On the next morning Mrs. Morton asked her grandson what he meant to do with reference to his suggested invitation to Reginald. “As you will not meet him of course I have given up the idea,” he said. The “of course” had been far from true. He had debated the matter very much with himself. He was an obstinate man, with something of independence in his spirit. He liked money, but he liked having his own way too. The old lady looked as though she might live to be a hundred — and though she might last only for ten years longer, was it worth his while to be a slave for that time? And he was by no means sure of her money, though he should be a slave. He almost made up his mind that he would ask Reginald Morton. But then the old lady would be in her tantrums, and there would be the disagreeable necessity of making an explanation to that inquisitive gentleman Mr. Elias Gotobed.
“I couldn’t have met him, John; I couldn’t indeed. I remember so well all that occurred when your poor infatuated great-grandfather would have that woman into the house! I was forced to have my meals in my bedroom, and to get myself taken away as soon as I could get a carriage and horses. After all that I ought not to be asked to meet the child.”
“I was thinking of asking old Mr. Cooper on Monday. I know she doesn’t go out. And perhaps Mr. Mainwaring wouldn’t take it amiss. Mr. Puttock, I know, isn’t at home; but if he were, he couldn’t come.” Mr. Puttock was the rector of Bragton, a very rich living, but was unfortunately afflicted with asthma.
“Poor man. I heard of that; and he’s only been here about six years. I don’t see why Mr. Mainwaring should take it amiss at all. You can explain that you are only here a few days. I like to meet clergymen. I think that it is the duty of a country gentleman to ask them to his house. It shows a proper regard for religion. By-the-bye, John, I hope that you’ll see that they have a fire in the church on Sunday.” The Honourable Mrs. Morton always went to church, and had no doubt of her own sincerity when she reiterated her prayer that as she forgave others their trespasses, so might she be forgiven hers. As Reginald Morton had certainly never trespassed against her perhaps there was no reason why her thoughts should be carried to the necessity of forgiving him.
The Paragon wrote two very diplomatic notes, explaining his temporary residence and expressing his great desire to become acquainted with his neighbours. Neither of the two clergymen were offended, and both of them promised to eat his dinner on Monday. Mr. Mainwaring was very fond of dining out, and would have gone almost to any gentleman’s house. Mr. Cooper had been enough in the neighbourhood to have known the old squire, and wrote an affectionate note expressing his gratification at the prospect of renewing his acquaintance with the little boy whom he remembered. So the party was made up for Monday. John Morton was very nervous on the matter, fearing that Lady Augustus would think the land to be barren.
The Friday passed by without much difficulty. The Senator was driven about, and everything was inquired into. One or two farm houses were visited, and the farmers’ wives were much disturbed by the questions asked them. “I don’t think they’d get a living in the States,” was the Senator’s remark after leaving one of the homesteads in which neither the farmer nor his wife had shown much power of conversation. “Then they’re right to stay where they are,” replied Mr. Morton, who in spite of his diplomacy could not save himself from being nettled. “They seem to get a very good living here, and they pay their rent punctually.”
On the Saturday morning the hounds met at the “Old Kennels,” as the meet was always called, and here was an excellent opportunity of showing to Mr. Gotobed one of the great institutions of the country. It was close to the house and therefore could be reached without any trouble, and as it was held on Morton’s own ground, he could do more towards making his visitor understand the thing than might have been possible elsewhere. When the hounds moved the carriage would be ready to take them about the roads, and show them as much as could be seen on wheels.
Punctually at eleven John Morton and his American guest were on the bridge, and Tony Tuppett was already occupying his wonted place, seated on a strong grey mare that had done a great deal of work, but would live — as Tony used to say — to do a great deal more. Round him the hounds were clustered — twenty-three couple in all — some seated on their haunches, some standing obediently still, while a few moved about restlessly, subject to the voices and on one or two occasions to a gentle administration of thong from the attendant whips. Four or five horsemen were clustering round, most of them farmers, and were talking to Tony. Our friend Mr. Twentyman was the only man in a red coat who had yet arrived, and with him, on her brown pony, was Kate Masters, who was listening with all her ears to every word that Tony said.
“That, I guess, is the Captain you spoke of,” said the Senator pointing to Tony Tuppett.
