"It must have been highly interesting," observed Mrs. Archie Brawle; "so much pleasanter than a concert."
"Rather!" replied Lord Frederic. "It was ripping!"
Mrs. Ascott-Smith turned to Mr. Carteret. She had been listening to Lord Frederic Westcote, who had just come down from town where he had seen the Wild West show. "Is it so?" she asked. "Have you ever seen them?" By "them" she meant the Indians.
Mr. Carteret nodded.
"It seems so odd," continued Mrs. Archie Brawle, "that they should ride without saddles. Is it a pose?"
"No, I fancy not," replied Lord Frederic.
"They must get very tired without stirrups," insisted Mrs. Archie. "But perhaps they never ride very long at a time."
"That is possible," said Lord Frederic doubtfully. "They are only on about twenty minutes in the show."
Mr. Pringle, the curate, who had happened in to pay his monthly call upon Mrs. Ascott-Smith, took advantage of the pause. "Of course, I am no horseman," he began apprehensively, "and I have never seen the red Indians, either in their native wilds or in a show, but I have read not a little about them, and I have gathered that they almost live on horseback."
Major Hammerslea reached toward the tea table for another muffin and hemmed. "It is a very different thing," he said with heavy impressiveness. "It is a very different thing."
The curate looked expectant, as if believing that his remarks were going to be noticed. But nothing was further from the Major's mind.
"What is so very different?" inquired Mrs. Ascott-Smith, after a pause had made it clear that the Major had ignored Pringle.
"It is one thing, my dear Madame, to ride a stunted, half-starved pony, as you say 'bareback,' and another thing to ride a conditioned British Hunter (he pronounced it huntaw) without a saddle. I must say that the latter is an impossibility." The oracle came to an end and the material Major began on the muffin.
There was an approving murmur of assent. The Major was the author of "Schooling and Riding British Hunters;" however, it was not only his authority which swayed the company, but individual conviction. Of the dozen people in the room, excepting Pringle, all rode to hounds with more or less enthusiasm, and no one had ever seen any one hunting without a saddle and no one had ever experienced any desire to try the experiment. Obviously it was an absurdity.
"Nevertheless," observed Lord Frederic, "I must say their riding was very creditable—quite as good as one sees on any polo field in England."
Major Hammerslea looked at him severely, as if his youth were not wholly an excuse. "It is, as I said," he observed. "It is one thing to ride an American pony and another to ride a British Hunter. One requires horsemanship, the other does not. And horsemanship," he continued, "which properly is the guiding of a horse across country, requires years of study and experience."
Lord Frederic looked somewhat unconvinced but he said nothing.
"Of course the dear Major (she called it deah Majaw) is unquestionably right," said Mrs. Ascott-Smith.
"Undoubtedly," said Mr. Carteret. "I suppose that he has often seen Indians ride?"
"Have you often seen these Indians ride?" inquired Mrs. Ascott-Smith of the Major.
"Do you mean Indians or the Red Men of North America?" replied the Major. "And do you mean upon ponies in a show or upon British Hunters?"
"Which do you mean?" asked Mrs. Ascott-Smith.
"I suppose that I mean American Indians," said Mr. Carteret, "and either upon ponies or upon British Hunters."
"No," said the Major, "I have not. Have you?"
"Not upon British Hunters," said Mr. Carteret.
"But do you think that they could?" inquired Lord Frederic.
"It would be foolish of me to express an opinion," replied Mr. Carteret, "because, in the first place, I have never seen them ride British Hunters over jumps—"
"They would come off at the first obstacle," observed the Major, more in sorrow than in anger.
"And in the second place," continued Mr. Carteret, "I am perhaps naturally prejudiced in behalf of my fellow countrymen."
Mrs. Ascott-Smith looked at him anxiously. His sister had married a British peer. "But you Americans are quite distinct from the red Indians," she said. "We quite understand that nowadays. To be sure, my dear Aunt—" She stopped.
"Rather!" said Mrs. Archie Brawle. "You don't even intermarry with them, do you?"
"That is a matter of personal taste," said Mr. Carteret. "There is no law against it."
"But nobody that one knows—" began Mrs. Ascott-Smith.
"There was John Rohlfs," said Mr. Carteret; "he was a very well known chap."
"Do you know him?" asked Mrs. Brawle.
The Curate sniggered. His hour of triumph had come. "Rohlfs is dead," he said.
"Really!" said Mrs. Brawle, coldly. "It had quite slipped my mind. You see I never read the papers during the hunting. But is his wife received?"
"I believe that she was," said Mr. Carteret.
