Quantock Hills, late November 1847
When the Beauforts approached the village, Kate felt warm and comfortable with her outfit. She wore her hat down tight, finding it stayed in place quite well as they cantered along. Earl Beaufort reined in and brought his mount to a walk, Kate doing likewise. They greeted villagers and had to stop for a shepherd moving his flock from one pasture to another. Kate searched the roadway, rather hoping the ploughboy, Jeremy Connor, might appear, but only elderly people and children came into view.
“I’m serving as a whipper-in today,” Earl Beaufort said as they waited, “so most of the time I’ll be flanking the pack.”
“Does that mean I won’t see you?”
“You’ll see me, but I may come and go quite a bit. Are you nervous?”
“A little.” My gut has collywobbles.
“When we get to the party, I’ll make certain you find Lady Carew. She’ll keep an eye on you.”
“Good, I like her.” Kate remembered the baronet’s wife as a sharp woman, in her late twenties, full of life with a no nonsense attitude.
“Everything will be fine. Stay with Lady Carew. She may only canter, and avoid jumps. You do the same. Save galloping and high jumps for another day.”
“Yes, Father.” Oh, how dull… that’s disappointing.
“If we’re back, safe of wind and limb, by about two o’clock, we’ll consider this a success.”
“I believe my title will hold the most weight, so you may be given precedence amongst the ladies. It will depend on who else is present. But this is just a Carew family affair – country manners, I expect. If you’re uncertain what to do, quietly ask Lady Carew.”
“Why does rank matter on a hunt?”
“It probably won’t, but there will be some sort of meal after the sport. Mr. Carew may have something formal planned, since Sir John Trollope and Sir Walter Carew are visiting.”
“Oh no. I hadn’t thought of that. They’re both baronets. What do I do?”
“You outrank them. Act as Mrs. Crozier has taught you. However, say as little as possible, and being polite goes a long way. You look an adult, but can’t be expected to converse as one. A quiet missy is often most popular anyway.”
“That makes me feel better.”
They followed the lane north from the medieval cross, passed some parkland of the Crowcombe Court estate, then entered the Carew’s magnificent stable yard, consisting of two wings built off the side of the manor, all in red brick.
“Right…” Earl Beaufort said with a reassuring wink and smile, “here we go.”
Kate quickly counted a dozen adults turned out in hunt clothes or riding habits, one young man in a uniform of dark blue with the elaborate trim of a hussar regiment – rows of gold braid and little buttons gleaming. Five boys of about eight to fourteen years of age, in breeches, jackets, and caps, were standing by with ponies. Two of the boys Kate knew as Coventry and John Carew. Kate looked for George (Mr. and Mrs. Carew’s eldest son) and determined his absence, suspecting his duties with the King’s Dragoon Guards kept him away. Lady Anne Carew was mounted, quite near to where they entered the courtyard, wearing a sky blue wool habit. She swivelled and smiled at them.
“Good morning, Lady Carew,” Earl Beaufort said.
“Good morning, Lord Beaufort. How do you do?”
“How was your journey from Haccombe?”
“A tedious day, but uneventful. I shan’t complain.”
“Grand morning for a hunt! I’ll leave you to it. I must report to the master.” He moved on towards the crowd.
“How are you, Lady Kate?” Lady Carew asked, sitting in a composed relaxed state.
“I’m fine,” Kate said quietly, noticing her father had failed to confirm previous acquaintance. “How are you?”
“Well enough, I’m sure.”
“Are you staying long?”
“A fortnight. Perhaps a bit longer.” Lady Carew raised an eyebrow, and examined Kate for a moment with her sharp face and penetrating intelligent eyes. “I wouldn’t have recognised you, except that you arrived with your father. It’s been over a year, hasn’t it. You look fit to hunt with the queen. What a beautiful costume.”
“Thank you. I originally wanted something more like yours. My tutor helped me with it.”
“Pish! Don’t admit to that.” She smiled. “Tell everyone it was your choice, and you insisted on such dramatic fashion.”
“You think it styled well?”
