Midnight and Rusty

 Captain Spring's Famous Animal Circus travelled all around Australia. 

In all the towns and cities they stopped and put up their big top, the circus name for their tent, and performed and made everyone who came along feel happy.

There were elephants and lions and monkeys in the circus, an ice-cream eating camel called Rodney, jugglers and acrobats and beautiful girls who flew high up on a trapeze and funny clowns who did things like fall off bikes, throw water on each other and generally made people laugh and, most important of all, two horses who were the stars of the whole circus.

The horses' names were 'Midnight' and 'Rusty'. They were the two prettiest, most wonderful horses you could see. Midnight was black. As black as the middle of a dark night. Rusty was a reddish brown and when the spotlight shone down on him in the circus ring, he glowed with a red like the colour of the afternoon sun going down behind the mountains.

Every night, after the elephants and the other animals had performed, and the jugglers had juggled and the acrobats had acrobatted and the girls had flown on the flying trapeze and the clowns had clowned about, Captain Spring walked into the main ring and stood there in his white trousers and his long black boots and his top hat and called out, "Presenting the stars of the show!" As the spotlight shone brightly down and the music played a cheerful tune, Midnight and Rusty proudly pranced into the ring. In fact, they enjoyed showing off a little bit. The audience clapped and shouted and whistled.

Captain Spring waited for the noise to fade away and then sharply said one word of command, "Midnight!"

Both horses jumped into the air together. At exactly the same time. High into the air they leaped with their front legs reaching out in front and their back legs stretching out behind them. They were so graceful, so elegant and looked so beautiful they seemed to stay up in the air for some time. The audience went, "Ooohh!" and the children spilled their ice creams onto the floor in excitement. Rodney the camel didn't mind that. After the show he walked all round the edge of the ring and ate those that hadn't melted. He could eat an awful lot of ice cream, that Rodney.

At the close of the show, as the people were going home, children could be heard saying things like, "I think Rusty was best." Another might say, "No, I think Midnight was best. They all agreed the horses were the best act in the circus.

On the way to the next town they stopped at a caravan park.

The animals were fed and given water and settled down for the night and Captain Spring said good night to everyone and they all went to sleep.

During the night it happened. Nobody heard any strange noises at all. Just the soft whisper of animals making their night time sounds. Someone quietly opened the door of the horse's caravan and took Rusty away. He was stolen! A thief had taken him away in the night. Rusty had vanished.

Everyone in the circus was shocked and upset. You can imagine how they would be. For the first time in public Captain Spring had tears in his eyes. He loved his horses so much. Midnight was the most upset of all. It was like he lost a brother or a sister. A lifetime companion.

What had happened to Rusty? Where was he? Was he well? He might be hurt. People searched everywhere. Up and down the highway. In yards. On farms. The police were called in. Advertisements were placed on television and in the newspapers. A reward was offered to anyone who found Rusty. Children were talked to in the schools. It was no use. Rusty had gone!

Soon the circus moved on to the next town. That's what circuses have to do. The show must go on! They all say that. Whatever happens, the show must go on. Even if you are not feeling too well or there's a good show on T.V. you want to see or your heart is breaking with sadness like Captain Spring's and Midnight's.

The show did go on but something was missing from the next performance. Not only had Rusty gone but so had a feeling of happiness and a sense of fun. Oh yes, the acrobats still acrobatted and the jugglers juggled and the girls on the trapeze flew and all the animals did their tricks but, although they tried, no one’s heart was really in it. They all felt a little empty inside. Rusty had disappeared and with him went a piece of their hearts.

Although the crowd still enjoyed the circus and still clapped and laughed, the children didn't get so excited now and didn't drop many ice creams. Rodney the camel now had two reasons to be sad. His missed Rusty and he missed the ice cream.

Months passed and the circus moved around the countryside. Everyone still looked for Rusty. Each town was searched and questions asked about Rusty. He was still sadly missed but slowly they all started getting used to having only Midnight. Captain Spring had a new sign painted which said, "Presenting the famous horse, Midnight!" Rusty was no longer a part of the circus.

Early one December morning with the freshness of summer in the air and the warmth of the sun beating down, the circus made its way along the Pacific Highway towards Taree. Just a few kilometres out of town a truck broke down and Captain Spring waited with the animals for the N.R.M.A. mechanic to come out and fix it.

As the morning wore on it started getting hotter. Captain Spring thought about the animals being thirsty. He'd better give them some water. He had noticed a farm nearby so he gathered two buckets and set off to the farmhouse to get his animals a drink.