The Curate was still sniggering and Mrs. Brawle put her glass in her eye and looked at him. Then she turned to Mr. Carteret. "But all this," she said, "of course, has nothing to do with the question. Do you think that these red Indians could ride bareback across our country?"
"As I said before," replied Mr. Carteret, "it would be silly of me to express an opinion, but I should be interested in seeing them try it."
"I have a topping idea!" cried Lord Frederic. He was a simple-minded fellow.
"You must tell us," exclaimed Mrs. Ascott-Smith.
"Let us have them down, and take them hunting!"
"How exciting!" exclaimed Mrs. Ascott-Smith. "What sport!"
The Major looked at her reprovingly. "It would be as I said," he observed.
"But it would be rather interesting," said Mrs. Brawle.
"It might," said the Major, "it might be interesting."
"It would be ripping!" said Lord Frederic. "But how can we manage it?"
"I'll mount them," said the Major with a grim smile. "My word! They shall have the pick of my stable though I have to spend a month rebreaking horses that have run away."
"But it isn't the mounts," said Lord Frederic. "You see I've never met any of these chaps." He turned to Mr. Carteret with a sudden inspiration. "Are any of them friends of yours?" he asked.
Mrs. Ascott-Smith looked anxiously at Mr. Carteret, as if she feared that it would develop that some of the people in the show were his cousins.
"No," he replied, "I don't think so, although I may have met some of them in crossing the reservations. But I once went shooting with Grady, one of the managers of the show."
"Better yet!" said Lord Frederic. "Do you think that he would come and bring some of them down?" he asked.
"I think he would," said Mr. Carteret. He knew that the showman was strong in Grady—if not the sportsman.
The Major rose to go to the billiard room. "I have one piece of advice to give you," he said. "This prank is harmless enough, but establish a definite understanding with this fellow that you are not to be liable in damages for personal injuries which his Indians may receive. Explain to him that it is not child's play and have him put it in writing."
"You mean to have him execute a kind of release?" said Mr. Carteret.
"Precisely that," said the Major. "I was once sued for twenty pounds by a groom that fell off my best hunter and let him run away, and damme, the fellow recovered." He bowed to the ladies and left the room.
"Of course we can fix all that up," said Lord Frederic. "The old chap is a bit over cautious nowadays, but how can we get hold of this fellow Grady?"
"I'll wire him at once, if you wish," said Mr. Carteret, and he went to the writing table.
"When do you want him to come down?" he asked, as he wrote the address.
"We might take them out with the Pytchley on Saturday," said Lord Frederic, "but the meet is rather far from our station. Perhaps it would be better to have them on Thursday with Charley Ploversdale's hounds."
Mr. Carteret hesitated a moment. "Wouldn't Ploversdale be apt to be fussy about experiments? He's rather conservative, you know, about the way people are turned out. I saw him send a man home one day who was out without a hat. It was an American who was afraid that his hair was coming out."
"Pish," said Lord Frederic, "Charley Ploversdale is mild as a dove."
"Suit yourself," said Mr. Carteret. "I'll make it Thursday. One more question," he added. "How many shall I ask him to bring down?" At this moment the Major came into the room again. He had mislaid his eyeglasses.
"I should think that a dozen would be about the right number," said Lord Frederic, replying to Mr. Carteret. "It would be very imposing."
"Too many!" said the Major. "We must mount them on good horses and I don't want my entire stable ruined by men who have never lepped a fence."
"I think the Major is right about the matter of numbers," said Mr. Carteret. "How would three do?"
"Make it three," said the Major.
Before dinner was over a reply came from Grady saying that he and three bucks would be pleased to arrive Thursday morning prepared for a hunting party.
This took place on Monday, and at various times during Tuesday and Wednesday, Mr. Carteret gave the subject thought. By Thursday morning his views had ripened. He ordered his tea and eggs to be served in his room and came down a little past ten dressed in morning clothes. He wandered into the dining-room and found Mrs. Ascott-Smith sitting by the fire entertaining Lord Frederic, as he went to and from the sideboard in search of things to eat.
"Good morning," said Mr. Carteret, hoarsely.
Lord Frederic looked around and as he noticed Mr. Carteret's morning clothes his face showed surprise.
"Hello!" he said, "you had better hurry and change, or you will be late. We have to start in half an hour to meet Grady."
Mr. Carteret coughed. "I don't think that I can go out to-day. It is a great disappointment."
"Not going hunting?" exclaimed Mrs. Ascott-Smith. "What is the matter?"
"I have a bad cold," said Mr. Carteret miserably.
"But, my dear fellow," exclaimed Lord Frederic, "it will do your cold a world of good!"
