Farmer Peastraw's Dînée-Matinéee

There are pleasanter situations than being left alone with twenty couple of even the best-mannered foxhounds; far pleasanter situations than being left alone with such a tearing, frantic lot as composed Sir Harry Scattercash’s pack. Sportsmen are so used (with some hounds at least) to see foxes ‘in hand’ that they never think there is any difficulty in getting them there; and it is only a single-handed combat with the pack that shows them that the hound does not bring the fox up in his mouth like a retriever. A tyro’s first tête-àa-tête with a half-killed fox, with the baying pack circling round, must leave as pleasing a souvenir on the memory as Dr Gordon Cumming would derive from his first interview with a lion.

Our friend Mr Sponge was now engaged with a game of ‘pull devil, pull baker,’ with the hounds for the fox, the difficulty of his situation being heightened by having to contend with the impetuous temper of a high-couraged, dangerous horse. To be sure, the gallant Hercules was a good deal subdued by the distance and severity of the pace, but there are few horses that get to the end of a run that have not sufficient kick left in them to do mischief to hounds, especially when raised or frightened by the smell of blood; nevertheless, there was no help for it. Mr Sponge knew that unless he carried off some trophy, it would never be believed he had killed the fox. Considering all this, and also that there was no one to tell what damage he did, he just rode slap into the middle of the pack, as Marksman, Furious, Thunderer, and Bountiful, were in the act of despatching the fox. Singwell and Saladin (puppies) having been sent away howling, the one bit through the jowl, the other through the foot.

Ah! leave him -- leave him -- leave him!’ screeched Mr Sponge, trampling over Warrior and Tempest, the brown horse lashing out furiously at Melody and Lapwing. ‘Ah, leave him! leave him!’ repeated he, throwing himself off his horse by the fox, and clearing a circle with his whip, aided by the hooves of the animal. There lay the fox before him killed, but as yet little broken by the pack. He was a noble fellow; bright and brown, in the full vigour of life and condition, with a gameness, even in death, that no other animal shows. Mr Sponge put his foot on the body, and quickly whipped off his brush. Before he had time to pocket it, the repulsed pack broke in upon him and carried off the carcass.

‘Ah! dash ye, you may have that,’ said he, cutting at them with his whip as they clustered upon it like a swarm of bees. They had not had a wild fox for five weeks.

Who--hoop!’ cried Mr Sponge, in the hopes of attracting some of the field. ‘Who--hoop!’ repeated he, as loud as he could halloo. ‘Where can they all be, I wonder?’ said he, looking around; and echo answered -- where?

The hounds had now crunched their fox, or as much of him as they wanted. Old Marksman ran about with his head, and Warrior with a haunch.

Drop it, you old beggar!’ cried Mr Sponge, cutting at Marksman with his whip, and Mr Sponge being too near to make a trial of speed prudent, the old dog did as he was bid, and slunk away.

Our friend then appended this proud trophy to his saddle-flap by a piece of whipcord, and, mounting the now tractable Hercules, began to cast about in search of a landmark. Like most down countries, this one was somewhat deceptive; there were plenty of landmarks, but they were all the same sort -- clumps of trees on hilltops, and plantations on hill-sides, but nothing of a distinguishing character, nothing that a stranger could say, ‘I remember seeing that as I came;’ or, ‘I remember passing that in the run.’ The landscape seemed all alike: north, south, east, and west, equally indifferent.

‘Curse the thing,’ said Mr Sponge, adjusting himself in his saddle, and looking about; ‘I haven’t the slightest idea where I am. I’ll blow the horn, and see if that will bring anyone.’

So saying, he applied the horn to his lips, and blew a keen, shrill blast, that spread over the surrounding country, and was echoed back by the distant hills. A few lost hounds cast up from various quarters, in the unexpected way that hounds do come to a horn. Among them were a few branded with S,1 who did not at all set off the beauty of the rest.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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