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   Chapter 8 CUB-HUNTING.

Ask Mamma By R. S. Surtees Characters: 13512

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


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THOUGH his lordship, as we said before, would stoutly deny being old, he had nevertheless got sufficiently through the morning of life not to let cub-hunting get him out of bed a moment sooner than usual, and it was twelve o'clock on the next day but one to that on which the foregoing conversation took place, that Mr. Boggledike was again to be seen standing erect in his stirrups, yoiking and coaxing his hounds into Crashington Gorse. There was Dicky, cap-in-hand, in the Micentre ride, exhorting the young hounds to dive into the strong sea of gorse. "Y-o-o-icks! wind him! y-o-o-icks! pash him up!" cheered the veteran, now turning his horse across to enforce the request. There was his lordship at the high corner as usual, ensconced among the clump of weather-beaten blackthorns-thorns that had neither advanced nor receded a single inch since he first knew them,-his eagle eye fixed on the narrow fern and coarse grass-covered dell down which Reynard generally stole. There was Harry Swan at one corner to head the fox back from the beans, and Tom Speed at the other to welcome him away over the corn-garnered open. And now the whimper of old sure-finding Harbinger, backed by the sharp "yap" of the terrier, proclaims that our friend is at home, and presently a perfect hurricane of melody bursts from the agitated gorse,-every hound is in the paroxysm of excitement, and there are five-and-twenty couple of them, fifty musicians in the whole!

"Tally-ho! there he goes across the ride!"

"Cub!" cries his lordship.

"Cub!" responded Dicky.

"Crack!" sounds the whip.

Now the whole infuriated phalanx dashed across the ride and dived into the close prickly gorse on the other side as if it were the softest, pleasantest quarters in the world. There is no occasion to coax, and exhort, and ride cap-in-hand to them now. It's all fury and commotion. Each hound seems to consider himself personally aggrieved,-though we will be bound to say the fox and he never met in their lives,-and to be bent upon having immediate satisfaction. And immediate, any tyro would think it must necessarily be, seeing such preponderating influence brought to bear upon so small an animal. Not so, however: pug holds his own; and, by dint of creeping, and crawling, and stopping, and listening, and lying down, and running his foil, he brings the lately rushing, clamorous pack to a more plodding, pains-taking, unravelling sort of performance.

Meanwhile three foxes in succession slip away, one at Speed's corner, two at Swan's; and though Speed screeched, and screamed, and yelled, as if he were getting killed, not a hound came to see what had happened. They all stuck to the original scent.

"Here he comes again!" now cries his lordship from his thorn-formed bower, as the cool-mannered fox again steals across the ride, and Dicky again uncovers, and goes through the capping ceremony. Over come the pack, bristling and lashing for blood-each hound looking as if he would eat the fox single-handed. Now he's up to the high corner as though he were going to charge his lordship himself, and passing over fresh ground the hounds get the benefit of a scent, and work with redoubled energy, making the opener gorse bushes crack and bend with their pressure. Pug has now gained the rabbit-burrowed bank of the north fence, and has about made up his mind to follow the example of his comrades, and try his luck in the open, when a cannonading crack of Swan's whip strikes terror into his heart, and causes him to turn tail, and run the moss-grown mound of the hedge. Here he unexpectedly meets young Prodigal face to face, who, thinking that rabbit may be as good eating as fox, has got up a little hunt of his own, and who is considerably put out of countenance by the rencontre; but pug, not anticipating any such delicacy on the part of a pursuer, turns tail, and is very soon in the rear of the hounds, hunting them instead of their hunting him. The thing then becomes more difficult, businesslike, and sedate-the sages of the pack taking upon them to guide the energy of the young. So what with the slow music of the hounds, the yap, yap, yapping of the terriers, and the shaking of the gorse, an invisible underground sort of hunt is maintained-his lordship sitting among his blackthorn bushes like a gentleman in his opera-stall, thinking now of the hunt, now of his dinner, now of what a good thing it was to be a lord, with a good digestion and plenty of cash, and nobody to comb his head.

