Reginald Morton entertained serious thoughts of cleansing himself from the reproach which Larry cast upon him when describing his character to his mother. “I think I shall take to hunting,” he said to Mary.
“But you’ll tumble off, dear.”
“No doubt I shall, and I must try to begin in soft places. I don’t see why I shouldn’t do it gradually in a small way. I shouldn’t ever become a Nimrod, like Lord Rufford or your particular friend Mr. Twentyman.”
“He is my particular friend.”
“So I perceive. I couldn’t shine as he shines, but I might gradually learn to ride after him at a respectful distance. A man at Rome ought to do as the Romans do.”
“Why wasn’t Hoppet Hall Rome as much as Bragton?”
“Well; — it wasn’t. While fortune enabled me to be happy at Hoppet Hall —”
“That is unkind, Reg.”
“While fortune oppressed me with celibate misery at Hoppet Hall, nobody hated me for not hunting; — and as I could not very well afford it, I was not considered to be entering a protest against the amusement. As it is now I find that unless I consent to risk my neck at any rate five or six times every winter, I shall be regarded in that light”
“I wouldn’t be frightened into doing anything I didn’t like,” said Mary.
“How do you know that I shan’t like it? The truth is I have had a letter this morning from a benevolent philosopher which has almost settled the question for me. He wants me to join a society for the suppression of British sports as being barbarous and antipathetic to the intellectual pursuits of an educated man. I would immediately shoot, fish, hunt and go out ratting, if I could hope for the least success. I know I should never shoot anything but the dog and the gamekeepers, and that I should catch every weed in the river; but I think that in the process of seasons I might jump over a hedge.”
“Kate will show you the way to do that”
“With Kate and Mr. Twentyman to help me, and a judicious system of liberal tips to Tony Tuppett, I could make my way about on a quiet old nag, and live respected by my neighbours. The fact is I hate with my whole heart the trash of the philanimalist.”
“What is a-a — I didn’t quite catch the thing you hate?”
“The thing is a small knot of self-anxious people who think that they possess among them all the bowels of the world.”
“Possess all the what, Reginald?”
“I said bowels — using an ordinary but very ill-expressed metaphor. The ladies and gentlemen to whom I allude, not looking very clearly into the systems of pains and pleasures in accordance with which we have to live, put their splay feet down now upon this ordinary operation and now upon that, and call upon the world to curse the cruelty of those who will not agree with them. A lady whose tippet is made from the skins of twenty animals who have been wired in the snow and then left to die of starvation —”
“That is the way of it. I am not now saying whether it is right or wrong. The lady with the tippet will justify the wires and the starvation because, as she will say, she uses the fur. An honest blanket would keep her just as warm. But the fox who suffers perhaps ten minutes of agony should he not succeed as he usually does in getting away — is hunted only for amusement! It is true that the one fox gives amusement for hours to perhaps some hundred; but it is only for amusement. What riles me most is that these would-be philosophers do not or will not see that recreation is as necessary to the world as clothes or food, and the providing of the one is as legitimate a business as the purveying of the other.”
“People must eat and wear clothes.”
“And practically they must be amused. They ignore the great doctrine of ‘tanti.’”
“I never heard of it”
“You shall, dear, some day. It is the doctrine by which you should regulate everything you do and every word you utter. Now do you and Kate put on your hats and we’ll walk to the bridge.”
This preaching of a sermon took place after breakfast at Bragton on the morning of Saturday, and the last order had reference to a scheme they had on foot to see the meet at the old kennels. On the previous afternoon Reginald Morton had come into Dillsborough and had very quietly settled everything with the attorney. Having made up his mind to do the thing he was very quick in the doing of it. He hated the idea of secrecy in such an affair, and when Mrs. Masters asked him whether he had any objection to have the marriage talked about, expressed his willingness that she should employ the town crier to make it public if she thought it expedient. “Oh, Mr. Morton, how very funny you are,” said the lady. “Quite in earnest, Mrs. Masters,” he replied. Then he kissed the two girls who were to be his sisters, and finished the visit by carrying off the younger to spend a day or two with her sister at Bragton. “I know,” he said, whispering to Mary as he left the front door, “that I ought not to go out hunting so soon after my poor cousin’s death; but as he was a cousin once removed, I believe I may walk as far as the bridge without giving offence.”
