“Miss ’Lethe,” he replied, and, discovering that the flask was still in plain view in his hand, slipped it into his sidepocket upside down.
“Colonel, put that bottle right side up and listen to me,” she said calmly. “Do you really love me?”
“Do I love you? With a fervor—er—a—passion—er—will you excuse me if I smoke?” He took a black cigar from his vest pocket, in another effort to control his nerves, and lighted it as might an automatic smoker.
“I am going to put you to the proof,” said she. “Could you, for my sake, come down from ten cigars a day to five?”
The Colonel was dismayed. “To five cigars a day! Impossible!” He caught himself. That scarcely was the way to answer the request of the woman he adored so fervently. “I mean,” he hastily corrected, “is—is that all?” He made a motion as if to throw away the weed he had just lighted, but thought better of it. “I will make the descent to-morrow,” he said earnestly.
“Could you restrict yourself to three mint-julips, daily?”
“Three! A man couldn’t live on three! He’d have to—have to take such poisons as—as cold water into his system.”
“Remember, Colonel, I would mix them.”
“That settles it! Three goes!” He fervently reached toward her, plainly planning to embrace her.
“Wait, Colonel,” she exclaimed, “there is one more condition. Could you, for my sake, promise never to enter another race-track?”
He started back from her in horror. “Never enter another race-tack! I, Colonel Sandusky Doolittle, known everywhere, from Maine to California, as a plunger, give up the absorbing passion of my life!”
“Remember what you said to Frank,” said she. “’It’s a delusion and a snare.’ But, of course, if you think more of a delusion than you do of me—”
“No; hang it!” cried the Colonel, “I think more of you. Twenty years—the longest race on record and a win in sight! I’ll not lose by a balk at the finish! I promise you, Miss ’Lethe, on the honor of a Kentuckian.”
“Then, Colonel, I must confess, I have loved you, also, for every one of those long twenty years.”
“Twenty years!” He turned his head aside and muttered: “What a damned fool I have been!” Then, to her, he said, exultantly: “Aha! A neck ahead!”
It is difficult to say what would have happened, then, if Madge, Holton, Barbara and Frank had not come from the stable, chattering about Queen Bess.
Joe Lorey, mad with wrath, his heart filled with the lust of killing for revenge, infuriated to the point where he felt need of neither food nor sleep, yet made less rapid time down the rough mountain paths than had the girl. Love-lent wings are swifter than an impulse born of hatred and resentment can be. She had flown upon such wings to save the man who filled her innocent thoughts with longing;