After that, we settled into one of those odd times when not a lot is going on and you’re just doing the same thing day after day. We carried on going to college, and rode for Captain Williams afterwards. I soon learned not to say anything about Mrs Darcy, because Ann looked as if she had the most frightful pain if I ever did.
There was no news about Black Boy, who seemed to have vanished into thin air. Captain Cholly-Sawcutt wrote to say he’d asked all his friends, and had no luck. Robin still couldn’t remember where he’d seen the mysterious buyer before, and that was our only hope.
Susan turned out to be a whizz at driving when it was a car and not a horse. She passed her test in record time, and spent the time she wasn’t in college driving around London with the hood of her car down, being admired. It didn’t faze her even when it rained, as all she had to do was stop and look in a sad and tremulous manner at the folded down roof and people would just appear from nowhere, and sort the whole thing out for her. Once an old lady walking a crowd of tiny dogs tied them all to a lamppost, came over, and put the hood up for her. One thing about Susan was that she had absolutely no shame. I saw the whole thing from the window of the Lyons Corner House where Rosalie and I were having eggs and ham, and when the old lady had put the hood up, she shook Susan’s hand, and thanked her. And Susan just let her.
She took me out for a drive one day, and left me sitting in the car while she sprinted into a shop. It started to rain, so I tried Susan’s trick, but everyone who passed looked at me as if I had a pain, and I had to put the whole thing up myself. “It’s no use,” said Susan. “You look thoroughly capable, Jill, and that’s that. No one would ever believe you couldn’t put the hood up yourself in thirty seconds.”
Susan and I seemed to be getting on better now that her father, overjoyed by the effect of Susan and her car on London, had stopped pushing her to achieve equine greatness. In fact, as the days went by, I saw more of Susan than I did Ann. Now Ann knew she had to stay at college, she seemed to be determined to do as well as she possibly could, and after college was over, she’d go back down to the typing rooms and practise. Her shorthand was amazing. Where I’d now crawled up to thirty-five words per minute, she was at 120. She even stopped coming to Captain Williams’s with me, and so each evening, Susan would call for me on her way back from supper at Rosalie’s, and we’d walk over to the stables together. Susan would spend her time grooming Beauty, and when she wasn’t doing that, perching herself on Beauty’s manger and talking to her.
One day in the middle of the week, when I’d finished sorting out my evening ride, who’d been more interested in a stupendously boring gossip about what was going on in their office than on riding, I went to find Susan. As usual, she was sitting on Beauty’s manger. Beauty was dozing, with her head in Susan’s lap. “Come in,” said Susan, when she saw me peering over the door. I went in and hoiked myself up onto the manger. Beauty blew a few oats at me in a friendly manner, and went back to sleep.
“If you ask me,” says Susan, “I think Ann’s absolutely racked with guilt. I mean, I’ve never seen Ann take much notice of her mother, but that letter really hit home, and I don’t think Ann’s got over it.”
“I know,” I said. “I’ve tried telling her, over and over, that it’s all worked out and not to worry.”
“I don’t think you’re the problem, Jill. I think it’s Wendy. You weren’t going to stay pushed around for long, and you bounce back. It’s a bit more difficult with Wendy. For one thing, Ann doesn’t see her, so she doesn’t know what Wendy’s actually thinking, and for another, Wendy’s father’s taken a turn for the worse and my mother says the news really isn’t good at all, and I expect Ann knows that. Why don’t you try talking to her?”
“You know,” I said, “I will. I hadn’t thought about Wendy, but I do see what you mean.”
So, when I got back to college I set out to try and find Ann. I ran her to ground in one of the typing rooms, bashing away at a furious speed on some of the set pieces we had to type. I went and pulled a chair up next to hers.
“Ann,” I said. “Do you still feel frightfully bad about Wendy?”
Ann’s typing juddered to a halt, and she sat there, staring at her hands.
“I had a letter,” she said. “From Val and Jack. It’s the most horrible letter I ever had in my life. I thought it was bad enough when Mummy told me what she thought of me, but this was far worse. They’re never, ever, going to speak to me again, and they say no one else in Chatton will either after what I’ve done. Apparently they found Wendy crying.”
“But don’t they know that Wendy will still be staying there now, and working with Robin?” I asked.
“Oh yes. They knew all right, but they said they couldn’t forget how heartless I’d been to Wendy, when life was already so dreadful. Jill, they said Mr Mead is dying. I’ve made everything so much worse for her.”
“Have you still got that letter?” I asked. Ann nodded.
“Well, I’d burn it if I were you. It is absolutely awful about Mr Mead, but it’s not your fault. And you know what Val and Jack are like. They fly off into a fit, and then they get over it. Besides, they seem to have forgotten that if it hadn’t been for you, Wendy wouldn’t have a job at all because the stables would simply have closed and that would have been that.”
Ann sniffed. “I hadn’t thought of that,” she said. She sat looking down at her hands for a while, frowning, and then she said, “I’m hungry. Shall we go and get something to eat?”
We settled down a bit after that, and Ann didn’t spend quite so much time practising. She still went up and down, and Mrs Derry didn’t help, because she simply would not let it go, and in every letter she wrote to Ann, she hauled the whole thing up again.
One day, I was sitting with Susan and Rosalie in the basement when Ann ran in, beaming, with a letter in her hand.
