"Well may the beast's name be Devil," said more than one looker-on; "for he is not so much horse as demon. And when he plunges and rears and shows his teeth, there is a look in his eye which flames like her own, and 'tis as if a male and female demon fought together, for surely such a woman never lived before. She will not let him conquer her, God knows; and it would seem that he was swearing in horse fashion that she should not conquer him."
When he was first bought and brought home, Mistress Anne turned ashy at the sight of him, and in her heart of hearts grieved bitterly that it had so fallen out that his Grace of Osmonde had been called away from town by high and important matters; for she knew full well, that if he had been in the neighbourhood, he would have said some discreet and tender word of warning to which her ladyship would have listened, though she would have treated with disdain the caution of any other man or woman. When she herself ventured to speak, Clorinda looked only stern.
"I have ridden only ill-tempered beasts all my life, and that for the mere pleasure of subduing them," she said. "I have no liking for a horse like a bell-wether; and if this one should break my neck, I need battle with neither men nor horses again, and I shall die at the high tide of life and power; and those who think of me afterwards will only remember that they loved me--that they loved me."
But the horse did not kill her, nor she it. Day after day she stood by while it was taken from its stall, many a time dealing with it herself, because no groom dare approach; and then she would ride it forth, and in Hyde Park force it to obey her; the wondrous strength of her will, her wrist of steel, and the fierce, pitiless punishment she inflicted, actually daunting the devilish creature's courage. She would ride from the encounter, through two lines of people who had been watching her--and some of them found themselves following after her, even to the Park gate--almost awed as they looked at her, sitting erect and splendid on the fretted, anguished beast, whose shining skin was covered with lather, whose mouth tossed blood- flecked foam, and whose great eye was so strangely like her own, but that hers glowed with the light of triumph, and his burned with the agonised protest of the vanquished. At such times there was somewhat of fear in the glances that followed her beauty, which almost seemed to blaze--her colour was so rich, the curve of her red mouth so imperial, the poise of her head, with its loosening coils of velvet black hair, so high.
"It is good for me that I do this," she said to Anne, with a short laugh, one day. "I was growing too soft--and I have need now for all my power. To fight with the demon in this beast, rouses all in me that I have held in check since I became my poor lord's wife. That the creature should have set his will against all others, and should resist me with such strength and devilishness, rouses in me the passion of the days when I cursed and raved and struck at those who angered me. 'Tis fury that possesses me, and I could curse and shriek at him as I flog him, if 'twould be seemly. As it would not be so, I shut my teeth hard, and shriek and curse within them, and none can hear."
Among those who made it their custom to miss no day when she went forth on Devil that they might stand near and behold her, there was one man ever present, and 'twas Sir John Oxon. He would stand as near as might be and watch the battle, a stealthy fire in his eye, and a look as if the outcome of the fray had deadly meaning to him. He would gnaw his lip until at times the blood started; his face would by turns flush scarlet and turn deadly pale; he would move suddenly and restlessly, and break forth under breath into oaths of exclamation. One day a man close by him saw him suddenly lay his hand upon his sword, and having so done, still keep it there, though 'twas plain he quickly remembered where he was.
As for the horse's rider, my Lady Dunstanwolde, whose way it had been to avoid this man and to thrust him from her path by whatsoever adroit means she could use, on these occasions made no effort to evade him and his glances; in sooth, he knew, though none other did so, that when she fought with her horse she did it with a fierce joy in that he beheld her. 'Twas as though the battle was between themselves; and knowing this in the depths of such soul as he possessed, there were times when the man would have exulted to see the brute rise and fall upon her, crushing her out of life, or dash her to the earth and set his hoof upon her dazzling upturned face. Her scorn and deadly defiance of him, her beauty and maddening charm, which seemed but to increase with every hour that flew by, had roused his love to fury. Despite his youth, he was a villain, as he had ever been; even in his first freshness there had been older men--and hardened ones--who had wondered at the selfish mercilessness and blackness of the heart that was but that of a boy. They had said among themselves that at his years they had never known a creature who could be so gaily a dastard, one who could plan with such light remorselessness, and using all the gifts given him by Nature solely for his own ends, would take so much and give so little. In truth, as time had gone on, men who had been his companions, and had indeed small consciences to boast of, had begun to draw off a little from him, and frequent his company less. He chose to tell himself that this was because he had squandered his fortune and was less good company, being pursued by creditors and haunted by debts; but though there was somewhat in this, perchance 'twas not the entire truth.
"By Gad!" said one over his cups, "there are things even a rake-hell fellow like me cannot do; but he does them, and seems not to know that they are to his discredit."