They had started thus early because the season was hot and they desired to traverse the open highway and the clearings and to reach the forest before the sun’s rays grew ardent. Once past the elms of Sabines their road lay broad before them, easy to discern; for the moon, well in her third quarter, rode high, with no trace of cloud or mist. So clear she shone that in imagination one could reach up and run a finger along her hard bright edge; and under moon and stars a land-breeze, virginally cool, played on our two riders’ cheeks. Ungloving and stretching forth a hand, Ruth felt the dew falling, as it had been falling ever since sundown; and under that quiet lustration the world at her feet and around her, unseen as yet, had been renewed, the bee-ravished flowers replaced with blossoms ready to unfold, the turf revived, reclothed in young green, the atmosphere bathed, cleansed of exhausted scents, made ready for morning’s “bridal of the earth and sky “:—
“As a vesture shall he fold them up. . . . In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun; which cometh forth as a bridegroom out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a giant to run his course.”
Darkling they rode, and in silence, as though by consent. Ruth had never travelled this high way before: it glimmered across a country of which she knew nothing and could see nothing. But no shadow of fear crossed her spirit. Her heart was hushed; yet it exulted, because her lord rode beside her.
They had ridden thus without speech for three or four miles, when her chestnut blundered, tripped, and was almost down.
“All right?” he asked, as she reined up and steadied the mare.
“Yes. . . . She gave me a small fright, though.”
“What happened? It looked to me as if she came precious near crossing her feet. If she repeats that trick by daylight I’ll cast her—as I would to-morrow, if I were sure.”
“Is it so bad a trick?”
“It might break your neck. It would certainly bring her down and break her knees.”
“Oh!” Ruth shivered. “Do you mean that it would actually break them?” she asked in her ignorance.
He laughed. “Well, that’s possible; but I meant the skin of the knee.”
“That would heal, surely?”
He laughed again. “A horse is like a woman—” he began, but checked himself of a sudden. She waited for him to continue, and he went on, “It knocks everything off the price, you see. Some won’t own a horse that has once been down; and any knowledgeable man can tell, at a glance. It is the first thing he looks for.”
She considered for a moment. “But if the mark had been a scratch only— and the scratch had healed—might she not be as good a horse as ever?”
“It would damage her price, none the less.”
“But you are not a horse-dealer. Would you value a horse by its selling price?”
He laughed. “I am afraid,” he owned, “that I should be ruled by other men’s opinions. Your connoisseur does not collect chipped chinaware. . . . There’s the chance, too, that the mare, having once fallen, will throw herself again by the same trick.”