The Hoarhound estates, though not now richly profitable, were extensive, and the requirement that Fancy marry within two years had not escaped notice in the county. It was in fact, a pleasingly fertile source for local gossip. Her actions were therefore subject to much amateur analysis. Fancy placed this problem in the future, concentrating her immediate efforts on the house and the estate. However, the general view was that she had three serious suitors, the estate manager, Sharpmuzzle, the young neighboring estate owner, Singlefoot, and the young doctor, Crossbark, who had recently set up practice in the village.
Sir Grimace had hired the estate manager several months before his death, hoping to improve conditions. Sharpmuzzle was a sturdy, though active young shepherd, from a good family. He was the third son of a landed family and had acquitted himself well in the study of law at Oxford. However, the family fortunes had dropped and he had been forced to seek work. The managerial job at Hoarhound House was available, was suitable for a young dog trying to make a name, and he was determined to do it well.
His hiring proved a good decision. His legal training and his native business acumen were of help. He started getting the legal affairs of the estate in order, somewhat hampered by Sir Grimace's erratic behavior in the last few months. He kept a wary eye on purchases and charges made by local merchants and craftsmen. This produced some unexpected economies. He located a number of unpaid bills and had begun to improve collections. He talked to the estate tenants and tried to understand their problems. He tried to be just, as he said he would, but flexible in all his dealings. The tenants grew to respect him.
He looked towards the future. He spent time discussing the economy and its problems with knowledgable local estate owners and managers and had developed a number of proposals that would improve the estate's prospects. All these efforts gave him the reputation of a fair but sharp businessdog.
Before Sir Grimace died, Sharpmuzzle noticed that the prices paid for kitchen produce in Hundsmuth and nearby villages had increased and that converting some of the pasture land to commercial gardens would improve profits for both the estate and the tenants. He tried to convince Sir Grimace and the tenants of this with only limited success. Sir Grimace was reluctant to make changes and the tenants were not convinced that they had much to gain.
When Fancy took over the estate his suggestion had more success and, at her suggestion, he convinced one of the younger tenants, Oakfoot, to try market gardening. Oakfoot, as Fancy suggested, was a hard worker. He and his family worked long hours getting the gardens underway and the produce picked and packed in baskets ready for the carts. Sharpmuzzle spent some time persuading the greengrocers and ship provisioners in Hundmuth to handle the produce. He found reliable carter dogs to make deliveries. To his well concealed satisfaction, and to OakfootÕs joy, the expected profits started to materialize.
He took painstaking effort with his estate records. They were accurate and current and he insisted almost to the point of annoyance that both Fancy and Grumble be familiar with them and his work.
Personally, Sharpmuzzle was much like his work. He tried to project an impression of dignity and competence. He was neat, ambitious, and conscious of details. He spent almost all his waking hours overseeing the estates and the records. He was invariably pleasant to everyone, not awed by titles or monies, and would listen to anyone with a legitimate problem. He was impatient with slow workers or sloppy work and did not suffer idiocy happily. With Fancy, he was polite almost to the edge of formality and took whatever time needed to explain matters to her. He was not restrained by his position and would argue with her when he felt himself right.
His social life was somewhat limited by his judgement as to what was proper. He had no close friends in the village although he spent thursday evenings playing whist with the local curate, his wife and their daughter, Solace. Because of his position he was a de-facto member of the local gentry and was invited to all functions. He attended as a duty but found, much to his annoyance, that he enjoyed them. At parties he usually could be found deep in serious discussion with the senior attendees. He would, on occasion, liven such conversations with suitable jokes. At dances, he could be counted upon to invite to the floor those ladies of any age who were receiving insufficient attention. As one would expect, he was a favorite with hostesses. He also spent an occasional evening at the pub in the village. He usually nursed a pint of ale and talked with the customers about local and national problems. When he wished, he was most persuasive with his views and explanations. This behavior helped build his reputation as a solid and reliable dog.
His clothes were always neat and clean and chosen to provide a sound conservative image. He was inclined to be stocky, and usually wore a waistcoat. His only affectation was a gold watch and chain with a large sapphire clip. He wore this in view, most times, with some obvious pride. He explained to Fancy that this was his only bequest from his grandfather, who had been a chief advisor to the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
He had developed the habit of requesting a picnic lunch from Cider when he and Fancy had to ride out on estate business. They usually stopped at some spot with a pleasant view of the estate, the river, or the sea and ate their lunch with the horses grazing nearby. Fancy began to look forward to these times, and Sharpmuzzle was an attentive and amusing companion. While he often took advantage of these trips to push some idea of his own, he was reasoned in his arguments, never over-insistent, and his behavior was always proper. He was a perceptive observer of other people's foibles, and his own, and kept Fancy's attention with his discourses on the behavior of the gentry and village notables. He displayed a tolerance and understanding in their private conversations that was quite at odds to his conservative facade. Fancy quite enjoyed these picnics.