“Yes, somewhat Continental perhaps? Très la mode.”
“A libation, m’ ladies?” A footman in red livery stood near with silver cups and a decanter of sherry.
“Thank you,” Lady Carew said while rearranging her reins and whip. “Just a splash.”
“Yes, a splash, please,” Kate parroted the woman’s term. How much is that?
The footman poured and passed up the drinks. Kate looked at the cup, a stag’s head forming the stem, and remembered she shouldn’t lick her lips. I cannot have this without getting my mouth wet. Am I to go all day without drinking? She peered at the ounces of amber liquid, then tried a sip by rolling out her bottom lip and keeping her top lip clear; it seemed to work. A pair of men about thirty years old, wearing proper hunt attire, on fine mounts, approached.
“Those are two of my husband’s brothers,” Lady Carew informed Kate quietly. “You were nine or ten the last time they were up from Devon.”
“Was I?” Kate couldn’t recall, but she did recognise them.
The Carew men were of average build without any prominent features, an even balance between handsome and plain.
“Henry, Robert, you must say hello to Lord Beaufort’s daughter,” Lady Carew said when they stopped beside her. “Lady Kate, may I present, Mr. Henry Carew and the Reverend Mr. Robert Carew.”
“Mr. Carew.” Kate bowed her head to Henry.
“Lady Kate,” he replied, expressionless, tipping his hat and shifting in the saddle.
“Mr. Carew.” Kate acknowledged Robert in turn.
“Lady Kate?” Robert asked, a look of complete confusion on his face. He swept off his topper and bowed. “This can’t be Kat! The last time I saw you, I thought you were a little long-haired rascal of a boy! Were you presented at court last season?”
“No, my schooling is incomplete. I’m thirteen.” Kate felt her face get hot upon hearing his description, especially spoken in such a jovial way. Rascal of a boy?! I hope no one else is listening.
“Thirteen? Well strike me! I thought I was mixing up the years. Thirteen! What say you, Henry?”
The older brother did not reply, but wore a crooked frown as he wheeled his horse around towards the lane. It seemed the brothers might look alike, but their demeanour were opposites.
“Anne?” Robert fished for a response. “Can you believe she’s grown so?”
Kate kept her head up, but cast her eyes down, feeling the blush deepen.
“Of course,” Lady Carew snapped under her breath. “Stop it, Bob, you’re embarrassing us.”
“Am I? Sorry. Ah… some girls are out by thirteen.” He glanced at Kate, Lady Carew, his brother, then back to Kate, all the while wide-eyed and trying to find words. “Well, um… what a fine animal!”
“Thank you.” Kate felt glad for a change in subject. “She was acquired in July.”
“We’re moving off,” someone called.
Kate quaffed her sherry. Somebody take this cup, it’s time to go! “Where are the dogs?”
“Let out before you arrived,” Robert replied with a lively smile. “That’s why your father rode off so quickly. Come on, Henry!”
For the first time Kate realized her father had gone. She watched anxiously as men, boys, and a trio of ladies moved off into the lane. Lady Carew appeared placid, sipping her drink. A footman approached to take their cups.
“Should I have been introduced to everyone?” Kate asked, wondering who the other hunters were, and noticed she’d licked the sherry off her lips, feeling salve on her tongue. Oh, drat it. This is hard…
“I’ll manage the proprieties as we progress,” Lady Carew replied, adjusting her seat.
“Ought we go? I shan’t like to miss anything.”
“Not to worry. We’ll soon catch them up.”
