Without a second’s hesitation, with no thought for her own safety, she drew her skirts about her tightly, wrapped her shawl around her head to save her hair and dashed through the growing flames about the stable-door, into the inferno which now raged within the structure, just as Neb, running with a lurching step, but with a speed remarkable in one so old and stiffened by rheumatic pains, dashed back to the scene of the disaster, in advance of Frank, the Colonel, Holton, Miss Alathea and the other inmates of the house, guests, servants, all.
[Illustration: “BACK! BACK! I’M A-COMIN’ WITH QUEEN BESS!”]
Without a word, as he approached, Frank pulled off his coat, evidently preparing for a desperate dash through the now roaring flames to rescue his beloved mare. Then, bracing himself for a great spring through the lurid barrier, he cried, “I’ll save her!” and would have leaped into the flaming entrance if Neb had not caught his arm with desperate grip.
“No, honey,” the old negro cried, “yo’ shan’t go in!”
The Colonel joined the negro in restraining the half-crazed owner of Queen Bess. “It’s no use, Frank,” said he. “We’ll not let you go in.”
They dragged the struggling youth back from the fire just as, to their amazement, an exultant voice rang from the inside of the burning building. “Back! Back!” it cried. “I’m a-comin’ with Queen Bess!”
An instant later Madge sprang out through the flames, followed by the mare, about whose head the mountain girl had wrapped her shawl.
“Come, girl! Come, girl!” said Madge, alert of eye, cool-witted, soothing.
As docilely as she had followed her that afternoon, the mare stepped through the blazing door and out into the stable-yard.
Lexington was in a wild state of excitement on the morning of the year’s great race, the Ashland Oaks. In a private parlor of the Phoenix Hotel the two men who were, perhaps, most deeply interested of all in it, were weary of their speculations after they had gone, for the thousandth time, over every detail of possible prophecy and speculation. The Colonel sat beside a table upon which stood a “long” glass from which protruded, and in which nestled fragrant mint-leaves. At the bottom of the glass there lingered, yet, the good third of a julep.
“There’s one capital thing about a mint-julep,” he said comfortably, and smacked appreciative lips. “One always suggests another.” He drained his glass and rose. At the other side of the room was the bell-button. His finger was extended and about to touch it when he stopped to think. “No! Great heavens!” said he. “That makes my third, already, and I’m as dry as the desert of Sahara.” He sat down again, an air of martyrdom upon his face. “Ah, well, Miss ’Lethe’s worth it. I say, Frank, anything new in the extra?”
The youthful owner of Queen Bess, to whom it seemed as if almost life itself were staked on the result of the coming contest at the track, lowered, with a nervous hand, for an instant only, the newspaper he had been poring over.