“Prince,” she declared, “you rode superbly. It was a wonderful race. I have never felt so grateful to any one in my life.”
The Prince smiled in a puzzled way.
“My dear young lady,” he said, “it was a great pleasure and a very pleasant ride. You have nothing to thank me for because your horse is a little better than those others.”
“It was not my mare alone,” she answered,—“it was your riding.”
The Prince laughed as one who does not understand.
“You make me ashamed, Lady Grace,” he declared. “Why, there is only one way to ride. You did not think that because I was not English I should fall off a horse?”
“I am afraid,” the Duke remarked smiling, “that several Englishmen have fallen off!”
“It is a matter of the horse,” the Prince said. “Some are not trained for jumping. What would you have, then? In my battalion we have nine hundred horsemen. If I found one who did not ride so well as I do, he would go back to the ranks. We would make an infantryman of him. Miss Morse,” he added, turning suddenly to where Penelope was standing a little apart. “I am so sorry that Sir Charles’ horse was not quite so good as Lady Grace’s. You will not blame me?”
She looked at him curiously. She did not answer immediately. Somerfield was coming towards them, his pink coat splashed with mud, his face scratched, and a very distinct frown upon his forehead. She looked away from him to the Prince. Their eyes met for a moment.
“No!” she said. “I do not blame you!”
CHAPTER XXX. INSPECTOR JACKS IMPORTUNATE
They were talking of the Prince during those few minutes before they separated to dress for dinner. The whole of the house-party, with the exception of the Prince himself, were gathered around the great open fireplace at the north end of the hall. The weather had changed during the afternoon, and a cold wind had blown in their faces on the homeward drive. Every one had found comfortable seats here, watching the huge logs burn, and there seemed to be a general indisposition to move. A couple of young men from the neighborhood had joined the house-party, and the conversation, naturally enough, was chiefly concerned with the day’s sport. The young men, Somerfield especially, were inclined to regard the Prince’s achievement from a somewhat critical standpoint.
“He rode the race well enough,” Somerfield admitted, “but the mare is a topper, and no mistake. He had nothing to do but to sit tight and let her do the work.”
“Of course, he hadn’t to finish either,” one of the newcomers, a Captain Everard Wilmot, remarked. “That’s where you can tell if a fellow really can ride or not. Anyhow, his style was rotten. To me he seemed to sit his horse exactly like a groom.”
“You will, perhaps, not deny him,” the Duke remarked mildly, “a certain amount of courage in riding a strange horse of uncertain temper, over a strange country, in an enterprise which was entirely new to him.”