Authors: Jill Tahourdin
Tags: #Harlequin Romance 1967
Richard, she told herself, was too good, too worth while, to rate such treatment. Richard rated the very best. And by the very best, she didn’t mean jilted, caught-on-the-rebound Alix Rayne
THOUGH the party didn’t break up till long after midnight, the four of them got away bright and early on the ride to Leopard Kopje, where they were to have breakfast.
The morning was blue and white and gold, cool as yet, with a dawn freshness in the air. The distances looked enormous, so clear was the atmosphere. Birds sang in the bush. One of them kept saying tweet, tweet, with great clarity and determination. Kites hovered and wheeled overhead, ready to swoop when they had spied a likely looking breakfast down below. T
e masasa trees were blood-red and flame and rose-madder brown.
“It isn’t beautiful. But I can see how one could come to love it,” Alix said, her eyes on the far distance where hills showed faintly, indigo-blue.
She was mounted on the worthy Trojan. Sandra rode Victor, Richard had a big bay mare, and Bernard a roan. Victor was lively, tittupping along sideways, snatching at his bit, now and then giving a playful buck that didn’t seem to discompose Sandra at all.
“Isn’t he a darling?” she said blissfully. He certainly looked very handsome. His skin threw off coppery gleams and he trod daintily, carrying his light burden with pride.
“I must give him a bit of a stretch,” Sandra presently said. “The roan’s the fastest. Come on, race you, Bernard. Look after Alix, won’t you, Richard?”
She used her heels and Victor bounded off, followed by the roan. Richard held in the mare; he set her to a canter and Trojan followed suit. Alix was happy. She was experiencing for the first time the very special thrill of riding on horseback side by side with a good-looking young man. It made her feel like the heroine of a film.
, of course, the pair of them would come presently to a glade. They would dismount beside a stream, let their horses drink, then tie their reins to a branch. They would sit down on a log and look into each other’s eyes. And hey presto, the man would utter a few well-chosen, passionate words and the girl would melt into his arms. Close-up—and fade-out—before the rude boys in the front rows of the cinema had time to start to titter
She didn’t want any of that to happen, naturally. But this—it really
rather romantically nice. She called out,
“I believe I could let him go a bit quicker”—whereon Richard pulled off his soft hat and gave the mare’s flanks a gentle smack with it, and then they were off on a gallop. Not a hard one—Richard was careful about that—but enough to give Alix a real thrill, and make her eyes shine and her cheeks glow like that red rose of which Richard was so fond. Darling, he thought, looking at her as they slowed up.
Sandra and Bernard had pulled up too, and were standing side by side under a tree, waiting for them.
“We take this little path now,” Sandra said. “There’s Leopard Kopje—you can see its top about that spinney of gums.”
“Are there leopards?” Alix wanted to know, hoping for another thrill.
“Somebody shot one there once,” Bernard said. “None now. Quite safe. It’s a good spot for a picnic, isn’t it, Sandra?”
She nodded rather dreamily. Had they had picnics there together before, then? Al
x thought they surely had.
The kopje was very rocky and woody, but on the near side there was a patch of short grass with shade above it.
Here Faami, the cook boy, had spread a cloth and set out big coffee cups, plates, knives and forks and rolls of new-baked bread. He had a fire going and was brewing coffee in a big jug. It smelled delicious.
“Hurry up with food, Faami,” Sandra urged. “We’re starving.”
in’, Miss Sandra,” the boy grinned, and in a minute or two the smell of frying rashers was added to that of the coffee, and he was breaking eggs and more eggs into the pan. They watched him hungrily; they could hardly wait to begin.
Sandra turned on a portable radio she had told the cook to include in his load.
“Music while you eat,” she said gaily.
They ate till they could eat no more; drank cup after cup of the good coffee. Then they lay on the grass for a while, replete, and smoked and listened to the radio.
After a time they climbed up to the summit of the kopje by a steep man-wide path, and gazed at a view that stretched away to north and south and east and west, till it melted away into the haze that was the sky.
Then, as it was
to warm up, they fetched the horses and started to ride back.
They came, when they were nearly home, to the long belt of flowering wattles down one of whose rides Alix had first tried out Trojan.
“Victor won’t go slow here. He pulls like anything if I don’t let him out,” Sandra said. “Come on, Bernard, race you to the end.”
The pair of them set off. The gelding soon outstripped the roan, and Trojan and the mare, held in by Richard, came along some way behind.
Not too far behind, though, for long-sighted Alix to see what happened, when it did.
Something white, small and low on the ground, flashed out of the trees just as Sandra was nearing the end of the wattle ride. A cat, Alix saw—one of the many cats, white and tabby and ginger and mixtures of all three, that lived about the farm.
This one must have caught Victor’s eye.
hates white things,
Sandra had said.
He hated this white thing. He swerved wildly to avoid it. He caught Sandra, for once, unawares. Alix cried out as the slight figure was flung out of the saddle and hit the ground head-first. Victor galloped on, mane streaming, towards his stable. Bernard flung himself off the mare and ran to Sandra. When Alix and Richard came up he was kneeling beside her, trying to straighten her out and lay her down with her head on his knee.
Alix and Richard had dismounted. Richard had hold of both horses. Alix ran forward. Both of them heard
Bernard cry, in anguish, “Sandra. Darling, my darling. Are you badly hurt?”
When they spoke to him he looked up at them with ravaged eyes.
“She fell on her head,” he stammered. “She’s p
Sandra’s eyes were closed.
“Oh, God,” Bernard muttered. “Oh, God, what’s the best thing to do?”
“I’ll go off to the house and get transport,” Richard offered practically. “Here, Alix, take Trojan.”
