The Duke's Children, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 63

‘I’ve Seen ’em Like That Before’

On this occasion Silverbridge stayed only a few days at Harrington, having promised Tregear to entertain him at The Baldfaced Stag. It was here that his horses were standing, and he now intended, by limiting himself to one horse a day, to mount his friend for a couple of weeks. It was settled at last that Tregear should ride his friend’s horse one day, hire the next, and so on. ‘I wonder what you’ll think of Mrs Spooner?’ he said.

‘Why should I think anything of her?’

‘Because I doubt whether you ever saw such a woman before. She does nothing but hunt.’

‘Then I certainly shan’t want to see her again.’

‘And she talks as never I heard a lady talk before.’

‘Then I don’t care if I don’t see her at all.’

‘But she is the most plucky and most good-natured human being I ever saw in my life. After all, hunting is good fun.’

‘Very; if you don’t do it so often as to be sick of it.’

‘Long as I have known you I don’t think I ever saw you ride yet.’

‘We used to have hunting down in Cornwall, and thought we did it pretty well. And I have ridden in South Wales, which I can assure you isn’t an easy thing to do. But you mustn’t expect much from me.’

They were both out the Monday and Tuesday in that week, and then again on the Thursday without anything special in the way of sport. Lord Chiltern, who had found Silverbridge to be a young man after his own heart, was anxious that he should come back to Harrington and bring Tregear with him. But to this Tregear would not assent, alleging that he should feel himself to be a burden both to Lord and Lady Chiltern. On the Friday Tregear did not go out, saying that he would avoid the expense, and on that day there was a good run. ‘It is always the way,’ said Silverbridge. ‘If you miss a day, it is sure to be the best thing of the season. An hour and a quarter with hardly anything you could call a check! It is the only very good thing I have seen since I have been here. Mrs Spooner was with them all through.’

‘And I suppose you were with Mrs Spooner.’

‘I wasn’t far off. I wish you had been there.’

On the next day the meet was at the kennels, close to Harrington, and Silverbridge drove his friend over in a gig. The Master and Lady Chiltern, Spooner and Mrs Spooner, Maule, and Mrs Maule, Phineas Finn, and host of others condoled with the unfortunate young man because he had not seen the good thing yesterday. ‘We’ve had it a little faster once or twice,’ said Mrs Spooner with deliberation, ‘but never for so long. Then it was straight as a line, and a real open kill. No changing you know. We did go through the Daisies, but I’ll swear to its being the same fox.’ All of which set Tregear wondering. How could she swear to her fox? And if they had changed, what did it matter? And if it had been a little crooked, why would it have been less enjoyable? And was she really so exact a judge of pace as she pretended to be? ‘I’m afraid we shan’t have anything like that today,’ she continued. ‘The wind’s in the west, and I never do like a westerly wind.’

‘A little to the north,’ said her husband, looking round the compass.

‘My dear,’ said the lady, ‘you never know where the wind comes from. Now don’t you think of taking off your comforter, I won’t have it.’

Tregear was riding his friend’s favourite hunter, a thoroughbred bay horse, very much more than up to his rider’s weight, and supposed to be peculiarly good at timber, water, or any well-defined kind of fence, however high or broad. They found a covert near the kennels, and killed their fox after a burst of a few minutes. They found again, and having lost their fox, all declared that there was not a yard of scent. ‘I always know what a west wind means,’ said Mrs Spooner.

Then they lunched, and smoked, and trotted about with an apparent acknowledgement that there wasn’t much to be done. It was not right that they should expect much after so good a thing as they had had yesterday. At half-past two Mr Spooner had been sent home by his Providence, and Mrs Spooner was calculating that she would be able to ride her horse again on the Tuesday. When on a sudden the hounds were on a fox. It turned out afterwards that Dick Rabbit had absolutely ridden him up among the stubble, and that the hounds had nearly killed him before he had gone a yard. But the astute animal making the best use of his legs till he could get the advantage of the first ditch, ran, and crept, and jumped absolutely through the pack. Then there was shouting, and yelling, and riding. The men who were idly smoking threw away their cigars. Those who were loitering at a distance lost their chance. But the real sportsmen, always on the alert, always thinking of the business in hand, always mindful that there may be at any moment a fox just before the hounds, had a glorious opportunity of getting ‘well away’. Among these no one was more intent, or, when the moment came, ‘better away’ than Mrs Spooner.

