“Danvers, look!” Meagan shouted. A field of horsemen streamed from behind a distant rise on the horizon.
“Thundering heavens, there they are! Going by the mill where they’ll lose the fox for sure. We’ll cut short. There’s a lane here somewhere that leads to town and goes right by the mill…” Danvers stood high in the stirrups, surveying. They tramped across tall weeds, letting the horses pick a path through. “There it is!” he called, pointing to an ancient wall buried in brambles and overgrown brush. The wall’s stones had loosened, and many of the large rocks had fallen to lie scattered on the ground. “It’s a bit sticky, I dare say, and I can’t recall it having a gate. It’s not so bad as the stile out of it, so hold your breath.”
With that, Danvers released Finnigan into a canter. Meagan urged Banjo forward, letting the leaders’ enthusiasm fire them both. Finnigan wavered, looking for a way through, and launched himself at the overgrown wall. A crashing followed, and Finnigan and Danvers vanished into the brush behind the wall. Meagan pulled Banjo off her planned line to the wall and circled away.
“It’s all right!” came Danvers’ cry from inside the brush. “Maybe come on a wee strong to get all the way in the lane!”
Meagan turned toward the wall again, asking Banjo for a faster canter. The horse opened his stride and pricked his ears, raising his head as he came toward the thick brush. He bobbled, tripping over a loose stone, and at the last moment Meagan pulled the horse away.
“What’s the matter, love?” Danvers called. “I’m back up. Come on over!”
“Where? I can’t see you!”
“I’m on the other side, where did you think? I can’t bloody well raise a flag.”
Meagan felt warmth pass from her into the cold air, leaving a hard, frozen spot in the pit of her stomach. She urged Banjo back into a canter and swung back to the wall. The brush behind it seemed impenetrable. Furious with herself, Meagan pulled out and circled again.
“I can’t, Danvers!” she called.
“Why bloody not? Just kick on … he’ll have a go!”
“No, it’s me.” The dreadful admission hung in the air.
“You’ve heard the trick, love. Throw your heart over and follow it.”
“I don’t know if I can, Danvers. I can’t even see the landing. It’s ridiculous.”
“Bother, the finest things in life are ridiculous! Leave it to the horse. He doesn’t mind a bit.”
Meagan inhaled deeply and circled again. This is going to be fine, she told herself. Banjo shook his head, thoroughly confused, but opened his stride again and pricked his ears at the wall buried in dense thicket. Banjo picked through the stones as Meagan sat tall and waited for the bounce into the air. Instead, Banjo swung violently to the left and the wall swerved away.
“What’s this?” came the voice from the other side of the wall.
“He stopped that time, Danvers.” She hated the miserable moment of missing a difficult jump with a refusal and having to make another attempt. “Maybe you should go on by yourself.”
“Nonsense. He’s had a runout, that’s all. You’ve shaken his confidence, all that mucking about you’ve done. Now he thinks it’s dangerous.”
“It is dangerous!”
A loud call interrupted: “You there! I’ve told the lot of you to stay off my land!” Meagan turned in the saddle to see a man approaching on foot, waving a pitchfork and shouting.
“Sounds like Old Baker, that does. You’d try that wall again if you knew what was about.”
“He has a pitchfork, Danvers!”
“Are you coming then, love?”