The club, so called at Dillsborough, was held every Saturday evening in a back parlour at the Bush, and was attended generally by seven or eight members. It was a very easy club. There was no balloting, and no other expense attending it other than that of paying for the liquor which each man chose to drink. Sometimes, about ten o’clock, there was a little supper, the cost of which was defrayed by subscription among those who partook of it. It was one rule of the club, or a habit, rather, which had grown to be a rule, that Mr. Runciman might introduce into it any one he pleased. I do not know that a similar privilege was denied to any one else; but as Mr. Runciman had a direct pecuniary advantage in promoting the club, the new-comers were generally ushered in by him. When the attorney and Twentyman entered the room Mr. Runciman was seated as usual in an arm-chair at the corner of the fire nearest to the door, with the bell at his right hand. He was a hale, good-looking man about fifty, with black hair, now turning grey at the edges, and a clean-shorn chin. He had a pronounced strong face of his own, one capable of evincing anger and determination when necessary, but equally apt for smiles or, on occasion, for genuine laughter. He was a masterful but a pleasant man, very civil to customers and to his friends generally while they took him the right way; but one who could be a Tartar if he were offended, holding an opinion that his position as landlord of an inn was one requiring masterdom. And his wife was like him in everything — except in this, that she always submitted to him. He was a temperate man in the main; but on Saturday nights he would become jovial, and sometimes a little quarrelsome. When this occurred the club would generally break itself up and go home to bed, not in the least offended. Indeed Mr. Runciman was the tyrant of the club, though it was held at his house expressly with the view of putting money into his pocket. Opposite to his seat was another arm-chair — not so big as Mr. Runciman’s, but still a soft and easy chair, which was always left for the attorney. For Mr. Masters was a man much respected through all Dillsborough, partly on his own account, but more perhaps for the sake of his father and grandfather. He was a round-faced, clean-shorn man, with straggling grey hair, who always wore black clothes and a white cravat. There was something in his appearance which recommended him among his neighbours, who were disposed to say he “looked the gentleman;” but a stranger might have thought his cheeks to be flabby and his mouth to be weak.
Making a circle, or the beginning of a circle, round the fire, were Nupper, the doctor — a sporting old bachelor doctor who had the reputation of riding after the hounds in order that he might be ready for broken bones and minor accidents; next to him, in another arm-chair, facing the fire, was Ned Botsey, the younger of the two brewers from Norrington, who was in the habit during the hunting season of stopping from Saturday to Monday at the Bush, partly because the Rufford hounds hunted on Saturday and Monday and on those days seldom met in the Norrington direction, and partly because he liked the sporting conversation of the Dillsborough Club. He was a little man, very neat in his attire, who liked to be above his company, and fancied that he was so in Mr. Runciman’s parlour. Between him and the attorney’s chair was Harry Stubbings, from Stanton Corner, the man who let out hunters, and whom Twentyman had threatened to thrash. His introduction to the club had taken place lately, not without some opposition; but Runciman had set his foot upon that, saying that it was “all d — nonsense.” He had prevailed, and Twentyman had consented to meet the man; but there was no great friendship between them. Seated back on the sofa was Mr. Ribbs, the butcher, who was allowed into the society as being a specially modest man. His modesty, perhaps, did not hinder him in an affair of sheep or bullocks, nor yet in the collection of his debts; but at the club he understood his position, and rarely opened his mouth to speak. When Twentyman followed the attorney into the room there was a vacant chair between Mr. Botsey and Harry Stubbings; but he would not get into it, preferring to seat himself on the table at Botsey’s right hand.
“So Goarly was with you, Mr. Masters,” Mr. Runciman began as soon as the attorney was seated. It was clear that they had all been talking about Goarly and his law-suit, and that Goarly and the law-suit would be talked about very generally in Dillsborough.
“He was over at my place this evening,” said the attorney.
“You are not going to take his case up for him, Mr. Masters?” said young Botsey. “We expect something better from you than that.”
Now Ned Botsey was rather an impudent young man, and Mr. Masters, though he was mild enough at home, did not like impudence from the world at large. “I suppose, Mr. Botsey,” said he, “that if Goarly were to go to you for a barrel of beer you’d sell it to him?”
“I don’t know whether I should or not. I dare say my people would. But that’s a different thing.”
“I don’t see any difference at all. You’re not very particular as to your customers, and I don’t ask you any questions about them. Ring the bell, Runciman, please.” The bell was rung, and the two newcomers ordered their liquor.
It was quite right that Ned Botsey should be put down. Every one in the room felt that. But there was something in the attorney’s tone which made the assembled company feel that he had undertaken Goarly’s case; whereas, in the opinion of the company, Goarly was a scoundrel with whom Mr. Masters should have had nothing to do. The attorney had never been a sporting man himself, but he had always been, as it were, on that side.
“Goarly is a great fool for his pains,” said the doctor. “He has had a very fair offer made him, and, first or last, it’ll cost him forty pounds.”
“He has got it into his head,” said the landlord, “that he can sue Lord Rufford for his fences. Lord Rufford is not answerable for his fences.”
“It’s the loss of crop he’s going for,” said Twentyman.
