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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2663

Facey Romford had the reputation of being the most impudent man in the country. Because his first name was Francis and he kept a hound or two, strangers sometimes mistook him for the rich and sporting Francis Romford, Esq., owner of Abbeyfield Park. Facey was always willing to profit by the other Mr. Romford’s name and reputation and never contradicted that false impression. In fact, he kept for use on some of his own correspondence a broad seal of the right Mr. Romford’s crest, a turbot sitting on its tail on a cap of dignity, taken from an envelope in which Squire Romford had redirected a dunning shoemaker’s bill intended for Facey but delivered in error at Abbeyfield Park.

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Facey lived on expectations. Early in life, he had elected himself heir to his cattle-jobbing uncle, Mr. Francis Gilroy, whose farm he was supposed to look after during the old man’s business trips. Living in lodgings in the village, Facey spent his days hunting and fishing on other men’s properties, his evenings playing on his flute or estimating the amount he would someday inherit. On occasion, under the influence of a third glass of gin, the figure rose as high as thirty thousand pounds.

Uncle Gilroy died suddenly, leaving all his worldly goods to the wife and numerous progeny he had been maintaining secretly in a London suburb. When his sharp-tongued widow arrived with her brood to take possession of the farm, Facey realized there was no hope for him in that quarter, but he was never one to let the grass grow under his feet. Before word of the Widow Gilroy’s coming could spread through the district, he carried word of his uncle’s death to Mr. Jogglebury Crowdey, a neighbor, secured a check for fifty pounds from that unwary gentleman, cashed it, and set out immediately for London.

There his first act was to look up Soapey Sponge, an old acquaintance who had once tricked him out of seven pounds ten in a card game. In palmier days, Soapey had married Lucy Glitters, the actress, and set up a cigar and betting establishment. When an unfeeling government passed laws against betting houses, however, the business ceased to prosper. Although lovely Mrs. Sponge never sold her husband’s cheap cigars under sixpence or gave change for a shilling, they had a hard time making ends meet. Facey found the shop but no Mr. Sponge, for Soapey, seeing the caller first, went out the back way. Whether Facey called early or late, Soapey was never at home, and since he called frequently, he spent much of his time in Mrs. Sponge’s company.

One day while looking into a saddlery window, Facey had his great idea. He would become a master of hounds (M.F.H.). A short time later BELL’S LIFE IN LONDON carried an advertisement stating that a gentleman was prepared to treat a country where he could enjoy shooting and fishing as well. In the correspondence which followed, Facey’s letters sealed with the turbot crest proved sufficiently impressive to members of the Heavyside Hunt. Their wives, learning from Burke that Francis Romford, Esq., was a bachelor, decided that he was a possible match for unmarried daughters. Without further delay, Facey became master of the Heavyside hounds. He bought Mrs. Sponge a tiara of brilliants to celebrate, but when he went to deliver his gift, he was greeted by the news that Soapey had bolted for Australia with all the loose cash on hand. On Facey’s advice, Lucy sold the furnishings of the store to a secondhand dealer, packed her clothes, and went to stay with her mother while she waited for something to turn up.

At Minshull Vernon, meanwhile, Facey found the Heavyside hounds a splayfooted, crooked-legged pack. On his first day out, he was forced to ride a borrowed mount, but even so his daring horsemanship put to shame the fat, timid huntsman, Jonathan Lotherington. The members were so enthusiastic about their new M.F.H. that few cared when the disgruntled huntsman resigned. Facey immediately appropriated Lotherington’s horses, the property of the hunt, for his own use. Planning to improve his pack, he wrote, under the turbot crest, to the huntsmen of the best packs in the kingdom and engaged their draughts. In this way, he secured a fine lot of hounds without the necessity of paying for them, for some of the huntsmen were pleased to oblige Francis Romford, Esq., without cost and those who presented bills received such abusive letters denouncing their hounds as overrunning, sheep-worrying beasts that they were ashamed to press their demands further.

Facey next consulted Mr. Goodhearted Green, a shady horse trader, and bought from him three mounts of good appearance but vicious habits, Honest Robin, Brilliant, and Leotard. At Tattersall’s, he hired two disreputable grooms and whippers-in, Daniel Swig and Tom Chowey. Although his horses and grooms were such as only he could manage, Facey might have had a long career with the Heavyside Hunt if he had not been tempted to make a handsome profit by selling Leotard to Mrs. Rowley Rounding. After Leotard had dumped his new mistress into a mud puddle, the horse was sent back to Facey. He insisted that the sale had been without condition and to Colonel Chatterbox, the lady’s intermediary; he also refused to return the money. Because some of the hunt sided with Mrs. Rounding, Facey planned to prove Leotard a suitable lady’s mount by having Lucy Sponge, a magnificent horsewoman, ride him in the next meet.

