "After all, you are still a boy and still have more you need to learn. And there is your brother to consider. He is responsible for you and will have a hand in any decisions regarding your possible employment at a stable. You do understand?"
Derry flinched, the light draining from his eyes. "I understand, sir. Thank you again, Mr. Farnon."
Siegfried saw very little of Derry over the next month and only in passing when he stopped by the Ross farm to attend to Dale's pigs. Business at the practice had picked up, and it would soon be time for Tristan to take more exams. Thus, he was frequently far too busy to make any social visits during the day and often into the night.
Still, he often thought of Derry and hoped that he was doing well and that he could give him some good news soon about a stable he could work at.
Then came the morning when a constable appeared at his front door looking for Derry.
"Mr. Ross phoned the station this morning," the constable said. "Seems the boy disappeared a week ago while out with his chores."
"A week ago?" Siegfried echoed, gaping. "But you said that he only called you this morning."
The constable nodded grimly, his feelings about that fact transparent. "Yes. Apparently Mr. Ross believed that his brother had run away. It seems he was in the habit of doing that, leaving for a day or so and then returning so he could take care of his pony. Mr. Ross thought it would be best to leave the authorities out of this family matter for as long as possible."
Siegfried gave a nod to show that he had understood, but hadn't been able to keep all of his growing anger out of the gesture.
"Mr. Ross mentioned that you were friendly with the boy," the constable continued. "Do you have any ideas about where he might have gone?"
"No, I, I haven't spoken to him in some time," Siegfried said. "I'd been meaning to check on Clyde, that's his pony, and him for a while now, but…."
"I've seen him."
Siegfried whirled around to see Tristan walking toward the door, his hands in his pockets.
"You've seen him recently?" the constable asked.
"Well, not recently, no," Tristan said. "I stopped by Ross' farm about a week ago and talked to him. He was quiet, but was also worried about his pony. He asked me if Siegfried and I could help him take care of it. I told him that we would and then he didn't say much after that. I haven't seen him since then."
"Sounds like he was planning on running away then," the constable replied. "We've started a search from Ross' farm, but as you know, it is a large area and with the weather turning the way it is…."
"I understand," Siegfried said. "I wonder if I could join your search party. I've only known Derry for a short time, but I…."
"We could always use the extra help," the constable said. "You can follow my car up to the next area we have plotted for the search."
"Yes, yes, just let me get my coat and…." Siegfried paused and glanced back at Tristan.
"I can watch the surgery, Siegfried," Tristan said. "And I'll tell James when he arrives about that call from Crump you got this morning."
"Thank you, Tristan. I…." Siegfried shrugged his coat on and shook his head. "Tell Mrs. Hall that I don't know if I'll be home in time for supper tonight."