When they were there they saw all the arrivals just as they were seen on the same spot a few months earlier by a very different party. Mary and Kate stood on the bridge together, while he remained a little behind leaning on the style. She, poor girl, had felt some shame in showing herself, knowing that some who were present would have heard of her engagement, and that others would be told of it as soon as she was seen. “Are you ashamed of what you are going to do?” he asked.
“Ashamed! I don’t suppose that there is a girl in England so proud as I am at this minute.”
“I don’t know that there is anything to be proud of, but if you are not ashamed, why shouldn’t you show yourself? Marriage is an honourable state!” She could only pinch his arm, and do as he bade her.
Glomax in his tandem, and Lord Rufford in his drag, were rather late. First there came one or two hunting men out of the town, Runciman, Dr. Nupper, and the hunting saddler. Then there arrived Henry Stubbings with a string of horses, mounted by little boys, ready for his customers, and full of wailing to his friend Runciman. Here was nearly the end of March and the money he had seen since Christmas was little more, as he declared, than what he could put into his eye and see none the worse. “Charge ’em ten per cent interest,” said Runciman. “Then they thinks they can carry on for another year,” said Stubbings despondingly. While this was going on, Larry walked his favourite mare “Bicycle” on to the ground, dressed with the utmost care, but looking very moody, almost fierce, as though he did not wish anybody to speak to him. Tony Tuppett, who had known him since a boy, nodded at him affectionately, and said how glad he was to see him; — but even this was displeasing to Larry. He did not see the girls on the bridge, but took up his place near them. He was thinking so much of his own unhappiness and of what he believed others would say of him, that he saw almost nothing. There he sat on his mare, carrying out the purpose to which he had been led by Mary’s message, but wishing with all his heart that he was back again, hidden within his own house at the other side of the wood.
Mary, as soon as she saw him, blushed up to her eyes, then turning round looked with wistful eyes into the face of the man she was engaged to marry, and with rapid step walked across the bridge up to the side of Larry’s horse, and spoke to him with her sweet low voice. “Larry,” she said. He turned round to her very quickly, showing how much he was startled. Then she put up her hand to him, and of course he took it. “Larry, I am so glad to see you. Did papa give you a message?”
“Yes, Miss Masters. He told me, I know it all.”
“Say a kind word to me, Larry.”
“I— I— I— You know very well what’s in my mind. Though it were to kill me, I should wish you well”
“I hope you’ll have a good hunt, Larry.” Then she retired back to the bridge and again looked to her lover to know whether he would approve. There were so few there, and Larry had been so far apart from the others, that she was sure no one had heard the few words which had passed between them; nor could anyone have observed what she had done, unless it were old Nupper, or Mr. Runciman, or Tony Tuppett. But yet she thought that it perhaps was bold, and that he would be angry. But he came up to her, and placing himself between her and Kate, whispered into her ear, “Bravely done, my girl. After a little I will try to be as brave, but I could never do it as well.” Larry in the meantime had moved his mare away, and before the Master had arrived, was walking slowly up his own road to Chowton Farm.
The Captain was soon there, and Lord Rufford with his friends, and Harry Stubbings’ string, and Tony were set in motion. But before they stirred there was a consultation, to which Bean the gamekeeper was called — as to the safety of Dillsborough Wood. Dillsborough Wood had not been drawn yet since Scrobby’s poison had taken effect on the old fox, and there were some few who affected to think that there still might be danger. Among these was the Master himself, who asked Fred Botsey with a sneer whether he thought that such hounds as those were to be picked up at every corner. But Bean again offered to eat any herring that might be there, poison included, and Lord Rufford laughed at the danger. “It’s no use my having foxes, Glomax, if you won’t draw the cover.” This the Lord said with a touch of anger, and the Lord’s anger, if really roused, might be injurious. It was therefore decided that the hounds should again be put through the Bragton shrubberies — just for compliment to the new squire; and that then they should go off to Dillsborough Wood as rapidly as might be.
Larry walked his beast all the way up home very slowly, and getting off her, put her into the stable and went into the house.
“Is anything wrong?” asked the mother.
“Everything is wrong.” Then he stood with his back to the kitchen fire for nearly half an hour without speaking a word. He was trying to force himself to follow out her idea of manliness, and telling himself that it was impossible. The first tone of her voice, the first glance at her face, had driven him home. Why had she called him Larry again and again, so tenderly, in that short moment, and looked at him with those loving eyes? Then he declared to himself, without uttering a word, that she did not understand anything about it; she did not comprehend the fashion of his love when she thought, as she did think, that a soft word would be compensation. He looked round to see if his mother or the servant were there, and when he found that the coast was clear, he dashed his hands to his eyes and knocked away the tears. He threw up both his arms and groaned, and then he remembered her message, “Bid him be a man.”
