Strickland had named him Pegasus; it was an apt name, for the creature did indeed seem almost winged as he galloped with graceful ease over hill and field. Olivia had been an indifferent horsewoman until this summer, but now she seemed to ride by instinct. On Pegasus’ back, she could feel the rhythm of his movements, her body relaxed, and she learned to move with the motion of the animal. It was remarkably invigorating to speed across the landscape, feeling the wind beating at her face, hearing its whistle at her ears and seeing the trees whipping by in a blur of green. For those few moments, she could stop her thoughts, dull her worries and surrender to the sensation of motion—pure, natural, death-defying motion.
She had no idea that, while she indulged herself in this one pleasure, she was being observed. At first from the schoolroom window, then from the stable loft and finally from behind a hedge that divided the two broadest fields, Cornelius Clapham watched her with adoration. It was on horseback that she looked most like the girl of his dreams—her eyes shining, her cheeks rosy from the whip of the breeze on her face, some strands of curls escaping from beneath her little riding hat and flowing back from her face. It was a sight that took his breath away.
As time went on, the watcher grew bolder. He took a hiding place behind a tree not far from the stables. From there he could see her when she was starting out or just reining in, closer and in slower motion than he’d been able to see her from his other vantage points. Whenever he noticed, from the schoolroom window, that Higgins, the groom, was saddling Pegasus, he would set Perry at some engrossing task and steal out to take his place behind his tree.
On an afternoon in late summer, when Olivia was drawing near the stables after a rather longer gallop than usual and had just tightened the reins to indicate to Pegasus that it was time to slow down, she was abruptly distracted by a glimpse of a white face peering out at her from behind a tree. In fright, she gasped and, already having been tightening the reins, gave them a jerk that pulled too sharply on the horse’s bit. The unsuspecting animal neighed loudly and reared up on his hind legs, throwing his rider off his back and making a dash for the safety of the stable. Poor Olivia flew through the air, landed in a painful heap on the ground, and fainted.
When she drifted back into consciousness, her first awareness was of a wet cloth being applied to her forehead.