"Not a cold like mine," said Mr. Carteret.
"But this is the day, don't you know?" said Lord Frederic. "How am I going to manage things without you?"
"All that you have to do is to meet them at the station and take them to the meet," said Mr. Carteret. "Everything else has been arranged."
"But I'm awfully disappointed," said Lord Frederic. "I had counted on you to help, don't you see, and introduce them to Ploversdale. It would be more graceful for an American to do it than for me. You understand?"
"Yes," said Mr. Carteret, "I understand. It's a great disappointment, but I must bear it philosophically."
Mrs. Ascott-Smith looked at him sympathetically, and he coughed twice. "You are suffering," she said. "Lord Frederic, you really must not urge him to expose himself. Have you a pain here?" she inquired, touching herself in the region of the pleura.
"Yes," said Mr. Carteret, "it is rather bad, but I daresay that it will soon be better."
"I am afraid that it may be pneumonia," said his hostess. "You must take a medicine that I have. They say that it is quite wonderful for inflammatory colds. I'll send Hodgson for it," and she touched the bell.
"Please, please don't take that trouble," entreated Mr. Carteret.
"But you must take it," said Mrs. Ascott-Smith. "They call it Broncholine. You pour it in a tin and inhale it or swallow it, I forget which, but it's very efficacious. They used it on Teddy's pony when it was sick. The little creature died but that was because they gave it too much, or not enough, I forget which."
Hodgson appeared and Mrs. Ascott-Smith gave directions about the Broncholine.
"I thank you very much," said Mr. Carteret humbly. "I'll go to my room and try it at once."
"That's a good chap!" said Lord Frederic, "perhaps you will feel so much better that you can join us.
"Perhaps," said Mr. Carteret gloomily, "or it may work as it did on the pony." And he left the room.
After Hodgson had departed from his chamber leaving explicit directions as to how and how not to use the excellent Broncholine, Mr. Carteret poured a quantity of it from the bottle and threw it out of the window resolving to be on the safe side. Then he looked at his boots and his pink coat and white leathers which were laid out upon a chair. "I don't think there can be any danger," he thought, "if I turn up after they have started. I loathe stopping in all day." He dressed leisurely, ordered his horse, and some time after the rest of the household had sallied forth, he followed. As he knew the country and the coverts which Lord Ploversdale would draw, he counted on joining the tail of the hunt, thus keeping out of sight. He inquired of a rustic if he had seen hounds pass and receiving "no," for an answer he jogged on at a faster trot, fearing that the hounds might have gone away in some other direction. As he came around a bend in the road, he saw four women riding toward him, and as they drew near, he saw that it was Lady Violet Weatherbone and her three daughters. These young ladies were known as the Three Guardsmen, a sobriquet not wholly inappropriate; for, as Lord Frederic described them, they were "uncommon big boned, upstanding fillies," between twenty-five and thirty and very hard goers across any country, and always together.
"Good morning," said Mr. Carteret, bowing. "I suppose the hounds are close by?" It was a natural assumption, as Lady Violet on hunting days was never very far from the hounds.
"I do not know," she responded, and her tone further implied that she did not care.
Mr. Carteret hesitated a moment. "Has anything happened?" he asked.
"Yes," said Lady Violet frankly, "something has happened." Here the daughters modestly turned their horses away.
"Some one," continued Lady Violet, "brought savages to the meet." She paused impressively.
"Not really!" said Mr. Carteret with hypocritical surprise.
"Yes," said Lady Violet, "and while it would have mattered little to me, it was impossible—" She motioned with her head toward the three maidens, and paused.
"Forgive me," said Mr. Carteret, "but I hardly understand."
"At the first I thought," said Lady Violet, "that they were attired in painted fleshings, but upon using my glass, it was clear that I was mistaken. Otherwise, I should have brought them away at the first moment."
"I see," said Mr. Carteret. "It is outrageous."
"It is indeed!" said Lady Violet; "but the matter will not be allowed to drop. They were brought to the meet by that young profligate, Lord Frederic Westcote."
"You surprise me," said Mr. Carteret, wholly without shame. He bowed, started his horse, and jogged along for five minutes, then he turned to the right upon a crossroad and suddenly found himself upon the hounds. They were feathering excitedly about the mouth of a tile drain into which the fox had evidently gone. No master, huntsmen nor whips were in sight, but sitting, wet and mud daubed, upon horses dripping with muddy water were Grady dressed in cowboy costume and three naked Indians. Mr. Carteret glanced about over the country and understood. They had swum the brook at the place where it ran between steep clay banks and the rest of the field had gone around to the bridge. As he looked toward the south, he saw Lord Ploversdale riding furiously toward him followed by Smith, the first whip. Grady had not recognized him turned out in pink as he was, and for the moment he decided to remain incognito.
