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Coming Home from Hunting
Lady Chiltern was probably right when she declared that her husband must have been made to be a Master of Hounds,--presuming it to be granted that somebody must be Master of Hounds. Such necessity certainly does exist in this, the present condition of England. Hunting prevails; hunting men increase in numbers; foxes are preserved; farmers do not rebel; owners of coverts, even when they are not hunting men themselves, acknowledge the fact, and do not dare to maintain their pheasants at the expense of the much better-loved four-footed animal. Hounds are bred, and horses are trained specially to the work. A master of fox hounds is a necessity of the period. Allowing so much, we cannot but allow also that Lord Chiltern must have been made to fill the situation. He understood hunting, and, perhaps, there was nothing else requiring acute intelligence that he did understand. And he understood hunting, not only as a huntsman understands it,--in that branch of the science which refers simply to the judicious pursuit of the fox, being probably inferior to his own huntsman in that respect,--but he knew exactly what men should do, and what they should not. In regard to all those various interests with which he was brought in contact, he knew when to hold fast to his own claims, and when to make no claims at all. He was afraid of no one, but he was possessed of a sense of justice which induced him to acknowledge the rights of those around him. When he found that the earths were not stopped in Trumpeton Wood,--from which he judged that the keeper would complain that the hounds would not or could not kill any of the cubs found there,--he wrote in very round terms to the Duke who owned it. If His Grace did not want to have the wood drawn, let him say so. If he did, let him have the earths stopped. But when that great question came up as to the Gartlow coverts--when that uncommonly disagreeable gentleman, Mr. Smith, of Gartlow, gave notice that the hounds should not be admitted into his place at all,--Lord Chiltern soon put the whole matter straight by taking part with the disagreeable gentleman. The disagreeable gentleman had been ill used. Men had ridden among his young laurels. If gentlemen who did hunt,--so said Lord Chiltern to his own supporters,--did not know how to conduct themselves in a matter of hunting, how was it to be expected that a gentleman who did not hunt should do so? On this occasion Lord Chiltern rated his own hunt so roundly that Mr. Smith and he were quite in a bond together, and the Gartlow coverts were re-opened. Now all the world knows that the Gartlow coverts, though small, are material as being in the very centre of the Brake country.
It is essential that a Master of Hounds should be somewhat feared by the men who ride with him. There should be much awe mixed with the love felt for him. He should be a man with whom other men will not care to argue; an irrational, cut and thrust, unscrupulous, but yet distinctly honest man; one who can be tyrannical, but will tyrannise only over the evil spirits; a man capable of intense cruelty to those alongside of him, but who will know whether his victim does in truth deserve scalping before he draws his knife. He should be savage and yet good-humoured; severe and yet forbearing; truculent and pleasant in the same moment. He should exercise unflinching authority, but should do so with the consciousness that he can support it only by his own popularity. His speech should be short, incisive, always to the point, but never founded on argument. His rules are based on no reason, and will never bear discussion. He must be the most candid of men, also the most close;--and yet never a hypocrite. He must condescend to no explanation, and yet must impress men with an assurance that his decisions will certainly be right. He must rule all as though no man's special welfare were of any account, and yet must administer all so as to offend none. Friends he must have, but not favourites. He must be self-sacrificing, diligent, eager, and watchful. He must be strong in health, strong in heart, strong in purpose, and strong in purse. He must be economical and yet lavish; generous as the wind and yet obdurate as the frost. He should be assured that of all human pursuits hunting is the best, and that of all living things a fox is the most valuable. He must so train his heart as to feel for the fox a mingled tenderness and cruelty which is inexplicable to ordinary men and women. His desire to preserve the brute and then to kill him should be equally intense and passionate. And he should do it all in accordance with a code of unwritten laws, which cannot be learnt without profound study. It may not perhaps be truly asserted that Lord Chiltern answered this description in every detail; but he combined so many of the qualities required that his wife showed her discernment when she declared that he seemed to have been made to be a Master of Hounds.
