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   Chapter 24 THE WILD BEAST ITSELF.

Ask Mamma By R. S. Surtees Characters: 12721

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


JUST as the old buck was resuming the thread of his fashionable high-life narrative, preparatory to sounding Billy about the Major and his family, the same sort of electric thrill shot through the field that characterised the terrible "g-n-r along-don't you see the hounds are running?" de Glancey day with the Earl. Billy felt all over he-didn't-know-how-ish-very wish-he-was-at-home-ish. The horse, too, began to caper.

The thrill is caused by a shilling's-worth of wide-awake on a stick held high against the sky-line of the gently-swelling hill on the left, denoting that the wild beast is found, causing the Major to hold up his hat as a signal of reply, and all the rest of the field to desist from their flopping and thistle-whipping, and rein in their screws for the coming conflict.

"Now s-s-sir!" exclaims the stuttering Major, cantering up to our Billy all flurry and enthusiasm. "Now, s-s-sir! we ha-ha-have her, and if you'll fo-fo-follow me, I'll show you her," thinking he was offering Billy the greatest treat imaginable. So saying the Major drops his hands on White Surrey's neck, rises in his stirrups, and scuttles away, bounding over the gorse bushes and broom that intervened between him and the still stick-hoisted tenpenny.

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"Where is she?" demands the Major. "Where is she!' repeats he, coming up.

"A Major, he mun gi' us halfe-croon ony ho' this time," exclaims our friend Tom Springer, whose head gear it is that has been hoisted.

"Deed mun ye!" asserts Pitfall, who has now joined his companion.

"No, no!" retorts the Major angrily, "I said a shillin'-a shillin's my price, and you know it."

"Well, but consider what a time we've been a lookin' for her, Major," replied Springer, mopping his brow.

"Well, but consider that you are about to partake of the enjoyments as well as myself, and that I find the whole of this expensive establishment," retorted the Major, looking back for his hounds. "Not a farthin' subscription."

"Say two shillin's, then," replied Springer coaxingly.

"No, no," replied the Major, "a shillin's plenty."

"Make it eighteen-pence then," said Pitfall, "and oop she goes for the money."

"Well, come," snapped the Major hurriedly, as Billy now came elbowing up. "Where is she? Where is she?" demanded he.

"A, she's not here-she's not here, but I see her in her form thonder," replied Springer, nodding towards the adjoining bush-dotted hill.

"Go to her, then," said the Major, jingling the eighteen-pence in his hand, to be ready to give him on view of the hare.

The man then led the way through rushes, brambles, and briars, keeping a steady eye on the spot where she sate. At length he stopped. "There she's, see!" said he, sotto voce, pointing to the green hill-side.

"I have her!" whispered the Major, his keen eyes sparkling with delight. "Come here," said he to Billy, "and I'll show her to you. There," said he, "there you see that patch of gorse with the burnt stick stumps, at the low end-well, carry your eye down the slope of the land, past the old willow-tree, and you have her as plain as a pike-staff."

Billy shook his head. He saw nothing but a tuft or two of rough grass.

"O yes, you see her large eyes watching us," continued the Major, "thinking she sees us without our seeing her.

"No," our friend didn't.

"Very odd," laughed the Major, "very odd," with the sort of vexation a man feels when another can't be made to see the object he does.

"Will you give them a view now?" asked Springer, "or put her away quietly?"

"Oh, put her away quietly," replied the Major, "put her away quietly; and let them get their noses well down to the scent;" adding-"I've got some strange hounds out, and I want to see how they work."

The man then advanced a few paces, and touching one of the apparently lifeless tufts with his pole, out sprang puss and went stotting and dotting away with one ear back and the other forward, in a state of indignant perturbation. "Buck!" exclaims Pitfall, watching her as she goes.

"Doubt it," replied the Major, scrutinising her attentively.

"Nay look at its head and shoulders; did you iver see sic red shoulders as those on a doe?" asked Springer.

"Well," said the Major, "there's your money," handing Springer the eighteen-pence, "and I hope she'll be worth it; but mind, for the futur' a shillin's my price."

After scudding up the hill, puss stopped to listen and ascertain the quality of her pursuers. She had suffered persecution from many hands, shooters, coursers, snarers, and once before from the Major and his harriers. That, however, was on a bad scenting day, and she had not had much difficulty in beating them.

Meanwhile Solomon has been creeping quietly on with his hounds, encouraging such to hunt as seemed inclined that way, though the majority were pretty well aware of the grand discovery and lean towards the horsemen in advance. Puss however had slipped away unseen by the hounds, and Twister darts at the empty form thinking to save all trouble by a chop. Bracelet then strikes a scent in advance. Ruffler and Chaunter confirm it, and after one or two hesitating rashes and flourishes, increasing in intensity each time, a scent is fairly established, and away they drive full cry amid exclamations of "Beautiful! beautiful! never saw anything puttier!" from the Major and the held-the music of the hounds being increased and prolonged by the echoes of the valleys and adjacent hills.

The field then fall into line, Silent Solomon first, the Major of course next. Fine Billy third, with Wotherspoon and Nettlefold rather contending for his company. Nabley, Duffield, Bonnet, Reunison. Fanlder, Catcheside, truants, all mixed up together in heterogeneous confusion, jostling for precedence as men do when there are no leaps. So they round Hawthorn hill, and pour up the pretty valley beyond, each man riding a good deal harder than his horse, the hounds going best pace, which however is not very great.

