But for one reason or another he had never seen the great race, and the notion that it was his duty to see it had now come to him. He proposed this to Mrs. Ercott with some diffidence. She read so many books—he did not quite know whether she would approve. Finding that she did, he added casually:
“And we might take Olive.”
Mrs. Ercott answered dryly:
“You know the House of Commons has a holiday?”
The Colonel murmured:
“Oh! I don’t want that chap!”
“Perhaps,” said Mrs. Ercott, “you would like Mark Lennan.”
The Colonel looked at her most dubiously. Dolly could talk of it as a tragedy, and a—a grand passion, and yet make a suggestion like that! Then his wrinkles began slowly to come alive, and he gave her waist a squeeze.
Mrs. Ercott did not resist that treatment.
“Take Olive alone,” she said. “I don’t really care to go.”
When the Colonel went to fetch his niece he found her ready, and very half-heartedly he asked for Cramier. It appeared she had not told him.
Relieved, yet somewhat disconcerted, he murmured:
“He won’t mind not going, I suppose?”
“If he went, I should not.”
At this quiet answer the Colonel was beset again by all his fears. He put his white ‘topper’ down, and took her hand.
“My dear,” he said, “I don’t want to intrude upon your feelings; but—but is there anything I can do? It’s dreadful to see things going unhappily with you!” He felt his hand being lifted, her face pressed against it; and, suffering acutely, with his other hand, cased in a bright new glove, he smoothed her arm. “We’ll have a jolly good day, sweetheart,” he said, “and forget all about it.”
She gave the hand a kiss and turned away. And the Colonel vowed to himself that she should not be unhappy—lovely creature that she was, so delicate, and straight, and fine in her pearly frock. And he pulled himself together, brushing his white ‘topper’ vigorously with his sleeve, forgetting that this kind of hat has no nap.
And so he was tenderness itself on the journey down, satisfying all her wants before she had them, telling her stories of Indian life, and consulting her carefully as to which horse they should back. There was the Duke’s, of course, but there was another animal that appealed to him greatly. His friend Tabor had given him the tip— Tabor, who had the best Arabs in all India—and at a nice price. A man who practically never gambled, the Colonel liked to feel that his fancy would bring him in something really substantial—if it won; the idea that it could lose not really troubling him. However, they would see it in the paddock, and judge for themselves. The paddock was the place, away from all the dust and racket—Olive would enjoy the paddock! Once on the course, they neglected the first race; it was more important, the Colonel thought, that they should lunch.