“You drive a team, Beauty—never drive a team,” the Seraph had said on occasion, over a confidential “sherry-peg” in the mornings, meaning by the metaphor of a team Lady Guenevere, the Zu-Zu, and various other contemporaries in Bertie’s affections. “Nothing on earth so dangerous; your leader will bolt, or your off-wheeler will turn sulky, or your young one will passage and make the very deuce of a row; they’ll never go quiet till the end, however clever your hand is on the ribbons. Now, I’ll drive six-in-hand as soon as any man—drove a ten-hander last year in the Bois—when the team comes out of the stables; but I’m hanged if I’d risk my neck with managing even a pair of women. Have one clean out of the shafts before you trot out another!”
To which salutary advice Cecil only gave a laugh, going on his own ways with the “team” as before, to the despair of his fidus Achates; the Seraph being a quarry so incessantly pursued by dowager-beaters, chaperone-keepers, and the whole hunt of the Matrimonial Pack, with those clever hounds Belle and Fashion ever leading in full cry after him, that he dreaded the sight of a ballroom meet; and, shunning the rich preserves of the Salons, ran to earth persistently in the shady Wood of St. John’s, and got—at some little cost and some risk of trapping, it is true, but still efficiently—preserved from all other hunters or poachers by the lawless Robin Hoods aux yeux noirs of those welcome and familiar coverts.
Under the keeper’s tree.
“You’re a lad o’ wax, my beauty!” cried Mr. Rake enthusiastically, surveying the hero of the Grand Military with adoring eyes as that celebrity, without a hair turned or a muscle swollen from his exploit, was having a dressing down after a gentle exercise. “You’ve pulled it off, haven’t you? You’ve cut the work out for ’em! You’ve shown ’em what a luster is! Strike me a loser, but what a deal there is in blood. The littlest pippin that ever threw a leg across the pigskin knows that in the stables; then why the dickens do the world run against such a plain fact out of it?”
And Rake gazed with worship at the symmetrical limbs of the champion of the “First Life,” and plunged into speculation on the democratic tendencies of the age, as clearly contradicted by all the evidences of the flat and furrow, while Forest King drank a dozen go-downs of water, and was rewarded for the patience with which he had subdued his inclination to kick, fret, spring, and break away throughout the dressing by a full feed thrown into his crib, which Rake watched him, with adoring gaze, eat to the very last grain.
“You precious one!” soliloquized that philosopher, who loved the horse with a sort of passion since his victory over the Shires. “You’ve won for the gentlemen, my lovely—for your own cracks, my boy!”