“Oh no; — that’s the huntsman. Those three men in caps are the servants who do the work.”
“The dogs can’t be brought out without servants to mind them! They’re what you call gamekeepers.” Morton was explaining that the men were not gamekeepers when Captain Glomax himself arrived, driving a tandem. There was no road up to the spot, but on hunt mornings — or at any rate when the meet was at the old kennels — the park-gates were open so that vehicles could come up on the green sward.
“That’s Captain Glomax, I suppose,” said Morton. “I don’t know him, but from the way he’s talking to the huntsman you may be sure of it”
“He is the great man, is he? All these dogs belong to him?”
“Either to him or the hunt”
“And he pays for those servants?”
“He is a very rich man, I suppose.” Then Mr. Morton endeavoured to explain the position of Captain Glomax. He was not rich. He was no one in particular — except that he was Captain Glomax; and his one attribute was a knowledge of hunting. He didn’t keep the “dogs” out of his own pocket. He received 2,000 pounds a year from the gentlemen of the county, and he himself only paid anything which the hounds and horses might cost over that. “He’s a sort of upper servant then?” asked the Senator.
“Not at all. He’s the greatest man in the county on hunting days.”
“Does he live out of it?”
“I should think not.”
“It’s a deal of trouble, isn’t it?”
“Full work for an active man’s time, I should say.” A great many more questions were asked and answered, at the end of which the Senator declared that he did not quite understand it, but that as far as he saw he did not think very much of Captain Glomax.
“If he could make a living out of it I should respect him,” said the Senator; —” though it’s like knife-grinding or handling arsenic, an unwholesome sort of profession.”
“I think they look very nice,” said Morton, as one or two well-turned-out young men rode up to the place.
“They seem to me to have thought more about their breeches than anything else,” said the Senator. “But if they’re going to hunt why don’t they hunt? Have they got a fox with them?” Then there was a further explanation.
At this moment there was a murmur as of a great coming arrival, and then an open carriage with four post-horses was brought at a quick trot into the open space. There were four men dressed for hunting inside, and two others on the box. They were all smoking, and all talking. It was easy to see that they did not consider themselves the least among those who were gathered together on this occasion. The carriage was immediately surrounded by grooms and horses, and the ceremony of disencumbering themselves of great coats and aprons, of putting on spurs and fastening hat-strings was commenced. Then there were whispered communications from the grooms, and long faces under some of the hats. This horse hadn’t been fit since last Monday’s run, and that man’s hack wasn’t as it should be. A muttered curse might have been heard from one gentleman as he was told, on jumping from the box, that Harry Stubbings hadn’t sent him any second horse to ride. “I didn’t hear nothing about it till yesterday, Captain,” said Harry Stubbings, “and every foot I had fit to come out was bespoke.” The groom, however, who heard this was quite aware that Mr. Stubbings did not wish to give unlimited credit to the Captain, and he knew also that the second horse was to have carried his master the whole day, as the animal which was brought to the meet had been ridden hard on the previous Wednesday. At all this the Senator looked with curious eyes, thinking that he had never in his life seen brought together a set of more useless human beings.
“That is Lord Rufford,” said Morton, pointing to a stout, ruddy-faced, handsome man of about thirty, who was the owner of the carriage.
“Oh, a lord. Do the lords hunt, generally?”
“That’s as they like it.”
“Senators with us wouldn’t have time for that,” said the Senator.
“But you are paid to do your work.”
“Everybody from whom work is expected should be paid. Then the work will be done, or those who pay will know the reason why.”
“I must speak to Lord Rufford,” said Morton. “If you’ll come with me, I’ll introduce you.” The Senator followed willingly enough and the introduction was made while his lordship was still standing by his horse. The two men had known each other in London, and it was natural that Morton, as owner of the ground, should come out and speak to the only man who knew him. It soon was spread about that the gentleman talking to Lord Rufford was John Morton, and many who lived in the county came up to shake hands with him, To some of these the Senator was introduced and the conversation for a few minutes seemed to interrupt the business on hand. “I am sorry you should be on foot, Mr. Gotobed,” said the lord.
“And I am sorry that I cannot mount him,” said Mr. Morton.
“We can soon get over that difficulty if he will allow me to offer him a horse.”
