For years Michael Hardy had been the leader of the hunt in Sheepwash Vale. While he did not pay quite all the expenses of the sport, his personality and vigor kept fox hunting popular in the district. Michael was one of the old school; his hounds were unkenneled and boarded here and there, and the horses were mostly pickups. At his death, it seemed that fox hunting could no longer be accounted an attraction in the country.
There were some other difficulties. The village of Handley Cross was rapidly growing. Having discovered by chance the curative values of the local spring, a reprobate physician named Swizzle had established himself as a spa doctor, and in a few years, Handley Cross became a fashionable watering place. Swizzle was a perfect doctor for many people. He invariably prescribed game pie and rare beef for his patients and advised two quarts of port wine at dinner. He became a familiar sight in the village, as he buttonholed his patients on the street and inspected their coated tongues and gouty joints. With this new fame as a health resort, hotels and souvenir stands sprang up to bring life to the sleepy village.
There is, however, no good proposition without competition. Another shady practitioner, a sanctimonious doctor named Mello, moved in. He bought land with a small spring on it, poured epsom salts in the water every night, and set up a rival establishment. In no time the town was divided into Melloites and Swizzleites. The important change, however, was in the social life of Handley Cross.
Captain Doleful, a lean, hypocritical half-pay captain, appointed himself master of ceremonies for the town. With the help of Mrs. Barnington, the social arbiter of the fashionable set, balls and teas soon became popular, and social eminence became the goal of the visiting gentry.
In a resort so fashionable it was unthinkable not to have a hunt club. Captain Doleful and some other worthies attempted to carry on after Michael Hardy died, but their efforts were unsuccessful. First, the leaders of the hunt rode in gigs, conveyances unthinkable in Hardy’s day. Second, the townspeople were too poor or too parsimonious to hire a whipper-in and a huntsman. Third, subscribers to the hunt were often slow in paying; soon there were not enough funds to pay for damage done to crops and fences.
The fashionables decided that the only solution was a real master of the hunt, one not too elegant for a small spa but rich enough to pay the difference between subscriptions and expenses. A committee headed by Captain Doleful and the secretary Fleeceall decided to invite John Jorrocks, whose fame had spread far, to become master of the hunt. Accordingly a letter was sent, and the negotiations were soon brought to a conclusion, for Jorrocks was an easy victim.
After a life devoted to selling tea and other groceries, Jorrocks was a wealthy man. He had turned to hunting as a hobby, and despite his Cockney accent and ample girth, he was soon accepted in the field. Although he had the bad habit of selling cases of groceries to his fellow huntsmen, Jorrocks soon became a fixture among the sporting set in Surrey. Now, he was to be master in his own right. Captain Doleful secured a lodge for him, and the date was set for his arrival in Handley Cross.
On the appointed day, the four-piece band turned out, and the whole town assembled at the station. Several of the villagers carried banners bearing the legend “Jorrocks Forever.” When the train pulled in, Captain Doleful looked through the first-class section but found no Jorrocks. The second-class carriages produced no Jorrocks. Finally, on a flat car at the end of the train, he found Jorrocks and his family snugly sitting in their own coach with the horses already hitched. The cheers were loud as the new hunt master drove through the streets of Handley Cross.
Jorrocks was soon installed in his new lodging with Mrs. Jorrocks and Belinda, his pretty niece. Belinda added greatly to Jorrocks’ popularity.
The new hunt master looked over his kennels and the few broken-down hacks in the stable. Besides building up both the pack and the stud, he had to have a real huntsman. He finally hired Pigg, chiefly because his skinny shanks and avowed delicate appetite outweighed his speech of such broad Scots that few could understand what he said. Jorrocks was quickly disillusioned with his new huntsman. When Pigg ate his first meal in the kitchen, there was a great uproar. Hurrying in, Jorrocks found Pigg greedily eating the whole supper joint and holding the other servants at bay; and Pigg could drink more ale and brandy than Jorrocks himself.
There were many fine hunts that winter. Because Pigg was skillful and Jorrocks persistent, the collection of brushes grew fast. One night, Jorrocks was far from home, separated from his trusty Pigg and the pack, and caught in a downpour of rain. He turned into the first gate he saw and knocked. An efficient groom took his horse, and two flunkies politely conducted the dripping Jorrocks to his room. On the bed were dry clothes, in the small tub was hot water, and on the table was a bottle of brandy. Jorrocks peeled off his clothes and settled into the tub. He had just started on his third glass of brandy when someone knocked. Jorrocks ignored the noise for a while, but the knocker was insistent.
At last, a determined voice from the hall demanded his clothes. Jorrocks quickly got out of the tub, put on the clothes that did not fit, and took a firm, possessive grip on the brandy bottle. Then he shouted forcefully that he would keep the clothes.
When Jorrocks came down to dinner, he was surprised to be told that he was in Ongar Castle. His unwilling host was the Earl of Bramber, whose servants had mistaken Jorrocks for an invited guest and by mistake had put him in the room of a captain. Jorrocks looked at the angry captain, who was wearing an outfit of his host. Only Jorrocks’ Cockney impudence could have brazened out such a situation.
At last, the company sat down to dinner. As usual, Jorrocks drank too much, and while giving a rousing toast to fox hunting he fell fast asleep on the floor. He awoke immersed in water. Calling lustily for help, he struck out for the shore. When a flunky brought a candle, he saw that he had been put to bed in the bathhouse and that while walking in his sleep he had fallen into the small pool. Jorrocks, however, was irrepressible; in the morning, he parted from the Earl on good terms.
After a hard-riding winter, spring finally spoiled the hunting, and the Jorrocks family left for London. Pigg stayed in Handley Cross to dispose of the dogs and horses. Captain Doleful bought Jorrocks’ own mount for twenty-five pounds. When the horse became sick and died soon afterward, parsimonious Doleful sued Jorrocks for the purchase price. The court decided in favor of Jorrocks, holding that no one can warrant a horse to stay sound in wind and limb.
Jorrocks’ business associates looked on his hunting capers as a tinge of madness. That fall, Jorrocks was heard to exclaim in delight at the sight of a frostbitten dahlia; it would soon be fox hunting time. At last, however, Jorrocks was committed by a lunacy commission for falling victim to the fox hunting madness. In vain, Jorrocks sputtered and protested; his vehemence only added to the charge against him. Poor, fat Jorrocks spent some time in an asylum before an understanding chancellor freed him. Luckily, he regained his freedom before the hunting season was too far gone.
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