The rain was coming down in a sharp shower, and Hector was becoming more and more restive. She halted him by the gate and looked over. Beyond lay a field from which she knew the road to be easily accessible. She hated to turn her back upon it.
Behind her over a rise came the plough, drawn by two stout horses, driven by a sturdy figure that loomed gigantic against the sky. Glancing back, Doris saw this figure, and an odd little spirit of dare-devilry entered into her. She did not want to come face to face with the ploughman, neither did she want to beat a retreat before the five-barred gate that opposed her progress.
She spoke to Hector reassuringly and backed him several paces. He was quick to grasp her desire and eager to fall in with it. She felt him bracing himself under her, and she laughed in sheer delight as she set him at the gate.
He went at it with a will over the broken ground, rose as she lifted him, and made a gallant effort to clear the obstacle. But he was too heavily handicapped. He slipped as he rose to the leap. He blundered badly against the top bar of the gate, finally stumbled over and fell on the other side, pitching his rider headlong into a slough of trampled mud.
He was up in a moment and careering across the field, but Doris was not so nimble. It was by no means her first tumble, nor had it been wholly unexpected; but she had fallen with considerable violence, and it took her a second or two to collect her wits. Then, like Hector, she sprang up—only to reel back through the slippery mud and catch at the splintered gate for support, there to cling sick and dizzy, with eyes fast shut, while the whole world rocked around her in chaos indescribable.
A full minute must have passed thus, then very suddenly out of the confusion came a voice. Vaguely she recognized it, but she was too occupied in the struggle to keep her senses to pay much attention to what it said.
“I mustn’t faint!” she gasped desperately through her set teeth. “I mustn’t faint!”
A steady arm encircled her, holding her up.
“You’ll be all right in half a minute,” said the voice, close to her now. “You came down rather hard.”
She fought with herself and opened her eyes. Her head was swimming still, but she compelled herself to look.
Jeff Ironside was beside her, one foot lodged upon the lowest bar of the gate while he propped her against his bent knee.
He looked down at her with a certain sternness of demeanour that was characteristic of him. “Take your time,” he said. “It was a nasty knock-out.”
“I—I’m all right,” she told him breathlessly. “Where—where is Hector?”
“If you mean your animal,” he said in the slow, grim way which she began to remember as his, “he is probably well on his way home by now. He’ll be all right,” he added. “The gate from this field into the road is open.”