A moment afterwards a cry, a shrill scream, that rang in her ears for many a day afterwards, rose above the clatter of Adonis’s hoofs, and before the cry had died away horse and rider had fallen with awful force into and across the hole. Then came a dead silence, broken only by the sound of the horse’s iron shoes as he kicked wildly and pawed in a vain attempt to rise. Ida rode up, and flinging herself to the ground, tried to approach the struggling animal. But, indeed, it was horror and not fear that struck her motionless for a moment; for horse and rider were mixed in awful confusion, and already Maude Falconer’s graceful form was stained with blood, and battered by the madly kicking animal, now in its death-throes.
An instant after, before she could recover from her paralysis of terror—the whole affair was one of a moment and had passed as quickly as a flitting cloud—Stafford was by her side, and at work extricating woman from horse. It was not an easy task, for though Adonis was now dead, a part of Maude’s body lay under his shoulder; but with utmost herculean strength Stafford succeeded in getting her clear, and lifted her out of the hole on to the grass. Kneeling beside him, Ida, calm now, but trembling, raised Maude’s head on her knee and wiped the blood from the beautiful face. Its loveliness was not marred, there was no bruise or cut upon it, the blood having flown from a wound just behind the temple.
Stafford ran to the brook for some water and tried to force a few drops through the clenched teeth, while Ida bathed the white brow. Suddenly a tremor ran through him, and he put his hand over Maude’s heart. It was quite still; he bent his cheek to her lips; no breath met them. For a moment or two he could not speak, then he stayed Ida’s ministering hand, and looking up at her, said:
“It is of no use. She is dead!”
The ball which Lady Clansford always gave about the middle of the season is generally a very brilliant affair; but this year it was more brilliant and, alas! more crowded than usual; for Lord Clansford was connected, as everybody knows, with the great Trans-African Company, and, as also everybody knows, that company had recovered from the blow dealt it by the rising of the natives, and was now flourishing beyond the most sanguine expectations of its owners; the Clansford coffers, not to mention those of many other persons, were overflowing, and Lord Clansford could afford a somewhat magnificent hospitality.
Howard, as he made his way up the crowded stairs, smiled cynically to himself as he caught sight of a little knot of financiers who stood just outside the great doors of the salon. They were all there—Griffenberg, Wirsch, the Beltons, Efford, and Fitzharford; and they were all smiling and in the best of humours, presenting by their appearance a striking contrast to that which they had worn when