The girl pursued her critical survey, felt the mare’s legs, looked into her mouth, lifted an eye-lid. The crowd, deeply interested, watched in silence. Utterly absorbed in the work in hand, Boy, as always, was unaware of them because she was entirely forgetful of herself.
“Yes,” she said simply.
The old man turned to the gypsy.
“What ye want?” he asked.
“She’s yours for a tenner, sir.”
He stiffened his lips.
Boy walked sedately past her father.
“Pound a leg,” she said quietly in his ear.
“Four pound,” said the old man, firmly. “Cash down—and accommodation.”
He rustled the bank-notes in his pocket.
The gypsy frowned, and appeared to be engaged in a portentous spiritual struggle. Then the clouds cleared suddenly.
“Done with you, sir!” he called, and hauled the old mare down the widening lane through the crowd. She came reluctantly, every inch of her resenting the necessity for motion.
Old Mat paid out five sovereigns into the other’s outstretched paw.
“Four sovereigns for the mare—and a half for the halter, and a little bit o’ beer-money.”
The crowd cheered and the gypsy danced a jig.
“You’re a gentleman, Mr. Woodburn,” he cried. “Now I’ll tell you somefin for yourself.” He drew the old man aside and whispered in his ear, ending with an emphatic: “S’truth, sir!”
The trainer grunted sceptically.
“Now, Boy,” he said. “There she is. Take charge o’ your cripple.”
The girl, her face alight with pleasure, took the halter of the lagging mare.
Old Mat gathered the reins and mounted to his seat. Monkey Brand took his place at his master’s side. Boy got up behind, the halter in her hand.
The trainer raised his whip.
The buggy bumped over the grass, the old mare trailing behind with outstretched neck. The girl folded her arms and looked down her nose like a footman.
Silver, following on his pony, saw her face and chuckled suddenly.
This stern girl had a sense of humour after all.
* * * * *
Then the chaff became a cheer; and the Polefax Meeting was over.
Across the Downs
What Old Mat called his little bit of theayter—which his irreverent daughter was wont to describe with characteristic brutality as sheer swank—was quickly over.
As soon as the buggy left the fields and bumped down into the pack-horse track which led up the shoulder of the Downs, Old Mat halted. Boy slipped down from her seat, and the old man and Monkey Brand followed more leisurely. Silver dismounted, too.
The little cavalcade wound slowly up the hill, skirting the steep side of a coombe that gathered the dusk in its huge green bowl until it brimmed with mystery.