As the meet on the next morning was in the park the party at Rufford Hall was able to enjoy the luxury of an easy morning together with the pleasures of the field. There was no getting up at eight o'clock, no hurry and scurry to do twenty miles and yet be in time, no necessity for the tardy dressers to swallow their breakfasts while their more energetic companions were raving at them for compromising the chances of the day by their delay. There was a public breakfast down-stairs, at which all the hunting farmers of the country were to be seen, and some who, only pretended to be hunting farmers on such occasions. But up-stairs there was a private breakfast for the ladies and such of the gentlemen as preferred tea to champagne and cherry brandy. Lord Rufford was in and out of both rooms, making himself generally agreeable. In the public room there was a great deal said about Goarly, to all of which the Senator listened with eager ears,--for the Senator preferred the public breakfast as offering another institution to his notice. "He'll swing on a gallows afore he's dead," said one energetic farmer who was sitting next to Mr. Gotobed,--a fat man with a round head, and a bullock's neck, dressed in a black coat with breeches and top-boots. John Runce was not a riding man. He was too heavy and short-winded;--too fond of his beer and port wine; but he was a hunting man all over, one who always had a fox in the springs at the bottom of his big meadows, one to whom it was the very breath of his nostrils to shake hands with the hunting gentry and to be known as a staunch friend to the U.R.U. A man did not live in the county more respected than John Runce, or who was better able to pay his way. To his thinking an animal more injurious than Goarly to the best interests of civilisation could not have been produced by all the evil influences of the world combined. "Do you really think," said the Senator calmly, "that a man should be hanged for killing a fox?" John Runce, who was not very ready, turned round and stared at him. "I haven't heard of any other harm that he has done, and perhaps he had some provocation for that." Words were wanting to Mr. Runce, but not indignation. He collected together his plate and knife and fork and his two glasses and his lump of bread, and, looking the Senator full in the face, slowly pushed back his chair and, carrying his provisions with him, toddled off to the other end of the room. When he reached a spot where place was made for him he had hardly breath left to speak. "Well," he said, "I never--!" He sat a minute in silence shaking his head, and continued to shake his head and look round upon his neighbours as he devoured his food.
Up-stairs there was a very cosy party who came in by degrees. Lady Penwether was there soon after ten with Miss Penge and some of the gentlemen, including Morton, who was the only man seen in that room in black. Young Hampton, who vas intimate in the house, made his way up there and Sir John Purefoy joined the party. Sir John was a hunting man who lived in the county and was an old friend of the family. Lady Purefoy hunted also, and came in later. Arabella was the last,--not from laziness, but aware that in this way the effect might be the best. Lord Rufford was in the room when she entered it and of course she addressed herself to him. "Which is it to be, Lord Rufford, Jack or Jemima?"
"Which ever you like."
"I am quite indifferent. If you'll put me on the mare I'll ride her,--or try."
"Indeed you won't," said Lady Augustus.
"Mamma knows nothing about it, Lord Rufford. I believe I could do just as well as Major Caneback."
"She never had a lady on her in her life," said Sir John.
"Then it's time for her to begin. But at any rate I must have some breakfast first" Then Lord Rufford brought her a cup of tea and Sir John gave her a cutlet, and she felt herself to be happy. She was quite content with her hat, and though her habit was not exactly a hunting habit, it fitted her well. Morton had never before seen her in a riding dress and acknowledged that it became her. He struggled to think of something special to say to her, but there was nothing. He was not at home on such an occasion. His long trowsers weighed him down, and his ordinary morning coat cowed him. He knew in his heart that she thought no thing of him as he was now. But she said a word to him,--with that usual smile of hers. "Of course, Mr. Morton, you are coming with us."
"A little way perhaps."
"You'll find that any horse from Stubbings can go," said Lord Rufford. "I wish I could say as much of all mine."
"Jack can go, I hope, Lord Rufford." Lord Rufford nodded his head. "And I shall expect you to give me a lead." To this he assented, though it was perhaps more than he had intended. But on such an occasion it is almost impossible to refuse such a request.
At half-past eleven they were all out in the park, and Tony was elate as a prince having been regaled with a tumbler of champagne. But the great interest of the immediate moment were the frantic efforts made by Jemima to get rid of her rider. Once or twice Sir John asked the Major to give it up, but the Major swore that the mare was a good mare and only wanted riding. She kicked and squealed and backed and went round the park with him at a full gallop. In the park there was a rail with a ha-ha ditch, and the Major rode her at it in a gallop. She went through the timber, fell in the ditch, and then was brought up again without giving the man a fall. He at once put her back at the same fence, and she took it, almost in her stride, without touching it. "Have her like a spaniel before the day's over," said the Major, who thoroughly enjoyed these little encounters.
Among the laurels at the bottom of the park a fox was found, and then there was a great deal of riding about the grounds. All this was much enjoyed by the ladies who were on foot,--and by the Senator who wandered about the place alone. A gentleman's park is not always the happiest place for finding a fox. The animal has usually many resources there and does not like to leave it. And when he does go away it is not always easy to get after him. But ladies in a carriage or on foot on such occasions have their turn of the sport. On this occasion it was nearly one before the fox allowed himself to be killed, and then he had hardly been outside the park palings. There was a good deal of sherry drank before the party got away and hunting men such as Major Caneback began to think that the day was to be thrown away. As they started off for Shugborough Springs, the little covert on John Runce's farm which was about four miles from Rufford Hall, Sir John asked the Major to get on another animal. "You've had trouble enough with her for one day, and given her enough to do." But the Major was not of that way of thinking. "Let her have the day's work," said the Major. "Do her good. Remember what she's learned." And so they trotted off to Shugborough.
