Lost & Hound
September 23, 2022, Friday
The long slanting rays before sunset illuminated the dancing milkweed seeds, silver white, turning them gold, then scarlet, and finally a rich lavender. Jane Arnold, Sister to all, stood in her twenty-acre wildflower field watching the rising, falling, twirling milkweeds. The temperature cooled as the sun set. She hugged her old cashmere sweater, thin but warm, tighter to her as she walked back toward the farm road.
The field contained black-eyed Susans announcing fall had truly arrived. Jerusalem artichokes, coneflowers, their blue contrasting with the yellows; towering above all were the Joe Pye weeds. Sister never considered Joe Pye a weed but that was the title. Underfoot were the remains of lavender.
The light faltered. As it did so, the electric lights came on in the original log cabin of Roughneck Farm, built back in the early seventeen hundreds. Later, money rolling in, the owners added a clapboard addition, all of this settling on a stout stone foundation.
Breathing the cool air, Sister felt a tug of melancholy. Today was the day after the autumnal equinox. She always paused, as she felt the equinoxes gave us stillness, a time to reflect; look back and look forward. And she did.
Stepping onto the red clay farm road, some ruts deepening, she noted the apple orchard across from the log cabin. Over the generations it had been tended, pruned, restored, new trees planted when the old finally produced their last fruits, always with a flourish. One knew it was the end. She wondered was this the same for humans. How could one know?
A black fox, Inky, kept a large, tidy den in the apple orchard. Comet, another fox, gray, lived under the log cabin in cozy quarters. Not only did the warmth somewhat radiate downward, but Comet had also stolen every old coat, scarf, and saddle pad left unwatched. Target, a red male, who floated between two dens, and two farms, the other being After All due to his vixen who refused to live near the Jefferson Hunt Kennels, often bunked up with Comet. Target flirted with thievery, occasionally dragging off a pillow left on an outside chair or, better yet, the tattered remains of a hard-used blanket.
Inky, while not lacking for comforts, could not match the clever paws of the two boys. Were they human, they would have been called light-fingered.
The farm road, hard, as it hadn’t rained for a week, crunched underfoot as Sister turned right to go toward her house, called the Big House, built during the glory days of Monroe’s presidency. By that time, three generations of bold souls who had originally left the old country, England, had lived here. The third generation riding high after the war debts had been paid off, thanks to Hamilton’s hard work and brainpower, had made enough to build a large, gracious, yet simple home, adorned with enormous chimneys. Virginia winters get cold, especially by the Blue Ridge Mountains. Inky watched the tall silver-haired woman pass by. Inky missed very little, noticing a twilight opossum meandering her way. Inky liked the creature but that girl could talk.
Sister carefully walked past the foxhound kennel so as not to disturb anyone. They knew she was near. Human scent is strong and Sister always wore the same cologne, Green Irish Tweed by Creed. If it was good enough for Marlene Dietrich and Cary Grant, it was good enough for her.
Reaching the herringbone brick walkway, she briskly stepped into the mudroom, peeled off the ancient sweater, folding it on a shelf, then opened the door to the kitchen. “Why didn’t you take us?”
her Doberman, Raleigh, cried.
Rooster, the Harrier, looked on with mournful eyes.
The cat, an impressive long hair, would not lower herself to join the dogs. Sister clicked on the kitchen light, the overhead one above the round table.
“All right.” She put two scoops of crunchies in the dog bowl. Then she peeled open a small expensive cat food container, dumping it in Golliwog’s dish, using a table knife to get all of it.
Golly rubbed against her in thanks. Twilight lingered outside. The changing seasons altered the winds, the light softened, and twilight lingered, coating everything in a silvered dark blue until night finally took over.
She sat down at the table, her cellphone and a cup of hot chocolate on top of the old oak surface. Never pass up the opportunity to drink hot chocolate unless it’s blistering hot.
She dialed her best friend.
Betty picked up. “Saw your number. Ready for tomorrow?”
“Am. Are you?”
“I am. Should be cool for an hour or two. Starting at seven-thirty helps. Of course, a lot of people aren’t going to get out of bed at four or five. Still, we know who the diehards are.”
“That we do,” Sister agreed. “I love those foggy fall mornings. Sometimes scent lays down for you and sometimes it doesn’t, but the early days of cubbing excite me. Tempers that autumn melancholy.”
“Funny how it gets you. I love the coolness, the color of the trees, the wildlife getting ready for winter. So much activity. And yet there is that twinge. The flowers will soon be gone. The winds will pick up from the northwest and sometimes that can cut you to the bone.”
“I am convinced those winds keep our complexions clean. Doesn’t do a damn thing for the wrinkles though.”
“Well, that’s what plastic surgeons are for. You’d think plastic surgeons would be foxhunters. Think of the customers both from accidents and vanity,” Betty declared.
“Ha. Well, who doesn’t want to look younger?”
“Oh, Sister, put on a few pounds, it fills the wrinkles. I don’t know how you do it. How long have I known you? As a friend, not just an acquaintance. Forty years?”
“You aren’t sixty yet. Do your math.”
“Okay. Thirty years. Bobby and I started seriously hunting when I was twenty-five. We thought it would be good for business and it sure was.”
“You do excellent work. The wedding invitations are classic, as are special announcements, people’s stationery. And you know even though people can print on their computers, nothing, nothing looks like expensive paper beautifully colored with the choice of script, or block actually, cut into the paper. I’m not using correct terminology.”
“I love looking at typeface.” Betty used the correct term. “Well, we nearly went under but we did bounce back after close to a decade. No one really wants a run-off wedding invitation. That is the recipient’s first clue as to what kind of wedding it will really be.”
“Now there are gay weddings. More business.”
“Thank heavens. To change the subject, how many hounds are you taking tomorrow?”
“Fifteen couple. I like to take two youngsters at a time until mid-October. Then, as you know, I’ll bump it up. Don’t like overwhelming them. Absorbing the new people on horseback takes some adjustment as well. But thirty hounds, that’s plenty.”
“Tie, colored stock, or bow tie? I’m wearing my tie. Well, Bobby’s tie. He has a zillion.”
“One of my Ben Silver ties.”
“Does this count as drag? For women?”
A pause followed this. “Why not? Next we could start a TV show. Drag in reverse.”
“Good idea.” Betty actually liked snitching her husband’s ties.
“After hunting tomorrow, if you have time, I’ll take you to the wildflower field. The butterfly flowers I put in I hope have paid off. You’ll see.”
“We might ride through them. Anyways, I’d love to see and hear your plans for planting and replanting. One of the things I really like about the younger generation is how environmentally conscious they are,” Betty said.
“Me too. See you tomorrow.”
Sister clicked off the phone. What a hopeful phrase, “See you tomorrow.”