"Ride her on the snaffle. She won't stand the curb," shouted the groom, as the mare, after plunging to the right and to the left, darted through the gate to the track, and, after kicking up a vast deal of tan-bark, sped like a bullet down the race-course.
"Good gracious, how recklessly that boy rides!" one jockey observed to another; "but he has got a good grip with his knees all the same."
"Yes, he sits like a daisy," the second replied, critically; "but mind my word, Lady Clare will throw him yet. She never could stand anybody but the princess on her back: and that was the reason her Royal Highness was so fond of her. Mother of Moses, won't there be a grand rumpus when she comes back again and finds Lady Clare gone! I should not like to be in the shoes of the man who has ordered Lady Clare under the hammer."
"But look at the lad! I told you Lady Clare wouldn't stand no manner of nonsense from boys."
"She is kicking like a Trojan! She'll make hash of him if he loses his seat."
"Yes, but he sticks like a burr. That's a jewel of a lad, I tell ye. He ought to have been a jockey."
Up the track came Lady Clare, black as the ace of spades, acting like the Old Harry. Something had displeased her, obviously, and she held Erik responsible for it. Possibly she had just waked up to the fact that she, who had been the pet of a princess, was now being ridden by an ordinary commoner. At all events, she had made up her mind to get rid of the commoner without further ceremony. Putting her fine ears back and dilating her nostrils, she suddenly gave a snort and a whisk with her tail, and up went her heels toward the eternal stars--that is, if there had been any stars visible just then. Everybody's heart stuck in his throat; for fleet-footed racers were speeding round and round, and the fellow who got thrown in the midst of all these trampling hoofs would have small chance of looking upon the sun again. People instinctively tossed their heads up to see how high he would go before coming down again; but, for a wonder, they saw nothing, except a cloud of dust mixed with tan-bark, and when that had cleared away they discovered the black mare and her rider, apparently on the best of terms, dashing up the track at a breakneck pace.
Erik was dripping with perspiration when he dismounted, and Lady Clare's glossy coat was flecked with foam. She was not aware, apparently, that if she had any reputation to ruin she had damaged it most effectually. Her behavior on the track and her treatment of the horse-dealer were by this time common property, and every dealer and fancier made a mental note that Lady Clare was the number in the catalogue which he would not bid on. All her beauty and her distinguished ancestry counted for nothing, as long as she had so uncertain a temper. Her sire, Potiphar, it appeared, had also been subject to the same infirmities of temper, and there was a strain of savagery in her blood which might crop out when you least expected it.