"Give me,-" inwardly prays the Major, cantering consequentially along with his thong-gathered whip held up like a sword, "give me five and twenty minutes, the first fifteen a burst, then a fault well hit off', and the remaining ten without a turn," thinking to astonish the supercilious foxhunter. Then he takes a sly look to see how Napoleon is fari

ng, it being by no means his intention to let Fine Billy get to the bottom of him.

On, on, the hounds press, for now is the time to enjoy the scent with a hare, and they have ran long enough together to have confidence in their leaders.

Now Lovely has the scent, now Lilter, now Ruffler flings in advance, and again is superseded by Twister.

They brush through the heathery open with an increasing cry, and fling at the cross-road between Birwell Mill and Capstone with something like the energy of foxhounds; Twister catches it up beyond the sandy track, and hurrying over it, some twenty yards further on is superseded by Lovely, who hits it off to the left.

Away she goes with the lead.

"Beautiful! beautiful!" exclaims the Major, hoping the fox-hunter sees it.

"Beautiful! beautiful!" echoes Nettlefold, as the clustering pack drop their sterns to the scent and push forward with renewed velocity.

The Major again looks for our friend Billy, who is riding in a very careless slack-rein sort of style, not at all adapted for making the most of his horse. However it is no time for remonstrance, and the music of the hounds helps to make things pleasant. On, on they speed; up one hill, down another, round a third, and so on.

One great advantage of hunting in a strange country undoubtedly is, that all runs are straight, with harriers as well as foxhounds, with some men, who ride over the same ground again and again without knowing that it is the same, and Billy was one of this sort. Though they rounded Hawthorn hill again, it never occurred to him that it was the second time of asking; indeed he just cantered carelessly on like a man on a watering-place hack, thinking when his hour will be out, regardless of the beautiful hits made by Lovely and Lilter or any of them, and which almost threw the Major and their respective admirers into ecstacies. Great was the praise bestowed upon their performances, it being the interest of every man to magnify the run and astonish the stranger. Had they but known as much of the Richest Commoner as the reader does, they would not have given themselves the trouble.

Away they pour over hill and dale, over soft ground and sound, through reedy rushes and sedgy flats, and over the rolling stones of the fallen rocks.

Then they score away full cry on getting upon more propitious ground. What a cry they make 1 and echo seemingly takes pleasure to repeat the sound!

Napoleon the Great presently begins to play the castanets with his feet, an ominous sound to our Major, who looks back for the Bumbler, and inwardly wishes for a check to favour his design of dismounting our hero.

Half a mile or so further on, and the chance occurs. They get upon a piece of bare heather burnt ground, whose peaty smell baffles the scent, and brings the hounds first to a check, then to a stand-still.

Solomon's hand in the air beckons a halt, to which the field gladly respond, for many of the steeds are eating new oats, and do not get any great quantity of those, while some are on swedes, and others only have hay. Altogether their condition is not to be spoken of.

The Major now all hurry scurry, just like a case of "second horses I second horses! where's my fellow with my second horse?" at a check in Leicestershire, beckons the Bumbler up to Billy; and despite of our friend's remonstrance, who has got on such terms with Napoleon as to allow of his taking the liberty of spurring him, and would rather remain where he is, insists upon putting him upon the mare again, observing, that he couldn't think of taking the only spare 'orse from a gen'lman who had done him the distinguished honour of leaving the Earl's establishment for his 'umble pack; and so, in the excitement of the moment, Billy is hustled off one horse and hurried on to another, as if a moment's hesitation would be fatal to the fray. The Major then, addressing the Bumbler in an undertone, says, "Now walk that 'orse quietly home, and get him some linseed tea, and have him done up by the time we get in." He then spurs gallantly up to the front, as though he expected the hounds to be off again at score. There was no need of such energy, for puss has set them a puzzle that will take them some time to unravel; but it saved an argument with Billy, and perhaps the credit of the bay. He now goes drooping and slouching away, very unlike the cock-horse he came out.

Meanwhile, the hounds have shot out and contracted, and shot out and contracted-and tried and tested, and tried and tested-every tuft and every inch of burnt ground, while Solomon sits motionless between them and the head mopping chattering field.

"Must be on," observes Caleb Rennison, the horse-breaker, whose three-year-old began fidgetting and neighing.

"Back, I say," speculated Bonnet, whose domicile lay to the rear.

"Very odd," observed Captain Nabley, "they ran her well to here."

"Hares are queer things," said old Duffield, wishing he had her by the ears for the pot.

"Far more hunting with a hare nor a fox," observed Mr. Rintoul, who always praised his department of the chase.

"Must have squatted," observes old "Wotherspoon, taking a pinch of snuff, and placing his double gold eye-glasses on his nose to reconnoitre the scene.

"Lies very close, if she has," rejoins Godfrey Faulder, flopping at a furze-bush as he spoke.

"Lost her, I fear," ejaculated Mr. Trail, who meant to beg her for a christening dinner if they killed.

The fact is, puss having, as we said before, had a game at romps with her pursuers On a bad scenting day, when she regulated her speed by their pace, has been inconveniently pressed on the present occasion, and feeling her strength fail, has had recourse to some of the many arts for which hares are famous. After crossing the burnt ground she made for a greasy sheep-track, up which she ran some fifty yards, and then deliberately retracing her steps, threw herself with a mighty spring into a rushy furze patch at the bottom of the hill. She now lies heaving and panting, and watching the success of her stratagem from her ambush, with the terror-striking pack full before her.

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And now having accommodated Mr. Pringle with a second horse, perhaps the reader will allow us to take a fresh pen and finish the run in another Chapter.

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