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Chapter 9 THE HEROINE HIRES A GROOM

  • Remarkable as it may read, his first impression was of her gown—a gown such a_omen wear on those afternoons when they are free of social obligations, _own to walk in or to lounge in. The skirt, which barely reached to the top o_er low shoes, was of some blue stuff (stuff, because to a man's mind the wor_overs feminine dress- goods generally, liberally, and handily), overshot wit_ray. Above this she had put on a white golfing-sweater, a garment which a_hat time was just beginning to find vogue among women who loved the field_nd the road. Only men who own to stylish sisters appreciate these things, an_arburton possessed rather observant eyes. She held a bunch of freshly plucke_oppies in her hand. It was the second time that their glances had met an_eld. In the previous episode (on the day she had leaned out of the cab) her_ad been first to fall. Now it was his turn. He studied the tips of his shoes.
  • There were three causes why he lowered his eyes: First, she was mistress her_nd he was an applicant for employment; second, he loved her; third, he wa_ommitting the first bold dishonesty in his life. Once, it was on the very ti_f his tongue to confess everything, apologize, and take himself off. But hi_uriosity was of greater weight than his desire. He remained silent and waite_or her to speak.
  • "Celeste, you may leave us," said Miss Annesley.
  • Celeste courtesied, shot a killing glance at the tentative groom, and departe_he scene.
  • "You have driven horses for some length of time?" the girl began.
  • If only he might look as calmly and fearlessly at her! What a voice, now tha_e heard it in its normal tone! "Yes, Madam; I have ridden and drive_omething like ten years."
  • "Where?"
  • "In the West, mostly."
  • "You are English?"
  • "No, Madam." He wondered how much she had heard at the police-court tha_orning. "I am American born."
  • "Are you addicted to the use of intoxicants?"—mentally noting the clearness o_he whites of his eyes.
  • The barest flicker of a smile stirred his lips.
  • "No, Madam. I had not been drinking last night—that is, not in the sense th_fficers declared I had. It is true that I take a drink once in a while, whe_ have been riding or driving all day, or when I am cold. I have absolutely n_ppetite."
  • She brushed her cheeks with the poppies, and for a brief second the flower_hrew a most beautiful color over her face and neck.
  • "What was your object in climbing on the box of my carriage and running awa_ith it?"
  • Quick as a flash of light he conceived his answer. "Madam, it was a jes_etween me and some maids." He had almost said serving-maids, but the though_f Nancy checked this libel.
  • "Between you and some maids?"—faintly contemptuous. "Explain, for I believe a_xplanation is due me."
  • His gaze was forced to rove again. "Well, Madam, it is truly embarrassing. Tw_aids were to enter a carriage and I was to drive them away from the embassy, and once I had them in the carriage I thought it would be an admirable chanc_o play them a trick."
  • "Pray, since when have serving-maids beein allowed exit from the main hall o_he British embassy?"
  • Mr. Robert was positive that the shadow of a sarcastic smile rested for _oment on her lips. But it was instantly hidden under the poppies.
  • "That is something of which I have no intimate knowledge. A groom is no_upposed to turn his head when on the box unless spoken to. You will readil_nderstand that, Madam. I made a mistake in the number. Mine was seventy-one, and I answered number seventeen. I was confused."
  • "I dare say. Seventy-one," she mused, "It will be easy to verify this, to fin_ut whose carriage that was."
  • Mr. Robert recognized his mistake, but he saw no way to rectify it. She stoo_ilently gazing over his shoulder, into the fields beyond.
  • "Perhaps you can explain to me that remarkable episode at the carriage door? _hould be pleased to hear your explanation."
  • It hard come,—the very thing he had dreaded had come. He had hoped that sh_ould ignore it. "Madam, I can see that you have sent for me out of curiosit_nly. If I offered any disrespect to you last night, I pray you to forgive me.
  • For, on my word of honor, it was innocently done." He bowed, and even place_is hand on the knob of the door.
  • "Have a little patience. I prefer myself to forget that disagreeabl_ncident." The truth is, "on my word of honor," coming from a groom, sounde_trange in her ears; and she wanted to learn more about this fellow. "Mr.
  • Osborne, what were you before you became a groom?"
  • "I have not always been a groom, it is true, Madam. My past I prefer to leav_n obscurity. There is nothing in that past, however, of which I need b_shamed;"—and unconsciously his figure became more erect.
  • "Is your name Osborne?"
  • "No, Madam, it is not. For my family's sake, I have tried to forget my ow_ame." (I'll wager the rascal never felt a qualm in the region of hi_onscience.)
  • It was this truth which was not truth that won his battle.
  • "You were doubtless discharged last night?"
  • "I did not return to ascertain, Madam. I merely sent for my belongings."
  • "You have recommendations?"—presently.
  • "I have no recommendations whatever, Madam. If you employ me, it must be don_n your own responsibility and trust in human nature. I can only say, Madam, that I am honest, that I am willing, that I possess a thorough knowledge o_orse-flesh."
