From the first she was a power in the Putnam stable.
Except in a crisis she interfered little with the lads, but when they went sick or smashed themselves, she took them into her house and nursed them as though they were her own. If they were grateful they did not show it; but in times of stress some spirit whose presence you would never have suspected made itself suddenly and sweetly apparent.
The Bible Class for the lads in her husband’s employ she had started on the first Sunday of her reign at Putnam’s.
It was voluntary for those over fifteen; but all the lads attended—“to oblige.”
That class at the start had been the subject of untold jokes in the racing world.
There had even been witticisms about it in the Pink Un and other sporting papers.
And when Mat had been asked what he thought of it the story went that he had answered:
“I winks at ut,” adding, with a twinkle: “I winks at a lot—got to now.”
Ma Woodburn kept the class going for twenty years, until, indeed, her daughter was old enough to take it over from her.
Boy Woodburn had been born to the apparently incongruous couple some years after their marriage.
From the very beginning she had always been Boy. Mrs. Haggard, who didn’t quite approve of the name—and there were many things Mrs. Haggard didn’t quite approve of—once inquired the origin of it.
“I think it came,” answered Mrs. Woodburn.
And certainly nobody but the vicar’s wife ever thought or spoke of the girl as Joyce. She grew up in Mrs. Haggard’s judgment quite uneducated. That lady, a good but somewhat officious creature, was genuinely distressed and made many protests.
The protests were invariably met by Mrs. Woodburn imperturbably as always.
“It’s how my father was bred,” she replied in that plain manner of hers, so plain indeed that conventional people sometimes complained of it as rude. “That’s good enough for me.”
Mrs. Haggard carried her complaint to her husband, the vicar.
“There was once a man called Wordsworth, I believe,” was all the answer of that enigmatic creature.
“You’re much of a pair, you and Mrs. Woodburn,” snapped his wife as she left the room.
“My dear, you flatter me,” replied the quiet vicar.
On the face of it, indeed, Mrs. Haggard had some ground for her anxiety about the girl.
Boy from the beginning was bred in the stables, lived in them, loved them.
At four she began to ride astride and had never known a side-saddle or worn a habit all her life. She took to the pigskin as a duck to water; and at seven, Monkey Brand, then in his riding prime, gave her up.
“She knows more’n me,” he said, half in sorrow, half in pride, as his erstwhile pupil popped her pony over a Sussex heave-gate.