I asked her the reason, and with a little pout that became her childish face admirably, she replied,--
"Because I can ride on horseback as well as my sister."
"Very good," said I, "then you shall ride the day after to-morrow." This put her into a good temper again.
Speaking of Hippolyta's skill, I asked her where she had learnt to ride. She simply burst out laughing. I asked her why she laughed, and she said,--
"Why, because I never learnt anywhere; my only masters were courage and some natural skill."
"And has your sister learnt?"
"No," said Gabrielle, "but I can ride just as well."
I could scarcely believe it, for Hippolyta had seemed to float on her horse, and her riding skewed the utmost skill and experience. Hoping that her sister would vie with her, I said that I would take them out together, and the very idea made them both jump with joy.
Gabrielle was only fifteen, and her shape, though not fully developed, was well marked, and promised a perfect beauty by the time she was in her maturity. Full of grace and simplicity, she said she would like to come with me to my room, and I readily accepted her offer, not caring whether the scheme had been concerted between her and her other sisters.
As soon as we were alone, she told me that she had never had a lover, and she allowed me to assure myself of the fact with the same child- like simplicity. Gabrielle was like all the others; I would have chosen her if I had been obliged to make the choice. She made me feel sorry for her sake, to hear that the mother had made up her mind to leave. In the morning I gave her her fee of twenty guineas and a handsome ring as a mark of my peculiar friendship, and we spent the day in getting ready our habits for the ride of the day following.
Gabrielle got on horseback as if she had had two years in the riding school. We went along the streets at a walking pace, but as soon as we were in the open country we broke into a furious gallop, and kept it up till we got to Barnet, where we stopped to breakfast. We had done the journey in twenty-five minutes, although the distance is nearly ten miles. This may seem incredible, but the English horses are wonderfully swift, and we were all of us well mounted. My two nymphs looked ravishing. I adored them, and I adored myself for making them so happy.
Just as we were remounting, who should arrive but Lord Pembroke. He was on his way to St. Alban's. He stopped his horse, and admired the graceful riding of my two companions; and not recognizing them immediately, he begged leave to pay his court to them. How I laughed to myself! At last he recognized them, and congratulated me on my conquest, asking if I loved Hippolyta. I guessed his meaning, and said I only loved Gabrielle.
"Very good," said he; "may I come and see you?"
"Certainly," I replied.
After a friendly hand-shake we set out once more, and were soon back in London.
Gabrielle was done up and went to bed directly; she slept on till the next morning without my disturbing her peaceful sleep, and when she awoke and found herself in my arms, she began to philosophise.
"How easy it is," said she, "to be happy when one is rich, and how sad it is to see happiness out of one's reach for lack of a little money. Yesterday I was the happiest of beings, and why should I not be as happy all my days? I would gladly agree that my life should be short provided that it should be a happy one."
I, too, philosophised, but my reflections were sombre. I saw my resources all but exhausted, and I began to meditate a journey to Lisbon. If my fortune had been inexhaustible, the Hanoverians might have held me in their silken fetters to the end of my days. It seemed to me as if I loved them more like a father than a lover, and the fact that I slept with them only added to the tenderness of the tie. I looked into Gabrielle's eyes, and there I saw but love. How could such a love exist in her unless she were naturally virtuous, and yet devoid of those prejudices which are instilled into us in our early years.