They were nearing the brow.
A man was labouring up the hill in front of them.
Old Mat pulled up, and the pair jogged up alongside him. The trainer nodded quietly at the heavy figure in front.
“He’s out,” he wheezed. “On to it pretty quick, too. Heard we’re goin’ to gallop Fo’-Pound and he’s come to see what he can see.”
The man drew to one side to let the riders pass.
It was Joses; and he had changed.
There was less of the sow and more of the wolf about him than of old. His shaggy whiskers were touched with gray, and there was something hard and fierce about his face. The old inflamed and flabby look had been hammered out of him in the hard school from which he had just emerged.
He eyed the riders as they passed.
Boy’s grave eyes became graver and more self-contained. At once she was alert and had locked all her doors. In that firm, courageous face of hers there was no curiosity, no unkindness, and least of all no fear. The young man glancing at her thought he had never seen such strength manifest in any face; and it was not the strength that is based on hardness, for she was paler than her wont.
Then she spoke.
Her voice, deep as a bell and very quiet, surprised him in the silence. He had not expected it, and yet somehow it seemed to him beautifully appropriate.
“Good morning, Mr. Joses,” said the voice, and that was all; but it wrought a miracle.
“Yes,” growled the man in the wayside, “it wasn’t you: it was Silver.”
The young man’s face flashed white. He pulled up instantaneously.
“What’s that?” he said.
Boy, riding on, called sharply over her shoulder:
“Come on, Mr. Silver!”
Reluctant as a dog to leave an enemy, the young man obeyed, and caught up the other two.
“Little bit o’ bitter,” muttered the old man. He jerked his thumb over his shoulder. “I got him five year for himself,” he went on querulously. “And now he ain’t satisfied. No pleasin’ some folk.”
On the Mare’s Back a little group was awaiting the party.
There was Monkey Brand, Albert, and a sheeted horse, patrolling lazily up and down; while Billy Bluff lay on the ground hard by and gnawed his paw.
Ever since, years back, Joses had struck the paw with a stone Billy had bestowed a quite unfair amount of attention on it, spending all his spare time doctoring his favourite. There was nothing whatever the matter with it, but if he continued his attentions long enough there might be some day, and he would then be rewarded for his patient labours by having a real injury to mend.
It was somewhat misty up there on the hill, though clear above; the sea was wrapt in a white blanket, and the Coastguard Station at the Gap was invisible.