Early in that November he was riding home with Miss Palliser by his side, while the huntsmen and whips were trotting on with the hounds before him. "You call that a good run, don't you?"
"No; I don't."
"What was the matter with it? I declare it seems to me that something is always wrong. Men like hunting better than anything else, and yet I never find any man contented."
"In the first place we didn't kill."
"You know you're short of foxes at Gartlow," said Miss Palliser, who, as is the manner with all hunting ladies, liked to show that she understood the affairs of the hunt.
"If I knew there were but one fox in a county, and I got upon that one fox, I would like to kill that one fox,--barring a vixen in March."
"I thought it very nice. It was fast enough for anybody."
"You might go as fast with a drag, if that's all. I'll tell you something else. We should have killed him if Maule hadn't once ridden over the hounds when we came out of the little wood. I spoke very sharply to him."
"I heard you, Lord Chiltern."
"And I suppose you thought I was a brute."
"Who? I? No, I didn't;--not particularly, you know. Men do say such things to each other!"
"He doesn't mind it, I fancy."
"I suppose a man does not like to be told that directly he shows himself in a run the sport is all over and the hounds ought to be taken home."
"Did I say that? I don't remember now what I said, but I know he made me angry. Come, let us trot on. They can take the hounds home without us."
"Good night, Cox," said Miss Palliser, as they passed by the pack. "Poor Mr. Maule! I did pity him, and I do think he does care for it, though he is so impassive. He would be with us now, only he is chewing the cud of his unhappiness in solitude half a mile behind us."
"That is hard upon you."
"Hard upon me, Lord Chiltern! It is hard upon him, and, perhaps, upon you. Why should it be hard upon me?"
"Hard upon him, I should have said. Though why it shouldn't be the other way I don't know. He's a friend of yours."
"And an especial friend, I suppose. As a matter of course Violet talks to me about you both."
"No doubt she does. When once a woman is married she should be regarded as having thrown off her allegiance to her own sex. She is sure to be treacherous at any rate in one direction. Not that Lady Chiltern can tell anything of me that might not be told to all the world as far as I am concerned."
"There is nothing in it, then?"
"Nothing at all."
"Oh,--honour as bright as it ever is in such matters as these."
"I am sorry for that,--very sorry."
"Why so, Lord Chiltern?"
"Because if you were engaged to him I thought that perhaps you might have induced him to ride a little less forward."
"Lord Chiltern," said Miss Palliser, seriously; "I will never again speak to you a word on any subject except hunting."
At this moment Gerard Maule came up behind them, with a cigar in his mouth, apparently quite unconscious of any of that displeasure as to which Miss Palliser had supposed that he was chewing the cud in solitude. "That was a goodish thing, Chiltern," he said.
"And the hounds hunted him well to the end."
"It's odd how the scent will die away at a moment. You see they couldn't carry on a field after we got out of the copse."
"Not a field."
"Considering all things I am glad we didn't kill him."
"Uncommon glad," said Lord Chiltern. Then they trotted on in silence a little way, and Maule again dropped behind. "I'm blessed if he knows that I spoke to him, roughly," said Chiltern. "He's deaf, I think, when he chooses to be."
"You're not sorry, Lord Chiltern."
"Not in the least. Nothing will ever do any good. As for offending him, you might as well swear at a tree, and think to offend it. There's comfort in that, anyway. I wonder whether he'd talk to you if I went away?"
"I hope that you won't try the experiment."
"I don't believe he would, or I'd go at once. I wonder whether you really do care for him?"
"Not in the least."
"Or he for you."
"Quite indifferent, I should say; but I can't answer for him, Lord Chiltern, quite as positively as I can for myself. You know, as things go, people have to play at caring for each other."
"That's what we call flirting."
"Just the reverse. Flirting I take to be the excitement of love, without its reality, and without its ordinary result in marriage. This playing at caring has none of the excitement, but it often leads to the result, and sometimes ends in downright affection."
"If Maule perseveres then you'll take him, and by-and-bye you'll come to like him."
