ESMÉ

“All hunting stories are the same,” said Clovis; “just as all Turf stories are the same, and all—”

“My hunting story isn’t a bit like any you’ve ever

heard,” said the Baroness. “It happened quite a while

ago, when I was about twenty-three. I wasn’t living apart

from my husband then; you see, neither of us could afford to

make the other a separate allowance. In spite of everything

that proverbs may say, poverty keeps together more homes

than it breaks up. But we always hunted with different

  1.  All this has nothing to do with the story.”

“We haven’t arrived at the meet yet. I suppose there was

a meet,” said Clovis.

“Of course there was a meet,” said the Baroness; “all

the usual crowd were there, especially Constance Broddle.

Constance is one of those strapping florid girls that go so

well with autumn scenery or Christmas decorations in church.

`I feel a presentiment that something dreadful is going to

happen,’ she said to me; `am I looking pale?’

“She was looking about as pale as a beetroot that has

suddenly heard bad news.

“ `You’re looking nicer than usual,’ I said, `but that’s

so easy for you.’ Before she had got the right bearings of

this remark we had settled down to business; hounds had

found a fox lying out in some gorse-bushes.”

“I knew it,” said Clovis; “in every fox-hunting story

that I’ve ever heard there’s been a fox and some

gorse-bushes.”

“Constance and I were well mounted,” continued the

Baroness serenely, “and we had no difficulty in keeping

ourselves in the first flight, though it was a fairly stiff

  1.  Towards the finish, however, we must have held rather

too independent a line, for we lost the hounds, and found

ourselves plodding aimlessly along miles away from anywhere.

It was fairly exasperating, and my temper was beginning to

let itself go by inches, when on pushing our way through an

accommodating hedge we were gladdened by the sight of hounds

in full cry in a hollow just beneath us.

“ `There they go,’ cried Constance, and then added in a

gasp, ‘In Heaven’s name, what are they hunting?’

“It was certainly no mortal fox. It stood more than

twice as high, had a short, ugly head, and an enormous thick

“ `It’s a hyaena,’ I cried; `it must have escaped from

Lord Pabham’s Park.’

“At that moment the hunted beast turned and faced its

pursuers, and the hounds (there were only about six couple

of them) stood round in a half-circle and looked foolish.

Evidently they had broken away from the rest of the pack on

the trail of this alien scent, and were not quite sure how

to treat their quarry now they had got him.

“The hyaena hailed our approach with unmistakable

relief and demonstrations of friendliness. It had probably

been accustomed to uniform kindness from humans, while its

first experience of a pack of hounds had left a bad

  1. The hounds looked more than ever embarrassed as

their quarry paraded its sudden intimacy with us, and the

faint toot of a horn in the distance was seized on as a

welcome signal for unobtrusive departure. Constance and I

and the hyaena were left alone in the gathering twilight.

“ `What are we to do?’ asked Constance.

“ `What a person you are for questions,’ I said.

“ `Well, we can’t stay here all night with a hyaena,’

she retorted.

“ `I don’t know what your ideas of comfort are,’ I said;

`but I shouldn’t think of staying here all night even

without a hyaena. My home may be an unhappy one, but at

least it has hot and cold water laid on, and domestic

service, and other conveniences which we shouldn’t find

  1.  We had better make for that ridge of trees to the

right; I imagine the Crowley road is just beyond.’

“We trotted off slowly along a faintly marked cart-track,

with the beast following cheerfully at our heels.

“ `What on earth are we to do with the hyaena?’ came

the inevitable question.

“ `What does one generally do with hyaenas?’ I asked

“ `I’ve never had anything to do with one before,’ said

“ `Well, neither have I. If we even knew its sex we might

give it a name. Perhaps we might call it Esmé. That

would do in either case.

“There was still sufficient daylight for us to

distinguish wayside objects, and our listless spirits gave

an upward perk as we came upon a small half-naked gipsy brat

picking blackberries from a low-growing bush. The sudden

apparition of two horsewomen and a hyaena set it off

crying, and in any case we should scarcely have gleaned any

useful geographical information from that source; but there

was a probability that we might strike a gipsy encampment

somewhere along our route. We rode on hopefully but

uneventfully for another mile or so.

“ `I wonder what the child was doing there,’ said

Constance presently.

“ `Picking blackberries. Obviously.’

“ `I don’t like the way it cried,’ pursued Constance;

`somehow its wail keeps ringing in my ears.’

