Four days passed. I might have used the word "sped," only that verb could no_e truthfully applied. Never before in the history of time (so our jeh_hought) did four days cast their shadows more slowly across the dial of th_ours. From noon till night there was a madding nothing to do but polish bit_nd buckles and stirrups and ornamental silver. He would have been totall_iserable but for the morning rides. These were worth while; for he was ridin_irate, and there was always that expectation of the unexpected. But Pirat_ehaved himself puzzlingly well. Fortunately for the jehu, these rides wer_lways into the north country. He was continually possessed with fear lest sh_ould make him drive through the shopping district. If he met Nancy, it woul_e, in the parlance of the day, all off. Nancy would have recognized him in _eard like a Cossack's; and here he was with the boy's face—the face she neve_ould forget.
He was desperately in love. I do not know what desperately in love is, my ow_ove's course running smoothly enough; but I can testify that it was makin_r. Robert thin and appetiteless. Every morning the impulse came to him t_ell her all; but every morning his courage oozed like Bob Acres', and hi_ips became dumb. I dare say that if she had questioned him he would have tol_er all; but for some reason she had ceased to inquire into his past. Possibl_er young mind was occupied with pleasanter things.
He became an accomplished butler, and served so well in rehearsals that Pierr_ould only grumble. One afternoon she superintended the comedy. She found _housand faults with him, so many, in fact, that Pierre did not understan_hat it meant, and became possessed with the vague idea that she was hittin_im over the groom's shoulder. He did not like it; and later, when they wer_lone, Warburton was distinctly impressed with Pierre's displeasure.
"You can not please _her_ , and you can not please _me_. Bah! Zat ees va_omes uf teaching a groom table manners instead uf stable manners. And yo_ill smell uf horse! I do _not_ understand Mees Annesley; no!"
And there were other humiliations, petty ones. She chid him on having th_tirrup too long or too short; the curb chain was rusting; this piece o_rnamental silver did not shine like that one; Jane's fetlocks were too long; Pirate's hoofs weren't thoroughly oiled. With dogged patience he tried t_emedy all these faults. It was only when they had had a romping run down th_oad that this spirit fell away from her, and she talked pleasantly.
Twice he ran into Karloff; but that shrewd student of human nature did no_onsider my hero worth studying; a grave mistake on his part, as he wa_resently to learn. He was a handsome man, and the only thing he noticed abou_he groom was his handsome face. He considered it a crime for a servant to b_ndowed with personal attractions. A servant in the eyes of a Russian nobl_xcites less interest than a breedless dog. Mr. Robert made no complaint; h_as very well satisfied to have the count ignore him entirely. Once he met th_ount in the Turkish room, where, in the capacity of butler, he served liqueu_nd cigars. There was a certain grim humor in lighting his rival's cigar fo_im. This service was a test of his ability to pass through a room withou_nocking over taborets and chairs. Another time they met, when Betty and th_wo of them took a long ride. Karloff _did_ notice how well the groom rode hi_ettlesome mount, being himself a soldier and a daring horseman. Warburton ha_ome trouble. Pirate did not take to the idea of breathing Jane and Dick'_ust; he wanted to lead these second-raters. Mr, James' arms ached tha_fternoon from the effort he had put forth to restrain Pirate and keep him i_is proper place, five yards to the rear.
Nothing happened Sunday; the day went by uneventfully. He escaped the ordea_f driving her to the Chevy Chase Club, William being up that afternoon.
Then Monday came, and with it Betty's curious determination to ride Pirate.
"You wish to ride Pirate, Miss?" exclaimed James, his horror of the ide_penly manifest.
"Saddle him for me,"—peremptorily. "I desire to ride him. I find Jane isn'_xciting enough."
"Pardon me, Miss Annesley," he said, "but I had rather you would not make th_ttempt."
"You had rather I would not make the attempt?"—slowly repeating the words, making a knife of each one of them, tipped with the poison of her contempt. "_o not believe I quite understand you."
He bravely met the angry flash of her eyes. There were times when the color o_hese eyes did not resemble sapphires; rather disks of gun- metal, caused by _udden dilation of the pupils.
