Yonder's Henry

Short Story (1934) from Esquire

Yonder's Henry Part III

When I looked out of my window the next morning I received a decided shock. For a moment I feared that Albert had gotten himself in some trouble. His ancestral home seemed to have become entirely surrounded either by bandits or deputies. I was not sure which. Anyway, they were rough looking men, most of them carrying shot guns and rifles while others were swinging large, ugly looking clubs. There were many women also. They had the rough and ready appearance of experienced camp followers.

"The hunt breakfast," Albert murmured over my shoulder. I gave a slight start. He had made his appearance so quietly. "The regular hunt breakfast," he repeated.

"Why, there's hardly a red coat on the lot," I complained. "Albert, I feel cheated."

"Seldom wear red coats except on formal occasions," said Albert. "Thought you knew that."

"What does it matter?" I said philosophically. "We're chiefly interested in foxes, after all."

"So we are," replied Albert simply. "What's the sense in a lot of red coats, anyway? I don't think the dogs like 'em or the foxes either."

"Don't see why they should," I told him. "But I will ask you this. Do you use clubs and rifles and machine guns on your damn Texas foxes?"

"Not machine guns," said Albert gently. "We use the others for hand to hand fighting. Texas foxes are often violent. They don't seem to understand."

"Neither do I, quite," I admitted. "Why don't you bomb the foxes and save yourself a lot of trouble?"

"That wouldn't be sporting," said Albert blandly. "and anyway, we like it. Then again, there's Henry to consider. He must have his foxes."

"That's so, too," I replied. "I guess that great beast would die unless he had his foxes."

"Those clubs and guns are brought along just in case," he informed me.

"In case of what?" I asked.

"Of wild turkeys," he answered with out cracking a smile.

When I had finished dressing I was nearly as funny looking as Albert, but not quite. However, I was funny looking enough. I was exactly as funny looking as an oversized pair of plus fours, a checked flannel shirt, high boots and a campaign hat could make me. Albert was a little funnier because he was wearing a pair of white duck trousers encased in knee-length leggins. His nautical appearance was somewhat nullified by the presence of a large floppy straw hat on the back of his head. A corduroy hunting jacket alone suggested the general nature of Albert's intentions. There was a colored shirt also which I find it pleasanter not to write about.

"The foxes are going to have the laugh of their lives today," I remarked when I had acclimated myself to Albert. "They'll be too weak to run."

"Come," said Albert with dignity. "The hunt breakfast is on. There is drink."

"Let's abandon this incessant fox hunting," I suggested, "and make millions on the stage. We wouldn't have to do much, Albert. One look would drive 'em frantic."

"Later, perhaps," replied Albert a little moodily. "We have to go through with this fox hunt first. Come on."

I was introduced to a series of majors, doctors and judges. All men over thirty seemed automatically to come into a title. Whether they were merely hunt breakfast titles or not I never learned. There was one rotund colonel, authentic in every detail, an upon him was bestowed all the honor and glory due to his colorful record of violent and abrupt endings. He was the Colonel. Fat was this gentleman, fat, pompous and over-blooded, but a life-loving soul withal. In his youth he had been the life of all the local lynching parties, and now, in his declining years, he had acquired the reputation of an implacable hunter. He was wearing a Prince Albert coat and highly polished boots which lent the only touch of distinction to this nondescript gathering.

After being properly introduced to the ladies, all of whom seemed to be guarding some shameful secret the full significance of which they failed to grasp themselves, I was placed by the side of my hostess, and urged to drink. She subjected me to one swift scrutiny, then quickly dropped her eyes.

"Pardon me," she said in a strained voice. "I think I heard a door slam."
The next moment she rose hastily and walked unsteadily toward the house. With pained eyes I followed her retreating figure.

Down the line a lady showing no end of well turned southern legs as she sat on the grass was speaking in an excited voice and waiving a cocktail glass in the air.

"What a lark," she proclaimed. "John's never so much as seen a fox and he can't stand the sight of horses. They give him a violent rash, do horses."

I turned and regarded my host inquiringly, "Is he one of the initiates like myself at this ceremony?" I asked.

"Yes," he answered. "There are several others - lots of new faces, in fact. You won't be alone. Drink up."

