In vain Sponge strained his eyes in search of Duntleton Tower. In vain he fancied every high, skyline- breaking place in the distance was the much wished-for spot. Duntleton Tower was no more a tower than it was a town, and would seem to have been christened by the rule of contrary, for it was nothing but a great flat open space, without object or incident to note it.

Sponge, however, was not destined to see it.

As he went floundering along through an apparently interminable and almost bottomless lane, whose sunken places and deep ruts were filled with clayey water, which played the very deuce with the cords and brown boots, the light note of a hound fell on his ear, and almost at the same instant, a something that he would have taken for a dog had it not been for the note of the hound, turned as it were, from him, and went in a contrary direction.

Sponge reined in the piebald, and stood transfixed. It was, indeed, the fox! -- a magnificent full-brushed fellow, with a slight tendency to grey along the back, and going with the light spiry ease of an animal full of strength and running.

‘I wish I mayn’t ketch it,’ said Sponge to himself, shuddering at the idea of having headed him.

It was, however, no time for thinking. The cry of hounds became more distinct -- nearer and nearer they came, fuller and more melodious; but, alas! it was no music to Sponge. Presently the cheering of hunters was heard -- ‘FOR--rard! FOR--rard!’ and anon the rate of a whip further back. Another second, and hounds, horses, and men were in view, streaming away over the large pasture on the left.

There was a high, straggling fence between Sponge and the field, thick enough to prevent their identifying him, but not sufficiently high to screen him altogether. Sponge pulled round the piebald, and gathered himself together like a man going to be shot. The hounds came tearing full cry to where he was; there was a breast-high scent, and everyone seemed to have it. They charged the fence at a wattled pace a few yards below where he sat, and flying across the deep dirty lane, dashed full cry into the pasture beyond.

Hie back!’ cried Sponge. ‘Hie back!’ trying to turn them; but instead of the piebald carrying him in front of the pack, as Sponge wanted, he took to rearing, and plunging, and pawing the air. The hounds meanwhile dashed jealously on without a scent, till first one and then another feeling ashamed, gave in; and at last a general lull succeeded the recent joyous cry. Awful period! terrible to anyone, but dreadful to a stranger! Though Sponge was in the road, he well knew that no one has any business anywhere but with hounds, when a fox is astir.

Hold hard!’ was now the cry, and the perspiring riders and lathered steeds came to a standstill.

Twang--twang--twang,’ went a shrill horn; and a couple of whips, singling themselves out from the field, flew over the fence to where the hounds were casting.

Twang--twang--twang,’ went the horn again.

Meanwhile Sponge sat enjoying the following observations, which a westerly wind wafted into his ear.

‘Oh, damn me! that man in the lane’s headed the fox,’ puffed one.

‘Who is it?’ gasped another.

‘Tom Washball!’ exclaimed a third.

‘Heads more foxes than any man in the country,’ puffed a fourth.

‘Always nicking and skirting,’ exclaimed a fifth.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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