They left the stable square, followed the lane, and entered a yard with ancient trees all around. A kennel (a stone building about the size of a cottage) sat at the far side of a clearing. They walked across the yard and onto a field. The men were trotting uphill towards a distant copse, the trio of ladies walking, then they started to canter. Lady Carew did likewise, and Kate happily joined in. All the ladies were soon in a loose group, overtaking the boys, then catching the men, who also kicked up into a faster pace. The soldier, a tall man with a large auburn moustache, fell in beside Kate. He smiled and touched his whip to the peak of his headdress, a field cap, then led the way on his large powerful stallion. Ahead were three gentlemen on horseback and two servants on foot. A cacophony of barking rang from the woods. Everyone reined in, halting together, the boys arriving last on their ponies. Kate couldn’t see her father. She immediately recognised Mr. Thomas Carew, Esquire, their host and owner of Crowcombe Court, a stout man of about fifty years of age. He wore a red coat with fawn trousers, as did one of the other gentlemen, but the third had a dark brown jacket. The servants on foot appeared to be gamekeepers or grooms, dressed in neat work clothes, one cradled a shotgun in the crook of his elbow.
“Ladies and gentlemen!” Mr. Carew bellowed. “Please spread out around the copse. If prey emerges let us know. And, of course, we are only after fox today, no stags.”
The men rode off quickly, several rounding up either side of the trees, disappearing from view. Lady Carew seemed content to stand quietly, so Kate remained still as well. The trio of ladies walked together towards the copse, while the boys practised jumping over a ditch.
“Good morning, Lady Kate?” Sir Walter Carew rode near and removed his hat. “Forgive my affront. From the thorn’d bud doth bloom a rose!”
“Thank you, Sir Walter.”
“How much like your mother, you are! Your father is on the other side of the trees, taking command of the hounds akin to Wellington himself.”
Kate laughed at his jest. “Is the hunt going well?”
“It hasn’t really started yet. We’ll see if the hounds find a fox here. If not, we’ll try another spot.”
At that moment a “tally-ho” came from somewhere off in the distance.
“Ah ha!” Sir Walter exclaimed. “Tantivy!”
He wheeled around and flew into a gallop, the men nearby in chase, other hunters already out ahead. Kate looked at Lady Carew with raised eyebrows. Let’s go! The woman adjusted her bonnet, smiling, started to walk, then cantered. Kate followed, gathering her reins. Smoothly, the horses quickened their gait and broke into a gallop, climbing for high country. Kate’s mare easily overtook Lady Carew and raced after the other animals. She saw hounds running across the field, the copse left behind, her father riding well off to one side. In her path there lay a wall the dogs were scrambling over while the men jumped it with whoops of delight. The trio of ladies diverted their course towards a gate where two men rode to facilitate their passing. Kate swivelled her head around, searching for Lady Carew. She saw her drop to a canter and aim for a low portion of wall. Remembering her father’s instructions, Kate did likewise.
“Slow down, Misty.” She reined back, allowing Lady Carew time to make the jump, and was disturbed to find her mare trotting, a pace a lady would normally never use. Jolting around, Kate quickly kicked up to a canter, focused on the wall, approached, up… over, leaning back while the mare landed… and her hat bounced on her head! Oh no! She grasped the brim of her topper with one hand while halting with the other. Lady Carew, who circled, rode up to her.
“Everything all right?”
“Yes, I… no, I must secure my hat.”
“Very good.” Lady Carew nodded. “Give me your whip.”
While Kate sorted out her veils, she noticed the other ladies and boys pass through the gate and ride over a hill and out of sight. Four men on foot, two of whom she had seen earlier, ran after them. “How do men without horses keep up?” she asked.
“It’s what they do. Gamekeepers can run all day. And the hunt will usually stall or backtrack.”
Kate found her veils (which tangled during the gallop) took forever to arrange and tie under her chin. “I’m sorry.” She felt her insides melt. “Have we lost the hunt?”
“No,” Lady Carew said handing back her whip. “Listen.”
The yowl of dogs and blare of the hunting horn carried to them from not far off.
“That’s why it’s called riding to the hounds,” Lady Carew continued. “Foxes often circle. We could probably stay here and the pack would come to us.”
“Well, that might be a rare day. Anyway, if you get behind, listen and ride towards the barking.”
Of course, I’ve heard so many hunts before. “I should have thought of that myself.”
“Not at all. Shall we go?”
