The rustle of a woman’s garment disturbed him, and he turned his head. Penelope stood there in her trim riding habit,—a garb in which he had never seen her. She held her skirts in her hand and looked at him with a curious little smile.
“It is too early in the morning, Prince,” she said, “for you to sit there dreaming so long and so earnestly. Come in to breakfast. Every one is down, for a wonder.”
“Breakfast, by all means,” he answered, coming blithely up the broad steps. “You are going to ride this morning?”
“I suppose we all are, more or less,” she answered. “It is our hunt steeplechases, you know. Poor Grace is in there nearly sobbing her eyes out. Captain Chalmers has thrown her over. Lady Barbarity—that’s Grace’s favorite mare, and her entry for the cup—turned awkward with him yesterday, and he won’t have anything more to do with her.”
“From your tone,” he remarked, pushing open the French windows, “I gather that this is a tragedy. I, unfortunately, do not understand.”
“You should ask Grace herself,” Penelope said. “There she is.”
Lady Grace looked round from her place at the head of the breakfast table.
“Come and sympathize with me, Prince,” she cried. “For weeks I have been fancying myself the proud possessor of the hunt cup. Now that horrid man, Captain Chalmers, has thrown me over at the last moment. He refuses to ride my mare because she was a little fractious yesterday.”
“It is a great misfortune,” the Prince said in a tone of polite regret, “but surely it is not irreparable? There must be others—why not your own groom?”
A smile went round the table. The Duke hastened to explain.
“The race is for gentlemen riders only,” he said. “The horses have to be the property of members of the hunt. There would be no difficulty, of course, in finding a substitute for Captain Chalmers, but the race takes place this morning, and I am afraid, with all due respect to my daughter, that her mare hasn’t the best of reputations.”
“I won’t have a word said against Lady Barbarity,” Lady Grace declared. “Captain Chalmers is a good horseman, of course but for a lightweight he has the worst hands I ever knew.”
“But surely amongst your immediate friends there must be many others,” the Prince said. “Sir Charles, for instance?”
“Charlie is riding his own horse,” Lady Grace answered. “He hasn’t the ghost of a chance, but, of course, he won’t give it up.”