“But it’s shut up,” said Riatt. “There’s no one in it.”
“I have the keys to the back door.”
He touched the horse for the first time with the whip, and they went jingling down the slope, in between the almost completely buried gateposts, and drew up before the kitchen door.
Miss Fenimer kicked her feet free from the rugs, jumped out, and from the recesses of her muff produced a key which she inserted in the lock.
“Now you won’t be long, will you?” said Riatt, with more of command than persuasion in his tone.
It was a principle of life on the part of Christine that she never allowed any man to bully her; or perhaps, it would be more nearly just to say that she never intended to allow any man to do so until she herself became persuaded that he could, and with this object she always made the process look as difficult and dangerous as possible at the very beginning.
She looked back at him and smiled with irritating calm.
“I shall be just as long as is necessary,” she replied, and so saying, she turned, or rather attempted to turn, the key.
But disuse, or cold, or her own lack of strength prevented and she was presently reduced to asking Riatt to help her. He did not volunteer his assistance. She had definitely and directly to ask for it. Then he was friendliness itself.
“Just stand by the horse’s head, will you?” he said, and when he saw her stationed there, he sprang out, and with an almost insulting ease opened the door.
Just as he did so, however, a gust of wind, fiercer than any other, swept round the corner of the house and carried away Christine’s hat. She made a quick gesture to catch it, and as she did so, struck the horse under the chin. The animal reared, and Christine jumped aside to avoid being struck by its hoofs; the next instant, it had thrown its head in the air, and started at full speed down the road, dragging the empty sleigh after it. Riatt, who had his back turned, did not see the beginning of the incident, but a cry from Christine soon roused his attention, and he started in pursuit, calling to the animal to stop, in the hope that the human voice might succeed when all other methods were quite obviously useless. But the horse, now thoroughly excited by the hanging reins, the bells, and the sense of its own power, went only faster and faster, and finally disappeared at full speed.
Riatt came slowly back; he was sinking in the snow to his waist at every step. Christine was watching him with some anxiety.
“Is there a telephone in the house?” he asked.
She shook her head.
“No, it’s disconnected when we leave in the autumn.”
There was a moment’s silence, then she said questioningly: “What shall we do?”
“There’s only one thing we can do,” he returned; “go into the house and light a fire.”
But Christine hesitated.
“I don’t think it will be wise to waste time doing that,” she said, “if you have to go back on foot to the Usshers’—”