Before Lord Ploversdale, Master of Fox-hounds, reached the road, he began waving his crop. He appeared excited. "What do you mean by riding upon my hounds?" he shouted. He said this in several ways with various accompanying phrases, but neither the Indians nor Grady seemed to notice him. It occurred to Mr. Carteret that although Lord Ploversdale's power of expression was wonderful for England, it, nevertheless, fell short of Arizona standards. Then, however, he noticed that Grady was absorbed in adjusting a kodak camera, with which he was evidently about to take a picture of the Indians alone with the hounds. He drew back in order both to avoid being in the field of the picture and to avoid too close proximity with Lord Ploversdale as he came over the fence into the road.
"What do you mean, sir!" shouted the enraged Master of Fox-hounds, as he pulled up his horse.
"A little more in the middle," replied Grady, still absorbed in taking the picture.
Lord Ploversdale hesitated. He was speechless with surprise for the moment.
Grady pressed the button and began putting up the machine.
"What do you mean by riding on my hounds, you and these persons?" demanded Lord Ploversdale.
"We didn't," said Grady amiably, "but if your bunch of dogs don't know enough to keep out of the way of a horse, they ought to learn."
Lord Ploversdale looked aghast, and Smith, the whip, pinched himself to make sure that he was not dreaming.
"Many thanks for your advice," said Lord Ploversdale. "May I inquire who you and your friends may be?"
"I'm James Grady," said that gentleman. "This," he said, pointing to the Indian nearest, "is Chief Hole-in-the-Ground of the Olgallala Sioux. Him in the middle is Mr. Jim Snake, and the one beyond is Chief Skytail, being a Pawnee."
"Thank you, that is very interesting," said Lord Ploversdale, with polite irony. "Now will you kindly take them home?"
"See here," said Grady, strapping the camera to his saddle, "I was invited to this round-up regular, and if you hand me out any more hostile talk—" He paused.
"Who invited you?" inquired Lord Ploversdale.
"One of your own bunch," said Grady, "Lord Frederic Westcote. I'm no butter-in."
"Your language is unintelligible," said Lord Ploversdale. "Where is Lord Westcote?"
Mr. Carteret had watched the field approaching as fast as whip and spur could drive them, and in the first flight he noticed Lord Frederic and the Major. For this reason he still hesitated about thrusting himself into the discussion. It seemed that the interference of a third party could only complicate matters, inasmuch as Lord Frederic would so soon be upon the spot.
Lord Ploversdale looked across the field impatiently. "I've no doubt, my good fellow, that Lord Westcote brought you here, and I'll see him about it, but kindly take these fellows home. They'll kill all my hounds."
"Now you're beginning to talk reasonable," said Grady. "I'll discuss with you."
The words were hardly out of his mouth before the hounds gave tongue riotously and went off. The fox had slipped out of the other end of the drain and old Archer had found the line.
As if shot out of a gun the three Indians dashed at the stake and bound fence on the farther side of the road, joyously using their heavy quirts on the Major's thoroughbreds. Skytail's horse being hurried top much, blundered his take-off, hit above the knees and rolled over on the Chief, who was sitting tight. There was a stifled grunt and then the Pawnee word "Go-dam!"
Hole-in-the-Ground looked back and laughed one of the few laughs of his life. It was a joke which he could understand. Then he used the quirt again to make the most of his advantage.
"That one is finished," said Lord Ploversdale gratefully. But as the words were in his mouth, Skytail rose with his horse, vaulted up and was away.
The M. F. H. followed over the hedge shouting at Smith to whip off the hounds. But the hounds were going too fast. They had got a view of the fox and three whooping horsemen were behind them driving them on.
The first flight of the field followed the M. F. H. out of the road, and so did Mr. Carteret, and presently he found himself riding between Lord Frederic and the Major. They were both a bit winded and had evidently come fast.
"I say," exclaimed Lord Frederic, "where did you come from?"
"I was cured by the Broncholine," said Mr. Carteret.
"Is your horse fresh?" asked Lord Frederic.
"Yes," replied Mr. Carteret, "I happened upon them at the road."
"Then go after that man Grady," said Lord Frederic, "and implore him to take those beggars home. They have been riding on the hounds for twenty minutes."
"Were they able," asked Mr. Carteret, "to stay with their horses at the fences?"
"Stay with their horses!" puffed the Major.