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At length pug finds it too hot to hold him. The rays of an autumnal sun have long been striking into the gorse, while a warm westerly wind does little to ventilate it from the steam of the rummaging inquisitive pack. Though but a cub, he is the son of an old stager, who took Dicky and his lordship a deal of killing, and with the talent of his sire, he thus ruminates on his uncomfortable condition.

"If," says he, "I stay here, I shall either be smothered or fall a prey to these noisy unrelenting monsters, who seem to have the knack of finding me wherever I go. I'd better cut my stick as I did the time before, and have fresh air and exercise at all events, in the open:" so saying he made a dash at the hedge near where Swan was stationed, and regardless of his screams and the cracks of his whip, cut through the beans and went away, with a sort of defiant whisk of his brush.

What a commotion followed his departure! How the screeches of the men mingled with the screams of the hounds and the twangs of the horn! In an instant his lordship vacates his opera-stall and is flying over the ragged boundary fence that separates him from the beans; while Mr. Boggledike capers and prances at a much smaller place, looking as if he would fain turn away were it not for the observation of the men. Now Dicky is over! Swan and Speed take it in their stride, just as the last hound leaves the gorse and strains to regain his distant companions. A large grass field, followed by a rough bare fallow, takes the remaining strength out of poor pug; and, turning short to the left, he seeks the friendless shelter of a patch of wretched oats. The hounds overrun the scent, but, spreading like a rocket, they quickly recover it; and in an instant, fox, hounds, horses, men, are among the standing corn,-one ring in final destruction of the beggarly crop, and poor pug is in the hands of his pursuers. Then came the grand finale, the who hoop! the baying, the blowing, the beheading, &c. Now Harry Swan, whose province it is to magnify sport and make imaginary runs to ground, exercises his calling, by declaring it was five-and-thirty minutes (twenty perhaps), and the finest young fox he ever had hold of. Now his lo

rdship and Dicky take out their tootlers and blow a shrill reverberating blast; while Swan stands straddling and yelling, with the mangled remains high above his head, ready to throw it into the sea of mouths that are baying around to receive it. After a sufficiency of noise, up goes the carcase; the wave of hounds breaks against it as it falls, while a half-ravenous, half-indignant, growling worry succeeds the late clamourous outcry.

"Tear 'im and eat 'im!" cries Dicky.

"Tear 'im and eat 'im!" shouts his lordship.

"Tear 'im and eat 'im!" shrieks Speed.

"Hie worry! worry! worry!" shouts Swan, trying to tantalize the young hounds with a haunch, which, however, they do not seem much to care about.

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The old hounds, too, seem as if they had lost their hunger with their anger; and Marmion lets Warrior run off with his leg with only a snap and an indignant rise of his bristles.

Altogether the froth and effervescence of the thing has evaporated; so his lordship and Dicky turning their horses' heads, the watchful hounds give a bay of obedient delight as they frolic under their noses; and Swan having reclaimed his horse from Speed, the onward procession is formed to give Brambleton Wood a rattle by way of closing the performance of the day.

His lordship and Dicky ride side by side, extolling the merits of the pack and the excellence of Crashington Gorse. Never was so good a cover. Never was a better pack. Mainchance's! pooh! Not to be mentioned in the same century. So they proceed, magnifying and complimenting themselves in the handsomest terms possible, down Daisyfield lane, across Hill House pastures, and on by Duston Mills to Broomley, which is close to Brambleton Wood.

