The Illustrious Prince
30. Inspector Jacks Importunate
They were talking of the Prince during those few minutes before they separated to dress
for dinner. The whole of the house-party, with the exception of the Prince himself, were
gathered around the great open fireplace at the north end of the hall. The weather had
changed during the afternoon, and a cold wind had blown in their faces on the homeward
drive. Every one had found comfortable seats here, watching the huge logs burn, and
there seemed to be a general indisposition to move. A couple of young men from the
neighborhood had joined the house-party, and the conversation, naturally enough, was
chiefly concerned with the day's sport. The young men, Somerfield especially, were
inclined to regard the Prince's achievement from a somewhat critical standpoint.
"He rode the race well enough," Somerfield admitted, "but the mare is a topper, and no
mistake. He had nothing to do but to sit tight and let her do the work."
"Of course, he hadn't to finish either," one of the newcomers, a Captain Everard Wilmot,
remarked. "That's where you can tell if a fellow really can ride or not. Anyhow, his style
was rotten. To me he seemed to sit his horse exactly like a groom."
"You will, perhaps, not deny him," the Duke remarked mildly, "a certain amount of
courage in riding a strange horse of uncertain temper, over a strange country, in an
enterprise which was entirely new to him."
"I call it one of the most sporting things I ever heard of in my life," Lady Grace declared
Somerfield shrugged his shoulders.
"One must admit that he has pluck," he remarked critically. "At the same time I cannot
see that a single effort of this sort entitles a man to be considered a sportsman. He doesn't
shoot, nor does he ever ride except when he is on military service. He neither plays
games nor has he the instinct for them. A man without the instinct for games is a fellow I
cannot understand. He'd never get along in this country, would he, Wilmot?"
"No, I'm shot if he would!" that young man replied. "There must be something wrong
about a man who hasn't any taste whatever for sport."
Penelope suddenly intervened--intervened, too, in somewhat startling fashion.
"Charlie," she said, "you are talking like a baby! I am ashamed of you! I am ashamed of
you all! You are talking like narrow-minded, ignorant little squireens."
Somerfield went slowly white. He looked across at Penelope, but the angry flash in his
eyes was met by an even brighter light in her own.