An embarrassing silence followed. Erik knew that if he acknowledged the bid he would suffer the shame of having it refused. But his excitement and his solicitude for the fair fame of his native city had carried him away so completely that the words had escaped from his lips before he was fully aware of their import.
"May I ask," repeated the wielder of the hammer, slowly and emphatically, "may I ask the gentleman who offered one hundred dollars for Lady Clare to come forward and give his name?"
He now looked straight at Erik, who blushed to the edge of his hair, but did not stir from the spot. From sheer embarrassment he clutched the lieutenant's arm, and almost pinched it.
"Oh, I beg your pardon," the officer exclaimed, addressing the auctioneer, as if he had suddenly been aroused from a fit of abstraction; "I made the bid of one hundred dollars, or--or--at any rate, I make it now."
The same performance, intended to force up the price, was repeated once more, but with no avail, and at the end of two minutes Lady Clare was knocked down to Lieutenant Thicker.
"Now I have gone and done it like the blooming idiot that I am," observed the lieutenant, when Lady Clare was led into his stable by a liveried groom. "What an overhauling the captain will give me when he gets home."
"You need have no fear," Erik replied. "I'll sound father as soon as he gets home; and if he makes any trouble I'll pay you that one hundred dollars, with interest, the day I come of age."
Well, the captain came home, and having long had the intention to present his son with a saddle-horse, he allowed himself to be cajoled into approving of the bargain. The mare was an exquisite creature, if ever there was one, and he could well understand how Erik had been carried away; Lieutenant Thicker, instead of being hauled over the coals, as he had expected, received thanks for his kind and generous conduct toward the son of his superior officer. As for Erik himself, he had never had any idea that a boy's life could be so glorious as his was now. Mounted on that splendid, coal-black mare, he rode through the city and far out into the country at his father's side; and never did it seem to him that he had loved his father so well as he did during these afternoon rides. The captain was far from suspecting that in that episode of the purchase of Lady Clare his own relation to his son had been at stake. Not that Erik would not have obeyed his father, even if he had turned out his rough side and taken the lieutenant to task for his kindness; but their relation would in that case have lacked the warm intimacy (which in nowise excludes obedience and respect) and that last touch of devoted admiration which now bound them together.