I must say that Dinah had done those ponies well. Her set up would have done Mrs Darcy proud. The fences were that beautiful post and rail that I’d always hankered after for the orchard, but had never been able to afford. There were new drinking troughs, and someone obviously took good care of the fields, because there wasn’t a thistle or dock to be seen anywhere. After London, it seemed like a green, sunny paradise.
Black Boy was grazing, and I was scratching that bit at the bottom of his mane, just where it ends, which he always likes me to do, when a door opened in the cottage, and someone walked out. I hadn’t seen Dinah for years, but it was her. She was still dark, small, and thin. She was dressed in jodhpurs and a tweed jacket.
“Oh gosh,” said Ann. “I wonder if that’s the same ones you gave her?”
“Don’t be daft,” I said, though I have to admit, the same thought had occurred to me.
I was loathe to leave Black Boy now I’d found him, but I gave him a pat and followed the others up the track to the cottage. I had no idea how Dinah was going to react to us turning up, and her face gave me no clue at all. I’d seen more expression from one of Ann’s flower arrangements.
“Hello Dinah,” I said. “It’s me, Jill, from Chatton. Do you remember?”
“I’ll say I do,” she said. “You’ve got a cheek, turning up here.”
My blood ran cold when I heard that, because I could remember saying something like that myself to Dinah, and more than once too.
“What do you want?”
“I wanted to talk to you about Black Boy,” I said.
“I don’t think there’s anything to talk about. Your pony, the pony you didn’t want, is happy somewhere where he’ll never have to worry about being sold again. You lot make me sick. Wittering on about the noble cause of equitation, but the moment the pony’s no good to you, you sell it and move on. There’s never any reason to sell a pony. Would you sell a dog? If you buy a pony you should keep it and look after it until the day it dies.”
I could see Rosalie getting redder and redder as she listened to this, because of course her pony had had to be sold when her brother’s stables closed. Ann grabbed Rosalie, and dragged her off down the path, giving me a speaking look over her shoulder as she went. Dinah gave me the hard stare again.
“Oh, I suppose you might as well come in. But you needn’t think I’m going to change my mind.”
I didn’t need telling twice, and I followed her inside. The cottage was just as lovely as the fields. It was a world away from the depressing, neglected house Dinah had lived in when I knew her. Dinah saw me looking about.
“Yes, it is a bit of a change, isn’t it? Daddy invented something frightfully clever that made him no end of money. Daddy’s always felt guilty about me, so it didn’t take much to get him to make some over to me so I could save horses.”
“Gosh,” I said, and then I came to a halt, because anything that I could think of to say, such as I’d always wanted to do that myself, would only lead to Dinah saying well, why didn’t you and not sell Black Boy?
I was standing there chewing all this over in the deep, dark recesses of my inner self, and a lot of it must have been showing on my face because Dinah was looking at me as if I might run amok any minute.
“Look, Dinah,” I said. “You’ve got it wrong about me and Black Boy. It wasn’t my idea to sell him at all. It was all a terrible mistake, and I didn’t know about it until after it had happened. It started when Mrs Darcy had to go into hospital.”
Dinah looked mystified. “What on earth did that have to do with anything?”
I felt like saying, well search me, and other things I know Mummy does not approve of, but I made do with telling Dinah all about the business with Angela, the horse sale, Mummy and the message.
Dinah sat and thought about this for a bit and then off she went again.
“So where are you going to keep Black Boy, if I let you have him?” she asked.
“At a livery stable near me in London,” I said.
“Oh?” said Dinah. “Somewhere he’ll never get to go out in a field? Where he’ll spend his life shut in a stable unless you take him out for a potter round the Park? It’s not quite the same as here, is it?”
And the thing was, Dinah was right. The ponies in the livery stable back in London looked perfectly happy, but they didn’t have any grazing. I wanted Black Boy back more than I’ve ever wanted anything in my life but he wouldn’t have the life he was used to.
“I know it’s not ideal,” I said. “But it would get better. If I can’t keep him with me in London, he can go to the Bush’s farm with Rapide, where he’ll have a lovely time. Look,” I said, getting up. “You think about it for a bit. I’m gasping for a cup of tea. Why don’t I make us one?”
Dinah frowned a little, and then nodded. I went into the kitchen, which was even more splendid than Mrs Derry’s, which she has just had done after a visit to the Ideal Home Exhibition, and is frightfully modern and blue and chrome. The tea things were all out on the side, and after I’d put the kettle on I leaned against the awfully smart range and thought. In books, Dinah would have wept a few soulful tears over my tale of woe, let me have Black Boy back, and we’d be chatting about ponies over tea and toast. However, this wasn’t a book, and I didn’t have a clue what Dinah was going to do.
The kettle boiled. I made the tea, and after opening a few tins, found some biscuits, which I put on a tray with everything else. I took it in and put it down. Dinah peered at it. “I don’t know how you can even think of eating,” she said. “Emotion always ruins my appetite.”
It hadn’t done that to mine at all, so I poured tea for us both, and ate my way through the biscuits while Dinah sipped her tea, and carried on thinking.
“Oh, do eat all the biscuits,” said Dinah, moodily, when there was just one left, which I’d not eaten in case she changed her mind. So I did, because it gave me something to do while Dinah was thinking, which she seemed all set to do for the rest of the morning.
“You don’t know how much I envied you,” she said at last, “having two such lovely ponies, and a mother who cared whether you existed or not. When I decided to buy as many ponies as I could who were being cast off, I never imagined that Black Boy would be one of them. I thought you were all right: you were actually nice to me at times, not like your friends, who all treated me like a pathetic little nuisance. Mind you,” she said, thoughtfully. “You did at times too. When I saw Black Boy and Rapide at the sale, I thought you must have reverted to type.”
I goggled a bit at this assessment of my friends, and of me too, though of course I couldn’t deny it. Mummy would have said my chickens were coming home to roost.
“The thing is,” Dinah said, “I really do mean what I say about ponies not being sold. If I let you have Black Boy back, can you promise that you’ll never sell him?”
Could I? I nearly got up and hugged her.
“Of course,” I said. “It’s one of the worst things that’s ever happened to me, losing Black Boy and Rapide. I know I should have thought more about what was going to happen to the ponies, but believe me, I’ve learned a bitter lesson. I’m not a kid anymore, and they’re my ponies, and I need to look after them, or at least, look after Black Boy. I can only afford one of them.”
Dinah looked up. “You know, if you left Black Boy here with me, you could go and buy Rapide back.”
Well, that was a facer. Of course I wanted both ponies back, but there didn’t seem any way I could do it; not without asking Mummy to help me, and I wanted to do this by myself. Although I was pretty sure Diana and James would let me buy Rapide back, Black Boy was my first pony, and it was with him that I’d learned to be a half decent rider, and with him that my dreams of having a pony had come true. It was with Black Boy that Mummy and I had started our new lives without Daddy. I now felt absolutely torn. I was sure Dinah would look after Black Boy perfectly well: but both my ponies would be looked after perfectly well, by people who would love them. The thing was, which did I want? Because I couldn’t see any way I could have both. I felt like that chap in the Bible who’s asked to choose who has the baby. Well not quite like him, because thinking about it, it wasn’t his baby, but I’m sure you know what I mean.
The easy thing to do would be to let Dinah keep Black Boy, but when I thought about going off and leaving him behind it was as if someone had taken out all my innards and tied them in a knot.
“Well?” Dinah asked. “What do you want to do?”