While they were riding about the park Morton had kept near to Miss Trefoil. Lord Rufford, being on his own place and among his own coverts, had had cares on his hand and been unable to devote himself to the young lady. She had never for a moment looked up at her lover, or tried to escape from him. She had answered all his questions, saying, however, very little, and had bided her time. The more gracious she was to Morton now the less ground would he have for complaining of her when she should leave him by-and-by. As they were trotting along the road Lord Rufford came up and apologized. "I'm afraid I've been very inattentive, Miss Trefoil; but I dare say you've been in better hands."
"There hasn't been much to do;--has there?"
"Very little. I suppose a man isn't responsible for having foxes that won't break. Did you see the Senator? He seemed to think it was all right. Did you hear of John Runce?" Then he told the story of John Runce, which had been told to him.
"What a fine old fellow! I should forgive him his rent"
"He is much better able to pay me double. Your Senator, Mr. Morton, is a very peculiar man."
"He is peculiar," said Morton, "and I am sorry to say can make himself very disagreeable."
"We might as well trot on as Shugborough is a small place, and a fox always goes away from it at once. John Runce knows how to train them better than I do. Then they made their way on through the straggling horses, and John Morton, not wishing to seem to be afraid of his rival, remained alone. "I wish Caneback had left that mare behind," said the lord as they went. "It isn't the country for her, and she is going very nastily with him. Are you fond of hunting, Miss Trefoil?"
"Very fond of it," said Arabella who had been out two or three times in her life.
"I like a girl to ride to hounds," said his lordship. "I don't think she ever looks so well." Then Arabella determined that come what might she would ride to hounds.
At Shugborough Springs a fox was found before half the field was up, and he broke almost as soon as he was found. "Follow me through the hand gates," said the lord, "and from the third field out it's fair riding. Let him have his head, and remember he hangs a moment as he comes to his fence. You won't be left behind unless there's something out of the way to stop us." Arabella's heart was in her mouth, but she was quite resolved. Where he went she would follow. As for being left behind she would not care the least for that if he were left behind with her. They got well away, having to pause a moment while the hounds came up to Tony's horn out of the wood. Then there was plain sailing and there were very few before them. "He's one of the old sort, my lord," said Tony as he pressed on, speaking of the fox. "Not too near me, and you'll go like a bird," said his lordship. "He's a nice little horse, isn't he? When I'm going to be married, he'll be the first present I shall make her."
"He'd tempt almost any girl," said Arabella.
It was wonderful how well she went, knowing so little about it as she did. The horse was one easily ridden, and on plain ground she knew what she was about in a saddle. At any rate she did not disgrace herself and when they had already run some three or four miles Lord Rufford had nearly the best of it and she had kept with him. "You don't know where you are I suppose," he said when they came to a check.
"And I don't in the least care, if they'd only go on," said she eagerly.
"We're back at Rufford Park. We've left the road nearly a mile to our left, but there we are. Those trees are the park."
"But must we stop there?"
"That's as the fox may choose to behave. We shan't stop unless he does." Then young Hampton came up, declaring that there was the very mischief going on between Major Caneback and Jemima. According to Hampton's account, the Major had been down three or four times, but was determined to break either the mare's neck or her spirit. He had been considerably hurt, so Hampton said, in one shoulder, but had insisted on riding on. "That's the worst of him," said Lord Rufford. "He never knows when to give up."
Then the hounds were again on the scent and were running very fast towards the park. "That's a nasty ditch before us," said the Lord. "Come down a little to the left. The hounds are heading that way, and there's a gate." Young Hampton in the meantime was going straight for the fence. "I'm not afraid," said Arabella.
"Very well. Give him his head and he'll do it"
Just at that moment there was a noise behind them and the Major on Jemima rushed up. She was covered with foam and he with dirt, and her sides were sliced with the spur. His hat was crushed, and he was riding almost altogether with his right hand. He came close to Arabella and she could see the rage in his face as the animal rushed on with her head almost between her knees. "He'll have another fall there," said Lord Rufford.
Hampton who had passed them was the first over the fence, and the other three all took it abreast. The Major was to the right, the lord to the left and the girl between them. The mare's head was perhaps the first. She rushed at the fence, made no leap at all, and of course went headlong into the ditch. The Major still stuck to her though two or three voices implored him to get off. He afterwards declared that he had not strength to lift himself out of the saddle. The mare lay for a moment;--then blundered out, rolled over him, jumped on to her feet, and lunging out kicked her rider on the head as he was rising. Then she went away and afterwards jumped the palings into Rufford Park. That evening she was shot.
The man when kicked had fallen back close under the feet of Miss Trefoil's horse. She screamed and half-fainting, fell also;--but fell without hurting herself. Lord Rufford of course stopped, as did also Mr. Hampton and one of the whips, with several others in the course of a minute or two. The Major was senseless,--but they who understood what they were looking at were afraid that the case was very bad. He was picked up and put on a door and within half an hour was on his bed in Rufford Hall. But he did not speak for some hours and before six o'clock that evening the doctor from Rufford had declared that he had mounted his last horse and ridden his last hunt!
"Oh Lord Rufford," said Arabella, "I shall never recover that. I heard the horse's feet against his head." Lord Rufford shuddered and put his hand round her waist to support her. At that time they were standing on the ground. "Don't mind me if you can do any good to him." But there was nothing that Lord Rufford could do as four men were carrying the Major on a shutter. So he and Arabella returned together, and when she got off her horse she was only able to throw herself into his arms.
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