As she worked, the boards of the loft sounded to the tramp of a heavy visitor.
Somebody knocked at the door. There came to the girl’s eyes a look of amused defiance.
“Come in,” she said, turning.
Mrs. Woodburn stood in the door, grieved and grim. She saw her daughter’s face framed in thickets of gold, and the splendid ruin on the floor.
Boy crossed to her mother and closed the door quietly behind her. Then she led her mother to the bed, and sat down beside her.
The old lady was breathing deeply, and not from the effort of the climb.
The daughter’s eyes, full of a tender curiosity, teasing and yet compassionate, searched her mother’s face, in which there was no laughter.
“Are you going to, Boy?” asked the old lady.
“D’you want me not?”
The mother nodded.
Mrs. Woodburn sighed.
“I’d rather not,” she said.
“Why not?” persisted Boy.
“It’s against the rules.”
“Is that all?” with scorn.
“Then why not?”
“Dangerous!” flashed the girl. “So you think I’m a coward, too!”
“I don’t, I don’t,” pleaded the other. “But I don’t want you to.”
Boy put her hand on the old lady’s knee.
Her mother and Mr. Haggard were the only two human beings to whom she ever demonstrated affection.
“Will you promise me?” said the mother.
“No,” answered Boy.
Mrs. Woodburn tried to rise, but the girl held her down.
“Sit down, mother, please. You never come and see me up here.”
Her eyes devoured her mother’s face hungrily and with unlaughing eyes.
“Kiss me, mother,” she ordered.
Mrs. Woodburn refrained.
“Kiss me, mother,” sternly.
The mother obeyed.
“Shall you?” she asked.
“I shan’t say,” replied Boy.
She rose and went to the window.
Outside under the wood Mr. Silver, pipe in mouth, was sauntering round Ragamuffin’s grave.
“He said I was afraid!” she muttered.
* * * * *
When her mother left the room, the girl went to the window.
The gallop had kindled in her for the moment the flame of her old ambition; but the desire had died down swiftly as it had risen.
Boy knew now that she no longer really wanted to ride
the Grand National
Winner. She wanted something else—fiercely.
Cautiously she peeped out of the window.
Mr. Silver, in that old green golf-jacket of his, that clung so finely to his clean shoulders, was prowling along the edge of the wood close to Ragamuffin’s grave, peeping for early nests.
The girl remembered that it was St. Valentine’s—the day birds mate.
She turned away.