"Yes, Miss, I had rather you would not."
"James, you forget yourself. Saddle Pirate, and take Jane back to the stables.
Besides, Jane has a bit of a cold." She slapped her boot with her riding-cro_nd indolently studied the scurrying clouds overhead; for the day was windy.
Soberly Warburton obeyed. He was hurt and angry, and he knew not what besides.
Heavens, if anything should happen to her! His hopes rose a bit. Pirate ha_hown no temper so far that morning. He docilely permitted his master to pu_n the side-saddle. But as he came out into the air again, he threw forwar_is ears, stretched out his long black neck, took in a great breath, an_hinnied a hoarse challenge to the elements. William had already saddled Dick, who looked askance at his black rival's small compact heels.
"I am afraid of him," said Warburton, as he returned. "He will run away wit_ou. I did not wholly subjugate him the other day. He pulls till my arm_che."
Miss Annesley shrugged and patted Pirate on the nose and offered him a lump o_ugar. The thirst for freedom and a wild run down the wind lurked in Pirate'_ar-off gazing eyes, and he ignored the sign of conciliation which hi_istress made him.
"I am not afraid of him. Besides, Dick can outrun and out jump him."
This did not reassure Warburton, nor did he know what this comparison meant, being an ordinary mortal.
"With all respect to you, Miss Annesley, I am sorry that you are determined t_ide him. He is most emphatically not a lady's horse, and you have neve_idden him. Your skirts will irritate him, and if he sees your crop, he'l_olt."
She did not reply, but merely signified her desire to mount. No sooner was sh_p, however, than she secretly regretted her caprice; but not for a hundre_orlds would she have permitted this groom to know. But Pirate, with that rar_nstinct of the horse, knew that his mistress was not sure of him. He showe_he whites of his eyes and began pawing the gravel. The girl glanced covertl_t her groom and found no color in his cheeks. Two small muscular lump_ppeared at the corners of her jaws. She would ride Pirate, and nothing shoul_top her; nothing, nothing. Womanlike, knowing herself to be in the wrong, sh_as furious.
And Pirate surprised them both. During the first mile he behaved himself i_he most gentlemanly fashion; and if he shied once or twice, waltzed a little, it was only because he was full of life and spirit. They trotted, the_antered, ran and walked. Warburton, hitherto holding himself in readiness fo_hatever might happen, relaxed the tension of his muscles, and his shoulder_ank relievedly. Perhaps, after all, his alarm had been needless. The troubl_ith Pirate might be the infrequency with which he had been saddled an_idden. But he knew that the girl would not soon forget his interference.
There would be more humiliations, more bitter pills for him to swallow. I_leased him, however, to note the ease with which Dick kept pace with Pirate.
As for the most beautiful person in all the great world, I am afraid that sh_as beginning to feel self-important. Now that her confidence was full_estored, she never once spoke to, or looked at, her groom. Occasionally fro_he corner of her eye she could see the white patch on Dick's nose.
"James," she said maliciously and suddenly, "go back five yards. I wish t_ide alone."
Warburton, his face burning, fell back. And thus she made her first mistake.
The second and final mistake came immediately after. She touched Pirate wit_er heel, and he broke from a trot into a lively gallop. Dick, without a touc_f the boot, kept his distance to a foot. Pirate, no longer seeing Dick at hi_ide, concluded that he had left his rival behind; and the suppressed mischie_n his black head began to find an outlet. Steadily he arched his neck; steadily but surely he drew down on the reins. The girl felt the effort an_ried to frustrate it. In backing her pull with her right hand, the end of he_rop flashed down the side of Pirate's head—the finishing touch. There was _ild leap, a blur of dust, and Mr. Pirate, well named after his freebootin_ires, his head down where he wanted it, his feet rolling like a snare-drum, Mr. Pirate ran away, headed for heaven only knew where.
For a brief moment Warburton lost his nerve; he was struck with horror. If sh_ould not hold her seat, she would be killed or dreadfully hurt, and perhap_isfigured. It seemed rather strange, as he recalled it, that Dick, instead o_imself, should have taken the initiative. The noble sorrel, formerly _avalry horse, shot forward magnificently. Doubtless his horse-sense took i_he situation, or else he did not like the thought of yonder proud, supercilious show- horse beating him in a running race. So, a very fast mil_as put to the rear.
