The Senator and Morton followed close on the steps of Lord Rufford and Captain Glomax and were thus able to make their way into the centre of the crowd. There, on a clean sward of grass, laid out as carefully as though he were a royal child prepared for burial, was--a dead fox. "It's pi'son, my lord; it's pi'son to a moral," said Bean, who as keeper of the wood was bound to vindicate himself, and his master, and the wood. "Feel of him, how stiff he is." A good many did feel, but Lord Rufford stood still and looked at the poor victim in silence. "It's easy knowing how he come by it," said Bean.
The men around gazed into each other's faces with a sad tragic air, as though the occasion were one which at the first blush was too melancholy for many words. There was whispering here and there and one young farmer's son gave a deep sigh, like a steam-engine beginning to work, and rubbed his eyes with the back of his hand. "There ain't nothin' too bad,--nothin," said another,--leaving his audience to imagine whether he were alluding to the wretchedness of the world in general or to the punishment which was due to the perpetrator of this nefarious act. The dreadful word "vulpecide" was heard from various lips with an oath or two before it. "It makes me sick of my own land, to think it should be done so near," said Larry Twentyman, who had just come up. Mr. Runciman declared that they must set their wits to work not only to find the criminal but to prove the crime against him, and offered to subscribe a couple of sovereigns on the spot to a common fund to be raised for the purpose. "I don't know what is to be done with a country like this," said Captain Glomax, who, as an itinerant, was not averse to cast a slur upon the land of his present sojourn.
"I don't remember anything like it on my property before," said the lord, standing up for his own estate and the county at large.
"Nor in the hunt," said young Hampton. "Of course such a thing may happen anywhere. They had foxes poisoned in the Pytchley last year."
"It shows a d-- bad feeling somewhere," said the Master.
"We know very well where the feeling is," said Bean who had by this time taken up the fox, determined not to allow it to pass into any hands less careful than his own.
"It's that scoundrel, Goarly," said one of the Botseys. Then there was an indignant murmur heard, first of all from two or three and then running among the whole crowd. Everybody knew as well as though he had seen it that Goarly had baited meat with strychnine and put it down in the wood. "Might have pi'soned half the pack!" said Tony Tuppett, who had come up on foot from the barn where the hounds were still imprisoned, and had caught hold in an affectionate manner of a fore pad of the fox which Bean had clutched by the two hind legs. Poor Tony Tuppett almost shed tears as he looked at the dead animal, and thought what might have been the fate of the pack. "It's him, my lord," he said, "as we run through Littleton gorse Monday after Christmas last, and up to Impington Park where he got away from us in a hollow tree. He's four year old," added Tony, looking at the animal's mouth, "and there warn't a finer dog fox in the county."
"Do they know all the foxes?" asked the Senator. In answer to this, Morton only shook his head, not feeling quite sure himself how far a huntsman's acquaintance in that line might go, and being also too much impressed by the occasion for speculative conversation.
"It's that scoundrel Goarly" had been repeated again and again; and then on a sudden Goarly himself was seen standing on the further hedge of Larry's field with a gun in his hand. He was not at this time above two hundred yards from them, and was declared by one of the young farmers to be grinning with delight. The next field was Goarly's, but the hedge and ditch belonged to Twentyman. Larry rushed forward as though determined to thrash the man, and two or three followed him. But Lord Rufford galloped on and stopped them. "Don't get into a row with a fellow like that," he said to Twentyman.
"He's on my land, my lord," said Larry impatiently.
"I'm on my own now, and let me see who'll dare to touch me," said Goarly jumping down.
"You've put poison down in that wood," said Larry.
"No I didn't; but I knows who did. It ain't I as am afeard for my young turkeys" Now it was well known that old Mrs. Twentyman, Larry's mother, was fond of young turkeys, and that her poultry-yard had suffered. Larry, in his determination to be a gentleman, had always laughed at his mother's losses. But now to be accused in this way was terrible to his feelings! He made a rush as though to jump over the hedge, but Lord Rufford again intercepted him. "I didn't think, Mr. Twentyman, that you'd care for what such a fellow as that might say." By this time Lord Rufford was off his horse, and had taken hold of Larry.
