WILD HORSES

 

I have written at some length, in publications less august than this, of my varied adventures as a Resident Magistrate in the south of Ireland at the turn of the century. Of necessity these accounts have been only of those incidents which bore a whimsical or humorous interpretation; in the public prints I have been careful to skirt any topic which bore too closely upon the more intimate details of my life and those of my neighbours at the time. It has always been my practise to avoid the exchange of gossip which seems to preoccupy so many of the residents of that part of Ireland. It is a matter of absolute indifference to me that Mr X tiptoes down the corridor to visit Mrs Y in her bedchamber at Lady Z's houseparty. I care little that Mr A has run away with his groom's wife - or even with his groom. Where the law enters into these matters - which is less often than might be supposed, Ireland being above all a 'laissez faire' state - it is mercifully not the portion of the Resident Magistrate to deliberate upon it. Cases of adultery and other, less savoury, pursuits are disposed of by a higher authority; by men who have the stomach for the job and are presumed themselves to be pillars of moral rectitude. I have made a habit of evading any situation in which I might be called upon by my peers to cast the first stone.

The reason for this reticence is not merely that of adherence to liberal principles, although for all practical purposes no doubt I present the appearance of a man of tolerance - even laxity - towards those whose lives do not follow what is considered by the moralists among us to be the 'regular' or 'normal' pattern. It is noted by my detractors that I am, for example, quite capable of supplying limited financial support to the families of the more persistent malefactors who appear before me. The logical explanation for this - that in any case these men are earning their principal livelihood by poaching on my preserves and as such can already claim to be my dependants - seems to pale into insignificance when considered against the prevailing notion that I have a soft heart.

No doubt if you are familiar with 'Some Experiences of an Irish R.M.' and 'Further Experiences of an Irish R.M.' you will have formed an impression of the family life of their author - an impression which is likely to prove erroneous. It will perhaps be remembered that it was Miss Philippa Butler's consenting to become Mrs Yeates that produced the initial necessity of earning a regular and respectable competency. This in turn resulted in my being appointed to the Resident Magistracy of Skebawn - at which point the hitherto even tenor of my existence received the blow from which it has yet, even so many years later, to recover. In short, throughout the duration of my long and happy marriage to Philippa - during which we became the parents of two fine, healthy sons - I was involved in a second, co-lateral connexion of equal endurance and still greater felicity whose existence if revealed would have blighted my career, besmirched the name of my old Regiment, and ended two otherwise comfortable marriages. Only now, at the remove of decades, am I able to give some account of the beginnings of this additional connection, and in disclosing this information I am, of course, addressing myself to those among my readership already accustomed to the need for confidentiality in these matters. Many of the parties involved in the events I shall relate are now dead, and the rest are in positions of equally unassailable security. My own reputation is thus the only one put at risk by this revelation, and the reader must judge for himself in what degree it is affected. For myself, I am no longer disposed to care about such trivialities.

 

My introduction to Mr Florence McCarthy Knox was effected at Mrs Raverty's hotel in Skebawn on account of his being the owner of a house I was much interested in renting. My first impression - not softened or altered by the years - was that of an amiable rogue whose scruples did not place him above swindling a friend, a neighbour or even a relative should the occasion arise, and yet he seemed to be one of those charmed characters one finds everywhere in Ireland towards whom no-one in his right mind could bear a moment's malice. In our early dealings I was most anxious not to be cheated by him or wheedled into some impossible bargain, but as time drew on I became aware that as far as Mr Flurry Knox was concerned I was not to be considered a target for his schemes. His remarkable delicacy concerning myself became apparent only with the passage of time and is summed up in a statement of his made at a time and place and in circumstances I will not otherwise detail.

"Is it cheat you, Major darlin'? It would be like cheatin' meself."

This rather familiar mode of expression was in common usage in Ireland at this time, but it must be admitted that I had done rather more to merit it than most of those whom Flurry so addressed.

 

Early in my tenancy of Shreelane a misunderstanding arose between myself and my landlord over a matter of his hunting across my land. To this, as an Irishman myself, I had no objection, but I did not participate in the chase at this stage as I was then more interested in shooting snipe and woodcock than in riding to hounds; I have always been an indifferent horseman. When it became impossible to put up a fox on Shreelane territory I was accused by my neighbours of bagging and selling the beasts - the action only of an unmitigated scoundrel. A coldness fell over the hitherto cordial relations I had enjoyed with Mr Knox, and he and his friends found it congenial to dispense with my company.

