Return to Hoarhound House
It was a wet and stormy night. On the moor, the rain pelted down and the wind blew in ragged gusts. The grass was wet, the bracken ferns swayed and dripped continually. The rain clouds moved over the moor in rows, periodically obscuring and then allowing a temporary view.
A scrabbly road wound up through the moor from the sea and up over the hills that overlooked it. A few scrubby trees stood disconsolately near the roadway, their leaves sagging a bit from the weight of rain. A rather faint moon dodged in and out of view. The ponds on the moor were black with a raindrop tracery. The rain joined into little streams that ran down onto the road and collected in the low places. It was, all in all, a soggy scene.
For a time, nothing moved except the clouds, the trickles of water, and the grass and tree branches moving in the wind. Then a coach and pair appeared on the road, climbing up through the moors. It came nearer and nearer and soon it could be seen that the driver was an Airedale, well wrapped in oilskins. He peered ahead in the fitful light from the two oil lamps and periodically wiped the rain from his muzzle with a gloved paw. As the grade of the road increased, he cracked his whip and the horses increased their speed to bring the coach to the top of the first of the hills rimming the moor.
The coach then continued its climb, rattling and swaying over the rocks and ruts in the road, the wheels splashing through the puddles and scattering pebbles about as they rolled.
Inside the coach were two passengers. One was a fetching young Beagle wrapped in a hooded coat that matched her fur. A leather bag sat beside her on the seat. The other was an elderly Basset with a gray waistcoat and polished boots. He was wearing a dark greatcoat. Judging from their intermittant conversation, which interrupted the drumming of the rain on the coach, the charming beagle was Fancy and the grandfatherly basset was named Grumble. Their conversation had lapsed again, and they had not spoken for several minutes. Finally, Grumble opened his coat, reached into his waistcoat pocket and extracted his watch. He opened it, holding it up to catch the dim light from the coach window, peered closely at it, closed it and replaced it in his pocket. "I hope we'll be there in time," he said. "It would be a tragedy if Hoarhound house fell into the paws of a dog like Frowly Snarf, even for a short time."
Fancy tried to soothe his impatience. "I'm sure we'll be there in time for the reading of the will," she said. "You do have the new will, don't you?" she asked, more to distract him from the time than for information.
"Of course," he said, patting his pocket. "Your Uncle Grimace, for all his queer ideas about equality amongst dogs, had good judgement. I'd not fail him." He pulled out the document so that the wax seal with the image of the sovereign and her pups was exposed and showed it to Fancy. She smiled and he replaced it in its pocket.
Fancy said nothing for the moment and peered out the window of the coach. There was little to be seen except an occasional glint of the moon from one of the roadside puddles and and a passing black shadow thrown by the trees. Ahead the road became obscured with fog as the coach began climbing another of the low hills that bordered the moor. The road became rocky and the coach rocked and bounced as it climbed. Fancy could hear the wheels of the coach splashing through the puddles of water on the road. Finally, with loud urging and calling from the coachman, the horses pulled the coach over the top of the final hill.
The road ahead began to drop gently, the fog cleared, and the clouds opened a bit to show more of the moon. The view on this side of the hills was markedly different from the view across the moor. The wind abated somewhat, and the rain changed into a gentle drizzle.
They passed through a forested area and dropped down a hill and began to follow alongside a stream. The view into the valley opened up. There were now fenced fields on either side of the road, and an occasional cottage. Directly ahead, the stream they were following joined a smallish river and they could see a large stone house and its outbuildings with their windows outlined with candlelight. There was a crumbling stone tower on the hill just above the house and a dark forested area beyond it. They could just make out the regular arrangement of gardens about the house and the dark rows of an orchard near the house. Off to the right, several miles past the house, they could dimly see a lake with a small village at the far end, its lights just glimmering through the rain and mist.
The coachman opened the hatch, and called down. "We'll be there in a few minutes," he said. He closed the hatch and cracked his whip. The coach moved forward more briskly as he road became better and the coach rolled more smoothly. In about ten minutes, they felt the coach turn into the circular driveway in front of the house. Grumble put on his hat and buttoned his coat. Fancy gathered up her bag and gloves just as the coach stopped at the main door.
They were greeted by an elderly sheepdog, who wore his butler's coat under a wool cape and carried an open umbrella. "Welcome to Hoarhound House, Miss Fancy. It's good to see you back again," he said.
"Hello Goodbone," she answered, "and how are mistress Goodbone and Claret?"
"Both well," he answered, as he helped them down. He gave Fancy the umbrella. "Hurry into the house," he said. "Mistress Goodbone has some hot soup and a pasty for you two. Sam and I," he said, nodding at the coachman, "will get your bags into the house."
They were met at the door by a plump lady sheepdog wearing a lace cap and apron with a coat she apparently had thrown over herself for protection against the mist. She led them into the kitchen. "Come in by the fire, Mistress Fancy - you too sir. I'll have something to warm you here in an instant. We'll put your things in your old room. Lawyer Grumble's bags will be in the bedroom just across from the library."
"Thank you, Cider," Fancy replied. "We'll appreciate the food. It was a cold, dark ride across the moor."
"Rather," seconded Grumble. Cider pushed a small table up near the kitchen fire, sat each of them in a chair placed so the fire's warmth could reach them, and quickly set the table with cups and plates. She went to the cast iron stove and ladled out two bowls of soup from a pot at the back. She took them to the table. She also produced two warm fragrant meat pasties from the oven and poured Fancy a cup of buttermilk from a blue porcelain container. She poured Grumble a cup of tea and after disappearing for a moment, returned with a small cup of apple brandy for each of them.
She turned to Fancy. "Eat now, while the food tis hot. You'll have time, it's still most an hour till nine. It's good to see you at this table again. It reminds me of better times before, bless her soul, your Aunt Patience died."
Before starting to eat, Fancy asked Cider, "Are the others all here now?" Cider told her with some emphasis, "They are - and a great deal too eager to hear your Uncle's will. I'll say it though it's not my place. They are in the library and drinking poor old Sir Grimace's best claret."
Grumble looked up from a bite of the pasty and asked, "Who is there?" Cider answered, counting on the fingers of one hand. "Fancy's aunt Comely is there, of course, then her son, Mister Frowly Snarf and that foreign wife of his, the estate manager, Mister Sharpmuzzle, and squire Amble's son, Singlefoot - oh, but of course Fancy knew him well when they were younger. The two of them played all about this house when they were children. Sir Grimace wanted him here to read the will proper in case you couldna be here. He trusted master Singlefoot."
Grumble nodded, got up and opened his coat and released the bottom button of his waistcoat. He hung the coat on the back of his chair. He sat down again. He took a large spoonfull of the soup, a bite of the pasty, complemented Cider on her cooking and set to work on the food before him with a hunger showing the results of the long coach ride.
Fancy smiled at Cider, took a bite of pasty and seconded Grumble's complement. She then slowly attacked the food letting the warmth of the food and the kitchen relax her. She looked around at the cozy little kitchen and thought back to the many times she'd eaten here before during her childhood.
They were happy times, she thought. She remembered playing childhood games here in the house and orchards with Singlefoot, the son of a neighbor. He was a few years older and had felt it his duty to look after her but both had energy and enthusiasm for whatever new thing they found. Often they had come into this kitchen, tired and hungry, and received similar feedings from Cider. Aunt Patience and her mother, Content, were not supposed to know of these between meal stokings but Fancy was sure they had known and quietly approved.
Fancy leaned back in the warmth of the kitchen and absently thought over her life and the circumstances that brought her here at this time.