Phineas left London by a night mail train on Easter Sunday, and found himself at the Willingford Bull — about half an hour after midnight. Lord Chiltern was up and waiting for him, and supper was on the table. The Willingford Bull was an English inn of the old stamp, which had now, in these latter years of railway travelling, ceased to have a road business — for there were no travellers on the road, and but little posting — but had acquired a new trade as a dépôt for hunters and hunting men. The landlord let out horses and kept hunting stables, and the house was generally filled from the beginning of November till the middle of April. Then it became a desert in the summer, and no guests were seen there, till the pink coats flocked down again into the shires.
“How many days do you mean to give us?” said Lord Chiltern, as he helped his friend to a devilled leg of turkey.
“I must go back on Wednesday,” said Phineas.
“That means Wednesday night. I’ll tell you what we’ll do. We’ve the Cottesmore tomorrow. We’ll get into Tailby’s country on Tuesday, and Fitzwilliam will be only twelve miles off on Wednesday. We shall be rather short of horses.”
“Pray don’t let me put you out. I can hire something here, I suppose?”
“You won’t put me out at all. There’ll be three between us each day, and we’ll run our luck. The horses have gone on to Empingham for tomorrow. Tailby is rather a way off — at Somerby; but we’ll manage it. If the worst comes to the worst, we can get back to Stamford by rail. On Wednesday we shall have everything very comfortable. They’re out beyond Stilton and will draw home our way. I’ve planned it all out. I’ve a trap with a fast stepper, and if we start tomorrow at half past nine, we shall be in plenty of time. You shall ride Meg Merrilies, and if she don’t carry you, you may shoot her.”
“Is she one of the pulling ones?”
“She is heavy in hand if you are heavy at her, but leave her mouth alone and she’ll go like flowing water. You’d better not ride more in a crowd than you can help. Now what’ll you drink?”
They sat up half the night smoking and talking, and Phineas learned more about Lord Chiltern then than ever he had learned before. There was brandy and water before them, but neither of them drank. Lord Chiltern, indeed, had a pint of beer by his side from which he sipped occasionally. “I’ve taken to beer,” he said, as being the best drink going. When a man hunts six days a week he can afford to drink beer. I’m on an allowance — three pints a day. That’s not too much.”
“And you drink nothing else?”
“Nothing when I’m alone — except a little cherry-brandy when I’m out. I never cared for drink — never in my life. I do like excitement, and have been less careful than I ought to have been as to what it has come from. I could give up drink tomorrow, without a struggle — if it were worth my while to make up my mind to do it. And it’s the same with gambling. I never do gamble now, because I’ve got no money; but I own I like it better than anything in the world. While you are at it, there is life in it.”
“You should take to politics, Chiltern.”
“And I would have done so, but my father would not help me. Never mind, we will not talk about him. How does Laura get on with her husband?”
“Very happily, I should say.”
“I don’t believe it,” said Lord Chiltern. Her temper is too much like mine to allow her to be happy with such a log of wood as Robert Kennedy. It is such men as he who drive me out of the pale of decent life. If that is decency, I’d sooner be indecent. You mark my words. They’ll come to grief. She’ll never be able to stand it.”
“I should think she had her own way in everything,” said Phineas.
“No, no. Though he’s a prig, he’s a man; and she will not find it easy to drive him.”
“But she may bend him.”
“Not an inch — that is if I understand his character. I suppose you see a good deal of them?”
“Yes — pretty well. I’m not there so often as I used to be in the Square.”
“You get sick of it, I suppose. I should. Do you see my father often?”
“Only occasionally. He is always very civil when I do see him.”
“He is the very pink of civility when he pleases, but the most unjust man I ever met.”
“I should not have thought that.”
“Yes, he is,” said the Earl’s son, and all from lack of judgment to discern the truth. He makes up his mind to a thing on insufficient proof, and then nothing will turn him. He thinks well of you — would probably believe your word on any indifferent subject without thought of a doubt; but if you were to tell him that I didn’t get drunk every night of my life and spend most of my time in thrashing policemen, he would not believe you. He would smile incredulously and make you a little bow. I can see him do it.”
“You are too hard on him, Chiltern.”
“He has been too hard on me, I know. Is Violet Effingham still in Grosvenor Place?”