At the same time I had been persuaded by my housekeeper Mrs Cadogan (due to the vagaries of the local dialect this name is pronounced Cay-do-gawn) that the house I had rented was haunted by the unquiet spirit of a deceased relative of my landlord. Great-uncle McCarthy's dragging footsteps were to be heard at night in the attics above my bedroom, and at other times his shade seemed to harness my grey horse and drive my cart hell-for-leather in the direction of the railway station. It was pure serendipity that I happened to be on the roof with my housekeeper's nephew, Peter Cadogan, engaged in a search for a missing chimney sweep - without whose ministrations, Mrs Cadogan had assured me, there would be 'no dhrop of hot wather in the house until the Day of Judgement itself' - when we spied a man with a sack making off through my grounds. Upon the coincidental arrival of Mr Knox, his huntsmen and foxhounds in full cry the man dropped the sack and ran off, and the fox he had been making off with somehow found its way inside my house.

I reached the kitchen door from within at the same moment that Flurry and his hounds arrived from without. As he descended the steps into the area in pursuit of the hounds his face was flushed with excitement and his wayward hair awry. He grinned broadly at me, our enmity forgotten and forgiven in that meeting. I felt my jaw drop, knew that my mouth had opened foolishly and of its own volition, and experienced at that moment the conviction that nothing in the previous thirty-eight years of my existence had in any way prepared me for the intensity of the feeling that then coursed through me.

In total confusion I followed Flurry as he flung open a door and the two of us, with Peter Cadogan and the sweep in pursuit, made our way via a narrow, rickety stair to an attic directly above my own bedroom, where we discovered the fox, a dozen of the hounds that had made better time than ourselves up the stairs, and a disreputable-looking man and two women apparently resident on the top storey of my house.

Of Flurry's half-angry, half-sheepish explanation as to the unwanted presence under my roof of his McCarthy-Gannon cousins I have written elsewhere. I gave the squatters immediate notice to quit, then threw my housekeeper into conniptions by ordering a breakfast for the hunt prepared immediately - and a most convivial occasion it proved to be. Some hours later, Flurry and I sat beside the fire in my decaying library and made tentative beginnings on a friendship which, from that unpromising acorn, grew into an oak tree which has sheltered us all our lives.

 

A friendship between gentlemen need not, of course, be the object of scandalised attention should it become known - even when the reputation of one of the participants is as tarnished as my landlord's. Had it remained an ordinary friendship my narrative would be short indeed, for friendship, whilst enjoyable and warming to those concerned, is rarely a subject exciting great public interest. It became apparent to me rapidly, however, that my association with my landlord was developing far beyond the narrow boundaries implied by the term, towards a greater and immeasurably more complex connection of the sort which has occasionally been the subject of general opprobrium at certain celebrated trials.

It would be premature to suggest that at this stage I had understood entirely the depth and nature of what was to become my enduring love for Flurry. I only knew that I reacted to his company as to a drug of addiction; I needed it daily more and more, found transparent excuses to seek it out - and without it became withdrawn and pale and low in spirits. At night as I lay in bed visions of Flurry's incomparable smile flashed before my bemused gaze and his laugh echoed in my ears; I replayed in imagination every conversation we had ever shared and saw, in my mind's eye, his easy stride and unequalled horsemanship. Most often I recollected the moment when he had come racketing down my area steps in pursuit of the McCarthy-Gannons' fox, only to meet me issuing from my kitchen door. I knew now that the notion that filled me in that instant had been to throw my arms around him and hold him tightly, in defiance of the world, and I thanked God I had had the common sense not to surrender to it.

As time wore on, however, I began to believe that there had been in the sparkle in Flurry's eyes that which would have encouraged such a course of action; the unresolved minor chord struck by that encounter echoed on and on in my memory until I felt I should be driven mad by its bitter-sweet timbre. The situation was rendered both more and less tolerable by the fact that I had now become accepted by Flurry as a regular collaborator in some of his less creditable exploits, joining himself and the local poacher, Slipper, and sometimes Peter Cadogan also in any piece of skulduggery, nocturnal or diurnal, that took his fancy. The occasion on which we stole a Trinket colt from his grandmother, Mrs Knox of Aussolas, after accepting her hospitality to dinner has rightly become notorious in the locality. My narrative of the occasion kept closely to the facts and gave no intimation of the emotional helter-skelter on which I found myself that night. To be so close at Flurry's side as we tramped the dark hills leading the stolen horse was both heaven and hell, an experience only to be compared with leading a cavalry charge for its admixture of exhilaration and dread. At every moment I hoped that my hand might accidentally brush against Flurry's as he held the bridle - and feared the consequences should it chance to do so.

