Ida inclined her head slightly by way of acknowledgment and adieu, and without another word rode on towards the gate at the bottom of the field which opened on to the road. Adonis who had been delighted to meet his old friend, promptly followed; and, though Maude Falconer tried her hardest to check him and turn him, he, inwardly laughing at her efforts, trotted cheerfully beside Rupert, and continued their conversation. Maude was half mad with mortification, and, quite unable to leave Ida’s hated side, she raised her whip and struck Adonis across the face. The horse, who had never received such a blow before in his life, stopped dead short, falling back almost on to his haunches, then reared straight up and in a moment of temper tried to throw her off; indeed, she must have fallen but Ida, always cool at such moments, swept sideways, caught Adonis’s bridle and brought him on all fours. Maude was instantly jerked forward on to the horse’s neck in a humiliating fashion, but recovering her seat, sat trembling with passion.
It was impossible not to pity her, and Ida in her gentlest and quietest of voices, said: “I will wait here, will not go through the gate until your groom comes up. Your horse will be quite quiet then. If I might venture to say so, I think it would be wise not to strike him across the head; very few horses can stand it; and this one is high-bred and exceptionally spirited—”
She was stopped by Maude’s scornful laugh.
“Really, I ought to feel very much obliged to you, Miss Heron!” she said; “and my sense of obligation is almost as great as my amazement at your frankness—and assurance! May I ask you to be good enough to release my horse’s reins?”
Ida’s hand fell from the reins, and her face grew crimson; but before she could have retorted, even if she had intended doing so, Maude struck the horse again; it turned and dashed across the field, kicking and plunging violently, with Maude swaying perilously in the saddle.
Ida waited until the groom—it was Pottinger—had gained his mistress’s side and got hold of the horse; then, with no thought of bravado but simply with the desire to get away from the spot, she put Rupert at the gate and leapt into the road.
Ida rode home all quivering with the pain of her meeting with Maude Falconer. At first it seemed to her that she must leave Herondale—for a time, at any rate; that it would be impossible for her to run the risk of meeting the beautiful woman who had stolen Stafford from her; but, as she grew calmer, her pride came to her aid, and she saw that to run away would be cowardly. Herondale was her home, had been her home long before the Villa had sprung up, and to desert it because of the proximity of Maude Falconer would be almost as bad as if a soldier should desert his colors.
But for the next few days she did not leave her own grounds. She grew pale and listless, and Lady Bannerdale, when she came to look her up, noticed the change in her, but was too tactful to make any remark upon it.