The ladies cantered in pursuit, quickly spying some of the other hunters near a small stretch of forest. Kate knew this area well, having explored these hills all her life. Entering the woods on a narrow lane, soon the entire party was onto another field. Kate saw her father coming from the woods with some hounds, the rest of the pack gathered around Mr. Carew, Sir Walter, and the gamekeepers. Robert Carew, flushed and smiling, rode up to them, Henry Carew keeping an aloof distance.
“Crafty animal went to ground,” Robert announced.
“He means the fox knew a burrow in which to hide,” Lady Carew explained. “If the gamekeepers found the hole, they may come back later with some terriers and chase the fox out.”
“Does that mean the hunt is over?” Kate felt disappointed.
“No no!” Robert laughed. “Our cousin will cast the hounds again, and we’ll look for fresh prey. You see, off they go.”
Kate watched Mr. Carew direct the gamekeepers and four men on horseback, one being her father, to move into the woods with the pack.
“Time for further introductions,” Lady Carew decided. “Robert, please ask the other ladies to join us?”
“Yes, I’ll extricate them from the men for you.”
In a moment the women rode over. Mrs. Griffith came across as friendly, middle-aged, and two of the boys following the hunt were her sons; Kate in fact knew her eldest son, who now attended King Edward’s School. Her husband was the man in the brown coat. Lady Julia Trollope appeared plain and proper, obviously lacked confidence in the saddle, stated she wouldn’t be attempting any jumps, and didn’t particularly care for the sport, in direct contradiction to Lord Beaufort’s assertion that she came from a hunting family. The oldest woman was Mrs. Major-General Taylor, Lady Carew’s mother. She seemed quite game, but agreed that if Lady Trollope wanted to turn back at some point, she would keep her company. Kate thought the older woman very kind. Overall she felt extremely young with these women, and jumping ditches with the boys altogether more enticing. However, she politely listened to their chatter, saying very little herself, only replying to questions.
While working through the usual niceties, a cry went up and they all cantered after the pack and lead riders. Soon coming to another wall, this one somewhat hazardous due to tumbled down stones and trees, Kate jumped at a low spot and splashed through a stream. The eldest boy made a particularly good jump farther up the wall and led the charge in pursuit of the hounds, everyone spreading out at a gallop to the next stretch of forest. Kate pulled to a walk, wondering how she’d lost Lady Carew, and considered what to do next. There was a bit of yelling and distant barks, then the horn sounded for several long blasts. Some hunters were missing, some had stopped, some were still coming up. A moment later all the other ladies appeared from the west.
“We decided on a gate,” Lady Carew said when she drew near. “What’s happened?”
“I don’t know. Some of the men were yelling as I arrived. Now we’re waiting. Many of them are in the woods. I couldn’t approach those gentlemen to ask, we haven’t been introduced.”
“Perhaps the hounds caught their prey.”
“Could that be?” Kate craned her neck and peered into the forest. Not seeing anything, she did perceive an odour. “I smell smoke.”
“Yes,” Mrs. Taylor agreed. “Perhaps there is a cottage nearby?”
Then, in twos and threes, dogs started emerging from the trees, then hunters. Earl Beaufort appeared, playfully whipping some hounds along. Kate waved to him and he trotted over.
“Gypsies,” he called by way of an explanation. “Gypsies camped in a glade. Made a riot of the hounds – their dogs fighting with ours. We’ll go south-east and try again.”
Mr. Carew and his assistants (with the gamekeepers who had caught up again) reformed the pack and everyone followed the edge of the forest for a while. They were soon stretched out in a line, men trotting ahead while the ladies walked, the boys cantering in the field and circling around.
“These gypsies, would they be tinkers? Or travellers from exotic lands?” Kate asked no one in particular.
“They looked like Spaniards, or some such country,” Lady Carew answered. “I saw them when they came through the village last Thursday. Probably looking for something to steal.”
“Do gypsies winter in these hills?” Lady Trollope asked.
“On and off, I believe,” Mrs. Griffith replied. “They may yet move farther south. They seem harmless enough. I spoke with an old couple who offered to read my future. Claimed they can converse with the dead.”