The girl, appreciating her peril, did as all good horsewomen would have done: locked her knee on the horn and held on. The rush of wind tore the pins fro_er hair which, like a golden plume, stretched out behind her. (Have you eve_ead anything like this before? I dare say. But to Warburton and the girl, i_ever occurred that other persons had gone through like episodes. It was real, and actual, and single, and tragic to them.)
The distance between the two horses began slowly to lessen, and Warburto_nderstood, in a nebulous way, what the girl had meant when she said that Dic_ould outrun Pirate. If Pirate kept to the road, Dick would bring him down; but if Pirate took it into his head to vault a fence! Warburton shuddered.
Faster, faster, over this roll of earth, clattering across this bridge, aroun_his curve and that angle. Once the sight of a team drawing a huge grain-wago_ent a shiver to Warburton's heart. But they thundered past with a foot t_pare. The old negro on the seat stared after them, his ebony face drawn wit_onder and the whites of his eyes showing.
Foot by foot, yard by yard, the space lessened, till Dick's nose was withi_hree feet of Pirate's flowing tail. Warburton fairly lifted Dick along wit_is knees. I only wish I could describe the race as my jehu told it to me. Th_escription held me by the throat. I could see the flashing by of trees an_ouses and fields; the scampering of piccaninnies across the road; the horse_rom the meadows dashing up to the fences and whinnying; the fine stone an_ust which Pirate's rattling heels threw into my jehu's face and eyes; the ol_ain throbbing anew in his leg. And when he finally drew alongside the blac_rute and saw the white, set face of the girl he loved, I can imagine n_reater moment but one in his life. There was no fear on her face, but ther_as appeal in her eyes as she half turned her head. He leaned across th_ntervening space and slid his arm around her waist. The two horses cam_ogether and twisted his leg cruelly. His jaws snapped.
"Let the stirrup go!" he cried. "Let go, quick!" She heard him. "Your kne_rom the horn! I can't keep them together any longer. Now!"
Brave and plucky and cool she was. She obeyed him instantly. There was _ighty heave, a terrible straining of the back and the knees, and Pirate wa_reed of his precious burden. The hardest part of it came now. Dick could no_e made to slow down abruptly. He wanted to keep right on after his rival. So, between holding the girl with his right arm and pulling the horse with hi_eft, Warburton saw that he could keep up this terrible effort but a ver_hort time. Her arms were convulsively wound around his neck, and this adde_o the strain. Not a word did she say; her eyes were closed, as if sh_xpected any moment to be dashed to the earth.
But Dick was only a mortal horse. The fierce run and the double burden bega_o tell, and shortly his head came up. Warburton stopped him. The girl slid t_he ground, and in a moment he was at her side. And just in time. The reactio_as too much for her. Dazedly she brushed her hair from her eyes, stare_ildly at Warburton, and fainted. He did not catch her with that gracefu_recision which on the stage is so familiar to us. No. He was lucky to snatc_ne of her arms, thus preventing her head from striking the road. He dragge_er to the side of the highway and rested her head on his shaking knees.
Things grew dark for a time. To tell the truth, he himself was very close t_hat feminine weakness which the old fellows, in their rough and ready plays, used to call "vapours". But he forced his heart to steady itself.
And what do you suppose the rascal did—with nobody but Dick to watch him? Why, he did what any healthy young man in love would have done: pressed his lips t_he girl's hair, his eyes filling and half a sob in his parched throat. H_olefully pictured himself a modern Antiochus, dying of love and neve_onfessing it. Then he kissed her hair again; only her hair, for somehow h_elt that her lips and cheeks were as yet inviolable to his touch. I shoul_ave liked to see the picture they made: the panting horse a dozen rods away, looking at them inquiringly; the girl in her dust-covered habit, her hai_preading out like seaweed on a wave, her white face, her figure showing it_raceful lines; my jehu, his hair matted to his brow, the streaks of dust an_erspiration on his face, the fear and love and longing in his dark eyes. _ecollect a picture called _Love and Honor,_ or something like that. It neve_ppealed to me. It lacked action. It simply represented a fellow urging a gir_o elope with him. Both of them were immaculately dressed. But here, on thi_ld highway leading into Maryland, was something real. A battle had bee_ought and won.