"I'll tell you all what it is," screamed Goarly, standing just at the edge of his own field,--"if a hound comes out of the wood on to my land, I'll shoot him. I don't know nothing about p'isoning, though I dare say Mr. Twentyman does. But if a hound comes on my land, I'll shoot him,--open, before you all" There was, however, no danger of such a threat being executed on this day, as of course no hound would be allowed to go into Dillsborough Wood.
Twentyman was reluctantly brought back into the meadow where the horses were standing, and then a consultation was held as to what they should do next. There were some who thought that the hounds should be taken home for the day. It was as though some special friend of the U.R.U. had died that morning, and that the spirits of the sportsmen were too dejected for their sport. Others, with prudent foresight, suggested that the hounds might run back from some distant covert to Dillsborough, and that there should be no hunting till the wood had been thoroughly searched. But the strangers, especially those who had hired horses, would not hear of this; and after considerable delay it was arranged that the hounds should be trotted off as quickly as possible to Impington Gorse, which was on the other side of Impington Park, and fully five miles distant. And so they started, leaving the dead fox in the hands of Bean the gamekeeper.
"Is this the sort of thing that occurs every day?" asked the Senator as he got back into the carriage.
"I should fancy not," answered Morton. "Somebody has poisoned a fox, and I don't think that that is very often done about here."
"Why did he poison him?"
"To save his fowls I suppose."
"Why shouldn't he poison him if the fox takes his fowls? Fowls are better than foxes."
"Not in this country," said Morton.
"Then I'm very glad I don't live here," said Mr. Gotobed. "These friends of yours are dressed very nicely and look very well,--but a fox is a nasty animal. It was that man standing up on the bank;-- wasn't it?" continued the Senator, who was determined to understand it all to the very bottom, in reference to certain lectures which he intended to give on his return to the States,--and perhaps also in the old country before he left it.
"They suspect him."
"That man with the gun! One man against two hundred! Now I respect that man;--I do with all my heart."
"You'd better not say so here, Mr. Gotobed."
"I know how full of prejudice you all air',--but I do respect him. If I comprehend the matter rightly, he was on his own land when we saw him."
"Yes;--that was his own field."
"And they meant to ride across it whether he liked it or no?"
"Everybody rides across everybody's land out hunting."
"Would they ride across your park, Mr. Morton, if you didn't let them?"
"Certainly they would,--and break down all my gates if I had them locked, and pull down my park palings to let the hounds through."
"And you could get no compensation?"
"Practically I could get none. And certainly I should not try. The greatest enemy to hunting in the whole county would not be foolish enough to make the attempt"
"He would get no satisfaction, and everybody would hate him."
"Then I respect that man the more. What is that man's name?" Morton hadn't heard the name, or had forgotten it. "I shall find that man out, and have some conversation with him, Mr. Morton. I respect that man, Mr. Morton. He's one against two hundred, and he insists upon his rights. Those men standing round and wiping their eyes, and stifled with grief because a fox had been poisoned, as though some great patriot had died among them in the service of his country, formed one of the most remarkable phenomena, Sir, that ever I beheld in any country. When I get among my own people in Mickewa and tell them that, they won't believe me, sir."
In the meantime the cavalcade was hurrying away to Impington Gorse, and John Morton, feeling that he had not had an opportunity as yet of showing his American friend the best side of hunting, went with them. The five miles were five long miles, and as the pace was not above seven miles an hour, nearly an hour was occupied. There was therefore plenty of opportunity for the Senator to inquire whether the gentlemen around him were as yet enjoying their sport. There was an air of triumph about him as to the misfortunes of the day, joined to a battery of continued raillery, which made it almost impossible for Morton to keep his temper. He asked whether it was not at any rate better than trotting a pair of horses backwards and forwards over the same mile of road for half the day, as is the custom in the States. But the Senator, though he did not quite approve of trotting matches, argued that there was infinitely more of skill and ingenuity in the American pastime. "Everybody is so gloomy," said the Senator, lighting his third cigar. "I've been watching that young man in pink boots for the last half hour, and he hasn't spoken a word to any one."
"Perhaps he's a stranger," said Morton.
"And that's the way you treat him!"
