“Glad’s no name for it,” the gallant Colonel said, advancing in his turn.
There could be no doubt of the sincerity of any one who, thus far, had expressed a welcome for her; but the voice which now came coldly from Miss Barbara was less convincing. She did not approach the mountain girl, but sat somewhat superciliously upon a bench and spoke frigidly. “It is an unexpected pleasure.”
Madge, not trained to hide her feelings under softened words, turned on her angrily. “Humph! I wasn’t askin’ you,” she said. Then, to the others: “I didn’t know but what my droppin’ in, permiskus like—”
“A Kentuckian’s friends,” said Frank, “are always welcome.”
“Friends from the word go, remember,” said the Colonel.
“Thankee, Colonel,” said the girl. “We’ll have that race, some day; but I won’t ride agin you if you ride Queen Bess. Oh, wouldn’t I like to see her go!”
“So you shall,” said Frank. “Neb, is she ready?”
“Yessuh; all saddled, sur, an’ bridled.”
“Oh, let me bring her out,” cried Madge. “I’d love to.”
“Lawsy, honey,” said the negro, “you couldn’t bring her out. She’s dat fretful an’ dat nervous dat she’d kill yo’, suah.”
“Get out, Neb!” Madge cried, scornfully. “I ain’t afeard of her. Wild things allays has made friends with me. I’ve never seen a horse so skeery that I couldn’t manage him—couldn’t make him foller me.”
She pushed the hesitating Neb out of her path and went into the stable.
Layson, who was for the moment, at a distance, had not heard all her talk with Neb, but saw her as she went into the stall where none but he, himself, and Neb, dared go, and it was stable talk that, soon or late, Queen Bess would prove to be a man killer!
“Neb, stop her! She’ll be killed!” he cried.
Neb ran, as fast as his old legs would carry him, into the stable; Frank hurried to the stable door.
“Madge! Madge!” he cried, and then: “Why—look! The mare is following her as might a kitten!”
He stepped aside and Madge came from the stable with Queen Bess behind her, ears pricked forward eagerly as she kept her eyes on Madge’s pursed up, cooing lips, head dropped, neck stretched in graceful fashion, lifting her dainty feet as proudly as ever did the queen whom she was named for.
“Come on, you beauty!” the girl cried. “Oh, it would be like heaven to ride you; and I could do it, too!”
“Take her to the track, Neb,” Layson ordered. “I’ll follow and give her her exercise.”
Madge, unable to resist the impulse which was thrilling her with longing, motioned Neb away as he approached to take the mare. “Go ’way! Go ’way!” she said. Then, to the mare: “Come on, you dear, come on.” She went on slowly, while the mare, in calm docility, trailed after her. The spectators, who knew the beast, gazed spellbound.