My Kingdom to the Horse
Roanna, a sturdy roan mare, knew that she was about to be taken for a ride. An urgent one, if she was any judge of her master. He was calling for his saddle, his horse... that meant her. She looked alert, and looked over the door of her stall to see if there would be any clue of where they would be journeying to.
There was no luggage to speak of, only the ordinary saddlebags, and her master. Roanna nickered happily as Edward Ferrars strode busily and urgently into the stable.
He could lose not another second. Having received the letter from Lucy Steele, this day, he wanted nothing more than to be at Barton Cottage. No time could be lost. He thrust the letter into one of the leather saddlebags, and quickly mounted Roanna, who, by this time, was quite awake and eager to stretch her legs.
The rider and mount proceeded to begin upon the ride to Devonshire from Oxford. All the while, Edward talked to his horse.
"I cannot believe the good fortune that has released me. Roanna, even as you carry me each step nearer towards Barton and the fair occupants there, you carry me a step further from my folly! Hie yourself towards Barton, my love, this road is far too long.
"Just the other day I was miserable...chained by a vow, which sprung from an affection long dead. An affection that grew from idleness, and nothing more...all this might have been avoided had I been admitted to Oxford earlier...but it was not seen fit that I did...and in any case, dear Roanna, now I am free. I am free of the pressures of my mother upon me to become a lawyer or a politician or some such thing. I may be free to be a man of the cloth. Perhaps it is humbler than these other professions, but I shall be more than content for my entire life...if only I find an agreeable state of mind awaiting me at Barton!"
He continued on in this manner for some time, eagerly telling his horse of Elinor Dashwood. The horse listened, but also followed the road. They kept up a decent pace, and within a few days, where again on the road, but this time quite near Barton. Roanna could sense her master's tenseness, and tried to not mind the tugs at her mouth, or slaps on her sides. She knew that her master was far too eager to reach his destination to notice his actions completely. Roanna was a forgiving horse, and strode along as best she could, eying the lush countryside eagerly as she passed it, knowing that there would be a great reward when she brought her master to the house where this Elinor dwelt.
Elinor Dashwood was restless in the parlor, fidgeting with flower arrangements, and reading through the correspondence of her London friends. None of them had a word about Edward in them. Silently wishing her friends to be more explicit, more exact, she thought with one ray of hope. Colonel Brandon would surely know something. She gazed out the window at the dusty road, wishing that somehow it would give her ease.
Then, as if the road had heard her silent entreaty, she saw a figure on horseback. Was it Colonel Brandon himself? She could not wish for such good fortune, but stayed herself, eagerly pressing her face against the window. Mrs. Dashwood looked at her a bit oddly, but continued to fuss over Marianne's bonnet. Marianne was looking on in wonder, but, catching sight of a horseman, ran to the window herself.
It was not Colonel Brandon, as both young ladies expected. Neither the air, nor the height, nor the color of the horse seemed appropriate. Colonel Brandon did not possess a roan, to the knowledge of the Miss Dashwoods. Elinor recognized the man, and whispered to herself,
"I will be calm; I will be mistress of myself." He must have come to see her, bit for what reason she could not fathom. With her moment of advantage she settled herself into a chair, and noticed that her mother and sister had just noticed the mistake as well. Each colored, feeling for Elinor, curious as to the meaning of the visit. Elinor prayed that neither he mother nor her sister would make a slight towards Edward. Margaret was told to leave the room, and find something useful to do. They would welcome Edward. He may be married to Lucy, but he was still their Edward.
Edward dismounted at the gate, and softly landed upon the gravel path. He was pale, and to the say the least appeared ill. Then, gazing lovingly at the horse who had brought him so far, he ran into the house, and was heard walking briskly across the passage, into the parlor, where three women hoped themselves to be able to welcome him, rather than believed themselves capable.
Roanna just stood at the gate. No man servant came to unsaddle her, and she could see no stable. In the distance she could smell other horses, and after gazing about for the absent groom, took matters into her own hands, and started off towards the distant horses.
