‘Nah, then, you —— —— ——,’ remarked Mathews unfeelingly, catching the old beast a resounding thump on the rump with a stick he carried. ‘That’ll learn you, you old hulk o’ misery.’
’There’s a beautiful mare, said the American, pausing at the stall of a superb charger whose graceful limbs and shapely neck spoke of speed and spirit.
’Ah! Now that there is a beauty and no mistake. She’s got the spirit of a young pup, but is as amiable and sweet-tempered as a angel. She’s Mister Malcolm’s hunter, she is, and ’is favourite in the whole stables. He never rides anything but ’er to hounds; leastways, ’e never did but once, and then Nell—that’s ‘er name—Nell was took so sick with frettin’ that she kicked a groom as ’ad come to feed ’er clean across the floor agin’ that there far wall. Never I see a feller so put out as that there groom—never. Well, sir, she wouldn’t let no one come nigh ’er, and just as we was thinkin’ as ’ow we’d ’ave to forcible-feed ’er, in comes Mister Malcolm. She ’ears ’im, but don’t make no sign, and just as ’e comes up close she lets fling ’er ’eels at ’is ’ead. But ‘e was watchin’ for it, and just says “Nellie” kind o’ sorrowful and reproachful, sim’lar to the prodigal son returnin’ to ’is aged fayther. Well, sir, the mare she just gives in at the knees and rubbed ‘er nose agin’ ’im, and says just as plain as Scripter that she was real sorry, and ’oped ’e ’d forget it as one gen’l’man to a lady.’
With sundry anecdotes of a like nature, Mathews guided the visitor past the long line of stalls, whose inhabitants kept their stately heads turned to gratify the insatiable curiosity of the equine. To the weary mind of the American there was an agreeable balm in the groom’s fund of anecdote, and even in the odoriferousness of the stable itself.
Reaching the end of that line, Mathews proposed that before they went any farther they should go to an adjoining shed and inspect a litter of little hounds that were blinking in amazement at their second day’s view of the world. From a near-by kennel there was the discordant yelping of a dozen hounds, and between the two places a kitten was performing its toilet with arrogant indifference to the canine threat.
They were just about to retrace their steps, when Selwyn felt Mathews’s hand on his arm.
‘Sh-sh!’ the groom whispered. ’There’s Mister Malcolm a-come to say good-bye to Nellie. I knew ‘e would, sir. She’d ha’ fretted ’er heart out if ‘e hadn’t.’
Selwyn looked down the stable, and in the dull light he saw the Hussar officer standing in the stall by the mare, crooning some endearing words, while the beast, in her delight, rubbed her face against his clothes and whinnied her plea to be taken for a gallop over the fields.
Not wanting to disturb him, or give the impression that he had been watching, Selwyn softly withdrew by a door near the dogs, and after giving Mathews a half-sovereign, made a circuit of the lawns and approached the house as if he were coming from the woods. As he did so young Durwent emerged from the stables, followed by a collie-dog that jumped and frolicked about him as he walked. Noticing the American, Malcolm crossed over to where he stood, proffering a cigarette.