“You’d no call to take up your whip, Brand,” grumbled the old man. “He’d ha’ won without that, and you’d a plenty in hand.”
“I told him to come through and finish it if he got a chance,” interposed Boy from the back.
The old man turned away with a grunt.
“Oh, you told him, did you? Course my instructions goes for nothin’ if you told him. There’s two masters in my stable, Mr. Silver, as you see—and neither of ’em’s me.”
“Mother!” called the girl.
Mrs. Woodburn went round and looked at the old mare.
“What d’you think of her?” asked Boy, unable to disguise her keenness.
“You’ve bought two,” said the mother slowly.
“D’you think so?” cried the girl.
“Sure,” muttered the old man. “One thing, if they claim her, they can’t claim her foal, too.” He grunted in his wife’s ear: “Chap said she’s in foal to Berserker. Likely tale, ain’t it? Howsoebber, if ’tain’t true, don’t make no matter; if ’tis, all the better. Anyways, she might throw a winner, plea’ Gob in his goodness.”
Mrs. Woodburn held up a warning finger at him.
“Now, dad!” she said; then turned to her daughter.
“Turn her out in the Paddock Close for the present,” she said. “And send one of the lads for Mr. Silver’s pony.”
The girl led the old mare away into the yard. Jim Silver followed slowly.
In the days when Putnam’s had been a farm, the yard had always been deep in dung and litter. Now it was cobbled and clean as a kitchen floor. All round it on three sides were old barns and cattle-sheds, transformed into rough but roomy loose-boxes. And the most casual observer could not have mistaken the nature of the place. For a clock stood above the main building; a chestnut crib-biter, looking out into the yard, had the top of his half door between his teeth and was wind-sucking with arched neck; while a flock of fan-tails strutted to and fro, flirting and foraging.
A tortoise-shell cat crossed the yard leisurely. The cat was known as Maudie. But it was a matter of dispute amongst those interested in the question whether she derived her name from Maud Allan, the dancer, or from Mordecai, the Jew. The dispute hung round the question whether Old Mat had christened her or Ma. If she owed her name to Old Mat, then it was clear that it came from the dancer; if to Ma, then from the Old Testament.
Billy Bluff, entering the yard in an expectant bustle, made for Maudie with a joyful flourish. Maudie arched her back, spat, and passed on gingerly. Whenever the pair met, and that was frequently, they went through the same pantomime, to the satisfaction of one of them at least.
The bob-tail next made a dash at the fan-tails. These rose with a mighty splashing of wings, fluttered a yard above his head, and settled again unconcernedly.