Ask the price, James will you?"
The man strutted forward.
"Here, my good fellow," he called to Jem, "do you want to sell that black pony of yours?"
Jem shook his head.
"He's promised to a friend," he said.
"I wouldn't like to go back on my word.
Besides, this wouldn't carry you. He's been ridden by children."
Oh, I see.
Oh, thank you.
Maria, this fellow says the pony is not for sale."
"Is he sure?
What a shame!
I'd set my heart on him.
I'll pay him his price, tell him.
Ask him again, James."
Once more the man put up his glass and drawled,
"Look here, my man, this lady has taken a fancy to your pony.
She has just lost one, and she wants to replace him.
Her children will be most disappointed if they hear about it. Damn your friend, you know. He must wait.
What is your price?"
"Twenty-five guineas," said Jem promptly. "At least, that's what my friend was going to pay.
I'm not anxious to sell him."
The lady in the plumed hat swept into the ring.
"I'll give you thirty for him," she said. "I'm Mrs. Bassat from North Hill, and I want the pony as a Christmas present for my children.
Please don't be obstinate.
I have half the sum here in my purse, and this gentleman will give you the rest.
Mr. Bassat is in Launceston now, and I want the pony to be a surprise to him as well as to my children.
My groom shall fetch the pony immediately and ride him to North Hill before Mr. Bassat leaves the town.
Here's the money."
Jem swept off his hat and bowed low.
"Thank you, madam," he said. "I hope Mr. Bassat will be pleased with your bargain.
You will find the pony exceedingly safe with children."
"Oh, I'm certain he will be delighted.
Of course the pony is nothing like the one we had stolen.
Beauty was a thoroughbred, and worth a great deal of money.
This little animal is handsome enough and will please the children.
Come along, James; it's getting quite dark, and I'm chilled to the bone."
She made her way from the ring towards the coach that waited in the square.
The tall footman leapt forward to open the door.
"I've just bought a pony for Master Robert and Master Henry," she said. "Will you find Richards and tell him he's to ride it back home?
I want it to be a surprise to the squire."
She stepped into the coach, her petticoats fluttering behind her, followed by her companion with the monocle.
Jem looked hastily over his shoulder and tapped a lad who stood behind him on the arm.
"Here," he said, "would you like a five-shilling piece?"
The lad nodded, his mouth agape.
"Hang onto this pony, then, and, when the groom comes for him, hand him over for me, will you?
I've just had word that my wife has given birth to twins and her life is in danger.
I haven't a moment to lose.
Here, take the bridle.