Phineas Redux, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 16

Copperhouse Cross and Broughton Spinnies

After all, the thing had not been so very bad. With a little courage and hardihood we can survive very great catastrophes, and go through them even without broken bones. Phineas, when he got up to his room, found that he had spent the evening in company with Madame Goesler, and had not suffered materially, except at the very first moment of the meeting. He had not said a word to the lady, except such as were spoken in mixed conversation with her and others; but they had been together, and no bones had been broken. It could not be that his old intimacy should be renewed, but he could now encounter her in society, as the Fates might direct, without a renewal of that feeling of dismay which had been so heavy on him.

He was about to undress when there came a knock at the door, and his host entered the room. “What do you mean to do about smoking?” Lord Chiltern asked.

“Nothing at all.”

“There’s a fire in the smoking-room, but I’m tired, and I want to go to bed, Baldock doesn’t smoke, Gerard Maule is smoking in his own room, I take it. You’ll probably find Spooner at this moment established somewhere in the back slums, having a pipe with old Doggett, and planning retribution. You can join them if you please.”

“Not tonight, I think. They wouldn’t trust me — and I should spoil their plans.”

“They certainly wouldn’t trust you — or any other human being. You don’t mind a horse that baulks a little, do you?”

“I’m not going to hunt, Chiltern.”

“Yes, you are. I’ve got it all arranged. Don’t you be a fool, and make us all uncomfortable. Everybody rides here — every man, woman, and child about the place. You shall have one of the best horses I’ve got — only you must be particular about your spurs.”

“Indeed, I’d rather not. The truth is, I can’t afford to ride my own horses, and therefore I’d rather not ride my friends’.”

“That’s all gammon. When Violet wrote she told you you’d be expected to come out. Your old flame, Madame Max, will be there, and I tell you she has a very pretty idea of keeping to hounds. Only Dandolo has that little defect.”

“Is Dandolo the horse?”

“Yes — Dandolo is the horse. He’s up to a stone over your weight, and can do any mortal thing within a horse’s compass. Cox won’t ride him because he baulks, and so he has come into my stable. If you’ll only let him know that you’re on his back, and have got a pair of spurs on your heels with rowels in them, he’ll take you anywhere. Goodnight, old fellow. You can smoke if you choose, you know.”

Phineas had resolved that he would not hunt; but, nevertheless, he had brought boots with him, and breeches, fancying that if he did not he would be forced out without those comfortable appurtenances. But there came across his heart a feeling that he had reached a time of life in which it was no longer comfortable for him to live as a poor man with men who were rich. It had been his lot to do so when he was younger, and there had been some pleasure in it; but now he would rather live alone and dwell upon the memories of the past. He, too, might have been rich, and have had horses at command, had he chosen to sacrifice himself for money.

On the next morning they started in a huge waggonette for Copperhouse Cross — a meet that was suspiciously near to the Duke’s fatal wood. Spooner had explained to Phineas over night that they never did draw Trumpeton Wood on Copperhouse Cross days, and that under no possible circumstances would Chiltern now draw Trumpeton Wood. But there is no saying where a fox may run. At this time of the year, just the beginning of February, dog-foxes from the big woods were very apt to be away from home, and when found would go straight for their own earths. It was very possible that they might find themselves in Trumpeton Wood, and then certainly there would be a row. Spooner shrugged his shoulders, and shook his head, and seemed to insinuate that Lord Chiltern would certainly do something very dreadful to the Duke or to the Duke’s heir if any law of venery should again be found to have been broken on this occasion.

The distance to Copperhouse Cross was twelve miles, and Phineas found himself placed in the carriage next to Madame Goesler. It had not been done of fixed design; but when a party of six are seated in a carriage, the chances are that one given person will be next to or opposite to any other given person. Madame Max had remembered this, and had prepared herself, but Phineas was taken aback when he found how close was his neighbourhood to the lady. “Get in, Phineas,” said his lordship. Gerard Maule had already seated himself next to Miss Palliser, and Phineas had no alternative but to take the place next to Madame Max.

“I didn’t know that you rode to hounds?” said Phineas.

“Oh, yes; I have done so for years. When we met it was always in London, Mr Finn; and people there never know what other people do. Have you heard of this terrible affair about the Duke?”

“Oh, dear, yes.”

“Poor Duke! He and I have seen a great deal of each other since — since the days when you and I used to meet. He knows nothing about all this, and the worst of it is, he is not in a condition to be told.”

“Lady Glencora could put it all right.”