On the occasions that he would help her, such as mounting her horse, or helping her up a hill, Fancy felt what she believed to be an affectionate clasp on her hand or arm. Sharpmuzzle also made sure that Fancy was treated with respect whenever he accompanied her. Boisterous or vulgar words within earshot of Fancy, got the offending speaker a sharp frown from Sharpmuzzle, which usually quieted things.
Fancy came to trust and respect Sharpmuzzle. She could discuss her problems and worries knowing that her arguments would be given rational consideration and her confidences would be protected. She believed that he held her interests at heart.
At times, Sharpmuzzle assisted Grumble with local legal work. Grumble found his training in the law to be solid and his work quite satisfactory.
The second suitor, in the popular view, was Singlefoot, an English setter, who ran the neighboring estate. He was the only son of old Amble who owned it as well as other agricultural properties. He and Fancy had played together as children when Fancy was living at Hoarhound House. Though he was somewhat older, they had climbed hills and haystacks together, thrown rocks at fish in the river and did the things pups enjoy.
On formal occasions, they had set side by side, in their best clothes, watching their elders behavior at dances, dinners and garden teas. Singlefoot had encouraged her when she began to ride and did his youthful best to teach her about horses. When she thought of this time in her childhood, Fancy remembered it pleasantly.
When Fancy returned to Hoarhound House, Singlefoot found, much to his surprise, a frequent need to visit.
While Fancy was in school or living in Hundsmuth, Singlefoot had grown, spent some time at an University, and had left to join his father's old cavalry regiment. He said little of his military time, but others said he had done well, had been decorated and promoted for bravery in battle in Baluchistan. When his father had a stroke, he was forced to resign his commission and return to help his father manage his properties.
He had done well at this in an unobtrusive way. The properties were improved. Ailing tenant cottages were brought into proper repair. A school for the pups of the tenants of his and neighboring estates was built and a teacher hired. His cidery was rebuilt and the water powered grist mill was reopened. His old mansion house, while not as imposing as Hoarhound House, was pleasant though in need of repair. A new roof and other repairs soon appeared.
He imported a Belgian stallion to improve the draft stock on the tenant farms. He was welcome at the local pub in the village and at the church. He was accepted as a proper English dog and one of the leaders of the gentry.
His work aside, he and Sharpmuzzle were almost opposites. Where Sharpmuzzle was perpetually in motion, Singlefoot always seemed relaxing. Where Sharpmuzzle was obviously hard working, Singlefoot seemed never to do anything. It was always a surprise to find that things were done. Where Sharpmuzzle was intolerant of poor work or slowness, Singlefoot seemed hardly to notice and never seemed to reprove. Things however, did improve. Where Sharpmuzzle was obviously ambitious, Singlefoot was not and seemed to be content with his life and saw little need to change.
When Singlefoot visited Hoarhound House, it was like an old friend returning home. Fancy spent hours chatting with him while he stretched out on a chair. Singlefoot was tall, even for a setter and seemed always in a state of relaxation. His clothes were always in slight disarray, which he never seemed to notice. This occasionally drove Fancy to near distraction for she liked to see her friends appear at their best. He loved to ride through the countryside and would stop here to talk with a farmer or there to speak with a child, or almost anywhere to admire a bird or pry into a salmon's private life. His friends despaired of getting him into proper social life or getting him to visit London. He seemed to be the picture of a country bachelor gone thoroughly and comfortably to seed.
He was quiet, verging on bashful, and seemed to value silence more than speech. It was a great surprise to Fancy when she learned that he spoke French and German as well as Hindi and Bengali and was well-read in natural philosophy, agriculture, and the arts. Fancy would have been astonished if she had known that he played the spanish guitar (although only passably).
For all the time he spent at Hoarhound House, Fancy could see no evidence that she was being courted. She liked him and felt comfortable with him but she was never sure that he thought of her other than as a friend. He brought her fresh cider but no flowers. He gave her little applause for good work other than a pat on the head, or, if in private, on the bottom and a gruff "well done.Ó
Fancy was especially annoyed at his inability to completely remove himself from his military past. He had a dreadful collection of knives, daggers, krisses, sabers, and various regimental flags and memorabilia. His uniforms occupied an entire closet and his dress uniform, complete with helmet, sash, saber, and polished boots hung from a hat rack in his reading room. According to the servants, he would occasionally don these and regard himself in a mirror for minutes at a time. When friends from his regiment visited him, he would disappear for days and return with a fearful hangover and a group of new stories of doings in India or Africa or wherever the regiment was now stationed.
His home was filled with comfortable chairs of revolting aspect. There were stuffed examples of exotic animals, birds and reptiles scattered erratically on walls and cabinets. One that Fancy especially abhorred was an oddly stuffed Asian mountain sheep head whose glass eyes appeared wildly out of focus but seemed to follow the observer about. The tables were piled with letters and journals, in no order, covered with a dusty veil. In short, Fancy felt he and his house in need of taking care of, and wracked her memory trying to think of a suitable young woman capable of the job.