She shoved it at me, saying “Read this!”
I unfolded the letter:
I’m so sorry I haven’t written to you before, but as you know, Daddy’s very ill. He’s been a little better over the past week, and so I had chance to get out. While I was riding out I met Val and Jack, who told me what they thought about the whole riding school episode. I hope I did my best to convince them that they had entirely the wrong end of the stick, and that if it hadn’t been for you, the riding school would have closed altogether and I wouldn’t have had a job at all, but you know what Val and Jack are like. Once they think a thing, it’s almost impossible to make them think something else until they change their minds of their own accord. They told me they’d written to you, and I can imagine what kind of letter they wrote.
If you can, I’d ignore them. I am very grateful to you for saving the riding school, and I hope you will come and work here once you’ve finished your course.
I’m sorry this letter is so short, but I’m sure you’ll understand that I don’t have much spare time at the moment.
With best wishes
“Oh Jill, I’m so relieved,” said Ann.
I could see that she was. She looked as if the weight of the world had been lifted off her shoulders.
Rosalie, who had snaffled a whole plate of buns, pushed the plate over to Ann. They were a bit stale, but Ann didn’t seem to mind, and she wolfed one down.
“Gosh, that’s good,” she said. “I feel like a whole huge weight has been lifted from my shoulders. Now I can go and work at the stables when I finish here, and you’ve got your job, Jill. If only we could find Black Boy, everything would be perfect.”
“What did happen with Black Boy?” Susan asked. “And Rapide? You were always in such a state about them when I first got here, I didn’t like to ask.”
So, I explained all about how the ponies had been sold, and how Black Boy had been sold to someone who’d given a false address, but who we’d traced to Captain Williams’s stables, but that neither he nor Robin could remember much about her.
“The one thing they do remember,” I said, “Is that she was absolutely dead set against people selling their ponies. She refused to show one of the ponies at Captain Williams’s to someone who wanted to buy it.”
Susan looked up. “Sounds like the girl who came to buy my ponies before I went to Switzerland,” she said. “She couldn’t have been more rude. Mummy and I were absolutely staggered. She went on and on about how we were casting off the ponies like old shoes. Fortunately, she’d paid for them by then, or I think we might have changed our minds. She always was a very strange girl, I thought. I’ll never forget the way she turned up at that show with all those ponies she’d rescued in tow.”
I sat there gasping like a landed fish. “Do you mean Dinah Dean?” I said. “The one whose father is a professor?”
“Yes, that’s the one,” said Susan. “Dinah Dean.”
I simply couldn’t believe it. Could Dinah Dean have bought Black Boy? Dinah Dean and the time I met her was one of those episodes in my glorious past I don’t particularly like thinking about. She’d turned up at the riding school when I was giving lessons there, and had a lesson and scooted off without paying. It turned out Dinah was living on her own with her father, who was a professor, and who quite frankly was simply not there most of the time, so Dinah had to cook, keep house, and do everything on not very much money because her father was so far above thinking about such mere things as money that he forgot you needed it to live. I went through a period of feeling sorry for her, and gave her my old riding clothes, and then I left off feeling sorry for her, and got irritated by her instead. Honestly, there never was a person who left me as confused as Dinah Dean. Eventually she was shunted off to boarding school, which apparently she loved, and I hadn’t heard of her since.
I said: “Susan, I don’t suppose she left you an address when she bought your ponies?”
“Well, sort of,” replied Susan, “I remember saying at the time, goodness, how are you going to fit ponies into a London university? The address was a department of chemistry. She said that was just their correspondence address, and they lived outside London.”
“It shouldn’t be too hard to track her down then,” said Ann. “We can get in touch with all the London universities and ask them if they have a Professor Dean.”
“What I can’t understand,” said Rosalie, “Is why she’s going round buying up all these ponies. Why does she have such a thing about ponies being sold on? It’s just what happens.”
“She was always keen on rescuing horses and ponies. That’s why she saved those horses and ponies from the terrible Towtle.” said Ann.
“Oh yes,” said Susan and I, at the same time as Rosalie said, “What?”
“A horrible horse dealer was going round buying up horses and ponies and sending them off for slaughter. Dinah found out where he was keeping them, rescued the lot and rode them into the ring at the Blossom Hall Gymkhana, calm as you like.”
“She sounds a bit of a heroine, if you ask me,” said Rosalie.
“Um,” I said, and Ann said “Um,” too.
“What was wrong with her?” asked Rosalie. “Didn’t you like her?”
“Not that,” I said. “I suppose the thing with Dinah is that she wasn’t like everybody else. She was a bit of an embarrassment; always hanging about. She was mad keen on ponies but didn’t have the money to do anything about it. She had a riding lesson and didn’t pay for it.”
“Oh, and then you gave her your old riding clothes,” said Ann. “I thought that was jolly good of you, though goodness knows why Dinah thought she had to wear them the whole time.”
“She was pony-mad, and that was the nearest she could get,” said Susan. “It’s rather sad, if you think about it.”
The thing is, Susan was right. I’d hung about like that when I was a pony-mad kid, and I’d never forgotten the people who were kind to me. Mummy had had quite a lot to say to me on the subject of Dinah at the time, and it still made me squirm to remember it.