“I’ll tell Lady Glencora, of course,” said Madame Max. “It seems so odd in this country that the owner of a property does not seem at all to have any exclusive right to it. I suppose the Duke could shut up the wood if he liked.”

“But they poisoned the hounds.”

“Nobody supposes the Duke did that — or even the Duke’s servants, I should think. But Lord Chiltern will hear us if we don’t take care.”

“I’ve heard every word you’ve been saying,” exclaimed Lord Chiltern.

“Has it been traced to anyone?”

“No — not traced, I suppose.”

“What then, Lord Chiltern? You may speak out to me. When I’m wrong I like to be told so.”

“Then you’re wrong now,” said Lord Chiltern, “if you take the part of the Duke or of any of his people. He is bound to find foxes for the Brake hunt. It is almost a part of his title deeds. Instead of doing so he has had them destroyed.”

“It’s as bad as voting against the Church establishment,” said Madame Goesler.

There was a very large meet at Copperhouse Cross, and both Madame Goesler and Phineas Finn found many old acquaintances there. As Phineas had formerly sat in the House for five years, and had been in office, and had never made himself objectionable either to his friends or adversaries, he had been widely known. He now found half a dozen men who were always members of Parliament — men who seem, though commoners, to have been born legislators — who all spoke to him as though his being member for Tankerville and hunting with the Brake hounds were equally matters of course. They knew him, but they knew nothing, of the break in his life. Or if they remembered that he had not been seen about the House for the last two or three years they remembered also that accidents do happen to some men. It will occur now and again that a regular denizen of Westminster will get a fall in the political hunting-field, and have to remain about the world for a year or two without a seat. That Phineas had lately triumphed over Browborough at Tankerville was known, the event having been so recent; and men congratulated him, talking of poor Browborough — whose heavy figure had been familiar to them for many a year — but by no means recognising that the event of which they spoke had been, as it were, life and death to their friend. Roby was there, who was at this moment Mr Daubeny’s head whip and patronage secretary. If anyone should have felt acutely the exclusion of Mr Browborough from the House — anyone beyond the sufferer himself — it should have been Mr Roby; but he made himself quite pleasant, and even condescended to be jocose upon the occasion. “So you’ve beat poor Browborough in his own borough,” said Mr Roby.

“I’ve beat him,” said Phineas; “but not, I hope, in a borough of his own.”

“He’s been there for the last fifteen years. Poor old fellow! He’s awfully cut up about this Church Question. I shouldn’t have thought he’d have taken anything so much to heart. There are worse fellows than Browborough, let me tell you. What’s all this I hear about the Duke poisoning the foxes?” But the crowd had begun to move, and Phineas was not called upon to answer the question.

Copperhouse Cross in the Brake Hunt was a very popular meet. It was easily reached by a train from London, was in the centre of an essentially hunting country, was near to two or three good coverts, and was in itself a pretty spot. Two roads intersected each other on the middle of Copperhouse Common, which, as all the world knows, lies just on the outskirts of Copperhouse Forest. A steep winding hill leads down from the Wood to the Cross, and there is no such thing within sight as an enclosure. At the foot of the hill, running under the wooden bridge, straggles the Copperhouse Brook — so called by the hunting men of the present day, though men who know the country of old, or rather the county, will tell you that it is properly called the river Cobber, and that the spacious old farm buildings above were once known as the Cobber Manor House. He would be a vain man who would now try to change the name, as Copperhouse Cross has been printed in all the lists of hunting meets for at least the last thirty years; and the Ordnance map has utterly rejected the two b’s. Along one of the cross-roads there was a broad extent of common, some seven or eight hundred yards in length, on which have been erected the butts used by those well-known defenders of their country, the Copperhouse Volunteer Rifles; and just below the bridge the sluggish water becomes a little lake, having probably at some time been artificially widened, and there is a little island and a decoy for ducks. On the present occasion carriages were drawn up on all the roads, and horses were clustered on each side of the brook, and the hounds sat stately on their haunches where riflemen usually kneel to fire, and there was a hum of merry voices, and the bright colouring of pink coats, and the sheen of ladies’ hunting toilettes, and that mingled look of business and amusement which is so peculiar to our national sports. Two hundred men and women had come there for the chance of a run after a fox — for a chance against which the odds are more than two to one at every hunting day — for a chance as to which the odds are twenty to one against the success of the individuals collected; and yet, for every horseman and every horsewoman there, not less than oe5 a head will have been spent for this one day’s amusement. When we give a guinea for a stall at the opera we think that we pay a large sum; but we are fairly sure of having our music. When you go to Copperhouse Cross you are by no means sure of your opera.

