"She beats your Valders-Roan all hollow, John Garvestad," said a young tease who stood next to him in the crowd.
"My Valders-Roan has never seen his match yet, and never will, according to my reckoning," answered John Garvestad.
"Ho! ho!" shouted the young fellow, with a mocking laugh; "that black mare is a hand taller at the very least, and I bet you she's a high-flyer. She has got the prettiest legs I ever clapped eyes on."
"They'd snap like clay pipes in the mountains," replied Garvestad, contemptuously.
Erik, as he blushingly ascended the slope to his new home, leading Lady Clare by a halter, had no suspicion of the sentiments which she had aroused in John Garvestad's breast. He was only blissfully conscious of the admiration she had excited; and he promised himself a good deal of fun in future in showing off his horsemanship. He took Lady Clare to the stable, where a new box-stall had been made for her, examined the premises carefully and nailed a board over a crevice in the wall where he suspected a draught. He instructed Anders, the groom, with emphatic and anxious repetitions regarding her care, showed him how to make Lady Clare's bed, how to comb her mane, how to brush her (for she refused to endure currying), how to blanket her, and how to read the thermometer which he nailed to one of the posts of the stall. The latter proved to be a more difficult task than he had anticipated; and the worst of it was that he was not sure that Anders knew any more on the subject of his instruction at the end of the lesson than he had at the beginning. To make sure that he had understood him he asked him to enter the stall and begin the process of grooming. But no sooner had the unhappy fellow put his nose inside the door than Lady Clare laid back her ears in a very ugly fashion, and with a vicious whisk of her tail waltzed around and planted two hoof-marks in the door, just where the groom's nose had that very instant vanished. A second and a third trial had similar results; and as the box-stall was new and of hard wood, Erik had no wish to see it further damaged.
"I won't have nothin' to do with that hoss, that's as certain as my name is Anders," the groom declared; and Erik, knowing that persuasion would be useless, had henceforth to be his own groom. The fact was he could not help sympathizing with that fastidiousness of Lady Clare which made her object to be handled by coarse fingers and roughly curried, combed, and washed like a common plebeian nag. One does not commence life associating with a princess for nothing. Lady Clare, feeling in every nerve her high descent and breeding, had perhaps a sense of having come down in the world, and, like many another irrational creature of her sex, she kicked madly against fate and exhibited the unloveliest side of her character. But with all her skittishness and caprice she was steadfast in one thing, and that was her love for Erik. As the days went by in country monotony, he began to feel it as a privilege rather than a burden to have the exclusive care of her. The low, friendly neighing with which she always greeted him, as soon as he opened the stable-door, was as intelligible and dear to him as the warm welcome of a friend. And when with dainty alertness she lifted her small, beautiful head, over which the fine net-work of veins meandered, above the top of the stall, and rubbed her nose caressingly against his cheek, before beginning to snuff at his various pockets for the accustomed lump of sugar, he felt a glow of affection spread from his heart and pervade his whole being. Yes, he loved this beautiful animal with a devotion which, a year ago, he would scarcely have thought it possible to bestow upon a horse. No one could have persuaded him that Lady Clare had not a soul which (whether it was immortal or not) was, at all events, as distinct and clearly defined as that of any person with whom he was acquainted. She was to him a personality--a dear, charming friend, with certain defects of character (as who has not?) which were, however, more than compensated for by her devotion to him. She was fastidious, quick-tempered, utterly unreasonable where her feelings were involved; full of aristocratic prejudice, which only her sex could excuse; and whimsical, proud, and capricious. It was absurd, of course, to contend that these qualities were in themselves admirable; but, on the other hand, few of us would not consent to overlook them in a friend who loved us as well as Lady Clare loved Erik.
The fame of Lady Clare spread through the parish like fire in withered grass. People came from afar to look at her, and departed full of wonder at her beauty. When the captain and his son rode together to church on Sunday morning, men, women, and children stood in rows at the roadside staring at the wonderful mare as if she had been a dromedary or a rhinoceros. And when she was tied in the clergyman's stable a large number of the men ignored the admonition of the church bells and missed the sermon, being unable to tear themselves away from Lady Clare's charms. But woe to him who attempted to take liberties with her; there were two or three horsy young men who had narrow escapes from bearing the imprint of her iron shoes for the rest of their days.
That taught the others a lesson, and now Lady Clare suffered from no annoying familiarities, but was admired at a respectful distance, until the pastor, vexed at her rivalry with his sermon, issued orders to have the stable-door locked during service.