Manual The Hurting Game (A Frank Boff Mystery Book 1)

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The moment the mare felt the spur she reared until she stood perfectly erect, and fought the air with her forelegs. Upon this I slackened the rein, and, striking her over the ears with my riding-whip, brought her down again;—no sooner, however, had her forefeet touched the ground than she gave [42] two or three violent plunges, which nearly succeeded in unseating me, jerked down her head so suddenly as to loosen the reins from my grasp, kicked viciously several times, and, seizing the cheek of the bit between her teeth so as to render it utterly useless evidently an old trick of hers , sprang forward at a wild gallop.

The pace at which we were going soon brought us alongside of Punch, who, having thoroughly mastered his rider, considered it highly improper that any steed should imagine itself able to pass him, and therefore proceeded to emulate the pace of Mad Bess.

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Thereupon a short but very spirited race ensued, the cob's pluck enabling him to keep neck and neck for a few yards; but the mare was going at racing speed, and the length of her stride soon began to tell; Punch, too, showed signs of having nearly had enough of it. His answer was inaudible, but when I turned my head two or three minutes afterwards I was glad to see that he had followed my advice with complete success—Punch was standing still, about half a mile off, while his rider was apparently watching my course with looks of horror.

All anxiety on his account being thus at an end, I proceeded to take as calm a view of my own situation as circumstances would allow, in order to decide on the best means of extricating myself therefrom. We had reached the top of the first range of hills I have described, and were now tearing at a fearful rate down the descent on the opposite side.

It was clear that the mare could not keep up the pace at which she was going for any length of time: still she was in first-rate racing condition, not an ounce of superfluous flesh about her, and, though she must have gone more than two miles already, she appeared as fresh as when we started. I therefore cast my eyes around in search of some obstacle which might check her speed.

The slope down which we were proceeding extended for about a mile before us, after which the ground again began to rise. In the valley between the two hills was a small piece of cultivated land, enclosed as is usual in the district I am describing within a low wall, built of flint-stones from the beach. Towards this I determined to guide the mare as well as I was able, in the hope that she would refuse the leap, in which case I imagined I might pull her in.

The pace at which we were going soon brought us near the spot, when I was glad to perceive that the wall was a more formidable obstacle than I had at first imagined, being fully six feet high, with a ditch in [43] front of it. I therefore selected a place where the ditch seemed widest, got her head up by sawing her mouth with the snaffle, and put her fairly at it.

No sooner did she perceive the obstacles before her than, slightly moderating her pace, she appeared to collect herself, gathered her legs well under her, and, rushing forward, cleared wall, ditch, and at least seven feet of ground beyond, with a leap like a deer, alighting safely with me on her back on the opposite side, where she continued her course with unabated vigour. We had crossed the field a wheat stubble ere I had recovered from my astonishment at finding myself safe, after such a leap as I had most assuredly never dreamt of taking.


Fortunately there was a low gate on the farther side, towards which I guided the mare, for though I could not check, I was in some measure able to direct, her course. This time, however, she either did not see the impediment in her way, or despised it, as, without abating her speed, she literally rushed through the gate, snapping into shivers with her chest the upper bar, which was luckily rotten, and clearing the lower ones in her stride.

The blow, and the splintered wood flying about her ears, appeared to frighten her afresh, and she tore up the opposite ascent, which was longer and steeper than the last, like a mad creature. I was glad to perceive, however, that the pace at which she had come, and the distance which must have been several miles , were beginning to tell—her glossy coat was stained with sweat and dust, while her breath, drawn with short and laboured sobs, her heaving flanks, and the tremulous motion of her limbs, afforded convincing proofs that the struggle could not be protracted much longer.

Still she continued to hold the bit between her teeth as firmly as though it were in a vice, rendering any attempt to pull her in utterly futile. We had now reached the crest of the hill, when I was not best pleased to perceive that the descent on the other side was much more precipitous than any I had yet met with. I endeavoured, therefore, to pull her head round, thinking it would be best to try and retrace our steps, but I soon found that it was useless to attempt it. The mare had now become wholly unmanageable; I could not guide her in the slightest decree; and, though she was evidently getting more and more exhausted, she still continued to gallop madly forwards, as though some demon had taken possession of her, and was urging her on to our common destruction.