Mercifully that adventure passed off without any betrayal of my feelings towards Mr Knox, although I later learned that in the looks we exchanged the following morning - when I was caught by his grandmother red-handed in possession of the stolen colt - he saw reflected in my own eyes the counterpart of an attachment for me he was then beginning to form. It is possible that we might have gone on admiring one another from a discreet distance with such intolerable schoolboy gaucherie for the rest of our lives had not I found a previously untapped wellspring of courage somewhere in my character and, in the best traditions of the lover throughout history, laid my heart and my devotion at Flurry Knox's feet.

 

This remarkable scene was enacted some six weeks after the affair of Trinket's colt, at a period when I believed I had at long last brought my errant heart under control. In correspondence with my fiancée Miss Butler I had been discussing arrangements for our forthcoming marriage and had sketched for her some of the adventures on which my landlord and I had been engaged; these amounted fortunately to nothing more serious than a little sharp dealing on his part and considerable incompetent horsemanship on mine. I feel certain that at some time or other I have been thrown over every wall and into every ditch in the south of Ireland by one or another of the ill-tempered nags foisted upon me on various occasions by my neighbours. Be this as it may, I had succeeded in regaining some measure of my equilibrium by the time the Ball at Castle Knox rolled around.

Philippa had been at Castle Knox, staying with her friend Miss Sally - Flurry's cousin, whom he was later to marry - earlier in the year, but had returned home to put in hand final preparations for our entry into the married state. In the three months before I was due to join her in London there were numerous social gatherings and entertainments to which I was kindly invited, and chief among these was the Castle Knox Ball. Sir Valentine and Lady Knox were numbered among the leading aristocracy of the district and theirs was one of the rare households in this part of Ireland in which it was customary to dress for dinner. I had been requested to attend in the character of escort to Mrs Knox of Aussolas since the old lady had taken a great fancy to me over the matter of the colt and, as Flurry had declared at the time, would have married me on the spot had I made so bold as to ask her.

I drove over from Shreelane at the time specified for the commencement of the festivities, with Peter Cadogan at the reins of the dog-cart. As luck would have it, Mrs Knox's ancient bone-shaker of a carriage gained the Castle Knox drive only a few seconds ahead of us, so that by the time her driver had manoeuvred it around the carriage-sweep I had only to alight and sprint across the lawn in order to be on hand to begin my duties immediately by handing her down from her conveyance.

Mrs Knox was in full fig for the occasion; obviously she had raided some jealously-guarded treasure-house of finery, for she appeared now in a black gown of antiquated design with jet ornaments, above which she wore her beloved purple velvet bonnet and a fur shoulder-cape that smelled strongly of ammonia. As she took my arm to climb the stone stairs to the house's massive portico I glanced up to see, waiting by the entrance, the brooding figure of her grandson.

Flurry stood in customary pose, hands thrust into his pockets, a belligerent expression on his face, one shoulder resting against a pillar as he tried, unsuccessfully, to exude an air of nonchalance. What took the fiercest hold on my attention, however, was his attire. He wore immaculate evening clothes of first class cut in which he looked, to me at that moment, the equal of any aristocrat in the land. His grandmother was wont to say of him that he was a stable boy among gentlemen and a gentleman among stable boys; on this one occasion, it seemed, he had resolved to be a gentleman among gentlemen and to prove to himself and others that he owned no superior among his neighbours.

"Why, Tony Lumpkin!" Mrs Knox exclaimed, hailing him from afar. This was her usual greeting, a pet-name for him whose obscure origins I have never been privileged to learn.

"Good evening, Grandmother. Good evening, Major Yeates." The familiar lightness was gone from his tone, and something in the dismissive way he handled my name warned me that the delight I felt at seeing him was not reciprocated. Whilst perfectly civil, his manner was devoid of all warmth.

"Why so sullen, you young fool?" demanded his relative, pausing on the top step. "You've a face like a head of thunder. Has that minx Sally cast you out of favour again?"

Flurry made his answer to a point of invisibility some eighteen inches above his grandmother's head. "Miss Sally's favour or disfavour is nothing to me," he averred. "It's by her own choice that she's dancing every measure with Bernard Shute, and him with two left feet and the arms of an octopus!" His disgust at his cousin's conduct could not have been more apparent.