Having been drunk the night before, Swig and Chowey were in no condition to ride on the day of the hunt, and Facey asked Lucy to act as the whipper-in. His scheme had unforeseen results. Dressed in a fashionable London habit, Lucy rode with such ease and skill that the members unanimously judged Leotard a perfect horse for a lady. Although she won the approval of the gentlemen, Lucy also aroused the envy and dislike of their wives. Claiming that her performance and presence were an outrage to the proprieties, they insisted that the M.F.H. must go. Facey was not to be bought off lightly, however, and as a result, he found himself with fifty excellent hounds in his kennels and money in his pockets. Deciding that the way to fortune was to keep hounds, hunt a country, and get his sport at the expense of others, he advertised his services once more.

As luck would have it, the Larkspur Hunt in Doubleimupshire needed an M.F.H. for the remainder of the season. Again the turbot seal did its work; before long, Facey was engaged for a subscription of two thousand pounds a year. The seal also brought offers from people anxious to let their houses to the new master. At last, Facey decided on Beldon Hall, the property of Lord Viscount Lovetin, who, living abroad, vaguely remembered a Francis Romford at Eton. Lovetin supposed Facey to be the same Romford, and without consulting his agent, Mr. Lonnergan, his lordship announced his willingness to rent his house at a nominal fee to such a desirable tenant.

Lucy had enjoyed her taste of country life at Minshull Vernon. She had no intention of returning to London and persuaded Facey that it would be to his advantage for him to have a lady exhibit his horses. Finally, it was decided that she would pass as his half sister, Mrs. Somerville, the widow of an Indian officer, and that her mother, to be known as Mrs. Sidney Benson, would be installed at Beldon Hall to keep her daughter company. To prepare for their venture into society, Facey ordered new outfits for himself and his grooms, while Lucy required the newest creations of London dressmakers and milliners. The turbot seal and Lord Viscount Lovetin’s address did the rest. There was no question of payment on the part of tradesmen, little intention to pay on the part of the new tenants of Beldon Hall.

Wishing to convert some coach houses into kennels, Facey sent Proudlock, the keeper, to ask Mr. Lonnergan’s permission to make the change. The agent was away but his son, Lovetin Lonnergan, sent back word that Mr. Romford might do as he liked. Acting on that reply, Facey broke open the nobleman’s wine cellar. He also wrote to Goodhearted Green and bought six more horses of uncertain habits to add to the three already in his starting stud. Lucy, meanwhile, had opened the rooms of the mansion and bullied Mrs. Mustard, the housekeeper, and her three slatternly daughters, locally called the Dirties, into somewhat presentable appearance and behavior.

The whole country was eager to meet the new M.F.H. and his sister. Among the early callers were Mr. and Mrs. Watkins and their daughter Cassandra Cleopatra, of Dalberry Lees. In his seedy younger days, Watkins had emigrated to Australia. There he had struck it rich in the diggings, even richer when he married the daughter of a former convict who had made a fortune in land speculation. Anxious to display their wealth and to find Cassandra’s equal in marriage, they had returned to England to establish themselves as a landed family. When opportunity arose, Mrs. Watkins was not one to hold back in exhibiting her daughter’s simpering charms to an eligible bachelor.

Facey’s first day out with the Larkspur Hunt was a great success. The hounds raised a fox in a wood near Pippin Priory and after the long, spirited chase, Facey showed his mettle when he put his horse to a flooded river, leaving the others to ride around by the bridge. The hunt was delighted with the day’s run and their new master. Reports of Facey’s prowess finally reached Mr. Hazey of Tarring Neville, a shrewd horse trader and master of the Hard and Sharp Hunt. His curiosity was so great that he and his son, Bill, rode over to Beldon Hall to pay their respects.

Enterprising Mrs. Watkins invited Facey and Lucy to dine with them and stay overnight for a meet at Dalberry Lees the next morning. The dinner and the hunt breakfast were on a grand scale, but the lady’s plans did not materialize because the fox she had ordered for a draw in her gardens failed to arrive on time. Facey had nothing but contempt for bag foxes and rode away disgusted. Returning home that evening, he found the fox, sent to him with Mrs. Watkins’ compliments, caged in his front hall. He gave orders that the animal was to be turned loose early in the morning when he and Lucy would ride after it with only a few hounds.