As we proceeded down the hill our speed increased from the force of gravitation, till we actually seemed to [44] fly—the wind appeared to shriek as it rushed past my ears, while, from the rapidity with which we were moving, the ground seemed to glide from under us, till my head reeled so giddily that I was afraid I should fall from the saddle. We had proceeded about half way down the descent when, on passing one or two stunted bushes which had concealed the ground beyond, I saw, oh, horror of horrors!

The mare perceives it when too late, attempts to stop, but from the impetus with which she is going is unable to do so. Another moment, and we shall be over the brink! With the energy of despair I lifted her with the rein with both hands, and drove the spurs madly into her flanks;—she rose to the leap, there was a bound! To spring upon my feet, and seize the bridle of the mare, who had also by this time recovered her footing, was the work of a moment. I then proceeded to look around, in order to gain a more clear idea of the situation in which I was placed, in the hope of discovering the easiest method of extricating myself from it.

Close behind me lay the chalk-pit, and, as I gazed down its rugged sides, overgrown with brambles and rank weeds, I shuddered to think of the probable fate from which I had been so almost miraculously preserved, and turned away with a heartfelt expression of thanksgiving to Him who had mercifully decreed that the thread of my young life should not be snapped in so sudden and fearful a manner. Straight before me the descent became almost suddenly precipitous, but a little to the right I perceived a sort of sheep-track, winding downwards round the side of the hill.

It was a self-evident fact that this must lead somewhere, and, as all places were alike to me, so that they contained any human beings who were able and willing to direct me towards Helmstone, I determined to follow it. After walking about half a mile, Mad Bess with her ears drooping, and her nose nearly touching the ground following me as quietly as a dog, I was rejoiced by the sight of curling smoke, and, on turning a corner, I came suddenly upon a little village green, around which some half dozen cottages were scattered at irregular distances.

I directed my steps towards one of these, before which a [45] crazy sign, rendered by age and exposure to the weather as delightfully vague and unintelligible as though it had come fresh from the brush of Turner himself, hung picturesquely from the branch of an old oak. The sound of horse's feet attracted the attention of an elderly man, who appeared to combine in his single person the offices of ostler, waiter, and boots, and who, as soon as he became aware of my necessities, proceeded to fulfil the duties of these various situations with the greatest alacrity.

First as of the most importance in his eyes he rubbed down Mad Bess, and administered some refreshment to her in the shape of hay and water; then he brought me a glass of ale, declaring it would do me good in which, by the way, he was not far from right. He then brushed from my coat certain stains which I had contracted in my fall, and finally told me my way to Helmstone. I now remounted Mad Bess, who, though much refreshed by the hay and water, still continued perfectly quiet and tractable; and, setting off at a moderate trot, reached the town, after riding about eight miles, without any further adventure, in rather less than an hour.

As I entered the street in which Snaffles' stables were situated I perceived Coleman and Lawless standing at the entrance of the yard, evidently awaiting my arrival. I was so frightened about you.

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How did you manage to stop her? I then proceeded to relate my adventures, to which both Lawless and Coleman listened with great attention; the former interrupting me every now and then with various expressions of commendation, and when I had ended he shook me warmly by the hand, saying:—. I shall just tell Cumberland and [46] Snaffles a bit of my mind, too. Here, Snaffles, you confounded old humbug, where are you? He had no business to do it, and I'll make him beg your pardon before we leave this yard. Here, you ostler fellow, where's your master? In a short time the latter approached the spot where I was standing, and began a very long and humble apology, saying that he should never have thought of giving me the mare if he had not seen at a glance that I was a first-rate rider, and much more to the same purpose, when Lawless interrupted him with:—.

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Fairlegh does not want any more of your blarney; and mind, if anything of the sort occurs again, I shall hire my horses somewhere else, and take care to let all my friends know why I do so. Now, let's be off; it's getting near dinner-time. So saying, he turned to leave the yard, a movement which, as soon as I had found my friend James, returned his spurs, and given him the promised half-crown, I proceeded to imitate: and that ended the episode of Mad Bess.

