It was a while before the son could assuage his qualms and feel himself free to go forward in the prosecution of his desire.
His old house-master, still his father-confessor in spiritual distresses, finally dispelled the young man’s doubts and launched him on his destined way.
“Be yourself,” he said, “as your father was before you. He wouldn’t farm—because he hadn’t got it in him. What he had in him was banking. So like a wise man he banked. You’ve got it in you to breed steeplechase horses. So breed them. Only—breed them better than any man ever bred them before.”
The young man’s mind once finally resolved, nothing could stop him. And it was in the pursuit of his desire that he first came across Mat Woodburn.
The old man and the young took to each other from the first. Indeed, there was much in common between the two. Both were simple of heart, children of nature, caring little for the world, and both believed with passionate conviction that an English thoroughbred was the crown and glory of God’s creatures.
“HE didn’t make no mistake that time,” the old man was fond of saying with emphasis, to the amusement of Mr. Haggard and the annoyance of his wife.
Boy in Her Eyrie
In the corner of the yard at Putnam’s was Billy Bluff’s kennel. Above the kennel, a broad ladder, much haunted by Maudie, the free, who loved to sit on it and tantalize with her airs of liberty Billy, the prisoner on his chain, led to the loft above the stable.
It was a very ordinary loft in the roof, dusty, dark, with hay piled in one corner, a chaff-cutter, and trap-doors in the floor, through which the forage was thrust down into the mangers of the horses below.
At the end of the loft was a wooden partition. Behind the partition was the girl’s room.
She slept and lived up there over the stable at her own desire. It was less like being in a house: the girl felt herself her own mistress as she did not under the maternal roof; and most of all she was near the horses.
“I keep two watch-dogs at my place,” Old Mat would say. “Billy Bluff a-low and my little gal a-loft.”
Boy loved to go to sleep to the sound of the rhythmical munching of the horses beneath, and to wake to the noise of them blowing their noses in the dawn. Never a mouse moved in the stable at night but she was aware of it. And when a horse was training for a big event barely a night passed but in the small hours a white, bare-footed figure issued from the partition and came swiftly along the loft, disturbing rats and bats as she came, to lift a trap-door and look down with guardian eye on the hope of the stable dreaming unconsciously beneath.
In her solitary eyrie up there the girl learned a great deal.
Elsie Haggard, the vicar’s daughter, or, as Mrs. Woodburn would say, with that touch of satire characteristic of her, the daughter of the vicar’s wife, who was two years older than Boy, and at college, once asked her if she wasn’t afraid.