When they were in the open they nearly fell down with astonishment. A huge grey horse, whose tail-hairs crinkled the glassy water, was drinking in the pool, and the ripples about his muzzle flashed like melted gold. On his back sat an old, white-haired man dressed in a loose glimmery gown of chain-mail. He was bare-headed, and a nut-shaped iron helmet hung at his saddle-bow. His reins were of red leather five or six inches deep, scalloped at the edges, and his high padded saddle with its red girths was held fore and aft by a red leather breastband and crupper.
‘Look!’ said Una, as though Dan were not staring his very eyes out. ‘It’s like the picture in your room—»Sir Isumbras at the Ford».’
The rider turned towards them, and his thin, long face was just as sweet and gentle as that of the knight who carries the children in that picture.
‘They should be here now, Sir Richard,’ said Puck’s deep voice among the willow-herb.
‘They are here,’ the knight said, and he smiled at Dan with the string of trouts in his hand. ‘There seems no great change in boys since mine fished this water.’
‘If your horse has drunk, we shall be more at ease in the Ring,’ said Puck; and he nodded to the children as though he had never magicked away their memories a week before.
The great horse turned and hoisted himself into the pasture with a kick and a scramble that tore the clods down rattling.
‘Your pardon!’ said Sir Richard to Dan. ‘When these lands were mine, I never loved that mounted men should cross the brook except by the paved ford. But my Swallow here was thirsty, and I wished to meet you.’
‘We’re very glad you’ve come, sir,’ said Dan. ‘It doesn’t matter in the least about the banks.’
He trotted across the pasture on the sword side of the mighty horse, and it was a mighty iron-handled sword that swung from Sir Richard’s belt. Una walked behind with Puck. She remembered everything now.
‘I’m sorry about the Leaves,’ he said, ‘but it would never have done if you had gone home and told, would it?’
‘I s’pose not,’ Una answered. ‘But you said that all the fair—People of the Hills had left England.’
‘So they have; but I told you that you should come and go and look and know, didn’t I? The knight isn’t a fairy. He’s Sir Richard Dalyngridge, a very old friend of mine. He came over with William the Conqueror, and he wants to see you particularly.’
‘What for?’ said Una.
‘On account of your great wisdom and learning,’ Puck replied, without a twinkle.