The Quiet Gentleman

by Georgette Heyer

Cover Picture The Earl regained consciousness to find himself lying with his head in Miss Morville's lap, his elaborate Mail-coach cravat untied, and the scent of aromatic vinegar in his nostrils. Gazing bemusedly up into the concerned face bent over him, he uttered, a trifle thickly: "Good God! I fell!"

"Yes," agreed Miss Morville, removing her vinaigrette from under his nose. "I cannot discover, my lord, that any limb is broken, but I might be mistaken. Can you move your arms and your legs?"

"Lord, yes! There are no bones broken!" he replied, struggling up to a sitting posture, and clasping his head between his hands. "But I don't understand! How in the devil's name came I - Where's my horse?"

"I expect," said Miss Morville, "that he has bolted for his stable, for there was no sign of him when I reached your side. Do not disturb yourself on his account! He could scarcely have done so had he sustained any injury! It is, in fact, a fortunate circumstance that he bolted, for he will give the alarm, you know, and since your groom knows in which direction you rode out we may shortly expect to receive succour."

He uttered a shaken laugh. "You think of everything, ma'am!"

"I may think of everything," said Miss Morville, "but I am not always able to accomplish all I should wish to! My chief desire has been to procure water with which to revive you, but, in the circumstances, I scarcely dared to leave your side. I do not think, from what I can observe, that you have broken your collar-bone."

"I am very sure I have not, ma'am. I have merely broke my head!"

"Does it pain you very much?" she asked solicitously.

"Why, yes! It aches like the very deuce, but not, I assure you, as much as does my self-esteem! How came I to fall, like the rawest of greenhorns?" He received no answer to this, and added, with an effort at playfulness: "But I forget my manners! I must thank you for preserving my life, Miss Morville - even though it may have been at the cost of my cravat!"

"I am not, in general," said Miss Morville carefully, "an advocate for the employment of hyperbole in describing trifling services, but I believe, my lord, that in this instance I may be justly said to have done so."

He was engaged, with only slightly unsteady fingers, in loosely knotting the ruined cravat about his throat, but at these words he paused in his task to frown at her in some bewilderment. "I collect that in this uncertain light I must have been so careless as to let Cloud set his foot in a rabbit-burrow. I own, I have no very clear remembrance of what occurred, but -"

"No," said Miss Morville.

He looked intently at her. "No?"

"You have been unconscious for several minutes, sir," said Miss Morville. "When once I had ascertained that your heart still beat strongly, I had leisure to look about me, to discover, if I might, what had been the cause of the accident. I am excessively reluctant to add to your present discomforts, but I must request you, in your own interests, to look at what met my eyes a minutes or two ago."

The Earl's surprised gaze obediently followed the direction of her pointing finger, and alighted upon a length of thin, yet stout, cord, which lay on the ground across the avenue, to disappear into the thicket beyond.

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