But then he was in the glorious twenties; and, after all, what has the gorged millionaire, rolling along in his beflowered, bewarmed, becushioned limousine, that can give one-tenth the pleasure of the grip on the withers of a spirited horse?
Sometimes they walked their beasts, and chatted on such subjects as young people choose when spirits are high and care is on a vacation. They were experiencing that keenest of pleasures—joy in the present.
They watched London Society equestrianising for the admiration of the less washed, who were gazing from chairs and benches, trying to tell from their appearance which was a duke and which merely ’mister’—and usually guessing quite wrongly. Ladies of title, some of them riding so badly that their steeds were goaded into foam by the incessant pull of the curb bit, trotted past young ladies and gentlemen with note-books, who had been sent by an eager Press to record the activities of the truly great. Handsome women rode in the Row with their children mounted on wiry ponies (always a charming sight); and middle-aged, angular females, wearing the customary riding-hat which reduces beauty to plainness and plainness to caricature, rode melancholy quadrupeds, determined to do that which is done by those who are of consequence in the world.
But pleasures born of the passing hour, unlike those of the past or of anticipation, end with the striking of the clock. It seemed to Austin Selwyn that they had been riding only for the space of minutes, when Elise asked him the time.
‘It is twenty minutes to one,’ he said. ’I had no idea time had passed so quickly.’
‘Nor I,’ she answered. ‘Just one more canter, and then we’ll go.’
The eager horses chafed at their bits, and pleaded, after the manner of their kind, to be allowed one mad gallop with heaving flanks and snorting triumph at the end; but decorum forbade, and contenting themselves with the agreeable counterfeit, Selwyn and the girl reluctantly turned from the Park towards home.
The expressionless Smith was waiting for them, and looked at the two horses with that peculiar intolerance towards their riders which the very best groom in the world cannot refrain from showing.
‘Won’t you come in and take the chance of what there is for lunch?’ she said as Selwyn helped her to dismount.
‘N-no, thanks,’ he said.
She pouted, or pretended to. ‘Now, why?’ she said as Smith mounted the chestnut, and touching his hat, walked the horses away.
‘There is no reason,’ he said, smiling, ’except—— Look here; will you come downtown and have dinner with me to-night?’
‘You Americans are refreshing,’ she said, burrowing the toe of her riding-boot with the point of the crop, ’As a matter of fact, I have to go to dinner to-night at Lady Chisworth’s.’
‘Then have a headache,’ he persisted.
‘Please,’ as her lips proceeded to form a negative.