With improvised masks over their faces, they mounted the steed and set out for adventure, the horse seeming to comprehend its strange burden and stepping as lightly as its tortures would permit, while the saddle slid cheerfully about its back, threatening any moment to roll the desperados on to the road.
They had just emerged from the estate into the public highway, when a passing butcher’s cart stopped their progress. The younger Durwent, who had been mastering the art of retaining his seat while his steed was in motion, was unprepared for its cessation, and promptly overbalanced over the horse’s shoulder, reaching the road head first, and discharging a couple of pellets from the shotgun into a fleshy part of the butcher-boy’s anatomy.
The groom was dismissed; the butcher-boy received ten pounds; Richard (when it was certain that concussion of the brain was not going to materialise) was soundly whipped; and Elise was banished for forty-eight hours to her room, issuing with a carefully concocted plan to waylay the rector coming from church, steal the collection, and purchase with the ill-gotten gains the sole proprietary interests in the village sweet-shop.
There is little doubt but that the coup would have been attempted had not Lord Durwent decided that the influence of his sister was not good for Dick, and sent him to a preparatory school at Bexhill-on-Sea, there to imbibe sea-air and some little learning, and await his entrance into Eton.
Robbed of her brother’s stimulating loyalty, Elise relapsed into a sulky obedience to her governess and her mother. To their puny vision it seemed that her attitude towards them was one of haughty aloofness, and everything possible was done to subdue her spirit. Being unable to see that the child was lonely, and too proud to admit her craving for sympathetic companionship, they tried to tame the thoroughbred as they would a mule.
Only when Dick returned for holidays would her petulant moods vanish, and in his company her old vitality sparkled like the noonday sun upon the ocean’s surface. And if her affection for him knew no variation, his was no less true. The friendships and the adventures of school were forgotten in the comradeship of his sister as, over the fields of Roselawn or on the tennis-court, they would renew their childhood’s hours. He taught her to throw a fly for trout, and she initiated him into the mysteries of answering the calls of birds in the woods. Mounted on a couple of ponies, they became familiar figures at the tenants’ cottages, and though the spirit of outlawry mellowed with advancing years, Lady Durwent never saw them start away from the house without the uneasy feeling that there was more than a chance they would get into some mischief before they returned.
In the meantime the elder son was bringing credit to his ancestors and himself. His accent became a thing of perfection, nicely nuanced, and entirely free of any emphasis or intensity that might rob it of its placid suggestion of good-breeding. His attitude towards the servants was one of pleasant dignity, and the tenantry all spoke of Master Malcolm as a fine young gentleman who would make a worthy ruler of Roselawn.