“No; she’s with Lady Baldock.”
“That old grandmother of evil has come to town — has she? Poor Violet! When we were young together we used to have such fun about that old woman.”
“The old woman is an ally of mine now,” said Phineas.
“You make allies everywhere. You know Violet Effingham of course?”
“Oh yes. I know her.”
“Don’t you think her very charming?” said Lord Chiltern.
“I have asked that girl to marry me three times, and I shall never ask her again. There is a point beyond which a man shouldn’t go. There are many reasons why it would be a good marriage. In the first place, her money would be serviceable. Then it would heal matters in our family, for my father is as prejudiced in her favour as he is against me. And I love her dearly. I’ve loved her all my life — since I used to buy cakes for her. But I shall never ask her again.”
“I would if I were you,” said Phineas — hardly knowing what it might be best for him to say.
“No; I never will. But I’ll tell you what. I shall get into some desperate scrape about her. Of course she’ll marry, and that soon. Then I shall make a fool of myself. When I hear that she is engaged I shall go and quarrel with the man, and kick him — or get kicked. All the world will turn against me, and I shall be called a wild beast.”
“A dog in the manger is what you should be called.”
“Exactly — but how is a man to help it? If you loved a girl, could you see another man take her?” Phineas remembered of course that he had lately come through this ordeal. “It is as though he were to come and put his hand upon me, and wanted my own heart out of me. Though I have no property in her at all, no right to her — though she never gave me a word of encouragement, it is as though she were the most private thing in the world to me. I should be half mad, and in my madness I could not master the idea that I was being robbed. I should resent it as a personal interference.”
“I suppose it will come to that if you give her up yourself,” said Phineas.
“It is no question of giving up. Of course I cannot make her marry me. Light another cigar, old fellow.”
Phineas, as he lit the other cigar, remembered that he owed a certain duty in this matter to Lady Laura. She had commissioned him to persuade her brother that his suit with Violet Effingham would not be hopeless, if he could only restrain himself in his mode of conducting it. Phineas was disposed to do his duty, although he felt it to be very hard that he should be called upon to be eloquent against his own interest. He had been thinking for the last quarter of an hour how he must bear himself if it might turn out that he should be the man whom Lord Chiltern was resolved to kick. He looked at his friend and host, and became aware that a kicking-match with such a one would not be pleasant pastime. Nevertheless, he would be happy enough to be subject to Lord Chiltern’s wrath for such a reason. He would do his duty by Lord Chiltern; and then, when that had been adequately done, he would, if occasion served, fight a battle for himself.
“You are too sudden with her, Chiltern,” he said, after a pause.
“What do you mean by too sudden?” said Lord Chiltern, almost angrily.
“You frighten her by being so impetuous. You rush at her as though you wanted to conquer her by a single blow.”
“So I do.”
“You should be more gentle with her. You should give her time to find out whether she likes you or not.”
“She has known me all her life, and has found that out long ago. Not but what you are right. I know you are right. If I were you, and had your skill in pleasing, I should drop soft words into her ear till I had caught her. But I have no gifts in that way. I am as awkward as a pig at what is called flirting. And I have an accursed pride which stands in my own light. If she were in this house this moment, and if I knew she were to be had for asking, I don’t think I could bring myself to ask again. But we’ll go to bed. It’s half past two, and we must be off at half past nine, if we’re to be at Exton Park gates at eleven.”
Phineas, as he went upstairs, assured himself that he had done his duty. If there ever should come to be anything between him and Violet Effingham, Lord Chiltern might quarrel with him — might probably attempt that kicking encounter to which allusion had been made — but nobody could justly say that he had not behaved honourably to his friend.
On the next morning there was a bustle and a scurry, as there always is on such occasions, and the two men got off about ten minutes after time. But Lord Chiltern drove hard, and they reached the meet before the master had moved off. They had a fair day’s sport with the Cottesmore; and Phineas, though he found that Meg Merrilies did require a good deal of riding, went through his day’s work with credit. He had been riding since he was a child, as is the custom with all boys in Munster, and had an Irishman’s natural aptitude for jumping. When they got back to the Willingford Bull he felt pleased with the day and rather proud of himself. “It wasn’t fast, you know,” said Chiltern, “and I don’t call that a stiff country. Besides, Meg is very handy when you’ve got her out of the crowd. You shall ride Bonebreaker tomorrow at Somerby, and you’ll find that better fun.”