The next day’s chase carried them as far as Tarring Neville, where they breakfasted after the fox had gone to earth. Mr. and Mrs. Hazey made much of their unexpected guests, and their daughter Anna Maria, forewarned by her anxious mother, was especially attentive to the Larkspur M.F.H. A few days later, an invitation came for Facey and Lucy to dine at Tarring Neville and hunt with the Hard and Sharp pack the next day. They went, but Facey formed no high opinion of the Hard and Sharp hounds or their master.

Mrs. Watkins was not to be outdone by Hazey hospitality, and she decided to organize a stag hunt. Mr. Stotfold and his stag were engaged for the occasion, and the chase was started from Dalberry Lees. The affair was a fiasco. The stag created havoc on the premises of a young ladies’ finishing school and mired itself at last in the mud of a tilery. Facey decided to stick to fox hunting.

Christmas promised to be a merry season at Beldon Hall. Lucy had invited down from London a good friend of her theatrical days, buxom, jolly Betsy Shannon. Introduced to the gentry as Miss Hamilton Howard, she soon had the swains of the neighborhood vying for her smiles. Betsy’s success led Lucy to her great resolution—she would give a party. Once again, the turbot seal worked its magic. Caterers came from London with great hampers of food and drink, for a simple at home had become in the planning an elaborate ball. Facey, who had voted for a few people with rabbit pie and cheese or sandwiches and sherry, was dismayed when he estimated the cost of Lucy’s expensive entertainment; but after several glasses of champagne, he unbent so far as to entertain the guests with several tunes on his flute. Disaster threatened when the coachmen and grooms, tired of waiting in the cold outside, invaded the house and carried away the food laid for a second supper; not even that rumpus, however, dashed the spirits of the guests. Everyone agreed that the ball had been the affair of the season.

The next day, Goodhearted Green showed up unexpectedly with a prospective new horse for Facey. A short time later, at the infirmary ball, he was presented to the country as Sir Roger Ferguson. That same memorable night, young Lovetin Lonnergan made his offer to Miss Hamilton Howard and was accepted.

Once more, Leotard was to involve Facey in difficulties. Mr. Hazey had admired the horse and Lucy’s performance in the saddle and wished to purchase the mount for a thirdhand sale to the Countess of Caperington. Lucy finally agreed to part with the animal for one hundred and fifty pounds. The Countess paid two hundred guineas for a headstrong horse that first carried his mistress afield and then threw her over his tail. During the wrangling for refund of the Caperington guineas, the Countess decided to see for herself the famous Mrs. Somerville who rode Leotard with such ease. Attending a meeting of the Larkspur Hunt, she recognized Lucy as a former friend of the days when she herself had been the cigar-smoking, actress-wife of dissipated Sir Harry Scattercash. The Countess greeted her old friend haughtily, calling her Mrs. Sponge and a pernicious woman.

The awkward situation might have been explained away if Lord Lovetin had not chosen that particular time to return to England, where to his surprise he found the wrong Mr. Romford comfortably installed in Beldon Hall. Disputing the possession of the premises with his lordship, Facey demanded a large bonus if he was to leave the house immediately. During the proceedings, he continued to hunt his hounds as usual, but Lucy went to stay with Betsy, who in the meantime had married young Lonnergan. The opinion of the Larkspur Hunt was divided, some of the members declaring that their Mr. Romford might be the wrong man for Lord Lovetin but that he was the right Mr. Romford for them. Among his defenders were the Watkinses. Having recently lost much of their wealth through unfortunate speculations in Australia, they saw in Facey their final hope for Cassandra Cleopatra. At last, Facey decided that he could hunt from Dalberry Lees as easily as he could from Beldon Hall and led the eager Miss Watkins to the altar.

When both parties realized that they had been tricked and harsh words had been spoken, it was decided that Facey and his bride should go to Australia and there try to save the wreck of Mr. Watkins’ fortune. Facey, who had prudently collected his subscription money, was willing. In Melbourne, he accidentally ran into his old acquaintance Soapey Sponge, who had done uncommonly well for himself in the mines. When news of Soapey’s prosperity reached England, Lucy dropped the name of Somerville in favor of Sponge and sailed to share her husband’s prosperity. Last reports stated that all parties were happily reunited in Australia and that Soapey and Facey had established a private bank. Everyone expected them to set up next a pack of hounds.

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