It was past two when the hounds were put into the gorse, and certainly no one was in a very good humour. A trot of five miles is disagreeable, and two o'clock in November is late for finding a first fox; and then poisoning is a vice that may grow into a habit! There was a general feeling that Goarly ought to be extinguished, but an idea that it might be difficult to extinguish him. The whips, nevertheless, cantered on to the corner of the covert, and Tony put in his hounds with a cheery voice. The Senator remarked that the gorse was a very little place,--for as they were on the side of an opposite hill they could see it all. Lord Rufford, who was standing by the carriage, explained to him that it was a favourite resort of foxes, and difficult to draw as being very close. "Perhaps they've poisoned him too," said the Senator. It was evident from his voice that had such been the case, he would not have been among the mourners. "The blackguards are not yet thick enough in our country for that," said Lord Rufford, meaning to be sarcastic.
Then a whimper was heard from a hound,--at first very low, and then growing into a fuller sound. "There he is," said young Hampton. "For heaven's sake get those fellows away from that side, Glomax." This was uttered with so much vehemence that the Senator looked up in surprise. Then the Captain galloped round the side of the covert, and, making use of some strong language, stopped the ardour of certain gentlemen who were in a hurry to get away on what they considered good terms. Lord Rufford, Hampton, Larry Twentyman and others sat stock-still on their horses, watching the gorse. Ned Botsey urged himself a little forward down the hill, and was creeping on when Captain Glomax asked him whether he would be so-- --obliging kind as to remain where he was for half a minute. Fred took the observations in good part and stopped his horse. "Does he do all that cursing and swearing for the 2,000 pounds?" asked the Senator.
The fox traversed the gorse back from side to side and from corner to corner again and again. There were two sides certainly at which he might break, but though he came out more than once he could not be got to go away.
"They'll kill him now before he breaks," said the elder Botsey.
"Brute!" exclaimed his brother.
"They're hot on him now," said Hampton. At this time the whole side of the hill was ringing with the music of the hounds.
"He was out then, but Dick turned him," said Larry. Dick was one of the whips.
"Will you be so kind, Mr. Morton," asked the Senator, "as to tell me whether they're hunting yet? They've been at it for three hours and a half, and I should like to know when they begin to amuse themselves."
Just as he had spoken there came from Dick a cry that he was away. Tony, who had been down at the side of the gorse, at once jumped into it, knowing the passage through. Lord Rufford, who for the last five or six minutes had sat perfectly still on his horse, started down the hill as though he had been thrown from a catapult. There was a little hand-gate through which it was expedient to pass, and in a minute a score of men were jostling for the way, among whom were the two Botseys, our friend Runciman, and Larry Twentyman, with Kate Masters on the pony close behind him. Young Hampton jumped a very nasty fence by the side of the wicket, and Lord Rufford followed him. A score of elderly men, with some young men among them too, turned back into a lane behind them, having watched long enough to see that they were to take the lane to the left, and not the lane to the right. After all there was time enough, for when the men had got through the hand-gate the hounds were hardly free of the covert, and Tony, riding up the side of the hill opposite, was still blowing his horn. But they were off at last, and the bulk of the field got away on good terms with the hounds. "Now they are hunting," said Mr. Morton to the Senator.
"They all seemed to be very angry with each other at that narrow gate"
"They were in a hurry, I suppose."
"Two of them jumped over the hedge. Why didn't they all jump? How long will it be now before they catch him?"
"Very probably they may not catch him at all."
"Not catch him after all that! Then the man was certainly right to poison that other fox in the wood. How long will they go on?"
"Half an hour perhaps."
"And you call that hunting! Is it worth the while of all those men to expend all that energy for such a result? Upon the whole, Mr. Morton, I should say that it is one of the most incomprehensible things that I have ever seen in the course of a rather long and varied life. Shooting I can understand, for you have your birds. Fishing I can understand, as you have your fish. Here you get a fox to begin with, and are all broken-hearted. Then you come across another, after riding about all day, and the chances are you can't catch him!"
"I suppose," said Mr. Morton angrily, "the habits of one country are incomprehensible to the people of another. When I see Americans loafing about in the bar-room of an hotel, I am lost in amazement."
"There is not a man you see who couldn't give a reason for his being there. He has an object in view, though perhaps it may be no better than to rob his neighbour. But here there seems to be no possible motive."
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