“Now I’ll hold it—it will be quieter with me—if you will please change the saddle.”
Unthinkingly, Stafford obeyed, and got the saddle on the jigging and dancing youngster. As unthinkingly, he put Ida up; and it was not until the colt rose on its hind legs that he remembered to ask her if the horse were broken.
“Scarcely,” she said with a laugh; “but it will be all right. Good-morning—and thank you!” And calling to the chestnut she turned the colt and tore off, the chestnut and the dogs scampering after her.
Stafford’s face grew hot for a moment with fear for her, then it grew hotter with admiration as he watched her skimming across the moor in the direction of the Hall. Once, just before she vanished from his sight, she turned and waved her hand to him as if to assure him that she was safe. The gesture reminded him of the white figure standing in the doorway last night, and something stirred in his heart and sent a warm thrill through him. In all his life he had never seen anyone like her!
“You look rather serious, oh, my prince!” said Howard, as, some few hours later, he leisurely climbed into the phaeton beside Stafford. “I have noticed with inward satisfaction that as we approach the moment of meeting with your puissant parent, the Sultan, an air of gravity and soberness has clouded that confoundedly careless, devil-may-care countenance of yours. I say with inward satisfaction, because, with my usual candour, I don’t mind admitting that I am shivering in my shoes. The shadow of the august presence is already falling on me, and as the hour draws near I feel my littleness, my utter insignificance, with an acuteness which almost compels me to ask you to let me get down and make my way back to London as best I can.”
“Don’t be an ass,” retorted Stafford, rather absently.
“You ask an impossibility of me, my dear fellow; but I will try and conceal my asininity as best I can. May I ask, to change the subject, where you were wandering all the morning?”
Stafford coloured slightly and bestowed minute attention to the off horse.
“Oh, just prowling round,” he replied, leisurely.
“You tempt me to finish the quotation. Did you find anyone to devour? Apropos, has his majesty, the Sultan, ever mentioned matrimony to you, Staff?”
Stafford looked round at him for an instant.
“No,” he said, curtly. “What the devil made you ask?”
“Merely my incessant speculation as to your future, my dear fellow,” replied Howard, blandly. “Most fathers are ambitious for their sons, and I should imagine that Sir Stephen would be extremely so. When a man is simply a plain ‘Mr.,’ he longs for the ‘Sir;’ when he gets the ‘Sir,’ he wants the ‘my Lord’ for himself, or for his son and heir. That is the worst of ambition: you can’t satisfy it. I have no doubt in my mind that at this very