Presently, while the crowd pushed around the sacred enclosure, Jasper Vermont walked swiftly up to the Yorkshireman, and whispered behind a sheltering cough:
“That will do. Take him off. The plant’s safe without him.”
Three minutes later, a laugh of derision arose as the announcement was made that the chestnut was “scratched.” But further discussion died down, as the Leroy carriages arrived—–only just in time, for the saddling bell had already rang.
The course was now looking its best. Long lines of glittering motors and smart carriages had joined their humbler brethren of traps and omnibuses. The seats and stands were filled with gaily-dressed people; women in their furs, velvets and exquisite hats, giving the impression from a distance of a huge living flower garden.
On the appearance of Adrien Leroy, the excitement reached its height, for he was known to everybody by name and sight, and was, moreover, the owner of the favourite.
The carriage containing Lord Barminster had been drawn up as near the course as possible, and as far from the crowd as space would permit; for his lordship invariably refused to mix with any concourse of people, even when they consisted of his own order.
Adrien, having seen that he was comfortable, escorted the ladies down to their seats on the grand stand; then he betook himself to the paddock, where “King Cole” had just been saddled.
At the sound of the loved voice the beautiful animal turned his head, with a whinny of delight. Then, as the two people he disliked with every fibre of his being approached him—Jasper Vermont and Peacock, the jockey—he laid his ears back with every appearance of alarm and distrust. It seemed as if his animal instincts were keener than those of his master.
Leroy stroked the soft nose of the race-horse, while Jasper passed his hand admiringly over the satiny neck.
“Beautiful as a daisy,” he exclaimed, and as Mr. Vermont would hardly have recognised that humble flower if he had seen it, this was rather qualified praise.
“Too long in the leg,” murmured a man whom Jasper had previously introduced as a sporting friend of his.
Adrien turned round and surveyed the speaker calmly for a moment.
“Too leggy, you think, do you? I’ll lay two to one upon them.”
“Done,” said the man sharply. “Hundreds or thousands?”
“Thousands,” said Adrien quietly.
Jasper touched him on the arm and whispered, in gentle remonstrance:
“Steady, old chap, there’s pots of money on him as it is. Don’t you think it would be as well—”
“Make it thousands,” interrupted Adrien, almost haughtily, as he turned on his heel.
The man booked the bet, bowed to Vermont, as to an utter stranger, and the two gentlemen passed to the weighing-seat. Peacock had already gone to don his riding-clothes, and without waiting to see him again, Adrien and his companion returned to the grand stand. Here Leroy stopped to speak to Lady Merivale, who, with her sister, the Marchioness of Caine, had motored down from London to witness the race.