I am no judge of racing, but I love the aspect of sleek, slim horses, and I could applaud a skill in which I had no share. I can keep my seat on most four-legged beasts, but my horsemanship is a clumsy, rough-and-ready affair, very different from the effortless grace of your true cavalier. Mr. Grey’s prowess, especially, filled me with awe. He would leap an ugly fence without moving an inch in his saddle, and both in skill and the quality of his mounts he was an easy victor. The sight of such accomplishments depressed my pride, and I do not think I would have ventured near the tent had it not been for the Governor.
He saw me on the fringe of the crowd, and called me to him. “What bashfulness has taken you to-day, sir?” he cried, “That is not like your usual. There are twenty pretty dames here who pine for a word from you.”
I saw his purpose well enough. He loved to make mischief, and knew that the sight of me among the Virginian gentry would infuriate my unfriends. But I took him at his word and elbowed my way into the enclosure.
Then I wished to Heaven I had stayed at home. I got insolent glances from the youths, and the cold shoulder from the ladies. Elspeth smiled when she saw me, but turned the next second to gossip with her little court. She was a devout lover of horses, and had eyes for nothing but the racing. Her cheeks were flushed, and it was pretty to watch her excitement; how she hung breathless on the movements of the field, and clapped her hands at a brave finish. Pretty, indeed, but exasperating to one who had no part in that pleasant company.
I stood gloomily by the rail at the edge of the ladies’ awning, acutely conscious of my loneliness. Presently Mr. Grey, whose racing was over, came to us, and had a favour pinned in his coat by Elspeth’s fingers. He was evidently high in her good graces, for he sat down by her and talked gleefully. I could not but admire his handsome eager face, and admit with a bitter grudge that you would look long to find a comelier pair.
All this did not soothe my temper, and after an hour of it I was in desperate ill-humour with the world. I had just reached the conclusion that I had had as much as I wanted, when I heard Elspeth’s voice calling me.
“Come hither, Mr. Garvald,” she said. “We have a dispute which a third must settle. I favour the cherry, and Mr. Grey fancies the blue; but I maintain that blue crowds cherry unfairly at the corners. Use your eyes, sir, at the next turning.”
I used my eyes, which are very sharp, and had no doubt of it.
“That is a matter for the Master of the Course,” said Mr. Grey. “Will you uphold your view before him, sir?”
I said that I knew too little of the sport to be of much weight as a witness. To this he said nothing, but offered to wager with me on the result of the race, which was now all but ending. “Or no,” said he, “I should not ask you that. A trader is careful of his guineas.”