The new pupil's arrived, and ain't he a rum un, jest? Oh, I never! But come in, gents, you'll soon see what I mean. He chucked the flyman who brought him here half a guinea, and when I asked him if he did not want the change, for the fare was only half a crown, he merely said 'Pooh! With our feelings of curiosity somewhat excited by this account we hastened into the pupils' room, anxious to behold the individual who had so greatly astonished Thomas. Seated in Dr. Mildman's arm-chair, and with his legs resting upon two other chairs, so arranged as to form a temporary sofa, reclined a young man, apparently about eighteen, though his length of limb, and the almost herculean proportions of his chest and shoulders, seemed rather to belong to a more advanced age.

He raised his head as we entered, disclosing a set of features which, in spite of an expression of languor and indifference, must have been pronounced unusually handsome.

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His complexion was a rich nut-brown; the high forehead, white as snow, contrasting well with the dark hue of his hair, which, in short clustering curls, harmonised well with the classical outline of his head, reminding one involuntarily of the young Antinous. The short curling upper-lip, and well-chiselled nostril, told a tale of pride and resolution, strongly at variance with the mild sleepy appearance of the large dark hazel eyes, to which the long silken lashes that shaded them imparted an almost feminine expression. He did not attempt to alter his position as we approached, but, merely turning his head, gazed at us steadfastly for a moment, and then observed in a slow, half-absent manner:—.

The duty of doing the polite having thus devolved upon Coleman, he winked at me by way of preliminary, and, [48] making a low bow in the true dancing-master style, replied as follows:—. Oaklands; we are the other pupils; and in answer to your obliging inquiries, I have much pleasure in informing you that we are all in perfect health and very tolerable spirits; and now, sir, in return for your kind condescension, allow me, in the absence of my superiors, to express a hope that you are feeling pretty comfortable—ahem! Having thus delivered himself, Coleman drew up his figure to its utmost height, and, folding his arms with an air of pompous dignity, awaited an answer.

Don't they give you sofas here, Mr. Regarding the sofa, we have not one at present, but Dr. Mildman went to town this morning; I did not till this moment know why. But now I see it all—he was doubtless aware you would arrive to-day, and, finding he could not get a sufficiently comfortable sofa for you in Helmstone, he is gone to London on purpose to procure one.

There is still time to write by the post, if there is any particular way in which you would like to have the stuffing arranged. This speech made Oaklands raise his head, and look Coleman so fixedly in the face, with such a clear, earnest, penetrating gaze, that it appeared as if he would read his very soul.

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Having apparently satisfied himself, he smiled slightly, resumed his former attitude, and observed in the same half-sleepy tone:—. What time do you dine here? Mildman, or some such person, is there not? I suppose one must dress. Will you be so kind as to tell the servant to bring some hot water, and to look out my things for me at a quarter before five?

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I hate to be obliged to hurry, it tires one so. Whilst I was dressing for dinner Lawless came into my room, and told me that he had been speaking to Cumberland with regard to the way in which he had behaved to me about the mare, and that Cumberland professed himself exceedingly sorry that the affair had so nearly turned out a serious one, declaring he meant it quite as a joke, never expecting that when I saw the mare I should venture to mount her. It was a thoughtless thing to do, but not so bad as you had fancied it, by any means.

He went the right way to make me do so, at all events, by hinting that I was afraid. And so the conversation ended, though I felt far from satisfied in my own mind as to the innocence of Cumberland's intentions. On reaching the drawing-room I found the whole party assembled with the exception of Mr. Henry Oaklands, who had not yet made his appearance. At the moment of my entrance Mrs.

Mildman, who had not seen the new arrival, and who, like the rest of her sex, was somewhat curious, was examining Coleman who stood bolt upright before her, with his hands behind him, looking like a boy saying his lesson as to his manners and appearance.

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Mildman, with a smile. At this moment the door opened, and Oaklands entered. If one had doubted about his height before, when lying on the chairs, the question was set at rest the instant he was seen standing: he must have measured at least six feet two inches, though the extreme breadth of his chest and shoulders, and the graceful setting-on of his finely formed head, together with the perfect symmetry and proportion of his limbs, prevented his appearing too tall.

He went through the ceremony of introduction with the greatest ease and self-possession; and though he infused rather more courtesy into his manner towards Mrs.

Mildman than he had taken the trouble to bestow on us, his behaviour was still characterised by the same indolence and listlessness I had previously noticed, and which indeed seemed part and parcel of himself. Having bowed slightly to Cumberland and Lawless he seated himself very leisurely on the sofa by Mrs.