New Beginnings for Jeremy Haines – Fall
In the broad expanses of opportunity and luck that we call time, only a few make such advances, in such short periods, as Jeremy Haines. If you recall meeting Mr. Haines just a few months ago, he was in a rut with a job that bored him and a girlfriend whom he bored and not much else besides his fat little terrier, Goose, and the indefatigable restlessness of a life unlived.
Fast forward a few months, and life is very different.
Jeremy couldn’t help but smile at this thought while examining his sunburn in the mirror of the small seaside hotel he found himself in, with Rosamund Small-Rundell. They had been there for two days now and his sunburn had turned a lovely shade of grapefruit – pamplemousse, Jeremy corrected himself – and stung like the Devil. Rosamund laughed, offered to find aloe, then promptly fell asleep on the small settee by the window. Later, they’d go out together and Jeremy could practice his French some more. He took out his dictionary and looked up translations for ‘aloe’ and ‘sunburn’ and ‘ouch’.
He and Rosamund had been holidaying in France for the better part of two weeks, with most of their time spent in a chateau owned by Rosamund’s uncle, Weston Rundell. Weston had made his money in fragrance manufacturing and lived well in Provence. The seaside part the holiday came about because Rosamund wanted Jeremy to try oysters. The trip itself was on a whim, taking in culture, food and the language – Rosamund advising the best way to learn the latter being via immersion. All this just one week after their first meeting at Glyndebourne.
Jeremy sat down next to the curled up Rosamund. She was still wearing the scarf she had packed to fly in the wind while driving the convertible borrowed from Weston. Smiling, he recalled it had only smacked him twice in the face that morning on their drive around the village.
* * *
Rosamund laughed as her uncle filled their coupes of champagne, “Bugger the waiter!” He winked at Jeremy and began to recount the last time he went on a fox hunt. It was, in Weston’s vernacular, a bit “rinky-dink”. They had gathered at a petrol station with only four hounds, one of which was a pug, introduced as Poppit. Two of the riders were American (“And you know what that means!” Weston added as a footnote. Jeremy didn’t, but laughed along anyway). Afterwards, one of the hunters’ wives motioned everyone to the boot of their car for a warm meal, giving each a slice of bacon and an apple. The American husband could be heard telling his wife, “My God, Beth. This isn’t like Downton Abbey at all!”
Rosamund giggled. Jeremy smiled over his water glass., asking “Will it be much different at the Palover House Hunt?”
“Oh Jim, let’s hope so! The Poolthams love a bit of excitement, don’t they, Westie?”
Weston agreed, quipping that the Poolthams were polygamists. In their marriage there was Clarissa, Dougal, and old-fashioned tradition.
Jeremy spent the rest of the evening quizzing Weston and Rosamund on what he should expect from the hunt. It was still months away, but he wanted to be prepared. What should he wear? How many nights would they stay? How cold was Scotland in October? Did they have to go?
He made a mental note to call Morris, his tailor at Cad & The Dandy, as soon as he returned to the office. He had decided on a tweed three piece suit, something befitting the occasion that would also impress the Poolthams and their guests.
“One last thing, Jim – you can ride, can’t you?”
“Oh yes, of course!” Jeremy lied. He supposed, like learning French, he could pick it up through immersion.
* * *
No one told Jeremy just how traditional the Poolthams were. So traditional in fact, they had eschewed central heating for the guest quarters. While fireplaces were put in every room, the stone floors had a way of holding any heat hostage. Jeremy wore two pairs of socks to bed.
And poor Goose! Old and prone to shaking anyway, Goose’s short hair was no defense against the cold and rainy days that greeted them in Scotland. Curled up in the down comforter in Jeremy’s room, he only poked his nose out to breathe.
Goose had the right idea, Jeremy thought, as he straightened his bowtie in the mirror with blue, frozen fingers. It was the same tuxedo he had worn to Glyndebourne earlier in the year. The midnight blue fabric looked almost black in the dark autumn night. Only when lit by the glow from the fire could one see the subtle lustre was, in fact, blue. He loved the suit and the good memories it held for him: the first time he wore it he had met Rosamund and forgotten Natasha.
Cocktail hour arrived with instruction to meet in the study at 8 o’clock. The guests had all arrived by then; it was a bit of a welcome reception. Jeremy was looking forward to both a stiff drink and the room’s plush rugs, which trapped the heat and would bring feeling back to his toes.
Approaching the study, he could already make out the distinct laughter of the Lyonne sisters, Talia and Millicent. Arched but not unkind, it was as if they had heard a different joke, telepathically communicated between themselves, which they had simply forgotten you couldn’t possibly understand.
He could also hear the drone of Jock Martin, recounting his latest escapades with something called an influencer. Jeremy couldn’t quite make out who – or what – that might be.
And there, batting smoke from the long tendril that coiled out of Talia’s – or was it Millicent’s? – cigarette was Rosamund, easily making eye contact with Jeremy above the head of Hernan Oliviero, the Marqués de Tucumán, being as he was particularly short. Rosamund glanced towards the Lyonne sisters, rolling her eyes before returning to conversations with Hernan, recalling his days as a skilled polo player in Argentina.
