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0100_005E A Lady of Quality Frances Hodgson Burnett

Wherein Sir Jeoffry's boon companions drink a toast

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"Thy horse!" he echoed. "Which is thy horse then?"

"Rake is my horse," she answered--"the big black one. The man took him again;" and she ripped out a few more oaths and unchaste expressions, threatening what she would do for the man in question; the which delighted him more than ever. "Rake is my horse," she ended. "None else shall ride him."

"None else?" cried he. "Thou canst not ride him, baggage!"

She looked at him with scornful majesty.

"Where is he?" she demanded. And the next instant hearing the beast's restless feet grinding into the gravel outside as he fretted at having been kept waiting so long, she remembered what the stable-boy had said of having seen her favourite standing before the door, and struggling and dropping from the settle, she ran to look out; whereupon having done so, she shouted in triumph.

"He is here!" she said. "I see him;" and went pell-mell down the stone steps to his side.

Sir Jeoffry followed her in haste. 'Twould not have been to his humour now to have her brains kicked out.

"Hey!" he called, as he hurried. "Keep away from his heels, thou little devil."

But she had run to the big beast's head with another shout, and caught him round his foreleg, laughing, and Rake bent his head down and nosed her in a fumbling caress, on which, the bridle coming within her reach, she seized it and held his head that she might pat him, to which familiarity the beast was plainly well accustomed.

"He is my horse," quoth she grandly when her father reached her. "He will not let Giles play so."

Sir Jeoffry gazed and swelled with pleasure in her.

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"Would have said 'twas a lie if I had not seen it," he said to himself. "'Tis no girl this, I swear. I thought 'twas my horse," he said to her, "but 'tis plain enough he is thine."

"Put me up!" said his new-found offspring.

"Hast rid him before?" Sir Jeoffry asked, with some lingering misgiving. "Tell thy Dad if thou hast rid him."

She gave him a look askance under her long fringed lids--a surly yet half-slyly relenting look, because she wanted to get her way of him, and had the cunning wit and shrewdness of a child witch.

"Ay!" quoth she. "Put me up--Dad!"

He was not a man of quick mind, his brain having been too many years bemuddled with drink, but he had a rough instinct which showed him all the wondrous shrewdness of her casting that last word at him to wheedle him, even though she looked sullen in the saying it. It made him roar again for very exultation.

"Put me up, Dad!" he cried. "That will I--and see what thou wilt do."

He lifted her, she springing as he set his hands beneath her arms, and flinging her legs over astride across the saddle when she reached it. She was all fire and excitement, and caught the reins like an old huntsman, and with such a grasp as was amazing. She sat up with a straight, strong back, her whole face glowing and sparkling with exultant joy. Rake seemed to answer to her excited little laugh almost as much as to her hand. It seemed to wake his spirit and put him in good-humour. He started off with her down the avenue at a light, spirited trot, while she, clinging with her little legs and sitting firm and fearless, made him change into canter and gallop, having actually learned all his paces like a lesson, and knowing his mouth as did his groom, who was her familiar and slave. Had she been of the build ordinary with children of her age, she could not have stayed upon his back; but she sat him like a child jockey, and Sir Jeoffry, watching and following her, clapped his hands boisterously and hallooed for joy.

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A Lady of Quality
Frances Hodgson Burnett

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