Most of our Featherbedfordshire friends will remember that after leaving Duston Mills the roads wind along the impetuous Lime, whose thorn and broom-grown banks offer dry, if not very secure, accommodation for master Reynard; and the draw being pretty, and the echo fine, his lordship thought they might as well run the hounds along the banks, not being aware that Peter Hitter, Squire Porker's keeper, had just emerged at the east end as they came up at the west. However, that was neither here nor there, Dicky got his Y-o-o-icks, his lordship got his view, Swan and Speed their cracks and canters, and it was all in the day's work. No fox, of course, was the result. "Tweet, tweet, tweet," went the horns, his lordship taking a blow as well as Dicky, which sounded up the valley and lost itself among the distant hills. The hounds came straggling leisurely out of cover, as much as to say, "You know there never is a fox there, so why bother us?"

All hands being again united, the cavalcade rose the hill, and were presently on the Longford and Aldenbury turnpike. Here the Featherbedfordshire reader's local knowledge will again remind him that the Chaddleworth lane crosses the turnpike at right angles, and just as old Ringwood, who, as usual, was trotting consequentially in advance of the pack, with the fox's head in his mouth, got to the finger-post, a fair equestrian on a tall blood bay rode leisurely past with downcast eyes in full view of the advancing party. Though her horse whinnied and shied, and seemed inclined to be sociable, she took no more notice of the cause than if it had been a cart, merely coaxing and patting him with her delicate primrose-coloured kid gloves. So she got him past without even a sidelong look from herself.

But though she did not look my lord did, and was much struck with the air and elegance of everything-her mild classic features-her black-felt, Queen's-patterned, wide-awake, trimmed with lightish-green velvet, and green cock-feathered plume, tipped with straw-colour to match the ribbon that now gently fluttered at her fair neck,-her hair, her whip, her gloves, her tout ensemble. Her lightish-green habit was the quintessence of a fit, and altogether there was a high-bred finish about her that looked more like Hyde Park than what one usually sees in the country.

"Who the deuce is that, Dicky?" asked his lordship, as she now got out of hearing.

"That be her, my lord," whispered Dicky, sawing away at his hat. "That be her," repeated he with a knowing leer.

"Her! who d'ye mean?" asked his lordship, who had forgotten all Dicky's preamble.

"Well,-Miss-Miss-What's her name-Dedancev, Dedancey,-the lady I told you about."

And the Earl's heart smote him, for he felt that he had done injustice to Dicky, and moreover, had persevered too long in his admiration of large ladies, and in his repudiation of horsemanship. He thought he had never seen such a graceful seat, or such a piece of symmetrical elegance before, and inwardly resolved to make Dicky a most surprising present at Christmas, for he went on the principle of giving low wages, and of rewarding zeal and discretion, such as Dicky's, profusely. And though he went and drew Brambleton Wood, he was thinking far more of the fair maid, her pensive, downcast look, her long eyelashes, her light silken hair, her graceful figure, and exquisite seat, than of finding a fox; and he was not at all sorry when he heard Dicky's horn at the bridle-gate at the Ashburne end blowing the hounds out of cover. They then went home, and his lordship was very grumpy all that evening with his fat fair-and-forty friend, Mrs. Moffatt, who could not get his tea to his liking at all.

We dare say most of our readers will agree with us, that when a couple want to be acquainted there is seldom much difficulty about the matter, even though there be no friendly go-between to mutter the cabalistic words that constitute an introduction; and though Miss de Glancey did ride so unconcernedly past, it was a sheer piece of acting, as she had long been waiting at Carlton Clumps, which commands a view over the surrounding country, timing herself for the exact spot where she met the too susceptible Earl and his hounds.

No one knew better how to angle for admiration than this renowned young lady,-when to do the bold-when the bashful-when the timid-when the scornful and retiring, and she rightly calculated that the way to attract and win the young old Earl was to look as if she didn't want to have anything to say to him. Her downcast look, and utter indifference to that fertile source of introduction, a pack of hounds, had sunk deeper into his tender heart than if she had pulled up to up to admire them collectively, and to kiss them individually. We all know how useful a dog can be made in matters of this sort-how the fair creatures can express their feelings by their fondness. And if one dog can be so convenient, by how much more so can a whole pack of hounds be made!

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