Let me say this. That farm was a horrible, dirty, ugly, miserable looking place. There were only one or two stunted, twisted trees, hardly any grass and it had a lost and abandoned look about it. As if no one cared much. It was the kind of place that birds did not visit. The kind of place that made them too frightened to stop and sing their bird songs. So they flew around it.

Captain Spring shivered as he approached the door of the house even though the warming sun made him feel hot. It was just that he felt like not stopping.

"I'd like to have some water for my animals, please", he said. "I'll pay for it."

The farmer said in an unfriendly voice. "Get your water and go away."

He wasn't nice. Not to look at or listen to. He looked like the kind of person who never got Christmas presents. Or gave any. You would not want to visit him on a holiday, that's for sure.

Captain Spring walked past a yard carrying the buckets in his hand and noticed a tired, grubby, unhappy horse standing very still. He was very thin and he was so dirty it was impossible to see what colour he was. The Captain felt very sorry for it. He was also quite angry. People who didn't look after animals always made him angry.

A good feed and clean up, he thought, and that horse would look fine. He noticed a strange look in the horse's eye but couldn't stop. He had to get this water back to the waiting animals. There was something odd about that poor old pony.

Captain Spring gave the animals a drink. He gave Midnight his last of all. "What's up, Midnight?" he asked. Midnight was very fidgety. He walked around in tight circles and made soft, squealing, talking noises deep in his throat.

"Quieten down, boy," said Captain Spring. Something was making Midnight excited. He kept looking up towards the farmyard where he could just see the old horse.

Suddenly Captain Spring felt goose bumps on his arms. He felt a funny shock and his skin tingled like his neck was tickled with a feather. Without stopping to think he unfastened the gate of the truck and let Midnight loose. They set off to the farm. Captain Spring ran to keep up with Midnight as he trotted quickly along the track to the dusty yard where that lonely looking, mistreated horse was locked up.
The sound of Midnight neighing and stamping his feet brought the unfriendly farmer out to investigate.
"What are you doing?" he shouted to Captain Spring. "Get that black horse off my land."

Midnight pranced and danced up and down on the spot near the fence and the tired old horse snorted and shook his head up and down. With a whinny that was high like the sound of happy laughter, he trotted over to Midnight. They stood very close together. Their heads almost touching, they made little, murmuring noises to each other.

"Get away!" shouted the farmer.

"No!" answered Captain Spring. "That horse is mine. He was stolen months ago."

"Rubbish!" said the farmer.

"I'll prove it," said Captain Spring. He walked over to the horses and said in his best ringmaster's voice, "Midnight".

On each side of the fence the horses leaped into the air; their front legs reached out and their back legs stretched out behind. They seemed to hang in the air, suspended for a little time.

Although the old looking horse was grubby and skinny and neglected and he hadn't been able to jump quite as high or hang in the air quite as long, there was no doubt about it, he was the long lost Rusty.
"That's my other horse all right!" said Captain Spring. "And you are going to be in big trouble!"

The farmer was scared. "I only bought him. A stranger sold it to me," he said. He didn't sound so unfriendly now. He's no good, anyway. He only wants to do things like jump in the air. Stupid thing."
Captain Spring didn't even wait for him to finish. He released Rusty and the three of them ran back as fast as they could to the safety of the circus trucks and caravans. They left that farm behind like a nightmare. Out of their sight and their minds.

A few nights later the circus put on a special show. It was an evening for smiles. The elephants elephanted, the monkeys monkeyed, the jugglers juggled, the acrobats acrobatted, girls on the trapeze flew and the clowns were even more clownish, if that was possible, and at the end of the show Captain Spring stood happily in the spotlight and announced,

"Ladies and Gentlemen, Children it is with much pride and pleasure I present Midnight and Rusty!!"

Well, you couldn't believe how well Rusty looked after only three days of being fed and groomed and patted and being made a fuss over by everyone in the circus. He looked shiny and he looked beautiful.
Captain Spring shouted, "Midnight!" and, as the music played loudly, the two horses leaped high into the air. As if they were celebrating being together again, they seemed to stay up there in the air even longer.

The crowd said, "Ooohh!" and once more the children dropped their ice creams in excitement.
When the horses had finished their act and Rodney the camel was walking around sucking up spilt ice cream like he was a hairy vacuum cleaner with a hump, the children watched as the two horses stood very close together and touched noses.

"Oh look," said one child. "They're kissing."

But, you know, they weren't kissing. If that child could have understood horse talk he would have heard Midnight say, "I'm glad you are back with me, Rusty. I missed you so much."

"And I am glad I am here with you, my friend." Rusty replied. "Because to have a good friend is the best thing in the whole world!"

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