“I did not chide Constance for her morbid fancies; as a

matter of fact the same sensation, of being pursued by a

persistent fretful wail, had been forcing itself on my

rather over-tired nerves. For company’s sake I hulloed to

Esmé, who had lagged somewhat behind. With a few springy

bounds he drew up level, and then shot past us.

“The wailing accompaniment was explained. The gipsy

child was firmly, and I expect painfully, held in his jaws.

“ `Merciful Heaven!’ screamed Constance, `what on earth

shall we do? What are we to do?’

“I am perfectly certain that at the Last Judgment

Constance will ask more questions than any of the examining

“ `Can’t we do something?’ she persisted tearfully, as

Esmé cantered easily along in front of our tired horses.

“Personally I was doing everything that occurred to me at

the moment. I stormed and scolded and coaxed in English and

French and gamekeeper language; I made absurd, ineffectual

cuts in the air with my thongless hunting-crop; I hurled my

sandwich case at the brute; in fact, I really don’t know

what more I could have done. And still we lumbered on

through the deepening dusk, with that dark uncouth shape

lumbering ahead of us, and a drone of lugubrious music

floating in our ears. Suddenly Esmé bounded aside into

some thick bushes, where we could not follow; the wail rose

to a shriek and then stopped altogether. This part of the

story I always hurry over, because it is really rather

  1.  When the beast joined us again, after an absence

of a few minutes, there was an air of patient understanding

about him, as though he knew that he had done something of

which we disapproved, but which he felt to be thoroughly

“ `How can you let that ravening beast trot by your

side?’ asked Constance. She was looking more than ever like

an albino beetroot.

“ `In the first place, I can’t prevent it,’ I said; `and

in the second place, whatever else he may be, I doubt if

he’s ravening at the present moment.’

“Constance shuddered. `Do you think the poor little

thing suffered much?’ came another of her futile questions.

“ `The indications were all that way,’ I said; `on the

other hand, of course, it may have been crying from sheer

  1.  Children sometimes do.’

“It was nearly pitch-dark when we emerged suddenly into

the high road. A flash of lights and the whir of a motor

went past us at the same moment at uncomfortably close

  1.  A thud and a sharp screeching yell followed a

second later. The car drew up, and when I had ridden back

to the spot I found a young man bending over a dark

motionless mass lying by the roadside.

“ `You have killed my Esmé,’ I exclaimed bitterly.

“ `I’m so awfully sorry,’ said the young man; `I keep

dogs myself, so I know what you must feel about it. I’ll do

anything I can in reparation.’

“ `Please bury him at once,’ I said; `that much I think I

may ask of you.

“ `Bring the spade, William,’ he called to the chauffeur.

Evidently hasty roadside interments were contingencies that

had been provided against.

“The digging of a sufficiently large grave took some

little time. `I say, what a magnificent fellow,’ said the

motorist as the corpse was rolled over into the trench.

`I’m afraid he must have been rather a valuable animal.’

“ `He took second in the puppy class at Birmingham last

year,’ I said resolutely.

Constance snorted loudly.

“ `Don’t cry, dear,’ I said brokenly; `it was all over in

a moment. He couldn’t have suffered much.’

“ `Look here,’ said the young fellow desperately, `you

simply must let me do something by way of reparation.’

“I refused sweetly, but as he persisted I let him have my

“Of course, we kept our own counsel as to the earlier

episodes of the evening. Lord Pabham never advertised the

loss of his hyaena; when a strictly fruit-eating animal

strayed from his park a year or two previously he was called

upon to give compensation in eleven cases of sheep-worrying

and practically to re-stock his neighbours’ poultry-yards,

and an escaped hyaena would have mounted up to something

on the scale of a Government grant. The gipsies were

equally unobtrusive over their missing offspring; I don’t

suppose in large encampments they really know to a child or

two how many they’ve got.”

The Baroness paused reflectively, and then continued:

“There was a sequel to the adventure, though. I got

through the post a charming little diamond broach, with the

name Esmé set in a sprig of rosemary. Incidentally, too,

I lost the friendship of Constance Broddle. You see, when I

sold the brooch I quite properly refused to give her any

share of the proceeds. I pointed out that the Esmé part

of the affair was my own invention, and the hyaena part of

it belonged to Lord Pabham, if it really was his hyaena,

of which, of course, I’ve no proof.”