“How can there be pheasants to that amount in Dillsborough Wood,” continued the landlord, “when everybody knows that foxes breed there every year? There isn’t a surer find for a fox in the whole county. Everybody knows that Lord Rufford never lets his game stand in the way of foxes.”
Lord Rufford was Mr. Runciman’s great friend and patron and best customer, and not a word against Lord Rufford was allowed in that room, though elsewhere in Dillsborough ill-natured things were sometimes said of his lordship. Then there came on that well-worn dispute among sportsmen, whether foxes and pheasants are or are not pleasant companions to each other. Every one was agreed that, if not, then the pheasants should suffer, and that any country gentleman who allowed his gamekeeper to entrench on the privileges of foxes in order that pheasants might be more abundant, was a “brute” and a “beast,” and altogether unworthy to live in England. Larry Twentyman and Ned Botsey expressed an opinion that pheasants were predominant in Dillsborough Wood, while Mr. Runciman, the doctor, and Harry Stubbings declared loudly that everything that foxes could desire was done for them in that Elysium of sport.
“We drew the wood blank last time we were there,” said Larry. “Don’t you remember, Mr. Runciman, about the end of last March?”
“Of course I remember,” said the landlord. “Just the end of the season, when two vixens had litters in the wood! You don’t suppose Bean was going to let that old butcher, Tony, find a fox in Dillsborough at that time.” Bean was his lordship’s head gamekeeper in that part of the country. “How many foxes had we found there during the season?”
“Two or three,” suggested Botsey.
“Seven!” said the energetic landlord; “seven, including cub-hunting — and killed four! If you kill four foxes out of an eighty-acre wood, and have two litters at the end of the season, I don’t think you have much to complain of.”
“If they all did as well as Lord Rufford, you’d have more foxes than you’d know what to do with,” said the doctor.
Then this branch of the conversation was ended by a bet of a new hat between Botsey and the landlord as to the finding of a fox in Dillsborough Wood when it should next be drawn; as to which, when the speculation was completed, Harry Stubbings offered Mr. Runciman ten shillings down for his side of the bargain.
But all this did not divert the general attention from the important matter of Goarly’s attack. “Let it be how it will,” said Mr. Runciman, “a fellow like that should be put down.” He did not address himself specially to Mr. Masters, but that gentleman felt that he was being talked at.
“Certainly he ought,” said Dr. Nupper. “If he didn’t feel satisfied with what his lordship offered him, why couldn’t he ask his lordship to refer the matter to a couple of farmers who understood it?”
“It’s the spirit of the thing,” said Mr. Ribbs, from his place on the sofa. “It’s a hodious spirit.”
“That’s just it, Mr. Ribbs,” said Harry Stubbings. “It’s all meant for opposition. Whether it’s shooting or whether it’s hunting, it’s all one. Such a chap oughtn’t to be allowed to have land. I’d take it away from him by Act of Parliament. It’s such as him as is destroying the country.”
“There ain’t many of them hereabouts, thank God!” said the landlord.
“Now, Mr. Twentyman,” said Stubbings, who was anxious to make friends with the gentleman-farmer, “you know what land can do, and what land has done, as well as any man. What would you say was the real damage done to them two wheat-fields by his lordship’s game last autumn? You saw the crops as they were growing, and you know what came off the land.”
“I wouldn’t like to say.”
“But if you were on your oath, Mr. Twentyman?
“Was there more than seven-and-sixpence an acre lost?”
“No, nor five shillings,” said Runciman.
“I think Goarly ought to take his lordship’s offer — if you mean that,” said Twentyman.
Then there was a pause, during which more drink was brought in, and pipes were re-lighted. Everybody wished that Mr. Masters might be got to say that he would not take the case, but there was a delicacy about asking him. “If I remember right he was in Rufford Gaol once,” said Runciman.
“He was let out on bail and then the matter was hushed up somehow,” said the attorney.
“It was something about a woman,” continued Runciman. “I know that on that occasion he came out an awful scoundrel.”
“Don’t you remember,” asked Botsey, “how he used to walk up and down the covert-side with a gun, two years ago, swearing he would shoot the fox if he broke over his land?”
“I heard him say it, Botsey,” said Twentyman. “It wouldn’t have been the first fox he’s murdered,” said the doctor.
“Not by many,” said the landlord.
“You remember that old woman near my place?” said Stubbings. “It was he that put her up to tell all them lies about her turkeys. I ran it home to him! A blackguard like that! Nobody ought to take him up.”
“I hope you won’t, Mr. Masters;” said the doctor. The doctor was as old as the attorney, and had known him for many years. No one else could dare to ask the question.
“I don’t suppose I shall, Nupper,” said the attorney from his chair. It was the first word he had spoken since he had put down young Botsey. “It wouldn’t just suit me; but a man has to judge of those things for himself.”
Then there was a general rejoicing, and Mr. Runciman stood broiled bones, and ham and eggs, and bottled stout for the entire club; one unfortunate effect of which unwonted conviviality was that Mr. Masters did not get home till near twelve o’clock. That was sure to cause discomfort; and then he had pledged himself to decline Goarly’s business.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14