Stay! Was she quite alone? Out of the clinging, ever-thickening curtain there came sounds—the sounds of hoofs that struggled upwards, of an animal’s laboured breathing, of a man’s voice that encouraged and swore alternately.
Her heart gave a sudden sharp throb. She knew that voice. Though she had only met the owner thereof three times she had come to know it rather well. Why had he elected to come that way, she asked herself? He almost seemed to be dogging her steps that day.
Impulse urged her to strike in another direction before he reached her. She did not feel inclined for another tete-a-tete with Nap Errol just then.
She tapped the grey smartly with her switch, more smartly than she intended, for he started and plunged. At the same instant there broke out immediately below them a hubbub of yelling and baying that was like the shrieking of a hundred demons. It rose up through the fog as from the mouth of an invisible pit, and drove the grey horse clean out of his senses. He reared bolt upright in furious resistance to his rider’s will, pawed the air wildly, and being brought down again by a sharp cut over the ears, flung out his heels in sheer malice and bolted down the hill, straight for that pandemonium of men and hounds. If the pleasures of the hunt failed to attract his mistress, it was otherwise with him, and he meant to have his fling in spite of her.
For the first few seconds of that mad flight Anne scarcely attempted to check his progress. She was taken by surprise and was forced to give all her attention to keeping in the saddle.
The pace was terrific. The scampering hoofs scarcely seemed to touch the ground at all. Like shadows they fled through the rising mist. It struck chill upon her face as they swooped downwards. She seemed to be plunging into an icy, bottomless abyss.
And then like a dagger, stabbing through every nerve, came fear, a horror unspeakable of the depth she could not see, into which she was being so furiously hurled. She was clinging to the saddle, but she made a desperate effort to drag the animal round. It was quite fruitless. No woman’s strength could have availed to check that headlong gallop. He swerved a little, a very little, in answer, that was all, and galloped madly on.
And then—all in a moment it came, a moment of culminating horror more awful than anything she had ever before experienced—the ground fell suddenly away from the racing feet. A confusion of many lights danced before her eyes—a buzzing uproar filled her brain—she shot forward into space....
THE RIDE HOME