The girl nodded wisely. “I understand,” said she; and then, with a quick glance at Miss Alathea, who was not attending, and an earnest and imploring look at the poor Colonel: “Whatever you do don’t you forget that we are goin’ to th’ races!” She left the room.
Forget! The Colonel was not likely to forget about those races! He was in deep misery of mind. “Miss ’Lethe?” he said timidly.
“Yes, Colonel,” said the charming lady, turning toward him.
“Miss ’Lethe, have you the remotest idea of the agony I’m suffering?”
“Why, Colonel, what’s the matter? Aren’t you well?” Miss ’Lethe’s keen anxiety was instantaneous.
“Yes—yes—I’m well—that is, I am now, but I shouldn’t wonder if I’d be dead before night. Miss ’Lethe, when we made our little arrangement, yesterday, I didn’t know that the sale of the mare, your twenty-five thousand dollars, the assessment on Frank’s stock, everything was going to depend upon this race. I tell you, if I don’t see it, I’m liable to an attack of heart-disease.”
“Ah, Colonel,” said she, sadly, “I see where your heart really is!”
“With you, Miss ’Lethe, always with you,” he urgently assured her; but there was pleading in his eyes which really was pitiful.
“Remember your solemn promise.”
“But one little race,” he begged. “That wouldn’t count, would it? And then swear off forever.”
“No, Colonel; no,” she firmly answered, “for if you yield, this time, I’ll know that in the race for your affections the horse is first, the woman second.”
The Colonel sank dejectedly into a chair. “I can’t permit you to think that,” said he. “I’ll—keep my promise.”
She went to him, delighted. “Ah, I was sure you would,” said she. “Now I can go and finish my shopping in peace. It’s all for your good, Colonel—for your good.” With a happy smile she left him there, alone.
“For my good!” exclaimed the Colonel, ruefully. “That’s what the teacher used to say, but the hickory smarted, just the same. Of course Miss ’Lethe is first—but—but—the horse is a strong second!”
To add to the man’s agony, Madge, now, returned, dressed and ready for the most exciting moments of her life. “I’m all ready, Colonel,” she said eagerly. “Think we’ll have good seats? I do hope I’ll be whar I kin see!”
He would not, yet, disappoint the child; he would not, yet,—he could not—admit that he, himself, was to meet with such a bitter disappointment. “You’ll see, all right,” he told her, “and so will I.” But, after a second’s thought he added: “I will if I can hire a balloon!”
They heard Neb’s excited voice out in the corridor, and, an instant later, the old darkey hurried in. Immediately the Colonel knew, from his appearance, that something had gone seriously wrong.
“What is it, Neb; what is it?” he demanded.
“Fo’ de Lawd, sech news!” said Neb. “Sech news!”