At that moment he heard the sound of horses, and going near the window, so as to be hidden from curious eyes as they passed, he saw the first whip trot on, with the hounds after him, and Tony Tuppett among them. Then there was a long string of horsemen, all moving up to the wood, and a carriage or two, and after them the stragglers of the field. He let them all go by, and then he repeated the words again, “Bid him be a man.”
He took up his hat, jammed it on his head, and went out into the yard. As he crossed to the stables Runciman came up alone. “Why, Larry, you’ll be late,” he said.
“Go on, Mr. Runciman, I’ll follow.”
“I’ll wait till you are mounted. You’ll be better for somebody with you. You’ve got the mare, have you? You’ll show some of them your heels if they get away from here. Is she as fast as she was last year, do you think?”
“Upon my word I don’t know,” said Larry, as he dragged himself into the saddle.
“Shake yourself, old fellow, and don’t carry on like that. What is she after all but a girl?” The poor fellow looked at his intending comforter, but couldn’t speak a word. “A man shouldn’t let himself be put upon by circumstances so as to be only half himself. Hang it, man, cheer up, and don’t let ’em see you going about like that. It ain’t what a fellow of your kidney ought to be. If they haven’t found I’m a nigger — and by the holy he’s away. Come along Larry and forget the petticoats for half an hour.” So saying, Runciman broke into a gallop, and Larry’s mare doing the same, he soon passed the innkeeper and was up at the covert side just as Tony Tuppett with half a score of hounds round him, was forcing his way through the bushes, out of the coverts into the open field. “There ain’t no poison this time, Mr. Twentyman,” said the huntsman, as, setting his eye on a gap in the further fence, he made his way across the field.
The fox headed away for a couple of miles towards Impington, as was the custom with the Dillsborough foxes, and then turning to the left was soon over the country borders into Ufford. The pace from the first starting was very good. Larry, under such provocation as that of course would ride, and he did ride. Up as far as the country brook, many were well up. The land was no longer deep; and as the field had not been scattered at the starting, all the men who usually rode were fairly well placed as they came to the brook; but it was acknowledged afterwards that Larry was over it the first. Glomax got into it — as he always does into brooks, and young Runce hurt his horse’s shoulder at the opposite bank. Lord Rufford’s horse balked it, to the Lord’s disgust; but took it afterwards, not losing very much ground. Tony went in and out, the crafty old dog knowing the one bit of hard ground. Then they crossed Purbeck field, as it is still called — which twenty years since was a wide waste of land, but is now divided by new fences, very grievous to half-blown horses. Sir John Purefoy got a nasty fall over some stiff timber, and here many a half-hearted rider turned to the right into the lane. Hampton and his Lordship, and Battersby, with Fred Botsey and Larry, took it all as it came, but through it all not one of them could give Larry a lead. Then there was manoeuvring into a wood and out of it again, and that saddest of all sights to the riding man, a cloud of horsemen on the road as well placed as though they had ridden the line throughout. In getting out of the road Hampton’s horse slipped up with him, and, though he saw it all, he was never able again to compete for a place. The fox went through the Hampton Wick coverts without hanging a moment, just throwing the hounds for two minutes off their scent at the gravel pits. The check was very useful to Tony, who had got his second horse and came up sputtering, begging the field for G—‘s sake to be — in short to be anywhere but where they were. Then they were off again down the hill to the left, through Mappy springs and along the top of Ilveston copse, every yard of which is grass, till the number began to be select. At last in a turnip field, three yards from the fence, they turned him over, and Tony, as he jumped off his horse among the hounds, acknowledged to himself that Larry might have had his hand first upon the animal had he cared to do so.
“Twentyman, I’ll give you two hundred for your mare,” said Lord Rufford.
“Ah, my Lord, there are two things that would about kill me.”
“What are they, Larry?” asked Harry Stubbings.
“To offend his Lordship, or to part with the mare.”
“You shall do neither,” said Lord Rufford; “but upon my word I think she’s the fastest thing in this county.” All of which did not cure poor Larry, but it helped to enable him to be a man.
The fox had been killed close to Norrington, and the run was remembered with intense gratification for many a long day after. “It’s that kind of thing that makes hunting beat everything else,” said Lord Rufford, as he went home. That day’s sport certainly had been “tanti,” and Glomax and the two counties boasted of it for the next three years.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14