The morning of the hunt dawned with perfect hunt weather, bracingly cold but not freezing, with a thin cloud-cover that softened the light without obscuring it.
"I look bloody fantastic!" I gasped when Pond moved out of the way so I could get a load of myself in the cheval glass. The exquisite black serge hunt jacket was brand-new, just arrived the previous day from Poole's, for which I'd had a lengthy and very thorough fitting when I stopped briefly in London between Bourneham and Verevale. At the time, sitting for what seemed hours on a saddle in the back of the shop, I'd been bored out of my mind and resented the painstaking measurements; but now with the jacket on, I saw it had been worth every tedious minute.
The Poole hunt jacket had been Pond's idea. I usually get my suiting done at Anderson & Sheppard, widely considered the most fashionable of Savile Row tailors, beloved of the Prince of Wales and your better West End headliners; J. Poole & Co., on the other hand, dresses HM the King, and specialises in officers' uniforms and those ruthless black suits you see in Whitehall and the City. I mean, my father goes to Poole's, and that's all I needed to know about the place; Pond had to practically drag me in there by the nape of the neck, like a Nanny with a tantrum-throwing child.
But Pond is always right when it comes to clothes: that jacket was a dream, slim and sleek with the most ravishingly crisp shoulders and the smoothest pocket-flaps imaginable, yet immensely comfortable and allowing a full range of movement. With a high white linen stock, glove-close cream doeskin breeches, and my best black boots polished to a liquid sheen, I looked quite simply delicious.
"Very smart, my lord," Pond agreed, his eyes traveling greedily over the faultless lines of the jacket, caressing the shoulder-seams as if he couldn't believe they were real.
"Oi, Foxy," Lord Rupert came in from next door, sloppily shoved into parts of his riding habit and carrying the other parts in his arms, "I wonder if I might borrow your valet for a minute? All the footmen are downstairs getting the hunt breakfast ready."
"I don't own him, Rupes," I laughed at his comical appearance, his shirt buttoned wrong and his braces dangling, his left sock coming off and flapping on the floor, "You can ask him yourself."
"I would be delighted to assist your lordship in any way I can," Pond bowed and started immediately to work on him, starting with the shirt buttons.
"Oh, thank you...er..." Rupert hesitated, unable to recall my valet's name, though I must have mentioned it before.
"Pond, my lord," he whipped the poorly-laundered stock off Rupert's neck and tossed it fastidiously in my laundry basket, then started wrapping him up in one of my spares.
"Thanks, Pond. I say, Foxy, that is a spiffing jacket," of course he was calling me Foxy, now. No matter how early or often I invite people to call me Sebastian, it just takes one person calling me Foxy and everyone else starts catching it like a cold. With Jingo and Dotty using the name incessantly, it spread through the house by midweek, and I even overheard servants referring to me by my school nickname.
"Isn't it? It just arrived from the tailors," I preened at the compliment and tried not to giggle as Pond stood up on tiptoe to knot Rupert's stock. He's a fairly diminutive chap, and though I'm only a couple of inches taller than average, he stands comfortably eye-level with my necktie-knot and I can see over the top of his head; but Rupert is a good six or seven inches taller than me, and poor Pond looked like he was trying to hang a window-curtain.
"I'm going to look like I crawled out of a second-hand bin, standing next to you," Rupert said enviously. His habit was well-cut and of good quality, but had indeed seen better days, and wasn't very well pressed.
"Nonsense, you look quite handsome," I went over to the open box where my jewelry was kept and chose some pieces to give him, having a hard time finding things that didn't have my initials, my crest, a fox, or flashy stones on. While Pond was busy getting his socks and breech-cuffs sorted out near the floor, I came over and pinned a shiny gold bar with a tiny enameled horse onto his stock, then replaced the plain silk knots in his cuffs with elegant octagonal gold links, "And now just a little bit handsomer. With my compliments."
"I can't take these," he frowned at the link in his right cuff, "They're from Cartier."
"You don't like Cartier?" I looked at him with surprise. I knew his pride would require a token objection to a valuable gift, but I hadn't expected him to recognise the maker.
"Oh, I like Cartier," he fingered the link thoughtfully, "But they're too expensive."
"Hardly," I dismissed the objection, "I never wear them, and I want you to have them."
"Well, thank you," he sounded touched, though somewhat distracted, as Pond was more or less pushing him into the armchair so he could put the boots on.
"My pleasure," I kissed him on top of the head and went over to the bureau to get my hat, gloves and crop, "I'm going downstairs, I may actually die if I don't get my breakfast immediately."