Silverbridge had been talking to her and had the full advantage of her care. Tregear was riding behind with Lord Chiltern, who had been pressing him to come with his friend to Harrington. As soon as the shouting was heard Chiltern was off like a rocket. It was not only that he was anxious to ‘get well away’, but that a sense of duty compelled him to see how the thing was being done. Old Fowler was certainly a little slow, and Dick Rabbit, with the true bloody-minded instinct of a whip, was a little apt to bustle a fox back into the covert. And then, when a run commences with a fast rush, riders are apt to over-ride the hounds, and then the hounds will over-run the fox. All of which has to be seen to by a Master who knows his business.

Tregear followed, and being mounted on a fast horse was soon as forward as a judicious rider would desire. ‘Now, Runks, don’t you press on and spoil it all,’ said Mrs Spooner to the hard-riding objectionable son of old Runks the vet from Rufford. But young Runks did press on till the Master spoke a word. The word shall not be repeated, but it was efficacious.

At that moment there had been a check — as there is generally after a short spurt, when fox, hounds, and horsemen get off together, and not always in the order in which they have been placed there. There is too much bustle, and the pack becomes disconcerted. But it enabled Fowler to get up, and by dint of growling at the men and conciliating his hounds, he soon picked up the scent. ‘If they’d all stand still for two minutes and be d-d to them,’ he muttered aloud to himself, ‘they’d ‘ave some’at to ride arter. They might go then, and there’s some of ’em’d soon be nowhere.’

But in spite of Fowler’s denunciations there was, of course, another rush. Runks had slunk away, but by making a little distance was now again ahead of the hounds. And unfortunately there was half-a-dozen with him. Lord Chiltern was very wrath. ‘When he’s like that,’ said Mrs Spooner to Tregear, ‘it’s always well to give him a wide berth.’ But as the hounds were now running fast it was necessary, that even in taking this precaution due regard should be had to the fox’s line. ‘He’s back for Harrington bushes,’ said Mrs Spooner. And as she said so, she rode at a bank, with a rail at the top of it perhaps a foot-and-a-half high, with a deep drop in the field beyond. It was not a very nice place, but it was apparently the only available spot in the fence. She seemed to know it well, for as she got close to it she brought her horse almost to a stand and so took it. The horse cleared the rail, seemed just to touch the bank on the other side, while she threw herself back almost on to his crupper, and so came down with perfect case. But she, knowing that it would not be easy to all horses, paused a moment to see what would happen.

Tregear was next to her and was intending to ‘fly’ the fence. But when he saw Mrs Spooner pull her horse and pause, he also had to pull his horse. This he did so to enable her to take her leap without danger or encumbrance from him, but hardly so as to bring his horse to the bank in the same way. It may be doubted whether the animal he was riding would have known enough and been quiet enough to have performed the acrobatic manoeuvre which had carried Mrs Spooner so pleasantly over the peril. He had some idea of this, for the thought occurred to him that he would turn and ride fast at the jump. But before he could turn he saw that Silverbridge was pressing on him. It was thus his only resource to do as Mrs Spooner had done. He was too close to the rail, but still he tried it. The horse attempted to jump, caught his foot against the bar, and of course went over head-foremost. This probably would have been nothing, had not Silverbridge with his rushing beast been immediately after them. When the young lord saw that his friend was down it was too late for him to stop his course. His horse was determined to have the fence — and did have it. He touched nothing, and would have skimmed in glory over the next field had he not come right down on Tregear and Tregear’s steed. There they were, four of them, two men and two horses in one confused heap.