“Bonebreaker? Haven’t I heard you say he rushes like mischief?”
“Well, he does rush. But, by George! you want a horse to rush in that country. When you have to go right through four or five feet of stiff green wood, like a bullet through a target, you want a little force, or you’re apt to be left up a tree.”
“And what do you ride?”
“A brute I never put my leg on yet. He was sent down to Wilcox here, out of Lincolnshire, because they couldn’t get anybody to ride him there. They say he goes with his head up in the air, and won’t look at a fence that isn’t as high as his breast. But I think he’ll do here. I never saw a better made beast, or one with more power. Do you look at his shoulders, He’s to be had for seventy pounds, and these are the sort of horses I like to buy.”
Again they dined alone, and Lord Chiltern explained to Phineas that he rarely associated with the men of either of the hunts in which he rode. “There is a set of fellows down here who are poison to me, and there is another set, and I am poison to them. Everybody is very civil, as you see, but I have no associates. And gradually I am getting to have a reputation as though I were the devil himself. I think I shall come out next year dressed entirely in black.”
“Are you not wrong to give way to that kind of thing?”
“What the deuce am I to do? I can’t make civil little speeches. When once a man gets a reputation as an ogre, it is the most difficult thing in the world to drop it. I could have a score of men here every day if I liked it — my title would do that for me — but they would be men I should loathe, and I should be sure to tell them so, even though I did not mean it. Bonebreaker, and the new horse, and another, went on at twelve today. You must expect hard work tomorrow, as I daresay we shan’t be home before eight.”
The next day’s meet was in Leicestershire, not far from Melton, and they started early. Phineas, to tell the truth of him, was rather afraid of Bonebreaker, and looked forward to the probability of an accident. He had neither wife nor child, and nobody had a better right to risk his neck. “We’ll put a gag on ’im,” said the groom, “and you’ll ride ’im in a ring — so that you may well-nigh break his jaw; but he is a rum un, sir.” “I’ll do my best,” said Phineas. “He’ll take all that, said the groom. “Just let him have his own way at everything,” said Lord Chiltern, as they moved away from the meet to Pickwell Gorse; “and if you’ll only sit on his back, he’ll carry you through as safe as a church.” Phineas could not help thinking that the counsels of the master and of the groom were very different. “My idea is,” continued Lord Chiltern, “that in hunting you should always avoid a crowd. I don’t think a horse is worth riding that will go in a crowd. It’s just like yachting — you should have plenty of sea-room. If you’re to pull your horse up at every fence till somebody else is over, I think you’d better come out on a donkey.” And so they went away to Pickwell Gorse.
There were over two hundred men out, and Phineas began to think that it might not be so easy to get out of the crowd. A crowd in a fast run no doubt quickly becomes small by degrees and beautifully less; but it is very difficult, especially for a stranger, to free himself from the rush at the first start. Lord Chiltern’s horse plunged about so violently, as they stood on a little hillside looking down upon the cover, that he was obliged to take him to a distance, and Phineas followed him. “If he breaks down wind,” said Lord Chiltern, “we can’t be better than we are here. If he goes up wind, he must turn before long, and we shall be all right.” As he spoke an old hound opened true and sharp — an old hound whom all the pack believed — and in a moment there was no doubt that the fox had been found. “There are not above eight or nine acres in it,” said Lord Chiltern, “and he can’t hang long. Did you ever see such an uneasy brute as this in your life? But I feel certain he’ll go well when he gets away.”
Phineas was too much occupied with his own horse to think much of that on which Lord Chiltern was mounted. Bonebreaker, the very moment that he heard the old hound’s note, stretched out his head, and put his mouth upon the bit, and began to tremble in every muscle. “He’s a great deal more anxious for it than you and I are,” said Lord Chiltern. “I see they’ve given you that gag. But don’t you ride him on it till he wants it. Give him lots of room, and he’ll go in the snaffle.” All which caution made Phineas think that any insurance office would charge very dear on his life at the present moment.
