“That doesn’t make matters any better,” said Doris. “I almost wish he hadn’t.”
Whereupon Hugh laughed again. “Oh, don’t wish that! I should think he would be quite a nasty animal when roused. I shouldn’t have cared to fight him on your behalf. He could wipe the earth with me were he so minded.”
Doris’s eyes, critical though not unkindly, rested upon him as he lay. “Yes,” she said thoughtfully, “I should almost think he could.”
It was on a day six weeks later that Doris Elliot next found herself upon the scene of her discomfiture. She had ridden from her home three miles distant very early on a morning of September to join a meeting of the foxhounds and go cub-hunting. There had been a heavy fall of rain, and the ground was wet and slippery.
The field that had been all yellow with the shocks of corn was now in process of being ploughed, and her horse Hector sank up to the fetlocks at every stride, a fact which he resented with obvious impatience. She guided him down to the edge of the river where the ground looked a little harder.
The run was over and she had enjoyed it; but she wanted now to take as short a cut home as possible, and it was through this particular field that the most direct route undoubtedly lay. She was alone, but she knew every inch of the countryside, and but for this mischance of the plough she would have been well on her way. Being a sportswoman, she made the best of things, and did her utmost to soothe her mount’s somewhat fiery temper.
“You shall have a clean jump at the end, Hector, old boy,” she promised him. “We shall soon be out of it.”
But in this matter also she was to receive a check; for when they came to the clean jump, it was to find a formidable fence of wooden paling confronting them, intervening directly in their line of march. It seemed that the energetic owner had been attending to his boundaries with a zeal that no huntsman would appreciate.
Doris bit her lip with a murmured “Too bad!”
There was nothing for it but to skirt the hedge in search of a gate. Hector was naturally even more indignant than she, and stamped and squealed as she turned him from the obstacle. He also wanted to get home, and he was tired of fighting his way through ploughed land that held him like a bog. To add to their discomfort it had begun to rain again, and there seemed every prospect of being speedily soaked to the skin.
Altogether the outlook was depressing; but someone was whistling cheerily on the farther side of the field, and Doris took heart. It was a long way to the gate, however, and when she reached it at length it was to find another disappointment in store. The gate was padlocked.
She looked round in desperation. Her only chance of escape was apparently to return by the way she had come by means of a gap which had not yet been repaired, and which would lead her in directly the opposite direction to that which she desired to take.