Mary heard the word "fake," and Jem shot a glance at her over the heads of the crowd.
A little murmur rose from the group of men beside him.
Once more the lynx-eyed man bent and touched the legs of the black pony.
"I'd advise another opinion on this pony," he said. "I'm not satisfied about him myself.
Where's your mark?"
Jew showed him the narrow slit in the ear and the man examined it closely.
"You're a sharp customer, aren't you?" said Jem. "Anyone would think I'm stolen the horse.
Anything wrong with the mark?"
"No, apparently not.
But it's a good thing for you that Tim Bray has gone to Dorset.
He's never own this pony, whatever you like to say.
I wouldn't touch him. Stevens, if I were you.
You'll find yourself in trouble.
Come away, man."
The loud-mouthed dealer looked regretfully at the black pony.
"He's a good looker," he said. "I don't care who bred him, or if his sire was piebald.
What makes you so particular, Will?"
Once more the lynx-eyed man plucked at his sleeve and whispered in his ear.
The dealer listened and pulled a face, and then he nodded.
"All right," he said aloud: "I've no doubt that you're right.
You've got an eye for trouble, haven't you? Perhaps we're better out of it.
You can keep your pony," he added to Jem. "My partner doesn't fancy him.
Take my advice and come down on your price.
If you have him for long on your hands you'll be sorry."
And he elbowed his way through the crowd, with the lynx-eyed man beside him, and they disappeared in the direction of the White Hart.
Mary breathed a sigh of relief when she saw the last of them.
She could make nothing of Jem's expression; his lips were framed in the inevitable whistle.
People came and went; the shaggy moorland ponies were sold for two or three pounds apiece, and their late owners departed satisfied.
No one came near the black pony again.
He was looked at askance by the crowd.
At a quarter to four Jem sold the other horse for six pounds to a cheerful, honest-looking farmer, after a long and very good-humoured argument.
The farmer declared he would give five pounds, and Jem stuck out for seven.
After twenty minutes riotous bargaining the sum of six pounds was agreed, and the farmer rode off on the back of his purchase with a grin from ear to ear.
Mary began to flag on her feet.
Twilight gathered in the market square, and the lamps were lit. The town wore an air of mystery.
She was thinking of returning to the jingle when she heard a woman's voice behind her, and a high affected laugh.
She turned and saw the blue cloak and the plumed hat of the woman who had stepped from the coach earlier in the afternoon.
"Oh, look, James," she was saying. "Did you ever see such a delicious pony in your life?
He holds his head just like poor Beauty did.
The likeness would be quite striking, only this animal of course is black and has nothing of Beauty's breeding.
What a nuisance Roger isn't here.
I can't disturb him from his meeting.
What do you think of him, James?"
Her companion put up his eyeglass and stared.
"Damn it, Maria," he drawled, "I don't know a thing about horses.
The pony you lost was a grey, wasn't it?
This thing is ebony, positively ebony, my dear.
Do you want to buy him?"
The woman gave a little trill of laughter.
"It would be such a good Christmas present for the children," she said. "They've plagued poor Roger ever since Beauty disappeared.