Why is it that when men and women congregate, though the men may beat the women in numbers by ten to one, and though they certainly speak the louder, the concrete sound that meets the ears of any outside listener is always a sound of women’s voices? At Copperhouse Cross almost everyone was talking, but the feeling left upon the senses was that of an amalgam of feminine laughter, feminine affectation, and feminine eagerness. Perhaps at Copperhouse Cross the determined perseverance with which Lady Gertrude Fitzaskerley addressed herself to Lord Chiltern, to Cox the huntsman, to the two whips, and at last to Mr Spooner, may have specially led to the remark on this occasion. Lady Chiltern was very short with her, not loving Lady Gertrude. Cox bestowed upon her two “my lady’s,” and then turned from her to some peccant hound. But Spooner was partly gratified, and partly incapable, and underwent a long course of questions about the Duke and the poisoning. Lady Gertrude, whose father seemed to have owned half the coverts in Ireland, had never before heard of such enormity. She suggested a round robin, and would not be at all ashamed to put her own name to it. “Oh, for the matter of that,” said Spooner, “Chiltern can be round enough himself without any robin.” “He can’t be too round,” said Lady Gertrude, with a very serious aspect.

At last they moved away, and Phineas found himself riding by the side of Madame Goesler. It was natural that he should do so, as he had come with her. Maule had, of course, remained with Miss Palliser, and Chiltern and Spooner had taken themselves to their respective duties. Phineas might have avoided her, but in doing so he would have seemed to avoid her. She accepted his presence apparently as a matter of course, and betrayed by her words and manner no memory of past scenes. It was not customary with them to draw the forest, which indeed, as it now stood, was a forest only in name, and they trotted off to a gorse a mile and a half distant. This they drew blank — then another gorse also blank — and two or three little fringes of wood, such as there are in every country, and through which huntsmen run their hounds, conscious that no fox will lie there. At one o’clock they had not found, and the hilarity of the really hunting men as they ate their sandwiches and lit their cigars was on the decrease. The ladies talked more than ever, Lady Gertrude’s voice was heard above them all, and Lord Chiltern trotted on close behind his hounds in obdurate silence. When things were going bad with him no one in the field dared to speak to him.

Phineas had never seen his horse till he reached the meet, and there found a fine-looking, very strong, bay animal, with shoulders like the top of a hay-stack, short-backed, short-legged, with enormous quarters, and a wicked-looking eye. “He ought to be strong,” said Phineas to the groom. “Oh, sir; strong ain’t no word for him,” said the groom; “{‘e can carry a ’ouse.” “I don’t know whether he’s fast?” inquired Phineas. “He’s fast enough for any ‘ounds, sir,” said the man with that tone of assurance which always carries conviction. “And he can jump?” “He can jump!” continued the groom; “no ‘orse in my lord’s stables can’t beat him.” “But he won’t?” said Phineas. “It’s only sometimes, sir, and then the best thing is to stick him at it till he do. He’ll go, he will, like a shot at last; and then he’s right for the day.” Hunting men will know that all this was not quite comfortable. When you ride your own horse, and know his special defects, you know also how far that defect extends, and what real prospect you have of overcoming it. If he be slow through the mud, you keep a good deal on the road in heavy weather, and resolve that the present is not an occasion for distinguishing yourself. If he be bad at timber, you creep through a hedge. If he pulls, you get as far from the crowd as may be. You gauge your misfortune, and make your little calculation as to the best mode of remedying the evil. But when you are told that your friend’s horse is perfect — only that he does this or that — there comes a weight on your mind from which you are unable to release it. You cannot discount your trouble at any percentage. It may amount to absolute ruin, as far as that day is concerned; and in such a circumstance you always look forward to the worst. When the groom had done his description, Phineas Finn would almost have preferred a day’s canvass at Tankerville under Mr Ruddles’s authority to his present position.

When the hounds entered Broughton Spinnies, Phineas and Madame Goesler were still together. He had not been riding actually at her side all the morning. Many men and two or three ladies had been talking to her. But he had never been far from her in the ruck, and now he was again close by her horse’s head. Broughton Spinnies were in truth a series of small woods, running one into another almost without intermission, never thick, and of no breadth. There was always a litter or two of cubs at the place, and in no part of the Brake country was greater care taken in the way of preservation and encouragement to interesting vixens; but the lying was bad; there was little or no real covert; and foxes were very apt to travel and get away into those big woods belonging to the Duke — where, as the Brake sportsmen now believed, they would almost surely come to an untimely end. “If we draw this blank I don’t know what we are to do,” said Mr Spooner, addressing himself to Madame Goesler with lachrymose anxiety.

