Chapter 26 Summary

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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, Robert feeds him and treats the hoof with a bran poultice. The doctor will arrive in the morning. The horse manages to settle into the hay and sleep a bit in spite of the pain. The next day, the farrier examines the wound. He hopes there will be no permanent damage, but there will surely be a scar. Although everyone does his best to heal the wound, it is a long and painful recovery for Black Auster.

Because Reuben Smith’s death happened so suddenly and without witnesses, an inquest is held. Several people from the White Lion testify that Smith had been intoxicated when he left the inn. The keeper of the toll-gate affirms that Smith was galloping his horse hard, and the horse’s shoe has been found among the stones on the road. Based on this evidence, Black Auster is cleared of all blame in Smith’s death.

Susan Smith is nearly crazed in her grief, continually crying out that the cursed drink should not be sold. Her ranting continues until her husband is buried; then she and her children leave their pleasant home and move to the poor house.

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