  • "It is very unusual," she said, searching him to the very heart with her dee_lue eyes. "For all I know you may be the greatest rascal, or you may be th_onestest man, in the world." His smile was so frank and engaging that she wa_orced to smile herself. But she thought of something, and frowned. "If yo_ave told me the truth, so much the better; for I can easily verify all yo_ave told me. I will give you a week's trial. After all,"—indifferently—"wha_ desire is a capable servant. You will have to put up with a good deal. Ther_re days when I am not at all amiable, and on those days I do not like to fin_ speck of rust on the metals or a blanket that has not been thoroughl_rushed. As for the animals, they must always shine like satin. This last i_nconditional. Besides all this, our force of servants is small. Do you kno_nything about serving?"
  • "Very little." What was coming now?
  • "The chef will coach you. I entertain some, and there will be times when yo_ill be called upon to wait on the table. Come with me and I will show you th_orses. We have only five, but my father takes great pride in them. They ar_ll thoroughbreds."
  • "Like their mistress," was Warburton's mental supplementary.
  • "Father hasn't ridden for years, however. The groom I discharged this mornin_as capable enough on the box, but he was worse than useless to me in m_orning rides. I ride from nine till eleven, even Sundays sometimes. Remai_ere till I return."
  • As she disappeared Warburton drew in an exceedingly long breath and release_t slowly. Heavens, what an ordeal! He drew the back of his hand across hi_orehead and found it moist. Not a word about the fine: he must broach it an_hank her. Ah, to ride with her every morning, to adjust her stirrup, to obe_very command to which she might give voice, to feel her small boot repuls_is palm as she mounted! Heaven could hold nothing greater than this. And ho_asily a woman may be imposed upon! Decidedly, Mr. Robert was violently i_ove.
  • When she returned there was a sunbonnet on her head, and she had pinned th_oppies on her breast. (Why? I couldn't tell you, unless when all is said an_one, be he king or valet, a man is always a man; and if perchance he i_lessed with good looks, a little more than a man. You will understand that i_his instance I am trying to view things through a woman's eyes.) With a no_he bade him precede her, and they went out toward the stables. She noted th_lat back, the square shoulders, the easy, graceful swing of the legs.
  • "Have you been a soldier?" she asked suddenly.
  • He wheeled. His astonishment could not be disguised quickly enough to escap_er vigilant eyes. Once more he had recourse to the truth.
  • "Yes, Madam. It was as a trooper that I learned horsemanship."
  • "What regiment?"
  • "I prefer not to say,"—quietly.
  • "I do not like mysteries,"—briefly.
  • "Madam, you have only to dismiss me, to permit me to thank you for paying m_ine and to reimburse you at the earliest opportunity."
  • She closed her lips tightly. No one but herself knew what had been on th_erge of passing across them.
  • "Let us proceed to the stables," was all she said. "If you prove yourself _apable horseman, that is all I desire."
  • The stable-boy slid back the door, and the two entered. Warburton glance_uickly about; all was neatness. There was light and ventilation, too, and th_ox-stalls were roomy. The girl stopped before a handsome bay mare, whic_hinnied when it saw her. She laid her cheek against the animal's nose an_alked that soft jargon so embarrassing to man and so intelligible to babie_nd pet animals. Lucky horse! he thought; but his face expressed nothing.
  • "This is Jane, my own horse, and there are few living things I love so well.
  • Remember this. She is a thoroughbred, a first-class hunter; and I have don_ore than five feet on her at home."
  • She moved on, Warburton following soberly and thoughtfully. There was a goo_eal to think of just now. The more he saw of this girl, the less h_nderstood her purpose in hiring him. She couldn't possibly know anythin_bout him, who or what he was. With his beard gone he defied her to recogniz_n him the man who had traveled across the Atlantic with her. A highbre_oman, such as she was, would scarcely harbor any kind feelings toward a ma_ho had acted as he was acting. If any man had kissed Nancy the way he ha_issed her, he would have broken every bone in his body or hired some one t_o it. And she had paid his fine at the police-station and had hired him o_robation! Truly he was in the woods, and there wasn't a sign of a blaze_rail. (It will be seen that my hero hadn't had much experience with women.
  • She knew nothing of him whatever. She was simply curious, and brave enough t_ttempt to have this curiosity gratified. Of course, I do not venture to sa_hat, had he been coarse in appearance, she would have had anything to do wit_im.)
  • "This is Dick, my father's horse,"—nodding toward a sorrel, large and wel_et-up. "He will be your mount. The animal in the next stall is Pirate."
  • Pirate was the handsomest black gelding Warburton had ever laid eyes on.
  • "What a beauty!" he exclaimed enthusiastically, forgetting that grooms shoul_e utterly without enthusiasm. He reached out his hand to pat the black nose, when a warning cry restrained him. Pirate's ears lay flat.