“Really?!” Kate felt thrilled, but tried not to show it. Talk to spirits!
“Pshaw!” Mrs. Taylor said with a frown. “And besides, Deuteronomy eighteen, ten and eleven.”
“Oh, yes.” “Indeed.” “Yes, of course,” the ladies all chimed in agreement.
Kate, not knowing the quote, nodded, making a mental note to ask Miss Nestor later, and surmised it a must be an Old Testament edict against necromancy.
Before they could gather for more introductions the hunt resumed, a fox appearing in a hedgerow. Another wild gallop ensued, the horses catching the hounds as they dove through the brush. This time Kate made a point of keeping Lady Carew in view, not wanting to lose her again. They rounded to an opening, and a very high wall lay ahead at the edge of a pasture. The ladies slowed to a canter to assess the situation. Sir Walter and the lead hunters dashed to the north and crossed at a lower portion. The hussar officer jumped at a high spot, Robert Carew following, and both galloped over the far pasture with a whoop. Lady Trollope came to a stop, joined by Mrs. Taylor, then Mrs. Griffith. Lady Carew circled, so Kate followed her. They reined in with the other ladies.
“I think I’ve had enough,” Lady Trollope declared.
“Yes, I’ve quite worked up an appetite,” Mrs. Taylor said.
“Shall we follow our trail back then?” Mrs. Griffith asked.
“Certainly.” Mrs. Taylor nodded.
Lady Carew glanced at Kate. “I believe we’ll carry on.”
“Yes, please!” Kate smiled. I want to jump that wall!
“Very good.” Mrs. Taylor grinned. “Don’t be late for dinner.”
The trio of ladies, back in their original formation, rode towards the hedgerow. Lady Carew cantered forward and jumped a portion of quite high wall, then halted on a bit of a knoll. Kate, feeling confident, guided Misty for the spot Robert Carew and the soldier flew over. She kicked up to speed, feeling the flow of her horse, collected the reins a bit at the wall, and… up, lean forward, and over, lean back and down. Her mare landed with sure footing and Kate maintained a steady seat while coming to a halt in front of Lady Carew.
“Thank you.” Kate felt elated. “You made an excellent jump, too.”
As she spoke a lone hunter emerged from the hedgerow in the other field. Both ladies watched as he galloped for the low ground where the wall reached its highest. It was Henry Carew, and he obviously intended to make a remarkable jump. Kate saw mud and water in his path on her side of the wall and understood the risk, but could do nothing. Henry cleared the dangerous stones in perfect form, then his horse completely collapsed upon hitting the water! An enormous spray shot up – boots and hoofs appeared briefly – a violent cartwheeling of man and beast! Lady Carew shrieked. Kate raced to the scene, seeing the horse struggling to its feet with the saddle hanging askew. Poor Mr. Carew! He’s been killed! Kate slipped her foot out of the stirrup, unhooked her legs, and hopped down. She almost stumbled in her haste, pitching forward, but recovered and gathered her skirt, grasping the reins and pulling her mare. Henry staggered up from the pool.
“Please,” he said, raising a hand, “don’t come any closer.”
Kate slowed but continued to approach. The man stood covered in muddy water, diluted blood spreading out on his face from the nose down, turning his shirt and cravat pink.
“Let me help you,” Kate insisted, feeling utterly shocked by the accident.
Lady Carew arrived at the scene, stopping beside the upset horse, placing a hand on its mane. “What were you thinking, Henry? My word!” she barked, red faced, and seemed to be trembling all over.
“Lady Kate, please, I beg you,” Henry said forcefully, ignoring his sister-in-law. “Do not add to my shame by soiling your clothes. I… I couldn’t bare it. There is nothing that can be done for me… but do not allow this folly in any way spoil your day.”
“But are you hurt? Yes, you are hurt. You’re bleeding.” Kate stood at the edge of the mud. “We must get you home.”
A gamekeeper climbed onto the wall and looked down at Henry. “Ho ho ho! What haf we here?” He smiled at Kate and tipped his hat.
