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The Master Of Hounds
by [?]

Five hundred pounds a day is about the sum which a master should demand for hunting an average country, that is, so many times five hundred pounds a year as he may hunt days in the week. If four days a week be required of him, two thousand a year will be little enough. But as a rule, I think masters are generally supposed to charge only for the advertised days, and to give the byedays out of their own pocket. Nor must it be thought that the money so subscribed will leave the master free of expense. As I have said before, he should be a rich man. Whatever be the subscription paid to him, he must go beyond it, very much beyond it, or there will grow up against him a feeling that he is mean, and that feeling will rob him of all his comfort. Hunting men in England wish to pay for their own amusement; but they desire that more shall be spent than they pay. And in this there is a rough justice, that roughness of justice which pervades our English institutions. To a master of hounds is given a place of great influence, and into his hands is confided an authority the possession of which among his fellow-sportsmen is very pleasant to him. For this he is expected to pay, and he does pay for it. A Lord Mayor is, I take it, much in the same category. He has a salary as Lord Mayor, but if he do not spend more than that on his office he becomes a byword for stinginess among Lord Mayors To be Lord Mayor is his whistle, and he pays for it.

For myself, if I found myself called upon to pay for one whistle or the other, I would sooner be a master of hounds than a Lord Mayor. The power is certainly more perfect, and the situation, I think, more splendid. The master of hounds has no aldermen, no common council, no liverymen. As long as he fairly performs his part of the compact, he is altogether without control. He is not unlike the captain of a man-of-war; but, unlike the captain of a man-of-war, he carries no sailing orders. He is free to go where he lists, and is hardly expected to tell any one whither he goeth. He is enveloped in a mystery which, to the young, adds greatly to his grandeur; and he is one of those who, in spite of the democratic tenderness of the age, may still be said to go about as a king among men. No one contradicts him. No one speaks evil of him to his face; and men tremble when they have whispered anything of some half-drawn covert, of some unstopped earth, some fox that should not have escaped, and, looking round, see that the master is within earshot. He is flattered, too, if that be of any avail to him. How he is flattered! What may be done in this way to Lord Mayors by common councilmen who like Mansion-house crumbs, I do not know; but kennel crumbs must be very sweet to a large class of sportsmen. Indeed, they are so sweet that almost every man will condescend to flatter the master of hounds. And ladies too, all the pretty girls delight to be spoken to by the master! He needs no introduction, but is free to sip all the sweets that come. Who will not kiss the toe of his boots, or refuse to be blessed by the sunshine of his smile?

But there are heavy duties, deep responsibilities, and much true heart-felt anxiety to stand as makeweight against all these sweets. The master of hounds, even though he take no part in the actual work of hunting his own pack, has always his hands full of work. He is always learning, and always called upon to act on his knowledge suddenly. A Lord Mayor may sit at the Mansionhouse, I think, without knowing much of the law. He may do so without discovery of his ignorance. But the master of hounds who does not know his business is seen through at once. To say what that business is would take a paper longer than this, and the precept writer by no means considers himself equal to such a task. But it is multifarious, and demands a special intellect for itself. The master should have an eye like an eagle’s, an ear like a thief’s, and a heart like a dog’s that can be either soft or ruthless as occasion may require. How he should love his foxes, and with what pertinacity he should kill them! How he should rejoice when his skill has assisted in giving the choice men of his hunt a run that they can remember for the next six years! And how heavy should be his heart within him when he trudges home with them, weary after a blank day, to the misery of which his incompetency has, perhaps, contributed! A master of hounds should be an anxious man; so anxious that the privilege of talking to pretty girls should be of little service to him.