The third suitor, was the new doctor, Crossbark. He was a young Scot's terrier, intense, with snapping black eyes and an acute sense of injustice and a driving intention to abolish it. He was the youngest son of a Scottish coal miner. He saw the mines kill his father rapidly in an accident and kill his mother slowly with poverty and neglect. He watched his brother and sister absorbed into that grey life.
He choose to break from that environment and his remaining family and decided to become a doctor. He became the best student at the local school. His teachers were impressed. So was the minister. They made him a cause, wrote letters, made visits to friends with the result that he found himself in the university. Four years later by benefit of grinding work, energy, and several scholarships he got his medical degree from the University at Edinborough.
He left the university, educated, dedicated to medicine and determined to improve the lot of the working people, and just when the folk near Hundsmuth needed a doctor. Old doctor Milkbone had a stroke and could no longer serve. He was carried off, much to the sorrow of everyone, to be cared for by his daughter but not before writing to the university requesting someone to take his place.
Crossbark arrived soon after to take over the practice of the old doctor and determined to bring modern medical care to the farmers and fisherdogs. He was handsome, bright-coated and utterly without tact.
The sick found him a gentle dog. He was helpful, willing to come at any time to help for whatever fee they could afford. He made no distinctions between the sick be they workerdog or estate owner. All got his attention and unflagging care. His small horse-drawn carriage became a familiar sight throughout the countryside.
He was especially attentive to sick pups. He came to their side at once when notified and spared no effort to bring them through their illnesses. He visited them during their convalesence and brought toys or special food for them. He was almost a second father to some and enjoyed their company. When, as happened, he lost a pup, he seemed as stricken as the parents and worked to help them through their sorrow. He would stop his carriage when urgency allowed and talk with whatever country pups he met. In turn, they looked forward to visiting with him and receiving a piece of candy from the bag that he kept in the carriage.
He kept up with his profession. He subscribed to the prominent medical journals and read them. He contributed some well-regarded articles on the epidemiology of rural diseases and conducted a surprising large correspondence with authorities on these problems and on new drugs and their usage.
The landowners, when ill, found him invaluable and, when well, found him a constant pain. He found their efforts to provide healthy surroundings for their tenants or workers were overdue and insufficient. He wanted adequate drainage for the land, for insect control, new sewers, better water supplies, and immediate action. He went wherever he could gain a powerful ear or a meeting to plead for these needs. He rarely neglected to assign fault where he saw it and could not be silenced by the advice of local leaders or the pleadings of friends. His carriage took him to anyplace he could stir guilt or the need for action on his list of injustices.
He lived in a small house in the village where he kept his consulting room and surgery. It was austere and showed only evidence of repairs suffficient to keep it working. There was only a small brass plate on the door to identify his profession. There were no flowers in the small side garden. There was a small stable at the back housing his carriage and an elderly, well cared-for horse. The roof was of black slate and the high narrow windows with their rough wooden shutters showed only a glimpse of white curtains. All in all, he and his house were remarkably alike.
He employed an elderly widow to do for him. She did - and was hard put to get food into him and sleep into his bones. A good soul, she grew used to placing his meals on the back of the stove when he was called out and to dispensing hot tea when he returned cold and tired after long hours. His furniture was bleak and sparse and not completely reliable. The room that served as his office had a window looking out upon the stones of the street. The walls held tall darkly varnished bookshelves filled with his medical books. His desk faced the window and with its large inkwell and waste basket often filled with crumpled sheets of paper provided evidence of much time spent writing.
His clothes were sturdy, dark and ill-used. He had two pair of boots, one well-shined for church and important social occasions and another that showed the mud from his calls. There was a grey woolen sweater, a rather old but serviceable coat, an umbrella and a long raincoat hung on hooks beside the door. Only his housekeeper's attentions managed to keep buttons on his clothing and keep him presentable, which effort he hardly noticed.
The country folk, the village folk and the fisherfolk respected and admired him. His long hours at his patient's bedsides and his caring attention to their needs were not unobserved. His reluctance to demand large fees was also noted and popular. A harsh word against him was rarely heard in farm, village or dock and, if heard, was immediately and forcefully corrected.
Crossbark made no bones about his liking for Fancy. He visited as often as he could, and tried doggedly to suit his conversation to the occasion. He told Fancy she was beautiful, charming, and admired the work she had done to improve the lot of her tenants.
Crossbark walked with her in the gardens on occasion, and, obliquely, suggested they might consider marriage. He gave her gallant complements and discrete hugs, which she liked, and stern lectures on the need for change in her social class, about which she had mixed feelings. He painted vivid descriptions of the good they might do together and the effort and time it would require. He was never insistent, and was always contrite if his fervor for improvement embarrassed her or her friends.
Fancy's friends thought him unsuitable, and occasionally told her as much. They mentioned his brusque nature and suggested that he'd not be able to adapt to the norms of her class. They worried that his interest was more in her estate than in her. She listened and kept her counsel. She knew his failings, but also knew him to be good, kind, and for all his lectures and demands, a gentle dog. She knew his reliability, intelligence, and his love for all dogkind and admired him for it.