The Green Flag and Other Tales
The King Of The Foxes
It was after a hunting dinner, and there were as many scarlet coats as black ones round
the table. The conversation over the cigars had turned, therefore, in the direction of
horses and horsemen, with reminiscences of phenomenal runs where foxes had led the
pack from end to end of a county, and been overtaken at last by two or three limping
hounds and a huntsman on foot, while every rider in the field had been pounded. As the
port circulated the runs became longer and more apocryphal, until we had the whips
inquiring their way and failing to understand the dialect of the people who answered
them. The foxes, too, became mere eccentric, and we had foxes up pollard willows, foxes
which were dragged by the tail out of horses' mangers, and foxes which had raced
through an open front door and gone to ground in a lady's bonnet-box. The master had
told one or two tall reminiscences, and when he cleared his throat for another we were all
curious, for he was a bit of an artist in his way, and produced his effects in a _crescendo_
fashion. His face wore the earnest, practical, severely accurate expression which heralded
some of his finest efforts.
"It was before I was master," said he. "Sir Charles Adair had the hounds at that time, and
then afterwards they passed to old Lathom, and then to me. It may possibly have been
just after Lathom took them over, but my strong impression is that it was in Adair's time.
That would be early in the seventies--about seventy-two, I should say.
"The man I mean has moved to another part of the country, but I daresay that some of
you can remember him. Danbury was the name--Walter Danbury, or Wat Danbury, as the
people used to call him. He was the son of old Joe Danbury, of High Ascombe, and when
his father died he came into a very good thing, for his only brother was drowned when
the _Magna Charta_ foundered, so he inherited the whole estate. It was but a few hundred
acres, but it was good arable land, and those were the great days of farming. Besides, it
was freehold, and a yeoman farmer without a mortgage was a warmish man before the
great fall in wheat came. Foreign wheat and barbed wire--those are the two curses of this
country, for the one spoils the farmer's work and the other spoils his play.
"This young Wat Danbury was a very fine fellow, a keen rider, and a thorough
sportsman, but his head was a little turned at having come, when so young, into a
comfortable fortune, and he went the pace for a year or two. The lad had no vice in him,
but there was a hard-drinking set in the neighbourhood at that time, and Danbury got
drawn in among them; and, being an amiable fellow who liked to do what his friends
were doing, he very soon took to drinking a great deal more than was good for him. As a
rule, a man who takes his exercise may drink as much as he likes in the evening, and do
himself no very great harm, if he will leave it alone during the day. Danbury had too
many friends for that, however, and it really looked as if the poor chap was going to the
bad, when a very curious thing happened which pulled him up with such a sudden jerk
that he never put his hand upon the neck of a whisky bottle again.