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"But, George, I did not mean to shoot him," Diana protested, as she attempted to match her brother's lengthy strides. "I was merely practicing, as I do every day, and Rogue bounced on me and made me miss the target." Diana was forced to stop speaking for a moment in order to catch her breathe and run a few steps to regain her brother's side. "Really, it was quite foolish of him to gallop right behind my target. He must have seen it!"
George Savile gave an exasperated shrug. "You must have heard his horse, Diana."
"I did hear a horse, yes; but everyone around here knows where I practice and they always look to see if I am out. I am sorry," she said penitently.
"I hope you told him so," her brother replied mildly.
"Well, I did, but he will not look at me. I am sure I have never seen him before. He simply roared at me to bring him some help, and so I came for you immediately." They were past the stables now and headed toward the Home Wood where Diana's archery target stood out glaringly red and white in the spring sunlight.
"Oh, my God," her brother sighed. His eyes had lit now on the prostrate form beyond the target, and the dappled stallion nudging its fallen rider. "I have had the worst feeling since you burst into the library that it would be Ellis, and it is."
"I cannot see how you can tell," Diana objected. "He is still lying there turned away. He said the arrow was too deep for him to pull out."
"No doubt," George replied dampeningly. "The stallion is well known to me, Diana. Dear God, you did not bother to tell me where you hit him!"
For the first time since she had raced for her brother Diana colored fiercely. "Well, George, it iswhy I did not try to take care of the matter myself," she admitted.
Ellis James Thomas Robbins, Eighth Viscount Alma, had received Diana's missent arrow in his right buttock. He had been startled when this occurred, and it had taken him a moment to realize what had happened and, dumbfounded, to rein in his horse. He had dismounted, to Diana's amazement, with a casualness and aplomb hardly creditable under the circumstances. Without a glance at her he had attempted to remove the offending item, but when he was unsuccessful his knees seemed to buckle and he crumpled before her eyes. She had dashed to his aid, stricken with guilt, but when he heard her approach he said firmly "Do not touch me. What the devil do you think you're doing, shooting arrows at people?" Diana understood, even with his face turned away, that he was beginning to lose his temper, and she stuttered an apology. She assumed it was the pain which made him roar at her to get him some help.
Diana now slowed her steps as her brother approached the wounded man. "Have a problem, old man?" George asked calmly.
"Devil take you, George! Send the girl away and take this confounded thing out of me."
George placed a tentative hand on the shaft of the arrow and cautiously attempted to pull it. The feel of its penetration made him whistle. "Diana has outdone herself," he murmured.
"Your sister, I doubt not," his friend gasped as a wave of pain swept over him.
"Yes. I shall introduce you sometime, but now I think I had best get you to the Park. Can you walk if I support you?"
"I suppose so. Don't leave Crusader here, though. I tell you, George, if she had hit the horse I would have choked her with my own two hands."
"I would not have been pleased," George returned gently. "I am fond of her." He raised his voice to call to his sister, who still maintained a wary distance. "Take his horse to the stables, Diana, if you please."
Lord Alma protested faintly "She is not to ride him, damnit. Make her lead him."
"Lead him, please," George amended his instructions as his sister approached the animal.
Diana cast a derogatory glance at the injured man, now being helped to his feet, but nodded her acceptance. She spoke to the horse soothingly and grasped his reins. Without a backward glance she walked off across the field toward the stables.
"You really should know better than to ride behind an archery target, Ellis, especially when you can see that someone is using it."
"I shall remember in future."
The two men proceeded slowly to the house beyond the stables. George took his friend to the room which had been prepared for his arrival and gave instructions to send for the surgeon apothecary in the village.
"You cannot expect me to lie here with this thing in me until some country dolt arrives to remove it," Lord Alma protested, his irritation surfacing anew.
"He will do a better job of it than I could. I dare say Diana could do it, but I doubt you would let her."
"Sometimes I am grateful for your profound understanding," his friend. muttered into the pillow. The black hair curled damply on his brow and George shortly provided him with a cloth to wipe his perspiring forehead. Suddenly Lord Alma gave a burst of laughter and turned his head to meet George's eyes. "I have never felt so ridiculous in my life, but I must admit that I was careless. I had thought to take a shortcut to your stables and was more intent on getting one last gallop out of Crusader than on what your sister was doing."
"It is rare for her to miss the target; she says the dog jumped on her."
"There was a dog. I heard one bark. Does she shoot people often?"
"Not to my knowledge, but I am not often here. I would doubt it, though, as she is an excellent shot."
"I am gratified to hear it. I do not think I should like to marry her, though, George," his friend said somewhat apologetically.
"Never mind. It was never more than a thought," George replied blandly. "Diana is disgustingly happy with her life just as it is. I doubt even you could entice her away from it."
"It's not that she's not an attractive female," Lord Alma admitted generously. "The one glimpse I got of her before the arrow hit me was not the least disturbing, I promise you. But I cannot imagine myself married to a woman who could shoot me anytime it pleased her, rather as though it were an accident."
"I understand perfectly, Ellis. We need not discuss the matter further. Very unfortunate you should have met her under such circumstances, but I cannot say I blame you a whit." George deposited himself carefully on the edge of the bed and tentatively touched the shaft of the arrow again. "I can try to take it out, if you wish."
"You would butcher me," his friend replied amiably. "I have seen you carve a ham, remember."
There was a scratching at the door and George's valet entered when bidden. "Mr. Thatcher is away from home and not expected back until very late, sir."
George nodded absently. "Do you think you could remove this arrow, Stephen?"
The valet paled at the thought but answered smoothly "No, sir, I do not."
"I thought not. Whom in the household would you suggest?"