Jeremy looked to see who else was in attendance. On the ride up to Palover House, with Goose on her lap, Rosamund had given a debrief of the guests. A skilled actress, she was easily able to embody the affectations of others and not afraid of screwing up her face in order to convey the essence of whomever she was describing. And so, Jeremy had no trouble recognizing those he had never previously met.
There was, of course, the Poolthams in their matching tartans, an imposing couple who bored Jeremy to death but to whom he felt a sort of tenderness for their old world upkeep and hospitality. There was Thom Banyss, an air officer of some sort (Rosamund had furrowed her brow and stuck out her chin to exaggerate his machismo attitude). There was Sarah Wendell-Marsh, a little woman with a little voice who had (according to Rosamund) an inappropriate fascination with people’s dental work, constantly peering into people’s mouths and commenting on what she would have done, had she finished orthodontic school. There was Hubby Johnson who sat calmly with a newspaper while his wife, Clara, peered over his shoulder to correct him on the crossword.
Others would join the Hunt tomorrow, but everyone staying at the house was accounted for.
The crowd made a comfortable din and Jeremy, with toes thawed, found a nearby member of house staff and asked for a Negroni. The footman smiled and nodded but Jeremy could read a little sarcasm in his response – was he being judged? “Another Londoner in his custom suit asking for a Negroni,” Jeremy argued the footman’s part in his own imagination. When returning with said Negroni, he would talk about something relatable, proving his working professional credentials. He just happened to be in a custom suit and just happened to like Negronis and just happened to be staying in a castle as a guest. So, Jeremy thought. We’re actually not that different at all.
However, Jeremy didn’t get a chance to put his plan into action as he was grabbed by the shoulder by Talia Lyonne.
“Jim, finally! I thought you were ignoring us. Millicent’s been dreaming of saying hello since she knew you were coming.” Talia gripped him tighter, turning him towards her sister as the footman returned with James’ Negroni, only for Talia to absentmindedly ash her long cigarette into the glass.
“No one drinks those anymore, dear. I’m doing you a favor, really.”
Millicent tilted a coupe in his direction as Talia parked Jeremy in front of them. Millicent, in what looked to be a lavender nightgown, smiled and said, by way of a greeting, “Didn’t you wear that same outfit the last time we saw you?”
Jeremy decided not to respond but instead motioned to Rosamund to join them. He put his arm around her waist and she relaxed into him slightly.
“You’re still doing that, I see,” Millicent was quick to say. The comment was ignored as more staff entered the study with another round of bites on platters for guests to nibble.
Dougal Pooltham was known to be slightly irritable when his blood sugar dropped and could be heard abruptly telling Clara Johnson to “shut up for one moment” as he made a bee-line towards the nearest waiter’s tray. Unfortunately, with the port having got the best of him, he tripped, causing chicken liver skewers to tumble and bounce down Dougal’s kilt in the process.
“I wondered why the Poolthams liked tartans so much. I’m guessing it helps hide the stains,” joked Jeremy into Rosamund’s ear. She giggled and swatted him to shush, but Millicent had already cottoned on to their convivial flirtation.
“What’s so funny, dear Jeremy?”
“No, go on. I need a good laugh after the train ride up.”
Her sister concurred.
“Yes, Jimmy. Do tell. What side-splitter was it this time?”
Rosamund repeated the joke on Jeremy’s behalf. The small circle chuckled, with Millicent laughing the loudest.
“Oh, that’s good. That’s too good! Dougal, hear this corker from Jeremy.”
Millicent winked at Talia with a mischievous smile.
“Jeremy, do tell Doogie what you just told us. About the tartan and how he’s a messy eater!”
Jeremy began to protest but Dougal, two drinks in with his gravy smudged kilt, was already red in the face.
“What’s that, boy? You think it’s nice to crack jokes at the host, what?”
“N-nothing of the sort, Mr. Pooltham. It’s just–”
“Yes, General Pooltham to you.”
“Yes, well, generally…General. I was just generally making a general observation about a … er…”
“I’ll have you know…..
Clarissa sidled up her husband – perhaps feeling the heat radiating from Jeremy’s cheeks or from the top of Dougal’s bald spot- either way grabbing his hand.
“I think it’s time for dinner, dear.”
* * *
Jeremy kissed Rosamund at the door as they said goodnight. Back in his own room, still hungry, he unwrapped some haggis and a biscuit from the napkin spirited into his pocket at dinner. Munching on the much needed morsels, he noticed the napkin bore the Pooltham coat of arms, with tartan edging.
Goose awoke with a yawn. He hadn’t moved since Jeremy had gone downstairs. If anything, he had only burrowed deeper into the down comforter. Laying the napkin on the floor in a corner, Jeremy said,
“Goose, if you need to go in the middle of the night, feel free to unload on this.”