The Senator looked as though he would almost like it, but he didn’t quite like it. “Perhaps your horse might kick me off, my lord.”
“I can’t answer for that; but he isn’t given to kicking, and there he is, if you’ll get on him.” But the Senator felt that the exhibition would suit neither his age nor position, and refused.
“We’d better be moving,” said Captain Glomax. “I suppose, Lord Rufford, we might as well trot over to Dillsborough Wood at once. I saw Bean as I came along and he seemed to wish we should draw the wood first.” Then there was a little whispering between his lordship and the Master and Tony Tuppett. His lordship thought that as Mr. Morton was there the hounds might as well be run through the Bragton spinnies. Tony made a wry face and shook his head. He knew that though the Old Kennels might be a very good place for meeting there was no chance of finding a fox at Bragton. And Captain Glomax, who, being an itinerary master, had no respect whatever for a country gentleman who didn’t preserve, also made a long face and also shook his head. But Lord Rufford, who knew the wisdom of reconciling a newcomer in the county to foxhunting, prevailed and the hounds and men were taken round a part of Bragton Park.
“What if t’ old squire ‘ve said if he’d ‘ve known there hadn’t been a fox at Bragton for more nor ten year?” This remark was made by Tuppett to Mr. Runciman who was riding by him. Mr. Runciman replied that there was a great difference in people. “You may say that, Mr. Runciman. It’s all changes. His lordship’s father couldn’t bear the sight of a hound nor a horse and saddle. Well; — I suppose I needn’t gammon any furder. We’ll just trot across to the wood at once”
“They haven’t begun yet as far as I can see,” said Mr. Gotobed standing up in the carriage.
“They haven’t found as yet,” replied Morton.
“They must go on till they find a fox? They never bring him with them?” Then there was an explanation as to bagged foxes, Morton not being very conversant with the subject he had to explain. “And if they shouldn’t find one all day?”
“Then it’ll be a blank.”
“And these hundred gentlemen will go home quite satisfied with themselves?”
“No; they’ll go home quite dissatisfied.”
“And have paid their money and given their time for nothing? Do you know it doesn’t seem to me the most heart-stirring thing in the world. Don’t they ride faster than that?” At this moment Tony with the hounds at his heels was trotting across the park at a huntsman’s usual pace from covert to covert. The Senator was certainly ungracious. Nothing that he saw produced from him a single word expressive of satisfaction.
Less than a mile brought them to the gate and road leading up to Chowton Farm. They passed close by Larry Twentyman’s door, and not a few, though it was not yet more than half-past eleven, stopped to have a glass of Larry’s beer. When the hounds were in the neighbourhood Larry’s beer was always ready. But Tony and his attendants trotted by with eyes averted, as though no thought of beer was in their minds. Nothing had been done, and a huntsman is not entitled to beer till he has found a fox. Captain Glomax followed with Lord Rufford and a host of others. There was plenty of way here for carriages, and half a dozen vehicles passed through Larry’s farmyard. Immediately behind the house was a meadow, and at the bottom of the meadow a stubble field, next to which was the ditch and bank which formed the bounds of Dillsborough Wood. Just at this side of the gate leading into the stubble-field there was already a concourse of people when Tony arrived near it with the hounds, and immediately there was a holloaing and loud screeching of directions, which was soon understood to mean that the hounds were at once to be taken away! The Captain rode on rapidly, and then sharply gave his orders. Tony was to take the hounds back to Mr. Twentyman’s farmyard as fast as he could, and shut them up in a barn. The whips were put into violent commotion. Tony was eagerly at work. Not a hound was to be allowed near the gate. And then, as the crowd of horsemen and carriages came on, the word “poison” was passed among them from mouth to mouth!
“What does all this mean?” said the Senator.
“I don’t at all know. I’m afraid there’s something wrong,” replied Morton.
“I heard that man say ‘poison’. They have taken the dogs back again.” Then the Senator and Morton got out of the carriage and made their way into the crowd. The riders who had grooms on second horses were soon on foot, and a circle was made, inside which there was some object of intense interest. In the meantime the hounds had been secured in one of Mr. Twentyman’s barns.
What was that object of interest shall be told in the next chapter.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55