A lady turned to him; she looked like a rose camellia in her floating scarlet and white, just toned down and made perfect by a shower of Spanish lace; a beautiful brunette, dashing, yet delicate; a little fast, yet intensely thoroughbred; a coquette who would smoke a cigarette, yet a peeress who would never lose her dignity.
“Au coeur vaillant rien d’impossible!” she said, with an envoi of her lorgnon, and a smile that should have intoxicated him—a smile that might have rewarded a Richepanse for a Hohenlinden. “Superbly ridden! I absolutely trembled for you as you lifted the King to that last leap. It was terrible!”
It was terrible; and a woman, to say nothing of a woman who was in love with him, might well have felt a heart-sick fear at sight of that yawning water, and those towering walls of blackthorn, where one touch of the hoofs on the topmost bough, one spring too short of the gathered limbs, must have been death to both horse and rider. But, as she said it, she was smiling, radiant, full of easy calm and racing interest, as became her ladyship who had had “bets at even” before now on Goodwood fillies, and could lead the first flight over the Belvoir and the Quorn countries. It was possible that her ladyship was too thoroughbred not to see a man killed over the oak-rails without deviating into unseemly emotion, or being capable of such bad style as to be agitated.
Bertie, however, in answer, threw the tenderest eloquence into his eyes; very learned in such eloquence.
“If I could not have been victorious while you looked on, I would at least not have lived to meet you here!”
She laughed a little, so did he; they were used to exchange these passages in an admirably artistic masquerade, but it was always a little droll to each of them to see the other wear the domino of sentiment, and neither had much credence in the other.
“What a preux chevalier!” cried his Queen of Beauty. “You would have died in a ditch out of homage to me. Who shall say that chivalry is past! Tell me, Bertie; is it very delightful, that desperate effort to break your neck? It looks pleasant, to judge by its effects. It is the only thing in the world that amuses you!”
“Well—there is a great deal to be said for it,” replied Bertie musingly. “You see, until one has broken one’s neck, the excitement of the thing isn’t totally worn out; can’t be, naturally, because the—what-do-you-call-it?—consummation isn’t attained till then. The worst of it is, it’s getting commonplace, getting vulgar; such a number break their necks, doing Alps and that sort of thing, that we shall have nothing at all left to ourselves soon.”
“Not even the monopoly of sporting suicide! Very hard,” said her ladyship, with the lowest, most languid laugh in the world, very like “Beauty’s” own, save that it had a considerable indication of studied affectation, of which he, however much of a dandy he was, was wholly guiltless. “Well! you won magnificently; that little black man, who is he? Lancers, somebody said?—ran you so fearfully close. I really thought at one time that the Guards had lost.”