We mounted simply to show that we could mount, for we would rather have been on foot, and drew up close to the right of the margravine’s carriage.
‘Hush! a poet is reading his ode,’ said the princess. ’It is Count Fretzel von Wolfenstein.’
This ode was dreadful to us, and all the Court people pretended they liked it. When he waved his right hand toward the statue there was a shout from the rustic set; when he bowed to the margravine, the ladies and gentlemen murmured agreeably and smiled. We were convinced of its being downright hypocrisy, rustic stupidity, Court flattery. We would have argued our case, too. I proposed a gallop; Temple said,
’No, we’ll give the old statue our cheer as soon as this awful fellow has done. I don’t care much for poetry, but don’t let me ever have to stand and hear German poetry again for the remainder of my life.’
We could not imagine why they should have poetry read out to them instead of their fine band playing, but supposed it was for the satisfaction of the margravine, with whom I grew particularly annoyed on hearing Miss Sibley say she conceived her Highness to mean that my father was actually on the ground, and that we neither of us, father and son, knew one another. I swore on my honour, on my life, he was not present; and the melancholy in my heart taking the form of extreme irritation, I spoke passionately. I rose in my stirrups, ready to shout, ’Father! here’s Harry Richmond come to see you. Where are you!’ I did utter something—a syllable or two: ‘Make haste!’ I think the words were. They sprang from my inmost bosom, addressed without forethought to that drawling mouthing poet. The margravine’s face met mine like a challenge. She had her lips tight in a mere lip-smile, and her eyes gleamed with provocation.
‘Her Highness,’ Miss Sibley translated, ’asks whether you are prepared to bet that your father is not on the ground?’
‘Beg her to wait two minutes, and I’ll be prepared to bet any sum,’ said I.
Temple took one half the circle, I the other, riding through the attentive horsemen and carriage-lines, and making sure the face we sought was absent, more or less discomposing everybody. The poet finished his ode; he was cheered, of course. Mightily relieved, I beheld the band resuming their instruments, for the cheering resembled a senseless beating on brass shields. I felt that we English could do it better. Temple from across the sector of the circle, running about two feet in front of the statue, called aloud,
‘Richie! he’s not here!’
‘Not here!’ cried I.
The people gazed up at us, wondering at the tongue we talked.
’Richie! now let ‘s lead these fellows off with a tiptop cheer!’
Little Temple crowed lustily.
The head of the statue turned from Temple to me.
I found the people falling back with amazed exclamations. I—so prepossessed was I—simply stared at the sudden-flashing white of the statue’s eyes. The eyes, from being an instant ago dull carved balls, were animated. They were fixed on me. I was unable to give out a breath. Its chest heaved; both bronze hands struck against the bosom.