“Don’t be a jackanapes,” Henry said between clenched teeth. “You can see I’ve taken a bad step. Help me with my mount.”
“Yes, Gov’nor.” The man dropped down on dry ground, ran around the pool, and started feeling the horse’s legs for any signs of injury.
Henry took some unsteady steps, his boots stuck in the mud. Dark blood now covered his lips, chin and neck, and stained his shirt bright red.
“Your hat, Mr. Carew,” Kate pointed to where it lay slowly rotating, crookedly half submerged in some of the deeper water. You must keep your hat on, even if you fall. Oh! He’s doing what I was instructed, staying quiet no matter how badly hurt. He has to save his reputation. “You, ah, you made an absolutely tremendous jump, Mr. Carew.”
“What?!” snapped Lady Carew.
“Yes, don’t you think so?” Kate nodded vigorously, looking up at the woman. “If this mud hadn’t… hadn’t tripped his horse? It would have been the best flying leap of the day.”
“Perhaps,” Lady Carew allowed with a sneer.
Another gamekeeper arrived on the scene. This man stepped into the water, wading deeper than the height of his spatterdashes, picked up the topper, and approached Henry, putting out an arm.
“A’ right, Mr. Carew, let’s have you,” he said softly, letting the injured man employ him as a crutch.
When they struggled out of the mire, Henry tapped the first warden on the back.
“Before you get any filthier, help the young lady back into her saddle.”
The man did as instructed, Kate using his entwined hands for a leg up.
“We’ll leave you, then?” Lady Carew asked.
“Yes, please.” Blood sprayed from his lips. “Enjoy the remainder of the hunt. I can hear the hounds yet. You’ll soon find them.” Henry managed a slight smile.” I’ll be fine, Anne, Lady Kate.” He bowed.
“Shouldn’t we ride with him to the house?” Kate whispered, suddenly feeling a bit tired and weepy after all the emotions sweeping through her.
“A gamekeeper will walk him back,” Lady Carew responded dismissively. “Let us carry on, the others might be concerned. They probably noticed all the ladies have vanished. We should report.”
They cantered to the far side of the pasture and halted, listened, then followed a trail for a while. Within minutes a man of about forty years of age, whom Kate had yet to be introduced, trotted towards them. Upon spying their progress he waved, wheeled around, and cantered away.
“That’s Sir John Trollope,” Lady Carew said. “He’s been serving as a whipper-in today, like your father.”
“Who is the cavalry officer?” Kate asked, and immediately regretted showing an interest in a man, noting Lady Carew’s arched eyebrow.
“Charlie Canning,” Lady Carew replied after a somewhat awkward pause. “Baron Garvagh. Irish peer, Tenth Hussars. He knows the Carews and Sir John. Sir John was a captain in the Tenth.”
“It’s a handsome uniform,” Kate said casually, trying to sound completely dispassionate.
The ladies followed the trail, coming into a broad wild and rocky meadow, the hunt party visible to the south, framed by forest. Once they were gathered, Lady Carew related that the other ladies and Henry Carew were on their way to the manor. She didn’t say anything about the accident. The hounds were cast again, and the pursuit went on through some woods, not allowing for any great speed but providing some varied jumping over logs and ditches. Within half an hour, Mr. Carew decided to head towards Crowcombe, the foxes proving elusive, frustrating the dogs and hunters.
The party stretched out in twos and threes, following a disused lane through the forest.
“We were close a couple times,” Earl Beaufort said when he trotted alongside Kate and slowed to a walk. “Probably our first chase was the best.”
“So… has this been a failure?” Kate wondered. Is everyone disappointed?
“No, not at all.”
“Oh, excellent, then.” She thought through the day, believing it had gone well, except Henry Carew’s tumble.
“You enjoyed the hunt?” her father asked.
“Yes, and I’m ready for a meal.” I should have eaten a larger breakfast!
*The mid 1800s hunt themed artwork appearing in this chapter are by John Frederick Herring, Sr. (1795 – 1865) and John Frederick Herring, Jr. (1815 – 1907).