The fox took two rings of the gorse, and then he went — up wind. “It’s not a vixen, I’ll swear,” said Lord Chiltern. “A vixen in cub never went away like that yet. Now then, Finn, my boy, keep to the right.” And Lord Chiltern, with the horse out of Lincolnshire, went away across the brow of the hill, leaving the hounds to the left, and selected, as his point of exit into the next field, a stiff rail, which, had there been an accident, must have put a very wide margin of ground between the rider and his horse. “Go hard at your fences, and then you’ll fall clear,” he had said to Phineas. I don’t think, however, that he would have ridden at the rail as he did, but that there was no help for him. “The brute began in his own way, and carried on after in the same fashion all through,” he said afterwards. Phineas took the fence a little lower down, and what it was at which he rode he never knew. Bonebreaker sailed over it, whatever it was, and he soon found himself by his friend’s side.
The ruck of the men were lower down than our two heroes, and there were others far away to the left, and others, again, who had been at the end of the gorse, and were now behind. Our friends were not near the hounds, not within two fields of them, but the hounds were below them, and therefore could be seen. “Don’t be in a hurry, and they’ll be round upon us,” Lord Chiltern said. “How the deuce is one to help being in a hurry?” said Phineas, who was doing his very best to ride Bonebreaker with the snaffle, but had already began to feel that Bonebreaker cared nothing for that weak instrument. “By George, I should like to change with you,” said Lord Chiltern. The Lincolnshire horse was going along with his head very low, boring as he galloped, but throwing his neck up at his fences, just when he ought to have kept himself steady. After this, though Phineas kept near Lord Chiltern throughout the run, they were not again near enough to exchange words; and, indeed, they had but little breath for such purpose.
Lord Chiltern rode still a little in advance, and Phineas, knowing his friend’s partiality for solitude when taking his fences, kept a little to his left. He began to find that Bonebreaker knew pretty well what he was about. As for not using the gag rein, that was impossible. When a horse puts out what strength he has against a man’s arm, a man must put out what strength he has against the horse’s mouth. But Bonebreaker was cunning, and had had a gag rein on before. He contracted his lip here, and bent out his jaw there, till he had settled it to his mind, and then went away after his own fashion. He seemed to have a passion for smashing through big, high-grown ox-fences, and by degrees his rider came to feel that if there was nothing worse coming, the fun was not bad.
The fox ran up wind for a couple of miles or so, as Lord Chiltern had prophesied, and then turned — not to the right, as would best have served him and Phineas, but to the left — so that they were forced to make their way through the ruck of horses before they could place themselves again. Phineas found himself crossing a road, in and out of it, before he knew where he was, and for a while he lost sight of Lord Chiltern. But in truth he was leading now, whereas Lord Chiltern had led before. The two horses having been together all the morning, and on the previous day, were willing enough to remain in company, if they were allowed to do so. They both crossed the road, not very far from each other, going in and out amidst a crowd of horses, and before long were again placed well, now having the hunt on their right, whereas hitherto it had been on their left. They went over large pasture fields, and Phineas began to think that as long as Bonebreaker would be able to go through the thick grown-up hedges, all would be right. Now and again he came to a cut fence, a fence that had been cut and laid, and these were not so pleasant. Force was not sufficient for them, and they admitted of a mistake. But the horse, though he would rush at them unpleasantly, took them when they came without touching them. It might be all right yet — unless the beast should tire with him; and then, Phineas thought, a misfortune might probably occur. He remembered, as he flew over one such impediment, that he rode a stone heavier than his friend. At the end of forty-five minutes Bonebreaker also might become aware of the fact.
The hounds were running well in sight to their right, and Phineas began to feel some of that pride which a man indulges when he becomes aware that he has taken his place comfortably, has left the squad behind, and is going well. There were men nearer the hounds than he was, but he was near enough even for ambition. There had already been enough of the run to make him sure that it would be a “good thing”, and enough to make him aware also that probably it might be too good. When a run is over, men are very apt to regret the termination, who a minute or two before were anxiously longing that the hounds might pull down their game. To finish well is everything in hunting. To have led for over an hour is nothing, let the pace and country have been what they might, if you fall away during the last half mile. Therefore it is that those behind hope that the fox may make this or that cover, while the forward men long to see him turned over in every field. To ride to hounds is very glorious; but to have ridden to hounds is more glorious still. They had now crossed another road, and a larger one, and had got into a somewhat closer country. The fields were not so big, and the fences were not so high. Phineas got a moment to look about him, and saw Lord Chiltern riding without his cap. He was very red in the face, and his eyes seemed to glare, and he was tugging at his horse with all his might. But the animal seemed still to go with perfect command of strength, and Phineas had too much work on his own hands to think of offering Quixotic assistance to any one else. He saw someone, a farmer, as he thought, speak to Lord Chiltern as they rode close together; but Chiltern only shook his head and pulled at his horse.