But before he could mount the mare Bernard said, “She’s coming round.”
Alix saw that Sandra’s eyelids were fluttering. They waited breathlessly. A few seconds later she had opened her eyes and was looking up at Bernard in a daze.
“What’s the matter, darling?” she murmured. “Was I thrown?”
“Yes. Lie still, Richard’s going to get the station wagon or something to take you back.”
But Sandra shook her head and began struggling to sit up.
“Ouch!” she said, a hand to her head. Blinking her eyes, she told them, “Now I know what it means when they say people
Whole purple drifts of them. Help me up, Bernard. I must get back on Victor and ride home. I’ll lose my nerv
otherwise. They always say that after a fall you must remount as soon as you can. Where
Victor? Poor darling, it was a white cat. I remember now. It simply flashed by. He shied, of course.”
“You’ll have to get rid of him,” Bernard said with authority. Sandra laughed—though weakly.
“No, no, not necessary,” she said. “Let me ride Trojan, will you, Alix?”
“Only if you let me walk beside you, just in case,” Bernard insisted. “And take the roan, Richard, and bring that transport—if only to pick up Alix.”
Richard said “Surely” and rode off, urging the roan to speed. With help from Bernard Sandra mounted
Trojan. She sat in the saddle, swaying a little. “Such a headache I’m going to have,” she said, pulling a wry little face. She was white as paper—Bernard looked beside himself with anxiety.
“I think you ought to lie down and wait for Richard to come back,” he urged. But Sandra was a girl who knew her own mind.
“Please let’s move,” she begged, and started Trojan off at a walk.
Bernard and Alix walked alongside. They both felt too worried to talk. Once Bernard muttered, “There was no sign of blood. It can’t be a fractured skull, can it?”
“I should think just concussion,” Alix comforted him. She found herself feeling desperately sorry for him.
Richard met them minutes later with the station wagon, and now Sandra gave in and allowed herself to be lifted down and made comfortable along the seat behind the driver’s. Richard took the wheel again and drove carefully back to the house.
Mr. Barrett met them as they drew up, his face haggard.
“I saw Victor just now, riderless,” he said. “Has Sandra
“It’s all right, Daddy,” Sandra said. But by the time they got her indoors she had passed right out again. Mr. Barrett rushed to call up the family doctor. He knew where he would be on Sunday morning—on the golf course.
“It may take some time to get him to the telephone,” he muttered distractedly as he waited.
But it didn’t take so long after all. And Dr. Anderson, when he heard what had happened, wasted no time in getting out to Punchestown.
His verdict when he had examined Sandra, was, “A depressed fracture. She must come to hospital right away. I’ll phone for an ambulance.”
“Will it be for long?” Mrs. Barrett asked fearfully, staring with frightened eyes at Sandra’s white face and closed lids.
“A few weeks. Now don’t worry, Mrs. Barrett. Leave me to do that,” the doctor urged cheerfully. “Never fear. She’ll be all right.”
When the ambulance came Mr. Barrett and his wife went in with it. “We’ll telephone as soon as we can,” they promised.
The others stood on the veranda and watched them go. Richard saw that Alix’s face was white.
Shock, he thought. And aloud, “I’ll get us all a drink,” he said. “Do us good.”
But Bernard had left them, without a word. Alix said tautly, “So now I know.”
Richard was pouring out brandy and squirting soda from a syphon.
“So now you know,” he agreed quietly. “So what, Alix? You knew before, didn’t you? Only you didn’t want to believe it. Here, drink this, you look as if you need it.”
Alix took the glass he offered and drank. The spirit slid down inside her and gave her courage. She said wanly, “Such a c—comfort you are to me, Richard.” She swallowed the drink quickly and said, “Another, please.”
As he gave it to her, “I hope I’ll always be on hand
to be a comfort to you,” he said. But he lifted his eyebrow as he said it. There was the familiar glint in his eyes. Alix was reassured by that.
He wasn’t serious, she thought. He was just being very kind, very nice. He was just being Richard
The four of them—Alix, Bernard, Richard and the old grandmama—had lunch late, but in improved spirits, for Mr. Barrett had telephoned to tell them that Sandra had been X-rayed and was now back in bed, “resting comfortably.”
“Sandra had no one but herself—and perhaps the white cat—to blame for her accident,” the old lady declared forthrightly. “I told her she shouldn’t ride Victor. Shying is too dangerous a fault. But no, she wouldn’t listen. Young people don’t listen nowadays. When I was a girl, what my grandparents said was what I did—I’d have been made to regret it otherwise. But nowadays
She sounded severe, but her beady old eyes were twinkling. She knew very well that every generation of grandparents shakes its old head despondently—and with secret pride—over every generation of grandchildren—and always will.
After the meal was over Alix walked over to her cottage. She wanted to think what she should do next. She had all her evidence now. She knew that not only was Sandra in love with Bernard, but Bernard loved Sandra—and loved her with far more passionate devotion that he had ever felt for herself. His voice, his ravaged face—when he was caught off guard—had left her in no doubt of that.
So—how to make the break with the least possible fuss? No good hanging on, now, to that dream of the future which she had lived on so contentedly for the past two years. That was over. She must forget it, make new plans, go on alone
Her mood, however, wasn’t one of self-pity. That was a sentiment for which she had small regard. Rather it was of perplexity—how and when to tackle Bernard. Not now, when he was so upset. This evening, perhaps
if the news continued reassuring. She would try to get him alone after dinner; and then tomorrow she would see about booking her return passage. She had promised her aunt she would go back to Paradise if things went wrong. So Paradise it should be. After that
who could tell?
Bernard, however, took matters into his own hands. Before she had time to take off her riding
in readiness for a nap he was knocking at her door.