Chapter 26 Summary
How It Ended
It is probably midnight when Black Auster hears the distant sound of horses’ hooves. He hopes it is help coming from the direction of Earlshall Hall, and he is sure he recognizes Ginger’s steps as the sounds grow nearer. He neighs loudly and is overjoyed to hear Ginger’s answering neigh and the voices of men as they approach. Robert and Ned move slowly in the dark until they finally stop next to the still figure lying on the ground.
One of them examines the body and is shocked to discover it is Reuben Smith, his hair soaked in blood. He is dead. The men's first reaction is anger and surprise that Black Auster would have thrown his rider. They realize their friend must have lain here for hours, and they find it odd that the horse has not moved. When Robert attempts to move Black Auster, the horse tries to take a step forward but nearly falls.
Robert examines the horse more closely; he sees his injured foot and knees. He knows Reuben Smith would not have ridden a horse in this condition if he had been in his right mind: "Why, if he had been in his right senses he would just as soon have tried to ride him over the moon." Robert now realizes what has happened to cause such tragedy--"it has been the old thing again." He feels sorry for Susan Smith, Reuben's wife, who had begged him earlier that night to find her husband. When he had not returned home from town, she worried he was having another "bout," although she had not said so directly. "Poor Susan!" Robert says.
Robert and Ned discuss what must be done. It will be difficult to get both Smith's body and the injured horse back to Earlshall Park. Robert, who is a groom, uses his handkerchief to bind Black Auster's foot and leads the horse slowly home; he offers encouraging words as Black Auster hobbles and limps the three miles back to the stable. Meanwhile, Ned loads Reuben Smith's body into the dog-cart as Ginger stands perfectly still, something she does not usually do. Ned drives the cart slowly back to the house.
Once Black Auster is back in his stall,...
(The entire section is 571 words.)