* * *
No one woke Jeremy for the Hunt. Had he not taken Goose out around the Palover grounds he would never have heard the din of excitement over the hill. Tugging at the leash, Goose nearly strangled himself in a bid to join the hubbub. Jeremy, in his pyjamas and new Barbour jacket, picked up especially for the weekend, tried to drag the fat little terrier back indoors.
“Shit. Shit. Shit, shit, shit.” What he was going to say to the Poolthams now? Insulting your host once is perhaps forgivable. But twice? Why, he may as well just pack his bags right now.
Goose dug his paws into the soft October earth, craning his neck towards the pack of bellowing hounds. Finally, with one mighty tug, he broke free, running toward the melee.
“Shit! Shit! Shit! Shit!” Jeremy now chasing the furry little barrel in the wet morning grass.
“Jeremy? Jim! Jim!”
It was Rosamund. In her wellies, tweed blazer and old jodhpurs, she looked every bit the modern-day Artemis. Her cheeks were flushed.
“Jim – I thought you were sick!”
“Sick? What? No! I’m sorry, Rosie, but I have to get Goose.”
She ran behind him as he darted towards the pack of hounds, weaving between riders’ legs and horses’ feet.
“It’s just, I’m so glad you could make it. Millicent told the valet not to wake you as you were quite unwell.”
“I’m sure she…GOOSE! Goose! Come here. GOOSE!”
Goose, never a good listener, was mightily distracted by the hound’s mob of battering tails and floppy ears, all on immediate high alert at the appearance of this pudgy, fuzzy haired, interloper.
Quick as a blink, Hubby Johnson’s horse trod down on Goose’s tail, with a resounding yelp ringing through the crowd, which the hounds took as their signal to run. Dashing across the wide expanse of Scottish moorland surrounding Palover House, the hounds went berserk, tails wagging with full throttle yips, barks and whines ringing off the baronial-style house.
A few riders took off after the hounds while Dougal Pooltham, (Master of the Hunt, naturally), fumed with a rising flush to match his scarlet coat.
“DAMN IT. RUINED. Get out of the way, get out of the way!” he called from the front of the dwindling crowd of riders.
Striding off, Hubby nodded his apology. “Pooltham hates when things go wrong,”
Goose, subdued, waited for Jeremy to inspect his injury. The tail seemed to be sprained. Scooping the terrier into his arms, Goose nestled his head under Jeremy’s neck, his little heart thumping so hard, Jeremy could feel it through the wax canvas of his jacket.
Millicent and Talia were the last to remain. Nearly identical in their riding gear, there was barely a distinction between the two. Jeremy guessed it to be Millicent who spoke.
“Jimmy, good to see you up and about! Feeling better?”
Their laughter mixed with the receding barks of the hounds as they rode off to join the pack.
Rosamund gave Goose a kiss on the head and Jeremy one on the cheek.
“Come on, let’s get you both cleaned up.”
* * *
Jeremy decided to head home. He couldn’t bear the thought of staying for another meal, another night, another chance to be made a fool of and be under the now-blistering gaze of Dougal Pooltham. Even Clarissa, who didn’t hunt, had turned icy towards him. She sent a scrambled egg up for Goose, audibly asking the maid to find out when Mr. Haines would be leaving.
The few hours prior to departure turned out to be the best of the weekend. Rosamund nursed Goose, alternating between baby-talk and a warm compress. The local hound’s kennel owner was called and confirmed that, indeed, Goose was not badly injured. Relief all round.
Still, Jeremy felt cheated, not having had a chance to wear his new clothes, made specifically for the occasion by his tailor, Morris, with all his expert recommendations. He changed out of his muddy pyjamas and got dressed, showing Rosamund the suit. It was a suit he felt at home in – a checkered tweed in a warm tan with a red window pane. A jacket designed for regular wear, not just for special occasions. He turned the collar down, modeling it for her and laughing, his hair still wet from the shower.
Rosamund, her own tweed blazer draped on a chair in his room, sat with her feet tucked underneath her and Goose’s head resting on her leg, applauding his good taste.
“Who cares if you missed the hunt? You got a beautiful tweed suit out of it and I didn’t have to spend time with the Lyonne sisters!”
“Yes, Rosie, that’s a great way of looking at it! Now, should we be off?”
* * *
Approaching the station, Jeremy’s phone picked up reception and began to buzz. Service had been worse than patchy at Palover and he had been too embarrassed to ask for the Wifi password.
He checked his emails on the platform to find a note from his boss, Mark McMichael.
The Board was very impressed with your latest numbers, with the last quarter being exemplary for both you and your team.
Could you work with Lucie on travel arrangements to join us during December in NYC? We’ll talk as soon as you firm up the details.
Now comfortably settled into their carriage, Jeremy turned to Rosamund.
“What do you think to Christmas in New York this year?”
Illustrated by Miguel Carranza, an illustrator and portraitist residing in Mexico. You can find his work on his instagram @milkymike462.