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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Bars Of Iron - Part 1. The Gates Of Brass - Chapter 10. Sport
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The Bars Of Iron - Part 1. The Gates Of Brass - Chapter 10. Sport Post by :boloreid Category :Long Stories Author :Ethel May Dell Date :May 2012 Read :2225

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The Bars Of Iron - Part 1. The Gates Of Brass - Chapter 10. Sport

PART I. THE GATES OF BRASS CHAPTER X. SPORT

It was the day before Christmas Eve, and Avery had been shopping.

She and Mrs. Lorimer were preparing a Christmas Tree for the children, a secret to which only Jeanie had been admitted. The tree itself was already procured and hidden away in a corner of the fruit cupboard--to which special sanctum Mrs. Lorimer and Avery alone had access. But the numerous gifts and ornaments which they had been manufacturing for weeks were safely stored in a corner of Avery's own room. It was to complete this store that Avery had been down into Rodding that afternoon, and she was returning laden and somewhat wearied.

The red light of a cloudy winter sunset lay behind her. Ahead of her, now veiled, now splendidly revealed, there hung a marvellous, glimmering star. A little weight of sadness was dragging at her heart, but she would not give it place or so much as acknowledge its presence. She hummed a carol as she went, stepping lightly through the muddy fields.

The frost had given place to an unseasonable warmth, and there had been some heavy rain earlier in the day. It was threatening to rain again. In fact, as she mounted her second stile, the first drops of what promised to be a sharp shower began to fall. She cast a hasty glance around for shelter, and spied some twenty yards away against the hedge a hut which had probably been erected for the use of some shepherd. Swiftly she made for it, reaching it just as the shower became a downpour.

There was neither door nor window to the place, but an ancient shutter which had evidently done duty for the former was lodged against the wall immediately inside.

She had to stoop to enter, and but for the pelting rain she might have hesitated to do so; for the darkness within was complete. But once in, she turned her face back to the dying light of the sunset and saw that the rain would not last.

At the same moment she heard a curious sound behind her, a panting, coughing sound as of some creature in distress, and something stirred in the furthest corner. Sharply she turned, and out of the darkness two wild green eyes glared up at her.

Avery's heart gave a great jerk. Instinctively she drew back. Her first impulse was to turn and flee, but something--something which at the moment she could not define--prompted her to remain. The frantic terror of those eyes appealed to that in her which was greater than her own personal fear.

She paused therefore, and in the pause there came to her ears a swelling tumult that arose from the ridge of an eminence a couple of fields away. Right well Avery knew that sound. In the far-off days of her early girlhood it had quickened her pulses many a time. It was enough even now to set every nerve throbbing with a tense excitement.

She turned her face once more to the open, and as she did so she heard again in the hut behind her that agonized sound, half-cough, half-whine, of an animal exhausted and in the extremity of mortal fear.

It was enough for Avery. She grasped the situation on the instant, and on the instant she acted. She felt as if a helpless and tortured being had cried to her for deliverance, and all that was great in her responded to the cry.

She seized the crazy shutter that was propped against the wall, put forth her strength, and lifted it out into the open. It was no easy matter to set it securely against the low doorway. She wondered afterwards how she did it; at the time she tore her gloves to ribbons with the exertion, but yet was scarcely aware of making any.

When the pack swept across the grass in a single yelling, heaving mass, she was ready. She leaned against the improvised door with arms outstretched and resolutely faced the swarming, piebald multitude.

In a moment the hounds were upon her. She was waist-deep in them. They leapt almost to her shoulders in their madness, smothering her with mud and slobber. For a second or two the red eyes and gaping jaws made even Avery's brave heart quail. But she stood her ground, ordering them back with breathless insistence. They must have thought her a maniac, she reflected afterwards. At the time she fully expected to be torn in pieces, and was actually surprised when they suddenly parted and swept round the hut, encircling it with deep-mouthed baying.

The huntsman, arriving on the scene, found her white-faced but still determined, still firmly propping the shutter in place with the weight of her body. He called the hounds to order with hoarse oaths and furious crackings of the whip, and as he did so the rest of the field began to arrive, a laughing, trampling crowd of sportsmen who dropped into staring, astounded silence as they reached the scene.

And then the huntsman addressed Avery with sardonic affability.

"P'r'aps now, miss, you'd be good enough to step aside and let the 'ounds attend to business."

But Avery, with eyes that blazed in her pale face, made scathing answer.

"You shan't kill the poor brute like a rat in a trap. He deserves better than that. You had your chance of killing in the open, and you failed. It isn't sport to kill in the dark."

"We'll soon have 'im out," said the huntsman grimly.