"So that's the strength of it," the old lady ruminated, slowly. "Well, and good riddance to her. You'll do better than her yet, my boy - won't he, Major?" This last was accompanied by the sudden arrival among my ribs of a bony elbow which nearly deprived me of all breath. My brain teemed with possibilities as I sought for a way to answer her without implying any discourtesy either towards herself, Flurry or Miss Sally. Eventually I located some non-committal phrases of accord which were instantly forgotten by all concerned, and escorted Flurry's grandmother into the mansion.

 

It was two or three hours later that I again became conscious of Flurry's presence like a black cloud at my side. If I had thought of him at all in the interim - and it is not to be imagined that thoughts of him were far from my mind - I had supposed him to be either losing heavily at cards somewhere, drowning his sorrows, or sitting with his grandmamma in some sheltered corner 'casting nasturtiums' on the name of his intended. Old Mrs Knox, in fact, had been more in evidence than her grandson; she had accepted Sir Valentine for a waltz and had even stood up to Tomsy Flood in the polka. He had the physique of a coal-heaver and what he lacked in elegance he made up for in stamina, yet the gallant old lady danced him to a standstill and seemed as if she would go on all night.

Flurry had not, as it is said in these parts, 'drink taken'. He was as sober as a judge and his expression was grave as he caught me by the arm.

"For goodness' sake, Major, come and smoke a cigarette with me outside; I begin to think you and me are the only sane parties present."

His mood had apparently not improved as the evening progressed. I followed him out of the door, accepting a cigarette and a match as we paused in the square of yellow light immediately outside. Then he threaded his arm through mine and with a grip of iron steered me firmly away from the sounds and sights of revelry and down a gravel path to an unfrequented part of the garden.

Here and there in the grounds gentlemen were walking and smoking, either singly or in small groups. Young ladies were taking the air, plying their fans to cool flushed faces. Couples, stealing illicit moments together before their absence could be discovered, were concealed among the topiaried hedges. Our footsteps, however, turned away from these Elysian scenes and towards a less romantic enclave upon the far side of the house; we reached a gate in the wall, and Flurry lifted the latch and ushered me into the kitchen garden.

Here the strains of the music were muted and the moonlight fell unhindered on every surface, turning the most mundane of shapes to enchantment. Along the wall a row of old-fashioned fruit-trees grew, their branches spread at unnatural angles across the old brick, every leaf tipped with silver brilliance. I could not imagine in what capacity my presence could be required in this place, and even as I looked about me in delight I felt a misgiving growing within me.

"Well, Major," said Flurry, heavily. "You'll be 'turned off' by the end of the summer."

I interpreted this reference to execution as an allusion to my forthcoming marriage. "Yes," I agreed, drawing on my cigarette.

The conversation lapsed here into comfortable silence for some while as we both smoked reflectively. Then Flurry discarded his cigarette with some impatience and crushed out its glowing ember on the gravel path. I followed suit, glad to have been given a lead in a situation in which I felt completely at a loss.

"My cousin has recently been pleased to refuse me again," he told me, sadly. "One of these days she'll change her mind - and find out that I've done the same. She'll have to marry Bernard Shute."

I didn't trust myself to speak; if he was expecting fatherly - or elder-brotherly - advice on his love life he would find me unable to oblige him.

"In the time it takes Miss Sally to come to a conclusion," he went on, without pause, "it could be I might fall in love entirely with someone else."

"Could it, indeed?" My words were unpremeditated, forced out automatically from a dry throat and between parched lips.

"Just so, Major Yeates," he said thoughtfully. "Just so."

I looked up at him; I am short-sighted, but the distance between us then was not so great that even in the darkness I could not discern the wistfulness of the look in his eyes. Nor could I fail to notice the way the moonlight silvered the wayward strands of his hair.

I will never know from where I found the courage to do what I then did; perhaps it was in the knowledge that I no longer had a choice. I had reached a pass where no other course of action would have been possible, and I had no option but to obey whatever force it was that prompted me.

"Oh, Flurry," I said, and did not recognise my own voice. "Oh, Flurry." Before I knew what I intended I had pulled him into an embrace and captured his lips in a kiss, tasting the honeyed liquor of his mouth. He half-fell against me as though his legs had refused to support him any longer, and braced himself with hands firmly upon my arms. Then, gently, he pulled back and detached his lips from mine.

He shook his head dazedly, still leaning against me for support.

"Well, Major," he said, "and you're full of surprises."

