"Hold your jaw, you gosling, or I'll hit you instead," retorted the man.
But by that time one of the royal grooms had made his appearance and the brute did not dare carry out his threat. While the groom strove to quiet the mare, a great tumult arose in some other part of the market-place. There was a whinnying, plunging, rearing, and screaming, as if the whole field had gone mad. The black mare joined in the concert, and stood with her ears pricked up and her head raised in an attitude of panicky expectation. Quite fearlessly Erik walked up to her, patted her on the neck and spoke soothingly to her.
"Look out," yelled the groom, "or she'll trample you to jelly!"
But instead of that, the mare rubbed her soft nose against the boy's cheek, with a low, friendly neighing, as if she wished to thank him for his gallant conduct. And at that moment Erik's heart went out to that dumb creature with an affection which he had never felt toward any living thing before. He determined, whatever might happen, to bid on her and to buy her, whatever she might prove to be worth. He knew he had a few thousand dollars in the bank--his inheritance from his mother, who had died when he was a baby--and he might, perhaps, be able to persuade his father to sanction the purchase. At any rate, he would have some time to invent ways and means; for his father, Captain Carstens, was now away on the great annual drill, and would not return for some weeks.
As a mere matter of form, he resolved to try the mare before bidding on her; and slipping a coin into the groom's hand he asked for a saddle. It turned out, however, that all the saddles were in use, and Erik had no choice but to mount bareback.
"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."