She shook her head. Her hands, in the ripped gloves, were clenched and quivering.

The huntsman slashed and swore at one of the hounds to relieve his feelings, and looked for inspiration to the growing crowd of riders.

One of them, the M.F.H., Colonel Rose of Wardenhurst, pushed his horse forward. He raised his hat with extreme courtliness.

"Madam," he said, "while appreciating your courage, allow me to point out that that fox is now the legal property of the Hunt, and you have no right whatever to deprive us of it."

His daughter Ina, a slim girl of twenty, was at his elbow. She jogged it impatiently. "He'll remain our property whether we kill or not, Dad. Let him live to run again!"

"What?" cried a voice in the rear. "Let a woman interfere? Great Heavens above, Barchard! Have you gone mad?"

Barchard the huntsman glanced round uneasily as an old man on a powerful white horse forced his way to the front. His grey eyes glowered down at Avery as though he would slay her. The trampling hoofs came within a yard of her. But if he thought to make her desert her post by that means, he was mistaken. She stood there, actually waiting to be hustled by the fretting animal, and yielding not an inch.

"Stand aside!" thundered Sir Beverley. "Confound you! Stand aside!"

But Avery never stirred. She faced him panting but unflinching. The foam of his hunter splashed her, the mud from the stamping hoofs struck upwards on her face; but still she stood to defend the defenceless thing behind her.

She often wondered afterwards what Sir Beverley would have done had he been left to settle the matter in his own way. She was horribly afraid, but she certainly would never have yielded to aught but brute force.

But at this juncture there came a sudden diversion. Another voice made itself heard in furious protest. Another horse was spurred forward; and Piers, white to the lips, with eyes of awful flame, leaned from his saddle and with his left hand caught Sir Beverley's bridle, dragging his animal back.

What he said Avery did not hear; it was spoken under his breath. But she saw a terrible look flash like an evil spirit into Sir Beverley's face. She saw his right arm go up, and heard his riding-crop descend with a sound like a pistol-shot upon Piers' shoulders.

It was a horrible sight and one which she was never to forget. Both horses began to leap madly, the one Sir Beverley rode finally rearing and being pulled down again by Piers who hung on to the bridle like grim death, his head bent, his shoulders wholly exposed to those crashing merciless blows.

They reeled away at length through the crowd, which scattered in dismay to let them pass, but for many seconds it seemed to Avery that the awful struggle went on in the dusk as Piers dragged his grandfather from the spot.

A great weakness had begun to assail her. Her knees were quivering under her. She wondered what the next move would be, and felt utterly powerless to put forth any further effort. And then she heard Ina Rose's clear young voice.

"Barchard, take the hounds back to kennels! I'm sure we've all had enough for one day."

"Hear, hear!" said a man in the crowd.

And Ina laughed. "Thank you, Dick! Come along, Dad! Leave the horrid old fox alone! Don't you think we ought to go and separate Sir Beverley and Piers? What an old pepper-pot he is!"

"Piers isn't much better," remarked the man she had called Dick. His proper appellation was Richard Guyes, but his friends never stood on ceremony with him.

The girl laughed again inconsequently. She was spoken of by some as the spoilt beauty of the county. "Oh, Piers is stuffed tight with gunpowder as everybody knows. He explodes at a touch. Get along, Barchard! What are you waiting for? I told you to take the hounds home."

Barchard looked at the Colonel.

"I suppose you'd better," the latter said. He threw a glance of displeasure at Avery. "It's a most unheard of affair altogether, but I admit there's not much to be said for a kill in cold blood. Yes, take 'em home!"

Barchard made a savage cut at two of the hounds who were scratching and whimpering at a tiny chink in the boarding, and with surly threats collected the pack and moved off.

The rest of the field melted away into the deepening dusk. Ina and Dick Guyes were among the last to go. They moved off side by side.

"It'll be the laugh of the county," the man said, "but, egad, I like her pluck."

And in answer the girl laughed again, a careless, merry laugh. "Yes, I wonder who she is. A friend of Piers' apparently. Did you see what a stiff fury he was in?"

"It was a fairly stiff flogging," remarked Guyes. "Ye gods! I wonder how he stood it."

"Oh, Piers can stand anything," said Ina unconcernedly. "He's as strong as an ox."

The voices dwindled and died in the distance. The dusk deepened. A sense of utter forlornness, utter weariness, came upon Avery. The struggle was over, and she had emerged triumphant; but it did not seem to matter. She could think only of those awful blows raining down upon the defenceless shoulders of the boy who had championed her. And, leaning there in the drizzling wet, she covered her face with her hands and wept.

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