The sound of his voice shook my composure absolutely. I recollected my senses with a shock not unlike that of a cold plunge.

"Flurry ... good God, how could I ... you must ... oh, what a damned fool!" I blustered uncomfortably, unable to form a coherent sentence from the appalled fragments of speech flashing through my brain.

Flurry, by contrast, seemed perfectly collected. At the very moment that visions of disgrace and suicide flooded my mind and began to torture me, he rested a comforting hand on my arm.

"Is it yourself that's the fool, Major Yeates, or me?" he asked, and no sound had ever been as musical to my ears as the way his voice caressed my name.

Was it possible? Could he be trying to tell me that his feelings for me were in any way equivalent to mine for him? I could not believe it - and yet the evidence would seem to support such a conclusion.

"Flurry ... " Words were still proving elusive; I had but few to express myself clearly, to explain the awfulness of my dilemma, and I rallied them all to my aid. "Flurry, I believe I love you."

His laugh was gentle and indulgent, the laugh of angels. "Faith, Major," he said softly, "I believe you do." And in the next moment he was in my arms again and tilting my head down towards his, claiming my mouth with his own and imparting his strength to me through the kiss. I held him tightly as I had longed to since that early meeting, revelling in the feeling of his hard body wrapped in my embrace; it was utterly unlike kissing my fiancée. No lady's delicate kiss could match the intensity of this sensation; Flurry's kiss was moonlight and Ireland and open sky and most of all himself. I loved him. I loved Philippa, also. The words were identical, but between the emotions they invoked lay a gulf of comprehension so vast that no mere narrative of mine can ever aspire to bridge it. It is at such times as these that language falters and fails, and the imagination of the reader must be left to cross the chasm of understanding to stand beside Flurry Knox and the author in the Castle Knox kitchen-garden.

 

It must have been half an hour or more before I regained my senses; my recollections of that time are limited to the solemnity with which Flurry accepted and returned my declaration; his soft laugh as I scattered kisses on his face and hands; the foolish endearments we exchanged which seemed appropriate to the time and the situation but which would be cheapened by being set down in writing. At length I recall gathering him to me once again and burying my face in his curls, while he addressed himself to my collarbone.

"And you'll still marry your pretty Philippa?" he asked, in the tone of a child that seeks to wheedle some treat from an indulgent parent.

No subject could have been further from my thoughts, but I entertained briefly an idea of the scandal that would result should I choose to break the engagement at this belated stage.

"I suppose I must," I told him, cautiously.

He sighed. "You must indeed. And I must marry my cousin Sally, when she can bring herself to accept me. But we'll still be neighbours, Major? You'll not go away from me now?"

"Go away?" Whatever was he saying?

"Leave Skebawn."

"Leave?" Helplessly I echoed the word. Hadn't I just made a promise to him fully the equal of the one I intended to make to Philippa? How could it even enter his head that I might leave? "Flurry, what on earth do you mean?"

"Ah, well," he said, reluctantly, "in the morning you'll hate yourself for what you did and said this evening. You'll see yourself in your bedroom glass and wonder if it was the same person that said and did as much. You'll decide that you must have been mad and that you can't bear to face me again. It's guilt will drive you away."

Soothingly I stroked the tension from his neck and shoulders. He nestled against me confidingly, exhibiting every evidence of devotion - and yet he was already steeling himself for an expected betrayal.

"Wild horses, Flurry, couldn't take me from you now," I told him, feeling him smile against my shoulder as I spoke.

"That's what you say tonight, Major darlin'," he whispered, "but come tomorrow's dawn you'll sing a different tune."

I pushed him back to arm's length and studied his face in the silvery light. "Oh, ye of little faith," I chided gently. "Is my word not good enough for you?"

"Your word is as good as the rest of you," he responded, cheerfully enough. "But I'll have to see the proof before I can believe you."

"Then you shall. Ride round to my place first thing in the morning, and you'll see whether or not my feelings have changed overnight."

"That I will, Major, that I will - but before I can do so, won't I have to let you go first?"

Perhaps he could not have brought himself to do so - and perhaps I could not have brought myself to part from him - but at that moment a few heavy raindrops spattered down to earth around us where we stood. Flurry laughed delightedly and seized my hand.

"We'd best be going in," he said, lightly, the fear and anguish melting from his face. "Come along, now, and we'll run all the way."

 

Almost the first person I encountered on returning to the ballroom several minutes later was Flurry's grandmother, still on her feet and with a roguish twinkle in her eye which left me in no doubt to whom Flurry owed his originality of spirit.