A man on my right leaned confidently over and made helpless, little motions with his hands.

"Pardon me," he said incredulously, "but do I understand we are actually going fox hunting?"

I told him that that was about the size of it.

"Fancy that," he observed musingly. "Of all things, fox hunting. Wonder where Mr. Green caught the beast. Haven't seen a fox in years. I'll ask him."

To my great delight he leaned over and made some more motions at Albert.

"Mr. Green," he whispered piercingly. "Where in the world did you get this fox?"

"What fox?" exclaimed Albert in a startled voice, looking quickly about as if he feared a fox was creeping up behind him.

"You know," said the man mysteriously. "This fox we're supposed to hunt."

"Certainly," I put in. "The fox Henry's going to juggle with several others."

"Who's Henry?" asked the man innocently.

"Why don't you know Henry?" I replied with some amazement. "He's the greatest foxer in the state of Texas, that dog."

"Strange," muttered the man. "Don't know him - but I'm a stranger to these parts."

"We raised many of our foxes in England," Albert explained.

"And ruin them in Texas," said the stranger.

Albert's answer was cut short by a sudden shout winging across the lawn from the direction of the outhouses. I looked up and saw a negro, running with great concentration; coming in our direction. He was leaning so far over in his efforts to separate himself from some still unrevealed peril that he gave the impression of a six-day bicycle racer. then something happened which I am sure must have come upon everybody as a complete surprise to put it mildly. Before our astonished eyes the negro was borne down and blotted out beneath an onrushing avalanche of dogs. The air was disturbed by eager yelpings and churned by innumerable jauntily waiving tails. In another moment the hunt breakfast had been reduced to a shambles. One imperishable vision of our colonel staunchly defending a chunk of fried chicken was vouchsafed me. Then he, too, disappeared, emulating the negro, as the dogs danced giddily over his recombent form. After that my impressions became somewhat clouded. I remember a large dog neatly removing a sandwich from my fingers and breathing appreciatively in my face. Sandwiches seemed to be moving through the air like things of life. The once spotless table cloth was leaping weirdly under the stress of greedily searching muzzles. Figures of men and women as they rolled and struggled on the grass were caught in the most undignified, not to say comprimising positions. The element of surprise was all in favor of the raiders. The famous hunt breakfast was theirs without a struggle. I remember hearing quite distinctly Mrs. albert as if lost to decency, ironically cheering the pack on to still greater endeavors. From their utterdisregard of all those little niceties of deportment that give life its subtle fragrance I decided that it had been many a long day since those dogs had enjoyed a square meal.

Then above the din and the barking, the cries of the insulted and injured and - I regret to say - the shocking blasphemy of out colonel, my host, Albert, who should have been master of this hunt, lifted up his voice in command.

"Grab sticks!" he shouted. "Grab anything and beat them off!"

Then began a grim struggle, man facing defiant beast, for the honor and supremacy of the human race. We fought those dogs bitterly and oftentimes unfairly. For example, I saw one gentleman deliberately enticing one of the enemy to accept a peace offering of chicken - a delicious bit it looked - and then when the poor animal had been betrayed by its oen greed this man, this southern gentleman, squared off and kicked the dog quite severely in the rump. Foot by foot the dogs yeilded and were driven backin the direction whence they came. One inspired sportsman accelerated their departure by firing off a shotgun. This horrid noise entirely demoralized the dogs, all of whom must have been born gun shy. With yelps of nervous alarm they sheathed their once valiant tails and deployed in the direction of the barn.

Mrs. Albert was sitting calmly on the grass. Her husband was rushing from one guest to another, assuring everyone that everything was all right, and begging them not to let this slight interruption mar the pleasure of the hunt.

"Pleasure?" one forthright gentleman - obviously a novice - demanded indignantly. "How did you get that way? You mean the horror of the hunt."

"What's the matter with you?" Mrs. Albert asked defensively before I had opened my lips. "There's nothing unusual about this hunt breakfast. Only last week the dogs broke loose and one of the fresh things had the nerve to snatch a cocktail right out of my hand. Think of that."

I did. I looked steadily at Mrs. Albert's innocently turned up face and thought of that as well as other things. This made me think of Albert, the last person in the world I wanted to think about at that moment.

Chapter IV of "Yonder's Henry"