At last Lady Constance declared she was tired, and turned to Adrien, begging him to sing instead. He hesitated for a moment; then, as if throwing off the unusual moodiness that oppressed him, he seated himself at the piano; and, after a few moments of restless improvisation, he sang song after song from Schumann’s “Dichter-liebe,” with an intensity of passion in the clear tenor notes that thrilled the soul of every listener.
In the silence which fell on the little company when the last chords died away, Jasper Vermont, half-hidden by the curtain, opened the window, and slipped out on the terrace. The moon shone full on his white face, distorted with an unaccountable fury, as he muttered through his clenched teeth: “Curse the fellow! How I hate him!”
The morning of the race dawned clear and bright, and the Leroy course shone like a strip of emerald velvet in the crisp, sparkling air.
Since sunrise, throngs of people, men, women, and children, had been streaming in from the outlying districts, some many miles away; while at the side of the course stretched a long line of vehicles of all kinds, which had already disbursed their load.
In twos and threes the late horses arrived swaddled in cloths, and surrounded by the usual crowd of bow-legged grooms and diminutive jockeys; while the air reeked with the smell of the stable and the oaths and slang of the men.
Later still came the bookmakers with their brisk, business-like method of entering the bets, big or small; the “swell’s” thousand or the countryman’s shilling were all one to them. And lastly, amid all the din and turmoil of the most crowded meeting Barminster had ever witnessed, came the army of the Castle servants to put the finishing touches to the boxes in the grand stand, over which floated the Leroy colours.
Towards noon, the hour at which the first race was to be run, the crowd grew denser, the excitement keener.
“Two to one on ’King Cole’—three to one ’Miracour’—and five to one ’Bay Star’—six to one, bar three”—all these cries rose in a loud, turbulent roar. It was known to all that the “swells”—as they termed the Castle people—had backed their champion “King Cole” for sums which, as Jasper Vermont had rightly said the preceding night, would almost equal his weight in gold; and such was their faith in him that no other horse had been entered from that same county.
Twelve o’clock struck, and no signs as yet of the Leroy party; that is to say, with the exception of one man, namely, Mr. Jasper Vermont.
“Your swells are always late,” said a thick-lipped turfite, biting his stubby pencil prior to booking a favourable bet. “They gives any money for style, an’ plays it high on us. It ain’t their way to be to time for anything, not they—only us poor chaps.”
The surrounding crowd echoed his shout of “two to one on ‘King Cole,’” despite his diatribes against the swells; when suddenly attention was caught by a dark chestnut, thin in the flank, and badly groomed, which was led into the paddock by a dirty, close-shaven countryman, who looked as nonchalant and self-satisfied as if he held the bridle of “King Cole” himself.