“Have you nothing else to draw?” asked Phineas.

“In the common course of things we should take Muggery Gorse, and so on to Trumpeton Wood. But Muggery is on the Duke’s land, and Chiltern is in such a fix! He won’t go there unless he can’t help it. Muggery Gorse is only a mile this side of the big wood.”

“And foxes of course go to the big wood?” asked Madame Max.

“Not always. They often come here — and as they can’t hang here, we have the whole country before us. We get as good runs from Muggery as from any covert in the country. But Chiltern won’t go there today unless the hounds show a line. By George, that’s a fox! That’s Dido. That’s a find!” And Spooner galloped away, as though Dido could do nothing with the fox she had found unless he was there to help her.

Spooner was quite right, as he generally was on such occasions. He knew the hounds even by voice, and knew what hound he could believe. Most hounds will lie occasionally, but Dido never lied. And there were many besides Spooner who believed in Dido. The whole pack rushed to her music, though the body of them would have remained utterly unmoved at the voice of any less reverenced and less trustworthy colleague. The whole wood was at once in commotion — men and women riding hither and thither, not in accordance with any judgment; but as they saw or thought they saw others riding who were supposed to have judgment. To get away well is so very much! And to get away well is often so very difficult! There are so many things of which the horseman is bound to think in that moment. Which way does the wind blow? And then, though a fox will not long run up wind, he will break covert up wind, as often as not. From which of the various rides can you find a fair exit into the open country, without a chance of breaking your neck before the run begins? When you hear some wild halloa, informing you that one fox has gone in the direction exactly opposite to that in which the hounds are hunting, are you sure that the noise is not made about a second fox? On all these matters you are bound to make up your mind without losing a moment; and if you make up your mind wrongly the five pounds you have invested in that day’s amusement will have been spent for nothing. Phineas and Madame Goesler were in the very centre of the wood when Spooner rushed away from them down one of the rides on hearing Dido’s voice; and at that time they were in a crowd. Almost immediately the fox was seen to cross another ride, and a body of horsemen rushed away in that direction, knowing that the covert was small, and there the animal must soon leave the wood. Then there was a shout of “Away!” repeated over and over again, and Lord Chiltern, running up like a flash of lightning, and passing our two friends, galloped down a third ride to the right of the others. Phineas at once followed the master of the pack, and Madame Goesler followed Phineas. Men were still riding hither and thither; and a farmer, meeting them, with his horse turned back towards the centre of the wood which they were leaving, halloaed out as they passed that there was no way out at the bottom. They met another man in pink, who screamed out something as to “the devil of a bank down there’. Chiltern, however, was still going on, and our hero had not the heart to stop his horse in its gallop and turn back from the direction in which the hounds were running. At that moment he hardly remembered the presence of Madame Goesler, but he did remember every word that had been said to him about Dandolo. He did not in the least doubt but that Chiltern had chosen his direction rightly, and that if he were once out of the wood he would find himself with the hounds; but what if this brute should refuse to take him out of the wood? That Dandolo was very fast he soon became aware, for he gained upon his friend before him as they neared the fence. And then he saw what there was before him. A new broad ditch had been cut, with the express object of preventing egress or ingress at that point; and a great bank had been constructed with the clay. In all probability there might be another ditch on the other side. Chiltern, however, had clearly made up his mind about it. The horse he was riding went at it gallantly, cleared the first ditch, balanced himself for half a moment on the bank, and then, with a fresh spring, got into the field beyond. The tail hounds were running past outside the covert, and the master had placed himself exactly right for the work in hand. How excellent would be the condition of Finn if only Dandolo would do just as Chiltern’s horse had done before him!

And Phineas almost began to hope that it might be so. The horse was going very well, and very willingly. His head was stretched out, he was pulling, not more, however, than pleasantly, and he seemed to be as anxious as his rider. But there was a little twitch about his ears which his rider did not like, and then it was impossible not to remember that awful warning given by the groom, “It’s only sometimes, sir.” And after what fashion should Phineas ride him at the obstacle? He did not like to strike a horse that seemed to be going well, and was unwilling, as are all good riders, to use his heels. So he spoke to him, and proposed to lift him at the ditch. To the very edge the horse galloped — too fast, indeed, if he meant to take the bank as Chiltern’s horse had done — and then stopping himself so suddenly that he must have shaken every joint in his body, he planted his fore feet on the very brink, and there he stood, with his head down, quivering in every muscle. Phineas Finn, following naturally the momentum which had been given to him, went over the brute’s neck head-foremost into the ditch. Madame Max was immediately off her horse. “Oh, Mr Finn, are you hurt?”

