* * * * *
It was when he was nineteen that Mat Woodburn found him out.
Monkey had been left at the post in a steeplechase. Old Mat didn’t follow the race. Instead he watched the struggle between the lad and the young horse he was riding. Monkey gave a masterly exhibition of patience and tact; and Mat, then in his prime and always on the look-out for riding talent, watched it with grunts of pleasure. Monkey won the battle and went sailing after the field he could not hope to catch, cantering in long after the other horses had got home and gone to bed, as his indignant owner expressed it.
“Fancy turn!” he said. “Very pretty at Islington. You don’t ride for me no more.”
“Very good, sir,” said Monkey, quite unperturbed.
As he left the dressing-room Mat met him.
“Lost your job, ain’t you?” he said. “Care to come to me? I’m Mat Woodburn.”
“I know you, sir,” he said. “Yes, sir. Thank you. I’m there.”
Thus began that curious partnership between the two men which had endured twenty-five years.
Always master and man, the two had been singularly intimate from the start, and increasingly so. Both had that elemental quality, somewhat remote from civilization and its standards, which you find amongst those who consort greatly with horses and cattle. Both were simple and astonishingly shrewd. They loved a horse and understood him as did few: they loved a rogue and were the match for most.
Both had a wide knowledge of human nature, especially on its seamy side, based on a profound experience of life.
Monkey Brand had never been quite in the front rank of cross-country riders. At no time had he emerged from the position of head-lad, nor apparently had he wished to do so. It may be that he lacked ambition, or was aware of his limitations. For his critics said that, consummate horseman though he was, he lacked the strength to hold his own consistently in the first flight. Moreover, just at the one period of his career when it had seemed to the knowing that he might soar, the brilliant Chukkers, then but a lad, had crossed the Atlantic in the train of Ikey Aaronsohnn—to aid the cosmopolitan banker to achieve the end which was to become his consuming life-passion; and in a brief while had eclipsed absolutely and forever all his professional rivals.
Silver opened the gate into the Paddock Close. Boy passed through, leading the old mare.
“Shall I take her?” asked the young man.
“No, thank you,” she answered.
In the depths of her eyes there lurked a fugitive twinkle. So far the intercourse between herself and Mr. Silver had consisted in his offering to do things for her and in her refusing his offers.
The Paddock Close stretched away before the girl in
the evening light.
On the hill half-a-dozen young horses stampeded in the dusk.