We finally stumbled out of typing, exhausted after a session of truly frightful speed tests. I had lost count of the times that I was told I was “fast but inaccurate,” but at least I’d done better than Ann, who hadn’t managed above twenty words per minute for the entire lesson.
“Open your other letter!” said Rosalie. “I’m dying to find out who it’s from.”
“Let’s wait for Ann,” I said, but when Ann came out, she said, “I have to go out for a bit,” and she shot off.
“What’s biting her?” asked Rosalie.
“Search me,” I said. “Come on, let’s go and get a bun and some coffee. I’m starving.”
We went and sat down in the basement, and I opened the envelope.
“Who’s it from?” Rosalie asked. “And what does it say?”
Poor Rosalie had to wait for an answer, because I’m afraid I was sitting there gulping like a fish. By the time I pulled myself together, Rosalie was drumming her fingers on the table.
“I don’t believe it,” I said. “It’s from Major Trelawney, the chap who was organising Harringay. He’s offering me a job when I finish college. He wants someone to help him organise shows. He says not to worry about shorthand, because I’ll only need typing. There isn’t any dictation as we’ll both write our own letters. Apparently he already knows I have the other qualities he wants because he’s seen me in action, and Captain Cholly-Sawcutt has already given me a reference.”
“Goodness, Jill, you lucky thing.”
And the thing was, Rosalie was right. It was an absolute dream job. I’d be able to be part of one of the most important shows of the year, and help with lots of other big shows too. I’d see the best horses and riders, all the time, and I do like to run things. I’d helped run stables, and a riding club, and frankly being in charge was right up my street. What I couldn’t work out was why I wasn’t feeling more enthusiastic about it. If you’d told my younger self about this, my younger self would have run round the room yelling with joy, but my older self was sitting in a basement in South Kensington feeling oddly flat for someone who’d just been offered what sounded like perfection. Maybe it was the shock that was making me feel so odd.
“What are you going to do?” asked Rosalie. “Surely you’ll take it? If you find Black Boy you could keep him at Captain Williams’s, and you’ll be able to ride him and have an amazingly horsey job, all at the same time. I do think you’re lucky.”
“Yes,” I said, “I am lucky.”
“Really? You don’t sound very sure.”
“I know,” I said. “I mean – all my life I’ve wanted a job with horses, and this one is, but is isn’t really with horses, if you see what I mean?”
Rosalie looked blankly at me. She obviously didn’t see at all.
“I mean, it’d be lovely seeing all those horses and ponies, but I wouldn’t be riding them, and I wouldn’t even be doing anything with them, because there would be masses of people there to do it, and I’d have to be doing my job and running around and organising things. I’m not sure it wouldn’t be worse than not working with horses at all.”
“Well, I think you’re nuts,” said Rosalie. “At least you haven’t got to traipse round some mere employment agency run by people who look at you like a worm because you’re just out of college, which is what I’ll have to do.”
Of course she was right, and I felt low and mere and worm-like myself when I thought about what she’d have to do. I wished Ann was there so I could talk about it with her, and that reminded me that Ann was going to end up in a flower shop if her mother had anything to do with it, and knowing Ann’s mother, she would.
“Okay,” I said. “I get it. I’ll take it.”
And because one thing I have learned is that once you’ve made a decision, it’s best to get on with it, I went upstairs to the eyrie and looked for my writing pad, which had hidden itself in the annoying way that possessions sometimes do. I turned out my chest of drawers, and looked under the bed and even in the bed, and then found it on the top of the chest, sitting there in a smug sort of way, dashed off a reply, dug out an envelope and stamp and galloped off to the nearest post box.
By the time I’d done that, it was time for the afternoon sessions. Ann hadn’t come up to the eyrie while I was there, and I didn’t see her for the rest of the day either. The afternoon’s lessons came and went, and there was no sign of Ann.
“Where on earth is she?” said Rosalie, as we trudged along to the corner shop so I could get provisions.
“I have absolutely no idea,” I said.
“Why don’t you come back with me for supper?” asked Rosalie. “It’s a bit drear being here on your own.”
“I’d better not,” I said. “Ann might turn up and wonder what had happened to me. It’s just as well we’re not due at Captain Williams’s this evening.”
I wandered up to the eyrie, wondering what Ann could be up to. I had a solitary supper of cheese and tomatoes on toast, and was pondering on whether I should ring Mrs Derry to ask her if she’d heard from Ann, and if I did, how I could manage to do it without arousing Mrs Derry’s suspicions, when I heard footsteps coming up the uncarpeted stairs to the eyrie. I dashed over to the door and flung it open.
“Where have you been?” I asked. “I was just trying to decide how to break it to your mother that you’d disappeared off the face of the earth.”
“Ha!” said Ann. “Ha! You can say what you like to Mummy. I don’t care. I’m a genius.” She flung herself onto her bed, tucked her hands behind her head and beamed.
“You are?” I said, beginning to wonder if secretarial college was all becoming a bit much for Ann. “How come?”
“I,” she said, “all on my own, with just the power of my mighty brain, have solved everyone’s problems. I am Ann the Agony Aunt. I am Super-Ann.”
“All right,” I said. “We all know you’re wonderful, but why? What have you done?”
“All on my own,” she said, “I have saved the riding school, that’s what I’ve done. Mrs Darcy’s agreed to let Robin rent the riding school from her. She had planned to sell it, as no one suitable had come forward to run it, but she’d rather keep it going.”
“But she doesn’t know Robin from Adam. Why’s she agreed to letting him have it?”
“Captain Cholly-Sawcutt was in the same regiment as Captain Williams, and he vouched for Robin, so that was okay . Honestly Jill, I’ve never made as many telephone calls in all my life. I’m going to have to ask Mummy for an advance on my allowance so that I can pay Rosalie’s mother for all the calls. Of course she’s delighted that Robin will be settled, and he’s delighted because it was beginning to look as if the chap in Harrogate had changed his mind about retiring, and what’s best is that we’ll all be together, because of course you and I are going to be assistant instructors and help run the riding school. Just think, Jill, you can have Rapide at the stables, and Black Boy if we find him, and you won’t need to worry about them being exercised, because they can be used in the lessons. We’ll have a lovely, horsey life, and we’ll never need to worry about anything. It’s going to be bliss.”
“Hold on,” I said. “Did you say I was going to be an instructor?”
Ann sat up. “Yes, of course. We’ll both need to do the British Horse Society examinations, but that won’t take long. We’ll need some capital, for new horses, and the stables will need refurbishing, and I think we really need an indoor school, but that won’t be a problem, because when I’m twenty-one I’ll come into the money my grandmother left me. Isn’t it wonderful, Jill? We can kick the dust of this grotty old secretarial college off our feet and go back to Chatton.”