A girl came across Roanna before she had gone far. She seemed to recognize the saddle, and the coloring of the cushion, and on seeing the initials upon the saddlebags seemed fully joyous. She ran over to Roanna, and threw her arms about the sweating horse's neck.
"Have you brought Edward back to us?" she whispered.
The girl seemed to expect a response, and nickered slowly, and softly, and then accepted the small lump of sugar the girl produced.
"I'm Margaret Dashwood," she said companionably. "I fear that I cannot recognize you, but you are Edward's and that is enough for me. But look at you! You look a mess, you do. I cannot believe that Edward would leave you when you are in this state. He must have been in a hurry." Then, with a small "Oh!" she realized why.
She took the dangling reigns of the horse, and walked with her towards Barton Stables. Sir John would not grudge a good horse a stall and a bit of feed. They passed by Barton Cottage again, and Margaret tied the reigns to the fence as she scrambled to the window, and listened.
"Horse, it is going rather well, I should think. But, oh! Elinor has just run from the room, weeping. That should not be so. And Edward is so silent. No one speaks. Ought I to enter, do you think?" she asked the horse uncertainly. Then, she saw Edward hasten from the house, and walk towards the village. First, however, he stopped at the gate, and looked for his horse. He saw Margaret gazing in at the window, and his horse.
"Margaret!" he cried out, "Tell me, is your sister quite well? I came, and on stating that my brother had wed Miss Steele this week, she fled from the room."
Margaret looked at him with a small smile. "I think you will be welcomed again." She turned, and fled into the house, to find her sister, and comfort her with Edward's words. However, just as she was about to enter the cottage, and shouted at him, "Your horse is in need of a stable, sir!"
Edward glanced between girl and horse.
"Roanna, we shall come again tomorrow, but now, you must be stabled."
Barton Cottage was in a stir the next morning. Margaret had given them hope that Edward would call again, and was rewarded by being called to join in a cleaning of the cottage. Marianne tried to help, but being less practical than her sisters, tended to be more helpful at arranging table coverings and flowers than in the sweeping. Besides, she was alight with anticipation for her sister. Edward could only want to marry where he wished no. Now, that his mother had laid off his claims, and brushed him aside. With the failure of one attachment, and the consequences, Edward was blissfully free. And everyone at Barton Cottage knew it.
Edward arrived at one o'clock, and sought to speak to Miss Dashwood. Then, by the time they sat down to dine at four, he had secured her hand, received the ready consent of her mother, and was among the happiest of men that have walked the planet.
When the meal was done, Edward beseeched Elinor to come walk with him, amongst the beloved hills of Barton, and received the good lady's agreement. Happily, as only two people who have loved, and been suddenly satisfied can be, they walked about. Roanna, recognizing her master, ran from a pasture, to the side of the fence, and whinnied happily. Edward reached out a hand to rub her nose.
"Elinor, this is the horse who bore with me when I was unsure of myself...the wreck I have been since receiving Lucy's letter, and before I came here. Roanna, a form of the Old English for 'well-known friend'. That is indeed what this little mare has been to me. Roanna, Elinor. Elinor, Roanna." The introductions were simple, and then after Elinor had stroked the velvety nose of the watching mare, the couple strode off towards Barton, towards their future together.
And in the afternoon sunshine, Roanna watched the road, and saw another horseman come cantering down the road, eager to be with one of the fair occupants of Barton Cottage. The horse, a great dappled stallion whinnied once in Roanna's direction, and then sped on towards the cottage, where dreams could come true.
And none of this could have happened, had not the horses bourn their masters, and tired themselves, to bring objects of affection together. The horses made the kingdom brighter. As the lovers roamed the sunny hills of England, grateful for each other, they were scarcely grateful towards the horses who had bourn them to the places where they had found contentment. But that was all right. The horses knew when their job had been done well.
© 2001 Copyright held by author