In the gathering twilight Richard Duncombe rode a tired horse through a seemingly endless succession of fields in what he guessed to be a more or less homeward direction. After the crowd and movement and liveliness of a good day with the hounds there was something still and ghostly about this long, slow ride through a misty world of plough-land, grass-land, and fallow, in which he and his horse seemed to be the only living things. Even when he struck into a road it seemed a deserted highway bordered by long stretches of hedge and coppice, with never a farm-gate or signpost to break its reticence or relieve its sameness. It was with a sense of pleasure that he came suddenly into the glow of lighted windows and drew rein hopefully outside the garden gate of a substantial-sized dwelling. A tall, red-haired girl stood in the doorway of the house, as though keeping watch along what could be seen of the dusky roadway. She returned Duncombe’s greeting with a pleasant “Good evening.”
“I see you have a stable there,” he called out; “do you think you could let me put my horse up there for an hour’s rest and give him a little flour and water? He’s fairly done up, and I don’t think there’s an inn within five miles.”
“Mother will be delighted,” said the girl, and in a few minutes she had helped Duncombe to stable and water his tired animal.
“We are just sitting down to tea,” she said shyly, “and mother hopes you will kindly come in and take a cup.”
It was not the first time that Duncombe had partaken of pleasant wayside hospitality during homeward rides, and he gladly accepted the invitation. The house was evidently one belonging to fairly comfortable yeoman owners, and its mistress was a kindly faced woman, with quiet, friendly manners, who sat in her parlour at a table well laid out with the furnishing of a substantial middle-class tea. Seated also at the table when Duncombe entered was a red-haired boy of about seventeen, evidently the brother of the girl who had played the part of stable-help. Continue reading