Jonathan had no mind for any such “foolishness.” He had won, and was content; and running didn’t become the dignity of a grown man. “We didn’t run at Louisbourg, I guess.” George echoed him. George could out-tire even Jonathan at wood-cutting, but had no length of leg.
But Ruth having compassion on the boy’s hurt feelings, persuaded them. They could refuse no straight request of hers. She pointed to an outlying elm that marked the boundary of the second pasture field beyond the steading. This should be the turning-post, and would give them a course well over half a mile, with a water-jump to be crossed twice. She ranged them in line, and dropped her handkerchief for signal.
They were off. She stood with the sun at her back and watched the race. George, of the short legs, broad shoulders, and bullet head, was a sprinter (as we call it nowadays) and shot at once to the front, with Homer not far behind, and Increase disputing the third place with Lemuel. Jonathan and William made scarcely a show of competing. The eldest lad, indeed, coming to the brook, did not attempt to jump, but floundered heavily through it, scrambled up the farther bank, and lumbered on in hopeless pursuit. It was here that Lemuel’s long easy stride asserted itself, and taking first place he reached the tree with several yards’ lead.
“He will win at his ease now,” said Ruth to herself; and just at that moment her ears caught the sound of a horse’s footfall. She turned; but the sun shone full in her eyes, and not for a second or two did she recognise her visitor, Mr. Silk.
He was on horseback, and, stooping from his saddle, was endeavouring just now—but very unhandily—to unhasp the gate with the crook of his riding-whip. Ruth did not offer to go to his help.
He managed it at last, thrust the horse through by vigorous use of his knees, and was riding straight up to the house. But just then he caught sight of her, changed his course, and came towards her at a walk.
“Ah, good-morning!” he called.
He dismounted. “Thought I’d ride over and pay you a call. The ladies will not be starting on their return journey for another couple of hours. So I borrowed a horse.”
“There’s something wrong with him, I doubt.” Mr. Silk was disagreeably red and moist.
“I dare say he is not used to being ridden mainly—or was it wholly?—on the curb.”
He grinned. “Well, and I’m not used to riding, and that’s a fact. But”—he leered the compliment—“there are few dangers I would not brave for a glance from Miss Josselin.”
“You flatter me, sir. But I believe you braved a worse, yesterday, without claiming that reward.”
“Ah! You mean that Sir Oliver will be angry when he gets wind of our little expedition? The ladies persuaded me—Adam’s old excuse; I can deny nothing to the sex. . . . But what have we yonder? A race?”