“Oh, I say—why not?” he protested, boyish and chaffing.
“He’s too much of a handful for me,” said the girl gravely, threading her needle against the light.
He laughed, delighted, smacking his knee as he did when pleased, while even Ma, who of wont turned a deaf ear on the young couple, smiled sedately.
“I like that!” cried Silver. “Ha! ha! ho! ho! That’s a good un.” Then he turned grave, almost lugubrious. “But of course if you won’t have him I must do something to him. I’m too fond of the old fellow to let him rot.”
Next morning, before he left for London, Boy saw him from her window holding intimate communion with Monkey Brand in the Paddock Close beside the wood.
When he had driven away, the girl descended from her eyrie and cross-examined the little jockey sharply.
Monkey looked secretive and mysterious even for him.
“He’s a very queer gentleman,” was all he would say. “One o’ them that’s been to India without their ’ats, I should say. You know, Miss?” He tapped his forehead. “Melted a-top.”
“What did he say?” persisted the girl.
“He said nobody was to exercise Heart of Oak only unless you wanted him. And he said he’d make up his mind next week.”
“Make up his mind?”
“That was the word, Miss.”
“Bring me the gun,” ordered Boy.
The little man obeyed sulkily.
“It’ll be in my room,” she said. “And it’ll stay there.”
“Very good, Miss,” replied the jockey, and winked to himself as the girl ascended the ladder.
That evening, as Old Mat slept noisily by the fire with open mouth, the two women worked.
Mrs. Woodburn every now and then lifted her eyes to her daughter’s face and let them dwell there, as the sky dwells on a tree.
“D’you like him, Boy?” she asked at length, tranquilly.
The girl for once was taken by surprise. She flushed a little and perhaps for the first time in her life fenced.
“Yes,” said the girl. “He’s like Billy Bluff—only less rowdy.”
The Duke’s Hounds
Silver’s Leicestershire friends were under the delusion that he was keeping his hunters at Lewes. And so indeed he did till the hunting season began; and then he brought them over to Putnam’s.
The Duke’s north-country stud-groom, who was in The Beehive at Folkington, as they came along the road from Lewes, ran out of the bar to have a look at them.
“Ma wud!” he whistled. “Champion!”
And Mike Rigg was right. Silver’s horses indeed were the one item of his personal expenditure on which the young man never spared his purse. He used to say with perfect truth that except for his stud he could live with joy on L3 a week. But there was no man in England who had a rarer stud of weight-carriers.