His sharp eyes glanced towards the closed motor, which was gliding round the bend of the drive.
“No, sir, I am quite well, I assure you,” Jasper replied, meekly, as if unconscious of any irony.
“But I have learned enough wisdom to feel convinced that all journeys, including that of life itself, should be taken as comfortably as possible. I prefer, therefore, to have the dust and smell outside the car instead of in. Am I not right?”
“Perfectly,” returned his opponent, with a sarcastic smile; “you should surely know your own constitution best. It was an unfortunate error on my part.”
At this moment, Adrien, who had been listening to the point-and-thrust conversation, exceedingly ill at ease, intervened, and under some pretext drew his father out with him into the corridor.
“I do detest that fellow so,” said the old man apologetically, as though ashamed at having displayed his feelings.
“It’s a pity, sir,” returned Adrien, respectfully; for his father was the only person who dared say a word in disfavour of his friend. “He takes any amount of pains to save me trouble.”
“Well, it pays him,” retorted Lord Barminster dryly; then with a wave of the hand as if to dismiss an unpleasant subject, he added, “You’re off to the stables, I suppose?”
“Yes, sir,” replied Adrien, “I want to have a look at ‘King Cole.’” With a friendly nod, he ran lightly down the wide oak staircase and disappeared in the direction of the stables.
For a few moments Lord Barminster stood gazing after him, his stern face relaxed, his keen eyes softened. Adrien was more to him than all his possessions, which were vast enough to have provided for a dozen sons. Therefore, he denied him nothing, however extravagant or reckless in price, and refrained from any comment on his line of conduct.
Adrien’s appearance in the stable-yard was the signal for much excitement among the hands there; and presently the head groom made his appearance, struggling into his coat, while coughing with embarrassed respect.
“Good morning, Markham,” said his master with a nod; “where’s the ’King’?”
“In the south stable, sir,” replied the man, as he fumbled in his pocket for the keys. “You would like to see him, sir?”
Adrien nodded, and made his way to the stable, accompanied by the groom.
“No one else is allowed to enter the stable but yourself, Markham?” he asked, as the man unlocked the door.
“No one, sir. I’m always here when he’s being littered or fed. Not a soul touches him without I’m at his side. He’s in fine condition, sir; I never saw him in better.”
Adrien passed his hand over the satiny coat of the race-horse. The dainty creature pricked up his finely-pointed ears, and turned to his master with a whinny of delight.
“He looks well enough,” he admitted. “Has he had his gallop this morning?”