A lady in a feathered hat and a blue velvet cape stepped down from her coach and went into the warmth and light of the hospitable White Hart, followed by a gentleman in a padded greatcoat of powder-grey.
He lifted his eyeglass to his eyes and strutted after her for all the world like a turkey cock himself.
This was a gay and happy world to Mary.
The town was set on the bosom of a hill, with a castle framed in the centre, like a tale from old history.
There were trees clustered here, and sloping fields, and water gleamed in the valley below.
The moors were remote; they stretched away out of sight behind the town and were forgotten.
Launceston had reality; these people were alive.
Christmas came into its own again in the town and had a place amongst the cobbled streets, the laughing jostling crowd, and the watery sun struggled from his hiding place behind the grey banked clouds to join the festivity.
Mary wore the handkerchief Jem had given her. She even unbent so far as to permit him to tie the ends under her chin.
They had stabled the pony and jingle at the top of the town, and now Jem pushed his way through the crowd, leading his two stolen horses, Mary following at his heels.
He led the way with confidence, making straight for the main square, where the whole of Launceston gathered and the booths and tents of the Christmas fair stood end to end.
There was a place roped off from the fair for the buying and selling of livestock, and the ring was surrounded by farmers and countrymen, gentlemen too, and dealers from Devon and beyond.
Mary's heart beat faster as they approached the ring; supposing there was someone from North Hill here, or a farmer from a neighbouring village, surely they would recognise the horses?
Jem wore his hat at the back of his head, and he whistled.
He looked back at her once and winked his eye.
The crowd parted and made way for him.
Mary stood on the outskirts, behind a fat market woman with a basket, and she saw Jem take his place amongst a group of men with ponies, and he nodded to one or two of them, and ran his eye over their ponies, bending as he did so to a flare to light his pipe.
He looked cool and unperturbed.
Presently a flashy-looking fellow with a square hat and cream breeches thrust his way through the crowd and crossed over to the horses.
His voice was loud and important, and he kept hitting his boot with a crop, and then pointing to the ponies.
From his tone, and his air of authority, Mary judged him to be a dealer.
Soon he was joined by a little lynx-eyed man in a black coat, who now and again jogged his elbow and whispered in his ear.
Mary saw him stare hard at the black pony that had belonged to Squire Bassat; he went up to him and bent down and felt his legs.
Then he whispered something in the ear of the loud-voiced man.
Mary watched him nervously.
"Where did you get this pony?" said the dealer, tapping Jem on the shoulder. "He was never bred on the moors, not with that head and shoulders."
"He was foaled at Callington four years ago," said Jem carelessly, his pipe in the corner of his mouth. "I brought him as a yearling from old Tim Bray; you remember Tim?
He sold up last year and went into Dorset.
Tim always told me I'd get my money back on this pony.
The dam was Irish bred, and won prizes for him upcountry.
Have a look at him, won't you?
But he's not going cheap, I'll tell you that."
He puffed at his pipe, while the two men went over the pony carefully.
The time seemed endless before they straightened themselves and stood back.
"Had any trouble with his skin?" said the lynx-eyed man. "It feels very coarse on the surface, and sharp like bristles.
There's a taint about him, too, I don't like.
You haven't been doping him, have you?"
"There's nothing ailing with that pony," replied Jem. "The other one there, he fell away to nothing in the summer, but I've brought him back all right.
I'd do better to keep him till the spring now, I believe, but he's costing me money.
No, this black pony here, you can't fault him.
I'll be frank with you over one thing, and it's only fair to admit it.
Old Tim Bray never knew the mare was in foal — he was in Plymouth at the time, and his boy was looking after her — and when he found out he gave the boy a thrashing, but of course it was too late. He had to make the best of a bad job.
It's my opinion the sire was a grey; look at the short hair there, close to the skin— that's grey, isn't it?
Tim just missed a good bargain with this pony.
Look at those shoulders; there's breeding for you.
I tell you what, I'll take eighteen guineas for him."
The lynx-eyed man shook his head, but the dealer hesitated.
"Make it fifteen and we might do business," he suggested.
"No. eighteen guineas is my sum, and not a penny less," said Jem.
The two men consulted together and appeared to disagree.