There were brooks in those parts. The river Eye forms itself thereabouts, or some of its tributaries do so; and these tributaries, though small as rivers, are considerable to men on one side who are called by the exigencies of the occasion to place themselves quickly on the other. Phineas knew nothing of these brooks; but Bonebreaker had gone gallantly over two, and now that there came a third in the way, it was to be hoped that he might go gallantly over that also. Phineas, at any rate, had no power to decide otherwise. As long as the brute would go straight with him he could sit him; but he had long given up the idea of having a will of his own. Indeed, till he was within twenty yards of the brook, he did not see that it was larger than the others. He looked around, and there was Chiltern close to him, still fighting with his horse — but the farmer had turned away. He thought that Chiltern nodded to him, as much as to tell him to go on. On he went at any rate. The brook, when he came to it, seemed to be a huge black hole, yawning beneath him. The banks were quite steep, and just where he was to take off there was an ugly stump. It was too late to think of anything. He stuck his knees against his saddle — and in a moment was on the other side. The brute, who had taken off a yard before the stump, knowing well the danger of striking it with his foot, came down with a grunt, and did, I think, begin to feel the weight of that extra stone. Phineas, as soon as he was safe, looked back, and there was Lord Chiltern’s horse in the very act of his spring — higher up the rivulet, where it was even broader. At that distance Phineas could see that Lord Chiltern was wild with rage against the beast. But whether he wished to take the leap or wished to avoid it, there was no choice left to him. The animal rushed at the brook, and in a moment the horse and horseman were lost to sight. It was well then that that extra stone should tell, as it enabled Phineas to arrest his horse and to come back to his friend.
The Lincolnshire horse had chested the further bank, and of course had fallen back into the stream. When Phineas got down he found that Lord Chiltern was wedged in between the horse and the bank, which was better, at any rate, than being under the horse in the water. “All right, old fellow,” he said, with a smile, when he saw Phineas. “You go on; it’s too good to lose.” But he was very pale, and seemed to be quite helpless where he lay. The horse did not move — and never did move again. He had smashed his shoulder to pieces against a stump on the bank, and was afterwards shot on that very spot.
When Phineas got down he found that there was but little water where the horse lay. The depth of the stream had been on the side from which they had taken off, and the thick black mud lay within a foot of the surface, close to the bank against which Lord Chiltern was propped. “That’s the worst one I ever was on,” said Lord Chiltern; “but I think he’s gruelled now.”
“Are you hurt?”
“Well — I fancy there is something amiss. I can’t move my arms; and I catch my breath. My legs are all right if I could get away from this accursed brute.”
“I told you so,” said the farmer, coming and looking down upon them from the bank. “I told you so, but you wouldn’t be said,” Then he too got down, and between them both they extricated Lord Chiltern from his position, and got him on to the bank.
“That un’s a dead un,” said the farmer, pointing to the horse.
“So much the better,” said his lordship. Give us a drop of sherry, Finn.”
He had broken his collar-bone and three of his ribs. They got a farmer’s trap from Wissindine and took him into Oakham. When there, he insisted on being taken on through Stamford to the Willingford Bull before he would have his bones set — picking up, however, a surgeon at Stamford. Phineas remained with him for a couple of days, losing his run with the Fitzwilliams and a day at the potted peas, and became very fond of his patient as he sat by his bedside.
“That was a good run, though, wasn’t it?” said Lord Chiltern as Phineas took his leave. “And, by George, Phineas, you rode Bonebreaker so well, that you shall have him as often as you’ll come down. I don’t know how it is, but you Irish fellows always ride.”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01