  • "Take care! He is a bad-tempered animal. No one rides him, and we keep hi_nly to exhibit at the shows. Only half a dozen men have ridden him with an_uccess. He won't take a curb in his mouth, and he always runs away. It take_ very strong man to hold him in. I really don't believe that he's vicious, only terribly mischievous, like a bullying boy."
  • "I should like to ride him."
  • The girl looked at her new groom in a manner which expressed fran_stonishment. Was he in earnest, or was it mere bravado? An idea came to her, a mischievous idea.
  • "If you can sit on Pirate's back for ten minutes, there will not be an_uestion of probation. I promise to engage you on the spot, recommendation o_o recommendation." Would he, back down?
  • "Where are the saddles, Madam?" he asked calmly, though his blood move_aster.
  • "On the pegs behind you,"—becoming interested. "Do you really intend to rid_im?"
  • "With your permission."
  • "I warn you that the risk you are running is great."
  • "I am not afraid of Pirate, Madam," in a tone which implied that he was no_fraid of any horse living. The spirit of antagonism rose up in him, tha_pirit of antagonism of the human against the animal, that eternal ambition o_he one to master the other. And besides, I'm not sure that James didn't wan_o show off before the girl— another very human trait in mankind. For my part, I wouldn't give yesterday's rose for a man who wouldn't show off once in _hile, when his best girl is around and looking on.
  • "On your head be it, then,"—a sudden nervousness seizing her. Yet she was a_ager to witness the encounter as he was to court it. "William!" she called.
  • The stable-boy entered, setting aside his broom. "This is James, the ne_room. Help him to saddle Pirate."
  • "Saddle Pirate, Miss Annesley!" cried the boy, his mouth open and his eye_ide.
  • "You see?" said the girl to Warburton.
  • "Take down that saddle with the hooded stirrups," said Warburton, briefly. H_ould ride Pirate now, even if Pirate had been sired in Beelzebub's stables.
  • He carefully inspected the saddle, the stirrup- straps and the girth. "Ver_ood, indeed. Buckles on saddles are always a hidden menace and a constan_anger. Now, bring out Pirate, William."
  • William brought out the horse, who snorted when he saw the saddle on the floo_nd the curb on Warburton's arm.
  • "There hasn't been anybody on his back for a year, sir; not since last winter.
  • He's likely to give you trouble," said the boy. "You can't put that curb o_im, sir; he won't stand for it a moment. Miss Annesley, hadn't you bette_tep outside? He may start to kicking. That heavy English snaffle is the bes_hing I know of. Try that, sir. And don't let him get his head down, or he'l_o you. Whoa!" as Pirate suddenly took it into his head to leave the bar_ithout any one's permission.
  • The girl sprang lightly into one of the empty stalls and waited. She wa_reatly excited, and the color in her cheeks was not borrowed from th_oppies. She saw the new groom take Pirate by the forelock, and, quicker tha_ords can tell, Mr. Pirate was angrily champing the cold bit. He reared.
  • Warburton caught him by the nose and the neck. Pirate came down, tremblin_ith rage.
  • "Here, boy; catch him here," cried Warburton. William knew his business, an_e grasped the bridle close under Pirate's jaws. "That's it. Now hold him."
  • Warburton picked up the saddle and threw it over Pirate's glossy back. Pirat_altzed from side to side, and shook his head wickedly. But the man that wa_o mount him knew all these signs. Swiftly he gathered up the end of th_elly-band strap and ran it through the iron ring. In and out he threaded it, drawing it tighter and tighter. He leaped into the saddle and adjusted th_tirrups, then dismounted.
  • "I'll take him now, William," said James, smiling.
  • "All right, sir," said William, glad enough to be relieved of all furthe_esponsibility.
  • James led Pirate into the small court and waited for Miss Annesley, wh_ppeared in the doorway presently.
  • "James, I regret that I urged you to ride him. You will be hurt," she said.
  • Her worry was plainly visible on her face.
  • James smiled his pleasantest and touched his hat.
  • "Very well, then; I have warned you. If he bolts, head him for a tree. That'_he only way to stop him."
  • James shortened the bridle-rein to the required length, took a firm grip o_irate's mane, and vaulted into the saddle. Pirate stood perfectly still. H_hook his head. James talked to him and patted his sleek neck, and touched hi_ently with his heel. Then things livened up a bit. Pirate waltzed, reared, plunged, and started to do the _pas seul_ on the flower-beds. Then h_mmediately changed his mind. He decided to re-enter the stables.
  • "Don't let him get his head down!" yelled William, nimbly jumping over a be_f poppies and taking his position beside his mistress.
  • "The gates, William! The gates!" cried the girl, excitedly. "Only one is open.
  • He will not be able to get through."
  • William scampered down the driveway and swung back the iron barrier. None to_oon! Like a black shadow, Pirate flashed by, his rider's new derby rolling i_he dust.
  • The girl stood in the doorway, her hands pressed against her heart. She was a_hite as the clouds that sailed overhead.