I simply didn’t know what I wanted to do, and what was best for the ponies. Through the window I could see down the valley to where Ann and Rosalie were standing.
“Do you mind?” I said, as I got up. “I think I need to think it over.”
Dinah nodded, and I let myself out and walked down the path to the field. Ann had found some grooming tools from somewhere, and she was grooming Black Boy. He was standing with his eyes half closed, and his ears flopping outwards, which he always does when you use the body brush. Rosalie was sitting on the fence, stroking one of the chestnut ponies, who was standing nose to tail with the other chestnut. Every now and then a chestnut tail flicked out to keep the flies off. One tail flicked across Rosalie’s face too, but she didn’t seem to mind.
Ann spotted me. “What’s happened?” she said. “We’ve been nearly expiring down here wondering what’s been going on.”
Black Boy woke up when Ann spoke, saw me, and did one of those quick little blows ponies do to say hello.
“Hello Boy,” I said, and I scratched behind his ears while he searched my pockets to see if there was anything there for him.
“Well?” said Rosalie, looking over from her perch on the fence. “What happened? We’re dying from the suspense.”
I sighed. “You see, she thinks it wouldn’t be fair on Black Boy to take him to London, and that as I only have enough money to buy one pony back and keep them, I should buy Rapide and leave Black Boy with her.”
“Wouldn’t that be all right?” said Rosalie. “You’d at least have one of them. You are jolly lucky to be able to get even one of them back,” she said, and she stared very hard at the chestnut pony’s back, before she started to stroke her again.
Ann and I looked at each other, and I knew Ann knew exactly how I was feeling, because I’d known Ann since my earliest days with Black Boy when I’d known nothing, and she’d been put off horses because of her mother forcing her into riding. We’d grown up together, and we’d grown up with Black Boy. I sighed again. Black Boy had eaten the oats I kept in my cardigan pocket, and was now drifting off again. I buried my face in his mane, and breathed in the wonderful smell of horse. As I straightened up, I saw the bit of mane that always flopped over the wrong way, and took me ages to sort out whenever we went to a show, and the little patch on his near fore where the hair had grown back white after he’d scratched himself on a nail not long after I’d got him. He turned round and nudged me with his nose, just as he always did before we went out for a ride. I scratched his nose, and he blew over my fingers.
“Right,” I said. “I’d better get this sorted out.”
I gave Black Boy a last pat and set off back up the path to the cottage, my heart feeling like lead. I could see that the door was open and Dinah was standing in the doorway, waiting. It was horribly off-putting taking every step under her unblinking gaze, and I felt as if my feet had grown several sizes and no longer knew where to put themselves.
“I’ve been thinking,” Dinah said, when I reached the top of the path.
“Oh,” I said, and I can tell you I felt as if my heart had climbed up my throat and was in my mouth. I could scarcely breathe.
“I’ve still got the jacket and jodhs you gave me. I expect you’ll think it’s a bit pathetic, but it was the first time in my life anyone ever gave me anything I actually wanted. I wish there’d been more like you at school.”
Dinah had that sort of inward expression people get when they’re remembering something foul, and I felt a complete heel, because as you know, I hadn’t been exactly a saint where Dinah was concerned.
“You can have Black Boy back. I don’t want anything for him. You gave me a present, and now I’m giving you one back. But if you ever have to sell him, you must promise to send him straight back here.”
“Only if I’m absolutely desperate,” I said, but then I stopped as I realised that wasn’t quite what I meant.
“I know what you mean,” Dinah said. “So you do want him back then?”
I couldn’t say a thing. I just nodded. The bit of me that was wondering how fair I was being to Black Boy and that had been within an inch of letting him stay here, I told firmly to shut up, and it did subside in the absolute joy of having my pony back.
I was beginning to get a bit sniffly at this point, and Dinah was too, but we pulled ourselves together and agreed that I’d get in touch with her when I had somewhere to keep Black Boy, and then she’d send him up on the train.
Dinah looked thoughtful again. “I don’t think I’ve been getting my horse saving quite right. I still think that anyone who has a pony should keep it to the end of its days unless it’s impossible, but the sort of ponies I’ve got here don’t really need saving. There are plenty of neglected horses and ponies out there, and I’m going to make this place into a sanctuary for them.”
“Gosh,” I said, overwhelmed by this nobility in one so young. “I’m going to pay for Black Boy’s keep until I have him back. Look on it as the start of the fund for all those horses and ponies you’re going to save. And I bet I can get all my friends back in Chatton to do a splendid gymkhana for you. We’ll do teas, and ices.”
Dinah looked frightfully bucked by this.
“There’s just one thing,” I said. “Why did you use the name Smythe when you bought the ponies?”
Dinah blushed, and looked at her feet.
“Oh, I sometimes pretend that I’m the daughter of a famous rider. Daddy will sign whatever I tell him to, but of course I had to use my real name with Susan. The different address was Daddy’s idea. He would have liked to have been a spy, and pretending we were on some sort of mission was the only way I could get him to agree to drive the box for me.”
I must say, I can’t think when I’ve heard anything sadder. It just goes to show what a life Dinah must have had. I simply didn’t know what to say, and Dinah didn’t either, but then I heard a yip, turned round, and saw Ann and Rosalie, who’d been bobbing about at the foot of the hill. I waved, and they charged up, and in the general atmosphere of joy, we got over the awkward moment. Dinah invited us back in, and we ended up making rather a mess of the glamorous kitchen when we made ourselves piles of cheese on toast and finished up another tin of biscuits Dinah found. Almost full enough to burst, we said a fond farewell to Black Boy and the other ponies, and staggered back on the long-ish walk back to Westerham. You know how when one thing goes well, it seems as if everything else decides it’s going to fall along behind? Well, we managed to cadge a lift with the same farmer who’d dropped us off (he was going to fetch some more chickens from the train); the train was waiting for us on the platform; Ann found 6d for some chocolate from the station machine, and we managed to find an empty carriage, which we collapsed into.
“Well,” I said. “What a day.”