The first person with them was Mrs Spooner, who was off her horse in a minute. And Silverbridge too was very soon on his legs. He at any rate was unhurt, and the two horses were up before Mrs Spooner was out of her saddle. But Tregear did not move. ‘What are we to do?’ said Lord Silverbridge, kneeling down over his friend. ‘Oh, Mrs Spooner, what are we to do?’

The hunt had passed on and no one else was immediately with them. But at this moment Dick Rabbit, who had been left behind to bring up his hounds, appeared above the bank. ‘Leave your horse and come down,’ said Mrs Spooner. ‘Here is a gentleman who has hurt himself.’ Dick wouldn’t leave his horse, but was soon on the scene, having found his way through another part of the fence.

‘No; he ain’t dead,’ said Dick —‘I’ve seen ’em like that before, and they wurn’t dead. But he’s had a hawful squeege.’ Then he passed his hand over the man’s neck and chest. ‘There’s a lot of ’em is broke,’ said he. ‘We must get him to farmer Tooby’s.’

After awhile he was got into farmer Tooby’s, when that surgeon came who is always in attendance on a hunting-field. The surgeon declared that he had broken his collar-bone, two of his ribs, and his left arm. And then one of the animals had struck him on the chest as he raised himself. A little brandy was poured down his throat, but even under that operation he gave no sign of life. ‘No, missis, he aren’t dead,’ said Dick Rabbit to Mrs Tooby; ‘no more he won’t die this bout; but he’s got it very nasty.’

That night Silverbridge was sitting by his friend’s bedside at ten o’clock in Lord Chiltern’s house. Tregear had spoken a few words, and the bones had been set. But the doctor had not felt himself justified in speaking with that assurance which Dick had expressed. The man’s whole body had been bruised by the horse which had fallen on him. The agony of Silverbridge was extreme, for he knew that it had been his doing. ‘You were a little too close,’ Mrs Spooner had said to him, ‘but nobody saw it, and we’ll hold our tongues.’ Silverbridge however would not hold his tongue. He told everybody how it had happened, how he had been unable to stop his horse, how had jumped upon his friend, and perhaps had killed him. ‘I don’t know what I am to do. I am so miserable,’ he said to Lady Chiltern with the tears running down his face.

The two remained at Harrington and the luggage was brought over from The Baldfaced Stag. The accident happened on a Saturday. On the Sunday there was no comfort. On the Monday the patient’s recollection and mind were re-established, and the doctor thought that perhaps, with great care, his constitution would pull him through. On that day the consternation at Harrington was so great that Mrs Spooner would not go to the meet. She came over from Spoon Hall, and spent a considerable part of the day in the sick man’s room. ‘It’s sure to come right if it’s above the vitals,’ she said expressing an opinion which had come from much experience. ‘That is,’ she added, ‘unless the neck’s broke. When poor old Jack Stubbs drove his head into his cap and dislocated his wertebury, of course it was all up with him.’ The patient heard this and was seen to smile.

On the Tuesday there arose the question of family communication. As the accident would make its way into the papers a message had been sent to Polwenning to say that various bones had been broken, but that the patient was upon the whole doing well. Then there had been different messages backwards and forwards, in all of which there had been an attempt to comfort old Mr Tregear. But on the Tuesday letters were written. Silverbridge, sitting in his friend’s room, sent a long account of the accident to Mrs Tregear, giving a list of the injuries done.

‘Your sister,’ whispered the poor fellow from the pillow.

‘Yes — yes; — yes, I will.’

‘And Mabel Grex.’ Silverbridge nodded assent and again went to the writing-table. He did write to his sister, and in plain words told her everything. ‘The doctor says he is not now in danger.’ Then he added a postscript. ‘As long as I am here I will let you know how he is.’

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 18:43