The valet once again eyed the location of the offending arrow. "I should not like to suggest the logical party."
"No, of course not. Would you get Lord Alma out of his boots and breeches, please?" George rose from the bed while the valet removed the boots. When he had disappeared to obtain a knife to cut the buckskins, George said "I will ask around the house, Ellis. Someone is likely to feel capable of removing the arrow."
"Take your time," Ellis drawled, and swung his head around to meet his friend's eyes. "Who is the logical party?"
"Need you ask?"
"No, of course. not. The goddess of archery herself, no doubt, with plenty of experience in removing the fruits of her labors," he sighed.
"Not that so much as that she assists the apothecary when he needs her, and she is sometimes called in when he cannot be reached."
"George," Lord Alma asked patiently "why did you conceive of the idea of marrying off your sister to me? Did you think me in need of my own personal apothecary?"
"She has many interests; that is only one of them."
"I will not burden you with enlightening me on the others. Find someone to remove the arrow, George."
With a mocking smile George agreed and left his friend to meditate on his distressing situation. George himself unsuccessfully scoured the house for a potential surgeon, and then left for the stables. There he found his sister speaking with the head groom, who was admiring Crusader as he brushed the stallion.
Diana cast a look of enquiry at her brother, who shook his head sadly and said "Mr. Thatcher is not available. Other than yourself, my dear, who here might be able to remove the arrow?"
His sister eyed the workers in the stables and suggested Jenkins, who brought his head up with such speed that he grazed it against the side of the loose box. "Oh no, Miss. Never would I take a knife to a viscount. Not on your life, begging your pardon."
George thoughtfully considered the man. "You would not find it difficult, Jenkins. If he were a horse, it would not bother you at all."
"I have never shot a horse," Diana declared indignantly.
"You never shot a man before either, my dear. The arrow must be removed. What do you say, Jenkins?"
"I couldn't do it, sir," the man protested passionately.
"Never mind. Diana, come with me."
Diana followed her brother from the stables into the late afternoon sunlight. "Would it embarrass him so much for me to do it? she asked.
"Did you tell him that I have worked with Mr. Thatcher?"
"Then he is foolish. He cannot wish to lie around with an arrow in him all day."
"No, he has instructed me to find someone to remove it."
"Then I shall, with no more to-do. Give him something to drink and a piece of leather to bite and I will be with you in a few minutes. Tell Mrs. Hobson to send hot water, clean cloths and basins. I will bring my knife and some astringent."
Her brother nodded skeptically and parted with her in the hall. When she arrived at Lord Alma's room some little time later, she tapped firmly on the door. George opened it himself but did not let her pass. "He will not have you do it."
"Are the supplies here?"
"Then let us get on with it."
"Diana, he will not let you do it."
"How is he to stop me?" she asked exasperatedly. "It will take but a few minutes, George, and you can simply hold him down."
There was a startled grunt from the direction of the bed. George continued to block his sister's passage but turned his head to meet his friend's astonished gaze. "I think I should let her complete her handiwork, Ellis. I cannot have you lying about with an arrow in you for the next few hours."
Alma gave a resigned shrug. "Very well." He made an attempt to partially cover his bare bottom with a sheet, but determinedly maintained a stoic calm in the face of the inevitable. Diana was allowed into the room and set a rather grim looking knife on the bedside stand beside the hot water and cloths sent up by Mrs. Hobson. "I am pleased that you have agreed, Lord Alma. You need not be concerned. It will not be the first time I have been called upon in an emergency."
George produced the brandy decanter and offered his friend a second glass, which Alma took with a steady hand and drained rapidly. Taking the arrow shaft in her hand, Diana determined the depth of penetration. "You will have to roll over on your side, my lord," she said gently.
Alma cast a hopeless glance at his friend and did as he was told, clutching the sheet to cover as much of himself as he could. When George offered him the bit of leather he had procured, Alma took it resignedly and put it between his teeth. Diana picked up the knife, said "Now" and cut into his flesh. There was a muffled oath through the leather, and the hand grasping the sheet clenched into a fist which bunched the sheet about the arrow. Diana prized apart Alma's fingers and pushed the sheet gently out of the way. There was no further sound from her patient and she worked quickly to have the arrow out within minutes. When she had dropped it to the floor, she staunched the copious flow of blood with the cloths provided and applied the astringent. Turning to George with a smile she said "That is all you will need me for. I trust you can wrap it yourself." Without another word she picked up the gory arrow and her knife, and left the room.
"Efficient little wench," Alma muttered as he took the leather from his mouth.
"She's very handy to have around. You should be grateful to her," George commented dryly.
"I should have been more grateful if she had not shot me in the first place."
"To be sure, but it was as much your fault as hers, so I beg you will forget it."
The wounded man gave a crooked grin and remarked "Since I shall not be able to sit comfortably for some time, I doubt I shall be able to forget it. However, I can endeavor to hold no hard feelings." Alma obediently rolled over for George to finish wrapping the awkwardly placed injury. "How old is she?"
"She did not seem the least bit embarrassed to see me naked," Alma said accusingly.
"You were a patient to her. She has cared for a vast array of sick people at the Park and in the village as well, when necessary."
"That duty is usually reserved for married women."
"Ellis, there is nothing unfeminine about Diana. On the other hand, there is nothing missish about her either. She is just not like other women. I have told you we will drop the idea of promoting a match between the two of you. Get some sleep and I will have dinner brought up to you later."
Since the two rapidly consumed glasses of brandy were already dulling the pain and making it difficult for Alma to concentrate on his friend's voice, he fell asleep immediately after George left. But he had dreams of being attacked by red Indians, with arrows sticking all about his body, and he woke in the dimming light of evening in a sweat.