"Go on, like a good chap," said Lord Frederic, "stop that fellow or I shall be expelled from the hunt. Was Lord Ploversdale vexed?" he added.
"I should judge by his language," said Mr. Carteret, "that he was vexed."
"Hurry on," said Lord Frederic. "Put your spurs in."
Mr. Carteret gave his horse its head and he shot to the front, but Grady was nearly a field in the lead, and it promised to be a long chase, as he was on the Major's black thoroughbred. The cowboy rode along with a loose rein and an easy balance seat. At his fences he swung his hat and cheered. He seemed to be enjoying himself, and Mr. Carteret was anxious lest he might begin to shoot for pure delight. Such a demonstration would have been misconstrued. Nearly two hundred yards ahead at the heels of the pack galloped the Indians, and in the middle distance between them and Grady rode Lord Ploversdale and Smith vainly trying to overtake the hounds and whip them off. Behind and trailing over a mile or more came the field and the rest of the hunt servants in little groups, all awestruck at what had happened. It was unspeakable that Lord Ploversdale's hounds, which had been hunted by his father and his grandfather, should be so scandalized.
Mr. Carteret finally got within a length of Grady and hailed him.
"Hello, Carty," said Grady, "glad to see you. I thought you was sick. What can I do? They've stampeded. But it's a great ad. for the show, isn't it? There's four reporters that I brought along."
"Forget about the show," said Mr. Carteret. "This isn't any laughing matter. It's one of the smartest packs in England. You don't understand."
"It will make all the better story in the papers," said Grady.
"No it won't," said Mr. Carteret. "They won't print it. It's like a blasphemy upon the Church."
"Whoop!" yelled Grady, as they tore through a bullfinch.
"Call them off," said Mr. Carteret, straightening his hat.
"But I can't catch 'em," said Grady, and that was the truth.
Lord Ploversdale, however, had been gaining on the Indians, and by the way in which he clubbed his heavy crop, loaded at the butt, it was apparent that he meant to put an end to the proceedings if he could.
Just then the hounds swept over the crest of a green hill, and as they went down the other side they viewed the fox in the field beyond. He was in distress, and it looked as if the pack would kill in the open. They were running wonderfully together, a blanket would have covered them, and in the natural glow of pride which came over the M. F. H., he loosened his grip upon the crop. But as the hounds viewed the fox, so did the three sons of the wilderness who were following close behind. From the hill-top fifty of the hardest going men in England saw Hole-in-the-Ground flogging his horse with the heavy quirt which hung from his wrist. The outraged British hunter shot forward scattering hounds to right and left, flew a ditch and hedge and was close on the fox, who had stopped to make a last stand. Without drawing rein, the astonished onlookers saw the lean Indian suddenly disappear under the neck of his horse and almost instantly swing back into his seat waving a brown thing above his head. Hole-in-the-Ground had caught the fox.
"Most unprecedented!" Mr. Carteret heard the Major exclaim. He pulled up his horse, as the field did with theirs, and waited apprehensively. He saw Hole-in-the-Ground circle around, jerk the Major's five hundred guinea hunter to a standstill close to Lord Ploversdale and address him. He was speaking in his own language.
As the Chief went on, he saw Grady smile.
"He says," says Grady, translating, "that the white chief can eat the fox if he wants him. He's proud himself, bein' packed with store grub."
The English onlookers heard and beheld with blank faces. It was beyond them.
The M. F. H. bowed stiffly as Hole-in-the-Ground's offer was made known to him. He regarded them a moment in thought. A vague light was breaking in upon him. "Aw, thank you," he said. "Smith, take the fox. Good afternoon!"
Then he wheeled his horse, called the hounds in with his horn and trotted out to the road that led to the kennels. Lord Ploversdale, though he had never been out of England, was cast in a large mold.
The three Indians sat on their panting horses, motionless, stolidly facing the curious gaze of the crowd; or rather they looked through the crowd, as the lion, with the high breeding of the desert, looks through and beyond the faces that stare and gape before the bars of his cage.
"Most amazing! Most amazing!" muttered the Major.
"It is," said Mr. Carteret, "if you have never been away from this." He made a sweeping gesture over the restricted English scenery, pampered and brought up by hand.
"Been away from this?" repeated the Major. "I don't understand."
Mr. Carteret turned to him. How could he explain it?
"With us," he began, laying an emphasis on the "us." Then he stopped. "Look into their eyes," he said hopelessly.
The Major looked at him blankly. How could he, Major Hammerslea, know what those inexplicable dark eyes saw beyond the fenced tillage—the brown, bare, illimitable range under the noonday sun, the evening light on far, silent mountains, the starlit desert!