But Phineas, happily, was not hurt. He was shaken and dirty, but not so shaken, and not so dirty, but that he was on his legs in a minute, imploring his companion not to mind him but go on. “Going on doesn’t seem to be so easy,” said Madame Goesler, looking at the ditch as she held her horse in her hand. But to go back in such circumstances is a terrible disaster. It amounts to complete defeat; and is tantamount to a confession that you must go home, because you are unable to ride to hounds. A man, when he is compelled to do this, is almost driven to resolve at the spur of the moment that he will give up hunting for the rest of his life. And if one thing be more essential than any other to the horseman in general, it is that he, and not the animal which he rides, shall be the master. “The best thing is to stick him at it till he do,” the groom had said; and Phineas resolved to be guided by the groom.

But his first duty was to attend on Madame Goesler. With very little assistance she was again in her saddle, and she at once declared herself certain that her horse could take the fence. Phineas again instantly jumped into his saddle, and turning Dandolo again at the ditch, rammed the rowels into the horse’s sides. But Dandolo would not jump yet. He stood with his fore feet on the brink, and when Phineas with his whip struck him severely over the shoulders, he went down into the ditch on all fours, and then scrambled back again to his former position. “What an infernal brutei” said Phineas, gnashing his teeth.

“He is a little obstinate, Mr Finn; I wonder whether he’d jump if I gave him a lead.” But Phineas was again making the attempt, urging the horse with spurs, whip, and voice. He had brought himself now to that condition in which a man is utterly reckless as to falling himself — or even to the kind of fall he may get — if he can only force his animal to make the attempt. But Dandolo would not make the attempt. With ears down and head outstretched, he either stuck obstinately on the brink, or allowed himself to be forced again and again into the ditch. “Let me try it once, Mr Finn,” said Madame Goesler in her quiet way.

She was riding a small horse, very nearly thoroughbred, and known as a perfect hunter by those who habitually saw Madame Goesler ride. No doubt he would have taken the fence readily enough had his rider followed immediately after Lord Chiltern; but Dandolo had baulked at the fence nearly a dozen times, and evil communications will corrupt good manners. Without any show of violence, but still with persistent determination, Madame Goesler’s horse also declined to jump. She put him at it again and again, and he would make no slightest attempt to do his business. Phineas raging, fuming, out of breath, miserably unhappy, shaking his reins, plying his whip, rattling himself about in the saddle, and banging his legs against the horse’s sides, again and again plunged away at the obstacle. But it was all to no purpose. Dandolo was constantly in the ditch, sometimes lying with his side against the bank, and had now been so hustled and driven that, had he been on the other side, he would have had no breath left to carry his rider, even in the ruck of the hunt. In the meantime the hounds and the leading horsemen were far away — never more to be seen on that day by either Phineas Finn or Madame Max Goesler. For a while, during the frantic efforts that were made, an occasional tardy horseman was viewed galloping along outside the covert, following the tracks of those who had gone before. But before the frantic efforts had been abandoned as utterly useless every vestige of the morning’s work had left the neighbourhood of Broughton Spinnies, except these two unfortunate ones. At last it was necessary that the defeat should be acknowledged. “We’re beaten, Madame Goesler,” said Phineas, almost in tears.

“Altogether beaten, Mr Finn.”

“I’ve a good mind to swear that I’ll never come out hunting again.”

“Swear what you like, if it will relieve you, only don’t think of keeping such an oath. I’ve known you before this to be depressed by circumstances quite as distressing as these, and to be certain that all hope was over — but yet you have recovered.” This was the only allusion she had yet made to their former acquaintance. “And now we must think of getting out of the wood.”

“I haven’t the slightest idea of the direction of anything.”

“Nor have I; but as we clearly can’t get out this way we might as well try the other. Come along. We shall find somebody to put us in the right road. For my part I’m glad it is no worse. I thought at one time that you were going to break your neck.” They rode on for a few minutes in silence, and then she spoke again. “Is it not odd, Mr Finn, that after all that has come and gone you and I should find ourselves riding about Broughton Spinnies together?”

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01