"In twenty years it might come to that, if we were always to live in the same house; but as he leaves Harrington to-morrow, and we may probably not meet each other for the next four years, I think the chance is small."
Then Maule trotted up again, and after riding in silence with the other two for half an hour, he pulled out his case and lit a fresh cigar from the end of the old one, which he threw away. "Have a baccy, Chiltern?" he said.
"No, thank you, I never smoke going home; my mind is too full. I've all that family behind to think of, and I'm generally out of sorts with the miseries of the day. I must say another word to Cox, or I should have to go to the kennels on my way home." And so he dropped behind.
Gerard Maule smoked half his cigar before he spoke a word, and Miss Palliser was quite resolved that she would not open her mouth till he had spoken. "I suppose he likes it?" he said at last.
"Who likes what, Mr. Maule?"
"Chiltern likes blowing fellows up."
"It's a part of his business."
"That's the way I look at it. But I should think it must be disagreeable. He takes such a deal of trouble about it. I heard him going on to-day to some one as though his whole soul depended on it."
"He is very energetic."
"Just so. I'm quite sure it's a mistake. What does a man ever get by it? Folks around you soon discount it till it goes for nothing."
"I don't think energy goes for nothing, Mr. Maule."
"A bull in a china shop is not a useful animal, nor is he ornamental, but there can be no doubt of his energy. The hare was full of energy, but he didn't win the race. The man who stands still is the man who keeps his ground."
"You don't stand still when you're out hunting."
"No;--I ride about, and Chiltern swears at me. Every man is a fool sometimes."
"And your wisdom, perfect at all other times, breaks down in the hunting-field?"
"I don't in the least mind your chaffing. I know what you think of me just as well as though you told me."
"What do I think of you?"
"That I'm a poor creature, generally half asleep, shallow-pated, slow-blooded, ignorant, useless, and unambitious."
"Certainly unambitious, Mr. Maule."
"And that word carries all the others. What's the good of ambition? There's the man they were talking about last night,--that Irishman."
"Yes; Phineas Finn. He is an ambitious fellow. He'll have to starve, according to what Chiltern was saying. I've sense enough to know I can't do any good."
"You are sensible, I admit."
"Very well, Miss Palliser. You can say just what you like, of course. You have that privilege."
"I did not mean to say anything severe. I do admit that you are master of a certain philosophy, for which much may be said. But you are not to expect that I shall express an approval which I do not feel."
"But I want you to approve it."
"Ah!--there, I fear, I cannot oblige you."
"I want you to approve it, though no one else may."
"Though all else should do so, I cannot."
"Then take the task of curing the sick one, and of strengthening the weak one, into your own hands. If you will teach, perhaps I may learn."
"I have no mission for teaching, Mr. Maule."
"You once said that,--that--"
"Do not be so ungenerous as to throw in my teeth what I once said,--if I ever said a word that I would not now repeat."
"I do not think that I am ungenerous, Miss Palliser."
"I am sure you are not."
"Nor am I self-confident. I am obliged to seek comfort from such scraps of encouragement as may have fallen in my way here and there. I once did think that you intended to love me."
"Does love go by intentions?"
"I think so,--frequently with men, and much more so with girls."
"It will never go so with me. I shall never intend to love any one. If I ever love any man it will be because I am made to do so, despite my intentions."
"As a fortress is taken?"
"Well,--if you like to put it so. Only I claim this advantage,--that I can always get rid of my enemy when he bores me."
"Am I boring you now?"
"I didn't say so. Here is Lord Chiltern again, and I know by the rattle of his horse's feet that something is the matter."
Lord Chiltern came up full of wrath. One of the men's horses was thoroughly broken down, and, as the Master said, wasn't worth the saddle he carried. He didn't care a ---- for the horse, but the man hadn't told him. "At this rate there won't be anything to carry anybody by Christmas."
"You'll have to buy some more," said Gerard Maule.
"Buy some more!" said Lord Chiltern, turning round, and looking at the man. "He talks of buying horses as he would sugar plums!" Then they trotted in at the gate, and in two minutes were at the hall door.
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