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Chapter XXXIX - My Ride

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« on: December 07, 2022, 05:06:35 am »

It was a few minutes past nine when I descended into the long, oaken gallery where breakfast was served, and at the head of the principal table sat Mr. Ravenor in hunting costume. Everyone who was down was evidently bound for the meet. The men were nearly all in scarlet coats, and the women in riding-habits and trim little hats, with their veils pushed back. There was a great clatter of knives and forks, and a good deal of carving going on at the long, polished sideboard, and above it all, a loud hum of cheerful talk; altogether it was a very pleasant meal that was in progress.

I was making my way towards a gap in the table at the lower end when I heard my name called, and looked down into Miss Hamilton’s piquant, upturned face.

“Come and sit by me,” she exclaimed, moving her skirts to make room. “See. I’ve hidden a chair here—for somebody.”

I took it with a laugh. “Well, as somebody is so very lazy this morning,” I said, “he doesn’t deserve to have it; so I will. Can I get you anything?”

She shook her head. “No, thanks. Look after yourself, do, for we shall have to start presently. And now tell me, how did you know for whom I was saving that chair?”

“Well, I supposed it was for Cis,” I remarked, making a vigorous attack upon an adjacent ham.

“Indeed! And supposing I were to say that it wasn’t—that it was for someone else?”

“Poor Cis!” I said, with a sigh. “Don’t tell me who the someone else was, Miss Hamilton, please.”

“Why not?”

“Because I shall hate him.”

“For Lord Silchester’s sake?”

“No; for my own.”

“Mr. Morton, you’re talking nonsense.”

“Well, didn’t you undertake to teach me how last evening?”

“Teach you! Oh!”—a little ironically—“you’re a very apt pupil, Mr. Morton.”

I looked at her in mute remonstrance.

“With such a tutor, Miss Hamilton—”

She stopped me, laughing.

“Oh, you’re a dreadful boy! Let me give you some tea to keep you quiet.”

I drew a long sigh and attacked my breakfast vigorously. Presently she began again.

“Do you know Nanpantan, Mr. Morton, where the meet is this morning?”

“Very well,” I answered, cutting myself some more ham. “Do you mind giving me another cup of tea, Miss Hamilton? It was so good!”

She nodded and drew off her thick dogskin glove again.

“You thirsty mortal!” she remarked. “I’m afraid you must have been smoking too much last night.”

“One cigarette,” I assured her. “No more, upon my honour.”

“Really! Then you won’t get any more tea from me to unsteady your nerves. Now tell me, Mr. Morton, do you know this country?”

“Every inch of it. No one better.”

“Oh, how nice! And you’ll give me a lead to-day, won’t you? I do so want to do well.”

“I should be delighted,” I answered; “but, unfortunately, I’m not going to hunt.”

“Not going to hunt! Then what are you going to do, pray?”

“Going for a ride with a young lady,” I answered.

“Oh, indeed!”—with a toss of the head.

There was a short silence. Then curiosity conquered the fit of indignation which Miss Hamilton had thought well to assume.

“May I ask the name of the fortunate young lady?”

“You may,” I answered calmly, helping myself to toast. “It is little Lady Beatrice.”

She burst into a peal of laughter, but stopped suddenly. “What nonsense! Are you going to take the groom’s place, then, and hold the leading-rein?”

“If she rides with one, very likely,” I answered.

There was a short silence. Then Miss Hamilton returned to the charge. “How old is your inamorata?” she inquired. “Seven or eight?”

“Twelve next birthday,” I answered promptly.

“It’s quite too ridiculous!” she declared, tossing her head. “I really wanted you to come with me this morning, because you know the country,” she added, with a sidelong glance from her dark eyes.

“Nothing would have given me greater pleasure,” I declared; “but a promise is a promise, you know, and we made this one before we knew anything about the meet.”

“We! Who are we?” she asked quickly.

“Cis and I.”

“Cecil won’t go if I ask him to come with me,” she said confidently.

I shrugged my shoulders.

“Perhaps not. The more reason why I should.”

She turned away from me half amused, half vexed. Just then Cecil appeared, and she beckoned him eagerly to her side.

“Cecil, Mr. Morton tells me that you have promised to ride with Beatrice this morning,” she said.

“So we did,” he exclaimed. “Awfully sorry to disappoint her, but, of course, I didn’t know anything about the meet.”

“Oh, I am glad that you are not going to desert me, then,” she said, laughing. “Mr. Morton declares that he is going to keep his engagement.”

“Very good of him, if he is,” remarked Cecil, stirring his tea with great cheerfulness.

“Don’t pity me,” I said, rising. “I’m sure I shall enjoy it. Au revoir, Miss Hamilton.”

And I did enjoy it. Many a time afterwards I thought of that slim little figure in the long riding-habit, her golden hair streaming in the breeze, and her dainty, flushed face aglow with excitement and delight, and of the pleasant prattle which her little ladyship poured into my willing ears. I remembered, too, her quaint, naïve ways, and the grave way in which she thanked me for taking care of her—little mannerisms which soon yielded to familiarity and vanished altogether. And, strange though it may seem, I found always more satisfaction in recalling these things than the winged look and merry speeches of Miss Agnes Hamilton.

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