Chapter 96

A shout - A fireball - See to the horses - Passing away - Gap in the hedge - On three wheels - Why do you stop? - No craven heart - The cordial - Across the country - Small bags.

I LISTENED attentively, but I could hear nothing but the loud clashing of branches, the pattering of rain, and the muttered growl of thunder. I was about to tell Belle that she must have been mistaken, when I heard a shout - indistinct, it is true, owing to the noises aforesaid - from some part of the field above the dingle. ‘I will soon see what’s the matter,’ said I to Belle, starting up. ‘I will go too;’ said the girl. ‘Stay where you are,’ said I; ‘if I need you, I will call’; and, without waiting for any answer, I hurried to the mouth of the dingle. I was about a few yards only from the top of the ascent, when I beheld a blaze of light, from whence I knew not; the next moment there was a loud crash, and I appeared involved in a cloud of sulphurous smoke. ‘Lord have mercy upon us!’ I heard a voice say, and methought I heard the plunging and struggling of horses. I had stopped short on hearing the crash, for I was half stunned; but I now hurried forward, and in a moment stood upon the plain. Here I was instantly aware of the cause of the crash and the smoke. One of those balls, generally called fireballs, had fallen from the clouds, and was burning on the plain at a short distance; and the voice which I had heard, and the plunging, were as easily accounted for. Near the left-hand corner of the grove which surrounded the dingle, and about ten yards from the fireball, I perceived a chaise, with a postilion on the box, who was making efforts, apparently useless, to control his horses, which were kicking and plunging in the highest degree of excitement. I instantly ran towards the chaise, in order to offer what help was in my power. ‘Help me,’ said the poor fellow, as I drew nigh; but before I could reach the horses, they had turned rapidly round, one of the fore- wheels flew from its axle-tree, the chaise was overset, and the postilion flung violently from his seat upon the field. The horses now became more furious than before, kicking desperately, and endeavouring to disengage themselves from the fallen chaise. As I was hesitating whether to run to the assistance of the postilion or endeavour to disengage the animals, I heard the voice of Belle exclaiming, ‘See to the horses, I will look after the man.’ She had, it seems, been alarmed by the crash which accompanied the firebolt, and had hurried up to learn the cause. I forthwith seized the horses by the heads, and used all the means I possessed to soothe and pacify them, employing every gentle modulation of which my voice was capable. Belle, in the meantime, had raised up the man, who was much stunned by his fall; but, presently recovering his recollection to a certain degree, he came limping to me, holding his hand to his right thigh. ‘The first thing that must now be done,’ said I, ‘is to free these horses from the traces; can you undertake to do so?’ ‘ I think I can,’ said the man, looking at me somewhat stupidly. ‘I will help,’ said Belle, and without loss of time laid hold of one of the traces. The man, after a short pause, also set to work, and in a few minutes the horses were extricated. ‘Now,’ said I to the man, ‘what is next to be done?’ ‘I don’t know,’ said he; ‘indeed, I scarcely know anything; I have been so frightened by this horrible storm, and so shaken by my fall.’ ‘I think,’ said I, ‘that the storm is passing away, so cast your fears away too; and as for your fall, you must bear it as lightly as you can. I will tie the horses amongst those trees, and then we will all betake us to the hollow below.’ ‘And what’s to become of my chaise?’ said the postilion, looking ruefully on the fallen vehicle. ‘Let us leave the chaise for the present,’ said I; ‘we can be of no use to it.’ ‘I don’t like to leave my chaise lying on the ground in this weather,’ said the man; ‘I love my chaise, and him whom it belongs to.’ ‘You are quite right to be fond of yourself,’ said I, ‘on which account I advise you to seek shelter from the rain as soon as possible.’ ‘I was not talking of myself,’ said the man, ‘but my master, to whom the chaise belongs.’ ‘I thought you called the chaise yours,’ said I. ‘That’s my way of speaking,’ said the man; ‘but the chaise is my master’s, and a better master does not live. Don’t you think we could manage to raise up the chaise?’ ‘And what is to become of the horses?’ said I. ‘I love my horses well enough,’ said the man; ‘but they will take less harm than the chaise. We two can never lift up that chaise.’ ‘But we three can,’ said Belle; ‘at least, I think so; and I know where to find two poles which will assist us.’ ‘You had better go to the tent,’ said I, ‘you will be wet through.’ ‘I care not for a little wetting,’ said Belle; ‘moreover, I have more gowns than one - see you after the horses.’ Thereupon, I led the horses past the mouth of the dingle, to a place where a gap in the hedge afforded admission to the copse or plantation on the southern side. Forcing them through the gap, I led them to a spot amidst the trees which I deemed would afford them the most convenient place for standing; then, darting down into the dingle, I brought up a rope, and also the halter of my own nag, and with these fastened them each to a separate tree in the best manner I could. This done, I returned

  By PanEris using Melati.

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