Alice walks with
the thin maid
to the stables, holding
the thin hand with


red knuckles, the
mild limp crossing
the narrow path like
a wounded ship. Do


you like the horses,
then? the maid asks,
bringing the eyes
upon the child,


holding tight the
pale pink hand.
Alice nods, yes,
I like the black one,


like its dark eyes
and coat. The maid
eyes the pinafore,
the hair tidy and neat,


the shiny shoes, the
tiny hand in hers.
Have you ridden
any yet? the maid


asks. No, not allowed
as yet, Alice says,
feeling the red thumb
rub the back of her


hand. Shame, the maid
says, perhaps soon.
Alice doesn't think so,
neither her father nor


the new nanny will
permit that; her mother
says she may, but that
amounts to little, in


the motions of things.
She can smell the
horses, hay and dung.
The red hand lets her


loose. The stable master
stares at her, his thick
brows bordering his
dark brown eyes,


conker like in their
hardness and colour.
Have you come to
look at the horses?


he says, holding a
horse near to her.
She nods, stares
at the horse, brown,


tall, sweating,
loudly snorting.
The maid stares
at the horse, stands


next to the child,
hand on the arm.
You're not to ride
them yet, he says,


but you can view,
I'm told. Alice runs
her small palm down
the horse's leg and


belly, warm, smooth,
the horse indifferent,
snorting, moving the
groom master aside.


The maid holds the
child close to her.
Be all right, he won't

harm, he says, smiling.


He leads the horse away,
the horse swaying to
a secret music, clip-
clop-clip-clop. Alice


watches the departing
horse. Come on, the
maid says, let's see
the others and lifts


the child up to view
the other horse in the
stable over the half
open door, then along


to see others in other
half doors. Alice smiles
at the sight and smells
and sounds. She senses


the red hands holding
her up, strong yet thin,
the fingers around her
waist. Having seen them


all, the maid puts her
down gently. Ain't that
good? the maid says.
Alice smiles, yes, love


them, she  says. She
feels the thin hand, hold
her pale pink one again,
as they make their way


back to the house, the
slow trot of the limping
gait, the maid's thumb
rubbing her hand, smiling


through eyes and lips,
the morning sun blessing
their heads through the
trees and branches above.


if only, Alice thinks, looking
sidelong on at the thin
maid's smile, her father
did this, and showed such love.

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