“Hear, hear!” said a man in the crowd.
And Ina laughed. “Thank you, Dick! Come along, Dad! Leave the horrid old fox alone! Don’t you think we ought to go and separate Sir Beverley and Piers? What an old pepper-pot he is!”
“Piers isn’t much better,” remarked the man she had called Dick. His proper appellation was Richard Guyes, but his friends never stood on ceremony with him.
The girl laughed again inconsequently. She was spoken of by some as the spoilt beauty of the county. “Oh, Piers is stuffed tight with gunpowder as everybody knows. He explodes at a touch. Get along, Barchard! What are you waiting for? I told you to take the hounds home.”
Barchard looked at the Colonel.
“I suppose you’d better,” the latter said. He threw a glance of displeasure at Avery. “It’s a most unheard of affair altogether, but I admit there’s not much to be said for a kill in cold blood. Yes, take ’em home!”
Barchard made a savage cut at two of the hounds who were scratching and whimpering at a tiny chink in the boarding, and with surly threats collected the pack and moved off.
The rest of the field melted away into the deepening dusk. Ina and Dick Guyes were among the last to go. They moved off side by side.
“It’ll be the laugh of the county,” the man said, “but, egad, I like her pluck.”
And in answer the girl laughed again, a careless, merry laugh. “Yes, I wonder who she is. A friend of Piers’ apparently. Did you see what a stiff fury he was in?”
“It was a fairly stiff flogging,” remarked Guyes. “Ye gods! I wonder how he stood it.”
“Oh, Piers can stand anything,” said Ina unconcernedly. “He’s as strong as an ox.”
The voices dwindled and died in the distance. The dusk deepened. A sense of utter forlornness, utter weariness, came upon Avery. The struggle was over, and she had emerged triumphant; but it did not seem to matter. She could think only of those awful blows raining down upon the defenceless shoulders of the boy who had championed her. And, leaning there in the drizzling wet, she covered her face with her hands and wept.
THE STAR OF HOPE
There came the swift drumming of galloping hoofs, the check and pause of a leap, and then close at hand the thud of those same hoofs landing on the near side of the hedge. The rider slithered to the ground, patted the animal’s neck, and turned forthwith towards the hut. Avery heard nought of his coming. She was crying like a weak, unnerved woman, draggled and mud-spattered, unspeakably distressed. It was so seldom that she gave way that perhaps the failure of her self-control was the more absolute when it came. She had been tried beyond her strength. Body and mind were alike exhausted.
But when strong arms suddenly encircled her and she found herself drawn close to a man’s breast, quick and instinctive came the impulse to resist. She drew back from him with a sharp exclamation.