With some little difficulty, her mare being fidgety, and refusing to stand still, she managed to dismount; but in doing so her wrist caught against the pommel of her saddle, and was so severely wrenched backwards, as she sprang to the ground, that she turned quite sick with the pain.
It seemed to her that her wrist must be sprained; at all events, her right hand was, for the minute, perfectly powerless. The mare, perceiving that nothing further was expected of her, amused herself by cropping the short grass at her feet, whilst Vera stood by her side in dire perplexity as to what she was to do next. Just then she heard the welcome sound of a horse’s hoofs in the adjoining field, and in another minute a hat and black coat, followed by a horse’s head and forelegs appeared on the top of the fence, and a man dropped over into the spinney just ten yards in front of her.
Vera took it to be her lover, for the brothers both hunted in black, and there was a certain family resemblance between their broad shoulders and the square set of their heads. She called out eagerly,
“Oh, John! how glad I am to see you! I have come to grief!”
“So I see; but I am not John. I hope, however, I may do as well. What is the matter?”
“It is you, Maurice? Oh, yes, you will do quite as well. I have broken my stirrup-leather, and I am afraid I have sprained my wrist.”
“That sounds bad—let me see.”
In an instant he had sprung from his horse to help her.
She looked up at him as he came, pushing the tall brushwood away as he stepped through it. It struck her suddenly how like he was to the photograph she had found of him at Kynaston long ago, and what a well-made man he was, and how brave and handsome he looked in his hunting gear.
“How have you managed to hurt your wrist? Let me see it.”
“I wrenched it somehow in jumping down; but I don’t think that it can be sprained, for I find I can move it now a little; it is only bruised, but it hurts me horribly.”
She turned back her cuff and held out the injured hand to him. Maurice stooped over it. There was a moment’s silence, the two horses stood waiting patiently by, the solitary fields lay bare and lifeless on every side of them, the little birch-trees rustled mysteriously overhead, the leaden sky, with its chill curtain of unbroken gray cloud, spread monotonously above them; there was no living thing in all the winter landscape besides to listen or to watch them.
Suddenly Maurice Kynaston caught the hand that he held to his lips, and pressed half a dozen passionate kisses upon its outstretched palm.
It was the work of half a minute, and in the next Maurice felt as if he should die of shame and remorse.
“For God’s sake, forgive me!” he cried, brokenly. “I am a brute—I forgot myself—I must be mad, I think; for Heaven’s sake tell me that I have not offended you past forgiveness, Vera!”