"Ah, there you are Major," she boomed, holding out to me a claw-like hand in which reposed a folded ivory fan. "I've been looking for you. I want you as a partner, there's to be an eightsome reel when they finish this interminable nonsense." I glanced over her shoulder to see Miss Sally, her face the same pretty rose-pink as her gown, dancing with her father some energetic and complex step I failed entirely to recognise.

I ran a hand through my wet hair. Flurry had vanished like snow in summer, leaving only the echo of his presence behind. I could still feel the urgent press of his fingers on my arm and taste his lips on mine, and knew I must present to the old lady every appearance of a man in a trance. I did what little I could to pull myself together.

"I will endeavour to give satisfaction," I replied gravely, bowing to her.

"Tscha! You sound like a parlourmaid in a penny dreadful," she laughed, explosively. "You won't see my grandson again this evening," she said, in a lower tone. "He's taken himself home at a gallop; no doubt he'll break his horse's neck and his own as well. Our host and hostess," she added slyly, having little love for her Castle Knox relations, "believe it to be on account of Miss Sally's refusing him again. We know different, Major Yeates, do we not?" Once more her bony elbow caused havoc among my ribs.

"Mrs Knox, I ... "

"Come, Major, you had the same look on your face when I caught you hiding my colt in a furze bush. You and young Tony Lumpkin are cut of the same cloth, and while you may hide it from others you won't hide it from me. Come along, now, the reel is starting - and then you may drive me home."

 

In consequence of Mrs Knox's stamina and her hospitality - she kept a cellar in which the finest cognac rubbed shoulders with the local poteen, and dispensed both with equal liberality - I did not gain my own home and bed until past three a.m. When I did so, however, with the old lady's laughter still cackling in my ears, I sank back into the deep, cool pillows and thought again of Flurry and the extraordinary scene that had been played out in the Castle Knox kitchen-garden. I thought, too, of what I should say and do if Flurry were there with me at that moment - and realised, belatedly, that if he and I had truly meant all that we had latterly said to one another there would be a time, perhaps not too far distant, when he would indeed be there. The prospect at once thrilled and appalled me, and I put it from me for the sake of my sanity.

All things considered it is surprising I slept at all, but I was awakened before seven by the sound of something heavy striking my window. I lay awake a moment listening, and presently the sound was repeated. Struggling from my bed and wrapping a dressing-gown over my night-attire, I reached for my eyeglass and went to the window. As I had more or less expected, beneath the window in the pouring rain sat a drenched figure in a sodden brown covert-coat and disreputable bowler, perched upon an unhappy and resentful mare.

I threw open the casement. "Flurry!" I roared. "Good heavens, man, what's amiss?"

"Nothing's amiss, Major," he yelled back, sounding in excellent spirits, "except that the dawn - such as it was - has been and gone and I need to know if you hold by your word."

By now half my household must have been privy to this whispered conversation. I leaned out further, and a gust of wind blew the torrent into my face and past me into the bedroom, while an overladen gutter baptised the back of my neck.

"Every word, Flurry," I shouted, battling the roar of the falling rain. Mrs Cadogan had appeared at the kitchen door and was standing with her arms folded, watching the proceedings with a mixture of astonishment and disapproval.

"Every word, Major?"

"Yes, damn you, every last one and a great many more."

He turned on me such a smile as in a rational world would have driven away the rainclouds and dried up the downpour on the instant, but apparently heaven's attention was directed elsewhere at the time. The mare tossed her head impatiently and did her best to convey disapproval of his eccentric conduct.

"Well, then, Major," he said, formally, although his grin transmitted a message that far outstripped the capacity of mere words to describe, "I'll do meself the honour of calling on you later in the day. Get inside now, or you'll drown where you stand."

That was fine advice, coming from one who had ridden across wet countryside before breakfast to throw stones at my window and wake me, just to ask a simple question whose answer he already knew.

I shook my head tolerantly and returned his smile. He lifted his riding-crop to the brim of his bowler in a mischievous salute, and in the same moment tugged on the reins to bring the mare round.

I watched, mesmerised, as he galloped her down my driveway, never pausing or turning even for an instant until he was out of sight. I reflected that if this love affair with Mr Florence McCarthy Knox were to continue in the vein in which it had begun I would undoubtedly be dead of pneumonia by the end of the summer.

I threw one final pitying glance at my housekeeper as she stood foursquare in the rain glaring up at my window, turned away from her and closed the casement.

* * * * *