“But still, you will acknowledge that I have done right in letting Beatrice hunt. You may be quite sure that there is no accomplishment which brings a girl so much into notice in the country. Look at her now.”
Mrs. Macpherson looked and saw Beatrice in her habit at the far end of the dining-room surrounded by a group of men in pink, and she also saw her own daughters sitting neglected by themselves on the other side of the room. She made no observation upon the contrast, for it would hardly have been polite to have done so; but she made a mental note of the fact that Mrs. Miller was a very clever woman, and that, if you want an ugly daughter to marry, you had better let her learn how to ride across country. And she furthermore decided that her third daughter, Alice, who was not blessed with the gift of beauty, should forthwith abandon the cultivation of a very feeble and uncertain vocal organ and be sent to the nearest riding-school the very instant she returned to her home.
Beatrice Miller rode very well indeed; it was the secret of her uncle’s affection for her, and many a good day’s sport had the two enjoyed side by side across the flat fields and the strong fences and wide ditches of their native country. Her brothers, Guy and Edwin, were fond of hunting too, but they rode clumsily and awkwardly, floundering across country in what their uncle called, contemptuously, a thoroughly “provincial style.” But Beatrice had the true Esterworth seat and hand; she looked as if she were born to her saddle, and, in truth, she was never so happy as when she was in it. It was a proof of how great and real was her love to Herbert Pryme that she fully recognized that, in becoming his wife, she would have to live in London entirely and to give up her beloved hunting for his sake.
A woman who rides, as did Beatrice, is sure to be popular on a hunting morning; and, with the consciousness of her lover’s hands resting upon the back of her chair, with her favourite uncle by her side, and with several truly ardent admirers of her good riding about her, Miss Miller was evidently enjoying herself thoroughly.
The scene, indeed, was animated to the last degree. The long dining-room was filled with guests, the table was covered with good things, a repast, half breakfast, half luncheon, being laid out upon it. Everybody helped themselves, with much chattering and laughter, and there was a pleasant sense of haste and excitement, and a charming informality about the proceedings, which made the Shadonake Hunt breakfast, which Tom Esterworth had been prevailed upon by his niece’s entreaties to allow, a thorough and decided success.
Outside there were the hounds, drawn up in patient expectation on the grass beyond the gravel sweep, the bright coats and velvet caps of the men, and the gray horses—on which it was the Meadowshire tradition that they should be always mounted—standing out well against the dark background of the leafless woods behind. Then there were a goodly company who had not dismounted, and to whom glasses of sherry were being handed by the servants, and who also were chattering to each other, or to those on foot, whilst before the door, an object of interest to those within as to those without, Sir John Kynaston was putting Miss Nevill upon her horse.