Fainting is but transitory; by and by she opened her eyes, and stared vaguel_nto the face above her. I do not know what she saw there; whatever it was i_aused her to struggle to her feet. There was color enough in her cheeks now; and there was a question, too, in her eyes. Of Warburton it asked, "What di_ou do when I lay there unconscious?" I'm afraid there was color in his face, too. Her gaze immediately roved up the road. There was no Pirate, only a haz_f dust. Doubtless he was still going it, delighted over the trouble he ha_anaged to bring about. Warburton knelt at the girl's side and brushed th_ust from her skirt. She eyed him curiously. I shan't say that she smiled; _on't know, for I wasn't there.
Meanwhile she made several futile attempts to put up her hair, and as _inality she braided it and let it hang down her back. Suddenly an_naccountably she grew angry—angry at herself, at James, at the rascally hors_hat had brought her to this pass. Warburton saw something of this emotion i_er eyes, and to avoid the storm he walked over to Dick, picked up the reins, and led him back.
"If you will mount Dick, Miss," he said, "I will lead him home. It's abou_ive miles, I should say."
The futility and absurdity of her anger aroused her sense of the ridiculous; and a smile, warm and merry, flashed over her stained face. It surprised he_room.
"Thank you, James. You were right. I ought not to have ridden Pirate. I a_unished for my conceit. Five miles? It will be a long walk."
"I shan't mind it in the least," replied James, inordinately happy; and h_elped her to the saddle and adjusted the left stirrup.
So the journey home began. Strangely enough, neither seemed to car_articularly what had or might become of Pirate. He disappeared, mentally an_hysically. One thing dampened the journey for Warburton. His "game leg" ache_ruelly, and after the second mile (which was traversed without speech fro_ither of them), he fell into a slight limp. From her seat above and behin_im, she saw this limp.
"You have hurt yourself?" she asked gently.
"Not to-day, Miss,"—briefly.
"When he ran away with you?"
"No. It's an old trouble."
"While you were a soldier?"
He turned in surprise. All these questions were rather unusual. Nevertheles_e answered her, and truthfully.
"I was shot in the leg by a drunken Indian."
"While on duty?"
"Yes." Unconsciously he was forgetting to add "Miss", which was the patent o_is servility. And I do not think that just then she noticed this subtractio_rom the respect due her.
It was eleven o'clock when they arrived at the gates. She dismounted alone.
Warburton was visibly done up.
"Any orders for this afternoon, Miss?"
"I shall want the victoria at three. I have some shopping to do and a call t_ake. Send William after Pirate. I am very grateful for what you have done."
He made no reply, for he saw her father coming down the steps.
"Betty," said the colonel, pale and worried, "have you been riding Pirate?
Where is he, and what in the world has happened?"—noting the dust on her habi_nd her tangled hair.
She explained: she told the story rather coolly, Warburton thought, but sh_eft out no detail.
"You have James to thank for my safety, father. He was very calm and clear- headed."
_Calm and clear-headed!_ thought Warburton.
The girl then entered the house, humming. Most women would have got out th_avender salts and lain down the rest of the day, considering the routine of _ashionable dinner, which was the chief duty of the evening.
"I am grateful to you, James. My daughter is directly in your care when sh_ides, and I give you full authority. Never permit her to mount any horse bu_er own. She is all I have; and if anything should happen to her—"
"Yes, sir; I understand."
The colonel followed his daughter; and Warburton led Dick to the stables, gav_is orders to William, and flung himself down on his cot. He was dead tired.
And the hour he had dreaded was come! He was to drive her through the shoppin_istrict. Well, so be it. If any one exposed him, very good. This groo_usiness was decidedly like work. And there was that confounded dinner-party, and he would have to limp around a table and carry soup plates! And as likel_s not he would run into the very last person he expected to see.