Someone mentioned the exclusive Maryland Hunt Cup Ball to be held on Saturday night in Baltimore. It is one of the hardest-to-get-invited-to social events in America, but Mrs. Fisher, upon learning that a guest planned to attend, merely murmured with unfeigned sympathy, "Oh, you poor thing."
"People here really hunt," said one guest. "You know, people like the Fishers. They don't just bring a horse in from somewhere to try to win the Maryland Hunt. They have their horses and use them. They will run from 7 in the morning until dark, often stopping only to change mounts. This is tough hunting country. If you are a young man on a good horse and you don't take everything in sight, they probably won't have much to do with you for long."
At the lower club (golf-course division) of the Green Spring Valley Hunt Club, the Black Sheep—Baltimore bachelors and a group of their friends—were generating body heat that made a welcome change from the crisp night air. Young America drank, danced and talked a mile a minute in an atmosphere of blue smoke. It could have been any Friday at any country club, and the electric guitars of The Lafayettes must have been causing kidney damage through vibrations alone. The enthusiastic 200-odd young businessmen attending were typical of the postcollege brokers, bankers, builders and lawyers who do not ride or even belong to the Hunt Club but who revere the Maryland Hunt as a tradition they want to share. They make up colorful and convivial tail-gate picnic groups that turn Worthington Valley into a festive place on Hunt Saturday each year.
The Black Sheep consider the Maryland Hunt such an important event that, when they were faced with eliminating either their steeplechase eve dance or the one at Thanksgiving, they unhesitatingly dropped the November date. Some of them seem to enjoy the pleasures of vicarious snobbery. When told that the Hunt Ball was still off limits to the press, one Black Sheep said, "Terrific—Baltimore is always very good at keeping outsiders out!"
The morning of race day finds the elliptical valley course outlined with small red and white flags and watched over by state police. Bright yellow portable toilets dot the green pasture, and down the hill from the Gary Blacks' house a snow fence has been arranged in a circle to form a paddock. Inside is the weighing-in tent for the jockeys. The judging platform at the finish line is a farm wagon. The incomparable vista from here takes in the acreage across the road at the foot of the hill, over which half of the race course runs. This property belongs to Maryland's handsome young Senator Daniel B. Brewster. The two spots on the asphalt highway where the horses must cross have been covered with tanbark, and a crew of men keeps busy raking it back into place after each passing car.
Riders, trainers and owners walk over the course, anticipating trouble spots, crushing the bright wild violets under the heels of their wet jodhpur boots and frowning at the solid-rock hardness and staggering height of four fences—Nos. 3, 6, 13 and 16. At the 17th they think of Trouble Maker, who broke his neck there after safely running the Grand National. He was buried on the spot. And at the 13th they think of War Gold, who also lies under the sod. The jockeys seem to feel the sixth and 16th fences are the toughest, because of an incline that makes each jump almost a foot higher. But the crowd usually gathers to see the spills at the 13th. It was here that the Duchess of Westminster, a fervent Grand National follower and horse owner, paused. "I had heard," she said, "that these fences were big and hard, but I had no idea they were this size. I can see now how Jay Trump negotiated the Grand National so easily after a background of these terrible fences."
The Green Spring Valley Hunt Club, not far from the course, is alive with activity, preparing to feed visitors from all over the U.S. There is a sound of hounds as one approaches the 150-year-old brick house with its old pine doors and facings, plaster walls and wide, walk-in fireplaces. The wooden floors are un-waxed, scarred by boots and spurs. Plaster sags from the beamed ceilings, and the photographs of hunt masters, hounds and horses are yellow with age. But a musty charm pervades as the platters of food fly past and the spicy smell of frying Maryland crab cakes fills the air. The bartenders stand behind a huge array of drinks. "We serve bourbon on the rocks 2 to 1 over everything else," one of them said. "Occasionally an old fool will order bourbon and orange juice. It makes me sick to make it."
"You can be sure they're drinking all over the countryside today," said Mrs. Frances Shield, on hand with her husband, Dr. J. Asa Shield. They are from the hunting country near Sabot, Va. "We had the best year ever. We had more timber horses," she said. Mrs. Shield wore a belted trench coat and khaki cleated rubber boots against the damp. The doctor, formerly Virginia's representative to the Masters of Foxhounds Association of America, had on a yellow vest, a green tie figured with running horses and a checked hacking jacket. "I brought Frances up here before we were married," he said. "We've been coming here now for 20 years."
Meantime a series of private luncheons were going on all over the Glyndon countryside. Senator Brewster was entertaining at his working Worthington Farms in an attractive white frame house where the guest list usually includes such regulars as Senators Howard Cannon, Vance Hartke, Stephen Young and Joseph Tydings; also Assistant Secretary of the Treasury and former Ambassador to Switzerland True Davis, former Postmaster General J. Edward Day and William R. Howard III and his wife, the film star Dorothy Lamour. (Mr. Howard is the descendant of an Englishman to whom an English king once deeded a large part of what is now Baltimore.)
The most elaborate entertaining in the valley is conducted by the Blacks in their vantage-point house on the daffodil-covered hill overlooking the course. This elegant red-brick house, with its trimmed boxwood hedges, is full of elegant people—the ladies in tweed suits and boots and the men in checked jackets and rough country shoes. (The tasseled moccasin, a dead fashion duck in most spots, is very much alive in hunt country.)